Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Bladeworks Part 2 (Episode 13-25) (Cert 15)
3 Discs DVD/4 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 308 minutes approx.
Before you begin this second half of this latest retelling of the Fate/Stay Night saga, you may once again need to revisit the first volume to refresh your memory with a comprehensive reminder of the main facets of the story, as we dive right back into the action without a recap.
A quick overview of the plot for the sake of this review – The Fifth Holy Grail War is being fought among a select group of people bestowed with magical power called Mages, who can call upon Servants to do battle on their behalf. Currently at the heart of the battle are Shiro Emiya and his servant Sabre and Rin Tohsaka, whose servant is Archer, who are facing off against a rogue servant named Caster.
Picking up the story, we find Rin and Shiro forced into a coalition to tackle Caster, whose history and true identity is soon revealed. With this, Archer betrays Rin and stands alongside Caster and her master Soichiro Kuzuki, having separated Rin from her command seal that ties her to Archer. Rin continues to fight the War without a Servant, reaffirming her pact with Shiro and Sabre.
In order to counter the newly formed force of Caster and Archer, Rin suggests they solicit the help of Illyasviel von Einzbern and her behemoth Servant Berserker. But before an alliance can be formed, trouble arrives in the shape of the sadistic Shinji Matou, who, having lost his Servant Rider, has now formed a bond with a new and more dangerous Servant, Gilgamesh.
With the first volume laying the foundation for the Holy Grail Wars with its prolix info dumps and character introductions, this concluding part is far more action focused, but not completely immune from taking a breather for the odd historical flashback or garrulous mid-fight bout of verbal diarrhoea.
Revelations and plot developments come thick and fast, some which change the entire complexity of the battles with unlikely alliances being formed and broken, heinous betrayals and a swift and decisive excising of many cast characters as we head towards the conclusion. In terms of surprises as to who prevails, the main protagonists have been spotlighted since the start, making the journey more about their survival than their victory.
The prize of the war, if you recall, is that a Servant will have a wish granted by the Holy Grail, something which has hitherto been an avoided subject. With the playing field narrowing down at every step, the wishes of the cast are now revealed and as you might suspect, they sit somewhere between ideology, atonement, altruism and villainy. Yet, by the end, the aim becomes preventing a victory as opposed to scoring one.
Cue the blood and gore soaked carnage in some of the most graphic killings seen in an anime, making the 15 certificate awarded to this release feel very generous. One character, who it is revealed possesses the Holy Grail’s vessel within them, suffers a particularly gruesome demise at the hands of Gilgamesh that I’m sure will make even the most hardened gore fans wince.
Elsewhere the old Japanese sexual misogyny rears its ugly head in a couple of instances which make for uncomfortable viewing. First when Sabre is captured by Caster, she is stripped to her undergarments, bound and put into a position described as “provocative” for reason we are glad not to discover; later Rin is bound to chair a beaten by Shiro, he then salaciously pervs over her with only one thing on his mind.
Thankfully these are isolated incidents; as anyone knows the women in this series are by and large independent, strong willed and righteous, very much capable of taking care of themselves. Rin may wear a short skirt for aesthetic thrills (except in the epilogue episode where she is dressed as close to fan service as you can get while remain chaste) but is major driving force of the story, through her grit and determination.
Shiro began the series as a meek and polite boy who can’t turn down a request, staying true to this characteristic despite the horrors he witnesses and is part of, more often than not suffering himself through his selflessness. Meanwhile as his nascent mage skills improve he becomes a more confident fighter, perhaps a little foolhardy but still intent on being a fighter for justice. This ideal is explored through arguably one of the more bewildering and problematic plot twists, but this is a fantasy series so it is what it is.
As alluded to above, the script isn’t afraid to make sacrifices of key character to further the story and while the triumvirate of Shiro, Rin and Sabre remain the focus they are not exempt from being seriously wounded, captured or find their capabilities limited. Every victory comes at a price even if it isn’t a direct loss for them and more often than not, they find themselves on the back foot when a foe gains a greater advantage.
Once again the visuals are very much a key part of the enjoyment of this series and it is no exaggeration to declare this one of the best looking shows you’ll ever see. The standard of the artwork is movie budget level in this detail and depth, the animation is fluid and nuanced while the CGI blending with the 2D art is seamless. Unfotable can be justly proud of their stellar efforts on this show.
Not being familiar with the original Fate/Stay Night visual novels I have no comparison to make as far as the accuracy and faithfulness of this adaptation is, but I am willing to bet that for many fans it will stand as the definitive anime telling of this tale.
If this is your only exposure to the franchise then be under no illusion that Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Bladeworks deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats and the revered titles within the fantasy anime genre.
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 Art Cards
24 Page Artbook
Rating – ****
Man In Black