One of the most difficult franchises I have seen, Fate has had me teetering between adoring and loathing it. A majority of my viewership comes from the three series adapted (Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works by ufotable and Fate/stay night by Studio DEEN) and window watching of the boatload of spinoffs, separate stories and alternative story lines. As easy as it would be just to throw out stay night and call the rest gold, even the two stunning anime by ufotable left sour tastes in my mouth that kept me from running to a computer to tell the world how amazing it was. Granted most of that probably was by design, it would have been really hard for me to finish either if it weren’t for these outstanding dubs- Fate/Zero in particular. The Tony Oliver directed 2013 epic runs two seasons at twenty-six episodes and boasts one of the more impressive ensemble casts in a booming year for dubbing.
Matthew Mercer as Kiritsugu Emiya
Most characters like Emiya are so plentiful that they are laughably forgetful- they just look cool and quietly rattle off lines whilst using their cold-blooded actions do most of the talking. Sometimes, there are “tragic” backstories that serve nothing more than bland catalysts for them to be as cool as the other side of the pillow. While his character takes a very long time to break out of this mold enough to become memorable, the shoe fits Matthew Mercer well. Early on, the one-liners and stoic replies are smooth, while his killer instincts are matched with chilling bluntness and soft-spoken intimidation. Perhaps the earliest indication to a really strong role for Mercer comes in how well he blends the sharp line delivery with an early preview of the talent arsenal in his summoning of his heroic spirit. Pay attention to how well he puts emphasis on the second half of the incantation. Coupled with experienced breath control, it serves as a subtle notice to what shapes to be a commanding performance in the second and third acts of the series.
Right around the time the second season starts, there is a large return on investment for the safe playing moves with flashes of genius in the previous run. As his character begins to develop into an emotionally charged individual (battling your lifelong ideologies should never result in anything besides that), scenes begin presenting new looks and cracks in the armor that leave the lead role’s vocal identity up to whatever approach the talent wishes. A traditional take on a character whose aspirations drastically dance with their limits has their actor at double speed or delivering winded lines that are dishearteningly stodgy. Mercer’s attention to detail in vocal cues and reactions staying within the same range (no matter how heartbroken his character gets) not only is far more unique than the aforementioned performances, but it also exhibits a beautiful mixture of adroit voice talent and direction. Put this role on his highlight reel- Mercer could single-handedly make this series worth watching all the way through for anyone who appreciates English voice acting.
Kari Wahlgren as Saber
Undeniably her most well known role, Wahlgren cemented her voice-over mark as the mascot of the Fate franchise (not that Kate Higgins didn’t turn in a good Saber herself with the dub of Fate/stay night). The king of Arthurian legend constantly has such a strong sense of right fueled by her desires, and the stern sounding Wahlgren fits it perfectly without making the role feel stiff. While it is heavy material to act, there is a cool air of confidence Saber has in her own abilities during conflict that her voice actress understands and executes well. This really makes her stand out from an actor whom might be way too serious in tone as it allows for her to bring a lot out of the lines with smooth turning rather than the overcompensation that accompanies those extra firm performances.
As earlier mentioned with Mercer’s role, Wahlgren amps up the emotion just as well as Saber begins unraveling from her ideology clashing with others (and ultimately shattering). As she finds dead-ends and witnesses what madness is required for her heart’s wishes, the lines feel heavy with hesitation and even compliment the animation of a teary eyed knight. By the end of particularly demanding scenes, it was honestly exhausting to hear how into it Wahlgren was. For example, one can only hope that an entire fight that builds up to have the word “Excalibur” shouted by Saber would have all the payoff it should, and boy does it. The story of Saber becomes far less a tale of a hero winning over evil and more a tortured leader who has to come to grips with the reality of what she has done in pursuit of the goals, with one final cry as the dream crumbles into nothing. Suffice to say, Wahlgren paints the scene in an excellent fashion.
Bridget Hoffman as Irisviel von Einzbern
Most of the really effective parts of a lot of the cast’s characters definitely don’t start showing up until the second and third acts of Zero, so there is a really big void to fill until that point (namely, almost the entire first half). Thankfully, Hoffman really steps up to the plate with an inspired role as Irisviel. If the massive credit list didn’t give it away, there is a lot of lore to this story, and exposition upon exposition beckons boredom to sit right in front of the feature, blocking the entire view. Enter the fresh, softly delivered lines by Hoffman. They aren’t so light that they lull you to sleep, nor are they certainly aren’t like those brutal squealing sounds on the chalkboard of storytelling. With a well mannered sound that is “just right” accompanying her traditional roles, Hoffman turns the dry lore of this series into rather fitting lessons accompanying a good soundtrack and the gorgeous visuals. Part callback to that line Wahlgren had, part showcase of Hoffman’s talents, (spoilers) this scene captures what she gives the dub perfectly: outstanding drama.
