With so many entries in seemingly every possible medium, how can someone start to become a fan of Fate?
Fate is a strange franchise for those curious about becoming fans. Including adaptations in various mediums and multiple sequels, throughout its 15 year history there have been over 50 entries in at least six different continuities, some referencing or relying on each other for background information despite not directly connecting. Making things more difficult, many of the entries have never received an English release, including the progenitor of the franchise, the Fate/stay night visual novel.
As a result, many potential fans, myself included, asked the very simple question of where to start, and then need to stare at a flowchart of continuities and timelines, trying to make sense of names like Fate/strange fake and Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Battlefront Babylonia- before they can even attempt to get into the franchise.
Understandably, this turns many people off from Fate. With that in mind, what’s the short answer to the question? Where can a potential fan go to start watching or reading Fate property?
The absolute simplest answer is to just pick an entry and jump in while trying to avoid anything that looks like it’s clearly a sequel. With the number of different continuities and interdependencies on lore as well as the insanity inherent to some of the decisions (there is an Archer Servant who attacks with bales of rice, and that’s barely odd by Fate standards), it’s practically impossible to not be confused as a new fan, so just embrace the madness, pick something with the word “Fate” in its title and enjoy the ride.
For a more in-depth answer, get comfortable!
To start with, a bit of terminology that most of the entries use:
- Master - A magic user (magi) who has successfully summoned or is in command of a Servant.
- Servant - A famous person who is summoned as a soldier in the Holy Grail War. Generally one Servant per Master, classified into one of seven classes (more, in later entries) based on fighting style, weapon choice and personal history.
- Holy Grail War - A battle royale between magi using Servants. The last one standing can use the Holy Grail to grant any single wish.
- Holy Grail - An extradimensional magic battery of effectively infinite power. Sometimes becomes a portal to Hell, other times used to build an airport.
The simplest of the Fate continuities is probably Fate/Apocrypha. It was originally going to be a multiplayer video game with a focus on a continuing story, but eventually the idea was shelved and the setting became the basis of the Apocrypha light novels, later adapted into an ongoing manga and also into a single season anime dubbed by Aniplex of America and given a global release.
In Apocrypha, after the Third Holy Grail War in Japan the Yggdmillennia family of magi took the Holy Grail from Fuyuki City to Romania and kept it a secret for decades. At the start of Apocrypha, they have initiated a new Holy Grail War, but due to all of the Masters being from Yggdmillennia, a new set of seven Masters and Servants are chosen to oppose them, creating two factions of Masters, and the Grail summons a Ruler Servant to preside over the War.
Due to being set in Europe with an entirely new cast of characters, there is almost nothing connecting Apocrypha to other Fate properties outside of some background details about the timeline. Thanks to the global release, the anime is readily watchable in English, subbed or dubbed. However, neither the light novels nor the manga have received an English release.
The next easiest continuity is Fate/strange fake (yes, that’s seriously what it’s called). It started as an April Fool’s joke labelled Fate/states night that followed an attempt to recreate the Holy Grail War via data from a previous War but set in the United States. It was later turned into a story in a magazine, then later still adapted into an ongoing light novel and manga. Sadly, there’s no official way to read any of F/SF’s adaptations in English.
Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA (or as many people know it: the one with magical girls) is the middle complexity continuity to understand, since it's something of a tangential continuity to the original F/SN, using many of the same characters and settings but in sometimes significantly different roles. Originally, ILLYA was a manga that received two sequel series (2wei! and 3rei!!), the most recent of which is ongoing. It has been adapted into a total of four anime seasons (Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA, 2wei!, 2wei! Herz and 3rei!!), the final episode of which announced a movie, Oath Under Snow, licensed by Sentai Filmworks. All of the anime’s seasons are available with English subtitles, and at least to the end of season three is available dubbed in English.
