Fate/Zero: Adult casts aren’t good by default

A picture of Kirei Kotomine smirking.

[Spoilers for Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night]

One thing that people laud Fate/Zero for is its cast of predominantly adult characters. This sets it apart from most anime, which tend to have a young average age among its characters.

The more I think about it, though, the more this “strength” isn’t as good as people make it to be.

A confession: I liked none of the Masters, with the exception of Waver Velvet, who happens to be the only teenager out of them all. They all had myriad faults in them, faults that didn’t make them endearing at all–merely painful to watch. I can understand that common sense in the Nasuverse is in precious short supply, but six out of seven Masters fail at becoming decent human beings? Please.

Compare Fate/Stay Night, the VN (or anime, if you want to pick the low-hanging fruit). F/SN’s main characters are all teens, and while they aren’t as unique as the Masters in Zero were, they were more likeable. Their failings could be written off with the excuse that “they’re teenagers, so it’s expected”, or “they’re still young, they’ll know better”. I can’t be as forgiving with Zero’s Masters, because they’re supposed to be adults and I have higher expectations from them (except for Ryuunosuke, who is utterly insane). That, and I suppose that adults are too set in their ways to change for the better, so there’s little luck in that.

A picture of Tokiomi boasting of his eschewment of birth control.

The most prominent example of adult failure and teenage success in Fate would be Tokiomi and Rin. Tokiomi’s justification to Kariya for giving away Sakura sounded like petty excuses, a master magus who failed at being a father and a human being. On the other hand, Rin in F/SN surpassed her father: she avoided the ignoble fate he had received, avenged his murder (a fine moment of irony, too!), and went on to enjoy more success as a magus. And Shirou was able to have his own cake and eat it, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Fate/Zero, all despite the large amount of characters whom I found thoroughly unlikeable. It really makes Fate/Stay Night a more compelling work, because knowing the failures in Fate/Zero give F/SN’s plot more context and weight. It’s a testament to how good a prequel F/Z is, but I’m not proclaiming to everyone else how better off it is for having adult characters instead of teenagers.

PS: Read the VN if you haven’t. Fate/Zero enriches Fate/Stay Night in many ways.

PPS: I am going to follow my own advice.

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17 Responses to Fate/Zero: Adult casts aren’t good by default

  1. hearthesea says:

    I haven’t finished watching F/Z yet, but I agree — I generally don’t like the masters. Waver and Kariya have their moments, but the rest of ’em leave me cold. I much prefer the servants.

    I do like the fact that most of the cast are adults, because it makes for a refreshing change, but that in itself doesn’t make the characters good. I think the problem is that many of the characters aren’t able to balance out their flaws with emotional links to the audience. I usually love seeing flawed characters, but you still need to remember to make them compelling in some way (eg, giving them interesting layers, or an entertaining personality, or making them sympathetic in some areas.) At the moment I’m finding it difficult to like Kiritsugu, and Kirei just comes across like a flat killer.

    The series is polished and entertaining, but it does sometimes feel like it’s missing heart.

    • schneider says:

      I can’t begin to tell you how much I dislike Kiritsugu. I get him, I get his shtick, but he’s the guy I least care about. Almost dropped the show when they dedicated two whole episodes of Kiritsugu backstory on us. (19 and 20, brace yourself if you haven’t seen!)

      As for the servants? Lancer… 😦

  2. r042 says:

    The issue really is when adult characters act like children and vice versa; making this work is really, really difficult.

    The best “horrific person who is a responsible adult” I’ve seen in anime recently is Holland Novak from Eureka 7, he’s absolutely awful but does a good job for a fair chunk of the series (9 episodes! Almost the entirety of something shorter!) of making his actions seem justifiable when they’re just immature.

  3. Digibro says:

    I shouldn’t be saying anything since I’m not caught up on these, but shouldn’t Rin’s success be considered built on the shoulders of her father’s failure? Maybe she learned from his mistakes to become a good person, or at least hated his failings enough to avert them? Who raised Tokiomi, and was his role model/anti role model?

    A lot of the adults I know are fucking idiots, because they were raised by fucking idiots, and their kids become smarter than their parents because they recognize some of their parents’ idiocy (but they are still idiots because of the things they don’t recognize).

    Adults aren’t good people because of magic, they fail for the exact same reasons that young people do: being stupid.

    • Digibro says:

      Adding to this, I get holding adults more accountable for things because they’ve had more opportunities to learn, but I don’t get holding them to a higher standard. Again, adults learn the same way that kids do, they just have had more time to potentially learn more. But it’s easy for a thirteen year-old to potentially learn more than a thirty year-old has, if the thirty year-old’s life didn’t go in the direction of learning.

    • schneider says:

      AFAIK Rin didn’t know her father’s mistakes/failings, but always tried her best to emulate the good side of him that she saw.

      I wonder if her losing her parents at a young age made her immune to the brainwashing that children of magi get as they grow. Mage families are veeeeeery old-fashioned.

