A fictional world that takes place parallel to our own; one filled with magicians, spirits, vampires, and all other manner of phantasmal phenomena. One hidden from the public eye, where wars with the entire world at stake are carried out in secret, just under the noses of the "normal" people. One where heroes from myth and legend prowl the streets at night, one where ancient councils of immortal beings conspire to summon their progenitors to wreak havoc on the earth.
Sounds cool, right?
With the excellent Fate/Zero anime having finished in 2012, the Tsukihime remake just on the horizon, and various other works readily available via the Interwebs, there really hasn't been a better time to get into the universe made by Type-Moon and Kinoko Nasu. I've become a big fan myself over the past few years - enough to be labelled among the Glorio crew as the "Type-Moon Guy", anyway - and it's something I always try to share with people (along with The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer, but that's another blog). So, the idea here is that I'll do a quick run-down of some of the notable Type-Moon works, and hopefully someone will be interested enough to check something out.
Tsukihime was more or less the first Type-Moon work to receive critical acclaim; the original eroge visual novel was released in 2000, and you could argue the company hasn't looked back since. It focuses on Shiki, son of the high-class Tohno family, who gets into a nearly fatal accident as a child. He miraculously survives, though when he wakes up he has no memories of the incident and can see strange lines over everything: his hospital bed, the doctors, even himself. Shiki discovers that if he cuts along these lines, then objects simply fall apart, no matter how sturdy they were before.
Confronted with the fragility of the world, Shiki only manages to keep sane thanks to the efforts of one Aoko Aozaki, a strange woman he meets in a park near the hospital. She claims to be a Magician, despite her bohemian demeanour, and gives Shiki a pair of seemingly magic glasses that hide the "lines of death" he is forced to see. She tells him to be responsible with his abilities - his "Mystic Eyes of Death Perception" - and then vanishes just as quickly as she appeared.
Ten years later, Shiki is a high school student, returning to the Tohno estate for the first time since the accident. Walking home, he sees a beautiful foreign woman, and is suddenly overcome with intense bloodlust. Using his powers, he kills her in an instant, cutting her into seventeen pieces. Shiki is understandably a bit shaken up about this, even more so when she's waiting for him on the way to school the very next day. Her name is Arcueid Brunestud, vampire, and she expects Shiki to take full responsibility for killing her.
Things only get more complicated from there on, really. For one, the original Tsukihime has five separate routes, as you might expect from an eroge visual novel. Arcueid has her own route, as does Ciel (Shiki's schoolmate), Akiha (his younger sister), as well as one each for Hisui and Kohaku, the two young maids who serve Shiki and Akiha in the Tohno mansion. Infamously, there was another route planned for Shiki's other classmate, Satsuki, but it was cut from the final release. Isn't it sad, Sacchin?
Related to Tsukihime are also Kagetsu Tohya, which is a sequel of sorts with a bunch of short stories, and Melty Blood, a fighting game that takes place a year after the original story, involving Sion Eltnam Atlasia, a mysterious magus and alchemist from the Atlas Association in Egypt. She's searching for a cure to vampirism, hoping Arcueid will be able to help, and otherwise hunting a very dangerous vampire known as Tatari, whom she may have ties with...
In the wider Nasuverse canon, Tsukihime makes a good starting point. Unlike, say, Fate/Stay Night, which introduces multiple concepts rapid-fire (and which we'll get to, I promise), Tsukihime is comparatively simple for the most part: it introduces the concept of vampires, which are split into two categories: True Ancestors and Dead Apostles. That's about all you really have to remember, and even that much is arguably unnecessary for getting enjoyment out of this series.
Tsukihime has both an anime and manga adaptation, and if you've been around a while, you may have heard of the anime's absolutely terrible reputation. Let me assure you that this is completely true, and you should avoid the Tsukihime anime at all costs. The manga, on the other hand, is an excellent adaptation of the VN's first route, while also folding in pertinent information from the other routes. I recommend any newcomers to the series to read the manga, since it's the most easily accessible of the three versions and captures the main bits perfectly. Also notable is the remake of the original VN, which is in the works, though there's no set release date. Don't expect it for another few years yet; go for the original VN if you're interested.
