The unstoppable visual novel Fate/Stay Night has spawned multitudes of media adaptations, including the highly successful Fate/Grand Order mobile game. In an interesting move, the staff decided to adapt one of the game's later story lines to create the mouthful that is "Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia." What does this mobage game have to offer non-players and is it worth watching? Steve and Nick dive in!
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. NSFW: Fanservice shots & some language.
You can read our episode reviews of Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia here!
Well Steve, we've put if off long enough. I swore after the last one that I was done with this franchise for a while, but the gods have seen fit to drag me back in. So let's just get this over with and start talking about heavy sigh
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
Yes, it's finally time to talk about the anime I personally funded by throwing very real money at very digital jpegs of historical anime wives. I'm basically a hero.
Oh so this disaster of punctuation is YOUR fault.
I'm so desensitized to anime title punctuation at this point that it barely even registered. It's certainly not on Keijo!!!!!!!!'s level of brilliance tho, I'll give you that.
Anyway, the latest entry in the Endless Fate Spinoff Parade is perhaps its most esoteric yet. Babylonia (not to be confused with this season's Babylon) is, as I understand it, an adaptation of the 7th chapter of the ongoing FGO mobile game's story, and it was partially selected for adaptation by fans because it's one of the only stories that isn't garbage.
Yeahhhh, FGO's first arc really doesn't hit its stride until the 6th and 7th Singularities, which, surprise, are the ones getting adaptations. Although, Fate being Fate, of course we're getting the 7th arc before the 6th. Can't make things too easy on the audience now can we?
Really, I just feel bad for the crew tasked with adapting all this. Imagine being hired to direct, like, the first ever Harry Potter movie. But you have to start with Deathly Hallows and can't rewrite it to be standalone. So you just have to cram in some kind of exposition for why people can fly on brooms. Or in Babylonia's case, why Leonardo Da Vinci is an anime wife.
Look, Da Vinci came back to life and decided she wanted to be a beautiful woman. That's pretty much all there is to it, and it's legit one of the best parts of FGO.
Oh I'm not complaining. But just as like, a writing exercise, Babylonia's conception as an anime is having to ice skate uphill, and I commend to folks helming it for their effort to make this even slightly comprehensible.
FGO does benefit somewhat from its Singularities being mostly self-contained stories, with an overarching plot that's pretty basic underneath all of the overly-complicated magical explanations this franchise looooves to throw at you.
Welcome to Fate, where worldbuilding just means coming up with bespoke proper nouns for all your time travel shit.
Like, I provided a quick summary in my first episodic review on this site, but basically, it's alternative history time travel shenanigans with the purpose of retrieving Holy Grails and stopping King Solomon from destroying all of humanity.
True. Much as I rag on it Babylonia has a leg up on, say, Detective Waver because it's much easier to gloss over all the talks of Rayshifting and Shiva Programs and King Solomon when they're just plot devices instead of the physical mechanics for a murder mystery. Even as someone who avoided FGO entirely I felt like I had a good grip on the Whos and Whys after Episodes 0 and 1. Which allowed me to ask much more pertinent questions, like: why is Mash's butt like that?
Ah yes, episode 1 is very, ah, forthcoming about its priorities.
It's ironic that Fate's only managed to get more outwardly horny as it's tried to distance itself from its origin as a porn game. Like god damn.
And that does bring me to the point that, in the end, all of this plot and all of these Proper Nouns are just set dressing for an entry that digs deep into the true fundamental appeal of this franchise: a fantastical world in which all of your favorite historical, literary, and mythological figures are hot and here to smooch you..
Clothing very optional.
I kind of respect FGO being so upfront about itself. Other Fate shows might belabor over the mystery of why literal goddess Ishtar looks exactly like an already established franchise heroine, but with FGO they all but say it's so they can sell more Rin figures.
Though 10 episodes in we've yet to get single shot of Gilgamesh naked so I still have to condemn them as cowards.
Just saying, if we can get loving shots of Mash's asscheeks and Ushiwakamaru's...everything>
Then they can give us a glimpse of the King of Heroes' royal scepter. It's only fair.
Very true, but I do appreciate his abs being on constant display.
But yeah, Gilgamesh is a remarkably different character in Babylonia than he was in previous Fate entries. He's older, calmer, and only occasionally calls his subordinates mongrels.
Which is a pretty drastic shift from the ego driven solipsist of Zero or the literal psychopath from Stay Night, and honestly makes him my favorite character in the show so far.
Same! One of the begrudgingly neat things about Fate lore is that Servants can manifest as characters from multiple points in their lives and development. So in the main series, we only saw the younger, haughtier Gil. But here we have the real deal, striving for nobler means after the painful loss of his best clay friend.
He obviously took the loss of his closest companion hard. He must have been really fucked up afterwards.
