Just finished reading fate/zero!
For those who don't know, fate/zero is essentially something like hunger games heh. Seven masters who are supposed to be experts in the field of magic form contracts with seven servants, heroes from the past who return in spirit form. These seven pairs each seek to eliminate one another until only one is left standing in which they will have their wishes granted by the holy grail. This holy grail war, the heaven's feel, takes place once every sixty years and fate/zero is the story of the fourth heaven's feel.
It is definitely an interesting read, and what I like most about it is actually the perspectives in which the story is told, namely a first person perspective through the eyes of all the characters. What this results in is readers being able to understand the motivations that compel each character. No one character is truly good. Kiritsugu would probably be the closet thing to a protagonist but he is definitely an anti hero. What you see are conflicts in interests and beliefs, but you can't really say any one person is more right than the other. For example, in the conflict between Tokiomi Tohsaka and Kariya Matou, they both fully believe themselves to be truly right and the other person truly wrong. While Ryuunosuke Uryuu and Caster are definitely screwed up, reading from their first person perspective, it is clear that they are driven by insanity.
There are many other things that captures me about fate/zero. The way each character plots and schemes against the others, knowing that it is a seven way free for all, many (I wouldn't say all do heh) try to tilt the balance of the war in their favour. Its also interesting to see how their fighting style reflects their personality, the delicate balance between master and servant, the numerous plot twists that happen along the way.
One important success factor which is also simultaneously the weakness of fate/zero though, is the importance of having previous knowledge when reading. To truly understand the complex intricacies in fate/zero, one must have some knowledge of the story of fate/stay-night. This is to be expected, as fate/zero is after all a prequel to fate/stay-night, the battle for of the fifth heaven's feel. There are a couple of problems though. Firstly, fate/stay-night isn't available as a light novel, so there is no book to read if books are what you enjoy. One way to then come to understand fate/stay-night better then is to watch the anime. However, the second problem is that fate/stay-night is actually originally a visual novel with three branching routes, and the anime only shows primarily one route without fully exploring the other two. Finally, the best medium is of course the original visual novel, but the visual novel contains eroge. Personally for me I had already previously watched the anime (well, 70% of it whenever it came up on animax last time heh) and read up on all the other routes online so it is better.
Previous knowledge does not just limit to knowledge of its prequel, but also some general historical knowledge. While I feel it isn't that important, it really adds flavour if you know some lore. The reason is because each of the seven servants are heroic spirits from the past, so ancient mythology, epics and history plays an important part in understanding these servants. For example, Archer in fate/zero is Gilgamesh, Sabre is King Arthur, and Rider is Alexander the Great. It is true that the authors take great liberty in adapting the original stories of these characters to fit them into fate/zero, hence the reason why I said actually knowing their stories isn't that important. However, unveiling of the identities of the characters, their secret weapons and their past ideals, struggles and relationships often play and important part in the story, and thus having prior knowledge of these really adds to the experience.
To me, fate/zero is definitely a better read than hunger games, but the fact that it requires previous knowledge to be able to better appreciate the novel may make it not as appealing to the general audience. Between sword art online and fate/zero, I honestly appreciate fate/zero as a more complete, well thought out piece of work.
I watched glimpses the fate/zero anime after reading the light novel, thinking whether I should watch it as well since I had finished reading the novel. In the end I decided that I will not. I feel that the novel relies heavily on the thought processes in the minds of each character. While definitely fate/zero is an extremely action packed story, it is also very much psychological and that aspect cannot be fully captured by the anime. This is especially so when I watched the final fight scene versus reading it, there are so many intricacies that just could not be expressed in the anime.
Here's a weak example. I chose this particular part because it happens early and would not spoil too much of the story heh, but there are definitely many far better examples later in the story.
Here's the anime:
Now compare with the light novel:
The black knight charged with the force of a wild beast, kicking the asphalt. He looked only at Saber, with a swirling, black killing intent.
Naturally, Saber isn't unprepared. She immediately readied her sword in a defensive stance.
"~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~h!"
Like a ghastly drive creeping on the ground, Berserker swung his current weapon down at Saber's head.
