Anime Review: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014)
Director: Takahiro Miura
Studio: Aniplex USA
Availability: On DVD and Blu-Ray
Runtime: 745 Minutes
Ten years after the 4th Holy Grail War that took place in Fate/Zero (2011), Shirou Emiya, adopted son of Kiritsugu Emiya is just an ordinary high school student living his life in Fuyuki City, an amateur mage, he dedicates his life to helping other people, in an effort to become a hero of justice in Kiritsugu's place.
Shirou is dragged into the 5th Holy Grail War after he is attacked by Lancer after he witnesses a duel between two Servants, Lancer and Archer. Rin saves his life after he is killed (a slight spoiler I know, but I have to spoil a little bit!) and after he returns home, he is attacked by Lancer again, and with willpower alone, summons Saber, becoming the Seventh Master in the 5th Holy Grail War.
This is also a remake of the Fate/Stay Night: [Unlimited Blade Works] (2010) movie by Studio DEEN.
During the war, he must come to terms with his borrowed ideals even as circumstances around him constantly deconstruct his desire to become a "hero of justice".
I love this story, just as the prequel series Fate/Zero deconstructed anti-heroes, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works deconstructs typical heroism, particularly the heroes that are often seen in a genre of Japanese anime called Shounen, deconstructing the hero who never gives up and always sticks to his deals no matter what.
I enjoy this anime because it takes a realistic look at supposedly "selfless" heroes, and in any other story, Shirou would be the ideal hero, but in a bleak universe like the Nasuverse, his Chronic Hero Syndrome (a trait that drives both viewers of the anime and readers of the visual novel crazy because Shirou tends to grab the Idiot Ball and never let go in order to save other people) is portrayed as a negative trait rather than a positive one, and I also enjoy the return of my favorite character Saber, even though her role is diminished in this adaptation compared to the first route, known as the Fate Route in the visual novel, or the Fate/Stay Night (2006) adaptation.
A Great Sequel to Fate/Zero:
Fate/Zero was my first exposure to this universe and I loved it, so is Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works a worthy sequel? Yes, it is, it builds on the story, which is an interesting thing to say as the Fate/Stay Night visual novel was published first before Fate/Zero was written. And it continues to tell a fantastic story that I enjoyed very much. It's also a very well told story that became my favorite anime of 2015. I loved the story, the characters and seeing good triumph over evil in a universe where that is something that is very hard to come by, bittersweet ending included.
People constantly say that new viewers should see this anime first, but I didn't see this first, and I love that Fate/Zero built up to this and that this was the big payoff I was waiting for.
Both shows spoil each other, yes, but Fate/Zero gives this anime more context, meaning and weight if you watch it first, and that's why I recommend watching this after watching Fate/Zero.
An Excellent English Dub Cast Again!
Once again, I review the English dub, and this has a pretty tough act to follow as I love the English dub for Fate/Zero. Considering the fact that my favorite characters from that anime are dead, well, a new cast of characters has to fill their shoes, and they have been recast in English compared to the 2006 Fate/Stay Night adaptation.
There's a lot of controversy around the choice of Bryce Papenbrook as Shirou Emiya because he's been cast in a lot of main lead roles in recent years for anime dubs that aren't Funimation, specifically, Sword Art Online which made him recognizable to a large part of the dub fandom, The Seven Deadly Sins, and Durarara!!.
It's not that I think he's a bad voice actor, no, in fact, I love him as Shirou Emiya, but the fact that you can hear him in a lot of popular anime, you tend to get voice actor overload. There's also the fact that he doesn't sound like Noriaki Sugiyama, Shirou Emiya's Japanese Seiyu. But nobody has an English voice that is an exact voice match to Noriaki Sugiyama, but I love Bryce's vocal performance. Granted, he doesn't do near as much screaming as Sword Art Online (the role that broke his vocal chords) or Attack on Titan (the role he soundproofed his house for so the police wouldn't be called because of hearing screams of "I'll kill you!")
He was great as Shirou Emiya, and this is my favorite of his roles that I've heard.
Khari Walgreen is just as wonderful as Saber as she was in Fate/Zero, and she was fantastic once again. I loved her work in this series and she continues to be one of my favorite voice actors. She still gives Saber that wonderful dignified quality that made Arturia Pendragon my favorite character of the Nasuverse and I can't wait until the Heaven's Feel movie gets licensed after it's complete in Japan just so I can see more Saber!