In the beginning of ILLYA, Rin Tohsaka and her rival Luvia Edelfelt (both appearing in F/SN) are tasked with using special "Magic Sticks" to transform into magical girls and collect the seven Class Cards in Fuyuki, which manifest in a mirror dimension as corrupted versions of the original F/SN Servants. Due to the two constantly fighting, the sentient Sticks leave and select new users, Illya and Miyu. Later seasons expand on how the girls can use Class Cards in combat, add in Chloe, Illya's twin, and generally raise the stakes in various ways, such as having an Eighth Class Card and adding in a new magi tasked with collecting the final Card who destroys the main cast's base of operations.
ILLYA has also has a video game adaptation by the same name for the Nintendo 3DS, a two volume light novel adaptation made while the anime was airing but are not available in English, an OVA Dance at the Sports Festival (available as a special on the first season’s DVD) and an upcoming OVA Prisma Phantasm.
Then there are the more complicated continuities.
The first of these is the Extraverse, where everything is set in a virtual environment on the Moon in the future, specially around 2030, since nothing in Fate is allowed to make sense. The main Extraverse entries are: Fate/Extra (published by Aksys Games), Fate/Extra CCC, Fate/Extra CCC Fox Tail (published by Kadokawa), Fate/Extra Last Encore (licensed by Netflix), Fate/Extella (localized as Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star, published by Marvelous!) and Fate/Extella Link (also published by Marvelous!).
In Extra, humans discover a magic-based computer on the Moon called the Moon Cell Automoton, which had been built by a pre-human civilization and was observing all of human history up to that point. The Moon Cell then makes a virtual high school and starts a Holy Grail War with 128 Masters, effectively taking over the role of the Holy Grail. The main character has no memory of their past, and so must fight through the War with nothing but their Servant, Emporer Nero Claudius, to try to reach the Moon Cell to reclaim their memories. In Fox Tail, the same plot takes place, but instead of Nero, the main character's Servant is Tamamo-no-Mae, previously the main Caster Servant from Extra. Last Encore is a reimagining of the same plot, but with the main character showing up 1,000 after the start of the War.
CCC is a sequel and companion game to Extra and follows the main character as they try to escape the labyrinth on the Far Side of the Moon with their Servant. CCC also introduces advanced artificial intelligence characters, like BB and Meltryllis, as antagonists. Extella and its sequel Extella Link are set after Extra (or at least later in a closely related continuity, since a few details don't line up between the different entries). Nero is in command of the Moon Cell, the main character has been split into multiple pieces, each following a different Servant and both the Moon and Earth are under threat from an alien invasion that occurs once every 14,000 years.
The good news is that that list is all a self-contained continuity with practically no connection to other properties, and it also has some of the most recent entries in Fate. Last Encore aired in 2018, and Extella Link released earlier in 2019. Also, most of the Extraverse entries, with the exceptions of CCC and Fox Tail, have official English translations.
The bad news is that CCC and Fox Tail, which Last Encore and Extra build on, don’t have an English release, and the Extraverse isn’t consolidated into one medium or platform. Extra and CCC are on the Playstation Portable, Extella and Extella Link are on the Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, PC and Nintendo Switch. Fox Tail is a manga following CCC’s story but with a different Servant, and Last Encore is an anime set 1,000 years in the future.
For side entries, Extra as a sound drama CD, a manga and a parody manga where the masters are turned into babies and the servants need take care of them (called Fate/Ikustella), CCC has a manga adaptation and Last Encore has two drama CDs. The Last Encore CDs are bundled with volumes one and five of the show’s Blu-ray release, but otherwise the side entries of the Extraverse appear to not have any official English releases.
The next continuity is Fate/Grand Order, the mobile game, which is pretty easy to understand in a vacuum. The original idea for Apocrypha that was shelved later became the basis for F/GO: a multiplayer video game that still has a focus on a story that progresses over time. In fact, F/GO’s story is still ongoing and will likely continue with regular updates for at least the next two years.
In F/GO, the player is the last Master in Chaldea, a building complex in the mountains that uses magic and technology together to allow both the ability to directly view the past and limited time travel. After a severe incident in the prologue, you are charged with restoring humanity by fixing singularities, points in time where history has gone wrong.
