In Fall 2019, Cloverworks delivered the anime adaptation of Fate/Grand Order’s Babylonia arc, arguably one of the best and well-written arcs of the entire game. Like many fans, I was absolutely ecstatic yet skeptical of how well Cloverworks could adapt the storyline. There is even a general consensus that if a Fate/ series is not animated by ufotable, then it won’t be good.
Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia begins with Ritsuka and Mash traveling back in time to ancient Babylonia, an era where gods and humans co-existed with one another. As per most FGO plots, the two travelers are entrusted to find the Holy Grail, a mysterious vessel that can grant impossible wishes and change the very course of human history. However, upon their arrival, they come to the startling realization that Babylonia is not as peaceful as it seems — it is in fact a singularity rife with bloodshed and terror as the antagonistic Three Goddess Alliance encroaches on the lands, hellbent on eradicating humanity’s first civilization. Faced with impending doom, Ritsuka and Mash must assist King Gilgamesh in his efforts to preserve the city of Uruk, all while finding the missing Holy Grail.
Newcomers to the FGO universe might be overwhelmed with all this information, as even Fate veterans tend to be confused by the series’ terminology and concepts. But while it might be a wonky introduction to FGO, it should at least spark some interest thanks to what it does right.
The first half of FGO Babylonia feels exhilarating. In a single jump, the audience is transported into a story of mythology-esque origins, chock-full of monster-slaying heroes and ancient deities. There is not a single moment’s pause as the story immediately thrusts the protagonists into action, serving as both first-hand witnesses to the final days of Uruk and as soldiers on the Demonic Battlefront. There is a mixture of resounding victories and revelations that is often overshadowed by the Goddess’s fearsome might, but hope is ultimately never lost. In fact, all of this serves to strengthen the remaining cast in preparation for the bitter end.
By the second half though, things begin to flounder. FGO Babylonia continues to throw too many curveballs and expects the audience to keep up with the frenetic pace. The writing leaves very little room for immersion and sympathy, the actual antagonist of FGO Babylonia comes back from seeming defeat with a new kind of horror one too many times, and too many servants are desperately firing their Noble Phantasms to keep enemies at bay. It’s a Pyrrhic victory for Ritsuka and Mash in the end, but it’s a rushed finale that is rather underwhelming for both players and watchers alike. I understand that from FGO, the Babylonia arc is not quite as heartbreaking as the final Solomon Temple arc. But for all of FGO Babylonia’s careful work and necessary sacrifices, the ending does not carry the same impact of a Pyrrhic victory that is reflected through actual battles in human history.
Nonetheless, I still have to commend Cloverworks for their stunning adaptation of the source material. Converting visual novel-esque writing and game mechanics to an anime is a feat that most studios fail to fully capture because there is little imagery to work off. However, Cloverworks absolutely nails it by faithfully abiding by the script and adding personalized touches to the animation. There are minute nuances to King Gilgamesh’s expression that characterize him, lots of rotating camera work that results in diverse action scenes, and the implementation of CGI that fully-realizes the horror that is Gorgon’s. Audiences will recall the stunning work on Episodes 8 and 18, heralding it as Cloverworks’ final form in the entirety of FGO Babylonia. For some anime, it may be easy to copy the script word by word, but the reimagination and personalized touches by the animation team ultimately breathes life into the show itself.
Animation aside, FGO Babylonia does a decent job balancing out its massive cast of characters. Every character has a specific role in the series, and even if their role seems insignificant, the story will find a way to reintegrate them. One example is Musashibō Benkei, a Servant ally who was summoned alongside his master Ushiwakamaru to aid King Gilgamesh. I always felt that his timing as a character was rather awkward, considering that he disappeared for a good chunk of the season. But the moment he reappeared, I almost woke up my house by screaming his name out loud. It was a moment of elation, pure disbelief, and joy that a character wasn’t truly wasted after all. It is true that some characters’ reintegration was difficult to fit in due to the story writing and succession of events, but it’s certain that not a single character was done in vain.
But what is an anime without its soundtrack, openings and endings, and music inserts? None of FGO Babylonia could have been pulled off without these key components. Composers Keita Haga and Ryo Kawasaki bring the show together with scores that harmonize the senses of urgency, justice, and duty. Meanwhile, Unison Square Garden delivers the smashing hit “Phantom Joke” that hypes up everyone for some good old shounen action, which is then mellowed out by Ei Aoi’s hopeful “Dreams in the Falling Stars.”
However, the real credit goes to milet with her moving songs “Prover” and “Tell me”, which invokes a much deeper and humane side of King Gilgamesh with his subjects. I have always liked the arrogant king as a character, regardless of which timeline and series he’s from. But milet’s song strikes a chord so deep in me that I’m ready to empty out my pockets and buy all his merchandise to honor this precious king.
As a bonus, my biggest shout-out goes to the sound editing team in FGO Babylonia. Anime has always aired on the side of being “light” in their sound effects, sticking to the clicking of swords and general smacking of punches. There is a lack of “weight” that underscores every action, which gives the audience this false sense of reality of what actually “hurts” or is sensitive to the senses. But FGO Babylonia’s sound editing team pulls no punches and ensures the sounds are as realistic as possible. Explosions are deafening to the ear, clunky chains ripple and rattle as they’re thrown around, and magical summoning circles crackle with energy. Like the animation, these details bring out the show to its fullest potential and continue to dazzle the audience.
As of now, FGO Babylonia is one of the best adaptations of the original mobile game. It features a robust storyline that is complemented by beautiful animation, a varied cast, and a wonderful score that truly lifts the game from its text-based story. There are a few negatives to note, such as the pacing and writing in the second half and the semi-satisfying ending that’s bound to leave audiences frustrated. Most new watchers should not be too confused during the first half of the series, but they may sleep on the second half. As for the FGO fans, the anime itself is like Merlin’s petals in the series — an absolute blessing and dream come true.