Let’s Unravel the Twisted Strings of the Fate Series!
Source: Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
The Fate franchise has become something of a behemoth when it comes to modern urban fantasy anime. It’s not surprising when you consider that it has an expansive world, intriguing characters and character development, a unique plot, and riveting battles. But, with the number of entries steadily on the rise and the Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel movies on the way, it creates a barrier to entry that may deter newcomers, or confuse even the most avid fans.
So this analysis will break down how the various entries intersect with one another in a comprehensive look, including:
1. A Brief Overview of Type-Moon
2. Fate/Zero: The Start of it All
3. Determining Fate: The Different Routes
4. So as I Pray: Alternate Reality Works!
Needless to say, given the material covered and how intertwined the anime series are, it’s going to have spoilers — a lot of them. If you aren’t afraid of that, then keep reading.
A Brief Overview of Type-Moon
Source: Carnival Phantasm
To sort through the threads of Fate, we need to start at the origin of it all—a company known as Type-Moon. The company began when Takashi Takeuchi, an artist, and Kinoko Nasu, a novelist, got together and created a series of light novels in 1998 called Kara No Kyoukai, which would later go on to be a massive anime project in itself nearly a decade later.
As a doujin group, which is an independent and often self-published group or organization that releases light novels, games, animations, and other artistic works in Japan, Type-Moon didn’t have access to the massive resources of a major company. But, because they weren’t hamstrung by regular publishing restrictions in the industry, and didn’t have to limit their creativity, they managed to create Tsukihime—a visual novel that became an instant hit and gave them an expansive fan-base. This too became an anime and manga series.
The success of Tsukihime and its various spin-offs allowed the company to grow from a small doujin group into a legitimate commercial company - also in no small part due to their talent and eager fan-base. Their first commercial project was, as you may have guessed, the Fate/Stay Night visual novel in 2004. Mixing the same elements that drew their audience in before, while adding in an expansive magic system into the contemporary setting, made it skyrocket in popularity to the point of receiving a sequel, a manga, and an anime adaptation in a relatively short period of time.
So, as you can see, Type-Moon has risen to prominence in the anime community from humble origins. And, while we are focusing on the Fate franchise, it’s important to note that without the success of their earlier works and the expansive world they created, none of it would have been possible. Hopefully the company will continue to make innovative works far into the future.
Fate Series Order
Fate/Zero: The Start of it All
Now that we’ve covered the company responsible for the creation of the Fate franchise, let’s talk about the anime which instigates the events that lay the groundwork for the entire series: Fate/Zero. Incidentally, this is also the order in which we recommend you watch the series.
Fate/Zero is a multi-volume light novel series initially written by Gen Urobuchi after the visual novel, but is set ten years before the events of Fate/Stay Night, the Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works anime and movie, and the Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel movies, making it the starting point for the three different entries.
The story is centered on the actions of Masters, the magic-users who are participating in the Fourth Holy Grail War (a battle royale of sorts), and Servants, historical figures who have gained great power after death and are summoned to act as fighters in the war. The Masters and Servants are bound together by Command Seals, a set of markings that both serve as proof of being a Master and can force a Servant to obey their any command. They fight together for the sake of claiming the prized Holy Grail, which is said to be able to grant a wish to the victor of the war.
However, instead of it being a simple clash between the combatants, it’s also a clash between their ideals. Not just among enemies, but among the paired Masters and Servants. This is demonstrated throughout the anime by Kiritsugu Emiya and his Servant, Saber (also known as Arthur Pendragon). Kiritsugu traveled the world as a mercenary known as the “Magus Killer” and enters the Holy Grail War with the hopes of using the victor's wish to stop all wars and bring peace to mankind. To this end, he uses everything he can (including dirty tricks) to win, justifying that the price of peace could never be too high. In contrast to this, his Servant - the legendary once-and-future King of Knights, Arthur Pendragon (also known as Saber) - hopes to use the grail to go back in time and stop herself from ever becoming the King of Britain. She fights with chivalry and honor, having certain expectations of her opponents and her Master to do the same.
