Anime Reviews: Fate/Stay Night 2014
Boasting some of the best animation to ever grace the small screen, Unlimited Blade Works is an intense and bold series that far surpasses its source material.
Title: Fate/Stay Night 2014 a.k.a. Fate/Stay Night [Unlimited Blade Works]
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 10/4/2014 to 12/17/2014, and 4/4/2015 to 6/27/2015
Age Rating: 13+ (strong violence, mild language)
Summary: In Fuyuki City, Japan, under the darkness of night, Rin Tohsaka begins preparations for the Holy Grail War--a proxy battle in which seven Mages summon heroes from myth and legend to compete for the Holy Grail, which will grant a single wish to the victor--but the Servant she summons cannot remember his own identity, though he pledges to fight alongside her. When her Servant, Archer, encounters a rival Servant, Lancer, a fierce battle begins that is inadvertently witnessed by Rin's stubbornly selfless classmate, Shirou Emiya. Lancer strikes the unwanted spectator and leaves him for dead, but Rin arrives just in time to save him--that is, until later that night when Shirou encounters Lancer at his home. A desperate escape into his workshed proves fortuitous for Shirou, as in his time of need, he miraculously summons a Servant of his own: a radiant young swordswoman of the Saber class. Now dragged into this conflict, Shirou sets forth to win the war and save as many lives as he can!
The Good: Surpasses both the source material and the 2010 film in every conceivable way...
The Bad: ...though many of the same nagging little issues linger
The Ugly: Rin's face looks just a bit off, if you ask me
Let me set one thing straight: I have very mixed feelings about the Fate franchise: Fate/Zero is what I would consider my favorite anime of all time, Fate/Stay Night 2006 was an abhorrent train wreck, and Unlimited Blade Works 2010 was a fun, albeit flawed, little action flick. The visual novel itself begins with an atrocity that is the single worst piece of fiction I've ever read (the "Fate" route), segues into a half-decent popcorn-muncher action story that spawned the 2010 film and this series, and finally ends with the legitimately great "Heaven's Feel" arc, which I would feel comfortable placing in the same league as Fate/Zero. And aside from that, I couldn't be arsed to bother with the incomprehensible word salad that is the rest of the Fate franchise. Now, you should have my general feelings on the subject as background information for this review, because I feel that it's important.
Naturally, I was rather apprehensive at the news that ufotable was going to do an adaptation of Fate/Stay Night--after all, they seemed to excel at dark urban fantasy titles like Kara no Kyoukai and Fate/Zero, so I was worried that they'd be squandering their talent on trash like the 2006 series when they could be doing better things. It was around this time that I finally powered through the visual novel (through sheer force of will at first, and then genuine interest later on), and so I thought, "Oh hey, maybe they'll adapt Heaven's Feel. That sure would be in line with ufotable's usual output." But nope! It was "Unlimited Blade Works" they were covering. Needless to say, I was a tad disappointed, especially since Studio DEEN had already covered this ground before. So was this adaptation/remake worth it in the end? Well, yeah! Of course it was! And now I shall explain why!
First of all, holy CRAP that animation! LOOK!! AT!! IT!! AAAAAGGGHHHHH!! In this scene, all ufotable had to do was establish three things: these Servants fight with superhuman abilities, they have special attacks based on their true identities, and that Saber has incredible battle intuition that can save her hide. And they went completely all-out to deliver an action scene that puts a lot of films to shame...and this is a TV series! There's a reason this anime is jokingly referred to as "Unlimited Budget Works," after all--every piece of animation is treated with loving care, and when you get to an action scene, you'd better believe it's gonna be pants-crappingly gorgeous. Couple this with ufotable's reliably-lavish artwork and their ability to include CGI that actually doesn't look intrusive, and your eyes will receive a treat they won't likely forget.
Sound-wise, Unlimited Blade Works is no slouch, especially compared to the original visual novel, which already had great music and voice acting (one of the strongest and more consistent aspects it had). Booming, ominous brass sections interlaced with electronic beats and thundering bass sprinkle the action sequences to add to them the intensity they demand. Not to mention the various theme songs used throughout are (in my opinion) miles and miles better than the ones used for the visual novel. First opener "Ideal White" sets the tone with an upbeat tempo and soft piano keys to represent the peaceful daytime segments, then launches into an energetic chorus to replicate the desperation of the chaotic fights we'll be witnessing--oh, and of course, the visuals are top-notch as well. Get used to that.
