9 July 2015

V Reviews: Fate Stay Night Unlimited Cash Cow Milking

The first time I saw Fate / Stay Night, back in 2006, I thought it was amazing. But nearly 10 years of experience with other animes have made me backtrack that initial opinion.

After watching Fate / Zero, I gave that masterpiece a 10/10, but I also started realizing that the original Fate series was not as good as I initially thought.

So after Fate Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works was announced, I was curious as to how the studio behind Fate / Zero would handle an alternate storytelling of the original series? Would it be just as bad, or could they make it better?

Let's find out and get this review on the road!

V Reviews: Fate / Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works TV

A: Backstory

The Visual Novel Fate / Stay Night is by far one of the most successful Visual Novels in existence. With an adapted anime, movie, manga and even the (way better) spin-off Fate/Zero behind our backs, it's no secret that the Fate Franchise is immensely popular.
And Studio Ufotable realizes that.

Meanwhile at Studio Ufotable...

In October of last year, the studio behind both Fate / Zero and the re-release of the Visual Novel have released their latest attempt to milk the Fate Cash cow with: Fate / Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works.

This TV-series (in 2 seasons) is an adaption of the Unlimited Blade Works Route of the Visual Novel and is presented to serve as an extension of both the movie from 2010 and the TV-series of 2006.

Certain moments tend to fill in more blanks than the original TV-series did. This is done in such a way, that this feels more like a sequel of Fate Zero, rather than a sequel to the original series itself. So, in short, UBW is the sequel of the prequel of Fate / Stay Night! Are you still with me? No? Good!

This however brings up the biggest shortcoming that this anime has from the get-go. It was and will remain the "retarded half-brother" of Fate / Zero, as Gigguk once called it. But to the credit of Studio Ufotable, it got a little less retarted this time around. People no longer die when they are killed.

Ufotable realized the serious task they took and did a decent job of adapting the game in a way people wanted to see it. In comparison to the 2006 anime, this story meanders a lot less on "school romance" and focuses more on the action. But there's only so much the anime can improve on a core story that comes from a visual novel.

B: Story

For those who are unfamiliar with the typical Fate set-up, I'll give a brief summary of it.

7 mages fight in a battle royale for the holy grail, which can grant the winner 1 wish. Each of the mages summons a Servant, based on a mythical hero and in 1 of 7 classes (Saber, Lancer, Archer, Caster, Rider, Berserker and Assassin). Both mages and servants duke it out in Mortal Kombat until only one duo remains.

But due to past corruptions of the grail, things have gone a little out of whack and the rule book has been edited behind the scenes as if it was handled by that annoying friend you had as a kid who didn't like the rules of the game.

Our main hero, Emiya Shirou, is an orphaned teenage boy whose home living situation would be described on Facebook as: "It's complicated". His family has gone up in flames 10 years ago, during the events of Fate Zero. His adopted father (Kiritsugu) recently passed away and he's living alone in his house, while being supervised by both the daughter of his landlord (Taiga) and a childhood female friend (Sakura).

And THAT is only the beginning!

At school he uses the little bit of magic he's able to handle, to repair faulty electric devices and electronics. But one evening, after he spend some late hours at school, he comes across a battle of two servants (Lancer and Archer), which is something he wasn't allowed to see according to the rules. The servants spot him and Lancer kills him on the spot. He ends up being revived by Tohsaka Rin, a schoolmate and one of the mages in this Battle Royale.

On Rin's side of the story (yeah, the first 2 episodes focus on both Rin and Shirou respectively), Rin has summoned a servant herself, hoping it would be one of the "saber class". But due to not having a heroic relic to summon a specific hero (or at least, that's what she thinks), she ends up with an amnesiac hero of the Archer class. Both Rin and Archer blame each other for their shortcomings but eventually agree to work together.

While getting used to her new servant, Rin discovers a magical barrier at school. She realizes there might be more than 1 mage at school. After getting rid of the barrier, she ends up being attacked by the Lancer servant. A fight ensues until a baffled Shirou unknowingly enters the battlefield, which enforces Lancer to kill him. This because the rules of the Holy Grail Battle order any outsiders that know of the Holy Grail War should be killed. Rin finds the body of Emiya, who died because he was killed. She uses a unique jewel to revive him.

Shirou wakes up, not realizing Rin saved her and goes home, only to be attacked by Lancer once more (because Lancer noticed he didn't finish the job). Emiya flees into one of the back buildings and incidentally touches a magic circle, left behind by his father and Irisviel back during the events of Fate Zero. Due to plot convenience, the magic circle activates and Emiya ends up summoning servant Saber, who defends him and she fences Lancer off.

Lancer retreats, but before Saber can explain the situation, she notices another servant nearby and goes to attack. That other servant is Archer, together with Rin, who were rushing to Emiya's place because Rin realized that Lancer would "finish the job". A short confrontation ensues, until Emiya stops Saber and both Rin and Shirou spot each other.

Shirou and Rin agree to a temporary ceasefire and Shirou gets an explanation of the Holy Grail War, from both her and the supervisor of the Holy Grail War, the priest Kotomine Kirei. After that, our heroes slowly get into fights with other mages and the plot ensues.

Revealing more would be spoiling the story too much, so I'll leave it at that.

