First of all, I’m sorry for the delay; there was a mini-crisis in my life that ended up throwing me for a loop and as a result I haven’t had the chance to post anything here for the last two weeks. This particular post will be diving into the Fate/Stay Night visual novel, with FULL SPOILERS. That’s a warning to anyone not knowing what kind of scope I’ll be looking at, best also an invitation to everyone who’s been holding back in previous posts to let loose with the spoilers and information. I should also apologize for the length of this post; at first, I wanted to take a very quick, cursory look at the visual novel but then the more I got into it, the more I felt like I wanted to write about everything about it; the characters, the story, the themes, the world-building and so on. After a brief debate with myself about whether I could overcome my inherent laziness and write that long a piece without it spiraling hopelessly out of control, I decided to give it a shot. All the thoughts and opinions presented below are just that – thoughts and opinions, and not factual statements. I have read the VN front to back (so to speak) all of once (though I did revisit certain scenes) and I will not be trying to claim that I’m some expert on the subject or that my interpretations of certain characters are backed by some kind of authority. To keep this from turning into a massive wall of text, I will be interspersing it with pictures; specifically, Fate-related pictures from all over the place (I figured VN screenshots weren’t going to cut it). Lastly, I also want to thank anyone who has been waiting for this for their patience and apologize again for the delay.
First Aired: October 4th, 2014 – June 27th, 2015
Director: Takahiro Miura
Adapting anything from a massive popular franchise can be a risky gambit at the best of times. On one hand, you have a guaranteed viewership and an established fan-base but on the other, high expectations and extreme scrutiny are par for the course. Fortunately, animation studio Ufotable is an old hand at adaptations. With two highly acclaimed adaptations, of TYPE-MOON works no less, Ufotable brings experience and expertise to the latest anime adaptation of Kinoko Nasu’s fantasy juggernaut, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. Though never stated explicitly, at least part of the motivation for a new adaptation of a visual novel more than a decade old was to erase the stain of the disastrous 2006 studio DEEN-led adaptation. However, Ufotable’s project isn’t a full-fledged makeover of its ill-fated predecessor; Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works focuses on the character-driven second route of the visual novel, ‘Unlimited Blade Works’ (UBW) instead of the world-building first route, ‘Fate’. Therein lies the dilemma that Ufotable faced – by skipping the first route and jumping straight into the second, it alienates newcomers to the franchise but explaining each fantastic element introduced in ‘Fate’ would slow the story to a crawl. Ufotable opted for the former more than the latter but nevertheless, even as a standalone story, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works counts excellent character development, exciting action sequences and intelligent storytelling among its strengths and those strengths are inalienable even in the intimidating face of the sheer depth of the franchise’s universe and mythos.
It’s happily ever after for everyone in the final episode of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works after the conclusion of the 5th Holy Grail War. Shirou and Rin are in marital bliss, studying in London and enjoying a simpler life without the complications of murderous Servants and twisted Masters. As an episode, this epilogue doesn’t add a great deal to the greater story; in fact, it feels more like a little gift to fans who might not want to part ways with their favourite characters just yet. As a conclusion to the whole UBW storyline, this epilogue really leaves a lot to be desired – it reopens some issues that the series itself closed and does feel like a needlessly detailed prolongation of a story. I’ll talk a little about the episode itself and then a little about the Fate route and my experience with the VN so far. Mostly, I’m going to make the argument that this entire episode was really unnecessary and that the key bits could have been tacked on to the end of last week’s episode to make for a great conclusion.