Mela Lee is fantastic as Rin Tohsaka, and even though I didn't mention her in my Fate/Zero review, simply because the voice cast is huge, she does an outstanding job, and this is one of my favorite roles for her, even though I haven't seen a lot of animes she's cast in, I really enjoyed her in Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works.
Kaji Tang replaces Liam O'Brien as Archer because Liam O'Brien had already played Kariya Matou in Fate/Zero, it would be odd to hear him in a completely different role in the sequel, but Kaji Tang did a fantastic job as Archer and I really liked him in this role.
Stephanie Sheh was also great as Illiya Von Einzbern and she pulled off being evil and psychotic very well.
Crispin Freeman is amazing as always, and he's once again voicing Kirei Kotomine.
David Ernest is once again reprising his role as Gilgamesh from Fate/Zero and he does a great job just like he did in Fate/Zero.
Kyle McCartney is stupidly fun as Shinji Matou, he did great, and I did enjoy his voice work, even if Shinji himself is a fantastic idiot. I have high "hopes" for Shinji in Heaven's Feel.
The original Fate/Stay Night (2006) Japanese cast all reprise their roles and even though I haven't watched it in Japanese, fans of the original Seiyus will definitely be happy that the voice cast has returned.
Audio and Subtitles:
English (Reviewed) (Netflix and FunimationNow)
English (Crunchyroll, Netflix, Hulu)
Spanish (Netflix and Crunchyroll)
Portugues (Brasil, on Crunchyroll)
The Animation: Ulimited Budget Works!
The animation is incredible, and I don't just say that I've seen a lot of anime that had terrific animation, but this is some of the best I've seen for a TV anime, Every frame of this series looks lovely, and it's a visual marvel and I love it.
Also, the character designs look great and the animation for the fight scenes. They are some of my favorites in all of media, whether on TV, anime or movies. The animation for the fights alone is worth taking the time to watch this anime, and it's one of those animes that will stand out to me because of its spectacular visuals, and it's one of the best animated series in 2014-2015.
Whatever budget Ufotable had, they definitely know how to make good use of it, the quality never drops throughout the anime and sometimes you can tell when animes cut corners on the animation budget, and none of that happens here, it looks stunning from episode 0 of season 1 to episode 25 of season 2.
If you watch the broadcast version of the anime, you'll notice that some scenes where the brightness fluctuates, that's because Japan has brightness standards after the brightness in a Pokemon episode Electric Soldier Porygon triggered back in 1997, so they have to be careful with the brightness.
I want this in my collection just for the visuals alone, and that's not including all the other reasons I love this anime!
An Unmemorable Soundtrack to Go Along With the Amazing Visuals:
The music sounds nice, but now that I have watched Fate/Stay Night (2006) that this is the "worst" soundtrack of the Fate franchise, not that it sounds "bad", but it's just unmemorable outside of the "EMIYA" track that is a remix of the visual novel soundtrack.
The openings are the "ideal white" by Mashiro Ayano (eps 1-12) and Brave Shine" by Aimer.
The endings are "ideal white" by Mashiro Ayano (ep 0), "Believe" by Kalafina (eps 1-11), "Ring Your Bell" by Kalafina, and:"Ring your Bell (In the Silence)" by Kalafina.
There is an insert song at the last episode of season 1, "THIS ILLUSION" by LiSA, it is a rendition of the first opening for the Fate/Stay Night (2006) anime, it's also the original opening of the visual novel these animes are adapted from, and it's a wonderful rendition of an already beautiful song.
There's also a wonderful insert song called "Last Stardust" sung by Aimer, it comes in at the perfect moment during the series and it's a real standout track.
The other songs in the soundtrack are remixes of songs in the original visual novel and I love Hideyuki Fukasawa renditions of the original songs.
Will you watch Fate.Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014)?
A Lot of Info Dumping Once Again:
Since I'm done gushing about what I loved about this anime, I must once again point out the flaws of my favorite anime of 2015.
Once again, being a visual novel adaptation, the anime has a great deal of information dumping, or info dumping throughout the anime, it's very dialogue heavy and you have to pay attention because there is a lot of exposition and plot related conversation.
