Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
Episodes 5-8

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?

How would you rate episode 6 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?

How would you rate episode 7 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?

How would you rate episode 8 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?

Whew, it's been a while, but it's time to dig back into Babylonia. As an aside, I was on vacation in Japan for the past couple weeks, which I mention not as an excuse for the lack of reviews (although that is the excuse), but also to comment firsthand on how big a thing FGO currently is. Just counting Babylonia-related items, Akihabara was covered in advertisements. There were crane game campaigns featuring figures of the characters. There were stores that had the OP playing on repeat over the radio. It is a leviathan of a franchise right now, which I knew already, but it's one thing to see evidence online and quite another to see a four-story-tall poster of Mash staring down at you.

As the franchise's current premiere anime representation, Babylonia continues to do good work adapting this arc into a story and presentation that feel adequately three-dimensional. The key word here is “adapting,” because Babylonia is not a one-to-one transposition of the game's presentation. That largely goes without saying, but while the anime has certainly been faithful to it source so far, the places where it most stands out to me are those places where it embellishes upon the material. For example, episode 5 cleanly adapts a full game chapter dealing with the gang's journey alongside Gilgamesh and their encounter with Enkidu. It even feels video-gamey—a sidequest with a boss at the end that only kind of pushes the narrative forward. Babylonia, however, smartly uses this space as an opportunity to instill its world and characters with a bit more life. It's weirdly nice to see the historically antagonistic Gilgamesh blow off work and interact with his citizens in stern yet warm ways. I never would have pictured old King Gil squatting down and intently asking some kids about their board game, but here he is doing just that. It's a very cute way to once more communicate to the audience that this is not the Gil from Fate/stay night.

Another neat thing the anime does is continue to develop Ritsuka and Mash's relationship. Mash in particular gets more focus here than she did in the analogous part of the game. She flashes back to another conversation from a past singularity and expresses, both verbally and nonverbally, her anxiety about existing. This ties back to episode 0, and while it's not all that thematically interesting, the framing, body language, and voice acting coalesce to bless her with enough pathos. Gil's “reunion” with Enkidu feels even more emotionally charged, and while their battle is a spectacular clash of chains and magic, their mutual pain delivers the most impact. Gil doesn't say anything about it, but the hollowness of his past loss shows on his face, as Enkidu contorts their own face into a mask of tragic confusion. Interestingly, I thought the parallels between Mash/Ritsuka and Enkidu/Gil were clear as crystal here, yet I didn't pick up on that at all while playing through the story myself last year. The anime has undeniably been nailing its action, but the attention devoted towards amplifying its quieter aspects is what continues to consistently impress me.

I'm also, begrudgingly, warming up to Ritsuka as a protagonist, which is entirely the fault of the adaptation's strength. He continues to be presented as a likeable, if boring, everyman who's devoted to justice and protecting his friends and all that good stuff a hero should be doing. What sells me on that emotionally, however, is this arc's thematic focus on the strength and importance of the ordinary person. Gil mandates that his citizens continue to live their ordinary lives even in the face of an apocalypse. Leonidas extolls the virtues of ordinary people doing what little they can in tandem as the basis of all human achievement. There's no good reason for Ritsuka to be humanity's last surviving Master, but he's committed to doing the best with the hand he was dealt. Babylonia sees that as a microcosm of all human history, and I think there's something to be said about that.

There have been a bunch of other quiet character moments scattered through the past few episodes that I've enjoyed. Ushiwakamaru's giddiness about the longevity of her legacy is very sweet, although the increased focus on her comes with an increased focus on how mind-numblingly ridiculous her “armor” is. Still, since she ends up being an important part of episode 8's climax, I'm glad she got some extra characterization beforehand. Ishtar remains decent comic relief, as her friendship with the gang continues to grow in spite of them being enemies. Merlin's dialogue with Ana about their mutual inhumanity ironically ended up being one of their most human moments. Merlin's old and jaded enough to accept what he is, and that makes him an interesting character in his own right, but Ana has fears and anxieties related to things we do and don't know. While she's been a pretty flat character so far, she's actually sympathetic here when contrasted with self-professed asshole that is Merlin, and Merlin consciously uses that fact to make her feel better. As much as he'd like everyone to think otherwise, he's not all bad. Just mostly bad.

Each episode has its own set of animation highlights, but it soon becomes clear that we've merely been building up to the mid-season climax of episode 8's battle with the giant goddess Gorgon. This is a big moment in the game as well, but the anime delivers it on a scale far beyond a mobile game's ability, with Gorgon's hydra-like form looming impressively over the city of Nippur and eventually on Uruk's frontlines. Unfortunately the 3D rig they use for her dialogue scenes looks pretty lifeless, although the direction tends to compensate by switching to closeups of her face done with traditional animation. Still, her size alone impresses upon the audience the magnitude of her threat, which is followed through by a battle that takes the lives of two of Gilgamesh's Servants. There are spine-chilling feats of action animation here, instilled with the dynamic kinetic energy of twisting serpent columns dodged, navigated, and bisected by Ushiwakamaru's lithe and powerful form. But what really pierces my heart this episode is its balance of thrill with somberness. Leonidas' last stand calls upon the forms and camaraderie of his 300 men as they once more succumb to an overpowering enemy, but not before giving everything they've got. Even as his defenses fail and his body falls apart, Leonidas strikes a defiantly statuesque pose, believing to the very end in humanity's ability to struggle against impossible odds. The stone around him is silent and grey, as if the entire environment is mourning. Ushiwakamaru picks up her sword and shatters the stone, bringing color to the monochromatic world. Her tiny frame sings her own folk tune as she stumbles forward to fight with everything she has left as well. It may be a losing battle, but it's one executed triumphantly.

Babylonia has reached its first turning point, and although our heroes are at their lowest point yet, episode 8 is this anime's highest water mark to date. This is the kind of confidence I was looking for in this blockbuster adaptation of a disgustingly popular franchise. This is a culmination of spectacular craftmanship, elevating its source material with both technical mastery and deft tonal control. There are still hiccups here and there, like the way the postscript betrays the Fate franchise's tendency towards uncomfortably exploitative horror, but overall I leave this episode feeling more confident than ever in the vision Toshifumi Akai and his team have for Babylonia.

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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