Oh boy, more Legend of Galactic Heroes in the gaiden chapter, Golden Wings. Time for some complex characters and political machinations that grip me from start to finish!
Well…? Where are they?
Golden Wings goes back to Reinhard’s infancy, back to the death of his mother and the ultimate purchase of his sister, Annerose, by the emperor. Reinhard doesn’t take kindly to this development, of which his father, a poor noble, is complicit. He joins the military with best friend Kircheis to gain status and take back his sister.
While it’s nice to receive extra pieces of Reinhard’s past, Golden Wings doesn’t explore them enough. His mother’s death is a single scene with no scaffolding to create impact, but worse is the sale of Annerose to the emperor. They could have made more of a plot out of this – used the entire film, honestly. How does the emperor know of the daughter of a poor, lowly noble? How did they meet? When did he take a fancy in her? Did they spend time together first? All we see is that the father accepted a large sum in exchange for his daughter and then we move on to Reinhard in the military. What a letdown.
This missed opportunity points to the lack of political intrigue in Golden Wings as a whole. The emperor’s former favourite lady grows jealous of his new diversion, Annerose, and wanting to harm her, she sets her sights on Reinhard. Nothing would hurt Annerose more than the loss of her brother. The jealous woman sends an officer to have Reinhard removed…taken out of the picture…dealt with…meet with a little accident. I expected this to be the cover for some deeper plot, but no, it’s as it seems. A jealous woman wants Reinhard dead and sends a cartoony villain to kill him. No surprises, no twists. The finale is good for the action, certainly, though too straightforward for this franchise.
Lastly, Reinhard is far too melodramatic a couple of times – out of character.
By the standards of any other anime or as a new series, Golden Wings is okay. However, okay isn’t good enough for Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Only excellence need apply.
Art – Medium
Several major characters look little like their main series counterparts – not for the better. Outside this, the shot composition and environment designs lack the creativity to make up for the limited animation. Only the finale looks great in its horrific destruction.
Sound – High
The voice work is still strong, though the script lacks the sharpness of political intrigue.
Story – Low
The early days of Reinhard’s life. Golden Wings doesn’t live up to the main series, yet is harmless in the end.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For Legend of the Galactic fans only – even then, maybe not. Only to see it for extra backstory. You can safely skip this one.
Fate/Zero is the prequel to the Fate/stay night visual novel and created by a different team, which can only mean good things.
Instead of a harem protagonist, Fate/Zero selects Kiritsugu the ‘Mage Killer’, hired by one of the noble families, and married to their heir, to crush the competition with his servant Saber (the same one from Fate) in the war for the Holy Grail. His opponents are a mixed cast of mages, noble and common, as well as different iterations of Archer, Rider, Assassin, Lancer, Caster, and Berserker. Kiritsugu displays greater depth than Shirou within moments. First, by having a plan, and second, by showing smarts in his method of attack. One of my issues with Fate/stay night was having kids instead of adults when the latter make for mages that are obviously more powerful. Kiritsugu isn’t an idiot kid, nor are his opponents save one that I’ll talk of later.
As if by magic, the servants also have complexity of character. Saber is no longer a good character solely due to her backstory. She has convictions, motivations, and opinions – all the important servants do. One episode in particular has a scene called ‘The Banquet of Kings’ with Saber, Archer, and Rider – three kings – sitting down to discuss their views on what makes a great king. They challenge each other’s ideologies, Saber’s in particular. The dialogue is something the old author could never dream of. The strength of character writing is no surprise coming from Gen Urobuchi, writer of Psycho-Pass and Madoka Magica. (He also wrote Aldnoah.Zero, though we won’t speak of it here.)
Not everything is gold and diamonds. The first episode has several minutes of two geezers walking around in a circle expositing the world and their plan for the war. Truly a masterclass of bad expository writing. And someone has to explain the whole Fate franchise concept, yet again, in the usual clumsy fashion. The writing is smoother once you clear those reeds. Oh, except for two awkwardly placed episodes of backstory for Kiritsugu – they’re interesting, but don’t seem to know where to go in the story, so occur in the middle of an event.
