Little did we know that in 2016, the human species would have been destroyed if not for a Master and his Demi-Servant. This humanity knew through the Chaldea, a celestial oracle shining out the future of our survival. The root of mankind’s demise, a ravaged temporal bubble in Fuyuki circa 2004, the time of the Fifth Holy Grail War.
As a new recruit to the Chaldea’s surrounding Security Organisation, Ritsuka Fujimaru will become the all-too-average last hope for restoring the future. That is, if he can get past the barrage of people organisation-splaining their grand purpose. For the first fifteen minutes of this one-hour TV movie, everyone Ritsuka meets is an exposition vendor masquerading as a character, up to and including your cute pink-haired girl, Mash Kyrielight, who will inevitably find herself in peril. Sure enough, Chaldea HQ burns down in a supposed act of sabotage. Injured in the structural collapse, Mash gets her second wind as a Demi-Servant, becoming a badass shieldmaiden in boob armour. Just in time for herself and Ritsuka to pop off back in time to save the world.
All plot conveniences aside, it is hard to oppose the hack-bash flair of her offense. Her style is the epitome of what sucks you into Fate’s eternal battle for glory. Even if you start out indifferent to its historic fantasy nerd wish-fulfilment, the action injects small doses of hype till you’re well and truly hooked. This particular episode in the franchise is hobbled by its underprivileged release format, the animation sub-par for what we expect from the likes of Fate/stay night. Dull and hazy static backgrounds and flat character designs fall closer to a less vaunted visual novel, and Grand Order’s online RPG origins are blatant in the dialogue. Conversation for almost the first half takes the bland formula of introduction, present character quirk, expository technobabble, give quest. This pattern presides through to the end, making it hard to get invested in anything this cast cares about.
This characterisation flaw which rears its head throughout Fate‘s anime dominion usually comes balanced by some stunning personal revelations, the wider epic of the Holy Grail War smoothing over the smaller platitudes. But there are no such grandiose moments here to hold onto, so the cast remain plain but for what we already know of the Heroic Spirits, and of Saber, here a dark monarch corrupted by the timeline. Still, this realm in which humanity has perished leads a lacklustre premise into a thrilling clash with the cursed, risen skeletons of the dead and malicious Servants who, let’s face it, are always the most fun.
An exhilarating climactic fight between Mash and Saber, wreathed in an aura of dragon fire, rends open those dull backdrops with a black Excalibur. Mythology and fantasy devotees will find a lot to love in this time travel skit, which leads us to the beginning of the Grand Order game and its quest to neutralise seven singularities, restoring the human race. An extended advertisement for the RPG this anime may be, but hey, we were just in this for Dark Saber all along.
English dub; English cast interview; English and Japanese trailers.