A Fate/Grand Order Movie With A Good Story? | A Review of Wandering; Agateram

The only thing more annoying than stupidly long light novel titles is unnecessarily wordy Fate titles. I bet it’s half the reason this franchise seems so alienating to newcomers. With so many spinoffs, the franchise never seems to have an easily identifiable starting point. Even the ones that are generally agreed to be the essentials are criticized for not being flawless adaptations of the original visual novels.

Nothing has quite been more perplexing in the series’ tenure than Fate/Grand Order, the mobile game which has spawned numerous animated adaptations of varying quality. I reviewed F/GO Babylonia last year, praising it as one of the most visually impressive shows in years, though its story had problems.

As I understand it, F/GO‘s story in the mobile game has been… iffy. Some early arcs are abysmal, the later ones get better, and there are some stories that flat-out retcon established lore of the universe. Needless to say, fans of Garden of Sinners or Tsukihime, which traditionally take place in Fate‘s universe, have been left wanting by the direction of the brand.

When it comes to animation, the producers of these adaptations seem to cherry-pick which arcs to animate, and different studios try their hand at bringing these stories to life. Babylonia, the first huge adaptation, skipped straight to the last “singularity” of Fate/Grand Order‘s first arc. This week’s review is of a film set before that TV series.

Fate/Grand Order THE MOVIE Divine Realm of the Round Table: Camelot – Wandering; Agateram… Over a full line for just the title… I’m not mad I’m just disappointed. BUT! As for the movie itself, I’m the furthest thing from disappointed. I really enjoyed this film, which is baffling because apparently some diehard fans of F/GO really don’t. Why?

As I summarized in my review of Babylonia last year, F/GO follows Fujimaru Ritsuka and Mash Kyrielight on their quest into singularities outside of time that threaten all of existence. They go in, meet all kinds of Heroic Spirits based on historical and fictional characters, make friends and enemies, fight, and arbitrarily complete their mission.

I say arbitrarily because the objective usually starts as “find the holy grail inside the singularity,” but half the time it’s in the hands of one of the allied characters and they need to “earn it.” In both Camelot and Babylonia, it’s in the hands of a handsome leader sitting on a throne. In the former – this film – it’s Ozymandias. In Babylonia, it’s Gilgamesh.

The grail doesn’t ever really feel important because half the time the characters just get wrapped up in whatever conflict is happening in the singularity. If the end goal always ends up being a fight, why even stress the holy grail? Grand Order is way more interesting when it’s focusing on characters and their relationships.

In Babylonia, one of my favorite stories was about Ushiwakamaru, a woman who embodies a famous folk hero from Japan. She talks with Fujimaru and becomes delighted at the notion that children centuries from now will be singing about her story. This gives her the motivation to fight on during her biggest battle in the series and arguably one of Babylonia‘s best fights.

In the end, the parts of the story that are uniquely Grand Order are the weakest. When it feels like a singularity-hopping Doctor Who story with less whimsy, it’s weak. That’s why the Camelot film was quite enjoyable. It is the tale of Bedivere, one of the Knights of the Round Table, on a quest to defeat the Round Table and stop the alternate universe version of King Arthur.

In Arthurian Legend, I’m lead to believe that Bedivere is a rather minor character, so seeing him given a larger, more meaningful story is cool. He was the man who was with King Arthur at the end of their life and who returned Excalibur to the lady of the lake, though he hesitated twice before he did so finally.

[Edit: He returned the scabbard to the lake, not Excalibur. My friend who knows about Arthurian legend corrected me.]

[Edit Edit: it was Excalibur. Believe it or not they confused the real myth with a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic, a fact so amusing that I’m not even going to remove my first edit.]

Now, in this singularity, an evil version of Artoria, under the identity of “Lion King” – in reference to Richard the Lionheart – offers refugees a chance for ascension, only at the cost of others’ lives. Bedivere feels obligated to end her tyranny. Thus begins a quest between the warring territories of the Lion King, Ozymandias, and the Hassan.

Camelot and Babylonia were the only two arcs written by Kinoko Nasu, the creator of Fate, Garden of Sinners, and Tsukihime. It wasn’t had to tell, as the story content was considerably darker. Notably, the massacre of refugees by the Round Table and their soldiers. It sets a tone early on for the cruelty of the antagonists.

Bedivere makes his debut and battles Gawain, the hero from the Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Afterward, he joins up with Fujimaru and they join forces on a quest to find a home for the refugee survivors and to determine their next steps. Keep in mind, this film is only the first half of the story. The second film is currently in theaters in Japan at the time of writing. Does this first half of the tale pull its weight?

With a lead like Bedivere, I think so. A big draw to this story from a marketing standpoint was Mamoru Miyano’s performance and that’s no small thing. I know it’s basically a meme at this point that he is amazing but I truly think he is one of Japan’s best vocal talents. He approaches the character’s journey of redemption, duty, and selflessness with an emotional but soft-spoken delivery that makes the story feel truly mythical in its scope.

Every fight between him and a member of the Round Table is one more confrontation with his past and a chance to prove himself. His prosthetic arm acts as his Noble Phantasm, named Agateram, and despite his humility, the power gifted to him as a Heroic Spirit gives him the strength to contend against some of the strongest of the Round Table, such as Mordred.

The criticisms I’ve read of this film seem to find an issue with the amount of time given to developing the cast. Namely, that there isn’t a ton of it. I suppose that’s fair to a degree. I wouldn’t say that I know a ton about the members of the Round Table. What I know about Gawain comes from my own research of the actual Arthurian tale (and with Fate‘s track record of accuracy that’s not worth much). What I know about Mordred comes from Fate/Apocrypha. So on and so forth.

It’s Fate. A lot of times, your love of a character or investment in their story carries over from the last adaptation you saw that character, no matter how separate the two iterations may be. In the case of this film, you won’t find a wide breadth of comprehensive character development. Even Bedivere’s story could have been capitalized on more.

The midsection of the film is probably the weakest, and even then it wasn’t boring or terrible. Since Fujimaru and Mash are the protagonists of F/GO, they take the spotlight for a bit, negotiating with Ozymandias to take in refugees, or walking around a bustling marketplace (a common motif in F/GO it seems).

The third act does feel rather quick. There is a rescue from a castle, then the heroes have to defend a village from an attack by the Lion King’s forces, and a final battle between Bedivere and Tristan of the Round Table. The very ending of the story, however, was honestly beautiful. A bittersweet victory accompanied by a somber musical score.

Perhaps that moment could have felt better. The character at the center of that moment is Arash, a bowman of Persian myth. He shows up at the beginning of the story and has the air of an “ally from afar.” His conversations with Bedivere are more personal – isolated from the rest of the cast. There is an importance to be attributed to Arash but even during the beautiful crescendo of his story in the film, I wished he’d gotten more time in the film.

I suppose that’s what the fans of F/GO mean when they call this film a “disappointment” but there’s where I disagree. I still think that musically, visually, and emotionally, this film is a really enjoyable adventure that I found myself hooked on far quicker than other Grand Order stories. I had to stick with Babylonia for at least five episodes before the hooks dug into me. With Camelot, I was sold from the beginning.

Camelot was directed by Kei Suezawa, whose only directing credit was the fifth episode of FLCL Progressive. Now, that may well seem like an absolute death flag to anyone who has seen that garbage show, but… one of the only things I like to remember about that show was how good the fifth episode looked.

Suezawa may have not been given a ton of chances to direct in the past, but I definitely think he needs more after watching this film. Perhaps the narrative direction could have used some more focus in the midsection, and maybe the film could have been longer, but this movie’s visual direction is stellar.

Whether it’s cute character designs or one segment that looks like it was animated using paint on canvas, the visual direction and allocation of higher quality animation were top-notch. I think that Fujimaru, a typically boring protagonist, was made more entertaining via the expressions given to him through the animation.

Kazuchika Kise was the animation director and character designer for this film. His credits include Evangelion 1.11, Ghost in the Shell Arise, and Blood C. He’s not the animation director for the second film, but he is the character designer for both, and I couldn’t shut up about how cute or handsome the characters looked when I watched this with my friends.

And the music! I loved it already, but then I realized that Hideyuki Fukasawa was the composer. Fate fans will recognize his work from the soundtrack of Unlimited Blade Works. I know people like to talk about how Yuki Kajiura’s music was so much better in Fate/Zero and Heaven’s Feel, but Fukasawa’s talents shouldn’t be scoffed at. The entire ending scene would have been nothing without his score.

This film was produced by Production I.G. and animated by Signal.MD. The second film, however, is being produced solely by I.G. With the footage that has been released of the sequel, I think we’re in for a real treat. Animators who have worked on it have reportedly said that it has some of the best action of the last few years. It’s gonna be an event.

This commemorative PV for the new film’s release has me excited beyond reason.

The best thing this film has done is get me, and a lot of other friends who don’t like F/GO, to be super excited about the next film. I want to see Bedivere’s journey, I want to see more fights from a talented team corralled by animation director Yousuke Kabashima, and I want to see if this is the first Fate/Grand Order story I end up genuinely loving for its story. It’s already got a good chance, with Ukyou Kodachi doing series composition. He’s the same guy who penned Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files, which was one of my favorites from 2019.

I’m not sure who to pitch this movie to. The fans of the games seem to be disappointed with it. The people who don’t like Fate normally probably won’t have the patience. I think if you enjoy Fate but have felt disappointed by Fate/Grand Order, this film might just be what you’ve been looking for. A promising start to a story told through great visuals and a pleasing score.

Fate/Grand Order THE MOVIE Divine Realm of the Round Table: Camelot – Wandering; Agateram is not currently available for legal streaming or on Blu-ray. However, Aniplex did plan to release the film in theaters. Due to the pandemic, the release got delayed, but it’s presumably coming to theaters in 2021.

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What did you think of Wandering; Agateram? Was it a “disappointment” or did you have a fun time with it? Leave a comment below and tell me what other Fate/Grand Order stories you’d like to see get adaptations and by what studios.

Thanks for reading, and as always, I’ll see you next time.

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