Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Blu-Ray - Box Set 2
With Shirou's true identity revealed and most of the Servants under the control of different Masters, things begin to come to a head. Sieg and Ruler must decide whether they are human, homunculus, or Servant as well, and their choices will affect not only their own lives, but also the outcome of the Greater Grail War. Can Shirou's desire to “save” humanity be stopped – and should it? The final moments of the battle to have their wishes granted have come, for better or for worse.
Possibly one of the most important reveals of the end of the first season of Fate/Apocrypha was the fact that Shirou Kotomine was really a Servant named Amakusa Shirou Tokisada. Apart from the fact that this removes him from a major link to the events and characters of Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero, it also adds a distinctly religious element to the story. Not that there wasn't one present before – the whole idea of a holy grail is wrapped up in Christian mythology and the inclusion of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) as Ruler and Avicebron (Solomon ben Judah) also contributed as heroes of specific religions. But Amakusa Shirou Tokisada gives things a distinctly Catholic flavor in that he's famous as having led a failed Roman Catholic uprising against the Shogunate in the early Edo period (1638); upon execution, he became a folk saint, much like Jeanne immediately following her execution.
The addition of a second Catholic saint to the story is an interesting choice. If nothing else, it pits two famous religious figures against each other in their competing views of what it means to save humanity. When Shirou talks about it, he's using the Victorian meaning of the word – or at least the meaning most associated with the Victorians – in that humans can only be truly “saved” when they are brought beyond their own humanity. In a lot of literature of the 17th – 19th centuries, this means “dead” – think of all of those wilting blonde children happily on their deathbeds in Victorian children's books. Essentially this is what Shirou means when he tries to use the grail to become humanity's savior, and it's not something that Jeanne is comfortable with. That's significant because Shirou really thinks that Jeanne should understand what he's doing and agree with it. After all, they come from fairly similar circumstances – both were executed for standing up for their beliefs as Catholics. Shirou seems honestly surprised that Jeanne doesn't jump on his bandwagon, and to a degree that Sieg doesn't get it either.
This is at least in part because when Jeanne and Sieg face Jack the Ripper. Jack's Noble Phantasm transports people to London's Whitechapel neighborhood in 1888. The brutality of that time and place is shocking to both, especially Sieg, who has previously held a belief in the essential goodness of humanity. Seeing child sex workers be killed and dumped in the Thames is a shock to his system, and the realization that Jack is less a “who” and more a “they” comprised of an amalgamation of tormented children's souls is a horror he's never conceived of. Despite that, he still wants to believe in humanity, to believe that they deserve to exist as humans. Jeanne feels similarly, even as she understands that some people need to be removed, which makes sense, since she's a soldier. While this puts them in conflict with Archer, it also shows an opposing view to Shirou's. He claims to be above hatred, which is why he wants to “save” humanity, but his plan contradicts that statement, as he essentially doesn't want to let humans be human anymore. Sieg and Jeanne believe that the good and bad can coexist, and should for humanity to continue to grow, and this is what truly forms the backbone of the conflict for this half of the series.
It's all wrapped up in the idea of the wish granted to the winner of the grail war, and whether or not those wishes are feasible in the first place. Achilles (shown as much gentler in the show than in Greek mythology) and Chiron are both good examples of this as they try to work out their current roles, and Fiore's ultimate choice to make her wish happen with her own hands is another good use of the theme. Sieg's and Jeanne's final decisions present a glimpse of how wishes and dreams can grow and change with you, and that if you continue on your journey, there may be better dreams out there waiting. While the interviews included in the booklet that comes with this set mention that the anime's ending differs from the original novel's and there is a slightly jumbled quality to the storytelling as the episodes close in on the show's finale, it still does work well enough for Fate/Apocrypha to stick its landing, especially if you favor a happy ending over a perfectly executed one.
This can be said of the art as well. The animation flips between fairly serviceable animation and sakuga scenes (moments of more noticeably rough and personalized animation by singular talent), with the latter used primarily for battles. Each moment of "sakuga" is unique, which is a mixed blessing. Some of them are breathtakingly beautiful and fluid, but others sacrifice quality of line and character design for that effect, which can be jarring. If that doesn't bother you, the latter half of this set will be a treat; if you value consistency over flash, it's a bit of an issue, especially in scenes where Karna looks almost like a stick figure. The music, on the other hand, is reliable throughout, reminiscent of Yuki Kajiura's work on Noir and .hack//SIGN. Both sub and dub casts do a good job, and the extras, while perhaps not quite worth the exorbitant price tag, are decent – a booklet with two detailed interviews, location photos, and sketches, a soundtrack, and a very attractive box.
Fate/Apocrypha's ending is nice, but also feels too neat, an element does feel deliberate. The word “apocrypha” means “writings not considered genuine,” and it's often used in reference to noncanonical religious texts. But in the case of this show and the overall Fate franchise, it could mean that this is but a suggestion, a work that isn't representative of how things normally work within the structure of a Holy Grail War (Greater or otherwise), but is instead a way for themes and characters to be explored. In that sense it's an interesting addition to the franchise as a whole as it looks at how things could have happened in a different time and place and with different Servants and the addition of the Ruler class. That gives it some leeway in its plotting and ending, and if you don't care for it, well, they did warn you: it's right there in the title.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Some beautifully animated fights, interesting use of thematic material and the series' name
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