Lord El-Melloi II's Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace note has just wrapped the mystery that consumed its entire second half. This week, Nick and Steve discuss whether or not Waver Velvet's crazy train managed to stay on the rails.
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Nick, I can't believe we're getting new Johnnie Cochran material in 2019, but truly the world of Fate is vast and full of surprises.
Gonna cut you short there, Steve, I'm pretty sure 90% of anime fans are too young to get that reference. Let's try to keep our eyes on the prize. Wait, no, it's actually the eyes that are the prize. Never mind.
That's right, we're coming back to Lord El-Melloi something-or-other, a.k.a. Detective Waver, and it's a Murder on the Disorient Express! Get it? Because Fate lore is obtuse, that's the joke.
I'll certainly agree that Fate lore is a joke.
Look, it's simple math. Hair = snakes = lightning. Elementary, my dear Nicholas.
Turns out the one job more dangerous than being a Mage Detective is being a Mage Barber. Anyway, since we last checked in with Waver's Weird Mysteries, there's only been one new case. Somebody stole Iskandar's hanky and left a note daring Waver to come take it back by boarding the Sharingan Express, which is also run by vampires because I guess we have to remind people that Tsukihime exists.
It took us half the show to find out what a Rail Zeppelin was, but it's earned its place in the title by being the focus of this entire second half. And a murder mystery on a train is about as classic a premise as you can get in this genre, so no complaints there.
Well, I have several complaints, not the least of which is getting stuck on this train with Hatsune Miku's
Yvette is a handful, although undoubtedly perceptive. The Mystic Eyes probably help with that though.
I mean, do you really need magical eyes to tell that Waver Velvet doesn't fuck?
Fair. I mean, he's obviously saving himself for his giant boyfriend, so at least he's not an incel.
along with Waver and Gray, the Rail Zeppelin arc does the classic mystery thing of introducing a host of eccentric characters to act as suspects. It's just like Clue, except I have no idea how to pronounce
She actually plays an important, albeit small role in Fate GO, so I was surprised to see her here. Granted, I don't even know if this is the same universe where Fate GO eventually happens, but that's a deeper dive into Fate lore than I'm willing to risk. Suffice to say, she can't catch a break.
Personally, I find the process of trying to piece together Fate continuity similar to trying to build a chair out of match sticks. You can do it, but the end result will not be worth a fraction of the time you spent on it.
Amen to that. Also among our cast of suspects is a surprisingly cool priest.
Honestly, the more I become indoctrinated into Fate, the more I think the Church definitely has the right idea.
I mean, that's the same church that used to employ a certain mapo-tofu-eating psychopath, so maybe that's going too far. But I like Father Karabo. Maybe I'm just a sucker for weathered old dudes looking to find peace, but he's one of the characters in this arc that I wouldn't mind seeing more often.
He feels like an actual human being wrestling with the ramifications of all this overpowered magic junk, which is a side of these stories I wish we'd delve into more frequently.
Fate is at its best when it's either delivering cool action or digging into the specific emotions of its characters, and while Captain Waver & The Teen Angels doesn't deliver much of the first, it certainly has its moments with the latter. We talked before
about how Waver's lingering issues carried the first half, and that's mostly true of this railroad arc as well.
omg just look at this precious lad:
They grow up so fast. And sad. Deeply, constantly sad.
I do like how this arc emphasizes the futility of Waver's desire to enter the Holy Grail War again. Iskandar wouldn't even remember him, and he'd probably get killed. Waver himself realizes all this, but nevertheless that faint hope of seeing his friend again pushes him constantly forward. I like that forlorn ambiguity to his motivations. Out of that sadness and hopelessness, he still manages to extract the will to continue for the sake of his King.
It's both inspiring and tragic how the determination he learned from Iskandar keeps driving him forward, even as he keeps trying to march to his own doom. And it's interesting that Gray's own desire to help her mentor means she's effectively enabling him.
If we were being generous, the thematic thrust of this entire arc is how people who pathologically live in the shadows of others neglect to assert their own identity and desires. You've got Waver still regressing to that tiny kid standing behind Iskandar as he rides his chariot to his own doom. You've got Gray, both a facsimile of King Arthur and more or less Waver's own Servant. And you've got "Hephaestion," who has a ton of her own issues surrounding Iskandar.
Can I just bring up the name of the culprit right now? Because when I was going back through my screencaps, I couldn't believe the gall of this foreshadowing. This is what I'm talking about when it comes to Mages. What kind of person names himself that, and what kind of institution allows him to name himself that?
I was kind of hoping Waver & The Ghost Chasers would do something about how nearly every Mage is a raging asshole who actively damages the world around them just by existing, but sadly the show just spends most of its time explaining how and why all these random jerks do things in great detail.
But we'll get to that in a bit. First and foremost, I want to discuss the absolute back-asswards way this entire mystery plays out because hoo boy
Okay, good luck, because I sure as hell don't understand a single thing that happened.
So first off: Animesphere lady's attendant gets her head chopped off because, as we established, mages are notorious assholes.
Okay, let me see if I've got this right: the person who did the decapitating was Father Karabo, because his Mystic Eyes not only see the past, but are able to project the past, so he can recall the action of something being sliced and project it into the present, which in this case meant poor Trisha got her head chopped off.
Basically? Between Fate's stilted way of phrasing things and the fact that Fate's magic system is as consistent as diarrhea, it's still questionable exactly how this worked, but the show is up front about the fact that the actual mechanics of its mysteries are not a priority.
