Reviewby Theron Martin,
Fate/Extra Last Encore
Episodes 1-10 streaming
Hakuno Kishinami doesn't remember anything beyond a couple of weeks ago; he only knows that he's in a virtual replication of a school setting created by something called SE.RA.PH. When an announcement comes that a quota has been reached and everyone who doesn't defeat another Master candidate will be purged, he finds himself in a desperate struggle for survival. In his hour of most dire need, a Servant calling herself Saber appears to be his champion. Together they ascend to the First Sanctum, where they learn that it is but the first of seven Sanctums which must be conquered in order to complete the Holy Grail War and earn a wish. But what reason does Hakuno have to keep climbing upward, when the only thing that defines him is a sense of driving anger?
Fate/Extra Last Encore is a continuation of the bad end of an adaptation of the Fate/Extra game released for PlayStation Portable in Japan in 2010 and in North America in 2011. It is set in a parallel world to the main story, so no familiarity with other branches of the franchise is technically necessary in order to understand it; some familiar faces do pop up, but you don't really need to know their significance elsewhere to get what's going on in Fate/Extra. The only background knowledge that you do need is a basic familiarity with the concept of the Holy Grail War and the Master/Servant system used to fight it.
However, even being intimately familiar with the whole franchise does not guarantee that this series will actually make much sense. Hakuno's true nature eventually gets explained near the end of the ten episodes now available on Netflix, but details on the virtual setting and how people get there has yet to be explained, largely due to assuming familiarity with the game. In truth, many basic questions about the scenario have no answers provided, and it doesn't help that the time frame is distorted, so much more time has passed than is initially apparent. Some of the mysteries are standard fare for the franchise, such as Saber's identity this time, although it's annoyingly spoiled by the credits for some languages other than English that list the character by her true name. The unclear motivations of certain characters are also rather frustrating.
Despite the series' structural messiness, two things save it from being an utter waste of time. For one thing, at least some of the characters are quite engaging. With Hakuno being sullen and generally limited in personality, it falls to Saber to carry extra weight in the duo, but her vibrant spirit and optimism prove more than capable of holding the audience's attention. She'd probably be my favorite Servant from the entire franchise if she didn't utterly misrepresent her historical inspiration; as someone who once wrote an honors thesis on that individual, I can attest with certainty that the original has basically nothing to do with this Servant version. About the only thing that they got right was their performer's flair and the nature of her Noble Phantasm. And of course the historical figure wasn't a woman, but that's hardly stopped the franchise before. Many of the other characters that Hakuno and Saber encounter as they ascend are also well-defined and interesting, whether friend or foe.
But nothing comes close to defining the series as much as its visuals do. Each Sanctum is dramatically different and wildly imagined for better or worse, resulting in an aesthetic that primarily uses the SHAFT design elements and sensibilities of the Monogatari series, Nisekoi, and the movie Fireworks, with settings ranging from sterile CG productions of school settings to fantastically warped cityscapes to a frozen land with fragmented corpses buried in ice to rooms and baths of enormous and elaborate luxury. The two episodes spent on the Third Sanctum, a fairytale land, directly replicate Gekidan Inu Curry's work on the witch labyrinths in Madoka Magica. This does create a lot of spectacle and eye candy, but if you've ever found SHAFT visual direction to be overloaded and pretentious, it will grate on you fast in Fate/Extra. The series' look also relies heavily on CGI for backgrounds and all manner of other effects. This is fitting given that this is a virtual setting, but it also makes everything feel more artificial. (Of course, that might be the point.) Of the character designs, Saber poses a striking figure with her red dress and generous curves, while Rin's design retains the basic clothing theme as her incarnations in other parts of the franchise but gives her a somewhat more chipper look. Other designs vary, with Alice's monster being the most fanciful.
Because this is a Fate series, it naturally has substantial action appeal, and no episode goes by without some kind of fight breaking out. Battles are never drawn-out affairs, which allows for some decent but generally uncomplicated action sequences. The graphic content can be intense at times, but like other animated installments in the franchise, actual fanservice is limited; aside from one bath scene, Saber's cleavage-baring outfit is as sexy as the series ever gets.
The musical score is a more traditional combination of electronica themes and full orchestration. Rather than having consistent core themes throughout or specific character themes, each Sanctum has its own sound in line with the visual concepts of that setting. Opener “Bright Burning Shout” is a fairly standard rock number, while closer “The Moon and a Bouquet” is a more melancholy song whose visuals update to reflect the primary characters of the particular Sanctum that the episode focused on.
The English dub of the series shows why Netflix can rely on Bang Zoom! Entertainment for their efforts. Cassandra Morris (Suguha from Sword Art Online, Saki from Durarara!!) does an outstanding job as Saber, with the character's trademark vocal quirk “umu” effectively being converted to “indeed” for English. Other new roles are appropriately cast and performed well, while those characters carrying over from other installments in the franchise have their respective English voice actors return. The one quibble I have about the dub is a pronunciation choice: one Servant has a Noble Phantasm called Yew Bow, which in the Japanese dub has the second word pronounced like “bow wow.” The English dub duplicated this, but the Japanese pronunciation is wrong and awkward; the Noble Phantasm's name is clearly meant to be a reference to the weapon “bow.” (Yew was the wood of choice for English longbows.) Per standard Netflix practice, dubs in Spanish, French, and German are also available.
The most annoying aspect of Fate/Extra Last Encore is that it isn't finished. The story abruptly cuts off at the end of episode 10, with the remaining two episodes finally being offered in Japan at the end of July as a special called Illustrias Tendosetsu. Those two episodes need to clarify much about the story, as the first ten episodes seem too purely like an elaborate game construction rather than a meaningful narrative.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Some fantastic visual creativity, Saber is an engaging character with a strong English dub performance
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