Dec 27, 2014
Stark700 (All reviews)
If there’s one word that any anime fan can be familiar with, it may be ‘Fate’. The franchise adapted from the highly popular Type-Moon visual novel has been around for a decade. In 2006, an anime adaptation by studio DEEN was released in an attempt to adapt the visual novel. And while it included the characters from the series, there were controversy regarding the actual adaptation. Then, there was the movie titled ‘Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works’ movie that was released four years later. But even so, that only ran less than two full hours in a futile attempt to adapt the Unlimited Blade Works route. To say the least, it’s inefficient when attempting to craft a story in such a short time frame. Luckily, Ufotable decided to step up to the plate deliver what fans want – a faithful adaptation of the route in TV series medium.

Make no mistake. This series runs a lot longer than 2 hours with the finale extended to fit the double the time of a single episode. So in a way, this series can be viewed indirectly as having more than 12 episodes in total time length. (total of 16 episodes actually if including episode 0) What’s more though is how the series is set up. Because of the nature of MAL’s database, this review will not cover the episode 0 that introduces the story from Rin’s point of view. Rather, we are introduced to the young man known as Shirou Emiya. For people wondering about the series, it is not essential at all to watch Fate/Zero or the F/SN: Unlimited Blade Works movie. In fact, I would highly recommend skipping the latter and focus on this adaptation as that’s more of a promotional product. This TV series adapts the route known as ‘Unlimited Blade Works’ with high level of anticipation.

There’s little doubt the show has a variety of ideas whether it’d be related to magecraft, the Holy Grail, or the mechanics of the Holy Grail War. Taking these ideas and presenting them can be quite a challenge but I do have confidence to say that this adaption did justice. The first episode introduces Shirou Emiya who we see a normal teenager attending high school with his friends. There’s foreshadowing and hints thrown in the backgrounds already to show that not all is going normal around Shirou’s neighborhood. It doesn’t take long for the show to hit the supernatural realm when we see magic and otherworldly powers in Fate style. Shirou becomes the Master of a powerful Servant known as ‘Saber’ in a dangerous tournament (Holy Grails War) after nearly getting himself killed by another servant. Battle ensures and the series manages to craft a setup that will unanimously create more anticipation. The way the first few episodes are set up doesn’t just create a thrilling mood but also spawn questions especially for new viewers. This is where the show shines as the adaption adequately explains the mechanics. Although some bits can feel like typical info dumping, there are comedic points thrown in to ease the bits of unsettling boredom. But do note that it’s fairly important to listen to the explanations because it all connects to the characters and story.

The way the story is crafted involves the main cast, or specifically the Masters and the Servants. We already know who Shirou is but there’s also another prominent Master that is introduced from episode 0. Her name is Rin Tosaka, the master of Archer. For those who have seen episode 0, it’s likely that you’ve got to know her a lot more than the previous Fate franchise. Nonetheless, she comes into conflict with Shirou and the other Masters in the Holy War. The servants play prominent roles as well especially involving the infamous Saber. She is more of the poster girl as well as the warrior who wishes to win the Grail War. On the other hand, Shirou represents the most human character in the series. Honest, loyal, and courageous are a few words to describe him. And although he may seem like a generic character, there’s no doubt that he can influence others. What this first half of the series does is introduce the main players that the VN fans will be familiar with. For new fans of the series, they will be delighted to find out just how much the adaptation extends beyond the movie. Characters such as Illya, Kirie, Shinji, Issei, Taiga, and Sakura are all introduced in clever ways. Even more so, we have the servants who make their debuts as well. Lancer for one makes quite an entrance to create the intensity of the war. What we also have are also other servants that contrasts with each other in terms of their personalities. Whether it’d be Archer’s ideals, Saber’s chivalry, or Rider’s cunning nature, every servant offers something new to the table. Or sometimes, you may just have a big grunt like Berserker who wants to rip everything to pieces.

