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Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

The Fifth Holy Grail War is about to get underway and some unusual people are being drawn into it.

What They Say:
Having spent the last ten years of his life studying under a mysterious sorcerer, Shiro Emiya has become a Magi, a sorcerer who has summoned a “Servant,” a mystical female warrior of incredible power named Saber, to stand together in the ultimate test of sorcery and magic: the Holy Grail War. But Shiro’s own feelings for Saber may conflict with their goal.

To win the contest means to take the risk of losing everything, even as he also begins to empathize with members of the rival battleteams. While seven teams will enter the battle, only one will leave, and the winners will receive the prize of the Grail itself and their greatest wish granted. Will that wish be worth the price Shiro must ultimately pay?

The Review:
Audio:
With the popularity of the franchise overall and this being a standalone work in its own way, the feature gets a solid bilingual presentation that definitely works the mood. The two language tracks are done using the DTS-HD MA codec with a 5.1 mix that uses the small and subtle sounds to good effect as you would expect from a Type-Moon feature but also handles everything very well when it goes back with the swelling of the music and the action itself. Similar to some other features, it’s the kind of show where you can be more impressed by the quiet and the small moments as opposed to the big ones because there’s more nuance and attention to detail in a way. The overall effect of the two definitely combines well and the mix here was very pleasing as we listened to it in its original Japanese.

Video:
Originally in theaters in 2010, the transfer for this theatrical film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The animation for the feature is an interesting mix, where it has some of what we’ve seen from the TV series but also some elements from the other Type-Moon movies where it’s very atmospheric and detailed. The transfer captures the look of the film well as ti uses a lot of beautiful colors and details, especially when it quiets down, and you really get to take in the quality of the animation. The big action scenes come across beautifully, utilizing a high bit rate and giving it its all, and the end result is a lush, fluid and highly engaging transfer that brings to life the work in a great way.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes in a standard Blu-ray case which actually works well with the cover since it’s so imbued with reds and darker shades of red. The main focus is a gorgeous illustration of the core cast of characters here in serious if not combative expressions and that is all helped and accentuated by the reds. There’s a slight off centering to it all that works well too, allowing the focus to be drawn to the characters in a circular fashion. The logo along the bottom is kept simple with a mixture of English and Japanese that doesn’t stand out but ties back to earlier logo forms. The back cover works the dark colors as well with an earthy and bloody red underneath the summary, which isn’t bad since it has so much black in it. The white text is easy to read and the series of shots from the show work well to add more darkness to it all. The production credits are clean and clear and the technical grid lists everything in a smooth and easy to read format. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for the release uses the same artwork as the front cover of the case but there’s a stronger light placed on it that gives the colors a bit more variety and impact. It doesn’t feel quite so oppressive in its design because of this, thoguh each way of doing it has its merits. The blues in Rin and Saber’s eyes stand out all the more here and that definitely draws you into it more. The layout is simple with a strip along the bottom for the menu selections that doubles as the pop-up menu while the upper right has the small logo that’s the same as the cover. Submenus load quickly and there’s nothing here but the movie so it’s easy to navigate.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After a successful twenty-four episode TV series done back in 2006, a new feature film was released in 2010 that took its cues from the original game and went down a different path, the appropriately named “Unlimited Blade Works” path. Coming into this movie is a little awkward as I haven’t seen the original series since Geneon originally released it and it was something that I had mixed feelings on from what little I remember of it. If anything, my thoughts are more aligned with the currently airing Fate/Zero series as it deals with the events ten years prior to this time period. Sometimes it can all get a little confusing, but crux of it is that this feature gives us a new, streamlined and intense version of the couple of weeks that it follows in the lives of these Masters and Servants.

The story retains all that we’ve come to know about the Fate/Stay Night mythos in that it’s now the time for the Fifth Holy Grail War, coming ten years after the previous one that left much of the participants here a mess. The two main Masters that it follows, Rin and Shiro, both suffered during that event that caused immense destruction in their city. Each bears wounds from it that are touched upon and helps to forge and motivate them, especially with the parentage and those that have taken care of them in the interim. The whole idea behind the war is that the winner who is worthy of it will retain the Grail and have all their wishes come true, changing the fate of the world and shaping it as they can. The war has been going on in cycles for ages and it utilizes a neat idea in bringing about Servants for the magician Masters to utilize that are aspects of famous warriors throughout history.

The main focus here is on that of Shiro, a high school student who suddenly finds himself caught up in all of this, revealed to be a Master with some intriguing technological magical abilities, who ends up pairing up with Saber, an incarnation of King Arthur that he bonds very closely with. What helps him along the way, adversarial at first but then working closely with him, is Rin Tosaka, a young woman whose family has a lengthy past with the Grail War. She herself has forced the summoning of her Servant, a man named Archer that has a certain sense of style about him with the way he’s looking out for the winner. And he’s not exactly completely bonded to his Master either, making for some complications. But therein seems to be one of the commonalities in this war in that the rules are being broken rather regularly, which is aided by Caster, someone whose special ability is to break the contracts made and free the Servant from the bond.

Because of the short form adaptation of this, the war as it unfolds has its strengths and weaknesses. While I don’t remember the original clearly, there are many familiar events here that will seem rushed simply because it avoids a lot of the slower character building bits that populated a twenty-four episode series. That’s not a bad thing, especially if you are familiar with the series, as it lets you get to the big events and to see the differences as it unfolds. But it’s also accessible to people completely new to it, as I had my twelve year old daughter watching this as her first Fate experience. It engaged her so much that she was ready for both of the TV series that are out there as quickly as possible.

With the time frame in which the film takes place, covering something like two weeks or less, it has that kind of quick intensity about it that does work well in this form. The cast is put through the wringer, but there are a few quiet moments. Allegiances change, longstanding battles are fought and we get to experience a good deal of the cast, which after watching most of Fate/Zero at this point has definitely changed my perception of this part of the franchise. It also really makes me want the full series to see the differences in clearer form. But what we get here definitely has a great flow about it and it’s easy to immerse yourself into it for what it is, a retelling down a different path with less fluff and a bit more compression. To see something like this on the big screen must have been wonderful.

In Summary:
Fate/Stay Night is the kind of series where even if you have seen the TV series, you must add this to your collection. It goes in some different directions in a big way at times and it alters perceptions of characters because of these paths. If you’re like me in that you’re watching Fate/Zero at this point, going into this feature may seem a little awkward at times, but I really think it only enhances it overall. The connections are there, but they aren’t the main focus overall as it’s what’s going on in this time frame. But the added knowledge definitely adds a lot more to it. The feature has some great animation, solid designs and plays in a big way that will please. It isn’t stingy with the fight sequences and the money is fully on the screen, leaving you feel very pleased by the end result and all it offers. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this going into it, but it feels like it’s reinvigorated my interest in the whole Fate/Stay Night part of the franchise.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 12th, 2012
MSRP: $39.98
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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