In the midst of the Fifth Holy Grail War, Caster sets her plans into motion, beginning with the capture of Shirou's Servant Saber. With the witch growing ever more powerful, Rin and Archer determine she is a threat that must be dealt with at once. But as the balance of power in the war begins to shift, the Master and Servant find themselves walking separate ways.
Meanwhile, despite losing his Servant and stumbling from injuries, Shirou ignores Rin's warning to abandon the battle royale, forcing his way into the fight against Caster. Determined to show his resolve in his will to fight, Shirou's potential to become a protector of the people is put to the test.
Amidst the bloodshed and chaos, the motivations of each Master and Servant are slowly revealed as they sacrifice everything in order to arise as the victor and claim the Holy Grail.
Now, before I start this very long and in-depth review, I'd like to say three things.
1. As opposed to other people, I actually consider 6/10 to be a decent score. It doesn't mean that I thought that this was a bad show, it's without a doubt decent entertainment. I put a lot of effort into writing this review, so even though my opinion may not be the most popular one out there, you should at least give it a shot and listen to what I have to say.
2. I have read the entire Fate/stay night visual novel and am quite familiar with the Nasuverse
in general, having read Tsukihime and Fate/hollow ataraxia in addition to having seen every anime adaptation there is of Type-Moon related works. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a big fan of the original work, I have to admit, but I just can't do this without referencing the visual novel. I will be bringing up the original material on multiple occasions during this review and make comparisons to it, as what lies in there is an integral part of my argument on why I think that this show ultimately failed, both as an adaptation as well as a standalone series, so please bear with me on that, I am not just complaining about things being changed or cut.
3. This review will contain spoilers. So, if you haven't seen the series and don't want to get spoiled, here is my TL;DR version: A flawed adaptation that is brought down by inconsistent direction, misuse of its medium and source material that is very hard to adapt. Good enough in its own right to be worth a watch. Check it out if you like pretty yet short action scenes, ideological conflicts that don't require a philosophy degree to understand and don't mind excessive amounts of exposition.
Now that we got that out of the way, let's start this review proper.
I can't lie, I was excited about this series before it came out. Looking back, I probably shouldn't have been, considering the circumstances. I shouldn't have let the promise of Fate/Zero blind me, I knew that Fate/stay night is way too different from Zero to properly compare the two. Now, nine months later, I am almost certain that we'll never see an anime adaptation of Fate/stay night that will be able to come close to the same level of quality that fans dream of or that Fate/Zero had. The original work just doesn't lend itself to adaptation very well, at least not to a medium that is dependent on visual storytelling like anime. Still, I personally think that the people involved could have done much better with this season than they ended up doing.
As this is a sequel, I think I should state my opinion on the first cour as well: A good representation of the first half of the story that has trouble standing on its own, seeing how it is just the first half and both characters and story are still in an undeveloped state, where you can do little but consider them average and at best intriguing. It also has some of the same problems as the second cour, especially in regards to how it handles its dialogue heavy scenes, but more on that later. Nevertheless, I think that it can be called a good show, which is largely due to how it handled the difficult issue of pacing, which it did relatively well.
And that is exactly where one of my major problems with the second cour lies: The pacing. Seriously, what is up with that? The first episode flies by in a flash, making it seem like a lot of material was cut. Everything just happens way too fast, which results in a lot of things not making sense at all. Why was Shirou in the church? How did he know to go there? Is he psychic? Then episodes two comes around and it is even more confusing. They spend a good half of the episode on anime original content that adds nothing to story or character, but instead cut out major parts from the visual novel relating to actual character development, just to move the story along. Now, anime original content doesn't necessarily have to be bad, as I mentioned before, I am not what you would call a purist and thus far from the kind of person that hails the original material as the Holy Grail (hah, jokes). For example, I really like what they did with Ilya in episode three. But it has to benefit the story in a meaningful way. And I don't feel like that was achieved here. Again, it seems like a lot of scenes fell victim to the cutting room. While the next few episodes are still rushed all things considered, they do manage to find a certain pace within them. Especially the Archer/Shirou confrontation episodes (though flawed, again, I'll get to that) are pretty well paced and it really shows that they wanted to take their time with the central part of the story. Granted, it doesn't fit well with the other fast paced episodes this season had to offer, but as stand alone episodes, I struggle to find serious flaws with them. Now episode ten is where the problems come back. This episode is slow as hell and stands in stark contrast to what we have seen before. Very little actually happens and barely anything is achieved, I could sum it up with one sentence of twelve or less words („Rin implants her Magic Crest onto Shirou so he can fight Gilgamesh“ for example) and you could just skip it entirely without missing a thing. The next two episodes I don't have any particular problems with in this regard, but that is unfortunately not a thing I can really say about the last one. Now, episode twelve pretty much wraps up the story. Problem is that we had to wait an entire week for an episode that is dedicated solely to the epilogue of the story, which is something I have rarely seen before and for good reason. You don't tack on another episode that is really just the story fading out after everything has been resolved, that is not how you end a series. It also lets me ask the question, why they couldn't do episode twelve at double length instead, like they did back in season one. I'll get to what I specifically think about the epilogue later, but its existence as its own episode is a problem in and of itself. Point is that the show's pacing is a mess. There is a huge contrast between episodes that are incredibly fast-paced for no apparent reason like episode one and those that are slow and have very little actual plot or character development happening like episodes ten or the essentially unneeded episode 13. These issues make you wonder whether or not the series was planned out properly with a clear image in mind.
