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: It’s been ten years since a disaster took place in Fuyuki city and on this evening a young mage named Tohsaka Rin is preparing for the upcoming Holy Grail War by summoning a Servant, a spiritual embodiment of a legendary hero, to fight alongside her. Emiya Shirou, who was a survivor of the disaster ten years ago, is drawn in to the Holy Grail War when he witnesses a fight involving Rin’s Servant, Archer and another Servant who aims to kill him. While running away, Shirou manages to accidentally summon his own Servant, Saber. In order to survive, Rin and Shirou form an alliance of convenience.  However, Archer has his own plans for Shirou.

The Highlights
Animation: Pretty much the best looking thing Studio DEEN has ever made.
Action: Not much above decent choreography; too many conflicts crammed into one movie.
Pacing: Terrible during the first act.
Characters: Watching this movie means having to put up with Shirou’s nonsense.
Plot: A few neat twists in the middle; the first and last acts are too reminiscent of the TV series.

For reasons I’ve never completely understood, Fate/Stay Night isn’t derided in the same way as other Type Moon adaptations, a family of anime that has had a hit-and-miss history where the “hit” didn’t really exist prior to ufotable’s excellent Kara no Kyoukai series.  I’ve seen all the Type Moon anime but read none of the visual novels, and from the point of view of execution and storytelling, I’ve got no question that Fate/Stay Night is far and away the worst.  When you boil it down, Fate/Stay Night is essentially a superhero story, and Yamaguchi Yuji, who helmed both the TV series and this movie, simply doesn’t have a deft enough hand as a director to lift what, for all I know, may be compelling source material, above the primary limitations of the shounen action genre.

But never mind its limp attempt to look at conflicting ideals.  The first major problem with Unlimited Blade Works is simply pacing.  The first half of the film is just an absolute mess, and if you haven’t seen the TV series, don’t bother.  Even if you have, try to enjoy a baffling and chaotic experience, which simply jumps from one fight scene to the next with no rhythm, down time or explanation.  It doesn’t matter too much, since most of what happens during the first third of the movie is extremely similar to the TV series, except with a few character substitutions.  In fact, the same is probably true of the final twenty minutes as well, which makes the first and final acts of Unlimited Blade Works an underwhelming experience if you’ve seen Fate/Stay Night and a completely incomprehensible one if you haven’t.

The stuff that happens in the middle of the movie is genuinely interesting though, with a good mix of suspense, atmosphere and surprises.  That is, of course, if you quietly ignore all the details that don’t make sense because they weren’t explained very well, eg, Shirou’s pendant, a sudden romance between a Servant and her master just before they die and the appearance of a certain smug, badass blond Servant who has a lot of swords (if you’ve seen the TV series, you know who I’m talking about).  Oh yeah, and mana regeneration, which makes a reprise here.  Try as I might, I can’t convince myself that I’m exaggerating when I say the giant CG dragon from the TV series is one of anime’s all-time most embarrassing moments.  Fortunately we don’t get something quite so tacky, but we do get a scene in pretty much the same vein.

The art and animation is superbly polished (the detailed character designs in particular are gorgeous) and while this isn’t Kawai Kenji’s best soundtrack, he still does a good job of enhancing the atmosphere.  The characterization and thematics, two things that I’d expect a film of this type to focus on (and that Kara no Kyoukai did exceptionally well), are, on the other hand, less impressive.  Shirou is still intolerably naive.  He’s supposed to be an embodiment of idealism, but it’s idealism unguided by intelligence, and he just makes one shockingly bad decision after another (which also makes the analysis of that idealism, the movie’s main theme, less than convincing).  Magically, he finds enough strength to fight toe-to-toe with Servants at some point half way through the movie.  Saber’s range of expression is limited to the same angry scowl most of the time except for the scene where she’s kidnapped and inexplicably put in a wedding dress.  And Archer… well, if his entire motivation was killing Shirou, didn’t he have enough opportunities to do that at the beginning of the movie?

I’ve always though of Fate/Stay Night as the lightweight of Type Moon adaptations, especially compared with Kara no Kyoukai.  Nothing I’ve seen in Unlimited Blade Works has changed my mind.

The Rating: 4

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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