Recently, another of my anime obsessions has led me to the “Fate” series (Fate/Zero. Fate/Stay Night, and Fate/Apocrphya). There are more than these three in the series, but that’s all I’ve watched so far. It’s not just the intricate storylines, the fast-paced fighting, or the beautiful animation that drew me in. As a fantasy writer, the heroic spirits are what truly facinated me.
To give you the basic background on the Fate series… Over the centuries, mages have been fighting for a chance to claim “the ultimate wish granter” … The Holy Grail. However, this is not some ordinary mages’ duel. They summon “heroic spirits” to fight for them. These spirits are pulled from history, with some changes to their capabilities, power, and even gender. They are broken down into seven classes: Saber, Archer, Lancer, Rider, Caster, Bezerker, and Assassin. The spirits are controlled through “command seals” given to the mages when they are selected by the grail to compete in the Holy Grail War.
These anime’s have such unique and complex characters, in both the masters and the servants (as the mages and spirits are called respectfuly). The mages range from teenagers just learning about their powers as a mage to older, more experienced mages. The servants are from every possible time frame, from both history and literature. From Joan of Arc, King Arthur, Alexander the Great, Achilles and Gil Gamesh, to Mordred, Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper, Shakespeare, and Dracula, these spirits are transformed into amazing characters, beyond their original form into pure fantasy. These reimagined characters are what fantasy writers dream of.
One of my favorites of this series was the reimagined Frankenstein monster. She (yes, I said “she”) was a beautiful creature with immense power. When I first saw her, I did not even think Frankenstein, and yet there are incredible subtleties within this character that you don’t expect. She doesn’t speak, except in grunts and groans. She wields a lightning mace (that resembles the equipment from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory) that can release an electrical strike that can wipe out a forest. There are unusual attachments on her head, incuding something resembling a unicorn horn, that’s almost “steampunk” in nature. Yet, through all this power and ferocity (she is a Bezerker class) there is a delicate child inside. In one scene, she sits in a field, looking at flowers, reminding me of the monster from the movie, and yet, I don’t see the monster. And neither did her master. She was, at times, breathtaking.
They really enjoy these gender swapped characters in the Fate anime series, and to be honest, I don’t mind. Their gender may have changed, but the charater’s true pirit is still there. King Arthur, the King of Knights, is still the king haunted by his failures and his desire for justice. Mordred is even more complex and ever so serious as a woman, but you end up rooting for her. Jack the Ripper is a “loli” who dresses like a dominatrix and eats the hearts of mages for strength. Wierd, right? In the end, it’s not the gender that matters but the characters themselves.
One of the best episodes of the Fate/Zero series was a sit down between the three kings … Saber (King Arthur, King of Knights), Rider (Iskandar or Alexander the Great, King of Kings), and Archer (Gil Gamesh, King of Heroes). They all sat around, drinking, discussing what makes a great king. You get such a earful of Gil Gamesh’s arrogance, Iskandar laughing and drinking, and Saber pondering her role as king. It was a treat to watch this magical exchange of ideaology and philosophy.
My only complaint about this series is how overpowered some of the characters can be. They each exhibit what’s called their “Noble Phantasm” — a powerful magic that can overcome other servants and masters. Many of them don’t even show off their Noble Phantasm right away, because if they show their “trump card” to their opponent too early, they may lose their advantage. As fascinating as their Noble Phantasms are, they are so overpowered, it borders on ridiculous, even for anime (which has a history of overpowered characters).
If you haven’t seen any of the Fate anime series, I highly recommend it. They are available on Netflix, Crunchyroll, and other anime viewing sites. When you learn who some of these heroic spirits are, you will be surprised and inspired.
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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon.