Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: The AniTAY Review

Hello everyone! Today AniTAY is pleased to dive into a fan favorite from last season, Lord El-Melloi II Case Files. We have a full slate of writers here today, so enjoy the deductions of our team consisting of Dark Aether, Aoi Yamato, Requiem, Doctorkev, Ishamael, Reikaze, and myself.

Typically, we leave this sort of thing for the end, but we recently changed up our social media handle. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @AniTAYOfficial and check out our Reddit r/AniTAYOfficial for updates!

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Spoilers Ahead


Dark Aether

When I first wrote the collab entry for Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace note, I called it a “another solid Fate side story and a remarkable detective/fantasy tale in its own right.” Now that the season has concluded, did the show live up to its initial premise, or did its true nature not change at all?

The answer, much like the source material, is complex. Set 10 years after the events of Fate/Zero, El-Melloi II follows a much older Waver Velvet who has taken up residence at the Clock Tower as an instructor under the Mage’s Association. Under the new name of Lord El-Melloi II, he investigates magic related incidents and phenomena, uncovering other mysteries hidden within the association. In the story’s second half, the show enters the titular Rail Zeppelin (aka “the train arc”) and shifts into a singular case file with various threads tying the passengers onboard in a classic case of “Whodunit.”

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For the most part, El-Melloi II continued to be an introspective on the titular character’s internal struggles and desire to fulfill a wish at all costs, as well as a commentary on the larger world of Fate. Entering the Rail Zeppelin in pursuit of a stolen relic with ties to Iskandar, the train arc sees Waver acknowledge the futility of attempting to reenter the Holy Grail War, knowing full well Iskandar would not be the same servant he fought alongside a decade ago, and at worst resulting in his death. In spite of that, he continues moving forward with the simple desire to see his friend again; a way for him to find some closure and escape the shadow of his younger self.

The Rail Zeppelin itself is an organ trafficking auction house that specializes in Magic Eyes to prospective mages. El-Melloi II continuously reminds us that the world of mages is built on deception with the train serving as yet another background for casual murder. It’s at this point where the story shifts focus back to the case at hand and where the show reminds us of its Fate roots. To recount the events that lead to the culprit would require a separate article, but without giving away more, it’s one of the most over the top leaps in “Fate logic” the series has done with several points of deviation, even by Fate standards.

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TL;DR: Even though the actual mysteries are never the highlight, Lord El-Melloi II manages to be one of the stronger entries in the franchise with a tighter focus on its main cast (along with a few noteworthy faces), a well written protagonist, and the ability to not take itself too seriously at the start.

Aoi Yamato

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I have a confession to make: I’m not a huge fan of the Fate franchise.

I have TRIED to get into Fate/Stay Night but always quit halfway. I like Rin and Saber but I can’t deal with Shirou.

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I haven’t played Fate/Grand Order...yet. I have seen the anime and am currently watching the Babylonia spinoff.

I don’t really care about the movies as I don’t really care about Sakura.

However...I did like Fate/Zero. The idea of a prequel to everything entertained me. I also liked the relationship between Saber and Irisviel. I also loved Rider and his aura of Resident Big Brother. I found Waver shrill though...and boy was I ever off about a character.

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In El-Melloi, Waver Velvet grows up. And I LOVED this show.

El-Melloi splits between wanting to be another spinoff in the twenty million Fate spinoffs out there, but also a chic Sherlock Holmes style detective story, with lots of mythology thrown in. One thing however; while this series does work as a standalone story, unless you know Fate/Zero, you’ll probably wonder what exactly is Waver’s story and what’s the deal with his companion/assistant Gray, who mysteriously carries a box that talks, wears a hood and bears a striking resemblance to someone familiar...and there’s that big ass spear she’s got too.

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The first few episodes of El Melloi basically set the premise of the story up: the former Lord El-Melloi’s younger sister, Reines, tasks Waver with a favor and as a way to repay a debt after Waver comes back from the Middle East upon searching a clue about Rider. The first seven episodes are more stand-alone stories ranging from a case where Waver has to find out what happened to his favorite tea shop to Reines, Gray and a student of Waver’s, Luvia, going out shopping which gives the animators an excuse to put Gray in a whole bunch of cute outfits. The titular Rail Zeppelin arc of the story begins midway and takes up the rest of the series.

