If you’re dying to watch the upcoming Fate/Grand Order Babylonia anime, we’re here to help you by making that wait even more painful — this whole piece is dedicated to its extraordinary production circumstances, the consequences of the studio prioritizing the project, the dazzling team behind it, and also the limitations they might be facing. And if you’re not interested at all in the series, should you be? Let’s see!
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia is an unthinkable project. Not only because of the exceptional production circumstances and all-stars creative lineup that we’ll be getting to later, or the fact that its official title rivals those of the most outrageous light novel adaptations this season in length, but rather on a more fundamental level. Even if you leave aside the spectacular commercials and various comedic spinoffs, Babylonia is around the third major animation effort in the Fate/Grand Order franchise, which is in and of itself an amalgamation of various Type-Moon properties, mostly those under the Fate umbrella. Even among its own batch of projects, it’s technically an arc that happens after the tale that will be covered in the Fate/Grand Order: Camelot movies due next year. With seemingly this many accessibility issues, you wouldn’t expect this to be the project that Aniplex and its studios are focusing all their efforts in, to the point of deprioritizing titles that would normally be everyone’s focus of attention.
Though of course, this situation is anything but normal. Despite having been founded as Sony Music’s anime branch and faring quite well in that regard, Aniplex’s biggest source of revenue is actually mobile games. And the main culprit behind that is FGO itself, which tops worldwide charts on the regulars and has pulled well over three billion dollars for the company. Much like Marvel with the MCU, they’re dealing with a phenomenon so huge that the barriers of entry they’d normally have to consider can be ignored, making this the safest project for them to invest in. And thus you get the current FGO anime craze, with increasingly higher profile adaptations spearheaded by Babylonia: the product of Aniplex’s very own studio Cloverworks, who have dedicated an enormous amount of resources and time to create something that lives up to the caliber of the property.
Leaving all the financial justification that you’d do well to feel cynical about, it’s obvious that dealing with a ridiculously profitable property alone doesn’t ensure success for the anime creators working on the adaptation… though it’s undeniable that FGO‘s popularity has fueled their efforts. I don’t mean just in the sense that the committee knew they could be more generous with the resources and deadlines, but also because there are many people in this industry who are just as addicted to FGO as the people who will be watching the show. One basic thing that fans often forget when elucubrating about the reasons why creators flock around certain projects in disproportionate ways is that they’re in fact human beings beyond their role in this industry, meaning that they’ve got personal passions that they’d love to work on. And, in the year of 2019, those often happen to be the Fate franchise. Just like the Fate/Apocrypha staff members who spent their money on gacha rolls and turned their workplace into an Astolfo-themed shrine, now we’re already seeing creators with different standings in the industry pleading to work on FGO Babylonia — and some have fulfilled their dream already!
So, who are those people who’ll get to work it? I imagine that you’re here to find out, but since we’d be here all day even if we simply listed all the talented, confirmed participants, let me sum it up by saying everyone. FGO Babylonia is shaping up to be a Darlifra-level — with hopefully better-than-Darlifra-level results — industry abnormality where the highest profile creators affiliated to Cloverworks and A-1 productions have all gathered, then made sure that their own acquaintances joined the party as well. At the core of those operations, we’ve got a crew that readers of this site might be very acquainted with: the so-called team imas, led this time around by series director Toshifumi Akai and his assistant Miyuki Kuroki. The former’s mixture of late Gainax aesthetic and his beloved Horiguchi stylization (further fueled by his good friend Yuusuke Matsuo, also of KyoAni origins) earned him a spot among the most renowned animation designers at the moment, while at the same time quickly progressing as a director due to his ability to convey emotion in a readable, memorable way.
By Akai’s side we find the aforementioned Kuroki, who sticks close to him beyond the boundaries of this project; her growth first as an animator and later as a director happened within team imas, meaning that not just aesthetically but also thematically — look no further than her perfect recreation of Idolmaster‘s camaraderie in SideM despite the different nature of the project — are reminiscent not just of Akai but of Atsushi Nishigori, Noriko Takao, and so on. Granted, her A-1 adventures also allowed her to learn some tricks from other stunning directors like Masashi Ishihama! If this sounds appealing but you’re not really acquainted with this duo’s work yet, don’t worry: with the healthy schedule they’ve been granted, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to come to know them first hand — as soon as the first two episodes, which have been split between both series directors.
