Reviewby Gabriella Ekens,
Some time in the 20th century, the magical institutions of the Fate universe founded the Chaldea Security Organization to protect humanity's future. Tasked with making sure that Armageddon doesn't occur within the next century, the organization is a repository for all sorts of state-of-the-art magical research, from time travel to future sight to Grail Wars. Before too long, however, the researchers there make a startling discovery – there are no records of humanity's existence beyond the year 2017, meaning that something is about to wipe out life on the planet Earth for good. To counteract this catastrophe, a plan is devised where masters and servants go back in time to investigate exactly what went wrong. Our hero, Ritsuka Fujimaru, may just be a benchwarmer on this squad, but he's forced into the role of humanity's savior when the enemy strikes a critical blow at the mission's onset. Now it's up to Ritsuka alone to fix time by fighting in seven historical Grail Wars alongside his companion, the mysterious demi-servant Mash, as well as whichever cool historical figures he manages to befriend along the way.
If you're a fan of the Fate franchise, and maybe even if you aren't, you've probably heard of Fate/Grand Order. This mobile game is a recent installment in fate canon has been doing quite well for itself in both Japan and abroad, so it's no wonder that they put out an anime adaptation too. But is it worth your time?
For the segment of the mobage that this film adapts, Fate/Grand Order's main appeal isn't really its story, which is a pretty basic video game fetch quest. The world's going to end unless you go collect the seven things kept at seven themed levels of increasing difficulty, you know the drill. Actually, there are technically eight levels, since the tutorial counts as a separate one, and that's the part adapted for this movie. Befitting a tutorial level, this is by far the least interesting part of Fate/Grand Order's story. It's mostly setup exposition for a super advanced magic Grail War facility that gets interrupted when, to everyone's surprise, some asshole tries to use it to destroy the world. The main character, who's a blank slate self-insert protagonist in the game, is the only one who can fix things (of course), so he embarks on a long journey that will last about as long as the mobile game remains profitable.
Mostly, this film serves to establish Fate/Grand Order's recurring cast and conflict. On that first point, our leads are Ritsuka Fujimaru, a grunt-level wizard who's tasked with saving the world after everyone higher on the chain of command dies, and Mash Kyrielight, a shy young woman who serves as the main servant heroine. In terms of characterization, Ritsuka comes across as an obvious blank slate game MC who's had dialogue grafted on for the sake of adaptation. As a result of this retrofitting, his personality vacillates between “boringly pleasant” and “blandly heroic.” You'll recognize the type if you've ever seen a show that's titled something like [JRPG title] THE ANIMATION. Mash fills in the long-vacant dandere slot in the TYPE-MOON heroine lineup. She's cute if you're into that, but beyond the amusingly ridiculous name, there's not much going on with her yet. Plot-wise, she's been shoved into the brand new Shielder class for some unknown reason that will eventually be revealed in the game, but for now she's just learning how to use her powers. Other than that, there's goofy base bunny Dr. Roman, as well as the endeavor's belligerent boss (and resident Rin-alike) Olga Animusphere.
For a special, Fate/Grand Order: First Order-'s visuals are lackluster. They'd be at least respectable for a televised anime production, but I'll admit that I hoped for a little more from a one-off. It doesn't help that Fate anime have tended to get special treatment in other recent adaptations. It's tough to go back to something that looks so generic after being treated to the likes of Unlimited Blade Works or the first Heaven's Feel film. I realize that “not looking like a ufotable production” is an unfair thing to hold against most anime, but Fate has recently built itself a reputation for excellence as an action spectacle no matter who's holding the reins. This is the most workmanlike thing I've seen from the franchise, lacking even the distinct style of Fate/extra -last encore- or the animation highs of Fate/Apocrypha.
I mostly enjoyed this film for portraying an alternate version of Fate/stay night's Grail War. The tutorial level takes place in Fuyuki City during an ersatz version of that familiar event, where the servants include weird re-classed versions of heroic spirits from that original story. The most prominent is Cu Chulainn as a Caster, who gets to deliver a lot of the film's spectacle as your ally for the tutorial. The special is most enjoyable when he's onscreen, hamming it up and whacking at Archer with a giant CG wicker man. (He also takes his shirt off, if that sort of thing is appealing to you.) This is a pretty mild form of entertainment, and I don't think that it justifies a purchase of the film on its own, but at least it spices up the production.
The big issue with this leg of Fate's animated multiverse is that there are no confirmed plans for a sequel to this special yet. Considering how long it's been since its first release (all the way back in December of 2016), this work just feels like an extended one-off advertisement for the Fate/Grand Order mobile game. Basically, this film suffers from an even more extreme version of anime's infamous “read the source material” endings, but the source material is an incredibly long free-to-play phone game with disparate events that have been running over the years. I can see this anime working to get a person to check out Fate/Grand Order, but I can't imagine that many people will be enthusiastic enough about the special on its own to put money toward this premium Aniplex release. After all, this is content you can experience for free if you have a decent smartphone. You can pass the point in the story where this movie ends in just a few hours, then play the next five levels at no cost. (Albeit without “guaranteed” cash money gatcha luck.) If more of the game's story won't be animated at some point, I can't recommend this release to anyone besides hardcore Fate completionists. It doesn't work as an alternate way for people who don't play the game to experience the story, and the spectacle isn't strong enough to attract the people who are already playing the game.
Aniplex's release of this film is up to their regular standard of quality. The cover art features an attractive illustration by Takeshi Takeuchi, while the box comes in a transparent hard-plastic case. I'm happy with this release aesthetically, and it will certainly look nice on your shelf. Other than that, extras include the usual slate of trailers, a booklet full of production art, and a soundtrack CD. The film's score mostly consists of remixes and reorchestrations of the game's music, but that's all good stuff, so it's an enjoyable listen. The music goes a long way in establishing the story's atmosphere of high-stakes grandeur. My favorite tracks have to be Mash's theme KYRIELIGHT, CASTER'S THEME for Cu Chulainn, and CHALDEA ~FIRST ORDER~, which is a remixed version of the game's menu music.
In the end, I can't recommend this film to anyone but hardcore Fate completionists. It's hard to justify spending a lot of money on a glorified demo to a game that you can already play for free in another medium. At least if you do decide to get this release, you'll be receiving a product in line with Aniplex's high standard of release quality. One hundred years from now, when Fate adaptations cover the earth, this one will at best be remembered as a curiosity. Oh well, every war has its losers, and not every Fate adaptation can have the sheer artistry or raw stakes (steaks?) of Today's Menu for Emiya Family.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Easy to watch, nice packaging
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