Now, before we get to the real meat, by which I mean story and characters, let's talk about the presentation for a bit.
First up is the OST and I am honestly experiencing mixed feelings here. This is so because the OST itself is great, with plenty of beautiful pieces, as you would expect from a composer like Fukasawa. But the use of the OST is what bothers me. I'll get to director Takahiro Miura's part in this eventually, so let me just say that his use of the OST is mediocre at best and he certainly could have done much better. A lot of the better tracks are rarely used within the anime, if at all, while some of the less poignant tracks end up being overplayed and some scenes just experience a complete lack of music, when it was desperately needed. At the end of the day though, the OST is still good enough for me to give it a pass. The insert song used in episode eight (Aimer's „Last Stardust“) was a really nice addition to the scene, plus the final few episodes see the use of a lot of good and fitting remixes of classical visual novel tracks such as Emiya, This Illusion and New Dawn, which long time fans will appreciate. Not to forget the opening and ending themes, Aimer's „Brave Shine“ and Kalafina's „ring your bell“, which are great by themselves and compliment the visuals rather well. In addition to the OST the voice acting is as good as you would expect it to be, seeing how these people have been voicing their characters for many years. They all do a fantastic job, special mentions go to Junichi Suwabe as Archer and Tomokazu Seki, who just perfectly encapsulates the nature of the arrogant and prideful Gilgamesh.
Now we get to art and animation and I bet that everybody reading this review will expect me to praise it for looking so damn pretty. You know what? I won 't. Yes, the show looks pretty, very much so, but I don't think that it uses its medium very well. A point of comparison that I like to use is last years sports anime Ping Pong The Animation. Now, comparing Ping Pong with Fate/stay night on a technical level, I don't think that there would be much of a debate which of them looks better. Fate/stay night has way higher production quality, every single frame looks smooth, the characters are never off-modell and the lighting effects are simply spectacular. Granted, some of the 3D is still a little off-putting when mixed with 2D elements, as it is usual for ufotable, but the show looks amazing, no doubt about it. Still, I actually prefer Ping Pong. Why? Because Fate isn't interesting. What does the show get out of being an anime, what does the adaptation add to enhance the story? Pretty fight scenes. That is all. Story and characters don't benefit at all from the transition from one medium to another. Ping Pong has tons of interesting imagery, symbolism and an expressive art style that helps in developing the characters and telling the story. Fate on the other hand has none of that. Fate/stay night is a very dialogue and monologue heavy visual novel, so adapting it into a visual medium like anime isn't very easy. Yet what they decided to do is probably the worst way possible. They either left the dialogue as it is, resulting in a lot of boring exposition that is borderline unacceptable for a visual medium or made massive cuts that affected the characters in a major way. The outright denial to use interesting imagery and other visual forms of storytelling to properly develop the story and portray dialogue and monologues in an interesting way angers me. Sure, there were moments were they actually tried, episode eight serves as a good example, but they were too few and far between to be satisfying. And it's not like this can't be done. The Monogatari series is based off very dialogue heavy source material and it manages to deal with that just fine, so why can't Fate/stay night do the same? Of course, exactly the same style wouldn't work as those two series are very different in both tone and content, but the problem lies elsewhere. First, there is the inexperienced director, who probably just wasn't a good choice for adapting this difficult series. But more importantly, I think that it has a lot to do with the amount of money that was put into this adaptation. Monogatari was a gamble that could have easily backfired. Ufotable couldn't afford to take a risk on this, considering the amount of money spent in production (a.k.a. a lot, that much should be obvious). This had to make its money back, no questions asked. And this ends up showing when looking at the final product. It all just seems so safe, like it was made to appeal to the most common denominator (more on that under characters). I understand why it is so, but that certainly doesn't mean that I have to like it.
