Famous series and popular series are no strange to the concept of the ‘spin-off’ and that very concept has had a very sketchy record. In the west, there has been some successes: The sitcom Frasier which spun off from Cheers was wildly successful, the Arrowverse, probably the best thing to come out of DC comics in the last decade is pretty much all spin offs from one show about a B-tier super hero. However there have been also considerable clunkers, with things like Joey, AfterMash and several others never being able to recap the magic of its parent series.
For anime it is a bit different, but there is still that checkered history. Boruto is doing decent as a successor to Naruto, and A Certain Scientific Railgun is considered it some ways even better than its first series Index. Yet there have also been mixed bags, and we come to one of those today. After the cut let’s take a dive into this seasons Fate series, and spin-off Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note
When it comes to the Fate franchisee, there is a wildly held truth that Fate/Zero is the best of the series. There is truth to that, it is the thought of as “the Fate anime that even non-fans love’ and it isn’t hard to see why. Fate/Zero is well animated, well told, and has a cast of grown up characters that prevents the series from having too much teenage baggage. While I have great love for Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel, I absolutely get the popularity of Fate/Zero and I love it myself. It’s just a damn good story.
So it wasn’t too surprising to hear that the show would get a spin-off, and that it would be focused the character of Waver Velvet, one of the only survivors of the Holy Grail war. It made sense really, Waver is the only one of the entire Zero cast that actually walks away from the conflict a better person than he was before, or just alive. Seeing what he does next, and how his experience from Zero affects him is great to see. Grace Note is at its best when it letting Waver, now known as Lord El-melloi II just live his life after the events of the grail war, and dealing with the fallout over his actions. Becoming a teacher, and excellent one who raises his students to greatness, but lacking the power himself is a great character beat. Waver at this point in his life could be best summed up as “the greatest mechanic in the world, who can’t drive a car to save his life.”
The supporting cast is also excellent, and pulls on the massive library of Fate Characters for support. It was great after watching all the other series to see supporting characters from shows like Fate Apocrypha and Fate/Illya show up. Even Fate/Grand Order is thrown into the mix, with a support cameo from a character that never really did get her due for screen-time. The best part though, comes from Gray, the series resident Saberface. While its more on the nose than in other series, Gray is a great character with a familiar but unique design and a cool weapon who serves as Waver’s new sidekick. While their bond has been seen before in anime, it is a fresh take when it comes to Fate and i loved every second of it. This is the best part of Grace Note’s spin-off status.
The worst part though sadly, is that it feels at time Grace Note is trying too hard to tie itself to the Fate world. The back half of the series spends much of its time trying to tie events into the Holy Grail Wars and everything that comes with it. While this is never truly bad, it becoming an almost suffocating part of the plot that drowns out the other parts of the story. While the first half of Grace Note only had a handful of references to the world of Fate Stay Night, the back half felt like it was constantly trying tell the viewer it was part of that world. Part of that lies with the adaption, as the Rail Zeppelin case is actually in the middle of the light novel storyline. Knowing that, it’s pretty clear to see that this story arc was chosen because it was so closely tied to the Fate universe, which is a shame because that first half is really fucking excellent, and shows that the anime didn’t’ need to lean on its roots so much.
Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note is a good series and fans of Fate/Zero and Waver Velvet will find a lot to like here. It’s not nearly as good, or as thought provoking, but the series, especially in the first half is a excellent mystery series staring a great lead and his trusty sidekick. Yet the back half falls into the common trap that spin-offs have, a fear of breaking fully away from their predecessor. I have been told that Case Files has much more story to tell, and I’m sure that will come in the future, but it is just a bit of a bummer that they ran to the Fate well so quickly. Regardless I had a real blast with this series from start to finish, and if anyone is a Fate fan, they shouldn’t miss this series.