  4. Hogart says:

    Gen Urobuchi doesn’t seem to do “likable” characters. I think Waver and Rider were the most endearing characters of his I’ve seen to date, though I haven’t tried Blassreiter yet. But then, very few anime make their adults endearing/likable to begin with, I think.

    Personally I just tend to notice the likable ones more because they’re a bit rarer than the kids, and they’re almost invariably pidgeonhole into stereotypically likable roles like the godly parental figure or the scrappy underdog.

    In fact, the more I think about it, the harder it is to say I “like” more adult anime characters than kid anime characters, unless I include the stereotypical roles I like and not the individual characters. There just seem to be more teens in anime that are easy to despise, perhaps making the adults look better by comparison.

    • DoctorBaronvonEvilSatan says:

      I think it’s more of Gen having to write within a confined space, with the work being a prequel and all, rather than it being his inability to create likeable characters.
      It’s set in stone that the fourth Holy Grail war was a failure of disastrous proportions after all.

    • schneider says:

      I think this is what people think. “Ooh, adult characters! This is so cool and mature!” (barf at the last sentence) That, and there are fans who keep wishing for something that isn’t set in high school, which Fate/Zero fits the bill.

      There’s one anime with a middle-aged main character that I really want to try out: Zone of the Enders: Dolores. Guy’s divorced and has a kid. I really wonder about it…

  5. ToastCrust says:

    I wouldn’t fault Tokiomi too much, since his entire existence is to be what is essentially a standard, by-the-book example of what Magi are in the Nasuverse.

    The reasons he gave to Kariya are the highest set of logic and values to the Mage Association. Of course, it sounds absurd to us as the MA’s values are entirely outside of normal human values (which in that scene, was embodied by Kariya). Whereas Kayneth is kind of a set piece to demonstrate the aristocratic conservatism of the MA, Tokiomi’s around to sort of define what the values and priorities of the organization are. And well, to the Mage’s Association, wasting the potential of a person gifted with remarkable circuits and a unique element (as opposed to Rin who has excellent circuits and power over all 5 basic elements) is essentially criminal. And well, Tokiomi’s a magus first, a father second. Or more like, he’s only a father because being a magus demands he procreate so there is a lineage to pass down to.

    As an additional note, Rider was the only character in Fate/Zero that was actually conceived and created from scratch by Urobuchi Gen. Every other character had its foundations set by Nasu before Urobuchi got to expand them. I’m sure he had a lot of influence on Waver too though, but Waver’s also a legacy character (he’s in Fate/stay Night).

    • schneider says:

      I understood Tokiomi and the Mage’s Association’s logic, but their values are incredibly archaic and, from an outsider’s perspective, cruel. I really do get what he was trying to accomplish, but it did sound pathetic of him to try and justify his actions nonchalantly like that.

      And I guess for me, Tokiomi’s just an utterly boring character whose end I didn’t even care for.

      Interesting info on Rider, though. Who would’ve thought that it has to be Gen who’d create the most jovial Servant of them all?

  6. omo says:

    Just to bring up Tsuritama in a Fate/Zero post, but the two shows are good contrasts in which give you an idea that it really has little to do with the age or position of the characters, but simply in the way they are portrayed that makes them good.

  7. Eirei07 says:

    No kind of cast are good by default. It’s all in the execution. That said, I think the cast of Fate/Zero were great.

    First of all, I don’t agree with your logic of “they’re adult, they should know better”. A person is an accumulation of their personality, their upbringing, their environment, their life experiences and other factors. Tokiomi and Kiritsugu became who they are because of these factors. Because of these factors, there are a lot of screwed up adults, but there are also fine and mature teenagers. Besides, I can’t imagine a lot of sensible people would want to participate in a fight to the death for any reason.

    I don’t like all the cast, but they all left their mark on me. Kiritsugu reminded me of the idealistic youth I once was, and indirectly inspired me to chase a dream again, and hammered home the fact that the end never justifies the means. Kirei thoroughly repulses me. I despise Kayneth. Kariya reminded me not to be stupid and powerless so that I would never be manipulated by the strong and wicked. I am both thoroughly intrigued and utterly disgusted by Ryuunosuke. I somewhat respected Tokiomi for going through with his convictions and beliefs but I do think that became a flaw and led to the circumstances of his pitiful death. Because of all this I consider them a good cast.

    • schneider says:

      Try to understand that I’m writing in response to people who think that so-called adult casts are great. I myself hold a similar view to yours. Characters are good if they are written well, not because they are adults or otherwise. That said, I do wish for more mature, well-written adult characters because I can relate to them easier as a fledgling adult myself.

      I don’t like the cast, but I don’t consider them to be badly-written at all. A work could have well-written characters, but they could still fail to make a human connection with me, and I will end up not caring about their situations and motivation. I didn’t like them, that’s all. I would have loved Kiritsugu had this show appeared five years ago, but that time’s long and gone. I can see where you’re coming from, though, and I respect that.

      Thanks for reading!

  8. rockmanshii says:

    Sorry for necroposting, but I have recently finished watching the show myself and I have the exact same opinion as you. I did like the flashback episodes though because Natalia Of The Dead was cool.

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