THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Ahhh. A-1 Pictures. The studio who have time and time again, blessed us with their heavenly touch. Once again delivering the seasonal train-wreck that they have been doing so effectively since the creation of time itself. Being one of the most popular studios for both Western and Japanese fans; A-1 have made some of the most popular shows to come out of the medium. Many battle shounen such as Magi, Blue Exorcist, Fairy Tail and The seven deadly sins have all been met with a warm embrace from anime fans. Last year’s big hit Erased, two of the most popular
melodramas in Anohana and Your Lie in April, and the most important one of all: Sword Art Online. They have a lengthy list of popular shows but most of which are not met with the warmest of critical receptions and many usually have a split amongst watchers. Many casual watchers who are not very invested into the anime medium praise their works for their accessibility and good production values. On the other hand, more demanding viewers have scrutinized their shows for poor writing quality, needless otaku pandering, needless fanservice and in some cases; being an absolute train-wreck. I do believe that there is a lot of truth to what many say. Most shows I have encountered from A-1 are weak and only fill a criteria in order to make the maximum amount of profit they can. To cut a long story short; they are a mainstream magnet. While some of their shows are a little excessively over hated their latest title deserves all of the hate it has gotten and has reminded me why I ultimately dislike A-1.
Fate/Apocrypha is the latest title to come fresh off the conveyor belt and put another popular A-1 show in the limelight once again. This particular fate title follows the same basic formula you would expect from the franchise, but it does have its own unique twist in the plot. Instead of seven masters with seven servants fighting amongst each other for the Holy Grail, two factions fight over the grail each with their own set of seven servants and seven masters. Fate/Apocrypha is an alternate universe that branches off the fate/stay night universe where the Holy Grail has disappeared after the third Holy Grail war and has landed in the possession of a mage family that declared that they are in ownership of the grail and secede from the association.
As cool as its premise might sound on paper, Fate/Apocrypha is absolute trash. It’s a downright train-wreck no matter which angle I approach it from. Its first mistake was starting off with a draining info-dump. A fantastic way to immerse the viewers! But that is far from the worst problem. The show tries to make the audience in some way, shape or form care for over fifteen named characters all of which either look like generic waifus or characters out of a final fantasy game. When you have Jack the ripper being portrayed as a loli, that really says a lot about what kind of show this is doesn’t it?
Let’s also not forget about a certain trap that took the anime world by storm. I wouldn’t blame guys for pulling their dicks out to Astolfo since he resembles a female more than actual females do. Apart from blatant fetishizing, enabling those who want him as their waifbando to better self-insert and fulfill their deviant wishes. Astolfo's backstory was never really dug into enough to make him a distinguishable character with his own vision and ideals which further fuels the point that the only purpose he served in this calamity of a story is otaku fuel.
The fate franchise has always used sympathetic backstories to draw attention from the viewer. This worked far more efficiently in previous fate titles because they were about a much smaller group of characters who were a lot more distinctive from each other. Despite my problems with other fate incarnations, their characters were easier to care for because of tighter focus and a more well-structured surrounding plot. In this catastrophe, the show will very loosely reveal glimpses of a character's past while immediately transitioning to another character in a completely different scenario. This is not only immersion breaking for the viewer, but trying to split attention between a huge group of characters all of which look similar and are mostly generic anime archetypes is a huge step in achieving train-wreck status. Most characters lack any sort of meaningful characterization and most are too cookie-cutter which ultimately drags them down to the dirt. In addition to the characters being poor, the relationships between them are equally as dull with barely any engaging character chemistry or dialogue due to the dry atmosphere, dull presentation and lack of charisma from any of the cast bar Ruler who unlike everyone else, has some style and charm embedded in her. The rest are not worth mentioning individually as they generally share the same problems, a perfect example of lackluster script writing and the overall stupidity of most A-1 shows.
Furthermore, Fate/Apocrypha takes the extra step of killing off a character that seemed to be important to the overarching plot in just the 4th episode. All while desperately leeching for the audience’s sympathy with a half-baked and ham-fisted flashback right before his death. And you think that’s bad? What is even worse than that scenario is that he gave his life for a self-insert protagonist whom he’d just met by giving him his heart. Fate/Apocrypha cannot only handle its cast properly but it exceeded my expectations by handing me one of the most contrived scenarios in anime I have seen in awhile. Yet again, another perfect example of incompetent script writing.
Additionally, the bland self-insert protagonist whom had his life saved in the most contrived manner possible, makes one of the most ridiculous decisions he could ever have made. Being a homunculus made for war he escaped his captives under the protection of his trap-bait waifu and finally had the chance to live a free life. A sane human being would pick that option right? Well think again. This piece of shit character decides to jump straight back into the battlefield to save the other homunculus being held captive all of which he doesn’t even know personally on top of going to fight for a brainless reason just after being held in a container all his life.
As bad as the characters and script are in Apocrypha, what ultimately makes this show horrendously disengaging is that nothing in this anime feels important. It’s almost completely devoid of personality and energy making it an absolute snooze-fest nine times out of ten. Energy stems primarily from the characters. A charismatic cast is what gives a show charm and in effect, makes it more immersive. But I feel none of that from apocrypha. Its plot doesn’t have a single shred of significance. What was the final straw for making me realize this is when a character attempted to sacrifice themselves in an attempt to take a formidable enemy with them. At that point in time I gave more fucks about cutting my nails than an artificial character with an artificial flashback that was thrown into an artificial scenario. And to put the icing on the cake, our bland self-insert was revived from almost certain death without any logical explanation. I call a bullshit asspull! If that isn’t the perfect sign of a train-wreck, then what is?
