HOLD UP. What did I just see???
The beloved Fate series has always stretched the boundaries of heavy existentialism in its somewhat convoluted storylines, but that hasn't stopped it from being thoroughly entertaining to watch. Some of anime's most interesting and recognizable characters have come to life in its volumes, and the novelty of its Holy Grail War concept has captivated audiences across both television and video gaming alike.
So having said that...
What, on this giant, green earth, was Fate/Extra Last Encore????????????
No but seriously. Once again: What did I just see???
Let's start with my BIGGEST GRIPE about this addition to the Fate series. And I didn't even need to watch it to know this was coming. Production for this entry was transferred to SHAFT, one of the many anime production companies in Japan. I know that probably doesn't make much sense to you right off the bat, but give me a sec and I'll explain why this decision was HORRIBLE.
First off, you need to understand that when it comes to anime, all production companies have their own individual style of animation, just like here in America. A keen eye can tell the difference between Pixar and Dreamworks in the realm of computer animation. In hand drawn animation, the differences are even more distinct. Just ask any kid who grew up in the early 90's watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The turtles themselves look completely different by season 3 compared to the way they looked in season 1. Why? Well, it's simple. They changed animators. But unlike America, where animators are hired by production companies to work on a particular show because of their signature style, in Japan, entire production companies themselves have established recognizable styles for which they are known.
The visuals, storytelling, characterizations, and action sequences of Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works are all at legendary status.
True anime magic occurs when the vibe of the story's source material matches perfectly with the style of the production company. But when they don't match well, it just comes off as a confusing, hot mess.
So why all the hate being thrown at SHAFT? I'll start by saying that SHAFT is one of my favorite production companies in Japan.
Wait what? I thought you said the decision to switch to SHAFT was HORRIBLE?
I did. But not because I dislike SHAFT. I dislike the pairing of Fate with SHAFT. This is because the feel of the Fate storyline and the signature style that SHAFT has created for itself could not possibly be more polar opposite.
At its core, Fate is an ultra-dark, violent, moody, heavily existential exploration into the depth of human morality, the exploitation of power, and the corrupting influence of pride. It loves to go as deep as it can down the unsettling rabbit-hole, asking more questions than giving answers by juxtaposing life's most absolute concepts of birth and death into one massive melee of moral contradiction. In other words, pretty heavy stuff. And it comes all nicely wrapped in the box of a hardcore action-drama that relies heavily on its stylized fight scenes to drive home the emotional distress of the participating characters. Production house ufotable set the tone for this with its beautifully animated and thought provoking seasons of Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works and Fate/Zero. And while the plot left something to be desired in the Fate/Apocrypha saga, production house A-1 Pictures did a phenomenal job imitating ufotable's animation style and maintaining the dark grittiness in the feel of the show.
Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works is a masterpiece of animation and storytelling led by production house ufotable.
Fate/Zero tells the prequel story to Fate/Stay Night in stunning fashion.
And then there's SHAFT, which is known and renowned for its quirky character tics, off-beat perspective angles, flat textures, unrealistic set pieces, wild over-the-shoulder head tilts, flashy text frames, fast jump cuts, and off-the-wall character interactions. This is EXACTLY why SHAFT was the ONLY production house that could bring the famed Monogatari Series to life. Their work on Monogatari was absolutely BRILLIANT, partly because of their style, but more so because their style meshed PERFECTLY with the quirky characters and ridiculous banter for which the Monogatari series is known. Seeing Nisioisin's writing paired with SHAFT's production style was a pure comedic/heartwarming anime gold.
Bakemonogatari makes use of SHAFT's distinctive style to capitalize on the characters' wacky personalities. It's a match made in anime heaven.
But somebody out there, somebody, anybody, somebody PLEASE tell me how in the world that style ever sounded like it would be a good fit for the Fate series!!!!! To put it in western terms, it would be like asking the brilliant minds who created the phenomenon of The Office to suddenly turn around and film the final season of Game of Thrones. Apples to oranges, people! APPLES TO ORANGES!!! Just because you made a fantastic comedy doesn't mean you can make a fantastic action-drama!
An that's exactly how it played out.
Everything was wrong with Fate/Extra Last Encore. Everything was simply wrong.
For starters, the plot was fairly weak, but not unsalvageable. And I've certainly seen plenty of animes with weak plots that get carried on the backs of beautiful animation and great action sequences (HUGE nod to Violet Evergarden, which took a fairly lame plot and created one of the most visually stunning animes of all time).
Even with a mediocre plot, Violet Evergarden was enjoyable as a visual masterpiece. And yes, I shed a few tears during this beautiful umbrella scene. Watch the show and you will too. Seriously.