The lack of Shirou's inner monologue is also something the director and writers forgot to put into this adaptation, and that doesn't help the story because the visual novel is originally Shirou's inner thoughts and observations as these events occur. The director also fails to understand Shirou's character completely and flanderizes his desire to become a hero of justice.
The story can feel bogged down by all the dialogue but it is worth watching the anime, but not everyone will be able to sit through all the conversations.
Shirou's Chronic Hero Syndrome Is Mistaken for Sexism and Drives Viewers Crazy!
Shirou Emiya splits the Fate fandom, as he has a major case of Chronic Hero Syndrome and even though his beliefs and ideals are dconstructed throughout the anime, some fans believe that Shirou is sexist.
I believe that Shirou is mistaken for being sexist, as his belief that he must save everyone causes him to try to do so too often, and many times the people he tries to save are female. Specifically, he tries to rescue Funji-nee his guardian and Saber his female Servant. There are also complaints about the lack of strong female leads, I find that ridiculous when we have Saber and Rin, who are both competent characters, it doesn't matter that they are female, they are great characters themselves.
Shirou's Chronic Hero Syndrome also can grate on viewers because he tends to forget common sense if it means he'll be able to save someone, and not everyone will like that about him.
This Anime is Even More Expensive than Fate/Zero!
Just as it's predecessor, Fate/Zero, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014) costs a pretty penny to buy, at about $79.99 for 13 episodes, it's not inexpensive to purchase, and makes the anime less accessible to collectors, while it's worth every penny, $79.99 per DVD set and it's not one of those things that is easy to get a hold of. The Bliu-Ray costs $180.00 and it's definitely aimed at collectors.
Rin's Tsundere Tendancies Drives People Crazy!
Rin's mood swings, they'll drive the audience crazy, just as much as, or if not more than Shirou's Chronic Hero Syndrome, if you never understood the term Tsundere, you will after watching this anime.
The fact that her moods are always all over the place, it can be grating on people, but she's not a bad character, but they don't call her "Tsundere Queen" for nothing.
It's not that she's a bad character at all, but her other traits are overshadowed by her temper, it's like Relient K wrote the song "Mood Rings" for her.
There is violence in this anime It's mainly melee fighting between Heroic Spirits. characters use magic attacks and knives and swords. There is also blood and some gore, but it's mainly all the fighting.
There's also some stronger profanity, but not that often.
Surpasses Fate/Zero, but Still Has The Same Flaws:
I love Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014), it has everything that I loved from Fate/Zero but gave it a much more triumphant ending and it was a joy to watch the main character, Shirou Emiya accomplishes his ideals and surpasses Kiritsugu Emiya to become a hero of justice.
The writing is solid, the story compelling and the characters are very well written. The animation is gorgeous and the fights are some of the best I've ever seen. Despite the flaws that split the fandom of Shirou Emiya the main lead, he's still one of my favorite characters. I'll be picking up Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014) for my DVD collection.
Even Better on DVD and Blu-Ray!
The DVD I bought from Amazon.co.uk because domestic releases for this anime in the U.S. are so expensive looks great. The visuals are improved and there are even extra scenes that weren't in the broadcast version of the anime so it's definitely worth buying if you import from the U.K.!
What Doesn't Work:
The compelling, story, setting and characters
More Info dumping
The animation is stunning
Shirou's Chronic Hero Syndrome is grating and mistaken for Sexism
Voice acting in either language is terrific
The music sounds nice, but it is unmemorable outside of watching the anime
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014) is a fantastic story, it has many things that I love, deconstruction, heroes, villains and a wonderful tale to tell us. I love the characters, the animation, the music, the voice acting and everything about this franchise, and the only reason I don't have it on DVD right now is I need to save up money for a new gaming/video editing Desktop PC.
It's well worth it to watch, but it's expensive to buy, but totally worth picking up for your DVD or Blu-Ray collection.
The first part in the Heaven's Feel Trilogy, Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel I: Presage Flower (2017) has been released on DVD and blu-ray in Japanese with English subtitles with the English dub coming to theaters June 5th and 7th, 2018. The second movie Lost Butterfly will be released in 2018! The alternate universe spin-off Fate/Apocrypha (2017) and another spin-off Fate/Extra: Last Encore (2018) is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
You can also read my guide, "How Do You get into Fate/Stay Night?" for watch order recommendations.
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