I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something that may go down as the least controversial statement ever made on this site: Fate/Zero is, in general, a good show. Even when sites populated almost entirely by nematodes that think anything pretentious or otaku-aimed is worthy of being lavished with unmitigated praise, sites like My Anime List, rate it higher than fucking Welcome to the NHK, I can’t react normally by shaking my head in disgust. It’s proof that even in a niche as worn out as animated novel adaptations, there’s still the occasional twinkle of something magnificent buried underneath the slough of blandness. However, a dramatic masterpiece it really isn’t, and this episode perfectly encapsulates why.
The first half of the episode is fantastic; it veers a little on the silly side with Saber riding her motorcycle with some of the most noticeable CG effects of the season, and needlessly against traffic no less, but it’s a fluid start to the episode that makes for what was easily the most entertaining scene of anything that aired last week. There’s not much more that can be said about that, other than Rider charging into Saber’s Excalibur was as shirt-rendingly stupid as it was fucking fantastic, and if that lasted the entire episode I wouldn’t be at all disappointed. And I really do wish that it did take up the entire episode, so Kariya’s arc could have been wound through quickly.
Thus far in the series, Kariya has been mostly ignored in favor of the rest of the more colorful, slightly less angsty cast. As far as personality and general interest goes, Kariya definitely got the short end of the stick, given that he seems to live solely to have giant grubs jammed down his throat and be burnt to a crisp. With that said, it’s good that some light is finally being shed on his struggle, but it’s way too much done at once, and since Kariya’s been nothing but a tragic figure it quickly becomes overwhelming.
What Fate/Zero and many other shows don’t tend to realize is that tragedy is mostly effective in small, easily digestible doses. When divvied out in just the right amounts, it can be a perfect way to accentuate a character’s struggle over time, making us care for them. Failing that, just take the Elfen Lied route of making the unfortunate recipient of disproportionate karmic retribution a child and have their puppy killed by overly-psychotic tykes, but that’s the method for misanthropes that think children as a whole are worse than Hitler. Anyway, since Kariya is neither a child nor the former owner of a bludgeoned puppy, and since he’s had less than ten minutes of screen time since the beginning of the series, there had to be some series of events to push him over the event horizon. The problem is that they should have been spaced out much more so the impacts of each didn’t run together into an unintentionally hilarious mess.
What happens when tragic events are grouped closely together is they very quickly turn from horrifying to hilarious, due to the wondrous magic of Schadenfreude. The way that the last ten minutes or so consisted of nothing but Kariya getting screwed over by Kirei after them having no interaction before was a crash course in how not to write the event horizon of a pitiable character, and it’s a shame because the horrors themselves spoke volumes of Kirei’s amoral ways and the extent that Kariya is being screwed over by the world. If only it would have been stretched out over several episodes instead of all being crammed at the end here, I wouldn’t have been in stitches by the time Kariya began choking Aoi out of despair. When I’m mentally inserting dramatic soap opera organ cues after every shocking moment, something is very wrong.
It’s not that the things that push Kariya over the edge are the hallmarks of incompetent writing; when taken on their own, they’re very effective at conveying what needs to be conveyed, especially his frenzied thoughts while choking Aoi. When so awkwardly strung together though, the end result is a wreck barely worth salvaging from unintended hilarity and mentally-inserted soap opera cues.