It's so cute to see him twist his very obvious altruism around into these selfish justifications. Like he's tsundere about being a good king.
It's also where Fate's tendency for self-referential storytelling really pays off. Seeing how much he's changed makes you wonder just what happened between him and Enkidu. What did they go through together or share to make Gil into the king he is here? Which feeds really well into Babylonia's first real antagonist.
Ep 5 is absolutely the strongest so far. While the exact truth of this Enkidu's existence (in classic Fate fashion, they're apparently an imposter but maybe not?) isn't entirely clear yet, the moment where Gil first meets them is kind of heartbreaking. His first instinct is just to reminisce about his old partner.
It's so upsetting! Gil's obviously better at hiding his feelings, but you can tell he's just cut up inside about it.
And like you said, it's one of the moments where Babylonia's big magical action scenes feels tense and important. So many of the (superbly animated) fights in this show feel frankly perfunctory, but here there's a palpable energy that unfolds across a relatively short skirmish that makes it enthralling.
At to that point, props to the all of the people actually making this anime for infusing this scene with so much emotion. Speaking anecdotally, this wasn't the most memorable moment when I played through this arc last year, but they transformed it into an undeniable highlight.
I was legit bowled over by how much emotional resonance they packed into this anime's opening statement. It's an almost impeccably-directed episode too. I love, for instance, how it kept defaulting to these very voyeuristic shots to emphasize the pathos of Mash's role as (more or less) a prisoner of Chaldea.
There's a lot of very talented people working on this, and when everything clicks together, it can be sublime.
After years of mostly knowing Mash by the fan art my friends RT, I was shocked how much they made me feel for her in just 20 minutes. Granted it was a little spoiled by concluding with a montage telling me to play the game if I want to actually see her character development, but props for doing so much with what they had.
I also like the appropriately tiny efforts to integrate some of the past Singularities, like flashing back to Mash getting a pep talk from Mozart. Divorced from context, that's a wild statement to make, but it's also one of the components that can make Fate feel like something actually good—small snippets of shared humanity that transcend time and culture.
The flashy fights are obviously what puts butts in seats, but for my money the strongest moments of Babylonia have been quiet conversations between the cast confiding their secrets and dreams to one another. Heck they've even made this absolute bowl of Oatmeal into a fairly engaging protagonist.
I kind of hate how much they've been endearing me to Ritsuka. They're still cowards for not going with the female player avatar, but his desire to be buff speaks to my very soul.
Truth be told he's not like, an amazing character. But he's leagues ahead of most other mobile game self-inserts who make the leap to a non-interactive medium. He feels like a rounded person with worries and emotions and even a sense of humor!
This is a bit more of a stretch, but his everyman persona also kinda fits thematically into Babylonia's thesis that ordinary humans working together are the ultimate manifestation of our strength and the ultimate thing to be preserved.
Eh, I'm less than sold on that premise. Mostly because this is still Fate, a franchise built from the bedrock on the appeal of watching canonically super special people fighting other people's battles because they're just cooler and better at it.
But if nothing else I buy Ritsuka as a character and enjoy him interacting with the larger, wackier personalities of the cast. He's far from the draw of the show, but he's not weighing it down like I expected him to going in.
Yeah I feel like the showrunners have really put work into embellishing the show's quieter moments between him and the other characters. Like, what initially endears you to Ushiwakamaru isn't a spectacular battle scene but a small human moment of her realizing her story has survived a millennium. This scene could easily have felt rote, but they inject it with a lot of charm.
Unfortunately a lot of that is undercut by the sheer gaudy disasterpiece that is Ushiwaka's design. Like god damn this sucks hard.
In a 4.5-year-old gacha game fueled by ridiculously horny character designs, it says something that Ushiwaka's costume still sticks out as particularly egregious.
"Oh, better get ready for battle," said historical military commander Minamoto no Yoshitsune, before putting on her crotchless miniskirt, detached asymmetrical sleeves, and standalone shirt collar with clip on nipple lapels.
It's not even that it's so unrelentingly horny. It's just a bad design borne from piling on incongruous visual ideas until she's left looking like a parody of mobile game character designs. Which sucks because as-is she's a really good side character.
Which brings us to episode 8, this arc's first big turning point and a spectacularly animated sendoff for both her and Leonidas.
Once again, as someone familiar with the game, this chapter felt nowhere near as epic nor as tragic as they pulled off here.
So I mentioned before that a lot of this show's fights just feel perfunctory. They're there because that was where a fight happened in the game, and we need some action to keep the audience engaged, but rarely do anything to develop characters or progress the plot. But Episode 8 is where all the pomp and circumstance comes together to really sell the sheer power of these fighters.
