What’s it about? Something feels wrong to Hakuno Kishinami. Dark rumors swirl around the incinerator at his beautiful, high-tech school—rumors that people see terrible things down there, and that half the students who enter the room commit suicide. When he watches a fellow student die after losing a chess game, the school nurse asks him to take the body down to the incinerator. And he does indeed see terrible things. But he also learns some of the terrible, hateful truths behind the nature of his school…
What did I just watch?
No, seriously. I know I’ve said that about premieres before but I mean it this time. Give me a bit, I’ll wait for my ADD medicine to kick in and try watching it again…
Okay, I’m back. And I could kind of, sort of suss out something like a plot underneath the wall-to-wall technobabble this time, but it took a level of concentration and engagement I generally do not bother to commit to for this level of bad anime, plus discussing the general concept with my fiancee, who is much more engaged with the Fate franchise. Unfortunately, I doubt it was worth the effort, because this was bad.
Fate/Extra, for the uninitiated, originated as a video game about a virtual Grail War taking place on the moon. (What’s a Grail War, you ask? Unfortunately, opening the Pandora’s Box that is trying to explain the Fate universe’s lore would require many thousands more words than I have to expend on this.)
Like in many games, the player could choose between a male or female avatar, though that was largely a cosmetic choice. And, like in most video game-to-anime adaptations, the anime staff decided to go with the utterly dull default male choice. I don’t know if a female protagonist would make much difference at this stage , but apparently the video game had a romantic element, which would at least open the door to some queer representation.
But no, they went with the male protagonist, who is an absolute potato of a man. He doesn’t do much other than look dour and mutter about hatefulness while things happen around him. He wanders through SHAFT’s signature impressionistic backgrounds, which feel more excessive than anything else, with a vague frown on his face while those around him spout poorly-written exposition.
This is the first time Fate franchise creator Kinoko Nasu has written scripts for an anime, confirming my belief that he is by far the worst writer involved in the Fate universe. He literally opens the series with a teacher calling the exposition she is about to spout boring. I mean, she wasn’t wrong, but you really shouldn’t call yourself out like that.
Not that any of the other characters fare any better. A few of them are, at least superficially, recurring characters from the franchise. Shinji Matou, traditionally a violent, abusive jerk, has been recast into Generic Friend A, and his Extra-original girlfriend mostly asks him questions to give him a chance to exposit—and when things start to get bad, she’s passed off with only, “She’s somewhere safe.”
As for the female characters, fan-favorite tsundere Rin Tohsaka has been redesigned so that her thigh-high stockings have been replaced with thigh-high boots and garters. The Heroic Spirit that appears at the end definitely has fighting prowess in spades, but Fate has a proud tradition of creating incredible kick-butt woman warriors and then treating them like absolute garbage in every other way. Also, her combat gown has see-through panels in front and back and displays a lot of shiny cleavage.
For those of us who waited for its legal release, it’s actually something of a blessing that Fate/Extra is already more or less complete in Japan. It gives us the gift of hindsight. We can look to the people who have already watched it and see how deeply even the diehard Fate fans despise it. I asked my friend who loves Fate and specifically loves Nero, the main Heroic Spirit, how the series was, and she just responded, “exhales.”
We don’t have to wait and see, we don’t have to wager our time on whether it improves. We know it’s terrible. Don’t waste your time.