Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
Episodes 0-4

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 0 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?

How would you rate episode 1 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?

How would you rate episode 4 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?

In yet another installment of gacha games turned into full-fledged anime, welcome to the mouthful that is Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia. Fate GO has been at it for a while now (over 4 years in Japan and over 2 in North America), and in that time it's established itself as arguably the most popular (and inarguably the most monetarily successful) head of the seemingly unstoppable hydra that is the Fate franchise. However, while Fate may feel inescapable these days, Babylonia doesn't quite extend a friendly and welcoming hand to viewers who aren't already familiar with Fate GO. Therefore, as someone who already counts themselves a gacha victim, I think it's only right I begin by providing a quick summary of what this story is all about.

Like most things Fate, there's a lot of terminology and magical hoopla that might seem impenetrable, but also like most things Fate, those components aren't too important. Basically, one day, good old King Solomon decided that he wanted to erase humanity from existence, and Chaldea, a contemporary mage organization tasked with protecting humanity, contains the only people left who can stop it. To carry out his plan, Solomon sent 7 Holy Grails (Fate's big magic MacGuffins) and some of his demon friends to various points in the past in order to create 7 Singularities of “wrong” history that can destabilize all of humanity's future enough to completely incinerate it. Mankind's last surviving Master, Fujimaru Ritsuka, has to travel to these points in the past to retrieve these Grails, kill some demons, collapse the Singularities, and set human history back on course. On his journeys, he's aided by those Heroic Spirit Servants we all know and love—some familiar, and some brand new to the franchise—in his fight to preserve mankind's past, present, and future. Babylonia is the seventh, final, and most distant Singularity, taking place all the way back at the dawn of modern civilization in Mesopotamia.

If you're worried that you're missing a lot of context from those first six singularities, trust me, you really aren't. Fate GO capitalizes on the promise of the franchise's origin by existing primarily a fun excuse to turn popular historical and mythological figures into cool and sexy avatars that fight and flirt with each other (and with you, the player, of course). The early singularities are pretty disposable, but the writing did improve eventually. The sixth act, Camelot, is actually my favorite. It does a lot of neat things with the Arthurian mythos, and I'm really looking forward to the movie adaptation next year. Babylonia is an easy second-favorite, though, so I think ultimately its in Fate GO's favor to ignore its early growing pains and focus on adapting the good stuff.

Of course, I can provide all the context in the world, but none of that matters unless there's something in Babylonia that would make it worthwhile for audience members who aren't already familiar with Fate GO. And to that point, I'd say that so far Babylonia has held its own as an engaging series in its own right. The biggest and best thing it has going for it is an atypical production cycle that has been unusually stacked with money, time, and talent. CloverWorks is going to be pulling out all the stops for this one, and for a more in-depth breakdown of the animators behind it, I hope you'll join me in keeping up with Sakugablog's coverage. So far, this has translated into five episodes that have each exhibited a technically impressive and diverse array of action centerpieces. Granted, we're still in the very early stages, so there haven't been any show-stopping or face-melting moments, but these are parts that can be appreciated by both players and newbies alike. Pay attention to things like the movement of the camera, the integration of the background elements, the way scale and force and communicated, the weight of certain motions and blows, and so on. They've definitely been having a lot of fun with the foley work too, although they could probably stand to ease up on those deep bass hits. My favorite action scene so far is probably the Jaguarman fight at the end of episode 4, not merely because it's technically impressive, but because it also integrates her playfully absurd presence into her fighting style. Animation with personality is a delight to watch.

Speaking of Jaguarman, another reason why Babylonia makes the most sense to adapt into an anime is because it's the arc with the most recognizable faces to Fate fans who might only (or mostly) be familiar with Fate/stay night. Of course, people might be confused by Rin is now the Sumerian goddess Ishtar, or why Taiga is now a jaguar (and definitely NOT a tiger). The in-universe explanation is that powerful deities sometimes manifest by possessing the bodies of people with similar personalities, but the real explanation is that Fate GO is designed to make money. So don't worry about that too much. What I really like, though, is Babylonia's take on Gilgamesh. In Stay Night, he was a haughty and tyrannical villain, but Babylonia brings an older and more mellow Gil to the scene. As the myth goes, Gil had to bury his friend Enkidu in the underworld, and that experience humbled him for the better. He's still undeniably a dude who loves calling people “mongrels,” but Babylonia shows him to be a surprisingly fair ruler of mankind's last fortress city.

That focus on the human element is another part of Babylonia I've really appreciated so far. The prologue episode actually still stands as my favorite for that reason. Providing context for both Romani's and Mash's backstories and motivations proved to be a really smart way to introduce the series. Ritsuka might be the main character, but he's pretty much a cipher for the player, so these secondary characters pull most of the narrative weight. We also need this context to fully appreciate those moments in the third and fourth episodes where Mash genuinely enjoys the menial work and getting to know the citizens of Uruk. For almost all of her life, all she knew lay inside the walls of Chaldea, so these trips to the past have not only been invaluable to mankind's future, but invaluable to her own heart as well. The dinner scene with Ushiwakamaru, Benkei, and Leonidas is another low-key but fun scene that helps humanize these larger-than-life characters. While I'm sure that Babylonia's flashiness will continue to be its main draw, I hope it will not forget to include and embellish these quieter character-driven moments.

Of course, I can't talk about character without bringing up Merlin. Babylonia personalizes the infamous wizard as a smarmy scoundrel and scumbag, brought to life by the smooth-talking talents of Takahiro Sakurai. He's entertaining to watch, yet his abundance of personality also highlights how little there is in our protagonist. Babylonia has been trying to compensate by putting more emphasis on the blatantly obvious romantic overtones between him and Mash, but Ritsuka, by design, just isn't meant to an actual person. Thankfully, Babylonia has enough larger-than-life characters to focus on instead, and if the showrunners are smart they'll do their best to build scenes and moments around them. Still, I'd expect Ritsuka's blandness to get in the way of Babylonia truly excelling as an adaptation. There's also a significant part of me that wishes the adaptation went with the female player avatar (colloquially known as Gudako) instead. A lot of the same problems would remain, but still, more female protagonists in Fate would be nice.

Babylonia unfortunately also suffers from other problems familiar to the Fate franchise. Perhaps most egregious of all is its tendency to get bogged down in the magical logic of things that aren't important at all from a storytelling perspective. I still couldn't tell you what exactly the mechanics of Rayshifting are, nor do they matter. And while the image of Merlin watching over humanity from his tower in Avalon is a powerful image, I don't really need an exasperated explanation of why that contradicts his appearance as a Servant in this Singularity. On that note, though, I actually don't mind the exposition when it comes to explaining mythology or history the audience might not be familiar with. It's a necessary evil, but I appreciate the edutainment value. Whether I like it or not, Fate taught me who Enkidu was, and that's just the tip of that iceberg.

I could go on about individual pluses and minuses, but overall, I'd say I'm confident in the direction Babylonia is going. As far as blockbuster anime adaptations of frighteningly popular mobile games go, Babylonia has been able to fit impressively-choreographed action scenes and a colorful cast of fun and frequently shirtless characters into one crowd-pleasing package. The animation hasn't been unbelievably virtuosic yet, and the story has been a little slow-going in these early stages, but we have a good foundation to build on. While I would never, under any circumstances, recommend the game Fate GO to people, Babylonia is an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a unique kind of action spectacle featuring hot anime versions of storytelling's most popular characters. And isn't that what Fate's all about?

Rating:

Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia is currently streaming on Funimation.

Steve loves two things: writing about anime and retweeting good Fate GO fanart on his Twitter.


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