It’s show-time for everyone on Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. After all the talking, the build-up, the hype generating, it’s time for everyone to put their money where their mouths are. Gilgamesh talked a big game for the entirety of this series, but can he pull his grand plan off? Shirou has come a long way from the confused, powerless little boy he was in the beginning, but can he defeat one of the most powerful Servants of all time? Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the Holy Grail front as Saber has to make a call on whether to wait for Rin to escape the Grail or sacrifice her Master for the greater good. The episode shares its title, ‘Unlimited Blade Works’, with both the series and a previous episode but it’s earned – in every sense, this episode is a culmination of the ideas and concepts that the series has introduced since the beginning. This episode, which effectively is the series’ finale from a narrative perspective, always ties all the characters’ arcs together wonderfully, even though that means we have to part ways with some of the characters that we’ve come to love. There is even a surprising (and unexplained) guest appearance from everyone’s favourite man in red. The previous few episodes have been lethargic and gave the impression that they were in some odd narrative limbo but as it turns out, the series was just saving its best for last: this is easily one of my favourite episodes from the entire twenty five episode run and it’s hard to imagine the epilogue topping it.
After almost two full seasons, it’s finally time for the final showdown but unsurprisingly enough, our heroes’ plans go awry right off the bat. Assassin makes a surprise return as he holds Saber to the promise she made in their previous encounter while Gilgamesh decides that Shirou should entertain him for a bit while they all await the end of mankind. Despite being the penultimate episode, it felt like this episode was still all about build-up – we didn’t get the chance to see anything really exciting this week from either of the two fights. Saber helps wrap up Assassin’s fate but given what we know it was impossible that Assassin would have given Saber any real trouble while the fight between Shirou and Gilgamesh ends predictably enough for now. This episode, ‘Incarnation’, isn’t entirely without substance but like last week’s episode, it doesn’t really capitalize on the narrative momentum that the confrontation with Archer built up and instead feels like the show is saving all the good stuff for its finale, which is understandable but also leaves this episode a little anaemic. Having said that, it’s clear that the stakes are getting higher – the Grail is gathering momentum, and there are hints that Gilgamesh might be messing with forces that even he may not be fully equipped to handle.
It is the calm before the storm as we approach the tail end of the second and final season of Fate/ Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. This is an episode of anticipation more than anything else – there are no jaw-dropping revelations, no slick actions sequences and no philosophical musings. Instead, there’s an almost nostalgic throwback to what the audience might consider the good ol’ days when Shirou, Rin and Saber were less allies in a war and more just a bunch of kids hanging out and being young. The episode isn’t quite that idyllic, but it is a quiet episode nonetheless, easily one of the most uneventful in this season but not necessarily in a bad way. This prelude to the series’ finale spends a good amount of time on Shirou, Rin and their relationship as well as giving some sort of half-hearted closure to Saber’s character. Shirou gets the equivalent of a level-up from Rin which requires an intimate, somewhat awkward ritual between them while Gilgamesh continues his preparations for the Grail’s summoning. Since there isn’t a whole lot to talk about, we’ll spend some time this week talking about how the dynamic between Shirou and Rin has (or has not) changed over the course of the series and just what we can expect from the last two episodes of the series.
This week on Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, the series’ most compelling conflict reaches it inevitable conclusion and it is a surprisingly amicable one given the deep-set disagreements that the two characters have had with each other. Whether the fight’s conclusion clearly favoured Shirou or was a little more bittersweet depends on your opinion of the characters in question but either way, it is very much in line with the themes that the series has explored so far. Unfortunately, the peace that Shirou and Archer reach is a short lived one and we find ourselves parting ways with one of the show’s most fascinating characters. Symbolically, Archer’s death very neatly tied up his entire character arc and offered him some of the redemption that some viewers might have felt he deserved, though it isn’t hard to anticipate complaints of a somewhat anticlimactic end to both the series’ most visible antagonist and his fight with Shirou. Amazingly enough, that was only half of the episode – Gilgamesh, who apparently just stepped out for a moment for a smoke-break, returns to make a statement about just how far below him all the other characters are. In doing so, he also reveals a tremendous amount of information regarding the true nature of the Holy Grail War and the Grail itself, something that will have grave consequences for the few characters still left standing. Non-VN, Anime-Only Spoilers Ahead. Beware