Now, the part that I have been waiting to get to: Story and characters. Though to be fair, it should probably only be characters, since the story is nothing to write home about in the first place. Young inexperienced boy is unexpectedly (and somewhat unwillingly) thrown into a battle to the death. There he meets friends and foes, polishing his skills, facing his own weaknesses (quite literally in this case) and also having some romance on the side. At the end of the journey he overcomes his weaknesses, grows into a man and lives happily ever after with the girl of his dreams. The End. Pretty standard stuff, right? Yeah, we have all seen that type of story before, but what makes Fate/stay night great in the first place isn't the core story, but the complex and interesting characters that are often subversions of popular archetypes. And here is where the problem of adaptation comes in. The characters of the original visual novel take their strength from Kinoko Nasu's detailed descriptions. We see them go through a myriad of emotions and grow as a result. This applies especially to Shirou, who gives away his every single though to the reader. Now, of course there are also characters in Fate/stay night that are interesing and entertaining without going all that deep into them, but Unlimited Blade Work's two main characters suffer immensely from the stuff being cut, as they are actually rather generic on the surface.
Without getting a proper look into Shirou's mentality, he seems like nothing more than a generic Shounen protagonist with a case of extra dumbassery. Of course on the inside he is a way more complex character that you could easily describe as mentally ill in comparison to normal society, which is the entire point, since one of Unlimited Blade Work's major focal points is the deconstruction of „Shounen heroism“, but we get to see very little of that during the anime. When Rin confronts Shirou about his mentality in episode four it comes out of nowhere, since it lacked proper build up. Then we get to the big ideological confrontation between Shirou and Archer and honestly, I really like most what they decided to do with this part, but, again, it lacked any punch since we know so very little about Shirou at this point. Naturally a lot of the blame should be put on the first cour for missing out on proper character development, but it brought down the series as a whole, so I am still going to use it as a point of critique here. Nevertheless, I think that the aforementioned confrontation was done rather well and episode eight is by far my favourite episode from the entire season. After this we get to episode nine and here is where I really struggled as „Answer“ is probably my favourite scene from this route. But again, this really lacked the impact that it originally had. It goes by way too fast and seems kind of half-assed, making you question why it is that both Archer and Shirou suddenly came to their respective conclusions. It is still a somewhat epic scene, thanks to the visuals and the way the dialogue is delivered, but as the emotional climax to the story and what is supposed to be the point where Shirou's character achieves maturity, I found it to be disappointing.
Look, I don't think that Shirou is a bad character, but I definitely do not like what they did with him and I think that he comes across as rather bland here. As said before, a lot of this is due to the problem of adaptation, but as I mentioned in the art and animation section of this review, this only excuses so much. There was far too little character development for him.
Now onto someone who I think actually qualifies as a bad character: Rin. Again, the problem here is that Rin is little more than your typical tsundere love interest on the surface that turns out to be a more interesting character once you look past the facade, which is something this adaptations allows us to do on too few occasions. As opposed to Shirou I can't say that I was ever a big fan of Rin's character in general due to me not quite buying her as a romantic partner for Shirou. I always felt like their romantic development felt a little forced. To me their relationship seems to be more similar to that of friends, fellow mages or student and mentor. Yes, they have great chemistry with each other, but it was always more comedic chemistry than it was romantic. That is why I prefer Heaven's Feel's Rin over Unlimited Blade Works' Rin. And this problem wasn't alleviated in the recent adaptation, no, it was exacerbated. Nowhere is the lack of romantic chemistry more apparent than in episode ten. This is supposed to be the height of romantic interaction between the two, but it felt nothing like that. Of course, this has a lot to do with the removal of all sexual interactions, which I'd say isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the scene just lacked any kind of emotional impact as a result. Of course we also have to go back to the problem of too little build up. When Shirou says that he likes Rin in a romantic way in episode one, it, again, comes kind of out of nowhere, because he showed little signs of actual affection towards her up to this point. Of course, reading the visual novel, and thus reading Shirou's thoughts, this makes sense, but we're not doing this right now and at this point in time it seems forced that Shirou would say such a thing in a supposedly honest manner. My main problem with Rin though is that they decided to really play up the tsundere part of her character and make her far more „moe“ than she needed to be. This even goes as far back as the character design, which ufotable decided to change for this adaptation. They did have another Rin design before, just look at some of the visual novel trailers they have made, which makes you wonder why they decided to change it. Well, my best guess is that they saw what Deen Fate actually managed to accomplish: It made its female lead insanely popular. Yes, we are not talking about Deen Fate here, but it certainly gave Saber's popularity around the world a huge boost, turning her into the incredibly popular character she is today. This is probably why they decided to really play up the „cute“ part of Rin's character to make her more appealing. She looks very different from all the other characters that ufotable have animated during the last few years, considering her nose, pointy chin and the shape of her face in general. She also has a lot of facial expressions that go way over the top in relation to the rest of the series, excessive blushing at every possible opportunity included. Not to mention all the obnoxious tsuntsun violence that was added for no other purpose other than to make her more stereotypical (take episodes one and ten as an example).
