Fate/Apocrypha is an action/drama anime, and the most recent title in the Fate/ series. It goes through an alternate timeline in which the events of Fate/Stay Night (and its progeny) don’t happen. Unfortunately, this installment does not live up to its predecessors, becoming something of an unfulfilled, incomprehensible mess.
Fate/Apocrypha brought together an intriguing set of elements, changing up the tournament-style fighting that is the basis for the other titles in the series. It also attempted to do interesting things with other elements, such as the characters and how they relate to each other. Sadly, this was all — the main purpose of the anime was merely to change things up. In the process, they lost sight of what the Fate/ series is about — the clash of ideals presented through a literal clash of swords. While we got to see hints of this in Fate/Apocrypha, such as the idea of what it means to be a hero versus what it means to be a king, it wasn’t capitalized upon in any meaningful manner. Perhaps worse, due to an overwhelming number of characters and events, it became more clear as the show went on that all balance was lost and show’s ability to manage everything kept slipping. The result is a disharmonious mess that didn’t allow any particular element to take root and blossom.
Most Fate/ series have around 14 players (7 pairs) to keep track of, with different emphasis. For a normal Fate/ series, they focus on character pairs, sometimes with each member having specific goals and ideals. Their internal synergy (or lack thereof), is what really hones in the bursts of action and gives it real impact. Fate/Apocrypha attempted 28 players (14 pairs). While that seems daunting at first, they were able to lower that number through various means. Unfortunately, in the process, they shatter this crucial element and remove much of the summoner/summoned interactions, instead choosing to focus primarily on battling characters. Of all of these, only one pair is notable, and is unfortunately relegated to rather minor roles.
Again, for the characters and character development, there were seeds of really interesting things, but Fate/Apocrypha failed to capitalize on any of them. One example is the idea that Vlad the Impaler hates his legend and wants to clear his name. Another is Frankenstein’s Monster’s struggle to be recognized as a person and not a monster. Still another is the idea of a created being taking fate into its own hands. With the lack of proper focus on developing these concepts, they ended up becoming mere spoken lines and not powerful moments. Many times, even these were simply hints cast aside and then denied fulfillment. One particular disappointment involves the failure to capitalize on the inevitable clash of two really likable characters, knowing only one can walk away.
Still worse, it’s very difficult to even point to the characters that the anime is really about — there are no real main characters. The ones you’d want to be the heroes of the story have a tragically minor role, in spite the best synergy and dynamic interactions. Everyone else, even the ones that get more screen time, end up feeling like unimportant cogs spinning about with no real purpose – no grander machine behind them. Without anyone to really care about or root for, we end up becoming observers to a relatively unimpressive struggle, bland and monochromatic.
Perhaps the real tragedy is that properly executed characters could have rescued other under-performing elements. Truly, the characters took the show down with them.
One of the biggest sins of the world is that this is a purportedly standalone series that relies on information not presented to the viewer. You need to have outside knowledge about how the world works and events that unfold to even have a hope of keeping up. Even then, it’s a struggle. This ends up eroding any potential for internal consistency, since the ground rules seem pretty much made up on the fly. Almost hilariously on-point is the addition of a special “Ruler” class, who’s supposed to observe the battles and ensure all parties adhere to the rules of the holy grail war… except that the rules were never really stated and couldn’t practically be inferred from the happenings. The Ruler also has a bizarre will of its own that ends up becoming at odds with its stated purpose. The problem is that, because it lacks consistency to begin with, you’re not sure whether Ruler is going rogue or these things are supposed to happen.
This “anything goes” mentality pervades all of the other goings-on. Wheelchair-turned-Doc Octopus? Sure. Floating fortress of doom out of nowhere? Why not? Character suicides only to reappear at a convenient moment? Yes, please! (I’m being sarcastic, of course.) When the world is this weak, it ends up undermining the plausibility of the events that happen, resulting in the viewer losing confidence in anything that happens.
There were so many plot trajectories, the execution ended up haphazard at best. In order to fit everything in, individual plots were thoroughly butchered. The actual thinning of plot points seemed nearly random, since even some major turning points (character decisions, growth, etc) were either glossed over or not shown at all. Thus, the only time we see plot advancing is when we as viewers are fed a line about something changing. We don’t get to see how characters arrive at a conclusion or why a particular event is happening, only that it has happened. This also goes back to all of the unfulfilled character points — their truncated plot made the interactions feel pointless.
The only saving grace of the storytelling was the beautiful animation. However, the animation doesn’t make up for a tragic lack of communication to the viewer. We weren’t fed a cohesive story since all of the connective details were lost. Worse, the happenings are fed to us at a wholly inappropriate time, meaning it’s very, very easy to get lost, even for those familiar with the story.
One of the problems with the storytelling stems from a serious lack of prioritization of information. Yes, there are lots of goings-on. Not everything needs to be shown, and less important events can be disposed of with lines or phrases. However, it would be a challenge to say which parts of the story were supposed to be more important than any other. Instead, the story appeared to try to give each bit some sort of equal time, diluting everything.
The pacing was startlingly even, when it really shouldn’t have been. This meant that instead of establishing a tempo of fast action and quiet, slower scenes to develop characters and plot, everything kept marching on. One of the problems was the lack of hooks between scenes or cuts, ruining any sort of dynamic flow between them. Scenes were more like stacked blocks, each a cube, whether it needed to be or not. This ended up creating a rather bizarre experience that tended to be rather dull on the whole.