There are some truly breathtaking moments contained here, but my favorite detail is surprisingly understated. After Leonidas falls, the entire palette becomes muted and monochromatic, as if the entire world is in mourning. It's such a classy and cinematic way of communicating the surviving characters' feelings.
It's spectacular, and the stellar direction complements action animation that's absolutely stunning. While not as visually striking, it reminded me a lot of ep 5 of Mob Psycho 100 II, in that these brilliant cuts just kept coming back-to-back-to-back until I wondered if they would ever end.
Babylonia is certainly another big-name animator exhibition along the lines of Mob Psycho, and this episode is proof that it can marry its technical prowess with emotional resonance in similar ways.
Also, importantly, the anime's big snek.
Ah right, another entry with Kiara and Kingprotea in the growing Giant Horny Monster Women menagerie Nasu seems to be building.
I'm not a huge fan of her CG rig but her faces are Very Good.
More to your point, tho, Nasu still has an entire airport's worth of luggage to unpack about how he writes women.
Yuuuuuuup. My "favorite" part is how they gloss over the rather pertinent part of Medusa/Gorgon's myth where her being turned into a monster was punishment for being raped by Poseidon
Like hey guys, we've all seen Heaven's Feel. We know you're not too squeamish to bring that part up, and it might be useful in fleshing out your Vengeance Goddess villain. But whatever I guess.
Also the whole "the villain this time is a mashup of this monstrous mythical woman with a primordial sea goddess who's bent on making demons out of ordinary people using her gigantic evil womb. Whoops!"
Oh right, guess we gotta talk about that
scene. So hey, Ushiwakamaru was pretty cool right? She's fun and endearing and has a unique connection with Ritsuka that motivates her to do something really impressive and selfless as a final moment. That's great right? Well too bad she's gonna get brutalized inside the snake womb while you stare at her underboob.
It's a pettily indulgent and exploitative way to end an otherwise fantastic episode, but Nasu's gonna Nasu. Anyway, these are all good things to keep in mind going forward in this arc, because lemme tell you: they're not gonna get better.
Can't wait to see brainwashed, evil Ushiwakamaru Alter or whatever show up in 10 episodes so Ritsuka can feel really sad about killing her. That's a way better and more cathartic end to her character than getting to go out guns blazing like Leonidas!
We can't code an upside-down face emoji into this column, but pretend I put an upside-down face emoji here.
And while that's the most egregious moment in the show, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some other patented Fate Bullshit that just gets on my nerves with Babylonia. Like until that scene by far the worst part of the show for me was episode 4 introducing maybe the dumbest character in the entire Fate multiverse.
Look, sometimes you really need a boss fight to close out your chapter, and sometimes you've got a spare minor character lying around. And truth be told, I can't hate not-Taiga's tokusatsu poses.
I get that this is a cheeky in-joke for fate diehards, but as somebody who has no attachment the Taiga in any form, having her show up and make bad puns for 10 minutes while constantly shouting did nothing but kill any tension this supposedly pivotal moment in Ritsuka's arc was supposed to have.
Like in-story our heroes are being forced to abandon a city being held hostage by the villains, dredging up feelings of failure an inadequacy from when they failed to protect others. But it's delivered while a Tony The Jaguar hams it up and break dances.
It's not good, but it's an interesting place where Babylonia's desire to tell a story clashes with FGO's model of making money off characters fans either recognize or want. On some level, I gotta respect the hustle of derailing your story to appeal to all 14 hardcore Taiga fans out there. Just like I gotta respect this week's shameless shout out to all the Ishtar-lovers.
Ishtar's at least like, a character in her own right. Even if part of her character is just a joke flanderizing Rin as a Tsundere that transcends time & space.
See, that's all I ask. You can have your goofy fandom memes and flash your characters' crotches every time they fight so long as you also bother to give them dignity and interiority. Ishtar's still not yet developed as much as Gil or Mash, but she feels like a real person underneath all the marketing gimmicks and buttmonkey status.
And I think those points are where this adaptation truly shines as an adaptation. In between the animation highlights, it's both homing in on and honing these character beats, and in doing so it's been making this story shine in ways the game couldn't. It ain't perfect, but I'm pretty pleased with it overall.
It feels like the good outweighs the crap in a way Fate really hasn't for me since probably Apocrypha's finale. And the reason I get so bugged out by its failings is because the good stuff is really, genuinely engaging. Plus Merlin's just always fun to have around.
He's an absolute fluffy scumbag and I love him. The show has also been very good about accurately depicting what it feels like to use him as a support in the actual game.
So you're saying he was right.
I mean if we're getting into the little stuff I appreciate that somebody at least made an effort to cover up Mash's wedgie for a couple episodes. I choose to believe Gilgamesh ordered it because the clap of her mashcheeks kept alerting the demonic beasts.