While I do not like Rin as a character in general, I can definitely appreciate her relative depth and the relationship she has with Shirou within the realms of the Visual Novel. But when it comes to the anime, I cannot say the same. They just went too far in playing her up as the cute tsundere instead of the tough mage, cutting out rather hefty chunks of story and important dialogue directly relating to the struggles that she goes through. As a result she appears to be almost flawless, which is rarely a good thing. We really don't get to see a lot from Rin, rarely does the anime decide to give us insight on what she is actually thinking and large parts of her back story and motivation are merely glossed over. All of these points lead up to me just finding her character to be flat and annoying.
The only other character that could be considered a main one is Rin's servant Archer. Now Archer is a character that I personally really like in his role as the literal representation of Shirou's ideals gone wrong. But as it is the case with Shirou, he also suffers from us getting very little insight into his way of thinking. His development feels too rapid, his ideals underdeveloped and he can come across as rather bland. I think that having a few more scenes from Archer's perspective (like the one after the final credits in the last episode), giving us more of an idea of what he is thinking and who he truly is as a person, would have been an absolute necessity for his character to be believable and likeable. He is still alright the way he is, Junichi Suwabe delivers all his lines perfectly and I personally really like the relationship he has with Rin (the last scene of episode twelve is truly a great one), but there is much more they could have done with his character, so I can't help being disappointed.
When it comes to the side characters, I actually have very little to complain about, they all managed to do their job rather well, but none of them truly stand out as great. Shinji is as despicable as he needs to be, Lancer has his moments as a kick-ass side character and I actually liked what they did with Saber and Ilya. I was fine with them being nothing more than plot devices and getting very little screen time, but the way they elaborated on their characters, even though it was little more than service for the people who watched Fate/Zero and were hoping to see those characters get some development, was good enough for me to give it a pass.
My problems come back when we get to the pair of Caster and Kuzuki, who are the secondary villains this cour. As I mentioned before, episode two suffered major cuts, which resulted in Caster's back story being trimmed to very little actual development and a lot of essentially irrelevant anime original content. We barely see any interaction between Caster and Kuzuki, not explaining the bond they share at all. This is a shame, because what we actually got did very little for Caster and could have just been dealt with the sentence „Her last Master was an asshole.“ (or at least a far shorter scene) to make place for more meaningful development, especially concerning the Master/Servant relationship these two have. Thanks to this Caster just ends up being boring and forgettable.
Last but certainly not least there is Gilgamesh and he is still the smug asshole that people love. True, he is not exactly a deep intriguing villain, but I find him to be highly engaging and enjoyable nonetheless. He feels kind of removed from the main narrative for the most part and his part of the story does seem a little tacked on („Answer“ being the big ideological climax and all), plus you probably know close to nothing about him if this is your first time with a Fate series. Still I end up caring very little about those problems since I just find him to be a joy to watch in general. Nevertheless, I have to say that the way he gets defeated seems a little too convenient and hardly believable (even with Shirou being a perfect match for him and Unlimited Blade Works strengthening Shirou's body, he should technically still be blowing Shirou's arm off every time they trade blows given his physical strength) and Shirou pulling a bunch of superhuman powers out of nowhere for the sake of a cool action scene alone kind of bothers me. But the first thing is a problem I also have with the original route and the second did allow for a rather great fight scene, so I will refrain from elaborating on it here. It managed to be a rather satisfying scene and that is most important after all.
