Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works – 03/04 Review
She: “Hey, it really seems like you have some deep-seated psychological issues. You wanna talk about it?” He: “Man, if someone I know mentions it, then it must be really bad, right, RIGHT?! I can assure you that it’s not like I had a traumatic experience during my childhood that I refuse to EVER mention. But no, really, everything’s fine, believe me.”
I hadn’t expected to enjoy watching this series this much. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the original anime-series and since I’ve had played the Visual Novel but I still knew most of the plotpoints so I really wasn’t looking forward to this. But this adaptation does a lot of things right in an effort to give Fate/Stay Night a story that’s as good as the one in Fate/Zero. And above all, the visual style does a TON of work in this series to sell its battle-sequences. That part alone makes this already the best adaptation of Fate/Stay Night until now.
I really like this adaptation’s portrayal of her. It really emphasizes her sort-of sociopathic behavior. I’m really curious to see how they will portray her later on in this series.
The weird thing about Fate/Stay Night is that its story would make you expect a lot more action than what the plot actually delivers. After all, the essential story is really just a plot-hook for a ton of flashy supernatural battles, if you think about it. All that exposition, while meaningful, really is just windowdressing for that fact. And yet Fate/Stay Night is stuck with Shirou, some idealistic schmuck – who has NO idea what’s going on. Naturally this leads to him being dragged around by the story so that he can be thrown into whatever mayhem the plot is looking for currently. I mean, I get it, Shirou is supposed to be the stand-in for the audience… well, the male audience mostly of course since he has the chance to bang a chick along the way to becoming a True Man-Hero. The audience doesn’t know what the hell is going on? Well, don’t worry, Shirou doesn’t either! You don’t know why you should care about this Shirou? Don’t worry, he will shout his motivations whenever he’s given a chance to be dramatic. Shirou isn’t really a very compelling character – but this time around, this series actually doesn’t have to give a shit about him.
Naturally if the story’s main-appeal is its supernatural battles then it’s those this series should actually depend on. And with episode three you really could see what a difference it makes for the Fate/Stay Night-plot to have the awesome visual style of all the ufotable/TypeMoon-joints behind it. Those fights actually become really engaging through that compelling visual style. It’s always a mix of slow-mo, speeding up things and these flashy effects whenever magic is happening. On paper most of these fight-scenes should seem kinda chaotic or just dull but there’s a really nice rhythm to them in this case and more than that there’s actual movement. With all these shounen-series out there centered around battles, you’d figure something simple like getting movement right is commonplace but nope, that’s most certainly not the case.
Naturally one of the reasons is a lackluster budget meaning that you can’t afford the number of people needed to animate such a thing and the other thing is time, of course. I mean, if you don’t have the money in the first place then not having the time to animate the whole thing is a given. But even if you have the money to hire the people for the job considering how industrious the whole anime-business is, there’s still a chance that you might have to take a shortcut. It’s stuff like whenever shounen-animes talk about crap like “moving too fast for the eye to see” or have them do these elaborate moves that result in a flashy effect rather than have them organically attack the other character to which the other character has to react in an equally organic fashion. Also, I’m sure that anime-studios are really happy that nonsense like “moving too fast” has become an accepted trope in the genre. At some point in the past it had been stylish and interesting but now it’s just a lazy excuse for not even bothering to think about what stylish battles in animes should look like. In that regard, actually having stylish stuff like what ufotable has been producing in recent years is really important. The average way to portray a battle-sequence should never become the norm. Then again, you could say that applies to all tropes in anime-series actually.
But it’s not just the looks of this series that really stand out. The direction for those action-sequences is quite well-done as well. It’s nothing witty, deep or complex that’s being done here but what you can say about this series’ direction is that it’s efficient. In the third episode when Berserker and Saber fight against each other in the graveyard, Rin and Shirou stand at the side of the forest and Rin talks about how smart Saber’s tactic is and she even goes on to explain the whole thing. It’s once again a case of this series being way TOO talky and even if it isn’t trivial, it’s dull to listen to a lot of talk that’s just there for exposition. But in this case, it’s actually completely acceptable as you actually can see the battle unfolding while Rin comments on it. The series wisely focuses on the spectacle of those supernatural battles and whatever drivel the characters say about the battles is mostly just there for flair. I mean, like in my last example… Does the explanation of Saber’s tactics really matter? There’s no actual plottwist attached to that information and it’s not like Saber’s actions would seem enigmatic without those explanations. The spectacle of the battle just unfolds with or without those explanations. You could really say that when Saber has her little speech about how she can’t converse with Berserker and therefore they should let their actions speak for each other, that’s just as necessary a comment as what Rin’s saying about Saber’s tactics. It’s really only there for the atmosphere and some characterization.
I really like the portrayal of Saber in this adaptation. It’s certainly closer to how she behaved in Fate/Zero rather than the Saber who fell in love with Shirou in the first series.