The reason why F/GO is a more difficult continuity is because while its actual story is self-contained and does not rely on other Fate properties, the game has three complications. First, it has various events throughout the year for holidays, milestones and other Fate properties being released, so the main story isn’t the only content. Second, the game has become so popular that many other properties use F/GO as a basis. Finally, it expands on much of the previously established lore, which is great for fans but confusing for newcomers. For example, originally there were only seven classes of Servants in Fate lore. F/GO currently has 13 (12 in the North American release with the final class, Foreigner, releasing in December).
As a result, someone using F/GO as their introduction to Fate will get a self contained story that stands well on its own, but also a ton of other stuff to confuse them until they have an understanding of almost every other entry in the franchise.
As for the other properties connected to F/GO, Fate/Grand Order Arcade is exactly what it sounds like: F/GO but as an arcade game. Fate/Grand Order VR feat. Mash Kyrielight, published by Aniplex and available with an English dub, lets you interact Mash, one of the major characters from the game, and Altria Pendragon, the original Saber Servant from F/SN.
Fate/Grand Order x Himuro's Universe Seven Most Powerful Great Figures Chapter is an anime short made by ufotable based on the 4-koma manga Himuro's Universe Fate/school life. The same crossover also created another spinoff called Himuro March - Fuyuki Game Over. The basic premise of the original Himuro manga is simply following side characters from F/SN as they go through normal high school life, while all of the cool magic and life threatening battles are going on off screen. Unfortunately, all of the Himuro properties appear to have no official English releases.
In terms of anime, F/GO has a few adaptations, including more that are scheduled to air later this year. Fate/Grand Order -First Order- is a movie that adapted the first chapter of the game’s story, and has an English release for both subtitles and dubbed. Fate/Grand Order -Moonlight Lostroom- is a half an hour special with an original story set in the “Lostroom” of Chaldea and is available in English. In terms of story, Lostroom acts something like a prologue to part 2 of F/GO’s story, which will begin around the start of 2019 for North American players.
Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Battlefront Babylonia-, an anime adapting the final singularity of the first part of F/GO’s story, is set to air in the fall. Finally, Fate/Grand Order -The Sacred Round Table Realm Camelot- Wandering; Agateram (now THAT'S a mouthful!) and Fate/Grand Order -The Sacred Round Table Realm Camelot- Paladin; Agateram (how long could these titles possibly get?!), a two-part movie adapting the Camelot singularity in the game, is currently set to air in 2020.
Image from the official FGO Twitter
F/GO also has a few manga spin offs. Learning With Manga! and its sequel series More Learning and Even More Learning are comedy manga made by Riyo, one of the artists for the game, and officially published as a web comic on the main F/GO website. Each chapter is supposedly designed to help players understand the mechanics of the game, but generally make fun of some of F/GO's more ridiculous aspects or just joke around. Learning With Manga! also received its own anime short on the official FGO YouTube channel, however it does not have any English subtitles.
Fate/Grand Order -mortalis:stella-, published by KODANSHA COMICS, and Fate/Grand Order -turas realta- both adapt the story of the game, with mortalis adapting Mash Kyrielight’s viewpoint and turas adapting the player character’s. Of the various manga, turas is the only one with no English adaptation.
There’s also the Guda Guda Ace manga and related Fate/GUDAGUDA Order. Guda Guda Ace is technically a TYPE-MOON properties (the parent company that owns Fate) that uses Fate Servants and which F/GO adapted several popular characters from, rather than an entry into the Fate franchise itself. GUDAGUDA Order is "the official Fate Grand Order support manga," according to its first chapter, but mostly it follows the same structure as Guda Guda Ace, just with more focus on F/GO. Both properties are self-referential comedy manga with a purposefully deformed art style that do not follow much in the way of an overarching narrative.
The final and most confusing continuity is the one that the most people are familiar with, which might be part of why it is so difficult to explain where to start with the franchise. This is the set of six Holy Grail Wars in Japan and includes the original Fate/stay Night. F/SN has a total of three routes: Fate, Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel, each of which has some kind of anime adaptation. Studio Deen adapted Fate into an anime and Unlimited Blade Works into a movie, while ufotable adapted Unlimited Blade Works into an anime and is currently adapting Heaven’s Feel into a trilogy of movies.
