Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works – 06/07 Review
Despite these words, this whole scene actually glorifies Eastern swordplay and Western swordplay merely gets represented in a “Hey, I can keep up, sort-of!”-way.
The more I see of this series, the more I’m reminded of why I liked the first Fate/Stay Night series when I still thought of it as a really good shounen-show. But with the success of that first series, this whole thing has become a franchise and it’s one of the rare few that spawned a prequel that’s better than the original. Ultimately Fate/Zero got an adaptation that thanks to ufotable clearly showed off its strengths. Now returning to Fate/Stay Night, despite ufotable’s involvement, clearly shows that the whole franchise wasn’t as strong right from the start as you would think about watching Fate/Zero. I still think it would’ve been way better to radically alter Fate/Stay Night’s storyline by like for example making Rin the main-character instead of Shirou. Instead we get an episode like these two that highlight how flawed the writing and storyline of Fate/Stay Night is.
That sort of cinematography sucks! The ‘camera’ is SO far removed that you barely see the characters in it and nothing in that shot offers some meaningful context for why we’re looking at the characters from this bird-eye-perspective.
I think, the best thing you can say about this series is that it’s the best Fate/Stay Night adaptation right now but the worst thing you can say is that it’s still Fate/Stay Night. It’s based on a visual novel without with the aspirations to become the popular piece of fiction it has become since. And so, this visual novel is generic and flawed in ways that are really only suited for a typical Visual Novel. For all its efforts to be more like Fate/Zero, this series still tries too hard to be like Fate/Stay Night. Let’s make it clear: Fate/Stay Night’s writing isn’t that great. Just as an example take this dialogue between Archer, Caster and (sort-of) Shirou at the start of episode 07 which lasts for three minutes:
Archer (to Caster): From what you’ve said your (Assassin’s and Caster’s) masters work together?
Shirou: Work together?!
Archer (to Shirou): Yes… Assassin guards the gate and Caster lurks within. Isn’t it obvious that those two are allied? It isn’t particularly unusual. For example, you and Rin have joined forces.
Caster: Me? Work with that dog? With Assassin, who is no more than a pawn?
Archer: Your pawn?
Caster: Yes. That dog has no master, you see.
Archer: (angry) Caster, you broke the rules!
Caster: (bemused) What’s wrong with a mage like me summoning a servant?
Shirou: Caster summoned Assassin, a Servant? (while swichting back to Saber and Assassin in front of the temple-gate) You’re saying a Servant summoned another Servant?
Archer (to Shirou): That gatekeeper there, not summoned by a proper Master, is not the true Assassin. (now switching back to Archer, Shirou and Caster) She broke the rules and summoned an Assassin-class-Servant by herself. Establishing this as her territory, she harvests souls from people in the city. She herself doesn’t fight, but monitors the fights with borrowed eyes throughout the city. The three knight-classes, which include Saber, aren’t as affected by magic. It’s only natural for a magic-user class such as yourself to resort to such underhanded tactics. But was it not your own volition to do so, Caster?
Caster: What makes you say that?
Archer: Master and mages. If one summons a mage more powerful than oneself, one would be on guard, even with command-seals. Given that, it’s hard to believe a Master would let you summon a Servant to obey you. In which case, I can imagine you’ve long since made a puppet of him, similar to this fool of a Master behind me.
Caster: Winning the Grail War would be a simple matter. My considerable effort is directed to what comes afterwards.
Archer: Oh, defeating us is simple, you say? This from a witch who does nothing but slink in shadows?
Caster: (angry) In this place, you may not so much as scratch me. To those who call me a witch, I shall deal the appropriate punishment.
Archer: Not even a scratch, you claim? Then how about one blow? If that will not suffice, I will leave you to Saber.
That’s bad writing. This exchange is neither very entertaining nor very interesting. And yet, that’s the prevalent style within the series to evoke an air of meaningfulness and drama. This series may be able to handle its tone correctly but in terms of style and meaning, it just doesn’t deliver.