Kara no Kyoukai
Also known as Garden of Sinners, Kara no Kyoukai is the story of Shiki. Shiki Ryougi, that is: a woman, and entirely unrelated to Shiki Tohno of a couple paragraphs above. This was originally a series of novels, but in the late 2000s, studio UFOtable made a series of animated films based on them. Also notable is that the novels were written prior to Tsukihime, and this is more or less considered the prototype for it, sharing many concepts and character archetypes. That said, vampires are uninvolved and it is way more confusing, even for an initiate like me. Bear with me here.
Shiki Ryougi seems to be the odd girl out in school. She's part of an old, prestigious family, one with strange traditions where they train children from birth to possess multiple personalities: one male and one female. Despite Shiki's general weirdness and her penchant for knives, all-around nice guy Mikiya Kokutou still wants to get to know her better. They get closer and closer, until... well, I won't spoil it.
Shiki wakes up from a coma some time later, with bandages around her eyes. She feels disconnected from her own memories, like they're from somebody else. In her mind, where the male personality she's had since birth once was, there is now nothing. Not just normal nothing, but complete void. Emptiness. Shiki tries to gouge out her own eyes, eyes that somehow now see the Death of things, but a mysterious woman stops her. She claims to be a magician named Touko Aozaki, and tells Shiki that it would be too wasteful to get rid of the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception.
Shiki and Mikiya eventually end up joining Touko's freelance detective agency, and deal with all sorts of strange happenstance around the city: rogue mages, psychics, ghosts, serial murderers... and all the while, we come to understand a bit more about Shiki's circumstances and about the strange world she lives in. And if that sounds boring, I suppose there's a lot of killing involved too, so don't worry.
As I mentioned above, Garden of Sinners is pretty darn complex. A lot of the concepts that are important in a wider context - such as Akasha and the Counter Force, which frankly play huge roles behind the scenes of the verse - are introduced and explored in here, but it's hard to grasp them unless you have the understanding from other works. Hell, even if you have the understanding from other works, it's still hard to grasp. Expect to be utterly lost during your first viewing of the movies; don't worry, a bunch of us still are too.
Mahoutsukai no Yoru
Alright, I admit I'm cheating here. This is Type-Moon's latest visual novel, and there isn't any English translation patch out for it yet, so all of the info (and by "info" I mean "half-assed plot summary") that I'm listing here is second-hand. But it's relevant! I swear! We just won't be spending very much time on this one.
Mahoutsukai no Yoru is the story of Aoko Aozaki's high school days. If you've been paying attention like a good little reader, then you should recognize that name as the woman who gave Shiki Tohno his magical glasses back up in Tsukihime. Here, though, she's just an amateur magus, training under her far more experienced friend, Alice Kuonji. Things get a bit complicated when a naive country bumpkin named Soujuurou Shizuki arrives in town, shacking up with Aoko and Alice. Although, that's nothing compared to Touko Aozaki showing up with magical familiar in tow, looking for her little sister...
I believe the original print novel for this was the first thing Nasu wrote way back when, and it never really got published. The visual novel (not an eroge this time) was infamously in development hell for years before being released, and apparently there are a couple sequels planned. Commie Subs are working on a translation patch, as is Cokesakto, the one-man translation team who did most of the Garden of Sinners novels.
Alright, here's the big one. Fate/Stay Night is by far the most famous Type-Moon / Nasu work, originally released in 2004 to overwhelmingly positive response. If you're heard of anything Type-Moon related, Fate/Stay Night is probably what you've heard of. I first got into the whole universe via the anime adaptation, which is... not great, but passable. The manga adaptation is unfortunately pretty bad, and I have to warn against checking it out. Also notable is that F/SN has all manner of spinoffs, from light novel to video game to anime. We'll be getting into most of them, but we have to start it all off with the original story here.