It’s also the best and most fun of this series.

It all starts when Waver gets notice that an artifact of his beloved servant is stolen and receives an invitation to an auction that’s held on a train...and this is where the story goes absolutely batshit insane. We meet fellow professor/rival Hishiri Adashino, who works in a different department than our MC and has kind of a frenemy type relationship with him. We also meet a character from another Fate universe franchise who becomes connected to the murder mystery that forms the basis of the Rail Zeppelin arc. However, the best part comes during the last few episodes; Gray’s past/hints of who she might actually be, the introduction of Hephaestrion, who’s there just to fuck up Waver for an episode so the animators can have her battle it out with Gray and is actually a NEW class of servant, the Faker. Then there’s Doctor Motherfucking Heartless.

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Yes. Is that a seriously campy name or what?

The last episode pretty much just ties up with jumping ahead to Heartless’ capture. But at least we got a brief Waver/Rider reunion, which is a treat for fans of Fate/Zero, even if it was in a dream.

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TL;DR For fans of Sherlock Holmes and other mystery series, El Melloi is a fun show that’s a good distraction for now.

Requiem

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This show shouldn’t work.

Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files Grace Note Led Zeppelin 298/2 Days Duodecim Zero is, in many ways, the Fate franchise at its most self-indulgent. It features ridiculous mysteries with solutions so convoluted it’s impossible for the viewer to try and figure it out; and enough magical mumbo jumbo and technobabble than you can shake a magical stick that’s actually attuned to a leyline and possessed by the ghost of Faust at.

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And yet, it totally absolutely works.

El Melloi is just a truly fantastic ride thru a ridiculous world with some great characters as our guides. Lord El Melloi himself has enough flaws to keep him grounded and human but enough brilliance to make him interesting (even if he does keep lighting cigars, taking one drag then putting them out. He’s wasting them! Who does that??).Gray is a delightful character, even if she is the 1000th Saberface. The show has a ball pulling in characters from all over the Fate universe and exploring its world outside the Holy Grail War(s), like a kid playing with all its toys. Frankly, it’s always going to be to a show’s betterment to give screentime to Luviagelita Edelfelt, and they were wise to do so here.

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Really, what’s remarkable about Lord El Melloi, Private Detective is that what should be a huge weakness, that being the ridiculous and convoluted horsehsit magical systems, is turned into a strength. It’s ridiculous in the right way, thus being entertaining instead of frustrating, so you just go along for the ride instead of analyzing everything. The same goes for the endless and opaque scheming and plotting of the people at the Clock Tower: could be annoying, but handled here in a way that just makes it amusing. It also certainly doesn’t hurt that the series features an absolute stunner of an OP, one so good even a dedicated OP-skipper like myself watched it through every episode.

TL;DR Lord El Melloi II’s Carnival of Mysteries is an odd, wacky, ridiculous piece of overindulgence and its absolutely worth your time. Entertainment to absorb and not overthink. Also, Gray. That’s all you need.

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Doctorkev

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Detective Waver, as I shall henceforth refer to this show, is not a product for Fate newbies to consume, steeped as it is in the deepest, most obscure, impenetrable molasses of Type-Moon lore. For those already drowning in the vast media franchise spawned by Kinoko Nasu’s 2004 Eroge/Visual Novel Fate/Stay Night (F/SN), it’s also helpful to be familiar with the tangentially-related Tsukihime and/or Kara No Kyoukai to truly grasp some of the prominent concepts explored in the course of this obtusely-plotted but visually gorgeous show.

Do you know what The Root is, or the numbered types of magic or what the different grades of Mystic Eyes are? No? Prepare to be bamboozled by barely explained concepts that drive the so-called “logic” of the plot. Multiple “reveals” and twists hinge on the labyrinthine contortions of the obscure (and apparently extremely elastic) rules that govern the Fate universe’s magecraft. This is a pretty big problem for a show that purports, if not to be a “whodunnit”, then at least to be a “whydunnit”.

