The Holy Grail is a powerful, ancient relic capable of granting any wish the beholder desires. In order to obtain this power, various magi known as "masters" summon legendary Heroic Spirits called "servants" to fight for them in a destructive battle royale—the Holy Grail War. Only the last master-servant pair standing may claim the Grail for themselves. Yet, the third war ended inconclusively, as the Grail mysteriously disappeared following the conflict.
Many years later, the magi clan Yggdmillennia announces its possession of the Holy Grail, and intends to leave the Mage's Association. In response, the Association sends 50 elite magi to retrieve the Grail; however, all but one are killed by an unknown servant. The lone survivor is used as a messenger to convey Yggdmillennia's declaration of war on the Association.
As there are only two parties involved in the conflict, the Holy Grail War takes on an unusual form. Yggdmillennia and the Mage's Association will each deploy seven master-servant pairs, and the side that loses all its combatants first will forfeit the artifact. As the 14 masters summon their servants and assemble on the battlefield, the magical world shivers in anticipation with the rise of the Great Holy Grail War.
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.
So I'm making this review mostly for future watchers of the Fate/Series, mostly those that are entering on the Fate universe. Before going ahead with Apocrypha's Review I have a Question for you readers
1- Is this your first Fate? if the answer is Yes, I'd recommend you to go watch Stay Night and Zero first, then you'll have an Idea of how Fate works.
Also for those that are already into fate, I'd recommend you to do a certain investigation to Fate's deep lore. Remember Dark Souls? that game were you are given specific orders and there is almost no story telling? Dark Souls have an
in-game lore that is pretty deep and rewarding for those that dig into it, so for your sake, try to have some knowledge on the servants included on this anime, and also how their noble phantasm works, otherwise you will feel kinda lost.
So, before getting into the review, there might be spoilers, so you are warned.
Fate/Apocrypha starts as a 7 vs 7 servant battle between 2 factions, mostly known as "Red and Black". Another holy battle in order to get the holy grail that will fulfill the wish of the victor. This battle starts as a selfish war request just for the "fun of it", it is quite a very dull reason. Later on it turns into something else that pretty much sets up the anime towards the main story of this series, but I'll leave it there because I might get into spoilers.
The anime takes some episodes to set itself in the first "stage" that consist on the birth of Sumanai 2.0 AKA "the most hated Main Character in the Fate Series" (according to the amount of rant in the forums) I don't consider Sieg to be that bad of a MC. He might look like he has a lot of aspulls around him, but if we did our investigation into the lore of Fate, we shall know that there aren't any asspulls here, it might be convenient for plot purposes, but it makes sense (It is also explained at the very exact moment things happens, which contributes on the feeling of being convenient). Story: 6/10
Now, this is not ufotable we are talking about, the infamous A-1 Pictures is well known for doing many shit stuff and butchering the source. Also, they don't have the best animation style, not as smooth as Ufotable. However, they managed to make Apocrypha an enjoyable experience when it comes to Art and Animation. This is a place were I knew that many people don't know how animation works, Don't mistake "Animation" with "Art Style" or "Still frames" obviously, if you make a screen shot on a scene that has a lot of movement, you will see a lot of derpy faces, but that's not bad animation, this is required to make a scene that needs to be fluid because of the speed of what is happening at the moment. There are also scenes that requires this kind of "Ugly" Style when it comes to something that needs that "twisted" feeling. Art/Animation: 7/10
Regarding the sound department, the first opening is quite out of place for a Fate Series, it is not a bad song but it doesn't really look like it would fit Fate, the first ending, on the other hand is really great, I could say the same for the second opening, which fits more fate Imo, The second ending is okay, not as good as the first one.
Now, if we talk about sound effects, that's were Apocrypha fails in the sound department, the "noises" they got as sound effects aren't top tier material, they honestly sound like doing a blow on a microphone and then make it louder and call it "explosion", its pretty stupid, the rest of the sound effects are your typical generic set of effects, like the "Clink" of swords that you will probably hear on many fighting anime that involves sword fighting, is not bad at all, but not really great.