Saber blocked it safely with her invisible sword, but she was astonished when she identified what the weapon was.
An iron pole — this is what was left of the street light pole Archer was standing on top of, that tumbled on the ground when Berserker chopped it down. Berserker probably picked it up at his feet when he charged at Saber.
Berserker held the iron pole, over two meter long after being cut down, with two hands like a spear, putting a terrible pressure on Saber's sword. But the surprising point is that this weapon was nothingbut an iron pole.
Saber's sword hidden under Invisible Air was definitely the holiest of the holy swords. It was the most supreme Noble Phantasm. There is no way it will have troubles against a piece of metal you pick up on the roadside.
The only thing that could possibly rival Saber's sword with such strength is the Noble Phantasm of another Heroic Spirit. Yet...
Holding up, Saber couldn't believe her eyes.
The iron pole in Berserker's hands was being tainted in black. Black lines were spreading and multiplying like the veins of a leaf, invading the iron pole.
The starting point was Berserker's two hands. The black lines were spreading on the entire pole like a spider's web from where the black gauntlets are holding it.
This was Berserker's prana — the prana muddled with bloodthrist and hatred, possessed only by the black knight. The iron pole was receiving it by permeation from his hands.
"You can't mean...!?"
Saber understood through her surprise. The true nature of this Berserker's Noble Phantasm.
Lancer and Rider, watching closely, reached the same conclusion.
"... So that's it. When Blacky takes something, it becomes his Noble Phantasm."
Rider growled in admiration. The Noble Phantasm of a Heroic Spirit doesn't need to manifest through a characteristic object. Sometime, it can be a type of Noble Phantasm that manifests through a "unique ability" retained by the Servant's very body. This is exactly the case for Berserker.
Still, what an astonishing power that was. Berserker was capable of pillaging at will the countless Noble Phantasms thrown at him by Archer. They now understand the frightening lure. The instant Berserker's gauntlets grab one, the control of Archer's Noble Phantasms go to the black knight.
Not only that, even ordinary scrap iron became full of the immense prana fit to compete with other Noble Phantasms once it came into Berserker’s hands. Unlike how the golden knight owned numerous Noble Phantasms, Berserker’s Noble Phantasm is endless.
The second blow, the third blow – Berserker pressed Saber back with impressive throws of his ‘spears’, while Saber was merely defending herself. Saber’s left hand that was resting on the hilt had no strength in it, and the wound dealt by Lancer’s Gáe Buidhe started to hurt again. With only her right hand wielding her sword Saber could barely fight with the support of prana, but faced with the torrential attacks sent by the furious Berserker she could only defend. Saber could not find a chance to retaliate, and gradually became disadvantaged.
Irisviel called out eagerly. Unnoticed, drops of anxious sweat seeped out of the King of Knight’s brow.
Emiya Kiritsugu, from his distant surveillance, also saw that Saber was in a tight spot. But with Kiritsugu’s current equipment he could not interfere in a duel between Servants.
If they could at least find out where Berserker’s Master was located, there might be ways to handle this... But Kiritsugu could not see Berserker’s Master with any of his two night scopes.
"...Maiya, can you see from your side?"
"No, I can’t see him."
Kiritsugu furrowed his brows when he heard Maiya’s reply. Kiritsugu and Maiya’s positions were actually each other’s blind spots. The reason that they could not see the Master might be that Berserker’s Master also considered his own hiding place as a priority, and did not stay at a position where he can deliver direct commands to his Servant.
It seems the opponent’s personality is even more prudent than Archer’s Master. For Kiritsugu, compared with those talented but flippant magi, magi who do not show themselves off are much harder to handle.
"...The situation doesn’t look good..."
Right now it was not just a single combat between Berserker and Saber. In between the two of them stood Lancer and Rider, both at their full strength. On a battlefield where only the strongest survive, the worst position is to be at a clear disadvantage. The Masters of the other Servants must be thinking the same – at this point, by just helping Berserker a little, they can easily defeat Saber.
Then eliminate an exhausted Berserker. It would be two birds with one stone. Lancer and Rider can defeat two enemies with minimum prana expenditure.
