It’s a bit tough to discuss this series as a whole for a number of things
- I never read the novels.
- It’s an adaptation of said novel series but it’s adapting the middle segment of it
- The magic system replaces the usual elements of a traditional mystery
And for that reason, I’m going to keep it short.
So to elaborate on what I meant by the last two points, Grace Notes here adapts the middle volumes of the Case Files novels regarding the eponymous Rail Zeppelin and the events that we saw play things out accurately enough according to some of the novel-readers. The additions of Kairi, Luvia, and their investigation is however, original to the anime. The tip that they discover from the zombie-cooking show was apparently set-up in the train, no doubt for Waver and co. to learn from him about the cases instead of being told by Reines. Olga Marie was however in the original source material, given how Marisbilly’s obsession with the grail and its importance to this case was integral to the plot.
The biggest problem people are going to have with this adaptation is that nothing is really ever explained or done in a predictable manner, at least not in a way a traditional mystery is played out. Whereas a slip in information or some miscellaneous object might lead to clues and deductions, Case Files instead explains everything conceptually with magic. Many people might complain that these are “ass-pulls”, deus-ex machinas, or some other similar accusation but Waver himself has made one point clear: With all the magic trivializing the “how” and “what” the only important element to consider is “why”. Now this doesn’t single-handedly excuse the mysteries from being incredibly esoteric and obtuse to even try to figure out. Waver belts out explanations about the mysteries that are completely new to the setting and the fact that Fate generally focuses on magic regarding heroic spirits don’t help to unravel these concepts either.
In any normal circumstance, having your adaptation of a novel series be preceded by 6 anime original episodes would be grounds to be an immediate drop but not only did it work out for my incredibly lazy start of the season coverage, I think Fate has a lot to explain about its universe outside of the Holy Grail War and even if most of abstruse explanations happen here, I think the actual adapted material that followed was a lot more focused and entertaining. This complaint is probably addressed retroactively but some more concrete explanations as to what Grey’s true background is would have been nice, or go whatever what Svin, Caules, and Flat’s specialties are. Still, I think some explanations would have been preferable to others, for example, Svin’s promotion to Pride was because of accomplishments from a previous case instead of his actions in Rail Zeppelin.
The barrier of entry also depends on if you watched Fate/Zero or not because Waver’s story begins there while this is a continuation of his journey to one day face Rider again. I’m not in the know of what happens in the volumes preceding Rail Zeppelin but if they decided to adapt this story for the sole purpose of continuing Waver’s connection to Rider in animated form then it was a worthwhile effort. In the end, I think if you can get past the whole lack of mystery because of the overwhelming power of whydunit, the experience is worth a watch, especially if you came out of Fate/Zero liking Waver and Rider’s story, and it’d be hard not to. But now that they’ve gotten the Rider connection out of the way, perhaps a natural adaptation from the start of the novels would be in order, wouldn’t mind seeing that.