Second opener "Brave Shine" displays more of the darkness that comes in the latter half, with a more somber and melancholy tune that has become my favorite of the bunch. Both ending themes, "Believe" and "Ring Your Bell," are performed by Kalafina, so of course they're amazing and I don't need to elaborate any further there. Add to that great sound design and the same high-caliber voice acting as the visual novel, and your ears may be as pleased as your eyes during your viewing experience. Oh, and for all you fans of the visual novel out there, they also include a special version of LiSA's "This Illusion" halfway through the series. And it's pretty great, too, so you've got that to look forward to.
While action is the main focal point of the "Unlimited Blade Works" route, its story and characters were not without their merits. Not the greatest stuff ever written, but it was decent enough to keep me interested. And then ufotable decided they could improve that, and boy did they ever. With some skillful paring down on the more annoying aspects of the characters while refining the traits we actually like about them, and some fun nods to Fate/Zero here and there, many of these characters went from being incredibly annoying to downright sympathetic. Hell, as an example and without giving away too much, I hated Ilyasviel in every incarnation of the franchise until halfway through this series, where some important backstory and major events made me completely ashamed for ever feeling that way about her. That's an impressive 180 to pull with your characters, ladies and gentlemen.
Even Shirou--who I've gone on endlessly about, all over the internet, for being one of the most infuriating characters ever created--is an okay guy I can get behind in this series. If that's not evidence of an immense improvement over the original visual novel, I don't know what is. All in all, in basically every aspect I can think of (aside from the lack of the convenient Status page!), Fate/Stay Night 2014 just blows the original "Unlimited Blade Works" out of the water, and even the 2010 film can't hold a candle to it. Even the final episode is full of interesting, new, and clever scenes that enrich the setting and give the fans a lot of fantastic references and moments. In ufotable's capable hands, everything has been hammered out and refined and fixed and polished to greatness.
...Then again, to contradict what I just said, there are still a few glaring issues present in the original story that still bleed through to this new adaptation. First off, there were a lot of dumb deus-ex-machina moments throughout the visual novel (as a whole, really, not just "Unlimited Blade Works") that still occur here; Caster retreating when victory is in her hands, for example. That's kinda annoying. I was really hoping ufotable would add some more logical explanations for moments like these, but alas, such is not the case. It doesn't happen too terribly often, but you'll be irked each time it does.
I also take umbrage to the many, many, many times the series spoils its own Big Reveal. Around the three-quarters mark of the story (episode 20 or so in the series), a major truth is finally unveiled--the truth of Archer's identity, in fact--and it's important for a twist like this to have some clues dropped along the way to reward us for figuring it out ahead of time, but both the visual novel and this series drop way too many clues. It should be two or three, guys, not two or three dozen! As a result, what should've been a shocking reveal is instead greeted with a "We know, already! Just get on with it!" from the audience. And that's just lousy. And it's a shame, too, because it's a twist worth being surprised at, but neither the visual novel nor this series seems to want to surprise you with it--in fact, only the 2010 film treats it like the twist it is! How weird is that?
Anyway, long story short, Fate/Stay Night 2014 has a few problems, but they're overshadowed by the many things it not only does right, but improves upon its source material with. If you're a Type-Moon fan already, I don't really need to convince you--if you somehow haven't already seen this series, then you're probably going to eventually, and you're going to love it--but for those outside of that group, I would definitely recommend this series if you're looking for an exciting action series with a little more depth than you would expect from a popcorn-muncher like this. You'll get more out of it if you read the original visual novel and/or watch Fate/Zero first, in my opinion, but there's enough explanation of the world and its rules that it's not mandatory. If this looks even remotely interesting to you, then by all means, it's exactly what it looks like, and you'll probably have a great time with it.
Final Score: 8 out of 10. Though some of the same irritating little problems persist from its source material, Fate/Stay Night 2014 nevertheless exceeds the original in every other aspect, delivering an action-packed story backed by interesting characters and some of the most mesmerizing animation you'll ever see from a TV series.