Listening to: Brave Shine – Aimer (Fate/Stay Night OP 2)
This review is free of major spoilers, in the interests of being helpful to those who are considering watching the show in question.
“Is it greedy of me to wish for an outcome in which everyone is saved and happy, and can share a laugh about it afterward?”
Fate/Zero was, and remains, one of my favorite anime of all time. Its combination of complex morality, interesting characters, and the writing of Gen Urobochi made me fall for it instantly. Shortly after I finished it two years ago, I turned Fate/Stay Night, of which Fate/Zero was a prequel. I was, unfortunately, less than impressed by Studio DEEN’s 2006 adaptation. Compared to Fate/Zero, I found the characters bland, the animation lackluster, and the story out of focus. Thus, when I found out that ufotable, the same studio responsible for Fate/Zero‘s production, was onboard for a remake, my excitement was considerable.
Note: Given the sequential nature of the series, some spoilers for Fate/Zero are inevitable in this review. You have been warned!
Fate/Stay Night tells the story of the Grail War, a battle in the Japanese city of Fuyuki for control of the Holy Grail, said to be an omnipotent wish-granting device. The grail chooses seven mages, called “Masters,” who call forth “Servants,” the spirits of legendary heroes given form by the Grail’s magic. Since the Grail can grant only one wish, the seven fight each other until only one remains.
The most recent Grail War ended in disaster ten years ago, and the magical backlash burned down a sizable portion of the city. Shirou, a survivor of the fire, was adopted by Kiritsugu Emiya, one of the Masters who had failed to gain the Grail. The idealistic Shirou’s goal is to carry on the dream that Kiritsugu was unable to fulfill, and become a true “hero of justice.” After he inadvertently summons Saber, one of the seven Servants, he is dragged into the Grail War. One of his fellow Masters is Rin Tohsaka, the daughter of a prominent mage family, who is determined, with the help of her own servant, Archer, to carry on the family legacy. The pair take to the battlefield–sometimes as allies, sometimes as rivals–and, as the Grail War goes on, learn more about both the Grail and the others pursuing it.
After watching the 2006 version, the characterizations in UBW were refreshing. F/SN‘s Shirou was a doormat with relatively few personality traits (outside of “nice, I guess,” “hard-working, probably,” and “a bit sexist, maybe”) who had the tendency to spout profound lines such as “People die when they are killed” (FACT). UBW’s Shirou retains his counterpart’s desire to help others, but he’s given moments of deadpan humor worthy of Kyon, and his single-minded fixation on becoming a hero has been reined back to a more believable level–it now seems more like an ambition than an obsession. Rin is also allowed to grow beyond a generic tsundere archetype, instead serving as a deuteragonist in her own right.
The main Servants, while their characters don’t receive quite as much focus as they do in Fate/Zero, have their moments to shine as well. I have a particular soft spot for this version of Lancer, who is constantly making snarky complaints about his Master and teasingly flirts with Rin to annoy both her and Shirou. There are minor characters, such as the others attending school with Rin and Shirou, who don’t receive much particular focus but are still entertaining enough in their appearances. And there’s one character whose appearance late in the second half of the anime caused me to literally cheer out loud.
The original visual novel had three different plotlines: “Fate,” “Unlimited Blade Works,” and “Heaven’s Feel.” The 2006 anime adapted the first route. This one, as the title implies, adapted the second, so there are still a few surprises for those who have watched the original. Compared to Fate/Zero, this is a much lighter experience: most of the characters are younger, more idealistic, and less willing to indulge in underhanded acts like disobeying the rules, betraying their allies, and mass murder. There’s quite a sharp contrast between the two, but UBW isn’t necessarily the worse for it. If anything, the stories are shaped by their respective protagonists. Kiritsugu, a cold killer who is more villain than hero, is put in a story that matches his mentality–a story where he is willing to stain his hands with any evil if it puts him closer to his goal. The more idealistic Shirou, on the other hand, is involved in a story where his determination to succeed and wish to save everyone has a greater chance of coming true.
UBW‘s score is well-written, highlighting both tender moments and epic battles in equal measure. Though Fate/Zero‘s Yuki Kaijura didn’t return to write the full soundtrack this time, her successor Hideyuki Fukasawa incorporates many of the motives that Kaijura used in the prequel. This gives UBW‘s soundtrack a nostalgic feel for those who have watched Fate/Zero, especially during some of Rin and Shirou’s flashback sequences. In addition to that, the openings and the endings are both enjoyable to listen to, even if you are impatient for the next episode to begin.
As for the animation… well, let’s just say there’s a reason that many fans on the internet have dubbed this show “Unlimited Budget Works.” You could probably buy a private island or two with the animation budget, judging by its quality. Battles, magic spells, or just simply establishing shots of the city are all animated with the same beautiful style. As a Fate/Zero watcher, I’m pretty sure I noticed a few “bonuses” (Scuff marks on the floor near the front of the church? Faded bloodstains on the door to the shed?) which caused me to wince while appreciating the attention to detail.
UBW might not have been the dark epic that Fate/Zero was, but it was far closer to Fate/Zero than it was to its 2006 predecessor. I definitely enjoyed it, and I’d recommend it for Fate/Zero fans and non-fans alike.
To rate this show, I conducted an elaborate ritual in which I swore to destroy all evil in the world. I am still unsure as to whether or not this is a realistic goal.
Rating: 4.1 out of 5
Ruling: With gorgeous animation, entertaining characters, and plenty of nods to the other entries in the franchise, Unlimited Blade Works is definitely worth the wait.
That’s it for this week! Next week’s review will cover the second season of Knights of Sidonia, released on Netflix July 3rd. Look forward to it!