Now about the soundtrack, I found myself liking the heroic tones A-1 did for this anime, even if they overuse them a lot, they are right in place and (in my case) very hype inducing. Sound: 7/10
About the characters, like on every Fate series, we are set up into heroes from different eras, this is were you need to get into the lore of fate for these characters because if you don't really know who they are you will probably feel lost when it comes to their motivations. Also take in consideration that in the fate franchise some servants tend to be of the opposite gender. For example, "Altria" also known as the "Original Saber" from the Stay Night, Zero Series is meant to represent the King Arthur, but she's actually a female. There are very interesting choices on this anime when it comes to servant representation, Jack The Ripper was quite a nice touch being what "It" is. That aside, the lack of character development might be a bad thing when it comes to their motivations, specially for the Main Character.
There is also an addition of a new class of servant, the "Ruler" Class, its role is to oversee the battlefield in case something goes wrong, (Jeanne/Leticia besto waifu) btw, Ruler servants are meant to be OP. Characters: 6/10
Now, this might not be the best Fate up to date, but it is really enjoyable, it is definitely not bad, it is just quite "meh" compared to what Ufotable is capable of doing, so just erase the idea of comparing this to the other fate adaptations from your head and you will have a good time watching this Anime. Enjoyment 9/10
Taking a footstep into the Type-Moon universe feels almost intimidating at first. The franchise consists of an immense fictional universe that’s filled with unnatural ideas. Their flagship titles include the Fate franchise that were adapted into several TV series, OVAs, and movies. However, Fate/Apocrypha came to me as a show that couldn’t hold itself together. What could have been a big hit of the year translated into a nakedly boring storyteller that dropped the ball.
To get the obvious out of the way, you don’t absolutely need to watch other Fate shows to understand Fate/Apocrypha. It’s advisable though since getting a better understanding of the general
premise (in particular, the Holy Grail War) could improve your experience. Besides, the first few episodes does get into its exposition to explain some of the rules and concepts. It also introduces two sides of the Grail War with its ensemble of characters.
I don’t want to jump the boat here but it felt like Fate/Apocrypha had to do a lot to please the viewers. Setting up a show with a story premise that involves two sides clashing for the ultimate prize sounds like a sensational attraction. It could really draw viewers, whether you’re a newbie or veteran of the Fate franchise. As someone in the middle like myself, it felt like a show that could really get viewers to really invest themselves more to what the Fate franchise had to offer. It’s sort of refreshing to see a war drama-like scenario rather than a battle royal. Unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to expectations that made this show feel any refreshing. It felt like a formulaic story that I couldn’t feel attached to or appreciated. As more episodes progressed, it became a chore to watch. Before I get to the what, how, and why, it’s important to understand what Fate/Apocrypha really did wrong.
For a show like this, it obviously has a decent amount of characters it had to work with. Given the context that there are at least 7 masters and servants on both sides (Red faction and Black faction), there would be a minimum of 28 characters that gets involved in the main story. Then, there’s Ruler/Jeanne who serves as the mediator of the Grail War. (think of her like a middleman of a game) With 25 episodes adapting a 5-volume light novel series, the main concern lies with the fact that the show won’t have enough time to spotlight all the characters. Indeed, this anime did omit characterization on multiple fronts with its cast. This applies to both sides that includes the masters and servants. What made it worse is that the characters’ roles and motivations didn’t seem interesting to begin with. It just felt like the characters are there like pieces of a chess game. Some characters such as Mordred, Atalanta, and Jeanne has their own background stories. Unfortunately, those are vaguely explored and really doesn’t do justice with the show’s characterization. At the worst part, we have mindless characters like Spartacus and Jack the Ripper that just felt disposable.
Now, we do have a main protagonist in the show despite the war-like drama going on. The show introduces Sieg, a homunculus that gets involved in the Holy Grail War. After a series of events, he gained the ability to transform into a servant in Siegfried’s form. To be honest, Sieg’s role in the show felt like a mixed bag for me. Compared to the other characters, he gets a lot of spotlight as he learns about himself, the world, and begins to act on his own morals. However, they are generic to the core and really doesn’t bring interest in terms of storytelling. On the other hand, his character chemistry with Jeanne is perhaps one of the better elements of the show as it makes them both look more human. Still, Sieg is portrayed too much like an average protagonist that just doesn’t stand out compared to the others. Everything he says almost sounds the same and he has a rather uninteresting personality as a character by himself. The only occasional time he shines is through character interactions with others. It’s also sad to say but most of the characters in this show can hardly shine on their own. It’s mostly the character chemistry that sells more interest. They come in a variety of forms such as respect (Mordred/Kairi), greed (Siegfried/Gordes), parental (Jack the Ripper/Reika), among others. Unfortunately, I confess that most of the character relationships in the show ended up being dry and empty. It felt like a lot was missing including insufferable personalities, roles, and in general, characterization. Shirou Kotome is a character that people will begin to take notice more in the latter half of the show. Still, I can’t say his role in the show is impressive given his view on humanity and morals. Shirou’s personality in this anime is also easy to dislike and feels more like they introduced him as an antithesis of Sieg. The clash of ideals gets old fast and tedious. The only plus on this is that both he and Sieg makes the story flow better as their roles are more acceptable. Just be aware of that the show suffers from weak plot devices and doesn’t do justice at telling its story.
