(25 episodes ; 1st episode is double-length)
What’s it about ?
It’s a prequel to Fate/stay night, but hopefully you don’t need to know anything about that one to follow it. Actually, previous knowledge of the franchise might kill the suspense a bit, given how it made it quite clear how things are supposed to end here.
Anyway : every few decades there’s a big fight between 7 champions (representing the major Mage families) around the Holy Grail, which can supposedly grant any one wish. Each “Master”, besides his own magical abilities, can summon a Servant (basically a ghost of a mythical figure) to help them out.
Kiritsugu Emiya, an elite anti-Mage assassin. Nobody’s quite sure why he’s in the game (his résumé makes him look quite suicidal), but he certainly sounds like a major contender. He’s quietly supported by his wife, who frankly looks like a dead woman walking. He summons a Saber Servant who’s supposed to be King Arthur… despite being quite obviously a woman.
Tokiomi Tohsaka, heir of one of the major Mage family, who decided to cheat by allying himself with (1) the Church (who are supposed to be neutral referees), and (2) Kirei Kotomine, a promising mage/priest who he got into the game somehow.
Kariya Matou was the black sheep of his family, but he stepped in to become one of the player to avoid that fate for his new adopted sister (who happens to be Tohsaka’s second daughter, in a bizarre bit of political play). His grandfather’s sadistical training (bugs under his skin ? Eww…) have left him drained, but hey, he only has to last until the end of the game…
Kayneth Archibald El-Me… oh, who cares about this dude and his improbably long name. He comes from one of England’s most prominent Mage families and holds tenure in the London Magical University, but he barely gets two minutes of insufferably smug screentime. Instead, we follow…
Waver Velvet, one upstart student of his who stumbles into his Holy Grail-related documentation and artefacts and decides to have a go at it. The little shit is obviously going to fail spectacularly given the heavyweights around, but I can’t entirely fault him for trying.
That’s (at most) six Masters ; the 7th one stays conspicuously absent throughout the episode (although I do have my suspicions).
NicoNico’s tiny broadcast doesn’t help to judge, but this looks quite good indeed. There’s no action sequence whatsoever yet, though, so we’ll have to wait a bit to see what the series can do there. (The OP – shown at the end – does display some nice animation, but that never means anything.)
What did I think of it ?
Do you like exposition ? I hope so, because this is 45 whole minutes of it. This is a series of flashbacks fleshing out all the main players, while explaining the premise ; there’s even a ridiculous scene that has Emiya & Kotomine thumbing through each other’s résumés at the same time. It isn’t too clunky, but it does mean that not a lot happens besides talking heads. As said above, there isn’t a single action sequence in sight, and we barely get through to the first few summons (in consequence, we don’t really get a sense of the Servants’ personalities, if they have any).
What we see of the characters, though, is somewhat interesting ; I especially like Waver’s scenes, as he looks like he’ll be fun to follow. Most of the other players are adults who seem quite adept at scheming, so there’s potential for compelling intrigues there. Which is needed, given how the ending is a foregone conclusion ; fortunately, it looks like the show isn’t even pretending to hide this will lead to a Emiya/Kotomine final showdown.
Overall, this wasn’t a dazzling start, but there’s some potential. Hopefully it won’t have the same problems as the original work… well, at least got rid of the supremely annoying protagonist, which is a step into the right direction.