The second route of the popular Fate/Stay Night franchise is either brilliant or disappointing. If you are going into this series cold, I’d advise you to start with the original series otherwise a lot of the story will go over your head. If you’re familiar with Fate/Stay Night though, this movie is a magnificent piece of fan service for you.
What They Say :
Steel is my body… and fire is my blood 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 battle teams. 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?
Set up in both 5.1 English and 5.1 Japanese, movies always seem to bring out the best of any system as they have both languages in the best possible way, and Unlimited Blade Works is no exception. This is a rare movie I watched in both languages in full, and whilst I feel the English track is a little louder so there is a difference, they are both high quality audio releases with no issues regarding transition with lip synching and audio with subtitles with either track, and combined with the beautiful visual combination where it combines CGI, hand drawn animation and watercolours flowing through, it is an amazing spectacle to watch. No visual issues noticed (no resolution issues when pausing, no slowdown, etc) and just a joy to watch on a big screen with widescreen effects.
Set on the background of the Reality Marble, a striking visual image to set you up in the movie, the menu aside from that is quite basic, selections on the top of Play All, Scenes, Set Up and Extras. As is the case with most movie releases but not TV series, the scenes select goes through the scenes of the movie for selection rather than part A, B and the opening/endings. No problems with selection either from the menu or the movie, but considering how flowing the movie is, the visual of the menu is pretty standard outside the Reality Marble picture.
The extras sadly are quite lacking, as they are almost all the same thing. All we get are various promos of the movie in Japanese, all set at different times but due to many of the scenes getting repeated, it almost feels like the same extra over and over. Blu-Ray and DVD Promo videos, a standard promo video, a theatrical teaser, a theatrical trailer, and theatrical TV spots, with only real differences are some scenes changing, introductions used in some and not other, and the dates used for their releases.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fate/Stay night I have some interesting history with. It is until my purchase of School Days last year when it got an English release, the only H-game I own. This was due to learning about the alternate routes after watching the Fate/Stay night series (really, it was just for the routes…honest…) and wondering what could be different as the series, whilst good, had some issues overall and was a decent albeit flawed series. Unlimited Blade Works is what I call the ‘Rin’ route if Stay/Night was the ‘Saber’ route. In the eyes of a F/S fan, it’s a masterpiece, but in the eyes of someone not knowing about the series and just pick it up as a cool looking film, it’s probably not the best way to get you started in the Nasuverse.
The first issue is that a lot of the back-story is very abridged. This is fine if you are familiar with the original Fate series but here, it feels very rushed. It does give a brief rundown, basically going back about of a disaster 10 years ago where the city of Fuyuki is burned to the ground, referencing the previous Grail War which would lead to a repeat in the current story. In fact, the start whilst rushed basically referencing what was going to happen in the Saber route. We see our male lead Shirou, someone who thanks to his adopted father and being of the few survivors of the fire 10 years ago, wanting to become a hero. He accidentally comes across two servants fighting, Archer and Lancer, and gets stabbed by Lancer. Rin, Archer’s summoner and master, a beautiful young woman with an attitude, heals him but Lancer still smells blood. Somehow, Shirou is able to summon a servant of his own, the all mighty Saber, a young woman with nobility and honour.
As this is a movie, all this consisted of the first episode of Fate/Stay night and is basically condensed into less than 3 minutes. Because of the glossing over the Grail War, the summoning procedure, and knowing who these characters are, (the priest Kotomine, one of the main antagonists, is barely glossed over at this point) this is why I say I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who hasn’t got any knowledge of the Fate/Stay universe until they’ve at least watched the main series. However, for those who have, read on as things change from this point where fans will start to fall in love with the movie.
At this point in the original series, Saber/Shiro and Rin/Archer go their separate ways, however in this route, Shiro is quite appreciative of Rin despite her keep declaring that they will be enemies. Archer on the other hand seems to have an unspecified hatred of Shirou for some reason. They actually bump into one of the main villains of the original series, the combination of creepy little girl Ilya, and the monster Berserker, a giant of a man with the wrath and power of several. A great fight sequence later, we seem to understand there is something different about Archer, his abilities and attitude don’t seem to warrant what an Archer is like, and his disregard as his attack appeared to aim for everyone including his Master, though the Rin/Archer relationship is as fun as ever, the two as smarmy to each other as before, but Shirou seems to feel some moments in his dreams that may be somehow connected to Archer?
