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Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Fate/Apocrypha E4: Price of Life, Redemption of Death

Episode 4
Price of Life, Redemption of Death.

Hello, naughty children, it's time to discuss stakes, and how they create conflict in a story. Specifically, it's time to discuss how Fate/Apocrypha has no stakes, even four episodes -- nearly a fifth -- in.

Usually, a piece of fiction establishes stakes by endearing the audience to a character or several and then either threatening their status quo, or giving them a difficult to achieve goal (or both). Different things achieve this in different ways: A horror might single out just a small number of people in its cast as audience surrogates, but then create stakes through tricks of atmosphere to make the audience themselves feel under threat ('I hope the characters are successful because I'll see something unpleasant if they aren't,'); a series like Game of Thrones endears us to a small group of characters -- the Starks and Daenerys -- and then uses them to expand its roster of characters the audience is invested in, allowing it to spread the action over a greater number of viewpoints while maintaining stakes; a more focused show like Doctor Who will typically focus the stakes on what the companion has to lose or gain in each individual episode.

Fate/Apocrypha hits a crucial moment in this fourth episode as it has its first death, when Siegfried, the Saber of Black, sacrifices himself to save someone else. A character dying tests how invested your audience is in the stakes of your story, because in order to get the most out of a character death, and truly yank on your audience's heartstrings, you need them to be invested in the character dying, the characters close to the dying character, and the stakes of the story and how they'll be affected by that character death.

Fate/Apocrypha fails on all three counts.

Continuing on immediately from last episode, this episode sees Spartacus, the Berserker of Red, charging into Black Faction territory, with Achilles (Rider of Red) and Atalanta (Archer of Red) in hot pursuit. Seeking to take Spartacus for themselves, Vlad (Lancer of Black) and Avicebron (Caster of Black) intercept Spartacus, while Frankenstein (Berserker of Black) and Siegfried (Saber of Black) take on Achilles and Atalanta. In the aftermath, Astolfo (Rider of Black) attempts to help the nameless homunculus escape, only to run into trouble when Gordes and Siegfried arrive to stop them, and Jeanne realises that there is something direly wrong in the Red Faction.

So, that character death, and actually the whole second act of the episode, falls entirely flat, simply because I don't care about Siegfried. When we hear about Siegfried's desire to save somebody, and see him sacrificing himself to heal the homunculus, it's almost meaningless because he's not a character we've been endeared to at all -- we were only even properly introduced to him in the second episode, and since he's been sharing screentime with no less than twenty-four other characters, we know almost nothing about him except that he's a serious, dutiful warrior type.

Nor can we really sympathise with Astolfo's anguish over Siegfried's death, because this is almost the first time they've ever interacted. Astolfo and Siegfried don't have some great friendship, they're barely even colleagues, so we can't appreciate that Astolfo has really lost anything. Nor are the stakes of the show really affected, because Siegfried has never been made out as crucial to the war effort, especially when they've just acquired another Servant anyway -- and moreover, since despite the Black Faction being nominally our protagonists I'm not really invested in their success, I don't care if their war effort is compromised.

Incidentally, the second act of this episode is kicked off in hilariously mishandled fashion when, in the middle of an entirely unrelated scene, Avicebron starts talking over an intercom about Astolfo escaping with a homunculus. Keep in mind that while Avicebron knows a homunculus is missing, we're never shown either Astolfo going back to the room and dragging him out on an escape attempt, or Avicebron finding this out. It just sort of happens.

The first half of the episode, depicting Spartacus' capture and a four (later five, once Chiron (Archer of Black) joins in) person battle with Achilles and Atalanta on one side and Frankenstein and Siegfried on the other, is a lot better, not least because it doesn't really require the audience to have any kind of emotional reaction to what's going on -- it's just fun fighting, and since this is a series of the anyone-can-die type, there's at least a smidge of tension, in that we don't know exactly how things will turn out.

('With everyone just getting bored and leaving, except for Spartacus,' apparently.)

All in all, this was probably still the best episode so far, but that just speaks to how terrible mishandled this series has mostly been. Maybe the light novel is better, but right now, this is making a pretty poor impression as far as Type-Moon stuff goes.

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