Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works – 03/04 Review

[C12] Fate Stay Night - Unlimited Blade Works - 04.mp4 - 00003She: “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.

_C12__Fate_Stay_Night_-_Unlimited_Blade_Works_-_03.mp4 - 00003I 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.

Review:

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.

_C12__Fate_Stay_Night_-_Unlimited_Blade_Works_-_03.mp4 - 00004I 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

Random Thoughts:

  • 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…

 

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on November 3, 2014, in Anime, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I’ve only seen Zero so far, been looking forward to trying the others but was a bit hesitant. I might have to give this one a shot!

    Like

    • Definitely! The original Fate/Stay Night series is good, too, but nothing exceptional. Although Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack for that series is certainly noteworthy as it’s one of his best alongside the one for the Ghost in the Shell movie. But the tone of Fate/Zero is very different from what the first Fate/Stay Night series is going for and also it has that phenomenal ufotable-style. There was a movie a few years ago depicting the Unlimited Blade Works arc which wasn’t that good due to its limited length. This series, though, is really putting a lot of effort in making this storyline as good as the one in Fate/Zero.

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      • Wow! I didn’t realize quite how many different things there were out there for this series. I originally caught it on netflix. Loved how they included those historical aspects. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to catch the series and I really want to catch the movie now.

        Is it even worth watching the original?

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    • “Wow! I didn’t realize quite how many different things there were out there for this series.”

      It’s not quite at the level of Neon Genesis Evangelion but it’s getting close. After all, there will be a movie in the near future depicting the Heaven’s Feel-arc of the visual novel. The original Fate/Stay Night series is based on the Fate-arc of the visual novel that focuses on the relationship between Shirou and Saber

      In the original Visual Novel you had the usual set-up and then there were three routes to take through various choices. Unlimited Blade Works is one of those routes. Heaven’s Feel certainly is the most interesting of those three routes but it’s one that is VERY dependent on the audience having gotten all the exposition this series has to offer. That’s why previous instalments really have stayed away from this particular route.

      As in regards to the Unlimited Blade Works movie… I don’t know. This series is doing a far better job at selling this route’s story than then the movie did so far. Besides, this storyline certainly has a few juicy spoilers that are quite effective for their surprise-value. So, personally I feel like it’s better to just keep watching this series without watching anything else Fate/StayNight-related.

      About the first Fate/Stay Night series… After having seen the start of this series and having seen a good adaptation of the Fate/Zero-series, I think it would be a difficult transition to go back to this first Fate/Stay Night series. It’s a good series but it tries to compete with other shounen-series rather than trying to chase its own ambitions like Fate/zero and this series do. . .

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  2. Shirou reaction to ayako dialogue actually makes some sense with later plot points about his character, his self judgement about he does not deserve to have fun and coming with conflicts about his ideal had quite a few of his reaction in the Visual novel.

    Since Ufotable cant simply make him monologue about that, they opted for a more shock-value stuff like a moment of PTSD which works fine.

    And about Shirou not being a good character for the story….i will dissagre with that, he is certainly a very conflicted and somewhat complex character who, superficially, seems like your generic shounen protagonist, but he actually has reasons for behaving in this way, reasons that cant be attributed to half-assed stuff like, simply being a nice guy like most of other protags.

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    • “Shirou reaction to ayako dialogue actually makes some sense with later plot points about his character, his self judgement about he does not deserve to have fun and coming with conflicts about his ideal had quite a few of his reaction in the Visual novel.”

      Exactly! And see, I think it would be better to keep something important like that not a secret. Actually understanding what his deal is should be something the story should start with and not something that becomes some sort of revelation at a later point.

      “And about Shirou not being a good character for the story….i will dissagre with that, he is certainly a very conflicted and somewhat complex character who, superficially, seems like your generic shounen protagonist, but he actually has reasons for behaving in this way”

      Sure, understanding Shirou makes him a much more agreeable character – so why doesn’t the story deal with that right away? Seeming like an uninteresting protagonist is the same thing as being an uninteresting protagonist. and that’s something you really shouldn’t want to have in a story.

      Also, above all, I’m trying to review this without bringing knowledge of future events into play too often. I mean, I compare it to my experience of watching the first series but I’m not “filling in the blanks” for what hasn’t been revealed yet at this stage in this adaptation. Simply adding context to this series that isn’t offered by this series but by its source-material instead instead may be useful in understanding why everything that’s happening right now is happening. But from a critical standpoint I feel like one would do this series a disservice to not allow it to tell its story on its own terms and judge it for what it’s doing in that capacity.

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  3. SPOILERS ALERT
    Hi,about your last doubts,my interpretation of that talk with Rin’s friend is that Shiro won’t be able to genuily laught till he resolves his truauma about the fire.

    Saber got offended with Shiro many times when he said some sexist bullshit about her not doing this or that because she is a woman,and since Archer is Shiro no matter how different they are…I’m not hat sorprise.

    I have to agree ,fate/zero did much better with that.

    about Shiro sucking…again,couldn’t agree more.

    Like

  4. One reason I disliked Shirou: the idealism.

    I hate it when people go ranting about justice even after 5 battles. Its annoying.

    Like

  5. “Archer is apparently sexist as he wrongly assumes that only women could hold a grudge when it comes to love.”

    The incense disproportionately affects men rather than women. It’s a fairly specific grudge.

    Like

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