Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Bladeworks Part 1 (Episode 0-12) (Cert 15)
3 Discs DVD/4 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 377 minutes approx.
One has to wonder if Type Moon had any idea their visual novel Fate/Stay Night would go on to rival Neon Genesis Evangelion in the anime remake/reboot stakes? Adapted as a series by Studio DEEN in 2006, the disappointment from hardcore fans led to them trying again with a feature length film which did more harm than good.
Luckily for the fans Unfotable decided to see if they could do it justice, this time beginning at the beginning with a prequel Fate/Zero which was better received all round. This brings us to attempt number three at bringing the original Fate/Stay Night story to life. Can Unfotable succeed where DEEN floundered?
The central story shouldn’t really need another detailed recap but for anyone coming into this for the first time, a quick summary reads thus: A war for the mystical Holy Grail is contested by magical being called Servants who fight on behalf of humans gifted with magical powers called Magi. Controlled by command seals on the hands of the humans, this Master and Servant combo stands to win the chance to have any wish fulfilled.
At least that much has remained the same in this adaptation, whilst the aforementioned film of the same title took many liberties with some of the details, presumably for expedience sake. Unfotable have a two-cour series at their disposal, affording them a deeper exploration of the characters and the various machinations of this fantasy battle royale.
Returning fans will find Unfotable have kept the mood mostly dark and serious compared to DEEN’s original series, in keeping with the sombre and unnerving brutality of its predecessor Fate/Zero. The only notable examples of frivolous nonsense once again comes courtesy of immature schoolteacher Taiga Fujimura but her antics have been toned down significantly from her earlier incarnation.
The lead cast haven’t changed – Rin Tohsaka gets her own prologue episode, having featured briefly in Fate/Zero, while the story begins properly with the introduction of Shiro Emiya, putting us back on familiar ground. Both of these episodes are double length affairs, as is the closing chapter in this set, explaining the long run time for what reads as a regular episode count.
Shiro is suffused with latent magical powers which is why the Holy Grail wars means nothing to him until he inadvertently witnesses Rin’s Servant Archer fighting with another servant Lancer. In trying to escape Lancer’s attention, Shiro accidentally summons Sabre through his command seal and becomes his Servant.
Priest Kirei Kotomine, Lancer’s Master, is still overseeing the Holy Grail war on behalf of the church, while other Servants remain prominent, such as the dangerous Caster (back to being female again after undergoing a gender change in the movie) whose role is increased dramatically here. This may be due to Unfotable adapting a different route from the visual novel than the one DEEN chose, but so far, much of the plot is rather similar.
One thing that will never change about this franchise is its excessive verbosity. If anything makes this show a less then enticing prospect at times, it is the fact that some episodes are often dedicated wholly to info dumps or exposition. When not revealing another secret, lost memory or conveniently overlooked rule of the war, there is plenty of discourse on tactics and bond strengthening.
To call this franchise garrulous is akin to calling Boris Johnson a complete buffoon – i.e: it abuses the privilege. Plenty of patience is required when watching this show as quite often these lengthy passages of discussion and ponderous exchanges, not all of them entirely congruent, often making an episode feel longer than it actually is.
It is to the creators’ credit that the characters are well developed and engaging enough to lessen the endurance resolve required for this arduous ear bending but by how much will be subjective. Thankfully the dichotomy of Shiro’s natural altruistic instinct to help anybody in need and Rin’s snooty self belief and tsundere loftiness, creates a dynamic missing from conversations between the darker cast members.
Yet the big draw for this series, as anyone who witnessed Fate/Zero will be the visuals and Unfotable have clearly poured every resource available to them into this production, delivering a veritable feast for the eyes. A mixture of CG and 3D animation, the swooping camerawork and immersive POV shot chase sequences are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the eye watering delights on display here.
The incredible detailing of the backgrounds and locations is gloriously rich and vibrant, whether it be the ominous night skies and the neon lit vistas of the city, or the warmth and comfort of a cherry blossom or temple veranda during the day. Buildings are replicated with meticulous attention paid to the minutiae, while the fantasy worlds that haunt the dreams and nightmares of the cast are overcast with vivid demonic hues evocative of classic gothic horror excesses.
Providing the ultimate showcase for the technological advances since 2006, the battle sequences are unquestionable exhilarating work of beauty. Movements are fluid and brisk and each weapon is essentially given its own personality through the rendering and representation of its abilities, from Sabre’s mist sword to Archer’s laser like arrows.
At this halfway stage, seasoned Fate fans who think they might know where the story is heading may find the odd curve ball thrown at them. Some important names have yet to be discussed in this review – for example, Illyasviel von Einzbern and her behemoth Servant Berserker. So far their presence has been brief if pivotal but the teaser for the next season suggests we’ll be seeing more of them.
The bar has certainly been set as far as Fate/Stay Night adaptations go and even if you think you know it all, Unlimited Bladeworks will challenge that while offering new fans an intense and involved spectacle to get their teeth into.
Part two has a lot to live up to.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 3 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Blu-ray Collector’s Edition
Limited Edition Box
Season One Key Art Poster
Four Command Seal Stickers
24 Page Artbook
Rating – ****
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