Even Fate/Apocrypha, with all its plot holes and inexplicable nonsense, at least left you with a whole host of memorable and interesting characters, exquisitely drawn with gorgeous costume design and impressive fight scenes. You very well might forget the story, but you won't forget the likes of Jeanne d' Arc, Mordred, Karna, Vlad, Achilles, Siegfried, Astolfo, Jack the Ripper, and Atalanta.
Fate/Apocrypha contained a confusing, messy plot full of characters, but even so, each was beautifully designed and interesting in their own way.
Ruler (Jeanne d' Arc) and Sieg headlined the story arc, and delivered unforgettable moments despite the shaky storyline. A-1 Pictures did a fantastic job maintaining the dark precedent of the first two story arcs set by ufotable.
Like I said above, Fate/Extra Last Encore's plot was weak to begin with, but not entirely unusable. It followed very much in the series' footsteps with its overly deep questions of ethics, morals, and life's purpose, as well as excessive exposition, which was to be expected. But when you take deep, heavy source material like that and try to adapt it into fun, quirky, upbeat characters...it just doesn't sit right. So you have Nero Claudius, Last Encore's main attraction, a beautiful, spunky, ever looking-on-the-bright-side resurrected heroic spirit, who comes to us as a saber-class servant with a unique costume design and really cool looking sword. It could have been soooo awesome. Imagine if she were animated in the series the same way she is here in this fan art depiction:
Saber (Nero Claudius) could have been SO COOL!
But alas, despite SHAFT's best attempts to create a bona fide action-anime heroine, they ended up with this:
Do you see the difference? The fan art version looks like a strong, beautiful action hero. The SHAFT version looks like your little sister playing dress-up in a cheap costume.
To give them some credit, the lighthearted take on Nero's character did allow for some cutesy, heartwarming moments between her and the forgettable male main, Hakuno. But even then, those cute moments had nothing to do with the overall plot and always took place during transitional scenes that served only to forcibly link the disjointed plot points together.
Saber (Nero Claudius) and Hakuno. Another fan art depiction showing how awesome the animation could have been if drawn in a style similar to Violet Evergarden...
Now about that plot...
Yes, I know the Fate series always tries a little too hard to be deep and thought-provoking. But Stay Night and Zero actually succeeded, and Apocrypha at least made a solid effort. Last Encore on the other hand, was a nonsensical trainwreck of Hakuno's mumblings about reality and existence, set in a false world that doesn't make sense, in a Holy Grail War that doesn't even exist anymore, with characters who are nothing more than digital recreations of past characters. Not to mention Hakuno himself isn't even real. It gets so lost in its own philosophical complexities that I felt like I was watching that brutal scene from the Matrix Reloaded where the architect talks in circles to Neo for 5 minutes straight. Except this wasn't for 5 minutes. This was for 10 episodes. I found myself wishing Hakuno would just die already. But wait. He's already dead. But wait, the next episode reveals that's not entirely true. He's actually the physical manifestation of the aggregated hatred of those that have died in the Holy Grail Wars of the past, named Dead Face. But wait, you find out later that he's actually the reincarnated form of Saber's previous master. But wait, that was a human girl named Hakuno. Huh??? All the while, a digital after image of Rin Tohsaka (previously freaking awesome from Stay Night) helps Hakuno and Nero Claudius along their journey. Except...she somehow inherited the Gae Bolg Noble Phantasm from Cu Chulainn? WHAT??? Just make it stop. Please.
No Rin, no. I know you liked him in Stay Night and all, but you are not Cu Chulainn...and you don't have the Gae Bolg Noble Phantasm. The only girl who can do that is Scathach. Don't mess with Scathach...
The only saving grace of Fate/Extra Last Encore is the fact that Saber (Nero Claudius) is very likable. But not in a sexy, indomitable, girl-power kind of way, more like a "I want to pat you on the head because you're really cute" kind of way. It works for certain specific scenes when she's trying to get cozy with Hakuno and it makes you really want to root for her in battle, but it's just not the kind of vibe that I should be getting when I'm watching the supposedly beautiful empress of Rome who is one of the most powerful beings of all the resurrected heroic spirits. I should be in awe, like I was with Arturia and Emiya in Stay Night. I should be overwhelmed by her presence, like I was with Gilgamesh in Zero and Karna in Apocrypha. But no. I just wanted to pat Nero on the head like the cutest little puppy I'd ever seen. **sigh**
And then the ending. Well, let's just end it right there because there's no use talking about it. You'll probably never watch Fate/Extra Last Encore after reading this review. Just do yourself a favor and watch Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works and Fate/Zero. Both are on Netflix and both are incredible. Just be warned, they are dark, violent, and highly unsettling. Not recommended for kids at all. Then go watch a few episodes of Violet Evergarden and be wowed by the true potential of animated visuals.
Fate/Extra Last Encore could have been so awesome, but instead was nothing more than an awesome let down.