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So the plot is basically garbage. However, where the show succeeds is in the interactions between its well-drawn and engaging characters. This is a sequel to the highly regarded Fate/Zero (F/Z), arguably the best Fate anime so far, and itself was a prequel set 10 years prior to the original F/SN. Detective Waver seems to be set immediately preceding the events of F/SN. Our protagonist Lord El-Melloi II is a grown-up Waver Velvet, who was one of the most empathetic characters in F/Z. His personality has developed over the years to become a world-weary, exasperated academic who can’t help but let his curiosity and overly good nature entangle him in elaborate mysteries and inscrutable plots. He’s portrayed very much like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes (with mystical powers).

Waver is aided by a colourful cast of supporting characters, most prominently by Gray - a mysterious young girl with a gothic vibe and a massive scythe. The show does not explain her situation well - one of the main weaknesses of the plotting. One should not need to pore through a Type-Moon wiki for clarifications. Other familiar faces from Fate/Apocrypha, Fate/Hollow Ataraxia and even Fate/Grand Order appear, and most have at least some impact on the plot. I enjoyed these little touches, though they will leave non-Fate fans cold.

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Although the first few episodes are generally stand-alone, once the second half of the series becomes more heavily serialised, it recontextualises each of the earlier stories in clever ways. At least I think it was probably clever - most plot points are so drowned in jargon as to be practically meaningless. Take the final “reveal” of the ultimate mastermind. I defy anyone, even Fate obsessives to have predicted something that came right out of left-field, despite a few very very small clues identifiable only in retrospect.

For an otherwise sedate detective show, Detective Waver has some great action scenes and beautiful animation. It never looks anything less than immaculately polished with a perpetually glossy sheen. There’s even some traditional Fate servant-on-servant violence, all flashy lights and bonkers choreography - though it does introduce yet further wrinkles/convolutions to master/servant lore. Check this show out if you don’t mind long, potentially boring conversations that sound smart but make little logical sense. It looks pretty and the characters are funny and compelling.

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TL;DR: Detective Waver is inscrutable, sometimes boring but always glossy and mostly fun. Be warned of the high barrier of entry. Not for Fate newbies.

Ishamael

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Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note is a deceptive anime in how it is constructed, looks, sounds, and feels. All told, I enjoyed it quite a bit but not because of what it is but in spite of it. You see, Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note is Fate and all that that entails. It is a sequel to the brilliant Fate/Zero following the further adventures of Waver Velvelt the former Master of Iksander (Alexander the Great) who managed to survive the 4th Holy Grail War.

Following a series of convoluted events Waver finds himself a temporary Lord of the Clock Tower, a nominal source of magical governance and learning seen briefly in Fate Stay/Night: Unlimited Blade Works. There, due to more convoluted events he is forced to solve magical mysteries. Alongside a ragtag group of companions including this series Saber stand-in Grey, Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note becomes funnily enough Fate Scooby Doo.

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Now here is the series greatest problem which is also to some viewers its greatest strength: it is more Fate. I would say among all the recent series from the franchise except for the currently airing Fate Grand Order, this is the hardest to grasp without outside information. Most notably Fate/Zero, however it helps to have seen pretty much everything.

This is a shame because Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note is actually quite good. The animation is solid, though I notice characters can go off model from time to time, the music is beautiful especially its brilliant ending theme, and if mysteries are your thing the plot is serviceable. That being said, I write this as a Fate fan. Seeing characters from other series pop up, understanding what happened to Waver in the past to make him the way he is, and all the other Easter Eggs I just eat up. Without that knowledge though, I cannot see people enjoying this as much.

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At its core Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note is more Fate. Luckily for fans of the series it is pretty good Fate, even accounting for the strange decisions on how to adapt the source material. That being said if you are not already a fan of the Nasuverse I cannot see you enjoying the series as much as if you were, if you do not know what the Nasuverse is... ya this is not for you. Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note is a fun series to watch but because of where it has come from it is a hard anime to recommend.

TLDR: It is Fate without the name and all that that entails.