After Ilya retreats due to Archer’s surprising power, we get to school, where we again get an abridged sequence introducing Shinji and his servant Rider, but whilst we get a brief scene of them fighting Shiro and Saber as they suspect it was him creating a force field around the school to suck the energy of the students, when Rider is discovered murdered they wonder if another servant is responsible for this…so whilst Shinji retreats to the church to discover that Kotomine has another servant he can use, Shirou gets controlled by the real menace behind the attacks at the school, the mysterious servant Caster. Caster has somehow managed to summon a servant herself (Assassin, a gallant samurai who considers Saber a worthy opponent) to distract Saber as her goal is to collect as much power and command spells, even controlling other servants so she can defeat the strongest servants and claim the Grail. She is about to take Shirou’s spells but Archer saves him. Again, we see this is more Archer’s arc as we see his abilities are very different and able to handle the spell caster whilst also show he is the opposite of Shirou – that he is being realistic in that he can’t save everyone and would have to kill to do that. A lot of the story is great in the Shirou/Archer dynamic that they seem so similar yet so different…which is of course a prelude of things to come…
Caster prays on Shirou’s flaw as she captured Shirou’s guardian and teacher Fuji, which leads her to using her Noble Phantasm (an ultimate attack each Servant has) Rule Breaker to control Saber. As she has no control over her actions, she is forced to attack Rin and Saber but the two manage to get away as Saber does her best to keep in control with herself. However, when they go to stop Caster, Archer decides that he wants to be on the winning side, and whilst he refused to join Caster at first, he switches sides but allowed the two to escape. The two need help now, so decide to risk finding Ilya and see if she can help…but when they find her, they are shocked to see that he is being killed by Shinji’s newest servant, a blond haired warrior named Gilgamesh, a cocky but very powerful servant. Gilgamesh actually doesn’t kill the two when they are discovered, saying Rin maybe a vessel for the Grail. In desperation, the two are actually approached by Lancer, who on the order of his master, decides to help them instead. It leads to several battles – Archer/Lancer, Rin/Caster and Shiro/Kuzuki (a teacher who is Caster’s master) – again, a lot of their abilities are glanced over (like Shirou’s reinforcement, and Rin’s magic abilities) which require you to know the series, but the fights are extremely action packed and flowing. Archer turns again and kills Caster which releases Saber, but then kidnaps Rin. In a real surprise twist from the original series, Rin actually becomes Saber’s master (as her command seals from Shirou vanished when Caster was defeated) which because of Rin’s stronger mana makes Saber the powerful servant we know she was capable of. Archer however still gets away and kidnaps Rin, knowing without a master now he has little chance of survival without a mana replinisher.
The final part of the movie is my fave – we get to learn who Archer’s real identity is, the true reason behind his hatred over Shirou, and some really great fights and talks involved. The Archer/Shirou dynamic is amazing, and it reinforces Archer as perhaps my personal favourite male character of the whole Fate universe (though a certain guy in Fate/Zero comes close). A few tricks from the church and Shinji being the same horrid scum he was in the first season leads to some epic moments involving Lancer and Rin (Lancer was basically a minor villain in Stay/Night, here, he enjoys almost flirtatious banter with Rin when he teams up, and really becomes one of my favourite characters in the movie), and seeing Shirou evolve into what he becomes is excellent. Shirou was one of the most least popular characters in the original series because of his wishy-washy (borderline sexist) ways in Stay/Night, here, whilst he still feels too much of a goody two shoes, he does it way more epically, and actually learns from his weaknesses thanks to Rin, though at the same time doesn’t lose any of his ideologies at being a hero, even teaching some lessons to Archer at the same time.
It does lead to a final battle with Gilgamesh, (and a scene that like in Stay/Night had to be changed to make it viewable, long story short, they changed a sex scene so that Shirou could be powerful enough to take on Gilgamesh) and a real sweet farewell or two involves some of the servants. The story itself is brought to a climax once you get involved, as Rin, Archer and Shirou are the stars – which is a bit surprising in one way as I’ve barely talked about Saber, but she kind of does get pushed away in favour of Rin, which makes sense as Saber was the star of Stay/Night, and this is Rin’s route. It just does feel after been attached to Saber that she is almost a sidekick for a lot of the movie.
The one main issue of course is how quickly edited it is – a lot of the story that connects with Stay/Night is heavily rushed, and I seriously cannot recommend it as a standalone movie. You do need to know about the characters beforehand, there is no good way to say it. Which is a shame because if a bit more time on the beginning was done, this could easily have been an amazing stand alone movie. As it is, it is definitely one…for fans of the Fate franchise. I loved the movie personally, Rin is my favourite character from the original series so seeing Archer and her interact with Shirou in their own unique ways and seeing her star was fantastic, she doesn’t lose any of her characterization from Stay, her tsundere attitude is all there to see, she is funny, a badass, and at times adorable. Shirou grew on me better as his heroism, whilst at times annoying, at least showcased what he is capable in doing. (Plus he has the most epic battle music…)
The star of the show though was Archer – sardonic, realistic, yet always with a sarcastic attitude putting down Shirou and Rin at times, always with his own agenda yet still loyal to his master, the way he develops especially at the end made me shed a tear. Other characters did get brief moments to shine (Lancer I felt actually did a lot better in this film than he did in the entire series of Stay/Night), there was lots of mysteries involved that whilst could have been explained better, still made sense. The editing of the movie does give it a very rushed feel though, so as much as I loved this film, it is only recommended for those familiar with Fate/Stay Night, because you will feel too much is going on without enough information or back-story to wonder what the heck IS going on. A lot of the side characters and many of the lesser servants are barely in the movie (Rider and Assassin get the short end of the stick, and as mentioned Saber is almost an after-thought a lot of the time) means it does feel like F/SN on fast forward at times.
But if you are a fan…enjoy the battle scenes. And try not to immaturity giggle when Archer says ‘I AM THE BONE OF MY SWORD’…
Fate/Unlimited Blade Works is both amazing and confusing. For fans of the original series (or own the game), this is a great movie, utilizing the two fan favourite characters Rin and Archer in their route to tell a different story from the original, which you may favour a lot more and be wowed by the flowing animation, the battle sequences, and the Archer/Shirou fights…both physically and mentally. For anyone else who hasn’t seen Fate/Stay Night, it is best you watch that first, otherwise the movie is way too rushed and hastily edited as they try and cram as much of the series into an hour and a half movie whilst also telling a different story. Highly recommended for F/SN fans, not so much for anyone else.
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: A+
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: September 30th, 2013
Running Time: 105 minutes
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.