The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works

Title: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Studio DEEN
Format: Movie; 105 minutes.
Dates: 23 Jan 2010

Synopsis: Teenaged orphan Emiya Shirou finds himself caught up in a supernatural war between magi when he unknowingly encounters the spirit of a legendary warrior, Saber. The battle — known as the Holy Grail War — is an organized competition between seven magi and their summoned spirits to determine the recipient of its titular prize. Shirou becomes romantically involved with fellow magi, Tohsaka Rin, but also starts to uncover the secrets behind her enigmatic heroic Servant, Archer.

The Highlights
Action scenes: Fluid and natural, although not as stylized as they could be.
CG effects: Used occasionally during high-intensity scenes; not harmful, but noticeable.
Visuals: Lacks a dramatic flair.

Studio DEEN’s filmic adaptation of the popular visual novel by TYPE-MOON is likely to appeal to fans of the series and few more. The movie follows scenarist Nasu Kinoko’s eccentric narrative, replacing some of the more mundane soliloquies and wordy info dumps with a rather fast-paced retelling of the game’s roughly 30-hour story. In this manner it succeeds by freeing Nasu’s intricate plot and distinctive tone from his characteristic verbosity. Unfortunately, the film does little to add to the source material and it squanders its opportunity to turn the piece into a cinematic epic.

Eager fans of TYPE-MOON’s work have long since noted that Studio DEEN may not be the ideal company to helm the production of Unlimited Blade Works, particularly after witnessing the spectacular work ufotable did with the adaptations of Nasu’s Kara no Kyoukai novels. Regrettably, DEEN lives up to its reputation in this movie: while the budget allows the staff to avoid the usual cases of lazy animation seen in the studio’s TV productions, Unlimited Blade Works looks more like a well-animated TV series than a film. The movie succeeds from a technical point of view by maintaining its animation quality and fluidity even during the combat scenes, but it’s severely lacking in the areas of visual style and detail. This could be partially attributed to director Yamaguchi Yuji, who lacks prior experience directing films (and whose entire CV is respectable but certainly not outstanding). That said, budget may have played a key role as well, perhaps keeping the staff from attempting the type of elaborate backgrounds and directorial quirks seen in notable anime films such as Shinkai Makoto’s 5 Centimeters Per Second and Kyoto Animation’s The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya(1,2). Regardless of the cause, the result is that Unlimited Blade Works is visually disappointing and it plays out like an ordinary TV series, albeit a well-animated one.

Despite its short duration compared to the source material, Studio DEEN’s production left me mostly satisfied with its pacing. A lot of Nasu’s unnecessary ramblings are cut out, although the lack of mythos exposition could leave first-time viewers confused, resulting in less appreciation for some of the movie’s most interesting fights. Some key plot points are indeed skimmed over, and the great reveal toward the end receives little build-up. The consequences of omitting the long monologues of the original work emerge as the story concludes — even if the viewer understands the plot intellectually, it’s hard to feel the emotional weight and thematic significance of Shirou’s iconic battles. This was inevitable to some degree since one can only do so much in less than two hours, but the staff should have searched for ways to translate the monologues into subtle visual cues and motifs. As it stands, the movie’s plot unfolds without much excitement, even though the story itself couldn’t be more exciting.

Unlimited Blade Works has a tremendous amount of potential but Studio DEEN miraculously manages to transform it into a slightly above-average fantasy film rather than an epic on the same tier as Kara no Kyoukai. Looking back, the only moment in the film in which I felt thoroughly immersed was during the game’s most iconic scene, and I chalk that up to the quality of the source material. There are some things that are impossible to ruin, and thankfully DEEN manages to avoid spitting on Nasu’s work. It’s a solid attempt if you look at it objectively, distilling a long-winded 30+ hour tale into a digestible retelling, but it loses much of its emotive impact along the way and it does almost nothing to make use of the anime medium. It’s watchable if you treat it as its own entity, but the film is much like the Fate/stay night TV series: a decent but ultimately forgettable adaptation of a nearly unforgettable story.

The Rating: 5

Reviewed by: Eternal

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