Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is for the battle-hungry, thrill-seeking, magic-blasting anime enthusiasts! Get ready to be transported into a war between mages and heroes, and at the other end of the spectrum, a deadly strategic game between school friends and school bullies. This fantasy-themed anime is sure to pique your interest, possibly in ways you never expected!
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is based on the similarly named Fate/stay night visual novel produced by Type-Moon. Originally released on October 4, 2014 in Japan, the anime features twenty-six episodes over two series. It is jointly produced by Aniplex, Notes and Ufotable, the same studios that co-produced the 2011–2012 anime adaptation for Fate/Zero. Indeed, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is only one of multiple animes which base themselves on the Fate/stay night visual novel, each one following different story routes and concluding with different endings. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is now getting a DVD release from MVM Entertainment, with series 1 coming as soon as April 25, 2016!
The Holy Grail War has begun. An ancient ritual, seven masters and their seven holy spirits fight to the death. It’s said the winner who possesses the Holy Grail is granted any wish they desire. Rin Tohsaka has been training to become a master her whole life, just like her father. Rin and her servant Archer form an unlikely bond with Emiya Shirou who finds himself becoming the master of Saber, one of the most powerful servants in the Holy Grail War. Working together they have to survive knowing only one master can remain. Saber, Lancer, Archer, Rider, Caster, Assassin and Berserker. Who of these seven heroic spirits will earn the mythical Holy Grail and what will they wish for?
Whilst watching this anime I had no knowledge of the visual novel it was based on, nor did I know if it was part of a series or a standalone anime. What I did know was that the title had a young woman with blonde hair and an armoured blue dress, and that she was VERY popular among fans. I later found out that her name was Saber. From figures to fan made games (there is indeed an otome game called Fate/Knight Rhapsody, in which she stars as the heroine), Saber’s face is all over the internet. Through my lack of knowledge, what I expected of Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works was a story focussed on Saber and the male protagonist, accompanied by some fancy swordplay and probably some fan service.
On the contrary, I had happily underestimated this anime. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is based on one specific route in the Fate/stay night visual novel, one called Unlimited Blade Works. Indeed the title has other animes based on different routes, which speaks of just how well the visual novel was received among fans. Many other animes based on visual novels, such as Amnesia and Brothers Conflict, get an episode dedicated to each route at most. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works seems to focus on the character Rin Tōsaka and her relationship with the protagonist, Shirō Emiya. The first episode thus opens from her perspective. The first episode can be a little confusing for people new to the series, mostly because Tōsaka speaks of things that have not yet been fully explained, and her actions of summoning a ‘servant’ called Archer through magic brings up more questions than answers. That being said, the knowledge gained through her perspective serves the viewer well in later episodes, which are seen through Shirō Emiya’s perspective, meaning the first episode makes a lot of sense later on. The plot has a rather clever start, although you need to have a bit of patience before you can recognise it.
This anime mostly focusses on four characters, the two ‘masters’, Shirō Emiya and Rin Tōsaka, and their ‘servants’, Archer and Saber. Emiya and Tōsaka thus form a rather turbulent relationship, attacking each other as enemies one moment and then supporting each other as allies the next. This heated dynamic makes for some interesting viewing, and I must admit that the fighting scenes, with their colourful explosions and fast movements, were fun to watch. I was also happy to see that, although they are not given much screen time, others characters are introduced with depth and interest. For example, the character named Caster is presented as a villain upon her first appearance, and indeed a lot of her actions support this persona. Her relationship with her ‘master’ however brings up a huge amount of intrigue, as there is evidence that she genuinely cares about him. Some characters hate her from the get-go, and yet others, such as Archer, comment that she is probably a good person at heart. Another character called Berserker is perceived to be an insane servant with no mind of his own. The ‘master’ he protects, a small girl with white hair, later reveals that he stays by her side because he wants to, suggesting that he is not as mad as he seems. This kind of well-developed characterisation keeps viewers on their toes and has them second-guessing their initial impressions, making plot developments all the more satisfying to watch.
The anime may include hints of romance, but thankfully fan service takes a backseat. One small exception to this is when Tōsaka, Saber and Emiya decide to spend half an episode going on a date together. It was a little odd, especially as it was insisted by Tōsaka, who also keeps insisting that she will kill Emiya once their alliance ends. It did not add anything to the story, but as the goal of the visual novel is to end up with one of three available women, it is perhaps not unexpected to have such scenes in the anime. Although I imagine the date plays well in the visual novel, I do not believe that it translates well in Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Slipup aside, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works managed to grab my attention and provide an interesting storyline.