As for characters, one of the mages is a serial killer to match his sadistic Caster servant, which is a thrilling addition to the war. Unfortunately, both master and servant alike are flat. What you see upon introduction is the same throughout. Now, they do at least have major impact on the story, but they could have had more to their characters. In a series where identity is everything, Caster’s identity doesn’t matter. Missed opportunity.
For a pleasant surprise, we turn to Waver, a young mage in over his head trying to prove himself equal to “pure” bloodlines when he joins the war, summoning Rider. He’s the one kid and justified in his inclusion. Furthermore, Rider doesn’t respect him and flicks Waver for all the stupid commands, nor should he as a great king from history who conquered much of the world. This is what I mean by taking a moment of thought to justify why your story/character/conflict is the way it is. The original author wouldn’t have thought of this disagreement. Far from being mean, Rider is a boisterous character, a lion of a man that brings needed comic relief alongside Waver. Rider is my favourite of the servants.
The action sees improvements, even if it doesn’t look as nice as Unlimited Blade Works, and while you could point to a couple dozen better anime for action, the stronger characters and smarter plans increase the tension, placing value on who lives and dies.
I wish I hadn’t followed the Fate watch order guide and listened to my instinct to start with Fate/Zero. I would have enjoyed this anime even more if I didn’t know certain details that carry over to the main series. Fate/Zero stands as the only Fate series worth your time unless you really want to see the Holy Grail War repeated ad nauseam.
Art – High
Fate/Zero still looks good without the flash of Unlimited Blade Works thanks to vibrant colours, better character design, and tighter choreography since that they don’t have cram in as many effects as possible. Now, some of the CG…ouch. Berserker looks hideous – a CG knight surrounded by a particle shroud, also in CG.
Sound – High
The VO is equally good in both languages; just needs a tighter script. Electric guitar action music, softer classical pieces, and ethereal vocals make for a solid soundtrack.
Story – High
Ten years before Fate/stay night, another Grail War raged between mages and their servants of myth and legend. Fate/Zero abandons most of the garbage from the original series in favour of complex characters and meaningful action.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. Defying the franchise, Fate/Zero stands above the swamp from whence its predecessors came. Start with Fate/Zero to avoid lesser series from spoiling anything.
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.
Length: 45-60 hours (15-20 hours per arc, depending on reading speed)
50% word count in excess.
More telling than showing.
Useless ‘gamey’ elements.
Poor lore and mechanic explanations.
World feels empty.
No basis to the romance.
Worst sex scene ever put to fiction.
Fate is a massive franchise, having mutated from a visual novel of three arcs into a tentacled monster of anime, games, and spinoffs. Due to its size and popularity, I followed a ‘watch order’ guide and started with the Fate/stay night visual novel since the anime Fate/stay night mashes all three arcs into one mess.
The story opens strong in the prologue with the red girl, Rin, a few character/world building scenes, and Rin summoning her servant Archer. We meet much of the human cast in efficient time and the stakes are clear. Seven mages will summon legendary figures from history or mythology to fight for the Holy Grail, granting a single wish. We also learn that a servant’s identity is of utmost importance, for knowing the hero is to know their weakness and ultimate weapon. Instead of names, they go by their class – Saber, Archer, Berserker, Rider, Assassin, Caster, and Lancer. (This cleared much confusion about why I had seen characters with the same names across the Fate franchise.) Typically, only the servant and master know the true name. Archer, however, can’t remember his identity.
So, we have the characters, the world, the stakes, interesting lore, a good concept, and a decent pace in a short period. The writing could use work, but it’s not bad.
Then the story resets once you start the first arc proper, titled Fate, where we now follow the actual protagonist, Shirou (introduced in the prologue), only to repeat the same story save a change or two, and dump a ton of exposition. The writing nosedives and the pacing stalls, which coupled with the bad art, makes Fate/stay night a difficult journey to complete.
First, Shirou is a rubbish character, only marginally better than your usual idiot harem protagonist. Fate/stay night is a harem of sorts, with each arc defined by which of the three girls Shirou pursues. And by pursues, I mean makes no effort to attract. He also gains free power when convenient for the plot.
