Very interesting points on Fate/Zero. After reading them, I think I know what one of the big core issues in both Fate/Zero and Guilty Crown is - They just absolutely refuse to shed much light on what motivates the central protagonists. It's hard to care about main protagonists/antagonists when we don't even know why they're doing what they're doing.
An anime can get away with a "mysterious" character or two (like Homura in Madoka Magica, who's motivations were somewhat clouded for a long time), but not with almost the entire main cast being like that.
As much as I'm liking both shows, this is a real problem in both Fate/Zero and Guilty Crown. Why is Gai, Shu, and Inori doing what they're doing? Why is Kiritsugu, Kotomine, and Irisviel doing what they're doing?
In both cases, I can kind of hear an authorial voice on my shoulder saying "Wait for it! Wait for it! It's going to make for a great plot reveal/twist at some point!", and maybe that's true, but it does definitely hinder emotional investment when this far into a story's narrative, main character motivations are still exceptionally murky.
So I'm not the only one that gets the sense that people think Grimdark=the auto good. I myself am a fan of dark comedy and dark material in general (though moreso dark comedy that isn't afraid to highlight how messed up our society is ala the Daily Show), but yeah it's not a measuring stick for judging quality by any means. It's just a style.
Sad thing is a lot of stuff seems to get judged based on the most superficial and shallow of criteria these days. I remember seeing one fanboy on RC commenting that Gundam Unicorn is crap for not having enough "cute girls" for example and of course the entire thing with Gundam Age is an example for the ages, no pun intended. Horizon's getting it pretty bad too. People look and they see girls with large breasts and they just seem to assume it's some fanservice harem anime when it's clearly not at all. Then on the other hand again we've got Mirai Nikki which I would charge has abysmal direction and production values, but seems to be a hit with people simply cause it plays itself off as what I like to call "balls hard" and has a crazy chick in it.
So yeah there seems to be an ever growing discrepancy between how you comment on shows (big picture, trying to look as deep as possible to see if there are positives we missed as well as negatives) and how the average viewer does (checklist style reviewing as I call it).
Oh, I also more or less agree with you on the criticisms that Guilty Crown has received.
Some of them are legitimate. Legitimate nitpicks, but legitimate nonetheless. It's just that I think the "competition" aspect you mentioned is why they're getting blown out of proportion.
The analogy I would use is that it's like a student that passes in a flawed but good paper, deserving of a 80 to 85%, but the teacher makes a bigger deal than he should over those flaws, and so it gets marked down to somewhere between 60 and 70%.
I think with Fate/Zero what's making things maybe a bit insufferable is the passionate fandom surrounding Gen Urobuchi in general, and also Yuji Kajura to a certain extent.
Something that I've seen a lot of lately, and it bothers me a bit, is this idea that "grimdark" = "high quality" (which incidentally is why I think Gen might be a touch overrated, and I say that as a huge Madoka Magica fan). There's this increasingly popular idea that the darker and more twisted something is, the better it is. I have to say that at a basic moral level that disturbs me a bit. More importantly, though, I think it puts an unfair disadvantage on shows that are looking to be more inspirational, upbeat, optimistic, etc...
Gundam Age, for example, also took too much criticism for not being "dark enough", imo. It's a show that I think is aiming to have a great male lead that takes charge and gets things done in a productive way. It's not "dark", but it doesn't need to be.
The question isn't how "dark" something is, it's how seriously it takes itself, and how mature it is. The original Mobile Suit Gundam wasn't really a particularly dark show (certainly not for a show with a overarching war plot in it), but it was *very* mature, and that's why it resonated so well, imo.
All of the above being said, I sympathize with Reck and other passionate Fate/Stay Night fans who didn't get a good adaptation from DEEN, and so Ufotable is a breath of fresh air to them. Ufotable I think deserves a fair bit of credit here. I think what "puts it over the top" is, again, Urobuchi and Yuji Kajura fanboying. I like them myself, but it's perhaps getting out of hand (like Ikuhara fanboying was getting on the Penguin Drum thread for awhile there).
In any case, after pondering my weird conundrum in agreeing with and yet disagreeing with the criticism of Guilty Crown I think I've managed to reconcile it.
In terms of an individual experience I agree with the critics for the most part. The show definitely has some issues that need to be sorted out in order for me to be able to evaluate it in a more positive light, but the seasonal experience makes it look like it's getting slagged for being "competition" at the exact same time. In a sense the criticism is fair, but the motive for it and the degree of criticism compared to other series not as much.
It's not the only one to do it, there's tons of shows that compete with Fate/Zero on the animation front, which makes it kind of amusing. It's like they just weren't paying attention or being aware that something exists outside of the universe of what's currently hot shit in the VN/LN cycles. They definitely seem stunned though and like deer caught in the headlights looking to just smash the windshield of the oncoming vehicle as a means of escape.
Last Exile, Gundam Age, Guilty Crown and Horizon all challenge Fate/Zero in terms of production values from what I can see....notice which shows seem to be getting the most criticism? Hmmmm...
Anyway I'd push back harder, but things are a little more complicated for me this time. I consider Reckoner a good friend and know his struggles just to get a decent adaptation of a Fate work and know there are other fans like him that are just ecstatic that that franchise is treated with dignity by UFOTable, but at the same time Fate fans are really starting to annoy me with what looks like a blatant attempt to push that series into some imaginary top ranked spot when IMO there's no place for rankings in a season this diverse. Reckoner is a pretty big Fate fanboy, but he's not like those guys and I certainly wouldn't want to look like I'm trying to lump him in with that unfortunate group, nor other people that just want to enjoy a decent adaptation for a change. I wouldn't want to see him or those other reasonable people like you suffer any of the backlash that seems to be on the way as of late.
At the same time I'm enjoying Fate too, but the fans seem to be doing everything in their power to make the shows existence insufferable to me. It's a testament right now to the shows strength that it's content is able to overcome the difficult nature of it's fanbase and keep me watching and posting, but I'm not sure how much longer that can hold out. It would be folly to let a fanbase ruin a show for me, but the rabidity of this one is pushing it dangerously close to the edge the same way Madoka's almost did.
Again there's a reason that I chose to wait till Madoka was over before I started watching and posting, and the way some of it's fans treat current anime series as somehow existing in it's wake brings up uncomfortable memories of the Kyoani shows at the peak of the companies popularity. Fate/Zero is starting to look like, "the next one", whether it actually will be or not and it makes me nervous every time I see a person with a Fate/Zero avatar in another forum now. This fanbase shouldn't appear as sinister as it does to me right now. It's all very strange as I said in the Guilty Crown thread.
All I know is that Fate/Zero had a slow start like many other shows like Gundam and Horizon, but that it got a chance to get the ball rolling over the next couple of episodes unlike the latter two shows which started being criticized almost immediately and that it reflects really badly on the fans that overlap and contrary to what people are saying there IS overlap.