Kiritsugu and Saber's ideals completely clash due to the definitions of what conflict, war, and being a hero means to one another, serving as one of the main conflicts of the story that cannot be solved through simple words or a duel. Additionally, the other Masters and Servants force them to question their ideals and pit their resolve against one another, until they are the last ones standing in the war against Kirei Kotomine, a priest who fights to find joy in living, and Gilgamesh, the egotistical King of Heroes. And, in the end, the grail itself has been corrupted to the extent that making a wish upon it will bring about the end of humanity—making all of their actions, all of their suffering, all of their sacrifices meaningless.
Determining Fate: The Different Routes
Source: Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works
Now that we've gotten through the events of Fate/Zero, let's talk about the how it serves as the origin of the upcoming Fate/Stay Night Heaven's Feel anime movies, as well as the Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works entries.
The plot of both Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works is as follows: ten years after the Fourth Holy Grail War, Rin Toosaka, daughter of Tokiomi Toosaka (one of the Masters of the previous Holy Grail War), has finished her studies in time for the Fifth Holy Grail War to begin. She summons Archer, a mysterious amnesiac Servant, and pairs with him to fight for the right to wish upon the grail. Their first battle occurs after dark, on the school grounds, against the Servant Lancer, a cursed spear-wielding Irish hero, who seeks a battle to the death against Archer.
Unbeknownst to Rin, Shirou Emiya, the adoptive son of Kiritsugu Emiya who wants to be a hero someday, is also on the school grounds and stumbles across the battle. Due to one of the rules of the war being that there can be no human witnesses, Lancer stabs Shirou through the heart and leaves him to die. Rin uses her magic to save his life, and when Lancer attacks him a second time Shirou survives by summoning Saber (the very same Servant that served his adoptive father) and becomes the final Master and Servant pair of the Fifth Holy Grail War.
After Saber drives Lancer off and then goes after Archer and Rin, under the belief that they are enemies, both the Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works entries diverge and take place in parallel universes. Parallel universes are naturally created when a small change happens or a decision is made or an action is taken that causes a deviation in how things play out.
In the case of the Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works, the deviation is whether or not Saber's attack on Archer is successful. In the Fate/Stay Night universe, Saber injures Archer with her attack. In the Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works universe, Shirou stops Saber before she can injure Archer.
To get the full experience in time for the Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel movies, it’s recommended you watch both.
Fate/Stay Night Route
Source: Fate/Stay Night
In the Fate/Stay Night anime created by Studio Deen, Saber manages to critically injure Archer with her attack. This leaves Rin and Shirou, who forge an alliance, reliant on Saber to defend them against other Servants. However, Shirou's training as a magus is incomplete so he cannot support Saber and she grows weaker with every battle.
Eventually, Archer is forced to sacrifice himself when they meet Kiritsugu’s daughter, Illyasviel von Einzbern (Ilya for short). She has come to kill Shirou because her father never returned after the Fourth Holy Grail War with her Servant Berserker (whose true identity is Hercules). Saber, Shirou, and Rin manage to kill Berserker together and then take Ilya into their care afterwards.
As the war progresses and the majority of the other Servants are killed off, Gilgamesh makes himself known and the final battle becomes a repeat of the Fourth Holy Grail War. Saber once more faces off against the King of Heroes, while Shirou fights against Kirei Kotomine like his father did in the war before. In the end, they destroy the grail and the world is saved, with the survivors now living happily and life going on.
The focus of Fate/Stay Night is fixed on Shirou and Saber, and how they come to terms with their ideals over the course of the challenges they face. Shirou's desire to be a hero is given a foundation to stand on for the future, while Saber comes to terms with her past and accepts her death, rather than desiring to use the wish on the grail to change what has already happened with the fall of her kingdom. Shirou also falls in love with Saber, but it is a tragic love as once the war ends they must be split apart.
Unlimited Blade Works Route
Source: Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works
In the parallel universe where the compressed 2010 Fate/Stay Night Movie: Unlimited Blade Works by Studio Deen and the 2014 anime adaptation by Ufotable takes place, Shirou calls out for Saber to stop and ends up using one of his three Command Seals by accident. Archer is not injured as a result and is able to help fend off Berserker, leaving Saber and Shirou relatively unscathed.