So Fate/Apocrypha did a lot of wrong. What did the show actually do right? For me, the characters themselves have rather distinctive personalities that can occasionally be entertaining to watch. Mordred is perhaps one of the more dynamic character with a prideful amount of charisma. Astolfo adds a big dose of comedy to this rather moody show. William the Shakespeare also shows a ton of energy through his philosophy and dialogues that can occasionally be amusing to watch. Even Frankenstein can occasionally have windows of moments that draws attention to viewers. Admitingly, I do miss a few of the characters after their demise. The story itself has a thoughtful premise despite the poor pacing at times and omitting/rushing certain content from the light novel. It’s very predictable at times but occasionally feels impactful when you see the plot being carried out. Unfortunately, these concepts are mostly scattered throughout the show and doesn’t connect each other in a balanced way. It’s like a broken toy that still has problems after being repaired.
Watching Fate/Apocrypha’s action scenes reminds me of battle-shounen style cinematics. Rather than ufotable, A-1 Pictures takes this project that set off some red flags at first. Through their history of adapting shows with action, it felt like this anime’s technical elements would be mediocre. While it doesn’t live up to the caliber of ufotable, A-1 Pictures does live up to their standards. To put it simply, the show’s action scenes mostly looks sharp and stylish. In one particular episode in the latter half of the series, it really brings out a style of animation that stood out by itself. There are some episodes that suffers from raw visual quality with sloppier action movements but for most part, it lives up to expectations. Character facial expressions is also noticeable that showcases the persona of the cast. Jeanne, Atalanta, William the Shakespeare, and Jack the Ripper are a few examples. Character designs also stands out with noticeable traits such as Astolfo’s androgynous appearance, Frankenstein’s experimental look, Mordred’s prideful knight armor, or Semiramis’ devious dress. Jeanne herself stands out as well with her pure look as a spirit in a French girl’s body. Most of the fan service in the show comes with the violence rather than skin so do expect a lot of that.
On the technical front, this anime‘s theme songs and OST delivered what I would expect from an action/fantasy show. It balances between orchestral, eerie, harmonious, and intense. In particular, the moments between Jeanne and Sieg has OST that make them stand out more compared to other character pairs. Character voice mannerism is suitable for most of the casts' personalities although it may take a while to get used to Astolfo and Sieg. Jeanne’s voice sounds too monotonous at times and holds the show back as a main character. On the other hand, I do really find Mordred to stand out a lot in the show with her voice and personality. Frankenstein is also worth mentioning as she hardly gets any lines but portrays her personality consistently like from the original story.
Fate/Apocrypha felt like a show that had a lot of potential but had too much to work with to be able to make everything go smoothly in the end. While this may seem like an excuse at first, it still doesn’t feel right as the story and characters didn’t capitalize on them. The Holy Grail war drama has been going on for a long time since the Fate franchise begin and to be honest, this one didn’t feel any exceptional compared to its other works. It didn’t inject ideas that made the show impressive but instead tried to rely on its character cast to do the storytelling. That came out as poorly made with little value to talk about in the end. Even at 25 episodes, it still felt like a show that gave the Fate franchise a middle finger.
Now that 2017 is drawing to a close, we can certainly say Fate/Apocrypha lived up to its name, since whether or not you are a budding Fate/Fan, you probably could and should skip this entry. It is arguably the most bland and forgettable installment in the Fate series, notable only for current memes and trends in the community, such as traps and the meme of lewding fictional characters, as well as for what it tried and failed to accomplish over the course of its run. Now before I delve into the review proper, allow me to answer some burning questions:
“Can Fate/Apocrypha be
watched as a standalone?”