Aside from that I actually liked the finale to the series quite a bit. Sure, it wasn't perfect, but they managed to create a certain sense of scale and urgency that I was hoping to see from an anime adaptation and that they did well to portray. It is also much appreciated that they went with the True End to the story rather than going with the Normal End, which I consider to be less fitting. Speaking of endings: The epilogue. As it seems to be the case with this review, I have to directly counter every positive point with a negative one. Deciding that the entire last episode should be dedicated to the epilogue to the story was a poor decision. The original epilogue has far too little content to warrant its own episode, so they essentially stuffed it full of fanservice to make it a full 20 minutes. I would be lying if I say I didn't enjoy it at least a little, I am familiar with the source material after all so I was happy to see characters like Luvia or Waver appear, but this would have been far better suited to just being an OVA. It has no place in a TV series, let alone one that is 13 episodes long and feels incredibly rushed during parts.
Now, why do I think that this show became the relative failure that I consider it to be? I think that most of it is due to too many different visions coming together on one project. To bring together the interests of Type-Moon and ufotable with the ideas of Takahiro Miura and the individual episode directors seems to have been too great a task. It's kind of a mess as a result. This is neither an accurate representation of the visual novel nor very good as its own thing. The pacing is all over the place with the episode quality being very inconsistent, the use of animation is disappointing when it comes to actually telling and furthering the story and the main characters lack the appeal that made them stand out in the first place. As much as I hate bashing one person in particular, Miura might be the person to blame here. He just wasn't fit for the job, too inexperienced and he may have lacked the necessary authority over the production staff to make the product he wanted to. Unfortunately, we'll never know.
At the end of the day, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (TV) 2nd season isn't bad. The OST, the pretty fight scenes and the engaging enough story with its simple yet interesting ideological conflict are enough for me to give this show a pass. Honestly, this is less of a review and more of an essay explaining why I don't think that this show is great and what they could have done (or couldn't have done) in order to make it so. I was entertained. Yet I am still disappointed. If you managed to make it through this review without having seen the series: Go check it out. You'll probably enjoy it. Just don't expect to see a masterpiece. Because as decent as this series turned out to be, it unfortunately missed out on being amazing.
Only having experienced Fate/Zero, I never encountered a Type-Moon written work before. But after watching UBW, I’m truly appalled at how terrible Type-Moon’s writing is.
The basis of UBW’s plot is covered by its synopsis. In different wording, it’s a grandiose battle royale-like duel between seven masters who each get a servant to fight for them. The goal is to kill every servant to attain the Holy Grail, which can grant a master and servant any fathomable wish.
This plot, even though basic on the surface, can become a masterpiece with proper execution, as seen in Fate/Zero with
its large-scale fights, charismatic characters, and intriguing battles strategies. As the follow up to such an impressive series, UBW had a lot of weight on its shoulders to deliver the same grade, or possibly an even better, of quality. But unfortunately, not only did this series become a wreck within itself, but it also became one of the biggest disappoints that I’ve ever experienced.
Both seasons of UBW suffer from the same pitfalls that include lacklustre characterisation, laughable battle strategies, and choppy protagonists. But the second season specifically has its own unique failures which I’ll get to throughout the review. Let’s get started:
The characterisation was one of the most noticeable falls of the show. The show virtually revolves around our protagonist two-teamed quartet Rin Tohsaka and her servant Archer, and Shirou Emiya and his servant Saber, while the other characters don’t get the proper circumstances and/or screentime to become worth talking about. The show’s first problem child is the “intelligent” Rin Tohsaka, who is the strategist on the protagonist side. Rather than intelligent, the word perseverant describes her more accurately. Many people say that she’s smart, and while it’s shown that she’s book smart, she has no experience in applying it properly. Examples of these failures are shown in her “strategies” that she comes up with. She's capable of generating multiple theories that appear profitable, but in the end all of her elaborate strategies amount to repeatedly showing up to a servant’s base, provoking them until a battle breaks out, and ultimately losing in the end. On the off chance that she does manage to kill a servant, it’s with an unexpected factor or the assistance of another servant. For example, after the oh-so-many attempts of trying to kill Caster, in the midst of yet another failure, the only way Caster was killed was by Archer - after his contractual separation from Rin - who launched an attack on her off-guard master, anticipating that she come in to protect him. The remainder of her victories are due to even more outside assistance that would otherwise leave her and her team dead.