Kiritsugu sighted his rifle towards the top of the crane once again. The Assassin with the skull mask was still sitting there. Just one moment of carelessness might cost Kiritsugu his life.
Kiritsugu gritted his teeth, but could only sit and wait.
The wound on Saber’s finger cost her the maneuverability of her sword. Saber was keenly anxious because of that.
Of course she was aware of how dangerous her situation was. While she needed to stall Rider, who was observing at one side, Berserker’s fight with her had also become a stalemate. In the current situation – she didn’t have any strength to fight Berserker anymore.
Berserker, on the other hand, mercilessly and ferociously attacked, fitting for the title of the Heroic Spirit of fury. Although Berserker continued to throw his iron 'spear’ in a way as rough as a beast, the skill of the throws was nonetheless accurate and precise.
It was not Berserker’s vigor that pressed Saber down, but his intensely fierce barrage gave Saber no way to retaliate. No matter how bad the wound on Saber’s hand might be, as the strongest Servant Saber didn’t even have a chance to strike back. On top of that, although Berserker’s weapons were strengthened with prana, they were still twisted remains of an iron pole.
Berserker is definitely not a simple mad dog. The Heroic Spirit that became Berserker is a master warrior with amazing skills that even after his Mad Enhancement, he still possessed such an extraordinary ability.
"You... Just who are you?!"
Of course, the black knight ignored Saber’s question, but threw the iron pole following his piercing vigor.
The strike could be called as an absolutely exceptional feat. The ferocity of the strike appeared to hit Saber’s short stature and –
However, the thrown pole did not hit Saber.
The two meter iron pole was split down the middle, and fluttered from the air to the ground. It was Berserker’s fake Noble Phantasm, with enough strength to compete with Saber’s holy sword. What broke this fake Noble Phantasm with ease was a streak of red light that glimmered through the darkness.
Lancer had his back towards the astonished King of Knights. This beautiful spearman took a pose of protecting Saber, the King of Knights, whom he regarded as an enemy only moments ago, and stood against Berserker.
"Please stop your pranks now, Berserker."
Lancer pointed at the black knight with the tip of the long spear in his right hand – Gáe Dearg, the Crimson Rose of Exorcism, and coldly declared war on the black knight. If Lancer’s red spear repelled the prana of Berserker’s Noble Phantasm, then the fake Noble Phantasms covered by Berserker’s black prana would be nothing but bundles of iron.
"Saber has a previous engagement with me... If you keep up this nonsense and interrupt the battle between us, I won't stay quiet."
Although this was a fight to the death, Saber was immensely touched by Lancer’s words. The Heroic Spirit of the spear devotedly believes in the same ‘chivalry' as she does.
I don't know about what others may think. Some would definitely prefer to watch the action packed scene than read some words, but I felt that the anime doesn't explain things fully, things like why Lancer was able to destroy Berserker's weapon and Kiritsugu's thoughts while this battle unfolds. Also, like I said, this is the one scene that probably mattered the least. Think when masters of psychological gameplay fight one another, how well would the anime be able to convey that?
I've been thinking, each medium of story telling really has its own advantages and disadvantages that cannot be fully captured by others. I can't really imagine memento as a book, or FMAB as a game, or bioshock as a film. Each of them are incredible stories in their own medium but would probably fall flat if they were attempted to be replicated in another medium.
That being said, there definitely are some stories that are added on when you view them in all their mediums. I've watched 5cm/s and seen the beautiful scenes and the subtle expressions. Then I read it and gained more insights. In this case, the different mediums retelling the same story actually made the other more complete. Same goes for sword art online. The fight scenes are better watched than read about (watching kirito use dual blades is more interesting than reading about it heh), but the light novels grant some insights into what is happening which sometimes the anime is unable to capture.
I think the worst happens when great novels are condensed into films. It just takes away too much from the story and makes it feel rushed. While there's much hype over hunger games, ender's game and all that in the cinemas, the trend seems to be that the people who enjoy the films the most are the ones who have never read the novels. Those who read the novels generally criticize the movie for what it lacks.
Time for an abrupt ending to this post. I'm hungry.