I absolutely loved watching the Fate/strange Fake -Whispers of Dawn- TV special. Sure, it’s more of a highlights reel than a proper adaptation, but it sure got me pumped for the forthcoming full TV series.
Although I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a hardcore Fate fan, I’ve enjoyed most of the franchise installments. I was particularly looking forward to seeing Fate/strange Fake animated because Ryohgo Narita (author of Baccano! and Durarara!!) introduces some really entertaining twists on the Fate series formula. His characters are often quirky and unhinged, and I loved seeing that energy applied to both new and familiar faces.
With my fondness for Fate and Narita in mind, here’s my ranking of the Master/Servant duos so far! (Note: the setup for this Grail War is convoluted as hell, but I’m just going to keep the designations simple in this post based on what’s been shown in the anime. I’m also not naming any Servants who haven’t already been identified by their true name within the episode itself.)
7) Jester and Assassin
You know that this series is full of weirdos when this guy is the least interesting Master at first glance. In his establishing scene, he apparently gets killed by Assassin, only to transform into a younger man and launch into a rant about how much he loves violence. He’s basically Ladd Russo from Baccano! with bonus shapeshifting powers. Pairing a bloodthirsty person like him with Assassin is an obvious choice, so in that sense, these two inspired the least amount of surprises. They also don’t get much screen time in the special, so there’s not much else to say about them at this point.
6) Ayaka and Saber
Speaking of conventional Fate pairs, Ayaka and Saber seems to fit the template to a T. They even do the iconic pose from Fate/Stay Night, with Saber standing over the protagonist and asking, “Are you my Master?” Ayaka immediately defies expectations, however, with her response: “I am not. I will no longer be what you all want me to be!” These words imply that Ayaka is actively resisting her fate as a protagonist, giving an air of mystery over what her actual role in the story will be.
It’s also worth noting that Ayaka’s name and character design are inspired by the protagonist of Fate/Prototype, the original draft of Fate/Stay Night. This Ayaka is blonde, however, implying that they are not the same person. Still, it’s a reference that seems laden with meaning. The post-credits scene in Fate/strange Fake is short yet ripe for speculation.
5) Reeve and Caster
It’s always fun to see a cop paired with a pirate. Reeve is a stoic and serious police chief, while Caster loves to talk his ear off over the phone. A lot of the dialogue in the TV special is heavily abridged to the point that it’s mostly just the exposition that remains intact from the original light novels, but Reeve and Caster’s conversation is one of the highlights in terms of sheer personality. Even as Master and Servant complain at each other vociferously, Reeve grudgingly admits that Caster’s abilities are a good fit for his own talents. Basically, it’s a buddy cop relationship, a reliably entertaining dynamic.
4) Tsubaki and Rider
Tsubaki’s story is kind of messed up. Her parents turned her into a Master at the cost of leaving her in a permanent coma. Her story takes place primarily within her dreams; she imagines being loved by her parents and befriending a shadow, which turns out to be a powerful Servant of unknown origin. Seemingly oblivious to the Grail War happening around her, her emotions nevertheless end up having tangible effects on the outside world. Clearly, her character takes a lot of cues from Sakura in Fate/stay Night; she is a wild card in a story already filled with tons of unpredictable factors.
3) Flat and Berserker (Jack the Ripper)
Flat’s arguably the most entertaining character in the special. He is already a great character simply because his name is “Flat Escardos” and he gets under El-Melloi’s skin. Full of innocent enthusiasm and unbridled talent, he manages to summon a Servant just by playing around with a toy knife!
His dynamic with Berserker is also interesting. Despite not having a tangible form, Berserker seems to be the most human-like of the Servants so far, having amiable conversations with Flat. As an amalgamation of the legends of Jack the Ripper, Berserker is on a quest of self-discovery and has a sympathetic motivation for wanting the Holy Grail. Flat comes along for the ride while cheerfully declaring that world domination is within his grasp. Flat’s probably a sociopath, but I can’t help but cheer him on.
2) Tiné and Archer (Gilgamesh)
Of all the Masters, Tiné has the clearest reasons for participating in the Grail War. As a First Nations girl living on colonised land, she wants to do right by her people and drive out the snobbish magi who took over. Fate/strange Fake shows time and time again what an arrogant lot the mage establishment is, so it’s cathartic to see Tiné obliterate Gilgamesh’s original Master in the opening minutes of the special.
I love how unintentionally woke Gilgamesh is in this, lol. Because he sees all humans as his subjects, he does not see the point of colonisation. Although he’s not particularly motivated by Tiné’s cause, he evidently respects her strength and resolve. He also tells her that she does not need to act older than she actually is, and that all she needs to do is entrust herself to her king, which is the closest he will ever get to expressing outright kindness and sympathy. It’s a great portrayal of Gilgamesh, humanizing him while maintaining his arrogance above all other things.
1) Wolf and Lancer (Enkidu)
How could I not put this at the top of the list? Of all the possible Masters in a Grail War, I was not expecting a random wolf to be an active player. Technically, it’s a chimera created to be a catalyst for summoning, but it shows very typical animal-like intelligence, so it’s hard not to think of it as a regular old wolf. Also, its introduction scene shows it getting abused by its master, which immediately made me want to rush to protect it like Enkidu does.
The wolf has a pivotal role in summoning Enkidu, who in turn motivates Gilgamesh to make his move. Nothing exemplifies the chaotic energy of Fate/strange Fake more than the domino effect of a random wolf becoming a Master and indirectly causing a massive crater in the Earth. I love Ryohgo Narita so much for this.
So that’s my list! Incidentally, I asked my husband about his ranking, it turns out his was the exact same as mine. Who were your favourite Master and Servant combos in the Fate/strange Fake special?