The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (TV)

Title: Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (TV)
Genre: Action/Drama
Companies: ufotable/Aniplex
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 12 Oct 2014 – 28 Dec 2014 and 5 Apr 2015 – 28 Jun 2015

Synopsis: The Holy Grail War is a sacred ritual held among seven powerful magicians who each summon a hero from legends and fight until only one team remains standing.  This competition is held to determine the person worthy of holding the Holy Grail which is said to bestow any one wish the user commands.  At the twilight of this oncoming war, a high school boy named Emiya Shirou gets caught up in a battle between two heroes and nearly loses his life.  At the gates of death’s door, Shirou manages to summon his own hero and thus unwittingly enters this battle royal.

The Highlights
Characters: The chemistry between the two leads is quite enchanting.
Animation: Solid all around and beautiful in fight scenes.
World building: Expect a healthy bit of lore via dialogue dumps.
Core ideas: Really clever and meaningful twists in the usual young male action series setup.

Five years after Studio Deen delivered the Cliffs Notes version of the Unlimited Blade Works (1,2), ufotable has stepped up to the plate to give a full length adaptation of the second arc of Fate/Stay Night. For those uninitiated, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is an adaptation of an arc in the Fate/Stay Night visual novel created back in 2006, and it is presented in a manner that does not require any prior knowledge of the franchise including the prequel Fate/Zero. The reason the series has remained relevant almost a decade after its release is its unexpectedly powerful story from a medium that is not known to generate great works, and this television series gives an easily accessible version that eclipses any prior attempts at adaptation.

At its core, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is a young male power fantasy tale where a hapless high school boy suddenly gets caught up in a war among seven magicians who have summoned heroes from legends to fight as their champions. The series hits on some of the tropes of its shounen action kin such as the protagonist having super secret powers or having a bevy of girls interest in him, but the anime stands out because it doesn’t allow its protagonist to merely win the day, get the girl and ride off into the sunset. Fate/Stay Night presents heroism as a sacrifice where the toll to uphold an ideal is the literal destruction of oneself. The idea itself seems simple but there is a kind of poetic tragedy underpinning what seems to be a simple action series.

It’s clear that the Fate franchise’s enduring reputation has bought the series some of the best visuals in television. This show contains some absolutely gorgeous pieces of animation that should be included in any compilation of what the medium can do. The fights are intense and visceral due to the impact of every blow exploding on screen with sparks, shattered magics and the kind of weight rarely animated for television. The music, while not as excellent as the animation, is perfectly respectable and builds the appropriate atmosphere wherever its used. If there’s anything I cannot fault UBW for, it is the production values.

The show is a spectacle for the senses that slowly builds up to a nice crescendo but then stays on that note for about seven episodes too long. As a person who believes that UBW is the strongest arc of the three, I feel a bit disheartened at the overly prolonged finale which numerously beats you over the head with the core message. The short one-liners of Deen‘s movie adaptation actually comes across as stronger than the bloated wall of dialogue ufotable opted for. The ideas the show are trying to express are not simple, but they can be condensed into the actions of the characters, into properly timed flashbacks and into a more selective choice of words.

The Fate franchise has never provided me with any kind of deep emotional impact, but the ideas the shows present range from clever to downright brilliant. This is a shounen action series with some real gems to show off. While the final portion of the series does not have the kind of impact I was looking for, the core ideas still manage to shine through.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Shadowmage

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