Fate/Stay Night focuses around Shirou Emiya, an amateur magus. His adoptive father and magic teacher died a few years ago, but Shirou still practices his (frankly shoddy) magecraft every day. One night while returning from school, he witnesses two strange men fighting, having unwittingly stumbled upon what is known as the Holy Grail War, or "Heaven's Feel": an ancient magic ritual where seven souls of legendary heroes ("Servants" in the forms of seven different classes: Saber, Archer, Lancer, Rider, Caster, Assassin, and Berserker) are summoned to battle in the modern day over the Holy Grail, which can grant any wish. The War is supposed to be carried out in secret, however, and so all witnesses must be killed, including our hero.
Shirou's about to get a spear through his chest for his trouble, but he somehow manages to summon a beautiful young woman; specifically, a Saber class Servant, considered to be the most powerful of the seven classes. Shortly afterwards, he finds out that his classmate and the school idol Rin Tohsaka is also a participant in the Holy Grail War, as the Master of Servant Archer, and she informs him of the situation: Shirou is now a Master, and that means he and Saber have to fight the other six teams for possession of the Holy Grail.
Unlike Tsukihime, the F/SN visual novel only has three routes: "Fate", focusing on Shirou's relationship with Saber (also providing the source material for the anime adaptation), "Unlimited Blade Works", which concerns itself with Shirou's own past and his relationship with quintessential tsundere Rin, and "Heaven's Feel", which is about the history of the Holy Grail War itself and involves Shirou's mysterious underclassmen and friend, Sakura Matou.
I could go on and on about Fate/Stay Night but I'm cutting it short here for brevity, since we have a whole laundry list of spinoffs and other material to cover, and that's not even including pseudo-sequel Fate/Hollow Ataraxia, which centers around the supposedly-dead Bazett Fraga McRemitz and her mysterious Servant Avenger, or Fate/Unlimited Codes, a fighting game for the PSP. Suffice to say that if you're at all interested by what I've outlined above (and come on, with legendary heroes fighting it out, who wouldn't be?), you owe it to yourself to check out F/SN, whether it be the original visual novel or the anime adaptation.
And first on our Fate spin-off list is...
If you've been following anime at all over the past year, you've probably heard of this one. Fate/Zero is a prequel, taking place ten years before Fate/Stay Night and focusing around the Fourth Holy Grail War (the Fifth taking place during F/SN). It centers around Kiritsugu Emiya - the man who adopted Shirou - as the Master of the very same Saber-class Servant we all know and love, and his journey to claim the Holy Grail to save the world. It started out as a multi-volume light novel by Gen Urobuchi of Saya no Uta and Puella Magi Madoka Magica fame, and was adapted as an excellent 25 episode TV anime by Studio UFOtable in 2011-2012.
Keep wary of this one, though. Yes, it's a prequel, but it was written after F/SN and thus kind of expects that you're already familiar with what's going on. Spoilers for the first work are all over the place in Fate/Zero, other concepts from the verse (like the Mage's Association) are expanded upon in ways that only a fan can appreciate, and certain plot elements make no sense unless you already know they're coming. Even so, it's filled with awesome action and great characters, and Fate/Zero is absolutely worth your time.
Fate/Extra is a PSP game released in 2010, and it takes place in an alternate universe from the normal continuity, where the power of mana has drained from the earth. So, instead of having a Holy Grail War between seven Masters and Servants in Fuyuki City, the war takes place in an enclosed area of cyberspace called the Moon Cell, waged tournament-style between 128 Masters and Servants.
You play as an amnesiac, male or female and named by you, and can select to use either a Saber, Archer, or Caster class Servant at the start of the game, changing the way you fight your battles drastically. For example, while it's fine to just bash your way through the game as Saber, Caster is much weaker physically, and thus requires careful management of skills and MP. Battles are fought via a simplistic Rock-Paper-Scissors system, where getting three correct shots in a row leads to extra damage and where memorizing enemy patterns is the key to victory.