Next we have Saber, one of the main servants of the show and on the protagonists’ team. Her gender bent character in Fate/Zero captured the eyes of many with her chivalric and powerful persona. But sadly, in UBW this strong personality was reduced to a slapstick tsundere and fanservice device. With erotic shots of her in BDSM-esque positions from her capture by Caster further corroding her character, it also gave the series an unintentional comical tone.
And unfortunately, to finish off, we have Shirou: our dense protagonist that’s plagued with a terribly-conflicting Samaritan complex; to such a degree where it makes it appear like his character is a parody of the average shounen protag due to how flat, irritating, and stupid his character is in the show. His boring dialogues with Rin and idiotic remarks aside, the most obnoxious part about Shirou was his philosophical stance towards the end of the season. The latter end of season two held a philosophical discussion with Archer and Shirou’s battle about the pursuit of seemingly impossible ideals and its potential risks. The show took an interesting take on this by adding in an element that, in my opinion, serves as a device of self-reflection that further enhanced the potential of this discussion. Shirou faces the scorn of Archer who, as a future version of Shirou, is morally-crippled and dispirited as a result of the despair and anguish he faced due to Shirou’s far-fetched altruistic ideal of saving everyone while ignoring himself in the process. Archer, trying desperately to convince Shirou to quit pursuing this seemingly impossible ideal to avoid the future tragedy that is himself, brings up several opposing points, including the most obvious one that shows how his ideals are contradictory: “It's true that you can probably achieve your wish to save others. But there's no hope of saving yourself in doing so.”
After Archer’s defeat in battle, Shirou fights Gilgamesh, who also adds onto Archer’s scolding by telling Shirou that his philosophy is contrived and “fake” as a result of trying to become like his father, Kiritsugu, who he essentially copied his ideals from him. Shirou concedes to all of the points given by Archer and Gilgamesh, but somehow manages to come to some sort of epiphany and unexplainably validates his ideals and insist that they are “right”, even in the presence of the overwhelming evidence that blatantly showcases that, without a sense of realism, his ideals will remain damaging and chaotic. The point this discussion was trying to sell was that the pursuit of one’s ideals and dreams is not in vain even with risks and failures up ahead. Where the discussion went sour was with Shirou’s final justification of his ideals, which none of it rebutted the statements and examples of Archer and Gilgamesh. His justification can literally be summarised with his new infamous quote “Just because you’re correct doesn’t mean you’re right.”
With my expectations so high for this series, it pains me to write such a scathing review. I truly wished for the best and tried to ignore the faults, but they became too large in number for me to continue to be blind to. With the fights and animation as the only two saving graces, I can say that in some moments, UBW was truly entertaining. But the journey overall was a boring and painfully bleak one with this show.
This review covers the Prologue, Season One and Season Two. My ratings are 6/10, 6/10 and 5/10 respectively. There are spoilers in this review.
The prologue/first few episodes of Unlimited Budget Works establishes the Fifth Holy Grail War; a battle royale between seven servants (made up of mythological figures such as Heracles) and mages where the last survivor is rewarded with being presented the Holy Grail which can grant them any wish they desire. During these episodes it is emphasized how dangerous this war is where even witnesses of the war will be murdered. Then in episode three the feeling of danger for our protagonists disappears
in an instant when Ilya decides to suddenly quit her battle with Rin and Shirou for no reason and go home. This doesn't get followed up on nor does it develop into anything. Perhaps my expectations were too high expecting fights to have an impact from the beginning, but these kinds of moments happen frequently. Some examples include; Archer's many chances to kill Shirou, Caster and Kuzuki not finishing off Shirou and Rin in episode ten and every fight where Gilgamesh is involved.
With the characters not taking fights seriously, another way to create tension in these fights is to emphasize the stakes of the Holy Grail War. To an extent, this works in UBW. The mages and servants eventually get eliminated, there are stories of innocent people disappearing or dying and the end game for Gil involves attempting to kill everyone. But these aren't executed well. The mages and servants would have their backstories explained in the episode they are about to be defeated, making it predictable. The innocent people's deaths are left in the background and their effects are never seen.
As for the end game, only a simplistic understanding can be gained from it due to the lack of explanation of the history, function and importance of the Holy Grail. All that's told by the show is that the Holy Grail may potentially be able to grant a wish of some kind, it can be used for evil, might not even require the war to be summoned and can be summoned by using a mage as a host. The Holy Grail itself appears as a pink blob. Most of these things get explained properly in other Nasuverse publications, however I believe that for a better viewer's experience they should have tried to address these problems in UBW. Nevertheless, they already have sequels planned so perhaps they will go into more depth then.
