Fate/Apocrypha's second half has finally landed on Netflix to thrill fans with more twists, turns, and climactic battles. This week in anime, Nick and Steve discuss if this Great Holy Grail War wrapped up to their satisfaction.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for language.
You can read our thoughts on Fate/Apocrypha's first half here!
Nick, Fate Apocrypha is now over. I've been racking my brain thinking of ways it could have been improved, and while I have many suggestions, there's only one real answer.
Twice the Astolfo
Hmm. Well that's not a bad suggestion, but have you considered just making the whole show about Mordred and her irresponsible stepdad?
I do wish I could have seen that show! But I have to say that I mostly enjoyed Apocrypha as is. While it's rife with failings, its highs were pretty damn high.
Personally I've never been much of a Fate fan. I liked Fate/Zero well enough, but every other venture into the Nasuverse has left me rather frustrated. While I admire the franchise's dedication to tackling big ideas and heavy themes, I've found its execution pretty pedestrian. But I was actually excited to see more of Apocrypha, because the first cour seemed to focus mainly on Fate's strengths: fun ensemble casts, cool fights, and impressive action animation.
I was never into Fate much myself, but then Fate GO happened and let's just say I'm a lot more invested in .jpgs of sexy anime historical figures than I ever thought was possible.
I'll stick with Fire Emblem, TYVM.
But I think one of the best things the franchise has going for it is the flexibility of its core concept. You can basically do anything with Heroic Spirits (even throw them in a show about cooking!
) and have it turn out fun. And at its best, Apocrypha aims for the spectacle of over a dozen famous heroes lashing at each other's throats. Or just enjoying a nice meal together. Both can be good.
The show's certainly at its strongest when it's just letting characters bounce off each other. Whether it's Astolfo teasing Jeanne about her crush on Sieg, or Chiron giving Fiore pep talks about how to handle leading the family, there's a lot of sweet moments to be had.
But then Sieg opens his mouth and all I hear are a bunch of loud fart sounds.
As seems to be the case with most entries in the Fate universe, my least favorite part of Apocrypha is its main character conflict. It ends up being not as big a problem as it could have been, but it's still not great.
Like a lot of Fate, Sieg's conflict about whether humanity is by nature good or evil sounds interesting on paper, but in execution it's a good six episodes of ponderous navel gazing while the cast ties up loose ends before the final battle.
And Sieg is maybe the nadir of Fate/Protagonists.
He's very "just there". Like, he does what he needs to do as a protagonist, but otherwise there's not much to him. Many stories are about whether or not human nature is redeemable, and many of those stories are good! But Apocrypha's approach to Sieg just felt too broad to stand out. Likewise, Shirou Amakusa's ambitions were so nebulous that I couldn't find myself caring about whatever he was plotting.
And in the end, it was just instrumentality. Again.
If I've learned anything from anime, it's that any antagonist who lasts more than a dozen episodes will try to bring on instrumentality.
There's also a frankly tedious subplot about Jack The Thong-Wearing Ten-Year-Old, which uh
I'd be careful if I were you, Nick.
Oh yeah I'm real frightened.
Jack the Ripper is certainly an interesting concept for a Servant! Turns out she's not an incarnation of the legendary serial killer but instead a vengeance-seeking manifestation of children who were trampled by society in Victorian London. Still doesn't explain why she has to wear a thong but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Covered buttocks are the opiate of the masses, Steve. Let your cheeks fly as free as your soul.
But yeah, it's hard not to see the first half of Apocrypha's second cour as just place-setting and filling time. But in the end, I don't care all that much because hoo boy do the final five episodes come roaring back with everything I liked about the first cour.
Like hey, you know that's cooler than philosophy debates? Fist fights. Fist fights on airline carriers. Fist fights on airline carriers between demigods.
The final set of episodes are a tour-de-force of emotional confrontations, blood-pumping battles, and stunning feats of animation for a television broadcast. Apocrypha's final battle royale is the most viscerally I've ever enjoyed Fate.
The duel between Achilles and Chiron doesn't just happen on
an airplane. It happens through
That fight alone is enough of a spectacle to be unforgettable. It's visceral, brutal, and so goddamn fun that it'd be the absolute high point for most other shows. But it's only the first of like seven different fights on that level or higher.
These are some of the best punches I've
ever seen animated.
Like honestly, even if you're not interested in Fate or don't care to watch all of Apocrypha, episodes 21-23 are worth watching all on their own.
AT LEAST watch episode 22. Because I still can't believe I saw that with my own eyes.
Yeah, 22 in particular is just wall-to-wall action that you never see in a TV production. It's clearly a ton of talented, passionate artists putting their all into impressing you with just how good they are.
I'm far from an expert on this, so if you want the real skinny, read the Sakuga Blog post
on this episode. But episode 22 was handled by a handful of webgen animators who bring 110% of their game to draw the ever-loving heck out of explosions, debris, weapons, limbs, and anything else you can imagine.
They have a loose style that totally works for the heightened drama and superpowers of these combatants.
I really cannot overstate how great it is. This is anime at its most unrestrained, the kind of artistic accomplishment that I think could get folks interested in researching and following specific animators.