My favorite piece of this mystery is where Trisha's head went. Her own Mystic Eyes were able to see a premonition of her neck getting bisected, but not quickly enough to prevent it from happening, so she instead opens a pocket dimension for her head to drop into like some kind of invisible grotesque coin purse. The kicker is that when the head pops out later, she's alive long enough to say who killed her, even though it isn't who actually killed her. It's so beautifully bizarre and dumb.
What bugs me is that the person who figures this out, Adashino, is also clearly bullshitting. She's making something up in order to achieve her own goals, coming up with a story that sounds believable but based entirely on conjecture. But then she turns out to be right anyway, even after Waver calls her out on it.
We have zero reason to believe Karabo's eyes can do anything besides see the past. Neither he nor anyone else has hinted otherwise up to this point, but somebody speculates that they could be used to fabricate the past to create a new present and everyone just runs with it because there's no stable rules to Fate's world.
And that's what makes Detective Waver such a weird (and arguably ineffective) mystery show, because this isn't a mystery so much as it's a bunch of characters trying to deduce the rules of Calvinball. Anything goes!
It's ridiculous, but I could stand it if the show prioritized the characters' unique conflicts. Instead, it decides to sideline Waver for two episodes so the side characters can goof off in an extended Tsukihime reference.
Now I'm not familiar with Tsukihime, but thankfully the Fate wiki answered all my questions: "The Forest of Ainnash (腑海林アインナッシュ, also romanized as Forest of Einnashe), known as the "Disemboweling Sea of Trees", the Demon of Schwartzwald (シュバルツバルトの魔物?), Living Forest (思考林?), and the Predator Forest (動き襲い捕食する森?), is an eight hundred year-old sentient forest that ranks seventh out of The Twenty-seven Dead Apostle Ancestors." Totally cleared that up!
I also thought throwing the main character out of commission in the middle of the show's biggest arc was a head-scratching decision, but the sight of a shirtless battle-damaged Waver did assuage me somewhat.
It's mostly an excuse to get Gray on her own long enough to end up in an Anime Bonding Cave
Otherwise, it's a lot of faffing about with the side cast who range from passably bland to Please Stop Talking.
Look, some people just really like the violin. The side cast largely feels squandered in this show. Not that they were all interesting to begin with, but you could definitely do more with a story about a grumpy magic teacher and his rowdy student sidekicks than they have so far.
The exception is Luvia, who is already perfect.
Sure would be nice if they did something with her! Hell, they even team her up with Shishigou, which you think would make for some fun buddy cop shenanigans, but their entire screen time amounts to interviewing characters for exposition that'll be reiterated later anyway. How do you make these two so dull together?
Yeah I was disappointed by that, especially after his Apocrypha adventures with Mordred set the bar so high. Maybe if they'd been the focus of an arc, or at least had gotten their own episode? Or their own show? Surely Fate has room in its heart for another spinoff of a spinoff. At the very least, I thank the show for reminding me of the best scene from Unlimited Blade Works.
That's Detective Waver in a nutshell: cool ideas, fun characters, all ripe for exploring either seriously or comedically, but they're only ever half-explored at best. The result is a show where the characters don't get enough focus to carry the story, but the mysteries are so half-baked that the ultimate bad guy of this six-episode caper is a dude we've never met before and have no reason to care about. We never even learn what he's after outside of wanting to fuck with Waver.
It's pretty bad in a lot of ways, but whether it's my FGO-induced Stockholm Syndrome or not, I still found myself having a great time with this series. Intentional or not, this is a hilarious taking of the piss by Fate standards. I'm STILL cracking up about "Faker."
I can almost get where they're going with this dude. Along with being the Moriarty to Waver's Sherlock, he's also a Mage chasing after the Grail War—it's just that he never experienced it himself, so he ultimately just wanted to summon a servant to prove that he could? I dunno, I'm usually pretty good with picking out character parallels, but literally all I know about the dude is that Fairies stole his heart.
It's incredible how obviously they wanted this dude to be a Moriarty, and it's also hilarious how bad they were at pulling off his debut. Naming him Doctor Heartless is just the icing on the cake. Simply exquisite. Hideo Kojima-ass name.
At least they try to squeeze some character out of Faker, even if it mostly amounts to Waver baiting her into a fight with Gray while he has a staring contest with Professor Kidneygone.
She does have things like feelings and motivations! Those help! But in my eyes, the star of this scene was the good ol' Doomtrain. Feeding eyeballs into your magic train so it transforms into a laser cannon that can destroy an evil sentient forest—Fate can be
My favorite part is that apparently everyone in Fate is super bashful about sex, so if you want to beat somebody with Magic Eyeballs, you just have to show them a fertility statue to win.
Y'know, I was wondering why Waver's glasses broke in this scene, but now I think that's the answer. It was just too much stimulation for our poor virgin professor.
In the end, What's New Waver-Doo is something I wish I could like more. I like Waver! I like Gray! I like what they're attempting to do with those characters! But everything in between its sparse moments of intrigue is too awkward or flabby to function as anything but fanservice for people who have memorized the Nasuverse wiki.
I think it's a decent attempt to do something different with this setting and these characters, but it's still too tethered to Fate's worst impulses to actually break free and truly distinguish itself. Still, on the spectrum of Fate stuff I've experienced, this trends towards the better end of things.
I mean, it's not hard to be better than Fate/Extra: Last Encore.
Very true. And there's still one episode left, so we may well get the dedicated Luvia wrestling saga we deserve.
Keep telling yourself that, buddy.
Right back at ya.