All of the zeroes are finished. Now we finally move forward with our proper beginning to the story.
What They Say:
Shirou Emiya is a high school student who always helps people around him whenever he has a spare moment. His dream has always been to become a hero of justice. One night, he stumbles upon a battle between two Servants…
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As this series had a prologue under the episode numbering of “0” (not to be confused with a certain full-length prequel), I used much of my review for that as a prologue of sorts to my own viewing of the series, explaining where I had come from in the franchise, how much I know, and my hopes and expectations going into this new series. As I feel perspective is an extremely important aspect in discussing a series with so many esoteric facets, I recommend anyone who happens to have seen this review before that one read it first. Moreover, a comment from someone much more deeply versed in the minutia of the franchise gave me further opportunity to elaborate on these introductory thoughts while also increasing my own knowledge.
But now, just as the “episode 1” would indicate, we are truly at the beginning of the series, something that could be argued as having been led up to for over three solid years. That’s not to say that this episode is entirely a follow-up to the “prologue” from last week. Instead, as even someone with my level of ignorance assumed, this episode mirrors its equally double-length runtime almost entirely, intersecting in the very brief moments that you’d already expect from the prologue given its own shift in perspective; instead of Rin, we finally follow the character who was obfuscated as much as possible, the true protagonist Shirou.
While it will end up being especially appropriate given her focus in the route this series adapts, Rin being the POV character for the prologue makes perfect sense; she’s the one Master in this Holy Grail War both among the primary protagonists of the story and with the knowledge necessary to provide the same kind of introduction to this world and the surface of its intricately detailed concepts that should be etched into the mind of even a viewer completely new to the franchise. But Shirou is the real lead, which is why this is the proper “first episode” of the series. At this point he actually knows less than pretty much any viewer, so his premiere episode allows for much more of a relaxed look at what his life is like, equally appropriate for the character who we’ll not only be following for the rest of anything called “Fate/stay night” but also whose head a reader of the original visual novel is constantly in, providing much of the unique character development that has helped to make this story one of the favorites of its kind for so long. And in case you feel like an “episode 1” needs to go beyond an “episode 0” (however often that happens), this episode does indeed move just past the end of the prologue, bringing the two paths we’ve followed together to begin the dynamic that will be at the center of this story for the rest of the series.
Although its existence is fundamentally for perfunctory purposes, the use of episodes running perfectly parallel (other than the aforementioned intersections and slight progression past the prologue’s end) is something I absolutely love, especially when done as cleverly as this. Not only do the same few scenes show up in both with the camera angle shifted to maintain consistency in perspective, certain scenes and dialogue subtly explain scenes in the mirrored episode. Even the fact that it adheres so strongly to whichever point of view has been established only serves to further show how expertly the direction can deliver a flawless experience despite what might seem like restrictions in less competent hands. Being adapted from a visual novel, it’s not surprising that it wouldn’t be taking liberties to leave its protagonist’s perspective, and the use of two perspectives (also per the visual novel’s prologue) definitely helps to more fully flesh out the introduction wherein the two protagonists are experiencing very different events.
Another community who may be entering this equation is that of the viewers who know of the Fate/stay night story exclusively through Studio DEEN’s adaptation(s). I would hope by now that most have been educated enough to not expect this to be anything of the sort, but it may be hard for some to imagine Shirou not being as annoying as many considered that depiction of him. While time will tell how well the staff can convey the growth Shirou experiences in large part in the form of internal monologues in an adaptation to a medium far less suited for such things, I can already say that this Shirou is a lot more tolerable than the one(s) who had previously graced the art of animation. Shirou is annoying only in the way that he’s meant to be to start off the story; he’s painfully naïve and idealistic, hoping to follow the dream that his adopted father Kiritsugu could not accomplish, albeit without the darkness and cynicism that even the tragedy he’s experienced so far couldn’t result in, and continuing the trend of interestingly flawed characters in this universe, appearing to be the best candidate for overcoming many of these flaws.
But for those who came fresh off of Fate/Zero and are hoping for more of the same, I hope you know to expect at least a little of what’s to come tonally, because otherwise you might drown in the flood of (relative) lightheartedness this episode has in store for you. That’s not to say it doesn’t feel like the same world, though; when Taiga and Sakura aren’t around, Shirou spends most of his time inside his own head, recalling the horrors he’s experienced and those still prevalent in the world around him. A grisly murder has occurred in the next town over and another nearly occurs in as much the center of the plot as possible (another case of the shift in perspectives being adhered to very cleverly), both showing the same unflinching attention to brutality that ufotable has stuck to throughout its Type-Moon adaptations. And as I mentioned in the previous review, it’s not like Fate/Zero didn’t have its fair share of lightheartedness with Waver and Rider; they just happened to not be the main characters, and indeed the execution of the lighter moments in this feels pretty similar, a good thing considering how much fun those scenes always were. Taiga probably goes a bit beyond anything we saw in Fate/Zero, but she makes all of her appearances so enjoyable that that shouldn’t really be detrimental.