Yes, but I wouldn't recommend doing so, as you want to know the rules of the main Holy Grail Wars first that way you know how this deviates. It doesn't explain all of those rules either nor does it explain all of the new stuff it does despite some attempts. You should at least watch the main timeline installments to avoid possible confusion with this one. So no, do not make this your first, let alone only experience with Fate/ anime.
“Should I watch Fate/Grand Order: First Order beforehand?”
No. Pretend that abomination doesn't exist. It will not give you any insight into Apocrypha’s deviations either. All the entry does is cause confusion, not explain anything it adds or amends, and advertises a mobile game that contains all of the servants in the franchise.
“I'm a guy. Is it gay if I like Astolfo as my waifu?”
Yes it is and yes you are. Shame he is so convincing of a woman; I will never live down my shame of being turned on by him at first. Thankfully for you, he’s also actually gay in this anime. To any female reading this who would be interested in him however, you’re shit outta luck. With all that said, let’s get into the review proper.
Fate/Apocrypha, otherwise known by me as Fate/Steak Sauce, was animated primarily by Studio A-1 Pictures, and to be honest, I feel it may have utterly destroyed itself under its lofty ambitions in a variety of ways, resulting in a relatively dull mess full of improperly explained new mechanics, logical errors and holes, a cornercopia of characters that are as bloated as they are uninteresting to the point of even beating out last year’s juggernaut dumpster fire Re:Zero, and lastly, arguably the worst production values ever given to a major A-1 Pictures show. It simply spread itself too thin, leading to a disappointment in nearly all aspects.
Before we really delve into why this show manages to be relatively disappointing in retrospect for me (as I was conditioned by footage and reception over the course of 23 weeks prior to my viewing of this failure to correctly assume this anime would be hovering around the subpar range at all times), how about we look at the one area Fate/Steak Sauce manages to somewhat excel in, that being the music. The composer, Masaru Yokoyama, did a rather decent job with the tracks present here such as its namesake track “Fate/Apocrypha”, among a few other catchy and epic battle tracks. Some of these tracks are rather memorable, for right and wrong reasons. Simply put, these standout tracks get played way too much, particularly “Fate/Apocrypha” and “Jack the Ripper”, the latter of which plays in over ⅔ of the scenes Jack the Ripper and her master, Reina RIkudou, are in. Another issue is that sometimes the music just gets cut off, and while that may work once in a blue moon like in episodes 6 and 17 when a character saves another from a deadly surprise attack, the rest of the time it comes off as sloppy and jarring. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the first OP, where it just cuts off instead of ending and lingering for half a second like it probably should.
Speaking of OPs, while OP1, "Eiyuu Unmei no Uta (英雄 運命の詩)" is one of the weaker songs done by EGOIST, it is nonetheless as pretty good OP that works well given the nature of this show’s “Great Holy Grail War”. OP 2, "ASH", is one of LiSA’s strongest, rivaling, probably surpassing the band’s immensely popular SAO OP 1. This one feels like the perfect 2nd OP of a Light Novel action anime adaptation, which happens to be what LiSA’s songs are primarily used on with the likes of SAO, Mahouka, and Qualidea Code, and quite frankly, this is easily the catchiest LiSA OP to date for me. ED 1, "Désir" by GARNiDELiA, is a pretty decent track by this group as well, and of all the tracks I heard from her this year, this is arguably my favorite, but it certainly isn’t among my favorites she’s done. ED 2, "KOE" by ASCA, is absolutely astounding! If nothing else, Fate/Apocrypha has easily the best ED theme in the franchise to date, because this song is phenomenal, especially the full version! It fits perfectly for this kind of show as well in its 2nd cour too and the vocals are fantastic. I cannot wait to hear more songs from this group, and with this same studio releasing Grancrest Senki soon at the time of writing, I won’t have to wait too long it seems.