There are many characters featured in Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, some of which provide very memorable moments and some hilarious antics (a particular scene involving the school council president comes to mind). Very few of these characters are presented in any detail, however. I could literally describe them in one sentence. This is most likely due to the various animes surrounding this title, each of which concentrate on a different route available in the Fate/stay night visual novel. Sakura Matō, for example, has very little presence in Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, despite being a main character in the visual novel. I imagine she is much more proactive in one of the other animes that focuses on her route. Due to this I have only listed this anime’s four main characters: Shirō Emiya, Saber, Rin Tōsaka and Archer.
Shirō Emiya is a seventeen-year-old student at Homurahara Academy. He lost his family at a young age, and was subsequently fostered by a kindly man called Kiritsugu Emiya. Although Emiya has some magical talent, he was discouraged from improving his sorcery skills by his foster father. Emiya’s magic is thus limited to Reinforcement, a power which allows Emiya to improve an object’s structure by analysing and altering their chemical and physical makeup. At school he uses this power to fix projectors and other broken items, but in battle he often uses it to create a strong shield or an especially sharp sword. He is honest, hardworking and dreams of becoming a defender of justice. He knows nothing of the Holy Grail War until he accidently summons his ‘servant’, Saber.
Saber is a strong, extremely loyal young woman who protects Emiya. Like the other ‘servants’ who were summoned to fight in the Holy Grail War, Saber is a spirit who was historically dubbed as a hero. She is a knight who fights for honour with a large, invisible sword, but beyond that we know little about Saber’s true identity. She is seen as the most powerful ‘servant’, and indeed Tōsaka is very disappointed when a mishap means she wastes her chance to summon Saber for herself.
Rin Tōsaka is an intelligent, studious young girl who has been reared as her family’s successor in magecraft. She is well aware of the Holy Grail War, and has been diligently preparing for it since she was a child. She tends to keep her distance from other people. She makes little effort to form close friendships, and is often seen walking alone at Homurahara Academy. Her opinion on Emiya changes erratically, although deep down she seems to have a lot of affection for her fellow classmate. How she responds to people greatly depends on the situation and her personal feelings. Cool-headed one moment and total spitfire the next, Tōsaka has an intriguing personality. Her ‘servant’ is a strong but lofty man called Archer.
Archer was summoned by Tōsaka to fight in the Holy Grail War. Due to the summoning not going quite to plan, Archer appeared before Tōsaka with a lot of missing memories. He does not remember his name, nor does he remember anything about his past. He fights with a bow and arrow, but you would be wrong if you thought Archer to be a one-trick pony! Equipped with daggers, he is a highly talented dual-wielder, a skill that is admired by Emiya in particular.
Artist Takashi Takeuchi has a truly beautiful art style. With glossy eyes, detailed backgrounds and interesting character designs (how can you not be impressed with Saber’s armoured blue dress?), Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is a real feast for the eyes. The anime has a dark, rich colour palette which matches the storyline’s serious, and often brutal, nature. The colours also accentuate the impressive lighting animation, something that is best appreciated during battles between mages, all of which occur during the night! Well, the clue was in the title. If there is one thing this anime proves, it is that explosions and weapon effects shine best under moonlight!
The opening song, Ideal White by Mashiro Ayano, is a dramatic melody with inspiring, fast spoken lyrics. Ayano’s powerful voice is deservingly placed at the forefront, with piano, electric guitar, drums and musical soundbites creating a compelling backing track. The closing song, Believe, written by Kajiura Yuki and performed by the vocal group Kalafina, is more subdued in tempo but equally dramatic. The series is fully voiced in both English and Japanese, or Japanese with English subtitles.
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works surprised me by being a lot more entertaining than I initially thought it would be. Having entered the series blind, I did have some concerns. If I had not seen the previous animes, or played the visual novel, would I not understand the story? My fears were unfounded, however. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works can be comfortably watched as a standalone anime. It is perhaps not as well-rounded as some animes, as some seemingly important characters are pushed to one side, but that is to be expected. You are still able to see the big picture, but if you are interested in the various other characters stories, then you may want to follow up with Fate/Zero. The animation is gorgeous, the characters are interesting and the plot is though-provoking. I look forward to watching the second series of Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works and finding out how this all ends!
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