The adaptations are especially important for F/SN because the original visual novel has no official English translation, but each of the routes do via their anime and movies, with the Blu-ray for the second Heaven’s Feel movie, Lost Butterfly, likely coming out later this year and the final movie, Spring Song, set to release sometime early 2020. Even the manga adaptation of F/SN is available in English thanks to Tokyopop and later Viz.
The basic plot of F/SN follows Shirou Emiya as he gets sucked into the Fifth Holy Grail War and tries to survive while challenging whether his ideals of becoming a hero of justice who saves everyone can stand up to reality. However, each of the three routes explores this differently. In the original visual novel, players needed to play Fate before they could play Unlimited Blade Works, and only after the other two they could play Heaven's Feel. This is largely because Fate explores what his ideals are, Unlimited Balde Works gives an answer to whether the ideal is possible and Heaven's Feel creates a solid application of whether such ideals are possible.
In terms of gameplay, the three routes are differentiated by which of three main heroines Shirou most closely allies himself with: Saber for Fate (technically King Arthur, but because it's Fate, she's female and her name is Artoria Pendragon), Rin for Unlimited Blade Works and Sakura Matou for Heaven's Feel.
However, F/SN is far from the only entry in the main continuity. Later, Fate/hollow ataraxia released as a sequel to F/SN. F/HA also does not have an official English release, but unlike F/SN, it also doesn’t have any anime adaptations or an English release for its manga adaptation.
After F/HA came Fate/Zero, a prequel to F/SN. F/Z started as a series of light novels, later adapted into a manga then later still into an anime licensed by Aniplex. There is also an eight volume release of F/Z in manga form available in English via Dark Horse. F/Z was popular enough to also get audio drama CDs, like The Outsiders’ Performance and Artoria Romance.
F/Z's basic story follows the Fourth Holy Grail War, set 10 years prior to the one in F/SN.F/Z largely expands on the lore of the world, with Masters from each of the three founding families of the Holy Grail War, the Einzberns (who enlist Kiritsugu Emiya, Shirou's adoptive father), Tohsakas (specifically Tokiomi Tohsaka, Rin father) and Matous (Kariya Matou, who agrees to win the Grail in exhange for Sakura's freedom), two from the Clocktower (essentially the major governing and educational body for magi in the Fate universe), as well as Kirie Kotomine, the priest from F/SN who was supposed to be the overseer of the War, and a serial killer due to no one else becoming the seventh Master. The Einzbern family has lost the three previous wars, so emlists Kiritsugu Emiya (Shirou's adoptive father) as a Master on their side. The other two founding families of the Holy Grail Wars, the Tohsakas and Matous, also send in Masters to fight for the Grail.
Then there are a few entries that are technically not in the same continuity, but are also set during the Japanese Grail Wars. First is Fate/prototype, which is set during the Second Holy Grail War and uses many of the original ideas that were going to be in F/SN but were cut during development. It was only available as an animated short that came with with the third season of the spin-off show Carnival Phantasm.
It also has a drama CD, Fate/prototype Drama CD: On-Ship Christmas Murder Case and a prequel, Fate/prototype: Fragments of Sky Silver, set during the First Holy Grail War. Fragments of Sky Silver was originally a light novel, later adapted into an audio drama, and even received its own side story called Fate/Labyrinth, a light novel set in the middle of Fragments of Sky Silver. Unfortunately, none of F/P’s properties have any official English release.
For those who want to keep track, in terms of Holy Grail Wars:
- 1st HGW - Fate/prototype: Fragments of Sky Silver (not available in English)
- 2nd HGW - Fate/prototype (not available in English)
- 3rd HGW - No entries.
- 4th HGW - Fate/Zero (anime available in English)
- 5th HGW - Fate/stay night (anime and movies available in English)
- 6th HGW - Fate/hollow ataraxia (not available in English)
That is not quite all of the entries that use F/SN’s setting and characters, however the remaining entries are all spin-offs that are designed to work as standalone properties.