With a couple of project leaders that reliable and enough time for them to do plenty of hands-on work, you wouldn’t even need other directors to carry the most important beats in the series. And yet that’s exactly what’s happening, with an already confirmed lineup that if anything is more exciting than the two series directors. We’ve already written about Takao’s prologue, which despite being a modest showing for the team’s actual potential, laid the emotional groundwork for the show in a very elegant way. Accompanying renowned directors like her we’ll also find plenty of youngsters representative of the generational change we’ve been seeing in the industry through projects like Yama no Susume S3; even without spelling out more names than I should, I can tell you that Satoshi Furuhashi‘s directorial assistance for the second episode should only be a small taste of this new wave of young creators who are all about emotive storytelling even when they’re entrusted with characters beating the crap out of each other.
I’ve pointed out before that, rather than through the quality of the animation itself, outstanding production circumstances like this manifest through the scope. This can entail physical scale but also density of detail packed into the world, effort spent in creating a palpable fantasy, all those aspects that talented individuals can’t push themselves to conjure out of nothing with little time — which is what allows many anime to punch above their weight animation-wise, for the better and for the worse. That said, there’s an important detail to note: FGO Babylonia is bound to also have some ridiculously strong animation, thanks to artists like the second key duo: action directors Megumi Kouno and Toya Oshima.
The former barely needs an introduction at this point. Kouno feels like a test tube experiment combining Yoh Yoshinari and Hironori Tanaka’s DNA, and yet with enough of a personality of her own to easily stand on her own. Be it her fluid hair animation regardless of the number of drawings it actually entailed, the snappy body motion, her dense effects animation and willingness to tackle mechanical work as well, or the sheer level of detail in her art — which has actually caused her teams to struggle in the past but should be a non-issue on a schedule as solid as this project’s — Kouno has offered all sorts of viewers a reason to fall for her work. And if all that sounded like incomprehensible rambling to you, then simply look at the Ishtar action scene we’ve already seen in multiple trailers. That’s what Megumi Kouno is all about, and if you like it, you can expect a whole lot more.
A similar thing could be said about Oshima. It’s understandable that he still gets referred to as “Shinya Ohira’s apprentice” — we’re talking about one of the most important animators in the history of this industry whom Oshima owes a lot to stylistically, but at this point in his career, narrowing him down to just that feels like it fails to address his own achievements as well as a gradual evolution away from Ohira-style linework. Oshima’s modern work maintains that magical feeling that the world itself could morph at any moment from his master’s expressionism, but his art has taken a turn more towards the geometrical, with cleaner lines than before, in a way that tends to make him more palatable for larger audiences such as this show’s. Regardless of that, though, we’re still talking about a very idiosyncratic artist with a style that’s got very little in common with Kouno’s, so we can expect shifts in the style of the action, hopefully in ways that feel appropriate for the combatants.
And when it comes to the rest of the animation team, things don’t get any less exciting. We’ve got a relay of exceptional artists since the very start; quite literally so, considering that episode #0 begins with Taishi Kawakami, one of the best sharpest character artists from his generation, and then follows it up with Yusuke Kawakami, whose usage of blender to create large threedimensional battlegrounds feels like a perfect fit for FGO Babylonia‘s sprawling vision. To give us a taste of what to expect, the first few episodes feature the best of the best among A-1/CloverWorks-affiliated animators — most notably Ryousuke Niishii — as well as plenty of fully freelance talent like Takeuchi-school rising star Jin Oyama and Eri Irei, representing the exceptional talent that hangs around Korea-based studio Makaria. Among the confirmed regulars Taiki Konno, whom we highlighted as one of anime’s most promising up-and-coming figures when he was mostly known for his traditional paintings in studio SHAFT properties and was only then starting to establish himself as an animator to look out for, has since then done exactly that; his breathtaking solo ending for Fire Force defines his current self down to the sensuality of his work, and proves he’s got potential to go even further than just animation.