Kevin Mai- Reikaze/RockmanDash

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I’ve made it no secret that I’m pretty big fan of Fate, so much so that back in 2014, I did a huge review marathon of basically everything Type-Moon that was out at the time. While I haven’t kept up with the series as much as I used to back then (mainly because of my disdain for F/GO and because of University), I was still pretty excited for Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note because the first impression I got of El Melloi was that it did a large majority of the stuff I enjoy from Type-Moon works, and on this front, I wasn’t disappointed at all.

El-Melloi is a work that follows one of the leads from Fate/Zero, Waver Velvet, now known as Lord El Melloi II. Lord El-Melloi II Case Files basically does what it says on the tin, following the cases that Lord El-Melloi encounters as he lives his life, going through various mysteries and solving them. This premise, without an overarching narrative, plays into what I think are Fate’s strengths in story: The show feeds intrigue with intricate and entertaining world building, creates a pleasant, engaging and immersive atmosphere that is quintessentially Type-Moon, and having a balance in tone - telling both a compelling story while also having light hearted moments throughout. The characters were really nice too - While Fate/Zero has never been one of my favorite fate works, Waver Velvet’s story during the 4th Holy Grail war Was always a strong point of the anime for me thanks to how likable he was, and that extends to this show too, with all of the characters being that way - likable, engaging, enjoyable.

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For a side story, El-Melloi has a surprisingly unique identity that I honestly loved: it has a lot of charm, an animation style that stands distinct from the rest of the story and a mashup of characters that creates a vastly different dynamic than anything else you’d see in the series. On the flip side though, a lot of the reason to watch the show is because it feeds into the existing Fate Universe, so if you’re a fan of the series, this show is a nice refreshing take that also feels familiar at the same time.

The downside to this premise, is that because El-Melloi has no real overarching plot, this show doesn’t have much of a story to sink into, there’s not much for one to really get attached to or moved by. The act of watching the show is incredibly pleasant but there’s not story element that’ll make you look back at El-Melloi and think - wow, I was really blown away by this show. That’s the difference between something great and something special I think, and it keeps El-Melloi from being one of my favorite Fate works. That being said though, I really liked El-Melloi - it does a lot right in my opinion, and I would definitely recommend it to others.

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TL;DR - Lord El-Melloi II Case Files does a large majority of the stuff I enjoy from Type-Moon work, and I had a great time watching it. It doesn’t do anything all that special though.

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DilKokoro

Here’s the thing about this show: you’re going to be overwhelmed with the lore. The sooner you can accept this, the more fun the adventure actually is. This is quite likely just an individual interpretation and processing of everything that goes on here, but I really think that there is too many tiny little details to completely absorb from this anime. Not that they aren’t remarkably challenging to follow, but rather that they make no damn sense, even for something that falls into the wheelhouse of the Nasuverse.

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If, for whatever bizarre reason, you’ve read this far in our group review and don’t know what to expect from this anime, I can offer up a straightforward explanation. You see, this is a “oh cool, I recognize that minor character!” treat for diehards of all things Type-Moon at its maximum potential. At the minimum, this is a fun mystery anime that gives satisfying fantasy action sequences as payoffs at the end of (most) episodes.

If you ask ten people if this series is capable of being enjoyed without seeing anything in the Fate franchise, I’m sure there will be a 50/50 split on whether or not someone could. I am of the belief that with tempered expectations the anime could be enjoyed, but it is unlikely someone could sit through everything here without at least some appreciation for the lore. The biggest character here, in my opinion, is the Mages’ Association itself. The extended universe that so many beloved anime take place in is oozing with fun adventures and very detailed explanations for how things word (even if they are complete nonsense).

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Without spoiling the ending, there is a rather disappointing turn the biggest “mystery” takes in that there is literally no way someone could know the answer to the mystery without having some razors-edge wit and understanding of every small detail given. In other words, it has a disappointing conclusion to the big mystery. However, the show makes up for it with a stellar finale and some head-turning action that is on par with the rest of the top-tier Fate fights.

TL;DR- Those seeking a coherent story are likely to need a GPS to find their way back home from this one. If you’re seeking to take some wild turns and go along for a fun, fast-paced ride down a winding river, hop on board here. If you’re a Type-Moon stan, oh boy you’re in for a treat, baby.

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You’re reading AniTAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku’s community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. AniTAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. Click here to check us out.

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