The focus of UBW is the emergence of Shirou as a mage. As a protagonist, Shirou comes off as a generic anime male teen with a naive mindset. He is a self proclaimed "hero of justice" because apparently everyone needs saving and only he can do it... by murdering people. If this show had a darker tone he would sound like a crazier version of Batman. Sadly though, the only exploration of his naive ideas and any other themes in UBW comes during his battle with Archer, which mostly involves repeating lines ad nauseam. There is also a forced romance thrown in to attempt to show Shirou's progression. He's not terrible as a character, but he's nothing special either.
The other characters in UBW lack development. Some characters will be given short backstories before dying, but no characters show any real change. The closest are Saber and Shirou deciding that they're proud of themselves. Rin simply stays as a typical tsundere for the whole show. An argument could be made that there wasn't enough time given to character development. However, there would be more than enough time if the pacing was improved. For example, the character monologues during fights (Shirou vs Archer especially) could be edited down or episodes such as Winter Days, Faraway Home could be condensed into a few minutes. While I feel the phrase "show, don't tell" is overused, I believe it is appropriate in this case.
There are other issues and potential plotholes that could be nitpicked, such as Archer not having any knowledge of his earlier life, but I'd rather now look at the positives in UBW. The animation is incredibly fluid, especially during fight scenes. The incorporation of CGI feels natural and makes some scenes a real spectacle to watch. The sound effects are great and the voice acting is satisfactory. These technical aspects alone are enough to make UBW watchable. The soundtrack adds an extra level of enjoyment, especially the fan favourite OP Brave Shine by Aimer.
Even with all the faults in UBW, the journey the characters go through is enjoyable enough to make this show satisfactory. Watching this won't be a special experience and other than the fight scenes, most of it will be forgettable. Nevertheless, unless you're a big fan of the Nasuverse, I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to watch it.
The franchise of Type-Moon. Fate/Stay Night is a trademark for what the product has been with its key characters, premise, and setting. Fate Unlimited Blade Works is one of its major routes and returns for another season. A show about the Holy Grail sparkles into a pendulum of events and animated by the infamous Ufotable studio. Part 1 delivered what many fans wanted while part 2 attempts to do so yet again.
With the way the first half of Unlimited Blade Works was handled, part 2/Season 2 essentially sets up major events for the story. As for those who remembers, Saber is taken by Caster, Rin
leaves after telling Shirou not to get involved in the Holy Grail War anymore, while Shirou wonders what awaits him next. The process of this buildup is quite thrilling as it sets up many potential events. Along the way, there are also other characters that becomes imperative to the ongoing storyline. A good amount of focus is Archer, Rin’s former servant who apparently betrayed her. This season focuses a lot about his past, role, and purpose for what he is doing. As a show that’s indulged by ideologies, it’s interesting to see his arguments with others in particular Shirou. It defines their personalities and existence in this show not only but what they do but their reasons. From Shirou’s viewpoint, his father Kiritsugu has inspired him to become a hero of justice. This becomes a central theme of Shirou’s character as he tries to save the people he cares about. At the same time, there’s some romance development between him and Rin. As cliché it seems, it’s not entirely surprising given the amount of hints the two have been throwing around.
Of course, the series’ main story still focuses on the Holy Grail War. Character building is important but at the same time, it allows the viewers to directly see their actions. While Illya isn’t the most powerful servant in the show, she does make quite an impression against Shinji’s servant, Gilgamesh. What comes around goes around and events that unfolds shows her devotion to Berserker. She even shows her genuine concern towards her maids. The show also does a decent job with characterizing her past including the Einzbern family. Do be warned that there will be some Fate/Zero spoilers involved. However, by this point, you should of watched Fate/Zero anyways. Later on, there are also some big reveals regarding Shirou and what his destiny may await him. It’s what really makes the show thrilling as it anticipate what viewers awaits next. What is holding the show back though is some of the omitted content from the visual novel. From what I understand, it added filler material (or so some fans call it anime original) and extended dialogue that makes some scenes unnecessary longer.
A strong point of this series is also the character relationships. At the center of it is Shirou who builds connections with others. In season 1, he build a prominent relationship of trust and respect with Saber. In the second part, he plays an important role alongside Rin. The first half of the series neglects Saber’s prominence as the majority of the time, she is trapped by magic. And without a servant, Shirou is running around without a servant. He can only put trust in people such as Rin and at one point even admits that he has feelings for her. In essence, it shows how Shirou’s role can have profound influence on others through his ideology. In the meantime, other characters such as Illya/Berserker, Shinji/Gilgamesh, Caster/Kazuki all gets their screen time of relationship connections. There’s obviously some contrast between these especially with their climatic moments. But for what’s worth, Fate Unlimited Blade Works can really make some impact when it shows the way these relationships are executed.