Without spoiling things, there is a sequence of events that happens towards the story’s conclusion that continues to leave me utterly flabbergasted. In it, Irisviel takes a dark turn and becomes something far more complicated than the loving wife and mother that wants to help her husband reach his dreams. Due to this, the material gets a whole new level of crazy and the dialogue begins nosediving into the abyss. Still keeping the ship steady in her delivery, it becomes hard for even Hoffman to make things better as the walls in the entire show timber down the hill. Unfortunately, I believe a lot of the voice talent gets a bad rep for how things turn at this point, but I look no further than the likes of Fate/stay night to offer up the easy answer- Hoffman, like everyone else who has had to voice in a Fate work, can only do so much to salvage the dicey parts.
Crispin Freeman as Kirei Kotomine
Kotomine is a fascinating character- he plays the man plunging off the ledge after great loss and bottoming out into something scarily different than who he was. His father speaks highly of him, and it is obvious he is a very well respected member of the church from the way others act around him. Basically the Japanese Marcus Junius Brutus, the priest goes all in on a straight up diabolical plot. There’s melodrama, there’s secret meetings, there’s cold-blooded betrayal. Such a wild role was gift wrapped and delivered to Crispin Freeman, the best candidate to make those long conversations and cold moments all the better.
Plotting out the way, researching the secrets of the Holy Grail War, and gauging his competition, Kotomine is the busiest character in the series by far. His moments serve as a bassline to rest of the colorful commentary and conflict. Once the dominoes start falling, the few words spoken are direct hits to the vitality of so many others- perfectly said with a dry wit. Freeman has a very refined palette for his voice acting, and this is a fantastic addition.
Jamieson Price as Rider
Booming voices can be one-dimensional and predictable, which is exactly what I had as a first impression hearing Price’s Rider. Why wouldn’t it be? A big, burly man riding around on a chariot and shouting about world domination doesn’t really leave one expecting much depth. As his character not only came to self realization, but also help Waver grow, the audience is shown a character of terrific insight and a tone worthy of a king. Price reflects on textbooks and appreciates modern life with a hearty boost.
Like an inspiring father, Rider leads the way with electricity and a lively pop- personified beautifully with Price. With such shades of dark reds and shadow, hearing a grown man lose his mind over a T-shirt is spectacular. Like a bubble of air in the abyss, having a proud boom echo throughout the show carries some dry, dry episodes. It doesn’t always work, but it is a major nod to the game changing tempo Price brings (also, I’m penciling Price in as the voice actor who sounds like my father, accompanying Birch’s Mayuri for my mother).
David Vincent as Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh is hands down one of the worse antagonists I’ve seen from a AAA title anime. Horribly cliché, he speaks like how one might expect their seven year old act like a king while playing pretend in the backyard. Besides rattling off about how lesser everything is to him and his gold locks (no, not hair, I’m talking actual locks) he wears for earrings, all the more you can really scrape out of this character is that he wants to play around with things in a far more pretentious matter than Kotomine (someone just spiteful about the world).
If nothing else, I really think Vincent made this role a corny fun to listen to. While a lot of the cast ran with emotion on their performances, Vincent turned up the camp to 100 and sounded exactly how you would expect. If you immediately associate someone with a particular role, that means they did something noteworthy, right?
Lucien Dodge as Waver Velvet
The respect seeking Waver is arguably the real main character of Fate/Zero . While he isn’t shown as much as the other two (three technically?) participants, Waver objectively goes through a bigger character development than anyone else. Working in his favor, the magical coming-of-age journey for the boy wishing for power over those who look down on him is the perfect alley-oop for a vivid character change. Compared to the stoic and driven killers, it is really nice to see someone learn the real values of life. A transition from whiny and attention-seeking into a changed young man is such an important portrayal to get right, and Dodge executes well.
For a solid three or four episodes, I was actually convinced this kid was being played by Yuri Lowenthal. There isn’t a whole lot more to say about someone who got mistaken for the voiceover legend other than they had a solid swing for the fences. He’s funny when he needs to be, and oddly endearing even when he is whiny about things.
Marc Diraison as Tokiomi Tohsaka
Diraison gives one of the more steady toned performances out of the bunch as the elder soul patch rocking Tohsaka. If Kotomine is Brutus, then Tohsaka is definitely Julius Caesar. Powerful, composed, and never suspecting of things to come, the confidence pours out of Diraison’s performance. Considering that I like to keep things as spoiler free, I’ll leave it to it that when he’s down to business, he is sharp. When he is with his family he sounds caring, no matter how occupied he is. So confident, and yet remarkably farsighted- Diraison paints the picture well.
Carrie Keranen continues to impress me with her brief performance as Maiya Hisau. The Kill la Kill star plays assistant killing machine to Emiya with a splash of interest as a mistress(?) role. Her range is not for every character, but I wager that she can fit in with nearly any dub and still be effective.
Liam O’Brien gives a really perplexing character with Kariya Matou. While the “Julius Caesar” theme sings throughout the politics of Zero, O’Brien sounds like the dude who would be keying Caesar’s Corvette at the parking lot of a Red Lobster because the emperor stole his girlfriend. With every step into madness for something so genuinely heartfelt of a commitment, it becomes clear Matou bites off more than he can choose and descends into an unsettling madness. In a particular scene with Michelle Ruff’s character and him, I had to turn down the volume almost all the way with how uncomfortable it made me. Granted, hearing the guy often typecast as the smooth operator go insane was oddly effective.
