This show is set in the same timeline as Fate/Zero which means it was an autopickup because it's finally a Fate show that isn't a spinoff. On the surface, the idea of Waver Velvet doing Sherlock Holmes things is genius. Remember how Waver discovered Caster's lair in Fate/Zero? This show promises more of that with adult Waver and more dangerous mysteries!
While this show is still worth watching if you're a Waver or Fate Zero fan, it's ultimately let down by it's mediocre writing that poorly emulates Detective Fiction. Detective Fiction is a genre where the excitement comes from the audience engaging in the same problem
solving as the protagonist. When you read Sherlock Holmes, you're essentially playing a metaphorical puzzle game with the writer; they are feeding you clues in a game with clearly defined rules. The reader must therefore know these rules. For example Sherlock finds a corpse in a room locked from the inside? You know the rules already because you know how locks work in real life. Waver finding Caster's hideout by measuring the concentration of mana in the river? You know the rules because it's analogous to dilution IRL. A character using necromancy to ask a corpse what they remember before dying? Even that works because it's magical CCTV footage.
Where this show falls flat is that fact that readers do not know the rules.
Take episode 2 for example. The entire plot hinges on Waver realising that Fargo's ritual circle is using the Heliocentric model of the solar system instead of a Geocentric one. Unfortunately the average viewer is not a Cultist or a 400 year old Astrologer. We do not understand anything that's going on until Waver spells out the solution. We cannot engage in the same problem solving as the protagonist. If Detective Fiction is a puzzle game, then the El-Melloi plot is like watching the writer playing both sides of a chess game. For all intents and purposes, the writer is essentially making up the rules on the spot, which ultimately leads to a boring experience for the audience.
Makoto Sanda's mysteries are impossible because you don't understand the rules needed to solve them. Once you do understand them, they're laughably simplistic (essentially 1+1=2 quick Eldritch magic). And that is why El-Melloi is a mediocre work of detective fiction.
Diverging from the Fate franchise, is the tale of Waver and his apprentices in the London city.
The most memorable impression left by Fate/Zero is probably the powerful interaction between Waver and his servant, Rider. Their bond evokes one of the most touching scenes throughout both season, and it extends here on how Rider brought an impact to him with Rider’s ideals to an extent that he’s never imagined before. With the words “ live on ”, Waver embarked on many adventures and became more mature with greater magical abilities, embracing the spotlight as one of the professors in modern magecraft and became the Lord El-Melloi
As certain events unfold, he is reluctantly brought into the world of crimes and mysteries unbeknown to anyone. Surprisingly, each case has a typical detective-style vibe with little clues such as presence of alibi and motives of different suspects from various background being presented. It doesn’t bend the process and managed to retain basic detective method such as deduction skills through analysis and observation with limited resources. Then, it step up the game with the blend of modern magecraft in the story world to enhance the techniques in solving and conducting crimes. The lead detective however, is not omnipotent, which brings in the cute and powerful Gray to deal with physical threats as one of his trusted apprentices. One by one, his apprentices join him as they tackle crimes and mysteries with their unique skillsets. With that, their adventure begins.
The animation is done by TROYCA. It’s a studio I’ve never heard of before, but they have done a splendid job in depicting the city of London that capture the reflecting gold-ish street light in night and the old-style English mansion with classic Victorian-like character designs. This presented a city seemingly enveloped in mysterious mist, so inviting and thrilling, yet so dangerous with unknown threats lurking in the shadows.
The ending theme song, ‘Hibari’ is freaking amazing. The tune has a chilly feeling that eases the heart, with Gray holding the lantern as the seasons around her changes, as if she’s waiting for someone. The setting is so calm and so relaxing, that it’s just that pleasant to watch till the end. The opening, on the other hand is only accompanied by the Sherlock-like instrumental opening, which is much fitting to the theme of the story. Adding the scores of both animation and song, the set up of ambience are done elegantly with more moments to look forward to.
NO SPOILERS - check out my review of the prequel episode as well
First episode isn't quite as good as the others in my opinion, and the Engrish can be pretty weird, but it's my favorite show this season. Reasons are below.
First, a brief plot synopsis: time has passed since the events of Fate/Zero, and Waver Velvet is back at it again as the Clock Tower's resident schmuc-- I mean detective!! Okay, in all seriousness, I like this guy. He's intelligent, but a bit too brash and serious for his own good. His companions, including the mysterious hooded Gray and the blonde imouto Reines, round out
the main/recurring cast quite well with their own unique personalities, and everyone is always a joy to be around. That may actually work to Waver's detriment, though, since he is usually the one to dispense exposition and thus may come off as a bit trite and one-note, but he has his moments of personality, and they are rather enjoyable. The episode plots aren't bad, but can be a bit trying if you actually want to solve the mysteries yourself; they tend to pull some kind of random magic stuff you can't possibly already know out of freaking nowhere to solve the whole thing. If you're confused by all the fantasy jargon tossed around, don't worry, everyone else is just as confused as you because it's basically all brand spanking new. Did you know the Fate universe had fairies? I didn't, but I should have guessed so! :D :D
Do you need to watch Fate/Zero to enjoy this show? No, in fact you basically need no prior knowledge at all except that the Holy Grail War is this big death game over a wish-granting McGuffin. And even that isn't all that important. Just like this show for what it is, and if you are a Fate fan, then you can appreciate the small bits of fanservice they throw in.
In terms of production, TROYCA have outdone themselves and even ufotable (gasp!), if we're looking at the God-awful UBW series (oh, nvm then). The backgrounds (which I suspect ufotable has been helping with) look gorgeous, the character designs are slick, unique, and memorable, and the CGI, when present, is really solid. This show is probably the best-looking of the season so far. Directing is solid, though I'm not really seeing much in the way of uniqueness. Episode 4 had a cool focus-shifting blur effect, but not much else. The music, courtesy of everyone's favorite Yuki Kajiura is decent (with a solid instrumental opening theme) but it's a noticeable step down from Fate/Zero in my opinion. It doesn't make and carry scenes like it did there.
Should you watch this show? As of yet, it's nothing meaningful, but that could change depending on how Waver is developed; he has the right foundation to be a vehicle for a genuine message. The other characters don't have much in the way of deep themes driving them, so this really is a straight-forward mystery. But, like in my Kabaneri review, the quality of the production is higher than anything else coming out that I am currently watching, so that bumps it from a 7 to an 8.