Of course, you cannot properly review an anime without taking the actual visuals into account and woo boy was it...rocky. For starters, it seems like A-1 Pictures tried their own spin on the Ufotable face and artstyle and it often doesn’t work that well, however it is at least better than their usual A-1 face (see SAO, Asterisk War, Aldnoah.Zero) or whatever fugly abomination the Eromanga art style was. They quite frequently look off, and I can’t count the amount of scenes where a character (or multiple characters) not horribly far from the foreground doesn’t have a face. There's also that time in episode 9 where Frankenstein’s arms and face became a slinky and turned an emotional scene into unintentional hilarity. The CGI is brief here though sometimes it just looks egregious too (Saber plane from episode 19, anyone?). Hell, the character designs pail massively in comparison to those of Zero and F/SN by a mile. The outfits range from meh to absolutely hideous, with some of the worst offenders being Shakespeare and especially Siegfried, who is easily the worst designed character in the franchise to me. Everything about this design feels ugly and wrong, especially the armorless glowing chest. Other bad designs include Jack the Ripper, who is a little girl (or little girl body that happens to carry the spirits of a plethora of souls of unfortunate children) with an outfits that TV tropes would define as “stripperific”.
The fights are probably the most hit and miss aspect. Sometimes the fights look absolutely abysmal with ruthlessly horrendou choreography and shots that are entirely disconnected to the point of the fights becoming beyond incoherent and incomprehensible (see Karna vs Siegfried in episode 3). Not to mention that the frame rate of the fights can be immensely choppy, such as in the main fight of episode 21. Other times, however, many of the fights would actually become tolerable, if not downright wonderful to look at sometimes, such as anytime Karna busts out his fire moves starting from his fight with Vlad the Impaler in episode 8 and pretty much the entirety of episode 22 (yes, the art is less detailed but the animation is bombastic and dynamic, with absolutely wonderful looking flashy art and animation for the imaginative and stellar attacks and new constructed environments). The actual choreography of nearly all melee is truly terrible, with some of the worst fights this studio has produced, but then we get those exemplary aforementioned examples on occasion and the fact that a lot of the time the flashy visuals are done effectively, and it all sorta averages out even, all things considered.
There are two interesting plotlines in this series, both of which directly involve the main characters, SIeg, Jeanne (and technically Leticia), Astolfo, Shishigo, and Mordred. Those are his journey of learning what it’s like to live and have freedom, and what it really means to be good and find salvation. Over the course of the series, this homunculus, with little knowledge of the world, asks these questions and becomes part of an overarching dialogue with these characters who ask the same and end up coming to their own conclusions of at least one of the two answers, with heartwarming and heartbreaking circumstances and great, terrible, and far more morally ambiguous people fueling or at least playing some influence on said answers, especially for Sieg. He tries to help other homunculi gain freedom just like a select few did for him, and by the end of the series, he comes to his own conclusions just in time to help someone he cares about regain resolve. This, in essence, is one of the two main, interweaving plots of Fate/Apocrypha. To be nice for a moment, Apocrypha does this admittedly well to a degree, and there are a few reasons for this. For one, Sieg starts off weak and with physically no developed personality, as some characters are quick to point out. While he does grow into a myre archetypal character akin to what Shirou Emiya from Fate ends up reconstructing in UBW, it is still areciated development, even if he grows little afterwards, only developing a sense of hate most of his contemporaries (with exception to, oddly enough, Kirito from Sword Art Online), never come close to exhibiting. Another reason this all works is because despite many of the characters not being that well written, more than ⅓ of this sizeable cast plays a major role in his journey through these questions and his final decision towards the end of the series. This means, at least structurally, this all works fine and dandy to some extent, as there are many defining moments in the series for Sieg that influence him in a positive or negative way. There is one problem with the structure to be brought up later but even still, this all sounds pretty good, right?
Yeah, if the script were better written.