At the start of each in-game week, you meet your next opponent, and you have the rest of the time to grind your way up in the dungeons of the Moon Cell and try to discover the true identity of your opponent's Servant. Since all Servants are figures from story and legend, knowing their true name also means you know their strengths and weaknesses, which translates into seeing which attacks they're going to use when.
This might sound a bit lame, but there's a good story going on here too. While trying to piece together information about your enemies is top priority to avoid dying miserably in the Arena, you have to do the same for yourself. Who are you? Why are you participating in the Holy Grail War? For that matter, who exactly is your Servant? And, as you may expect from anything set up as an elimination tournament, you have to deal with fighting the same people who were your friends and allies.
Aksys licensed the game and brought it over to America in late 2011, and you can find it rather easily on Playstation Network. Coming out later this year (in Japan) is Fate/Extra CCC, which is a sequel of sorts (are you sensing a theme here with Type-Moon stuff getting odd pseudo-sequels?), presumably starring some new enemy Servants and with a new plot involving this universe's version of Sakura Matou.
Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILYA
I don't really want to talk about this one. Suffice to say that it's a spinoff manga about the character Ilyasviel von Einzbern (aka Ilya) becoming a magical girl who uses powers themed off of the different Servant classes. It's slated to get an anime adaptation later this year by studio Silverlink. MOVING ON!
Fate/Apocrypha was first revealed in 2011, along with a whole bevy of new Servant designs, stated to be plans for a cancelled online game of some sort. But, apparently it ended up becoming pretty popular, since it was announced only a few months afterwards that Fate/Apocrypha would be revived as a series of light novels penned by Yuichiro Higashide.
Apocrypha takes place in yet another alternate universe, one where the Holy Grail in Fuyuki was stolen after the Third Holy Grail War and taken to Romania, where the Yggdramillennia family (yeah, I know it's dumb) plans to summon it for their own purposes. The Mage's Association sends their own group of Masters to stop them and the Holy Grail War begins again, this time as a battle of seven "Red" Servants versus seven "Black" Servants, with a special Ruler-class Servant overseeing the battle.
As of this writing, only the first volume of the novel has been released, and new information is still trickling out as fans are scrambling to translate it. I believe Commie Subs is currently planning on doing so, and a separate translation of a preview chapter released last year is floating around the internet somewhere as well.
And, lastly, we have a very special spin-off, one that involves Tsukihime as well...
This is a highly-enjoyable comedy OVA by Studio Lerche released over the tail end of 2011, based partly off an official doujin called "Take-Moon". As you may expect from comedy anime, it takes all the characters from their super serious normal settings, turns all of their silly character quirks up to eleven, and plays it all for as many laughs as it can get away with.
Carnival Phantasm is funny if you're familiar with Fate/Stay Night and/or Tsukihime, but I particularly like it because it rewards the more hardcore fans of the universe. A lot of the jokes refer to obscure trivia or little-known characters, and it does it all without missing a beat. You get the feeling it was made by real fans of these works, and Carnival Phantasm is all the better for it.
Also included as a bonus feature of the last volume was Fate/Prototype, which is a fake trailer based on Nasu's original notes for Fate/Stay Night that he wrote in high school. This includes Saber as a man with a female Master, and several other differences in the plot. It's worth checking out, if only to see what could have been.
Whew. That's sure a lot, isn't it? I could get into other stuff like Decoration Disorder Disconnection (which I haven't even read yet) or Angel Notes (which involves The Ultimate Ones from other planets such as Type-Saturn, Type-Venus, and yes, Type-Moon, invading Earth), but I'll leave those for the more curious of you lot. I don't want to scare you off, after all, though I imagine listing everything like this may have done that already.
Any one of these works is worth checking out on their own, but together they form a crazy web of amazing; a fascinating, comprehensive universe that deserves to be watched, read, and experienced. I hope that by writing this I've convinced at least one person to check out at least one of the works I've listed. and I sincerely hope you enjoy it if you do.
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