And just like the prologue, we do get some solid action in this episode (aside from the hilariously proficient animation used for Shirou and Taiga’s poster fight, although even that does foreshadow the real one), particularly a new fight in addition to glimpses of the one that blew us away in the prologue. The Fate franchise has become a fascinatingly expansive one over the years, but across the iterations the character who has become the most overall iconic is surely Saber. The prologue gave us mere frames of her glory, but this time we see her at the center of the action, providing the best indication of the visual consistency with Fate/Zero but also using ufotable’s extra years of experience and probably extra budget to deliver something that even transcends much of her earlier and simpler fight animation in that series. It’s the one aspect that I can’t imagine arguing a negative opinion of, unless one is simply disgusted by any visual style not made up entirely of hand-drawn lines (and even then I’d say it doesn’t go overboard with the CG).
Those who have seen Fate/Zero as well as DEEN’s Fate/stay night will be happy to know that in just the first episode, this series bridges Fate/Zero’s story to this one more than DEEN’s version did across its entire run, showing several scenes of Kiritsugu’s early interactions with Shirou and their relationship as their life together progressed. Just those brief moments do a lot to show the cruelty of the world more maturely than DEEN ever did, a theme that will surely continue to be at the core of Shirou’s story just as it was for Kiritsugu’s, and they also serve to tease the additional flashbacks to come.
I mentioned in the previous review that the prologue had included at least one tune heard in Fate/Zero (perhaps its most prominent track, Point Zero) despite the two having different composers, but I’ve since confirmed that indeed that was a Kajiura original, and thus her music is being incorporated into this series. That becomes substantially more obvious in this episode, as a few more familiar pieces pop up, appropriately filling out the scenes involving Kiritsugu. Fukasawa’s own compositions haven’t been terribly disappointing, but Kujiura’s work is just on a always more than welcome, and most importantly, it helps to preserve the tone of Fate/Zero for the scenes that ought to feel the same. By this point ufotable’s depictions of the Type-Moon universe just feel like they should have Kajiura’s music playing all the time anyway.
Of course, even if this pleasant surprise didn’t occur it’s not as if Kajiura would’ve been completely absent from this series, as the ending theme by Kalafina, the group for which she does all the behind-the-scenes work, was announced at the same time as the confirmation that she would not be the actual composer of the series. And while this episode does make almost every effort to mirror the prologue, it does bring us the proper opening (with full visuals, rather than the credit scroll over simple backgrounds used in the prologue) and the ending for the first time. The Kalafina song is probably about what you’d expect, by no means a bad thing. It doesn’t feel as impactful as “to the beginning” at this point, but along with still having time to grow on me, it’s also the ending, set to still images to close out the episode rather than the opening, which is set to very active animation and meant to get pull every fiber of your being into the world that’s about to be explored in the coming episode. The opening theme is by the completely new Mashiro Ayano, and the use of someone who has had nothing to do with anime before for the opening to such a huge project indicates that Aniplex has very high hopes for her future, and I’m guessing we’ll be hearing a lot more of her in their productions for the next few years. Although the song was used in the prologue, the visuals used for the opening definitely make it a great deal more exciting, matching up to the style of Fate/Zero’s openings as much as I hoped for.
I’ve waited years to be able to properly continue the story that I spent over a thousand dollars on in Fate/Zero, and many might’ve waited up to over a decade, since the release of the progenitor of one of the most expansive and multifaceted franchises in this world of anime, manga, games and similar interests so many of us are so wonderfully steeped in, the original Fate/stay night visual novel from the beginning of 2004. Well after a few hours of an extra delay on Crunchyroll, it’s finally begun in earnest, and it’s hard to look at it and think it’s not at least one of the strongest recent starts to an anime series that, along with fulfilling the desires of many who have experienced different pieces of the franchise, works perfectly well for complete newcomers. The production is absolutely top-notch, with ufotable masterfully delivering stunning visuals in every shot and the animation being even more outstanding. How well the story plays out is still up in the air, but all signs indicate that the visual novel is being very faithfully adhered to, so if all goes well, a much larger audience should get to experience why it’s been one of the most lauded visual novels for the past decade. I know it has me immensely excited to watch each episode play out.
Streamed By: Crunchyroll
Custom-Built PC, 27” 1080p HDTV.