|Great visuals, fast moving action, strong lead characters, good finish||Sometimes dumped too much information at once, some characters tended to vanish for long stretches|
Some series just manage to take off and continue giving you stories to enjoy continually over the years. Fate/Stay Night really has turned into quite the solid source of entertainment. The original anime aired in 2006, the Unlimited Blade Works movie came out in 2010, Fate/Zero the Fate series prequel arrived in 2011, the spinoff Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya hit in 2013 (it’s sequel 2wei in 2014), and Unlimited Blade Works finally got its own tv series starting in 2014 and finally finishing this spring. There have been other spinoffs and OVAs, but this just shows how it has continued to be a presence over the years. This summer Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei Herz and soon we will get the movie adaptation for the Heaven’s Feel route. Fate/stay night has just been huge and it has been interesting watching the UBW anime with all of that in mind.
There are a lot of interesting things to say about this adaptation of the Unlimited Blade Works route. It starts off with two 40+ minute episodes that help set the stage and get the older material out of the way. I think that was a good call since many have probably don’t want to spend a handful of episodes just setting the stage. What made it interesting was that the first point of view we had in this show wasn’t Shirou who is the recognized main character, but Tohsaka Rin. That’s a good move since it is more accurate to the source material, it also just makes sense since Rin is one of the main characters of this anime. You really could call this the Shirou and Rin show since they do stand a bit more equally as main characters than say in the Fate route. Shirou is still very much the main character and this series dives a lot more into his mentality and why he is the way he is. A character who is remembered more for hilarious memes actually does have depth to his personality and you can fully grasp it in this show.
The setting is pretty straight forward. A huge magical battle has broken out where several mages become masters to servants (historical heroes that are summoned into the present time and have insane combat abilities). Shirou and Rin are both masters in this conflict. It would be tough to say how UBW differs from the previous adaptation, but it is safe to say Rin and Shirou go through a lot.
The story as a whole was really quite solid. They did a great job of giving background and history to the various characters. You had a good understanding of why various servants were the way they were or why certain masters were taking certain actions. Of course for me it was almost a downside since the show was so determined to give explanations for things that the pacing sometimes suffered for it. There were times that I thought they were better off focusing on an actual fight than telling us the life story of one of the people fighting. Sometimes it felt like too much too late. At that point you knew what was going to happen to that character and didn’t need the show trying to build up sympathy. But that is just me. If people just want more information than anything else then this show should at least not leave you disappointed.
The action when we got it was good. This is a show that with such amazing visuals really deserves great action scenes. I will say there wasn’t as many as I might have expected, but especially early on and near the end….they were good. There was some really good fights in this show with some intensity and flash to them. There was a handful of great fights that I’d love to rewatch. The show really put in time and effort to show the speed of the servants, the respective abilities of the masters, and how fights can get a bit messy. They didn’t hold back on actually showing injuries or turning blood to ink. If you purely want action there might not be enough, but if you want a few great fights then this series as a whole delivers. The last few episodes will just leave you impressed at what they managed to pull off with the visuals and audio.
A fair amount of focus does go to the characters. Again I have to say that Shirou is so much better represented in this series than I’ve seen just about anywhere else to this point. Finally, I can mostly understand this guy. You see what he’s gone through and you are in a sense walked through how he acquired the beliefs he does. He isn’t simply this naive guy that wants to be a hero. He also gets some great action moments as the show goes on. You see this guy going from someone who has lived a quiet life to someone who will stand against powerful individuals and fight with everything he can muster. The most interesting thing with Shirou is that he mostly comes to just understand himself better, how much he changes will be something to see. I’ll say that while I don’t agree with some of Shirou’s thinking I can respect the guy quite a bit more after watching this show and can say that he is quite the interesting character. Shows that different experiences can create quite the different individual. Shirou’s arc in the anime is an interesting one. You see him face his ideals, learn what they truly mean, and constantly be challenged. Shirou has to face himself more than he ever has in his life in this series. There is no running or hiding from the weaknesses of what he believes in and the source of it all.
Rin really does stand out in this show and for good reason. She’s an interesting character that is both the elite mage, but also a bit more relatable than Shirou himself. This is someone who has had training since a child in the mage mindset and the seriousness that it entails. But she’s also someone who truly enjoys what she does. Rin is the type of person who enjoys what she is doing as much as she can. Even though she fulfills her family duties it is something she only does because she enjoys doing it. She could just not bother with school if she wanted, but she goes because it has meaning to her and is fun. She’s a bit weird in her own right, but that’s Rin for you. She does have the ability to mess with Shirou since it is fun and she knows it gets under his skin. But at the same time Rin also can get pretty flustered when Shirou does or says things that are unexpected. In a lot of ways you can say Rin is a tsundere character, but she’s one with more depth to her. She isn’t simply defined by her relationship with Shirou, but rather lives her life according to her beliefs and personality. I just appreciate the fact that Rin just hates the idea of people living their lives without having some sense of self-interest. It’s fine to help people, it’s fine to care about others, but it needs to be done for ones own sake.
