Ten years before the events of Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero and the Fourth Holy Grail War happened in Fuyuki City, seven mages gathered together to fight in bloody combat, using their ‘Servants’ – heroic spirits from the past – in hopes of winning the Holy Grail; an item said to grant any wish the winning mage desires. Kiritsugu Emiya and his wife Illya Einzbern have used their resources to summon the most powerful of the Saber class: King Arthur, and to learn the identities of the other masters in hopes of bringing the grail to the Einzbern family for the first time so they can wish for a better world. But the other mages have their own plans to bring the grail home, and are playing just as sneakily…
Fate/Zero was originally a light novel, serving as a prequel story to the original visual novel game Fate/Stay Night Night. Both have anime adaptations (the latter several) following their original release and now, due to their individual successes, now also have manga versions of their stories. The Fate/Stay Night manga has been available in the UK for a while and now it’s Fate/Zero’s turn. It’s important to note that this is NOT the original light novel, but more of an adaptation of the anime series.
For those looking for an expansion on the original anime story or a faithful screen to page version, you’re not really going to get any of those here. The first volumes roughly covers the first 3 episodes of the anime, from the summoning of the Servants to just before the first battle between Lancer and Saber. That seems like a lot of time and scenes to cover but actually they don’t. The manga opens on Emiya, introducing him (somewhat heavy-handedly) as a tragic hero with flawed ideals and the doomed path he’s about to walk. This was hinted at in the anime but his character and journey was woven into the narrative naturally and allowed the viewer to witness his downfall without expectations, so the book softens the blow of his character by the opening pages.
Since he’s introduced as the central voice of the manga, for the majority of the book, it’s him, Saber and Irisviel that take up the panels. There are several switches to other masters, mostly Kirei with small doses of Waver and Tokiomi Tohsaka, but so far in Volume 1 that’s all the characters we’ve been introduced to. In terms of the story the manga doesn’t have the depth of narrative the anime has; we see Saber’s and Rider’s summoning, but none of the others, we learn of Emiya’s home life but never see Tohsaka’s, any of their children, or learn why Waver came from England to Japan for the war. The manga also makes the strange decision to tell events out of order; in the first chapter Emiya summons Saber but the next jumps back 3 years to where Kirei gets his command seals. Aside from introducing the main voice of the manga foremost it makes little sense, especially since they could have opened up with a chapter of Emiya earlier in his timeline to make it flow more naturally as the anime pilot does.
A point in the favour of the manga’s re-telling of the story however, is how it chooses to explain the rules of the Holy Grail War. It’s not as thorough as you would get in Fate/Stay Night, however because it’s written out clearly on the page and has visuals of the classes/grail/etc. to back up the rules, it comes through more clearly to the reader. This is something that the anime is guilty of; the first half being heavy on the dialogue means it does a lot of telling and not as much showing.
The art is provided by Shinjiro; he doesn’t have any other work aside from Taboo-Tattoo to his name but just from the first volume his style is clear to see. It’s not as clean or eye-catching as Ufotable style, and comedy elements have a stronger presence here. It’s still very detailed and none of the character designs lose the creative flair that Type Moon gave them, even if the manga artist chose to give the females more of a ‘chibi’ look and males have an extra ruggedness to them.
Fate/Zero manga Volume 1 doesn’t offer anything that the Fate fans wouldn’t have already seen before. Due to the lack of time spent building up characters and even choosing to reduce the amount of masters we see in the opening acts, it feels like a watered down version of the story rather than a worthy companion. If you’ve seen the anime or read the light novel (somehow) there’s nothing of note here. This is for collectors only.