This allows Archer to manipulate events so that he can kill Shirou in a fight to the death, where it is revealed that Archer is a future version of Shirou Emiya. He hopes that killing his past-self will cause a paradox that the world will correct by ending his existence, but the battle ends with Shirou's victory. Then Gilgamesh proceeds to seemingly kill Archer and takes the stage as the final villain, who Shirou defeats due to inheriting Archer's abilities during their fight.
Whereas Fate/Stay Night focused on Saber and Shirou’s ideals and coming to terms with them, the focus here is on Archer’s relationship with Shirou and the flaws in their ideals of wanting to save everyone. Archer is a future version of Shirou Emiya who followed his ideals to the very end by making a pact that his soul would be summoned whenever humanity is on the verge of being destroyed by its own actions. However, he comes to regret it as he can only save others by killing everyone involved, innocent or not, and hopes that by killing his past self, he can erase himself from existence rather than go through with this pact for all eternity.
As the two clash, Shirou is able to convince Archer that the ideals are worthy of pursuing despite the flaws, and Archer is able to bequeath Shirou with his skills and allow him to use his Reality Marble, the ability to invert his soul upon reality and create a world filled with countless swords. Because of this he can successfully fight Gilgamesh to a standstill, firing his swords against the King of Heroes' until he can close the distance and cut off his arm.
Because the focus is primarily on Shirou, Archer, and Rin, the other characters like Saber and Ilya don’t get as well-developed as they do in the prior Fate/Stay Night anime and shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for the 2006 anime.
So as I Pray: Alternate Reality Works!
Now let’s talk about other entries in the Fate franchise that don’t particularly follow the same outline of the above entries. These can be watched standalone and without understanding the main entries, but have their own worth and place in this article.
Eight years after the previous Heaven's Feel war and the death of her family, Ayaka Sajou is expected to involve herself in the upcoming war but doesn’t have the courage to participate. The issue is taken out of her hands when she is attacked by Lancer, a spear-wielding man commanding a number of hounds. When Lancer stabs her in the chest, Saber, a holy-sword wielding knight clad in silver armor, is summoned to save her life and drive him off.
If this sounds familiar, it's because the Fate/Prototype short OVA, produced by Lerche, is based off the original concept of the Holy Grail War by Kinoko Nasu. Many of the elements have carried over to Fate/Stay Night, even though the plot, abilities, Servants, and Masters have been drastically altered. It’s a short animation worth looking at if you want to see the roots of what started it all.
Source: Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei Herz!
Have you ever found yourself wanting to see the Fate franchise set in a relatively light-hearted magical girl setting, starring Ilya? If that’s the case, look no further than Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya and its sequel series, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei! and 2wei Herz!.
In this setting, Ilya is a normal girl who lives with both her parents and her brother, Shirou, who she has a crush on. When the mysterious magical device known as Ruby makes a contract with her to become a magical girl, this universe’s version of Rin drafts her into helping collect the Class Cards, which possess the powers of legendary heroes. She is rivaled by Miyu Edelfelt, a young girl in the possession of Sapphire and under the care of Luviagelita Edelfelt.
This particular entry is notable for introducing characters from other entries in the Fate franchise not adapted before outside of Fate/hollow ataraxia, such as Bazett, Caren, and the child version of Gilgamesh, as well as lovable original characters like Chloe. The first season adapts the original Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya manga, while the second and third adapts the 2wei manga.
Source: Fate/Extra Last Encore
We’ve seen how one little change can alter events drastically in Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works (Saber injuring Archer), but have you wondered what would happen if a change was made on a global scale? One that changes the entire setting of the story?
Well, in the upcoming Fate/Extra Last Encore anime, the discovery of the Moon Cell, a massive database that has been recording the world since before human history began, changes the nature of the Holy Grail War. It now takes place in a virtual world with over 100 Masters and features an amnesiac protagonist in the form of Hakuno Kishinami. He must work alongside a new, red dress-wearing Saber in order to survive the new Holy Grail War and unravel the secrets of his past.
Now you (hopefully) have an understanding of how the Fate franchise began, the company behind it, the differences between Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works, and other works that exist within the franchise not directly tied to the series.
It is my sincerest hope that you, the reader, find this information worthwhile and have an easier time understanding the complexities of the Fate franchise in time for the Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel movies.