Genre: Fantasy, Action
Creators: Urobuchi Gen, Aoki Ei
Studios: Ufotable (anime), Type-Moon (light novel)
Length: 25 episodes
Highlights: Awesome action, engaging philosophy, and deep tragedy
Fate/Zero is the story of the Fourth Holy Grail War, taking place in the 1990s. Featuring a large ensemble cast, our nominal main character is a man named Emiya Kiritsugu, known throughout the magical world as the “Magus Killer” for his expertise in assassinating magic-users. As a soldier and assassin who has witnessed all manner of warfare, Kiritsugu has developed a cynical and efficient way of thinking, always prepared to sacrifice the few and the innocent in order to save the many. His wish for the Grail is to end all conflict, so that his wife and daughter and anyone else will never have to see the things that he has. But the Heroic Spirit he summons, a Saber class, is the polar opposite of him. Where Kiritsugu is a cold and detached modern soldier, Saber is a medieval knight who personifies the highest concepts of chivalry and honor. Despite neither of them being able to understand each other, the two of them work together to fight the other Spirits and Masters to claim the Holy Grail.
Originally published as a light novel before being adapted into an anime series, Fate/Zero is one of many entries in the Fate setting by publishing company Type-Moon and is in turn part of a massive fictional setting called the Nasuverse (named after company co-founder Nasu Kinoko). It is a prequel series to an earlier entry called Fate/stay night, which tells the story of the Fifth Holy Grail War. It should be noted that since many of Type-Moon’s works were made as video games or visual novels, the continuity between works or even within works is a bit fuzzy, due to the games possessing branching storylines and multiple endings. However, since Fate/Zero was originally made as a light novel, it has only one narrative, making it the easiest Fate entry for new fans to delve into.
The Fate series, particularly Fate/Zero, has become well known for its extremely high production values and fantastic action scenes. Since it takes place in a modern magical world, Fate/Zero is able to include such unusual (and awesome) situations as a chase scene with a flying chariot and a motorcycle; mages fighting each other with spells, grenades, and sniper rifles; and the Japanese military calling in airstrikes on Eldritch abominations. What makes Fate/Zero especially notable compared to the other entries in the series is a much darker tone due to being written by Urobuchi Gen, nicknamed "Urobutcher" for his tendency to write bloody and tragic stories. As such, not only is the series very violent (good comparisons would be Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill or Neil Blomkamp’s District 9) but it is also entirely unafraid to kill off main characters.
The true core of Fate/Zero, however, is the philosophical struggle between Kiritsugu and Saber. Each of them personify a certain orientation toward conflict and, subsequently, human nature. Saber believes that human nature cannot be altered and that violence and war are inevitable. Therefore, war should be made as civilized and humane as possible by adopting chivalry and codes of honor between combatants. Kiritsugu believes that war is hell and that no one should have to suffer through it, which is why he is pursuing the Holy Grail. Still, he believes that goal is worthy enough to justify anything he has to do to achieve it, including manipulation and murder on a wide scale. This conflict is supplemented by the ideological and moral struggles of the other Masters and Spirits in the War, as the show delves deeply into what these people want and believe enough in to stake their lives on a bloody magical battle royale.
Possessing a fantastic mix of extremely well-choreographed action, engaging philosophical conflicts, and a beautifully tragic tone, Fate/Zero is a both a fantastic anime series on its own and a great introduction to the Fate series and Type-Moon’s work as a whole.