Fate/Zero and Lord El Melloi II: Fakers Chasing Their King’s Shadow

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for both the Fate/Zero and The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II: Rail Zeppelin Grace Notes anime.

If there’s one thing that Fate fans and others who’ve watched Fate/Zero can seem to agree on, it’s that Waver Velvet is a good character. Some Fate verse fans have been annoyed by kinds of expectations Fate/Zero has set up to newcomers to their beloved franchise, particularly Fate/stay night. In many ways, with the exception of Heaven’s Feel route, Fate/Zero is a big stylistic and tonal departure from the original VN narrative. Non-fate fans who’ve watched Fate/Zero accuse it of being too edgy or pretentious for its own good. Fate/Zero has gruesomely distressing scenes, is brutally unfair to its sympathetic characters, and just dunks and dumps on its paragons with relentless waves of cynical philosophizing and worldbuilding. Waver may be Fate/Zero original, but his propensity for being awkward and earnest is a familiar and welcome sight to Fate fans. Those same qualities endear the non-Fate ones, who see his goofiness and kindliness as a break from and counter to the oppressiveness of Fate/Zero’s gloom and doom. In the end, violence forces Waver to part with his partner Iskandar (aka Alexander the Great, his heroic spirit during the last Holy Grail War, and his king). Hope remains though that Waver is able to emerge from his coming-of-age character arc a more mature and still compassionate person.

In some respects, Waver has become more mature as he’s taken temporary mantle of Lord El Melloi II; however, as the Lord El Melloi II anime reveals, his parting with Iskandar has left him with regrets. These regrets make him feel like a faker, which makes the Faker that appears later more than a coincidence. Or maybe it’s just self-projection, since he’s the one who came up with the name? They’re each other’s character foils. Like the person he’s dubbed the rather crudely direct Faker, Waver is perhaps giving himself less credit than he deserves. In chasing the shadow of his king, he’s downplaying the shadow he’s cast on others.

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Buddhist Iconography in Land of the Lustrous

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Land of the Lustrous anime.

Iconography is a powerful tool in storytelling. The power of icons belies and transcends the descriptor of them as being mere assortments of organized lines, shapes, and maybe colors. Even if audiences don’t fully understand their cultural context, icons hold a power over a people who are even just passingly familiar with them. The more ancient and fundamental seeming these icons are in a given culture, the more power they have over shaping the expectations of audiences when consuming a work of fiction utilizing them. Like money, icons are a currency that those in the know conduct exchanges with, with the medium of exchange being knowledge instead of paper or metal. For instance, the knowledge of whether or not your friend likes certain anime without asking him can be ascertained from the Homura figurine he positions on his writing desk or the Rem plushie he keeps at his bedside. The knowledge of your friend’s interest in certain religions can be deduced without direct inquiry based on the crucifix on her wall or the buddha on her nightstand.

Many storytellers set up expectations based on how audiences understand these icons in the real world. Religious iconography, even without much knowledge of doctrine, possesses the cultural currency of something deep and profound. Land of the Lustrous and the Evangelion franchise contain copious amounts of this kind of iconography. While Evangelion doesn’t demonstrate any deep or profound understanding of the Christian symbolism it mucks around in, audiences are nevertheless drawn to it by the iconography’s intangible appeal. Land of the Lustrous goes further with its iconography, exhibiting a more-than-passing understanding of the Buddhist symbolism it sculpts its characters out with. Most people watching Land of the Lustrous will at least recognize that some of its iconography is Buddhist in origin. Those with passing familiarity with Buddhism may find themselves attracted to these icons because of their pop culture associations with deep and profound powers or knowledge. Those with more educated backgrounds in the Buddhist religion may may also expect the themes of the story to unfold in ways that reflect a Buddhist worldview.

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Fate/Zero: Maybe There Is A God in This World

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Fate/Zero anime.

Another Grail war is set to rage. Contemporary sociopathic killer Ryuunoske Uryuu drew a magic occult circle using the blood of a couple he just killed. Historical sociopathic killer Gilles de Rais comes out of it and shows him a new way to enjoy murder using that family’s son. He and Gilles become fast friends, partners, and mentors. In a cruel twist of fate, two serial killers join the fight for the Grail as legitimate contenders for its prize. Qualified competitors are eligible win a legendary artifact, an artifact of yore rumored to grant a wish for any who wins it in a specially arranged death match: The Holy Grail. All they have to do is kill each other. Given the associations the Holy Grail has with Jesus Christ — the supposed God the Son who preached the qualities of his just and merciful God the Father — the fact that such a relic would allow serial killers to participate in its contest seems to put the grail’s sacral character into doubt. Then there are the other problematic aspects about this war that need accounting, like why the Grail would position itself to grant any wish, or why the Grail would tempt people into killing each other for it.

Now, you might think me somewhat unhinged spending time writing about the perspectives of serial killers, but know this. To me, the dialogue the two have touch on an interesting, if despondently cynical, way to understand the nature and existence of the omnipotent entity known as the Christian God. That depressing cynicism is probably the reason why most people refuse to see His Christian Godliness like these two serial killers. What good can come from comprehending God using the arguments of the sadistically perturbed?  A logical acceptance would likely induce despair or madness. Its logical reasonableness may cause a complete loss of faith. It’s a challenge to those who hold to the belief in a benevolent God in the face of evil’s tenacious persistence. It’s evil’s utter existence. It’s the problem of evil that’s the subject of these serial killers’ conversations.

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