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Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works Anime DVD Review

12 min read

The path not taken.

What They Say:
Having spent the last ten years of his life studying under a mysterious sorcerer, Shiro Emiva 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. For to win the contest means to take the risk of losing everything, even as he also begins to empathize with members of the rival battle teams. For 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 battle is on in Fate / Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works!

The Review:
Having originally been created as a feature film this release reflects that generally more technically intensive than TV series nature with its pair of audio tracks as both the original Japanese track and the English dub are presented in 5.1. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it largely is a center speaker driven affair with the main dialogue coming from that track except when the other speakers can be used to sell the directionality of events as well as the side speakers having been used to help sell the effects and sound to help set up the encompassing nature of the soundtrack, though the front speakers get more of a work out then the rear ones in this regard. During playback the track was found to be free of dropouts and distortions which created a solid though not exemplary track. The English track was also heavily sampled during the writing of the review and it appeared to be of at least equal quality with the Japanese track if not slightly punched in terms of the volume.

Originally released in Japanese theaters in 2010, the release is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is complete with an anamorphic widescreen encode. The feature definitely lives up to its big screen origin as its vibrant colors, detailed designs and solid action scenes demonstrate the care and attention that often is given to theatrical anime films. The encode itself is a fairly decent one though it does have a few issues including some banding, minor noise, haloing, blocking, minor ghosting at times and some color blur present with some of the features brighter reds. None of this should keep anyone from buying the DVD as it contains no issues that are outliers when it comes to anime DVDs, though those with the option may find themselves happier if they get the Blu Ray instead as many of these issues are usually related to DVDs need for compression.

The image on the cover features the four characters whose presence will dominate the feature as it features an almost full image of a pensive Rin Tohsaka looking over her right shoulder with a close up image of Shirou Emiya being present to the right of her while Saber appears with a defiant stare to her left and Archer stands above and behind Saber in profile as he looks in the opposite direction of Rin with the features title being placed in the lower fifth of the image. The entire image is tinged red which matches the fire that is burning in the background behind the characters, a theme which is also used for the spine which features the series log prominently and a small picture of Rin from the front at the bottom. The back of the cover continues the fire theme as it lays the copy over it along with three large stills before hosting the features title above 5 more stills with the copyright and technical information present bellow this.

The DVD release comes packaged in a case that is sure to draw the eyes as Sentai has chosen to use a rather rare type of case. While the case is a standard DVD size it is molded in a rather unique ruby red color that (almost) matches the reddish hue that the DVD cover slip uses. The case also has a different sort of make up around the hub as it uses a suspended type mechanism and the DVD sits in a pocket with a raised edge that runs along almost its entirety, except for a depression at the top to allow for easier access to an edge of the DVD while removing the disc. The disc itself uses a large image of a gear with a large number of teeth around the edge and which also has an “X” shape in the middle and the entire image and background continue the varying hues of red and black from the cover under the hub with the various studio logos present bellow that.

The main menu uses a split screen image with the top 70% of the screen being dedicated to an expanded image from the DVD cover with the right portion of the extended image introducing more large gears and a sword with the fire effect still playing across them. There is then a thin white line beneath that image before the options are listed horizontally at the bottom in white with a light purple line underneath them that is set against a stone colored background. The language screen uses much the same look though the image of Shirou, Rin and Saber is smaller as there is an extra level added at the bottom to highlight which submenu it is which the Scene Select also uses though the top image is more a fire effect one and the middle uses small images to showcase the chapters while the Special Features menu continues this pattern but uses a larger image of Illyasviel von Einzbern.

All of the menus use one of two songs from the feature as background music while a yellow gear icon indicates which option is highlighted and it turns a reddish-orange when selected for the options with the sub menus also having a triangle at the bottom that turns to yellow when highlighted to return to the main menu. The menu is prompt when responding to changes in the highlighted selection and implements choices with a just slightly noticeable delay.

This release contains no extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The origins of the Fate/Stay Night franchise date back to the release of the original visual novel for PCs in 2004 from developer Type-Moon. In the years that have followed the franchise has branched off into a number of areas as it has spawned a sequel visual novel, an animated series, some all ages adaptations of the original game (which was an adult one with a number of sex scenes that the all ages version removed), manga adaptations, a novel prologue (which was also adapted to an animated series), spin off games and not insignificant mountain of merchandise as well as this feature film which adds to the franchise’s tally.

Unlimited Blade Works (UBW) owes its existence to one of the aspects that visual novels can exploit which is the ability for the player to choose which path of many they wish to play out. In adapting the visual novel for animation the TV staff was forced to chose one path and develop their narrative from there (largely, though I have heard they included a few elements from some other paths that don’t change that narrative). UBW picks up the idea of exploring a different path than the original anime series portrayed as it examines one of the other branches that the game writers wrote which allowed for some different character dynamics that the original path didn’t allow for.

The feature opens ten years after a great disaster struck the city, one which is still shrouded in mystery but whose effects will be playing out over the course of the feature as it turns out that events were created in the midst of a fight known as The Holy Grail Wars. In these fights, 7 magi selected by fate each summon a servant from history’s greatest heroes and battle to be the last pair standing and obtain the Grail which will grant them absolute power. The film opens by showing how Shirou Emiya becomes wrapped up in this latest war when his life is saved by a fellow student and war participant Rin Tohsaka before being fully dragged into the war when his servant, Saber, appears before his eyes.