Even some minor thematic significance does not stop a train-wreck from being a train-wreck. In the second half the anime started to explore some ideas relating to the nature of humanity and its salvation, ultimately ending in failure. Furthermore, Fate/Apocrypha never showed any illustrations, actions or consequences to serve its themes. Instead it presented them through bland characters who served as mouthpieces telling the audience about the themes instead of showing them through the plot to. It shows glimpses of events through some character flashbacks that support its themes but none of them are developed enough to leave an impression. With poor presentation and underdeveloped theme exploration, Fate/Apocrypha’s story proved to be arguably one of the most boring rides in anime i have had the displeasure of participating in this year, further highlighting why this anime is probably the biggest failure of its airing season.
The one thing I hoped could pull through so I could keep my attention on this show was the action scenes. After all, Fate titles are well known for having some breathtaking action sequences. And yet even they are for the most part were only average and do nothing to get me hyped in the slightest. A-1 Pictures usually have good production values for all the shows they adapt from a popular source material. The character designs range from generic light novel designs to designs that look like they came out of a JRPG. The technical artwork on the characters and backgrounds are nothing to write home about and are too plain to breathe any life into the story but nonetheless the technical artwork was acceptable. The animation is what ultimately let me down. During most of the show’s action scenes the art simplifies and there is clearly a lack of attention to detail. Furthermore, the action directing is very messy and the “camera” panning is too quick and shoddy, making the sequences difficult to follow and only adds to the laziness noticeably evident. Clearly A-1 don’t give a donkey’s ass because the name of the franchise alone will make money for the production committee. Its highlight was episode 22 which featured some brilliant sakuga sequences that stretched all the way till the end of the episode, unquestionably making it the best episode in the show and the only action sequences that are praiseworthy, but one episode full of breathtaking animation does not excuse all of its technical shortcomings littered all over the show.
Similarly, the OST is typical for the kind of show this is. There are two tracks in particular that work well with the action sequences and serve to add some tension. It’s a shame those tracks weren’t used on an action anime that has far more passion put into it. Both the opening and ending are very forgettable and can easily be skipped every episode. While the voice acting works well enough for most characters, some over-exaggerated screaming scenes full of over-bloated drama were unnecessarily magnified to the point of borderline cringe. It could be due to inexperience and it’s not a relatively damaging issue in the grand scheme of things but nonetheless it was distasteful.
Now I have surely made Fate/Apocrypha seem like the spawn of satan, and it’s bad enough to be placed borderline bottom of the barrel. When you look at how many problems this show has and how little qualities there are to be taken away, an individual has every right to label this anime as a failure. But to its credit, this anime somehow managed to improve about two thirds into its episode count. Of course, it’s not saying much when a show is extremely incompetent and all of a sudden decides to start doing a satisfactory job at the most basic of tasks. There was so much room for improvement that even someone with no professional writing experience like myself would be able to glue some paper over the cracks and steady the ship. In the middle of its run, the show killed off a multitude of characters in a huge battle, most of which were throw aways with either no characterization or minimal characterization and i did not care for them in the slightest. But as a result of its character clean up, the show stopped spreading itself so thin by concentrating on a smaller cast which were more vital to the plot and gave the audience some insight into their personality and goals. Furthermore, a clear antagonistic force was established with a concise objective that stabilized the plot, and for the first time, Fate/apocrypha showed some competency in juggling character focused episodes and action sequences. Everything in the show from this point on had more weight placed on it, a sense of importance that I got from nothing in the first half, which was simply an empty casket. Instead of simultaneously throwing together multiple random encounters that were more jarring than exciting, the plot became more focused on individual arcs and events which made it easier to sit through. Even the action sequences slightly improved, with more convincing directing in the latter half.
However by that point that damage was all but done. No matter how much you try to plug the holes on a sinking ship, eventually you will run out of paper for the cracks if the ship continues to come under fire. Its improvements were still vastly overshadowed by the poor characters, bland aesthetic, dry atmosphere and cookie cutter plot filled with holes. Any events that followed were still uninteresting and the execution was simply tasteless. By the time the show elevated its drama and plot with higher stakes, i couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters.
Like I said previously, Fate/Apocrypha is trash. A textbook example on how to make a train-wreck of a story with barely any redeeming factors. Just another anime that should be thrown into the dumpster just like 95% of seasonal anime that air. It spreads itself so thin that none of the characterization or major events have any semblance of importance and to top it all off its story is an atrocious mess with a lack of focus. At this point I have almost completely lost all faith in the fate franchise, and titles like these highlight why I ultimately dislike A-1 Pictures as a studio. Many in the anime community say that studios cannot be completely accountable for most anime they produce because most don’t hold the same staff in-house for every project. There is certainly truth in that statement, but it’s clear as daylight that A-1 have an identity and that is to be a completely mechanical workshop devoid of creativity, solely designed to pump out shows in the dozens that will make every otaku’s dick wet all while completely forgetting about the script. Don’t get me completely wrong, I do enjoy some shows from A-1, and I’m sure I’ll find some more of that nature in their extensive catalogue, but it’s shows like these that keep supporting my argument that A-1 are the circus of the anime industry and that won’t be changing anytime soon.
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Status: Finished Airing
Aired: Jul 2, 2017 to Dec 31, 2017
Premiered: Summer 2017
Broadcast: Sundays at 00:00 (JST)
Licensors: Aniplex of America
Studios: A-1 Pictures
Source: Light novel
Duration: 23 min. per ep.
Rating: R - 17+ (violence & profanity)
Score: 7.181 (scored by 230644230,644 users)
1 indicates a weighted score.
2 based on the top anime page. Please note that 'Not yet aired' and 'R18+' titles are excluded.