But Shirou is this series’ main-character… sort-of. And his plot still has all the faults that the original Fate/Stay Night had but only this time around the presence of those gets diminished. Fate/Stay Night is a shounen-series with all the trappings of one. Fanservice-jokes, harems, cheesy romance and just some bullshit in general: The original Fate/Stay Night had it all (along with all the great stuff that made it popular in the first place, of course). Now, this series is less treated like an adaptation of Fate/Stay Night and more like a sequel to Fate/Zero. And the latter had been written by Gen Urobuchi, yep THAT guy. Naturally the tone of Fate/Zero was dark, slightly philosophical and VERY serious. Stuff like some generic audience-stand-in would definitely not work in the world Gen had set up with Fate/Zero. And so there’s less Shirou in this series.
Shirou’s character isn’t great and his annoying qualities range from moping about his past to getting ridiculously self-righteous about his ideals. ‘Likeable’ ain’t what this character striving for, instead he’s just this moralizing pile of whininess. And I really feel like he’s the wrong guy to be the main-character of this story. Three things qualify a character as a hero for a story: He’s either very talented or he has a good motivation to do something or he’s genuinely likeable. You don’t need all three for someone to be a hero but at least one would be nice. But let’s look at Shirou: He can’t do magic and what he can do only becomes important later on. He doesn’t have a motivation to get involved in the Grail War, he more or less just stumbles into it. And he isn’t likeable. Shirou really is basically just a generic anime-protagonist with a bit of appropriate backstory that is there for drama and lame plot-twists like plot-convenient power-ups.
And you can really see how out-of-place Shirou seems in this new more serious version of Fate/Stay Night. He’s just… sort-of there doing his thing. Worse than that, he has no ambition to do something about his situation or to even manage his life in a way that doesn’t bring normal people into it. Shirou who’s supposed to be the main-character is outside the actual conflict that is boiling at the heart of this series’ story. What this leads, too, is a shift of tone in the fourth episode that seems simply dissonant. When his teacher and Sakura decide to sleep at his place because they hear about Saber sleeping at his place, the atmosphere starts to become far more lighthearted. It’s only this tiny little scene in this adaptation but I think that’s even worse. Due to how serious and dark the rest of episode is, moments like these don’t so much alleviate the tension as that they just feel out-of-place in this series. Saber is even giving Shirou a look that clearly says “Don’t you think that this is a bad idea to let them stay here?”. And the thing is: It is! I mean, I know what will happen in this series so I’m not worried or anything but what this shows, I feel like, is that even the hint of such more jokey moments from Fate/Stay Night don’t really have a place in this adaptation anymore. This isn’t the kind of series anymore that would indulge in having jokey characters who could alleviate the tension. This version alleviates tension through the spectacle of its fantasy-battles. Whenever there isn’t some battle happening, the tension is focused on characters not knowing how and from where the enemy could attack.
That very thing also becomes apparent when you look at the Rin-scenes at the end of the fourth episode. I really like how her character gets handled so far, I mean, the characterizations in general are better than they were in the first series. That doesn’t mean that they’ve really become deeper in this version, it’s just that they seem less like the annoying stereotypes that inspired their characters. But the difference between what Shirou is doing and Rin is just absurd. While Shirou deals with a girl and a woman who sort-of get jealous and insinuate that he wouldn’t be able to treat Saber properly, Rin is fighting little creatures sent by Caster and saves some people who got poisoned by her as well. And in the overly-serious atmosphere of this series Rin’s actions seem way more natural than what Shirou is up to. I still think it would’ve been a wiser decision to discard the notion of Shirou being a main-character altogether and focus on Rin and Archer instead.
Episode-Rating: 3rd Episode: 8.0/10 4th Episode: 7.0/10
- That talk Shirou has with his classmate at the school-entrance… I’m not sure if it’s a great way to characterize Shirou indirectly or if it’s a weirdly bad dialogue-scene. I mean, that girl not only asks him whether he would come back to the archery-club but she then proceeds to presumptuously psychoanalyse him for no reason. And it’s really weird that when she mentions how Shirou had been the only one who hadn’t laughed at any of her jokes, he IMMEDIATELY flashes back to his traumatic childhood-event. How bad were her jokes to evoke THAT response?! Was her comedy-routine the equivalent of some comedian riffing a whole fifteen minutes about 9/11? And why was he the only one not finding that stuff not one bit funny…?
- Archer is apparently sexist as he wrongly assumes that only women could hold a grudge when it comes to love.
- One thing that has always disturbed me about the Fate/Stay Night-story: If there’s a whole society of various magician-clans out there who would rather stay in the shadows – why does nobody interfere with the chaotic disregard to secrecy that is present in this story? There can be only so many gas-explosions and freak-accidents happening in the same area around the same time…
Posted on November 3, 2014, in Anime, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Reviews and tagged Anime, Fate/Stay Night, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, reviews. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.