Rin introduces Shirou to a mysterious priest who explains the rules of the war to Shirou and when separating Rin attempts to set a barrier between the two as they are both fighting toward the same goal which is an attitude that Rin’s Servant Archer attempts to reinforce in her. Before the two and their servants can go their separate ways though they are suddenly confronted by another participant in the war who has aligned herself with one of the most physically powerful servants, Berserker, and who is looking to remove some competition. The fight comes to a close when Archer unleashes an incredible attack which causes Berserkers master to call the fight off but which causes Shirou pause as he suspects that Archer was looking to take him out as well as he is nearly caught up in the blast.

After the fight Rin believes that teaming up with Shirou and Saber would be the most prudent move to fight Berserker though her decision causes some friction to appear between Rin and Archer as he wants nothing to do with Shirou and Saber. As the now allied Magi’s bond grows through so does the danger as they encounter other Magi who are attempting to use their servants to win the war in ways that imperil both the pair and those around them. As alliances are made and pacts are broken, the animosity that Archer has to Shirou grows along with the danger the pair face from other Magi- What is it about Shirou that so enrages Archer that he is willing to forsake his duty as a servant, and will this attitude lead to the death of Shirou and Rin or will it lead to startling revelations as to the pain that Archer bears when the secret of his origins and that of his ultimate attack, Unlimited Blade Works, is revealed? And what impact will these revelations have upon the outcome of this Holy Grail War and the pair of Magi that have come to rely on each other to survive?

The Fate/Stay Night universe is one that has managed to get a fair amount of exposure in the US market as it has seen the licensing and release of the original anime series, a manga adaption and a pair of video games (though sadly not the original visual novel as of the time of this writing) in addition to this movie. This is actually a pretty important thing as the movie acts in a visual novel like way as most of those type of games possess the ability to skip a good deal of set up events that the path shares in common with a previous incarnation that has been played through. In the case of UBW this is a bit important as the feature presents a basic intro that provides enough set up for people new to the franchise or those who haven’t interacted with the storylines in years to be brought in and not feel they are completely lost in this unknown world as the feature quickly advances to its plot without doing much in the way of character establishment one would expect from a truly stand alone feature.

It is in that advancement to the more storyline unique events that the movie reveals both a strength and weakness though as existing fans of the franchise will find that they get to see this new arc quickly without revisiting material they have seen previously in the anime series as the feature rushes into events at a breakneck pace but those who may be new or have not interacted with the franchise in a while may find that the rapid pace of the story leaves them in a place where they are constantly trying to catch up as the story hurls along with its various twists and turns with little time to process some of those events and place them in a some sort of overall context as easily as those more familiar with the franchise can.

Beyond the film’s decision on how to begin and proceed though it has a number of merits that may prove to be far more interesting to already existing fans as the material provides new insight into its characters as these different events allow for the material to explore different facets and depths to them which helps explain some of the psychological makeup that may help make a few characters a bit more accepted by some fans- or possibly more hated as well depending on one’s interpretations.

The overall pace is something else that feels like it is walking a very fine line at times as its speed allows the story to keep the audience on the edge of their seat (and perhaps at times allows it to quickly speed past issues that might otherwise have caused them the need to explain some things) but it also impacts just how much impact various events and their twists and turns can have on the audience. For a couple of the biggest moments the filmmakers seemed to recognize this as they allow for a bit of time for the characters (and audience) to digest what just happened but many of the events aren’t afforded such a luxury. How one deals with this is of course going to be an individual response but I found it was a bit much and the constant pace began to grate on me somewhat as events often perpetually washed forward without the ability of the magnitude for their consequences to have time to really sink in or the character have time to show how the events really impacted them.

One other annoyance I had was the presence of two scenes that the production committee included seemingly as fan service measures. One of the complaints fans of the original game had with the with the series was its removal of the adult scenes that the game used, though for a number of people it wasn’t not necessarily that they wanted the adult scenes but that they felt when watching the anime series was that the production staff hadn’t really come up with a good way to deal with the circumstances the game writers had constructed for their presence and which left events in an awkward place. The feature film doesn’t fare much better in this regard as there is a pair of scenes that call back to the games adult nature but whose adaptation here is awkward at the very least and which really don’t add to the scenes. Worse since they don’t use any adult material expressly they basically standout as neon signs as to what should be taking place there but isn’t because of concerns for creating a larger market for the film and which can cause for the viewer to be pulled out of the flow of the narrative. Despite these flaws the feature manages what it set out to do- tell an alternate story of how events could play out and do it in a way that allows for plenty of action in the process and which gives viewers a different look at its main characters.

In Summary:
Unlimited Blade Works allows for another look into the universe of the characters from Fate/Stay Night and it presents them with a different path that allows for new surprises as well as new exploration into the psyche of the series inhabitants that will give those familiar with the franchise a new look while not alienating those who are new to the series. The film does things at a remarkable pace and while one doesn’t have to be familiar with the series in advance as it gives a fair set up for events and the feature’s protagonists, it is likely that existing fans will get more out of this feature than those first experiencing things through this story. What does a wait both new and old fans though is an action filled story that explores some depths behind its characters in the midst of as a highly energized journey where perils and pitfalls stand all around and one will the characters will have to examine themselves and what they believe to find if the journey is going to be worth the cost.

Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 12th, 2012
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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