Like I mentioned before, the series offers variety. What that means is a balance of mood and pacing for the series to work. Yes, there’s mystery going on in the background with the events of the show. Yes, there is also action to keep up the momentum. Then, there’s also the slice of life-like atmosphere. Taking place in a high school setting, the series also finds time to lend comedy and even realism to what could have been an all-around action flick. While this may come as a mixed bag, the series does it cleverly to build narrative with the characters. Rather than just talking, they show what the main characters’ lives are like with others. Even more so, this series makes it quite interesting considering that Servants and Masters aren’t exactly similar with ideologies. Shirou is a prominent example unlike some others who wishes to win the Holy Grail war with their personal dark desires. What goes around comes around and this show proves a point when it crafts its story’s relationships between characters. There’s chemistry between certain characters that can easily been such as with Shirou and Saber or him and Rin. Unfortunately, not all of them get their spotlight and some are still shrouded in mystery (example: the mysterious blonde young man shown several times in the series). And mystery, that may be an overused word by some point. We don’t find out too much about some characters’ intentions such as priest Kirie Kotomine. But do we want to? For some, that’s a certainly and is why the show will keep the audience at their feet. It makes the audience want to figure out the puzzle with the pieces. The dialogues are cryptic but provides hints while dreams (such as Rin’s) create suspense. Then, there’s also the more charming moments as some tense scenarios focuses on Shirou’s own personal perspective. There’s no doubt that he is becoming closer to Saber and the show portrays this with tiny packages of hints rather than explicit fatal attraction. Still, don’t expect much romance for the first cour of this show. Treat it more as a setup with all the key characters bought into the series like players to a game. Because honestly, this Holy War is where winner takes all.

Thank you Ufotable. I’ll say this twice because the studio really deserved the gratitude for their superior effort in adapting the animation quality of this series. The animation style of this series looks lavishly done whether it’s the backgrounds, character designs, or the jaw-breaking action scenes. There is a good amount of action focused on all the fights that gives both the servant and their master a chance for spotlight. The action itself is well coordinated with rapid movement and clever camera angles. In short, Ufotable outdone themselves with the budget they have. And to be honest, there’s little criticism to say when it comes to the artistic frontier of this adaptation. Mage spells are also cleverly demonstrated while violence create the brutal reality of the Grail War. There’s minimal fan service except some suggestive camera angles. But judging exclusively, this series is almost flawless on the artwork.

Soundtrack also plays a pivotal role although not as strong as the artwork department. The two most prominent aspects are the OST during the fight scenes and the character voice mannerisms. I give praise to Kirie Kotomine, Rin, and Caster for their character portrayals. It is very real to their personalities and to the point. Shirou even gets some praise at times when he makes his effort to what he has to say. Unfortunately, there’s also some bits that can be irritating at times; namely Sakura and her repetitive dialogues or Shinji’s narcissism. The OST is also a great comeback and treat for fans who are in favor of action. Every action sells with even tiny details being incorporated with the battles. This can be easily seen such as Saber being tossed into objects, Shirou being tortured by Rider, or Rin jumping several stories to avoid Lancer’s blows. While not as fantastic as the visual realm, soundtrack is by no means a pushover.

True to its hype, Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is a must-see of the year whether you’re a fan of the visual novel or coming into series as a newbie. There’s much to adapt but the first half captures that very well with the setup. To say the least, this show has that sort of momentum every episode. It is set up and then delivery with the series capitalizing on every opportunity. Along the way, we also get breaks with useful info dumps, humorous gags, and relationship building. The action will no doubt leave you in awe thanks to Ufotable’s technical qualities. Still, there are some characters you may like and some you’ll despise; more people will probably have that decision by the second cour of the show. Characterization is not a masterpiece though and neither does the story offer perfection. There are parts in this series that sometimes will waver off with its mood and peculiar balance. Still, there’s a saying that third time’s a charm and Ufotable hit the bull’s eye on this show. Now, the second half of the series awaits….