Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works]

Note: Not to be confused with the old Unlimited Blade Works movie

 

Related: Fate/stay night (source – visual novel)

Fate/stay night (anime – alternate 1st arc)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (alternate 3rd arc)

Fate/Zero (prequel)

Similar: The Future Diary

Basilisk

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons), 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Stylish action.
  • Huge improvement over the visual novel.
  • Heroic Spirits have interesting backstories.

Negatives:

  • Fights lack substance.
  • Still has exposition and explanations in excess.
  • Villains let heroes live on a whim.
  • Doesn’t stick to its own rules.

(Request an anime for review here.)

We last left the franchise in the Fate/stay night visual novel, a mess of an artwork mired in exposition, sloppy writing, and worse sex. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works adapts the second arc of the visual novel, with Rin instead of Saber as the romance option and Archer taking the Heroic Spirit spotlight.

Protagonist Shirou summons Saber to participate in the Holy Grail War against other magi and their servants. By a matter of convenience, he teams up with Rin and her servant Archer.

The genericity of Shirou hasn’t changed. He’s your goody two-shoes harem protagonist but with a hero complex to make him an action harem protagonist. His plot armour from arc one makes less sense this time, and he becomes instantly powerful before the end – I believe they call this an ‘ass pull’ – and as such, is the worst holdover from the source material.

Thanks to a dramatic cut in exposition and filler scenes, Rin doesn’t wear out her welcome, though she is still an average tsundere with more stereotype than brains. She whines too much. The romance with her, though irrelevant to the plot, has no foundation (the horrendous sex scenes were seamlessly cut). Unlimited Blade Works is actually about Archer and his backstory, as Fate was Saber and her history.

Like before, the suspense comes from the Heroic Spirit’s identity, even more so with Archer because of his amnesia. I am torn on the result. On one hand, the backstory itself is a great idea, yet on the other, the present day component – the consequence of the backstory, if you will – is garbage. I can’t help but feel that Unlimited Blade Works would have been superior if it only had to take inspiration from the source, not the beat-for-beat story.

That said, this anime is an improvement in every area. Yes, it could do with less explaining of mechanics when it shows them later anyway, and moments of describing actions before doing them drool off the visual novel, but this is still so much better. You can’t imagine without having played the game.

With all the visual improvements, I am disappointed that the fights aren’t smarter. This anime often receives the name ‘Unlimited Budget Works’ for all the animation and effects it has, but as anyone who’s watched a Michael Bay film will tell you, effects don’t make great action. Fights look good, sure, but they aren’t smart. How rarely anyone kills a weak mage while their servant is away in battle. Villains allow good guys to walk away despite impressing upon us the victory condition of killing all other mages. It isn’t just one villain – several villains do this. It’s as though the author couldn’t think for more than two seconds about plausible scenarios for characters to escape. How many times now has it been, in anime, where the premise is about fighting to the death, yet doesn’t happen?

Each subsequent fight is less interesting than the previous. The tension wanes when you realise consequences aren’t what they promised. The hype lies. Rin tells us that Berserker will wreck everyone in a fight, yet the fight against him is incongruent with her words. The author again didn’t spare a thought to finding a creative solution in beating a seemingly invincible opponent. I mentioned inconsistencies between arcs in the VN review, which we can see in effect here, as Berserker was conveniently stronger in the first arc when the author needed to kill another character. The rule breaking is still alive and well.

Why are the masters kids when an adult mage would crush them? It’s also convenient that all the mages connect to Shirou in some way – another source material problem. Honestly, 90% of the problems in Unlimited Blade Works stem from the visual novel. With a little extra thought, a little extra planning, a little better dialogue, this could have been a great anime.

What does Fate/stay night look like without the lead weight of the visual novel? Find out next time in the Fate/Zero review.

Art – High

I love the triadic colour palette of red, blue, and bright yellow. Its vibrancy pops in motion – gone is the ‘OC, don’t steal’ character art. Great looking fights use CG and particle effects, though often at the expense of substance. Occasional bad CG such as the skeletons slaps your eyes.

Sound – High

The voice work is good, but I’m not a fan of several casting choices in English. The music complements proceedings, except OPs and EDs seem out of place.

Story – Medium

Seven mages summon seven Heroic Spirits of myth and history to fight for the Holy Grail. This is arc two of Fate/stay night, focused on Rin and Archer instead of Saber. Unlimited Blade Works salvages the best parts of the visual novel to create an entertaining, if not deep, action anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime action fans. If you love anime’s signature action of one-on-one fights then you will love Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, when able to overlook the story and writing problems. It isn’t necessary to watch the first arc unless you’re interested in Saber. Watch Fate/Zero first.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative:

No DevelopmentWeak End

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