Arc one centres on Shirou paired with his servant, the blonde knight Saber, who is one of the few good features of the story thanks to her backstory. The second arc, Unlimited Blade Works, has Rin as the love interest with Saber shifted to a minor character, which feels clumsy because she’s still crucial, yet forgotten most of the time in favour of Archer. Heaven’s Feel switches the romance to childhood friend Sakura. Each arc builds on the previous, so it’s important to play them in order if you want the full story, though expect a lot of repetition for the mechanics, rules explanations, and introductions. Characters also have inconsistencies across arcs.
Back to Shiro, much of the first act is girls fawning over him, when not expositing. An early scene has Shirou and three girls yammering on about him and food. I set the novel to auto, left for dinner, and returned to find then still at it. Almost all 15 days per arc has one of these ‘eating’ scenes that drones on for hours. These conversations don’t advance the plot or develop character either, often going in circles to repeat the same garbage until you want to choose one of the bad endings, just to end it all. They are filler, proven no more effectively than by their marked absence in the Unlimited Blade Works anime. There’s more food related scenes than action in this “action” series.
The exposition may be worse. Repeated exposition from the prologue aside, the way Rin explains the lore (exposition parrot is her main job) and mechanics is like a poorly written dictionary. Furthermore, the Fate series has these pointless game elements such as grades for character attributes and magic levels. What a lazy and binary technique of representing character power. Worse yet, they don’t matter. If the plot needs an A+ servant injured by a weak attack, then it will happen. Remove these statistics and nothing is lost. Instead, why not build the world. Fate/stay night gives the impression of having 20 people in existence. So many words, yet such an empty world.
Any editor can remove half the text with a cursory glance from all the filler. Even plot text is over written, full of stating the obvious and explaining an action just before doing it.
‘I should go to the kitchen.’
‘I go to the kitchen.’
‘I should eat something.’
‘I eat something.’
Imagine that, but with five times the words.
Arriving at the plot, matters improve little. After spending so much time establishing the rules, insisting upon the importance of character statistics and each servant’s power, Fate/stay night throws all the rules out the window and does whatever. I don’t imagine the writer bothered to edit for consistency. I don’t imagine he edited at all.
For a plot that’s about everyone fighting to the death, few characters actually fight to the death. I can’t remember how many times a good guy lives because a villain just lets them go. Hell, the loli girl, master of Berserker, captures Shirou and instead of killing him, takes him home to become her slave (of sex?). Of course he gets away, rendering the event pointless. The alliance between Rin and Shirou also makes little sense, stretching the limits of plausibility for why a girl, whose life training prepared her to crush mages and servants, would forget all that faster than a sneeze.
But, none of the above makes Fate/stay night a terrible visual novel. Amateurish, sure. Requiring an editor? Certainly. Only once you find the true purpose for this game’s creation can you witness its soul. Much like the Holy Grail isn’t what it seems, Fate/stay night isn’t an action series, nor is it a fantasy – well, yes, it is a fantasy, though not the sort one normally thinks of. All of this – the legendary heroes, the magic, the violence, the lore – serves as a self-insert fantasy for the author to get it on with the ladies.
If you are of innocent mind, then avert thine eyes and skip the next paragraph, for I have to describe the first “session of love” if I am to truly impress upon you the horrendousness of this text. The excuse to have sex is retardedly hilarious. Prepare yourselves (or your anus, in Rin’s case), we are about to enter the worst erotic fiction ever conceived.
After a lost battle, Shirou, Saber, and Rin flee to an abandoned house in enemy territory. Saber has little energy left and with Berserker on the hunt, they need to recharge her before the next fight. What’s the one surefire way to recharge a servant? You guessed it: have sex. Feeding her energy had never been a problem until now, but hey, we have to ram sex scenes in somehow. Saber is hesitant, so Rin must take charge and ready her for the ritual by lubricating the knight. Rin becomes an instant bisexual, Saber – the all-powerful Saber – a weak, quivering girl, whose lips say no but her body says yes. Then Shirou mans up to do his duty, despite being so totally against it all, and the self-insert fantasy enters full swing in an orgy of awkward prose, bad anatomy, and most importantly, cringe. The way actions and sensations are described gives the impression that the author had never had sex before.