I’d like to go into detail on Saber….but this really isn’t her anime. Saber is often in the show and does have a lot of action moments, but she doesn’t really get challenged the same way as Shirou does. Points are made about how the decision she made in the past put her life on a completely different track, but as a whole Saber is just kind of…there. Whether her own goals for the grail are right are wrong is only briefly challenged. She has a tough series though and really has to fight to hold true to herself. Saber gets her moments in this anime no doubt, but she’s not the star.
The star on the servants side really is Archer. The original Fate anime gave you solid hints as to his identity and brief shots of his personality. But in this one he really takes center stage and you can fully understand the guy. A lot of time was spent simply on his backstory and why he takes the actions he does. He takes some pretty extreme actions, but you can completely get why. He certainly gets more fights than just about any other servant in the show and he faces different kinds of threats throughout. He really is a pretty powerful character, but not overpowered. You can see how he stacks up against the other servants in this war both for good and bad. Archer does have a bit of a twisted personality, but he is not necessarily wrong for what he does in this show. At least in his position I’d find it hard to do anything else. If you ever wanted to see more Archer after the original anime then this is the place to go and certainly does him a bit more justice than the UBW movie.
There are a ton of servants and other character, but honestly these four get the most focus throughout. I’d say one complaint I have is some characters like Illya really just get forgotten for massive stretches of the show. I know that the show is mostly told from a certain perspective, but it does feel odd that you go 10+ episodes for some characters before they ever show up again. Character development for some of those characters is limited to flashback blocks that get dropped in. The anime does a good job giving some background to characters like Caster especially. She does act as a major threat for a long time in this show. The focus will mostly remain on Rin, Shirou, Saber and Archer, but you will see some good moments for characters like Lancer.
In terms of visuals….you are in good shape here. Easy to tell they put a lot of time and effort into getting this show to look really good. It shows in the action sequences which feel pretty quick and impacting. They have a lot of various abilities to animate and made them all look really good. The end of the show is a great representative of this with a fight that is fun to watch because of how good a job they did animating. Of course there are moments that some characters didn’t quite feel properly animated, but those are pretty rare moments. They have a nice style for the cast in this show, it looks different but it is nice. Really the visual side of this show is one that I have few if any complaints about. The backgrounds are well drawn, the characters look good and the action sequences are well animated. They don’t go overboard on fan service either. There is one episode where they for part of it take it easy, but they are just showing the characters having fun. There is no beach episode or anything like that. They just animate a good show.
The voice acting was top notch. All familiar voices back from previous series and they still represent the characters quite well. From Rin and Shirou to the roaring Berserker, all the voices fit the cast and no one felt like a weird choice to me. Which I’m always happy with since otherwise you’d suffer through a show with poor voice work.
The music is also a pretty good strength to the series. I wouldn’t say they use a lot of the VN tracks, but they do save some key ones for special scenes in the show. That I can understand since anime and visual novels are different, have to add their own music into the mix. I’d say as a whole the background music is solid, no tracks that really yanked me out of the episode. There are a few moments that I would have preferred a slightly different track, but that could simply be subjective taste. The music isn’t anything that I’ll remember forever, but it was good. A couple stand out tracks that cropped up near the end of the show helped accent key moments which I appreciated.
In terms of the OP/ED the show did have 2 of each. I wouldn’t say the show had a bad one for any of them, though I think as a whole only the second OP was one that I’d really say left a strong impression on me. The song itself was really full of energy which I think for an OP of this kind of show should be a given. The animation was outstanding like the rest of the show, and it always just left me excited for the episode I was about to watch. In terms of the EDs I would say the first one was a bit stronger to me. I liked the song for that one more. Both were pretty well just focusing on using static images while playing their respective music. They were fine, but neither left a huge impact on me in general.
I’m definitely glad at the end of the day that we got this. A show that had some good action at points, well developed main character, and great visuals. This show is just a pleasure to watch and I enjoyed it most of the way. A few episodes may have had me wanting more of something or less, but in general I enjoyed it and I enjoyed covering it. Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works is a really good anime. I don’t think it’s going to end up as being my favorite ever, but I’d have regretted not watching it. This show doesn’t fumble at the end either, but rather gives you a whole episode of epilogue that lets you see where the characters end up after all is said and done and how their lives have continued. It’s a good way to say goodbye to them. Although with the Fate-verse it really isn’t farewell since there is more on the way in movies and spinoffs.
I’ll give credit to the people who made it, they did a nice job. It wasn’t quite perfect and there are changes that I would make, but that doesn’t take away from the great job that was done as a whole. While the show was split across 2 seasons, it was one complete story. I’d definitely give this show a watch if you have enjoyed anything else connected to Fate/stay night, but if you haven’t it still works great as an entry into the fate series. A complete story that doesn’t require having seen anything else, but will be interesting to watch if you have. A show I can certainly give an A rating to.
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