The only thing harder than adapting a TV to manga form is adapting a TV show based on a light novel which is a prequel to another TV series, which itself is an adaptation of a visual novel to a manga.
FATE/ZERO (Feito/Zero), based on the novel by Gen Urobuchi and Type-Moon, adapted by Shinjiro. First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2016.
Once every generation or so, a group of magically gifted organizations gather to wage war. They summon magical warriors torn from the pages of legend and history to fight against one another. The last one standing will win the Holy Grail and with it, the chance to have any single wish granted. As the fourth Grail War begins, a few new contenters appear. This includes a teenaged magic-user looking to prove himself, a murderous priest, and an assassin who hedges his bets with technology and guns.
Do you like exposition? Do you like pages upon pages of people explaining complex rules to one another? Then Fate/Zero is for you! The Fate franchise has never wanted for rules and lore, and this prequel story is no exception to that. Yet for all the set-up, the most compelling parts of this story are also its most human.
Since this is both the beginning of the story and a prequel to Fate/Stay Night, we are obligated to sit through seemingly endless infodumps. After all, they have to explain all the rules about the Grail War, the Grail, the servants, the Noble Phantasms, and so forth for the newcomers, all while teasing important figures and events from the later story for fans. It's all necessary to some degree, but that doesn't make compelling reading. Let's just say I did a fair bit of skimming of this volume and leave it there.
It also doesn't help that there are so many grim-faced dudes here, each with their own dark motivations. Hell, technically we haven't met them all yet, yet I couldn't care less about any of them! There were only a couple of relationships that grabbed my attention, likely because they were the only ones that demonstrated anything that wasn't just angst and plotting.
The first was between Irisvael and her servant Saber. Strictly speaking, Saber is the servant of her husband Kiritsugu, but he's too busy plotting to bother much with her. It's also implied that he might be more than a little disappointed that he got a version of King Arthur that's a girl, but this might be me just reading too much into it. Still, this arrangement ends up working out much better for the both of them. Saber gets a master who is actually willing to guide her without judging her gender, while Irisvael gets a chance to see the world beyond her family's remote mansion and pursue her own dream.
The second is between Waver Velvet and his servant Rider. Waver should be annoying by any measure, as he's a teen boy who got involved in the Grail War entirely for the sake of his ego and spends most of his time freaking out over what his servant is doing now. Yet it's that pettiness that makes him the most relatable master we've seen thus far. It also helps that he has Alexander the Great as his servant, and when Iskandar isn't soaking in the joys of this new world he's subtly mentoring Waver into becoming a better man. This paternal dynamic is equal parts funny and endearing, and I only wish we could have gotten more moments like theirs. Had this version of Fate/Zero interwoven these flashes of humanity more evenly with the exposition, perhaps reading this would have been a little less tedious and a lot more enjoyable.
Shinjiro doesn't take much liberties with Fate/Zero's established look. The character designs are largely unaltered, which on the plus side means we get to see Saber in that sweet, elegant black suit. Alas, there's only so much he can do with all that talking, especially since he can't do things like 'have people walk around one another in a long, endless circle' to liven things up. The most he can do is use some low, dramatic angles to make people look more intimidating. Sadly, we don't get any actual fighting in this volume so I can't say at this point how he handles action scenes.
Fate/Zero is at its best when it's exploring the relationships between its cast and not just laying out the rules. Still, this is a perfectly fine adaptation and a perfectly OK introduction to Fate at large.
This series is published by Dark Horse. This series is complete in Japan with 14 volumes. 5 volumes have been published and are currently in print.