Final Impressions: Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace note

Compared to previous anime adaptations about the Fate series, Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note is an interesting one. It doesn’t focus on a current Holy Grail War and its participants, but offers a “what-if” scenario using the 4th Holy Grail War as background to explore the multiple facets of the Fate-verse. It’s a refreshing concept which somehow also takes a page from Sherlock Holmes-esque mysteries, but do not be disappointed Fate fans, it’s every inch of a Fate spin-off with its absurdly long exposition scenes and bizarre worldbuilding.

The first six episodes of {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note revolves around Lord El-Melloi II, the recently appointed successor of the El-Melloi household and the department head of Modern Magecraft at the Clock Tower. While he is busy working through the household’s massive debt and reprimanding his rambunctious students, Lord El-Melloi II and his sidekick Grey delve into a variety of obscure mysteries that take place both in and outside of London. Each of these mysteries seems separate from each other until they slowly begin to converge on the main mystery: the story about Mystic Eyes, the mysterious perpetrators aboard the Rail Zeppelin, and Lord-El Melloi II’s connection to the 4th Holy Grail War.

Clearly doesn’t look like a real Holy Grail War (Source)

I would first like to applaud the production team at TROYCA for adapting this particular storyline. The original light novel, The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II, features a much broader spectrum of mysteries that aren’t all related to the protagonists or the Holy Grail Wars. Most of these mysteries are simply to show off Lord El-Melloi II’s intellect and explore the magus community that, surprisingly, doesn’t care about the “minor event in the Far East.” Instead of adapting the entire light novel, TROYCA chose to adapt the Rail Zeppelin arc and its surrounding mysteries, which provides the audience the familiarity of a Holy Grail War and adds closure to Lord-El Melloi II’s story.

However, at the same time, TROYCA doesn’t leap straight into Holy Grail War rhetoric and the Rail Zeppelin arc just to make the audience feel sentimental. The anime adaptation takes its time to balance out the characters, the story’s modern setting, and traditional magical concepts in order to tell the audience: “Even if the Holy Grail War is over, life continues to the point of absurdity.” I was most impressed with modern scenes of Lord El-Melloi II streaking down the U.K. highway in his posh car, and Caules setting up a PC for his roommates. In contrast, there are scenes of Reines communicating via an old fashioned Victorian phone and Lord El-Melloi II visiting the ostentatious homes and workshops of mages. It’s a fantastic clash of “old-meets-new” which gives a better perspective of the mage community that doesn’t simply exist in a fictional Japanese city.

Lord El-Melloi II’s slick driving skills (Source)

What also impressed me in {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note was its general deliverance of its characters. It’s worth noting that the show borrows multiple Fate characters from different spin-offs, which is bound to incite confusion in the audience since the anime doesn’t follow any specific timeline. However, the anime leaves enough ambiguity of the characters’ relations to the spin-offs and instead, focuses on how their personalities and actions can influence {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note’s overall story. You have a recurring cast of Lord El-Melloi II’s students who assist him in his cases, supposed “enemies” and “clients” who continue to mask their intentions, and unexpected allies who arrive in the nick of time. It’s a thrilling ride to see both familiar and new faces throughout the series, which also makes it a bit easier to keep track of the overall plot of {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note.

Get yourself a man who can voice these scenes perfectly (Source)

Speaking of characters, I would like to commend Daisuke Namikawa for his brilliant portrayal of Lord El-Melloi II. Since he is a veteran voice actor with several prominent titles under his belt, I expected a solid performance which conveyed both the character’s intellectuality and dignified self. However, Namikawa-san delivered beyond that. Throughout the entirety of {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note, I was completely blown away by his subtle intonations that conveyed Lord El-Melloi II’s wide range of emotions, from the minute high-pitched shrills of being riled up to the crack in his voice that’s full of vulnerability. It’s enough to make me quickly tear up, both because it’s so realistic and it brings a sense of sentimentality.

However, I must confess: {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note is flawed. Its streak of mind-bending mysteries and exposition is excessively complicated. Whenever Lord El-Melloi II leaps to explain the “whydunit” motives of each mystery, I suddenly tune out for a good two minutes. It’s sometimes too much to handle, especially when many of the modern magecraft “theories” start sounding like a bunch of random proverbs thrown together. It’s a far cry from Shirou’s usual spiel, but Lord El-Melloi II’s sermons aren’t exactly clear enough to dispel any kind of mystery the story sets up. Maybe the light novels and manga adaptations do the explanations justice or have more intriguing mysteries, but for the time being, I’ll continue to nod and smile in my sleep as our main lead finishes up.

The second flaw is Grey’s backstory. I understand TROYCA’s choice to keep the anime adaptation contained as Lord El-Melloi II’s story, but I don’t think it would hurt if they expanded the story a bit to accommodate for Grey’s past. This isn’t so much about her true identity — since it is already painfully obvious based on character design and her secret weapon — but more so details about how she became an apprentice to Lord El-Melloi II. There are multiple flashbacks of her standing in front of a graveyard and even then, Grey reiterates in the show how she was “saved” by her teacher. With {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note’s three-episode formula to solving mysteries, I had no doubt that the anime could dive into Grey’s backstory and somehow tie it with Lord El-Melloi’s arc. Alas, TROYCA can’t do everything to please Fate fans, so we just have to refer to the source material for more information.

The CUTEST protagonist in the series by far (Source)

In short, {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note is an enjoyable asset of the Fate series. In terms of plot, it’s well contained but it’s also free enough to develop a semi-functioning world of maguses that exist outside of the scope of the Holy Grail Wars. The characters all have a unique charm to them that adds a flavor to the show with Lord El-Melloi II leading the helm. But due to the show’s reliance on Fate spin-off material, its excessive exposition, and the lack of further development for Grey, it’s both a heady and somewhat incomplete adaptation. I would not recommend this series for newcomers since it requires knowledge of other series or some game-time of Fate/Grand Order, but it’s definitely a series Fate fans should look into for “a good time”.

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