It's a monumentally good episode of anime. If you have a Netflix subscription, don't miss out on it.
As good as it is though, it's not quite the end. We still have to wrap up the story, and I think that's where the weakness in this finale's armor shows. While a lot of Apocrypha's cast is likable and interesting, they don't really tie into the central conflict much, so the final episodes become a parade of sad but not particularly impactful deaths.
I was dreading this moment for the whole season, but Mordred and Shishigou finally get the badass sendoff they deserve. Even if they still deserved so much more.
Mordred is far from the most complex character, but the duo of Disrespectful Teen Son and Accepting Delinquent Dad is a stellar combination that carries some much-needed levity in the final act. I'd legit watch an entire show about these two going on capers.
They are easily the most compelling part of Apocrypha for me, and I loved every second they were on screen. Their relationship is so fun to watch develop, and their camaraderie feels so natural that in any other circumstance they would be main characters. They're gruff action heroes, but they're also family.
Even if they can't win the grail war, at least Mordred gets the opportunity to surf on her sword. Because of course she would.
And I never thought I'd cry at a screenshot of two cigarettes. Thanks for proving me wrong, Apocrypha. But it's so satisfying to see how both Mordred and Shishigou gave each other what they needed, and that they both were able to die without regrets.
Remember, kids: smoking kills
Also poison. Poison is pretty bad.
It also brings us back to Apocrypha's finale, which is frustrating. Not because it's bad, but because it's really good on paper, such a cool concept that I wish it had been set up better. So the short version of Shirou's plan is to use the Holy Grail to literally suck out humanity's negative emotions and make the entire human race immortal pacifists living in harmony for eternity. Sieg and Jeanne righfully decide that forcing this "salvation" on everyone against their will is ultimately just a copout. You're not saving humanity by destroying part of their nature. They challenge him, Jeanne unsheathes her holy sword, and then she loses.
And this pushes Sieg, our stalwart wet blanket of a protagonist, over the edge. In the heat of the moment, he says to hell with all this philosophizing. He's gonna fucking kill a motherfucker.
I've already shared my feelings on Sieg, but I will admit that was a badass moment.
It's a really cool answer to all the ideas Apocrypha's been wading through with his character. Shirou has supposedly forsaken his hatred to become a true saint, and the final thing standing in his way is someone who started out equally "pure" and has grown to embrace all facets of humanity - including the anger and hurt that comes with living.
And to cap it all off, Sieg gets some help from an equally pure and angry character in maybe my favorite part
of the whole show.
I FIST PUMPED TOO, MY DUDE. It rocks because Fran only comes up once or twice in dialogue this entire cour, so her appearance in the finale is SO out of left field but SO satisfying. It fits thematically too. She's a "failed" replica of a human, but she ends up defending everything that makes us human.
It's a fantastic way to conclude this whole debate about human nature, and my only problem is that the setup for it was so dang tedious. There were ways this could have been delivered that weren't tiresome and vague, and the whole show would have been better for it. As it stands, it's still really cool in the moment, but the ending doesn't totally make up for how much it took to get there.
Still looks cool tho
Apocrypha is really good when the big dumb spectacle is in the foreground and the interesting ideas are in the background. It doesn't handle the reverse nearly as well, so it often ends up being weighed down by ham-handed dialogue. That said, the quieter moments do sometimes land, usually when either Mordred or Astolfo are present.
Or sometimes both
Honestly, much as I appreciate the bare midriff,
I'm not huge on Astolfo.
For me, Astolfo is fun and likable in all the ways that Sieg isn't. He's a confident, endearingly goofy boy who talks about how terrible he is while being nothing but supportive of all his friends. He's a necessary counterbalance to prevent the main plot from collapsing into its own navel.
Plus I bet he gives great hugs.
That's true, but I have a much bigger issue with him that kind of outweighs that. Namely: flesh fangs are bad.
Ah, I thought you were maybe just confused in your judgment, but it turns out you're just wrong and bad.
Flesh Fangs: almost as bad as monster girls
Flesh Fangs are one of the most important breakthroughs in anime technology to occur in my lifetime and I will not hear otherwise. PLUS, he's the only Servant who survived, so clearly the Flesh Fang also carries an evolutionary advantage. Future humans might all have Flesh Fangs. Have you ever thought about that?
Anyway, I guess that's more or less my takeaway from Fate/Apocrypha. It's got plenty of problems, there's some pretty big failings at its core, but so much of it is just so darn entertaining that I can't hold anything against it too much. It's a mess, but it does go down smoother than UBW.
Fate in general is a compelling mess, but it's exactly the kind of compelling mess that entices me to the weird corners of storytelling you so often found in anime, manga, and visual novels. Sometimes I just want an excuse to see Shakespeare wink at the camera while Joan of Arc is having an existential crisis. It's pulpy and fun! Also! Sexy historical figures! I can't stress this enough! This is why Fate GO is making billions of dollars off thirsty weebs like me. It's the perfect crime.
That reminds me, with Apocrypha over, we now have another Fate show to await release from Netflix Jail! So maybe one day we'll get to cover Fate/Extra and experience the REAL breakthrough in anime technology: