Fate/Extra Last Encore premiered on Netflix last month to plenty of head-scratching from even experienced Fate fanatics. This week, Nick and Jacob run down this show's often baffling plot and what went wrong in adaptation.
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 content and language.
Hey Nick, it's time to return to our favorite place in the whole wide Mooniverse!
Oh boy, starting the Summer anime season already?
No Chio's School Road
for you, I'm afraid. We're jumping back in time to stare down the barrel of some much bigger guns iykwim.
Fate has always been a divisive franchise
, but I don't think I've ever heard so much wailing and gnashing of teeth as I did over Fate/Extra Last Encore
. And no, you can't just shorten it to Fate/Extra, because that's actually a different
No wailing here, I can sum up my feelings very succinctly.
Granted, getting to this point was a long journey mostly consisting of staring confused at my TV before opening up the Type-Moon
fanwiki to figure out what the hell I just watched.
Right, so chief among the many problems facing Fate/Extra: Last Encore...you know what I'm just gonna call it Fate Art Online, does that work for you?
Honestly that's an insult to Kirito, but sure.
So chief among FAO's problems is that most people (fans who are only familiar with Fate/stay night
, and Fate/Grand Order) can't tell what the hell it's supposed to be. Even trying to explain
it is confusing, but it's our job to ease that process so roll up yer sleeves!
Alright, I'll try to put that into English as best as I can. Long long ago, in the year 2010, a sequel to Fate/stay night was released on the PSP. It was called Fate/Extra, it was basically an Elseworld-style "what if Fate but in full-dive VR inside a server on the moon" story, and it didn't sell very well.
So this anime must be an adaptation of the game, right? You may be thinking?
I've learned that when Nasu's involved, absolutely nothing can be simple.
Correct. This is actually an Elseworld-style spinoff of THAT Elseworld spinoff. In Last Encore, the bad end of the game where the villain wins is now canon, which means Grail War Online has become a weird rigged Westworld-thing where the only hope to break the cycle is the accidental yet inevitable evolution of cyberghosts versions of characters from the game as pseudo-NPC Masters, which sounds silly, but this is a backwritten solution to the bad end of another giant Fate story, so of course it's gonna be absurd.
It's a weird way
to set up a story, and the result as a non-initiate of the Church Of Type-Moon
is kind of like trying to get into Madoka Magica
by just watching Rebellion.
Yeah, I hope you like SHINBOISMS, because this is Fate by way of Shaft, which means inexplicable glamour shots of Shinji.
What Hath Man Wrought
It also means some of the worst shot composition I've seen in a modern anime.
Whose idea was that shot? Why is only Shinji in shadow? Why is there a CG ship's helm lens flaring in the background? This had to be on purpose.
There's always A Lot going on in the frame, and if you're adept enough at translating SHAFT
's seemingly inexplicable visual language into normal cinematic language, it might
help enhance the story for you, (it helped me a little?), but mostly it's a distraction slapped on top of an already needlessly confusing story.
That said, all the basics of Fate are certainly still here.
Oh hey it's the best character in this whole thing! And No I'm not just saying that because of her butt window.
Nero mooned while Rome burned.
And I don't mean the MOON WITH THE GIANT MMO SERVERS ON IT wtf fate...
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that FAO is extremely Fate-like for all of its surface differences. The story isn't too complicated or deep to understand—it's surprisingly simple with a little probing, which is why the franchise is so popular to begin with—but it imposes such a high bar of entry and deviates into so many bloated philosophical sideroads that it seems much more intimidating than it actually is.
Yeah, for all the convoluted delivery and wtf visuals, the actual structure of the show is pretty simple. Our protagonist, a sentient Potato, through luck or providence ends up as a wildcard in this Depression Grail War, and has to ascend through each level of the super moon computer matrix by beating another Master with his faithful servant: Saber With Big Tiddy.
Basically every arc is a two-part story exploring whatever fucked up existential nightmare happened to each of these characters that you fought in the game.
I w a l k a l o n e l y r o a d
Oh right, and it turns out Potato-kun is actually the congealed hatred of all the Mages who died in the prior grail war, amalgamated into a wraith made of angst. This is communicated by him just constantly talking about how much he hates everything.
He specifically carries the persona of Nero's previous Master, which is the loophole that allows him to summon her at all, but he has the power of all the other dead mages too so he can be The Irregular at Magic Moon High School.
Also Nero's previous master was a girl, to further emphasize how much He's Not The Same Person and How Could Saber Possibly Love Him Like She Did Her, oh the pathos and agony.
My point is that this story needs to chill out a little. It's a lot of angst in service of not much.
I do like how Nero has no time for his bullshit.
But yeah, the emotional core of the series seems almost entirely built upon exploring the existential dread of this situation, yet the only way that would work is through the contrast of having known these characters from the original game. I imagine that isn't the case for the people who just watch this because hey, it's on Netflix. And even as somebody who's watched several Fate/anime I was left confused by stuff like trying to make Shinji a sympathetic character when every other iteration of him is The Literal Worst.
WHAT is Fate's obsession with bringing Shinji back over and over? Is it just a "clap because you remember it" thing like with most Fate imagery at this point?
I'm sorry Nasu, it's never gonna work.
There's never time spent humanizing him, we're just supposed to get a kick out of how terrible he is I guess.
Said No One Ever
It's just weird if you don't have the right amount of context, and it makes the whole introductory arc this emotionally flat dirge through Shinji being depressed about wanting but failing to help people.
S U B T L E
Say what you will about Alice's story, at least I could dig the art design of her world.
And also that they kept using the term "Cyberghost."
That's the thing, I still like a lot of Nasu's high-concept ideas, but sometimes they just don't go together in the same package. Turning mages and magic into hackers and programming, while using all the same terms and characters, feels like a restriction that holds everything back and works for nobody. There was no reason for him to combine his Fate iconography with Sword Art Online
. He could have just written a different cyber-war story with all-new characters and it would have turned out more accessible. But that's not usually the Type-Moon
I admit that I tend to prefer Fate when it's simple and clean. Give me the bloated cast and wild action of Apocrypha over the ponderous Philosofights of UBW any day. So Last Encore mainly left me rolling my eyes or scratching my head.
From what I understand, that's the effect this show seems to have had on all but the most ardent Type-Moonies. It's pretty, and it's weird, and it has things I recognize in it, but the emotional stakes and worldbuilding are so far-removed from anything I care about that my brain just keeps rejecting it when I try to take it seriously.
(And Nasu's classic redundant syllogisms in every episode don't help either.)
There's also some strange changes that I just don't get. Like, we skip over the Fourth battle between episodes.
Like sure, everyone else in this hell computer is important, but I guess we couldn't think of a way to wring pathos out of a literal murder clown.
Bless you for looking up what was supposed to happen there, my brain became porridge after just trying to figure out what originally happened in Fate/Extra (2010).
Overall, while there are some fun parts and interesting ideas, Last Encore just never overcomes its biggest self-imposed hurdles. Even by the "last" episode we're still getting endless streams of Proper Noun monologues explaining the story to us, and it stops me from grasping any of the big emotions it's reaching for.
Oh right, it hasn't actually ended yet. We still have another four episodes or a movie or whatever it is left of FAO.
Yep, we'll have to wait who knows how long to even find out how this all ends. Personally I'm not very curious; I'm mostly hoping that the next Fate thing remembers to keep things short and simple.
I can't deny that I'm curious, just because every decision behind this production and the conception of this story feels so utterly bonkers to me, but my interest is purely forensic at this point. As a story about something, emotionally or thematically, Last Encore already feels like a failure compared to its Fate cousins. So hopefully we won't have to wait 1000 years to find out how Cyber-Ghost-Shirou defeats the AU versions of other AU versions of FSN characters.