These characters change into new people for the scene (except Shirou – he’s always a loser) to justify sex. I should mention that this forms the basis of Shirou and Saber’s romantic thread… This scene is so bad that I considered the idea someone had pranked me by modding my game with fan fiction. I didn’t know this was an eroge beforehand.
The second sex scene with Saber is vanilla, but full of, “No, you mustn’t…” “There’s no need to suck that…” “No, don’t touch me there…” The other arcs also have their share of ridiculous erotica, though none as hilarious as the Shirou-Saber-Rin bender. Like the exposition and food scenes, the erotica contributes nothing. The author has no sense of focus.
What does Fate/stay night look like when it isn’t about the sex? We’ll find out in the next review, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Or better yet, when the author isn’t involved? See the Fate/Zero review after that.
Art – Very Low
The character art looks like amateur work you find on DeviantArt, as if the artist copied someone else. With no animation to contend with, the art has no excuse looking this cheap. A later port added some improved art shots.
Sound – Low
The music is bland, the voice work stiff.
Story – Low
Mages summon heroes of mythology and history to fight to the death for the Holy Grail. Fate/stay night’s good concept receives no help from the writer, who can’t do exposition, or romance, or pacing.
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: Avoid it…then again, you may want to play the first arc to see what horrific writing looks like. Fate/stay night is worse than the sum of its parts thanks to its atrocious technical writing, filler, and most particularly, the sex scenes. Watch Fate/Zero first, since this game spoils parts of that superior series.
Mamoru Oshii’s Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is an introspective film hinged on a metaphor of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Constable Kazuki Fuse is traumatised after witnessing a terrorist girl detonate to avoid capture amid riots in an alternate history Japan. As an officer of the panzer troopers, an armoured ground force reminiscent of the video game Killzone’s Helghast, his change in behaviour mandates retraining and puts him in the middle of the conflict between the Capital Police and ordinary police forces. During his recovery, he grows close to the sister of the very terrorist girl who died before him.
This premise of a dystopian Japan, riots everywhere, Helghast-like officers clashing with police, and suicide bombers paints an intense portrait of a film. You’re probably imagining Akira. In truth, Jin-Roh couldn’t be further from intense. This slow, methodical film set in a nation without colour, without life, wants to evoke depression inside the viewer. Once vibrant greens and reds have faded. The world feels ‘Soviet’ where the higher ups have absolute power, giving no hope to the people.
Kazuki roams with no purpose. The few glimpses of life spark during his moments with the sister, but even those are drops in the calm ocean.
I am sad to say that Jin-Roh doesn’t succeed in evoking much emotion, nor does it engage the viewer. As I opened with, the story is a metaphor for ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, which Oshii handles without an ounce of subtlety, for every second scene makes a simile or draws a motif to wolves and the fairy tale. He’s so obsessed with the metaphors and motifs that he forgets to develop the characters and the world in which they live. The story never gives a sense of why anyone does their jobs or what they hope to accomplish in this world nearing anarchy.
Oshii’s masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell, has one of my favourite introspective moments in anime when Motoko Kusanagi glides through the streets of New Port City, so one would imagine that a film with more of this reflection would be a personal treat for me. What made that moment in Ghost special was its placement among scenes of intense action and intrigue. The story slowed down with a purpose. Jin-Roh is perpetually slow.
You could take almost any scene from this film and it would be interesting when seen standalone, similar to watching that scene from Ghost by itself. It’s once you realise that the film has almost nothing but this sluggishness repeated for an hour and a half that it becomes boring. It needs balance.
Rather than make me care for Kazuki’s plight, Jin-Roh had me crossing my fingers for another riot.
Art – High
The art is effective at evoking a dystopian atmosphere, but the much-muted brown palette becomes dull when it’s all there is. Characters could use more detail. Most of the animation budget went into people being riddled with bullets.
Sound – Medium
Voice work – fine. Music – lovely, tragic.
Story – Medium
A special unit officer reconsiders his position in life after witnessing the suicide death of a terrorist girl amid enforcement politics. Jin-Roh’s sacrifice of everything to convey its ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ motif limits its appeal and quality.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For fans of the slow and introspective ONLY. Seriously, if you don’t love, and I mean love, slow pieces with near-no story, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade will bore you to death.