If that were the case, this series would’ve actually been rather poignant and compelling. For one, as mentioned earlier, not that many of the characters are actually well-written, as they don’t have that great of a chemistry with Sieg in the first place, and they’re not interesting in their own right anyway. Given the immense size of this show’s character ensemble, with a grand total of over 30 characters in a 25 episode series with only 23 minutes per episode, inevitably only few would stand out as worthwhile character. That is, of course, assuming that any character in such a cast were to do so at all, which is unfortunately not really the case here. Sure, thanks to a few spoiler-based reasons, we only actually need to follow around 24 of them. But that’s still too many for such a series to handle. A lot of them are immensely forgettable in their own right, with a few such as Celenike and Atlanta becoming increasingly, crushingly terrible as the story went on. The main 5 mentioned earlier are the closest we get to well-written characters. This, along with the lack of time to really sell the drama related to some of the more minor characters, makes the deaths of some less emotionally impactful than the people behind this show wanted them to be, especially in the second half of the show, where the majority of the characters are killed. There are a few decent character dynamics such as Jack and Reina, Shishigo and Mordred, and Shakespeare and Semiramis, but not enough are explored well enough for me to truly feel for when some of these characters start dying. The best character is actually Sieg, who actually had to develop into a more archetypal character, which is immensely bizarre and interesting, even if, once again, he doesn’t become that exemplary of a character. There is some nice banter between some of these characters but banter doesn’t automatically make ok at best characters suddenly good and compelling, despite the ambition and drama displayed with many, especially with the main antagonist. I’ll leave it at that though before I go too far. We still have one major subcategory of reasons the writing failed, that of course, being the narrative.
To avoid spoilers, let’s just say there are asspulls galore and many things that just appear out of nowhere only for them to appear from a portal the next time in an attempt to make up for not explaining anything beforehand and causing confusion. One of two nasty exceptions is what a certain female character acquires out of nowhere in episode 21, as there is no explanation as to how or where she got it. This instance actually gets somewhat repeated in episode 23 with a serum a certain important duo used to win a major fight. Everything related to Noble Phantasms is wrong, from the fact that they don’t establish the amount one can have here, or the fact that there are legally many one can weird for some reason (they simply show it and only later do they explain after all the confusion caused). A certain character gets struck by the effects of a servant’s Noble Phantasm in episode 10 that was effectively an electric suicide bomb, and then manages to use all of the noble phantasms the servant who accidentally zapped him with hers had, in episode 24. I understand that the holy grail war this time is different and that there are new rules created specifically for this spin-off entry, and they do a reasonable enough job explaining most of these. However, with instances like the above, they still managed to drop the ball. Sometimes the story claims that a character used more command seals than he or she actually did (or at the least, they don’t show all of them being used). Sometimes it seems like characters just teleport from one location at the end of an episode to another that was far away at the beginning of the next, in an instant (not including the times servants actually do). Other times, time seems to have passed by tremendously with nothing having happened during the fights whatsoever (especially in episode 3). I could keep going on, piling all the small details that really tear up the narrative from the inside, as the first half alone gave me 2 whole pages of errors and holes to list, but I think I’ll stop here.
Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed with this entry, not out of the fact that it didn’t meet initial expectations, as it kind of did, but because I saw the potential it ended up having, and found that in an effort to do so much, it failed to make the best out of much of anything. I didn’t even go over the fact that Sieg has a myriad of roles to play in such a short time, including being at the center of a love triangle with Astolfo and Jeanne. I could still list a ton of errors made in both halves, and try to more manually show how this series could’ve been better other than maybe suggesting an increase in length which would obliterate this series’ relatively decent pacing. I didn’t talk about how surprisingly absent Leticia is, or even try to delve into this giant and subpar cast. However, I did expect this series to crumble underneath its own weight, and for what it's worth, it did surprise me at times, and leave me with some enjoyment, intentionally or otherwise. It did fail, miserably, both as a compelling narrative, and as an action series.
So, with all my negative views on it, and the fact that I advised against viewing it, I still didn’t try to spoil Fate/Apocrypha. For those of you who know how I operate, particularly with bad shows, this must be at least a little baffling. Well, it’s because for all intents and purposes, I really can’t stop anyone from watching it, especially given that it did some interesting things. Though, you shouldn’t expect this to become very common. That said, Fate/Apocrypha is ultimately a sadly subpar entry, both in terms of its contemporaries, and in terms of an anime in its own right. It tried so hard and got so far, but as the lyrics go, in the end, it doesn’t even matter. The fights range from great to terrible, and the narrative, for all it tries to tell and do, manages to be riddled with holes and other problems that prevent it from reaching its full, emotionally resonant effect. Barring its noble intentions and occasionally impressive fights, the only real saving grace for this anime is the music, which tends to get overplayed in this anime unfortunately. It merely ended up like a Lancer in any other Fate/entry, out of luck and doomed to fail. So, goodbye Fate/Apocrypha, at least you tried your best, and sparked a new life with some current anime trends, for better or worse…