Oh, and the end of his storyline had one ice cold Cristina Vee line.
Kyle Hebert’s Berserker is a fun blood-lust driven pure rage. Seems silly to say for a character named “Berserker”, but the anger is really convincing. Even after his identity is revealed in the endgame, there isn’t much to this role.
Grant George puts on a Lancer that is very becoming of the “cool” sounding actor often a go to for the likes of Persona 3's Shinji or DRRR!’s Chikage Rokujo. I’m always happy to see George cast on a game or anime,
As well as Doug Erholtz does as the snooty Kayneth El Melloi Archibald, the real story in his scheming lover’s plot. Sola-Ui works hard to make sure she has the cards in her hand when the going gets tough, and almost works in her favor. A mostly tame role for Karen Strassman, I never thought I’d hear the actor scream lines like “MYRIGHTHANDMYRIGHTHANDMYRIGHTHANDMYRIGHTHAND” (you can look that scene up if you want, it is definitely NSFW).
Daniel Woren and Johnny Yong Bosch combine for a team of outright madmen in Caster and Ryunosuke Uryu. It is incredible how JYB can take the same voice he uses as a boy overthrowing a kingdom and make it work for a psychotic serial killer.
Wendee Lee briefly plays mentor/ mother figure in Natalia Kaminski well for Emiya with a role with shades of Faye Valentine.
Throwing her name in the hat for the sequel series, Stephanie Sheh reserves the role for the innocently sweet Illyasviel von Einzbern.
There are a lot of other roles in this series, but I want to highlight two more minor roles. Mela Lee voices the young Rin Tohsaka, which doesn’t seem like much until you compare it to Lee’s performance as the young adult version of the exact same character. The shows bridge a few years, but it is impressive on a meta level that she basically shifted her own range and made the character sound the same.
The second role I wanted to nod to was Carrie Savage as the childhood friend of Emiya, Shirley. She is only in the show for roughly ten to fifteen minutes, but some really sweet friendship to the main character shows a ton of personality. Where she really makes her role so noteworthy in a loaded cast is how bone chilling her voice gets in a terrifying scenario that hammers home why Saber’s master is so cold blooded. Bravo.
There is a lot going on in this series, and the high count of characters is troublesome for chemistry purists, to say the least. No matter how talented the cast is, when it is crowded like this, it usually doesn’t bode well for scenes. Things couldn’t be further from that here. In most of the Dubs w/ Dil to date, the cast was trying to live up to the high expectations of the outstanding source material/subs. Here in this dub, however, I feel like it typically makes the material worth withstanding. I found many parts of the series incredibly hard to follow and utterly tasteless in dialogue, dragging on in between beautiful background shots and fights. Atmosphere and (as best as the cast could) drama is built in an elegant way throughout the dicey script as heard in a scene like this.
One of the most impressive parts of this wide cast is just how easily any given member can mesh with another in the story. The heroic spirits trade shots in both fights and moments of discussion, as well as argue with their masters over ideology (invested roles like Wahlgren’s Saber save such moments). Overall though, you have to take the chemistry in the main duel between parties interested in the Holy Grail War- Mercer and Freeman, and put that smack dab on the poster for the main event. Reading files on one another and connecting their dots, it feels like a classic versus movie starring two top actors you talk about seeing just from the duo’s names.
As I have said, there is only so much that can be done with, quite frankly, horrible source writing. The fact that it doesn’t hamstring the cast any worse than this is a huge credit to how well Oliver dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” with the talent to ensure people don’t stop and say “Hey, this sounds like absolute garbage.” So major points to this dubbing staff, really.
Fate/Zero is a complicated show for me- it has some of the best moments I’ve experienced in anime, while also taking really, really bad turns along the way. For every amazing line or shot, there are three or four uninspired lines from the characters to be had first. A finale that was as poetic as it was disgusting (I actually became physically ill from pure shock in one of the final scenes) illustrated everything that is the series perfectly. Scenes like the backstory in the Philippines won me over and kept me interested as duller notes passed by before and afterwards.
What prevented me from ever consider dropping the series, however, was this dub cast. Like a favored team loaded with talent, it really isn’t a surprise that they did as well as they did. Passionate outings by the likes of Mercer, Wahlgren, and Hoffman are light years ahead of most dubs in the last half decade. This is top shelf material, and anyone casting is bound to recognize someone in this project’s work whilst considering them as the right person for the job. The stock in this entire cast skyrockets from this show, and rightfully so. No matter how overcooked the script gets, it is impossible to resist this terrific dub.
To all of my readers, thanks for being so patient with my posts. I’ve been getting these out as best as I can, and I really appreciate your support. I do try to watch the dubs recommended with my free time, so don’t take it personal if I don’t write about your show right away. Hope you have a great day!
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