At the beginning of 2014, Type Moon’s Fate/ franchise was an inscrutable thing that I had no interest in exploring. Twice I’d tried the first episode of Fate/Zero, the anime adaptation of the prequel novel to the visual novel that already had multiple other spinoffs and adaptations, and twice I’d given up after being confronted by a wall of dry, rambling exposition about an impenetrable mythology that unfamiliar characters pontificated on while walking around each other in circles. At that point my impression of all things Fate/ was that it was an overly complex mix of fantasy worldbuilding and RPG elements adapted into nominal story form, and Fate/Zero‘s first episode did nothing but reinforce that opinion.
Fast forward three months. After being goaded by friends and people whose opinions I trusted enough to take the leap, I pushed through the first episode of Fate/Zero one more time so that I could finish the series. Once I made it through the show’s slow, move-the-pieces-into-place first half and arrived at its sturm und drang bloodbath of a finale, I finally got it. I got what people saw in the story. The clash of ideals. The exploration of different ideas of heroism. The Holy Grail-based mythology that tied it all together. It made sense to me. The show wasn’t without its flaws, but they didn’t really matter when measured against its accomplishments.
Fast forward another three months. Now I’m completely confused again. Having been converted by Fate/Zero, the next obvious step was to dive into the original Fate/Stay Night visual novel. When I did, I was incredibly disappointed. All the familiar stuff was there: Grail Wars. Thoughts on heroism. Servants and Masters. What I wasn’t expecting was all of this to be hidden inside a bloated, poorly written mess of a story thats appeal completely escaped me. There were plenty of promising ideas, but they were far too easy to forget about when wading through hours of purple, circular prose, endless momentum-slaughtering meal scenes, painfully unfunny bits of sitcom comedy, and protagonist Shirou’s obnoxiously creepy and patronizing thoughts every time he encounters a woman.
Fate/Zero no longer felt like an entry point into something special; it seemed like a salvage job that had found bits of treasure under a sea of flotsam and bilge. The willful ignorance it would take to overlook the game’s faults was too much to ask, given the weight and volume of those faults to compared to everything else. Once again, whatever it was that inspired such passion in so many people was obscured behind a curtain that no amount of lengthy examination or judicious squinting could penetrate.
But…skip to the end of the year. A new Fate/Stay Night anime is airing, and I watch it religiously. Between my aborted attempt to read the VN and the new adaptation premiering, I’ve continued to read summaries, spoilers, and other info on what happens in the story. It’s been a regular topic of conversation. With a little distance, the story’s strengths have become a lot clearer and easier to appreciate. That the new anime has done some serious editing and streamlining of the material, trimming the excessive fat and sanding down the weirder digressions, makes it even easier (also: holy shit, they made Shirou likable!).
I doubt I’ll ever be a died-in-the-wool Type Moonie. There’s too much wrong with the original source for me to ever love it, even if I’m starting to appreciate it, and I have no interest in most of the side series, spinoffs, and other franchise ephemera that fills Fate/ devotees demands for more. But after a year of fits, starts, and dead ends, I finally get it.