There’s something uniquely captivating about the opening of any Fate media. Ahead of the titanic clashes between heroes and villains of yore comes a rapid-fire introduction of main characters as they summon their chosen ‘Servants’ into the battlefield. Usually accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful score and some chanted phrases that diehard fans know by heart, the production companies given the honor of adapting Kinoko Nasu’s works have—perhaps with one infamous exception—always put their best foot forward, aiming to create a piece of media as long-lasting and impactful as the original visual novels themselves.
Streaming now on Crunchyroll is Fate/strange Fake: Whispers of Dawn, a 1-hour TV special that acts as the prelude to the now-confirmed TV anime series, adapting Ryogo Narita’s light novel series of the same name.
And what a prelude it is! A movie-quality episode that weaves together humor, action, intrigue, and brief but shocking acts of violence, Fate/strange Fake explodes onto the screen, not daring to waste even a single moment of its 55-minute runtime. By the end, our only complaint was that it couldn’t be two or three times as long.
Fate/strange Fake: Whispers of Dawn takes place five years after the end of Fate/stay night (for our purposes, it doesn’t matter if that’s Unlimited Blade Works or Heaven’s Feel). Set in the fictional city of Snowfield, Nevada, we follow a diverse group of mages who have gathered to participate in a falsified Holy Grail War—a battle royale between seven mages (‘Masters’) each armed with one of seven historical or semi-historical figures (‘Servants’) to win the coveted Grail. For the winning Servant, they’ll be granted any single wish they couldn’t make true in their original life; most mages, however, seek the Grail as a means of accessing ‘the Root’—the source of all true magic in the world.
If that sounds like a rather dense summary, it’s because Fate/strange Fake assumes you’re already familiar with at least some of the Fate universe and the mechanics of its worldbuilding. Although you don’t strictly need to have watched Fate/stay night, thanks to the sprawling, interconnected nature of this media franchise, you’ll benefit most if you’ve watched Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works at the very least, and we dare say that Fate/Apocrypha would also be useful, too.
From a story-telling perspective, Whispers of Dawn spends roughly half its runtime establishing our characters. From the energetic and excitable young Flat, to the almost-cartoonishly-evil Jester, and the more morally-ambiguous Orlando; there’s a wide roster of intriguing characters here that we can’t wait to see fleshed out in the anime series. The Servants are also brilliantly realized—larger-than-life versions of their historical forms, with fan-favorite Gilgamesh making a splendid return, alongside a more grounded version of Fate/Apocrypha’s Jack the Ripper, and a tender reappearance of Enkidu, last seen in Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia.
Visually, Whispers of Dawn offers a stand-out performance, rivaling or perhaps besting the tremendous efforts of ufotable’s Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel. Studio A-1 Pictures have emerged from a troubled anime season that saw repeated delays of their much-anticipated NieR: Automata Ver1.1a, and delivered jaw-dropping animation both in and out of action set pieces. While ufotable’s work always shines best when the action is at its thickest, A-1 brings a level of polish to the quiet moments that suck the viewer into this world. We can only hope that the anime series will maintain a similar level of quality—if it does, Fate/strange Fake could easily become the best-produced Fate media to date.
Overall, Fate/strange Fake: Whispers of Dawn is an absolute must-see for any fan of the Fate universe. Not only does it set the stage for what’s sure to be an epic Holy Grail War, the production value, audio quality, and character design proves that the Fate franchise is still devilishly detailed and immensely engaging, no matter how many spinoffs we see.
© Ryogo Narita, TYPE-MOON/Kadokawa/FSFPC