The first thing that’s noticeable in those first three minutes of the scene is just how much they have to talk about. Those characters talk for THREE minutes! Now read that dialogue again and you will realize that the only thing they really do in those three minutes is establishing that Caster has summoned an Assassin-class Servant of her own, that she has enslaved her own Master and after that Caster basically challenges Archer to a fight. A dialogue in the spirit of pragmatism with those goals would be like this:
Archer: Have you allied yourself with the Master of Assassin, Caster?
Caster: Me? Heavens, no! I’ve summoned that Assassin-Servant myself!
Archer: What Master would allow his Servant…?!
Caster: ‘Master’?! My Master is that in title only! I’m the true Master! And I will win the Grail-War!
Archer: Easier said than done, I would say.
Caster: Oh, do you think of stopping me, Archer? You’re at the center of my web! Little flies like you will find nothing but death here!
Archer: Let’s find out!
There, done! That’s all it would take to convey those points! And yet, that isn’t the version this episode has chosen. It’s obvious that the scene lacked brevity but why? The first reason why the writing of this series is so lackluster is its story. I’ve said in my reviews before how necessary all that tiresome lengthy exposition is and it’s because of scenes like this one. In this scene an idea is established and the idea is that a rule is getting broken by one of the participants of the Grail-War. Well, naturally you could say something witty like “Exceptions prove the rule.” but this is more about honoring an agreement. Caster isn’t so much just showing that the rule isn’t absolute but what she’s doing is being a criminal.
In that regard one has to remember that this Grail-War is one with a mythology and with traditions. It’s an age-old tradition between various mage-clans to battle over the Grail. And it’s supposed to be a somewhat fair battle between mages and their Servants to have a lethal contest of power and wizardry. Also, these Servants are Heroic Spirits which means they are meant to be idealistic people who strive for a greater good (or bad, depending on their personal preferences). It is a contest of ambitions, guile and willpower. In an honest contest between somewhat good magicians the Grail-War probably would’ve been nothing more than a chivalrous tournament. And so Fate/Stay Night tries to establish this with exposition… JUST exposition. That’s the first mistake right there. A rather obvious one as it’s just the good ol’ ‘show, don’t tell’-thingy.
I really hope that surprisingly Rin and Shirou won’t fall in love with each other in this version of the Unlimited Blade Works storyline… because right now a romance between the two wouldn’t be very convinciing. Rin is just a typical tsundere and Shirou is… well, Shirou. That isn’t a very strong setup for a romance!
Here’s the second mistake: As far as the Grail-War is concerned, Fate/Stay Night is all about chaos. Nothing works as intended. People who shouldn’t become Masters become Masters, the Grail-War doesn’t remain in the shadows and the list of the rules that are being broken goes on and on. That isn’t the Grail-War it’s supposed to be – at all. But how does the audience learn of this? Exposition and apparently, it’s necessary to spend A LOT of time on each individual point of exposition instead of indulging in the produced action.
That brings me to the third mistake: The idiotic dialogue. I’m not insulting the dialogue as a whole but it’s such lazy writing to have characters act like idiots for the sake of explaining things. Just take this simplified version of the beginning of the dialogue:
Archer: You two work together?
Shirou: Work together?!
Caster: He’s my pawn, nothing more!
Archer: Your pawn?
Caster: Yes, he’s my pawn.
Archer: You broke the rules, Caster!
Caster: What’s wrong with that?
Shirou: Assassin’s Caster’s pawn?
Archer: He’s not the true Assassin. But you acted on your own, right, Caster?
Caster: Why do you say that?
Archer: No Master would allow this.
Caster: But I can win the Grail War.
Archer: I don’t believe you.
Caster: I’m stronger than you.
Archer: I don’t think so.
