Fate/Stay Night is a bit of a sore spot for me. It's the first time I ever sat down, giddy to watch a certain series and came away scratching my head thinking "this is what all the commotion was about?" But in all fairness, Fate/Stay Night is not a terrible anime, just a very overrated one.
The story takes place in modern-day Japan, revolving around a boy named Shirou Emiya and has reluctant participation in a city-wide battle royale known as the Holy Grail War. While this sounds like a shounen set-up, Fate is rather talkative. Scratch that, Fate is way too talkative for its own good. Boring and pointless conversations about ideals and the ethics of battle get put up front in the first half and the action the premise attempts to indicate is shoved to the background. Fortunately for those of you who turned in for the super-powered free-for-alls, you won't be disappointed too much. There are a handful of extravagant fights, but only a handful.
The second half does its best to reward patient viewers with impressive revelations, some good twists, and an amped-up focus on the war rather than on whether its okay to fight in the war. Unfortunately in its quest to make up for all it wasted early on, Fate ultimately burns out and fizzles through the last few episodes, which unfortunately are constructed to make us think this is some kind of grand climax.
The cast runs the gamut from expendable to enjoyable. Those who watch will surely take not of complacent victim-turned-mage Shirou who does nothing but whine and whine and whine some more for 12 episodes. This is not a biased complaint. He really does complain about his situation that much. He does grow past this, but not enough to prove he's entirely past that part of himself. His servant, Saber, is hardly any better. The silent type for the majority of the series, she does not provide much for conflict or relationships. She's there and she occasionally fights.
The real stars though have to be Rin and Archer. Rin originally serves as an antagonist to Shirou and her blatantly in-your-face personality and no-nonsense attitude gives this series a much needed and appreciated shot of energy. More so, she's one of the more interesting characters, especially when her past is later called into question. Her servant, Archer, is mostly famous for one particular episode, but the episode demonstrates enough of his ability and a revelation about his identity which enables the series to be seen from a second parallel perspective. If it weren't for them, I'd probably have dropped this a few eps in.
Art is often heavy-handed, especially with uses of light and shadow. Both are incredibly exaggerated at all times, often for dramatic purposes, but it only serves to annoy and makes the series look cheaper than it should. The series often cuts corners with long scenery pans, especially in the first part of the series. Fight scenes that aren't interrupted often show where the animation budget went for the series. They're extravagant and jaw-dropping, but only a minute or two each and then the energy drops off once more.
Character designs stay true to the game, inventive and hinting at future revelations. You can tell a lot of time and effort went into them and it shows in spades.
Sound had a few bright points, but it was often unmemorable. Voice work was standard, and the theme music was just below great.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Fate/Stay Night left me wondering what all the commotion was about. It's a very uneven series that shows rays of hope often, but never capitalizes on any of their finer moments. Even more irritating, it never expands on revelations and expects you to go play the game if you want the full story. It's a 24 episode series with an animation budget for 12 episodes and a story that could have been 39 episodes long. You do the math.
Overall, I give Fate/Stay Night a 6 out of 10.