Again, we could be here all gushing about this incredible lineup. For example, the fact that folks associated with studio TRIGGER (like Kengo Saito) will make an immediate appearance in the production too. Although they have a solid relationship with this team in general, chances are that this was made easier by the presence of a member of the studio like Shouta Iwasaki as FGO Babylonia‘s assistant character designer; something worthy of celebrating regardless of networking possibilities, since Iwasaki’s a phenomenal supervisor whose skills are often overlooked because fans tend to focus on key animation specialists instead. And speaking of supervisors, we’ve yet to bring up one of the most noteworthy members of the team: character designer and chief animation director Tomoaki Takase. Despite his relative inexperience commanding entire animation efforts (this will be his third title after Saekano and Occultic;Nine) he’s considered a prodigy by many of the top animators we’ve been talking about, who feel that under his surface of cute-girl-loving-artist hides someone with a tremendous, innate understanding of animation, and thus are very happy to have their works corrected by Takase.
And yet, it’s precisely Takase that I’ll use to pivot to the less enthusiastic part of this piece. This isn’t something I’d actually blame him for, mind you, but rather a mentality embodied by his design work in this project that I’ve officially dubbed no fun allowed. You see, FGO features the work of multiple illustrators, which doesn’t quite work in animation — not without crafting a unique world where that feels natural anyway, which also would have been stopped by that same mentality. To remedy that, the designs were homogenized by Type-Moon co-founder Takashi Takeuchi, since his style is the one people associate the most with the franchise, and later reinterpreted by Takase who stuck very close to them. As animation designs they’ve still earned the praise of his peers due to his ability to do more with less, using fewer lines to evoke something that feels very complete, and all official pieces of art by him and the rest of the team are by all means well-drawn… yet they’re simply not as interesting as his previous work, which let through his own voice much more clearly while still reinforcing the show’s identity.
That unwritten — though sometimes spoken out loud — rule to play it safe and not deviate too much from the Fate that everyone knows and love isn’t limited to the design work or even this show in particular. For one, the most memorable episodes in Fate/Apocrypha involved behind the scene quarrels with creators having to actively fight against orders that came from above to fulfill their vision and do what they thought was best for the work. For all that I’ve said about FGO‘s tremendous success being very important in granting this team as much time and resources as they needed, this is where that popularity could bite them in the butt, since it’ll translate into pressure for them to make exactly what the fans want… or what the committee perceives that to be, at any rate. Mind you, the desire to make something that stays true to the original isn’t only something that comes from evil corporations; as we said before, many staff members are big FGO fans who wouldn’t want to reinvent the wheel anyway, so this pressure might only nudge them in the direction they’d take themselves anyway.
What’s the preliminary conclusion, then? As you’ve likely noticed by the positive comments taking up most of this piece, I’m heavily leaning towards optimism. Based on the exceptional production circumstances, the massive pool of talent, the excitement by individuals who are watching this unfold from within, and the fact that I’ve been repeatedly told that this arc is where FGO truly finds its footing, I’ve got plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the project. It might not be the most inspired showing for every renowned creator involved (especially for the unique directors who are more susceptible to restrictions on a project like this) but the sheer concentration of talent feels like it’d lead to spectacular work even with less capable project leaders.
And since I’ve yet to actually talk about accessibility myself (since just like the producers, Fate‘s popularity makes me feel like I don’t have to) let me add that I wouldn’t worry about it too much, and simply give it a try if what you’re seeing seems appealing. Gatekeepers will inevitably give you a long list of reasons why you’re experiencing the franchise in the wrong way, but at the end of the day series like this are released for everyone to enjoy, even if they don’t have multiple encyclopedias’ worth of lore stored in their brain.
As someone who first experienced Fate through the original visual novel and DEEN’s dubious adaptation a long time ago, I can tell you that I’ve grown not to enjoy F/SN itself much anymore, perhaps due to overexposure. It goes without saying then that I get all the people frustrated by Fate‘s omnipresence in the anime world — and those who wish Tsukihime and Mahoyo came back to life instead — but also I can’t deny that the endless stream of adaptations has allowed it to embrace interesting genre spaces (Lord El-Melloi II Case Files) and very different tones (Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family). Although it promises a more traditional setup, FGO Babylonia‘s adaptation has so much stacked in its favor that it should be able to win over people who are on the fence about the franchise, although it likely won’t convert its haters. If you love it, strap in a for a good time, and if you’re somewhere in the spectrum between moderate enjoyment and mild distaste, you might as well give it a chance. Beware though, in Fate tradition, it does start slow for a production this impossibly stacked. So much for my argument about diversification.