There are a lot of notions of what constitutes a REALLY dramatic dialogue here that are also supposed to be kinda cool. Rhetorical questions, incredulity, stoic seriousness and exuberant arrogance. It’s all there for this dramatic interaction but it’s used in a way that’s more obnoxious than enjoyable. First of all, everything Shirou’s saying in this scene isn’t only superfluous, it’s also REALLY annoying. The one thing that’s worse than someone not being able to follow a dialogue is someone repeating various points of the dialogue as a question with an incredulous tone in his voice. Every time, Shirou opens his mouth, he’s basically acting as the avatar of the script shouting at the audience “GET IT?!”. The annoying thing about this is how Shirou doesn’t really deduces new facts from what is being said or even has something insightful to say, he’s literally just occasionally repeating the highlights of the dialogue between Archer and Caster. That’s fucking stupid! Shirou is a character who should have more to contribute to a scene than just THAT!
The other annoying habit of this scene is answering questions with questions. For fuck’s sake, that stuff is the worst! Even worse is that it’s not always even questions that relate to each other. In the simplified version above you can clearly see how stupid the barebones of this dialogue are. At least every second line is a question which means this is a dialogue where Archer interrogates Caster and she constantly asks him why he asks her those specific questions while Shirou is constantly spurting out rhetorical questions about how he doesn’t get what is going on. Archer and Caster don’t even talk to each other, if you think about it! In a more intelligent show this would be a great setup but here this means we’re watching three minutes of establishing a few tidbits of exposition while setting up a fight-sequence. This is a scene that severely tests the audience’s patience with its bullshit-writing!
This series seems to believe that its story is its strongest point. All this exposition is a setup for plottwists – or at least that’s what the series thinks it’s doing when it pulls shit like ‘Caster summoning a Servant’ out of its ass. But the story isn’t that powerful because it’s tied to Shirou who simply doesn’t know what the hell is even going on. And the plot isn’t that powerful because it ties itself to the dramatic arc of Shirou who only gradually gets pulled into this Grail-War and it’s always him at the center of the action. This isn’t an all-out war where multiple Masters fight against each other in a chaotic battle royale, no, it’s always about Shirou and how he gets pulled into the action or jumps right into it for some stupid reason. What this series should be about, are characters. In a story that is all about chaos and a plot that almost randomly creates incidents as much as it actually follows up on consequences characters are the glue that hold all of it together. Here, we come back to another problem I’ve already talked about: Shirou can be a great character but he isn’t one. At the end of the day this series may do its best in adapting Fate/Stay Night but it doesn’t do enough to improve it.
- The cinematography of this series is generally hit-or-miss. The fight-scenes are usually VERY good and those scenes are certainly the high points of each episode. But the quiet scenes aren’t always as atmospheric as they could be. In the dialogue I primarily talked about in the review, you can see this by how the ‘camera’ got either way too close, by either showing only small parts of one character or just show one character (who wasn’t necessarily the one who was talking right now) or by offering such wide shots that the characters don’t feel like the focus of the shot anymore and NOTHING is replacing that focus. You just stare at a lot of empty, static backgrounds while tiny characters move about and spout dialogue that makes you feel disconnected from the situation (because the audio of the voices naturally doesn’t accommodate for such a wide shot).
- Talking of audio… The soundtrack of this series feels like a rehashed version of the Fate/Zero-one. And it’s used in a very minimalistic way in this series. The sound-design of the fight-scenes is stellar, though. The attacks feel like they have weight and when a Servant uses a special move it actually feels threatening. The animation does its part, too, of course… Like I said, the fight-scenes are the highlights of this series.
- Also, to reinforce the idea of how foolish it is to focus on the story considering Fate/Stay-Night’s storyline… What the hell is even going on right now?! It’s just this mess of an incident-laden plot that slovenly moves towards its third act where it can start getting serious and do shit in terms of character-developments and drama in general. Just looking at how the sixth episode showed Shirou was kidnapped by Caster and then rescued by Archer surprisingly, you’d figure something would happen. But then you look at the seventh episode and it’s just this talky sleepwalk towards a stalemate that doesn’t resolve anything.
- Well, nearly anything… Shirou wants to get serious about his training with Saber which… he wasn’t before…? The way this series portrayed it, Shirou seemed pretty dedicated to me which is fitting considering his background. But they pulled the same shit like when Shirou entered an alliance with Rin AGAIN while the series acted like it had delivered some sort of surprising development.
Posted on November 24, 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. 13 Comments.