Today’s Menu For the Emiya Family is one of them, originally a manga then adapted into an anime, which follows various members of the F/SN cast making (and eating!) delicious-looking food. Both the manga and anime are available in English, with the manga being licensed by Denpa.
Then there's the previously mentioned Fate/school life, which follows various minor characters from F/SN going through their normal high school life. This is the same Fate/school life that has a few spinoffs with F/GO, and does not appear to be officially available in English. Finally there's Lord El-Melloi II Case Files, which follows one of the masters from F/Z, Waver Velvet, and his apprentice as they solve various magic-based mysteries. The anime adaptation is set begin airing this summer!
After that, there are still a few entries remaining in Fate, however they don’t fit into any overarching continuity.
- The aforementioned Carnival Phantasm is an anime by studio Lerche based on a Tsukihime parody manga that includes Fate characters, Tsukihime being another property in the overall universe that Fate is set in (yes, the total continuity for Fate includes even more things). Despite being a fan favorite, it's not officially available in English.
- Fate/tiger colosseum is a fighting game published by Capcom for the Playstation Portable with characters from F/SN and F/HA, and had a sequel called Fate/tiger colosseum UPPER. Neither are available officially in English.
- Fate/unlimited codes was much the same as tiger colosseum, even down to being published by Capcom, but for arcades, Playstation 2 and Playstation Portable. Unfortunately it was discontinued from the Playstation Store in 2012 due to an expiring license. As a result, there is no way to get the English release of the game anymore.
- Fate/Requiem is a light novel set after a Holy Grail War in which everyone has a Servant. It is not available in English.
Finally, there are dozens of art, concept, reference and materials books for the various properties, many being limited offers during the initial release or anniversary of their respective properties. These include the likes of Fate/complete material, Fate/stay night Visual Collection, Fate/EXTRA CCC Void Log: Bloom Echo and Fate/prototype Tribute Phantasm.
With all of that in mind, how can a potential fan get into Fate? It honestly depends on what that fan is looking for. Currently, the ILLYA and Apocrypha manga, Prisma Phantasm, Lord El-Melloi II and Babylonia anime and the Camelot and final Heaven’s Feel movies are all ongoing, so starting with any of them will let you be a part of the current conversations more quickly.
If you want to jump in and experience things as they were released, then one of the F/SN anime or movies will be the best place. If you want something simple that isn’t connected to anything else, then Apocrypha is one of the better options. If you want less drama, action or bloodshed, then the likes of Today’s Menu For the Emiya Family is preferable.
Personally, my first experience with Fate was ufotable's Unlimited Blade Works anime. While it was airing, I was interested in watching but knew that Fate had a bunch of other entries that I knew nothing about. I went to my local anime club to ask about where to start getting into Fate, and after some nervous laughter they asked me about whether I meant just the anime entries or everything. After some discussion, they said that UBW would be a fine starting point.
It turned out that they were mostly correct. Since F/SN followed a character who doesn't know anything about Holy Grail Wars or Servants, the show fills in a lot of the details for newbies. There are some plot points that are just kind of throw at the viewer, assuming that they have experienced the Fate route of the novel or seen the anime adaptation, but even those fall more into unexplained details, rather than stories that a newcomer wouldn't be able to follow.
My advice would be to do pretty much what I did: start with a title that is currently airing or recently released and give it a try. As mentioned, in terms of anime at the moment that would probably be this summer's Lord El-Melloi II Case Files, or F/GO for the more adventurous.
Worst case scenario, there are a lot of other previous entries that you can fall back on to give the franchise a second shot. Best case scenario, it works as a starting point to learn about Fate and there are a lot of other properties to delve in to later. Either way, finally taking the first step in trying to get into Fate is more than enough to become a fan of the franchise, it just takes some guts to make the leap!
Did I miss any Fate entries? Is there a better way to understand the various continuities and relationships between entries? Do you have a better way to get into the franchise? Let me know in the comments below!
Kevin Matyi is a freelance features writer for Crunchyroll. He's been watching anime for as long as he can remember, and his favorite shows tend to be shonen and other action series.
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