C: Characters

Emiya Shirou
Main hero of the series. He's shown to be righteous and noble, but due to the way he uses those character traits, he actually ends up being a selfish prick at times. This in such a way, he's often cock-blocking Saber's action scenes, rendering her useless.
Tohsaka Rin
The female protagonist and master of Archer. The very definition of a tsundere character. She tries to act tough and stuck-up, but in the end, she's one of the few characters I was actually rooting for.
Shirou's servant. Noble lady who doesn't reveal her past because her identity would give an additional weakness, next to her team-up with Shirou. Due to the low amount of mana Shirou can supply her with, she can never fight at full strength. And Shirou's stubborn self-sacrificing behavior only makes it worse. She can only start to shine due to the events that happen in the second season.
Rin's servant. He's an amnesiac and only slowly starts to recover his memories. He is kind of a selfish prick. In season 2 it's revealed why he's such an asshole (once again, no spoilers).
Kotomine Kirei
The supervisor of the 5th Holy Grail battle. He's a total creep, but he has experienced the previous war firsthand and he's able to get Emiya started as an actual mage in this war.
Shinji Matou
Brother of Sakura Matou and contender of the Biggest Douche in the Universe award. From early on, he's suspected of being one of the "masters" of one of the servants. And while claiming to be a "friend" to Shirou and Rin, he might actually be one of their biggest enemies.

There are more characters in this show, but giving an explanation of them would also spoil the story. That's because one of the few strong points of both the original Fate/Stay Night series as this sequel is the mystery about who the masters and who the servants TRULY are.

D: Adaptation of the source material and comparison to 2006's Fate Stay Night

I have never played the Fate / Stay Night visual novels (not really into visual novels). But from what I caught from the Fate wiki, it seems like a fairly good adaption, with only a few minor scenes added. Correct me if I'm wrong, though.

But there are a few notable things that did change when compared to the original Fate Stay Night anime/route:

  • While Archer only showed who he really was at the end of his story in FSN, here he remembers it pretty quick. This turns into a motivation to seriously kill Emiya.
  • The roles of Sakura and Taiga have been reduced a lot. So much that they hardly appear in the second season at all!
  • While in Fate, the reason was made clear as to why Emiya was able to summon this specific servant, the reasoning is left vague in this route (it's the friggin scabbard).
  • Rider was a major enemy in the original series, with Caster being less of a threat (but a threat none the less). In this series, it's the opposite way around. Caster is the bigger villain here. Also, while Rider's goal is still to win, the means of how to get to the victory vastly differs.
  • Illya's role has been severely cut as well. Though Berserker still has his own epic moment in both series.
  • While Lancer was often ridiculed in Carnival Phantasm for having little to no impact on the story, he's got a more prominent role here. He finally gets his time to shine!
  • Due to the drastically different endings, this series' epilogue is totally different from the original (it's also a full episode). Also, Waver Velvet cameo!

Waver Velvet, the pussy has become a man!

Don't misunderstand me. These are not necessarily things I dislike. These are just some of the major differences between the two different story-lines.

E: Animation & Sound

The animation is almost on par with the stuff Ufotable did with Fate Zero. So, great stuff! Too bad the story setup causes the scenes to be less epic when compared to Fate/Zero, so it's less jaw-dropping to look at.

The sound is of similar quality as Fate/Zero. Which means it's (close to) epic. Considering all fate series have good music, anything less than epic would be a disappointment, though!

F: My problems with this anime

This anime tears me in half. On the one end, I want to like it a lot. The general storytelling and animation are truly great! And the buildup to the climaxes has been done in such a way that this anime is way more exciting than the original anime.

But there are a few major problems with UBW, which causes me to seriously dislike it as well.

  • Both Archer and Shirou are douches. Even more so than in the original series. Archer acts like an asshole during the entire series and Shirou cock-blocks Saber so much, it makes it hard for me to root for him. And the moment when Archer and Shirou finally duke it out, I seriously wished for Gilgamesh to barge in and just destroy the both of them with his Vimana ship from Fate Zero. That's how much I cared about them.
  • It's painfully obvious that this anime has some serious plot holes. Some of them may have been created due to the Ufotable adaptation, but most of the story problems stem from the original source material. The climax of this story has so many holes, it's a frigging Swiss Cheese.
  • I hate deus ex machina endings. Thus I hate the ending of this anime. The end came totally out of left-field, was stupid and made me want to flip a table. Again, this is not Ufotable's fault. This IS the ending as depicted in the UBW storyline. But still, that's some serious BS!

Conclusion and recommendation

The overall feeling I get of this anime is "meh". While I'm a fan of the Fate franchise overall, I wasn't impressed with the end result.

This anime has great visuals, great sound and a better focus on action, rather than school-romance, but it has a protagonist that gets more annoying the more you get into the series, and the story has too many plotholes and a bad ending.

And while certain characters get their moment to shine (Lancer, Berserker and Archer), the screentime of other characters is cut so drastically, you'd almost forget they existed.

Overall, I give this anime a 7.2/10. Why adding a 0.2 to the 7/10 score? Well, because this moment deserve something extra!

Sooo satisfying.

Now, onto the next problem. Which variant of the show would I recommend to watch? UBW has the better buildup of the show and an overall better quality of storytelling and animation. But FSN has a more satisfying ending and less plot holes. And considering it's the end of the show that makes or breaks an anime (*cough*Evangelion*cough*), I would recommend watching the Original series rather than this one.

And if you should watch only 1 Fate series, just skip both Fate / Stay Night series and Watch Fate / Zero instead. Fate Zero remains by far the best Fate Series to date.

Agree with me, or not? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, V out.

PS: I wonder how the movie of the third route (Heaven's feel) is going to be.

On a sidenote: I know, this should've been uploaded last week. Busy schedule = busy schedule. Next post won't take that long.

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