A review for both S1 and S2 with spoilers
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.