As the protagonist, Shirou’s ideal and growth is a pivotal part of the show. This becomes a bit controversial at some stages as some people may not agree with him. Furthermore, these put into conflicts with others such as Archer and Gilgamesh. His idealism is similar to his former servant, Saber in many ways as well. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t put much emphasis in Saber as much as part 1. It still gives her some time for development and evolves both her and Shirou, but just not them on a personal level or at least as much as Shirou and Rin. Similarly, Shirou’s battle against Archer seems more like the apex of the show to me rather than the final fights. Here, we can see that Shirou is fighting for an ideal rather than just winning the grail/fight. On the other hand, Shirou’s battle against Gilgamesh is stereotypical. Gilgamesh is a character that lacks strong characterization compared to the others although the show does flesh out his personality in full view. Egoistic, prideful, and arrogant are just a few words to describe him. But unlike some of the other servants, his relationships aren’t so well developed. Just look at Shinji for an example and see where how he ended up. As the latter half of this season unfolds, we’ll learn much more about each characters’ reasoning for their choices. And Fate being a show that emphasizes a lot on this with lectures and metaphors, it’s no surprise by this point. What I do have some issues with is the comedy and romance development. The comedy part seems like it has some improper timings. While it’s not a core part of the season, I feel like they don’t belong in this franchise at all except for some of the slice of life scenarios; mostly seen in season 1. The romance is also lacking. One of the episodes later on presents this in with a bit of symbolism. (yes I know what you are thinking, the infamous “dolphins”). However, what the fans got instead is a big question mark. On the contrary, the action bits of the show is a blockbuster hit. The climatic battles in the Unlimited Blade Works is a big part that was hyped from the buildup. Both times, Shirou shows his growth and what he has learned. Not to mention, he is a man that runs about his perspective ideologies so by some point, you’ll even remember his lines.
Ufotable does it again. When it comes to artwork and visuals, the series shows why it’s a powerhouse. Action is fairly solid especially in some of the more exciting fights. The Unlimited Blade Works is also highly decorative with the countless swords and symbolism. The backgrounds also has a mythic feeling to it when it matches its fantasy elements. My favorite parts would be the flower garden in one of the earlier episodes as well as the Unlimited Blade Works world. They really gave the word elegant a worthy meaning. Furthermore, we get a bit of violence to go along with all the action. Shinji, Illya, Caster are among some of these character that becomes a prime sample of this. On the other hand, the show isn’t immune to censorship. Some of the more graphic content is censored by magical context while we get a rather obscure symbolism between Shirou/Rin’s bonding. Hey, it’s not like this was surprising though. Did you actually expect them to do it on screen?
Soundtrack is a stronger point of the series. The OP and ED theme song has an eerie tune that matches with the coordination of its presentation. Shirou’s battle theme is also emphasized to show how much he has grown throughout the season. Finally, voice mannerisms is uniquely dynamic for the most prominent characters in this season. In particular, I find Gilgamesh’s narcissistic personality to be so matching with his voice. We can also feel the emotions that Saber expresses by her voice tone and Archer’s revelation. Unfortunately, I can’t say the overall soundtrack gets any better than that. In retrospect, it’s a strong technical aspect of the season but doesn’t exceed the expectations I got from part 1 either.
So how does Fate ultimately deliver? Well, for a show about magic, grail wars, and drama, it’s certainly a chilling thriller that any Type-Moon fan should see. Director Takahiro Miura makes this story stand uniquely with its themes and style. And although some parts of the visual novel is omitted and replaced, it still ultimately lives up to its mature magic. That’s because the real magic comes from the story and characters. For a talky show like this, it’s often important to capture a viewers’ interest before they are bored to death. Thankfully, on most parts, the show knows its strategies. It’s also no surprise that the series continues to maintain its visual wonder. Suspenseful, thrilling, and crafted with emotional storytelling, the second season of Fate Unlimited Blade Works is a magical gift from Ufotable.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Bladeworks is an intense anime filled with action, moral conflict, and exciting characters. It may be a fantastical show, but the Servants a.k.a. "Heroic Spirits" are actually based on our own history and mythology!