With the ending of the convention season, I finally have time to catch up on some anime series, so I'll be doing more reviews like this, hopefully. Any recommendations?
What is the show?
Fate/Stay Night is one in a series of stories about mages who summon historical figures in order to fight for the coveted Holy Grail, a mystical item that can grant the winning mage and servant any wish.
Unlimited Blade Works specifically is the remake of the series from the original (just Fate/Stay Night) which focuses on one of the many storylines and endings from the visual novel/dating sim game that started the series. Yes, you read that right, this is based on a dating game from Japan, but honestly you may as well push that fact far from your mind, because this isn't a romance.
Shirou is the main character and he is the adopted son of a mage from the last Holy Grail War, which he knows very little about. But when he accidentally summons one of the legendary servants: Saber, he's thrown into the storyline and the current Holy Grail War and must become the hero in the process.
I've known about this series for years and have always loved the premise of taking historical figures and bending them to fit as warriors in such a fantastic story. When I attempted to watch the first series, I have to say I was less then impressed by the lack of character and personality Shirou had. In this remake, I'm happy to say that's been corrected. No longer is he a very lackluster character next to the exciting and new takes on well known historical figures - now he is very much a character who stands on his own and who you end up rooting for, no matter how tilted his ideals may be.
All in all, it's a really dramatic series, that made me love the main characters and quite a few of the side characters. As it was based on a dating game, you can still see threads of pandering to the fans, but they really only left in the important plot related points, so I can't complain. The character development is well written with everyone, the animation is gorgeous and the fight scenes really keep you on the edge of your seat. In fact those fight scene are a beautiful marriage of computer animation and the traditional animation style, that you feel every blow on the screen.
I do highly recommend this series and it fits right in there with action series such as Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, Tokyo Ghoul, Attack on Titan and other awesome titles. The contained storyline gives you a complete series that you don't need to go hunting for history about (but it's fun to after the series has ended) and the amount of kick ass females who are woven into the storyline is a great bonus. That and, without any spoilers, the storyline centering around Shirou and his personal growth is one of the most interesting I've seen in a long time.
There is a prequel to this series in Fate/Zero but you don't need to see it to understand this series. Instead, it's more of a bonus and you'll recognize some characters who float between both storylines. It doesn't matter what order you watch the two series in, there's just a few 'easter eggs' you'll notice if you take the time to watch both.
Watched on: Streaming on Hulu
Want some spoilers and in depth thoughts? Just scroll past the image:
Spoilers below this point!
Lets talk about those servants - specifically Saber (least to start). I love the fact that Saber is in fact King Arthur. It's not stated flat out in the series, but they make it pretty obvious once you find out what her weapon is and with her flashbacks to the original reason why she wanted the Grail and her wish fulfilled. The whole idea of mages summoning historical heroes in itself is really interesting, but the fact that they made one female with no explanation or excuses, really intrigued me. I like that it's never really discussed that while the mythical/historical King Arthur would have been male, Saber is very much female. There's no long drawn out flashback as to why, the audience is just told to accept it as reality, and I like that. It allows me to extrapolate and search out my own fanfiction prone explanations after the fact and it doesn't hurt the story at all. Yet, at the same time it's not too far to expect that had a female drawn the sword meant to pick the future king of Britain - then yeah, she would have probably had to pretend to be a male or simply live with being called a 'king' for most of her life. It's a new twist on an old and familiar story that I really like.
And that is part of why I love this series. Part of the fun is watching it and trying to figure out who each of the servants are. Some are flat out named in the series, while others are not and it can lead to many hours of looking up information and discovering other story tidbits that keep you interested far past the actual series. It's like a little puzzle book that just keeps giving you more and more information as you pull apart the pieces.
Gilgamesh was my only disappointment - and even then he wasn't really. He's so arrogant and unforgiving that you can't help but laugh at his particular type of madness. I mean a bad guy bent on world domination that is ok with killing most of humanity because they don't deserve to have him as their king? That's some special thinking right there! What they didn't tell you about his story, I know is revealed and expanded in Fate/Zero, so I really can't complain. All in all there was far too little of him in this series and I wish there'd been more - but I understand why there wasn't.
The whole crux of the story, and the reason why it's called Unlimited Blade Works centers around Shirou and his relation to Archer. I found that story to be really intriguing with how well it was written and handled. It was almost a time travel story, to be honest, but not quite. Since the heroes are timeless, the fact that Shirou and Archer are actually the same person from two different times (and possibly two different threads of time) is really interesting and their well thought out explanation worked better then most time travel stories I've come across. It made Archer a really interesting character with oh so many layers and during their fight, I honestly couldn't tell you who I was rooting for, because damnit they both deserved to win and lose at the same time.
So yeah, like I said, I loved the series. I do highly recommend it and I plan on finishing Fate/Zero soon here. I hope they explore the other storylines presented in the visual novels and some of the other games in future series. I would be quite happy to see these characters over and over again.
(With the exception of Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya - where they turn it into a magical girl series. I really have no interest in that thread.)