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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works Limited Edition Box Set 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

15 min read

Fate Stay Night Box 1The Holy Grail War turns to a new generation.

What They Say:
Fuyuki City – a city surrounded by the sea and mountains becomes the setting for an ancient ritual. Seven masters are given control of heroic spirits in order to realize the mythical Holy Grail, which is said to grant its owner any wish. These heroic spirits or servants represent legendary heroes of various classes: “Saber,” “Lancer,” “Archer,” “Rider,” “Caster,” “Assassin,” and “Berserker.” Each master will enter into a contract with their chosen servant and battle the others to the death until only one pair remains… This is the “Holy Grail War.”

The young and capable mage, Rin Tohsaka, prepares for her long-awaited Fifth Holy Grail War to begin… With her servant Archer, Rin enters the Holy Grail War as the sole heir to the prestigious Tohsaka family after her father’s death. But when Shirou Emiya, a boy from Rin’s school, unwittingly becomes a Master and is fatally wounded in battle, she has no choice but to save him. With Shirou and his servant Saber, Rin sets out to strike down the conspiracies surrounding the Holy Grail War. Will the Holy Grail bless Rin and Shirou’s path toward victory or will they be cursed with defeat?

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track and the new English language dub, both of which are in stereo using the uncompressed PCM format. The series is one that really works the forward soundstage well with its use of dialogue and action to create some very engaging scenes while also layering it with enough background sounds to give it some additional life. It’s also useful because when you get to those quieter scenes you realize that the incidental sounds are no longer there and everything is a bit more ominous. The mixes for both tracks are quite solid with what they do and it uses the range well, with the softly spoken sequences coming across cleanly and without problems while the bigger and bolder moments have a great sense of impact about them. The opening and closing songs also work their own particular magic with extra warmth that comes from how they’re mixed and the end result is a strong series overall made even better with its uncompressed format.

Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV serie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes we get here are spread across four discs in a slightly awkward way owing to their run times and we end up with the fourth disc having just one double length episode plus the minor extras. Animated by Ufotable, what we get here is simply a perfect looking presentation. With the bit rate sitting pretty much in 39 for the entire run of each disc, there’s nothing that I can find fault with here. While there are a few gradients visible from time to time it’s something that’s simply in the animation itself and nothing to fault with the transfer. Colors are absolutely beautiful throughout with a warmth and richness where appropriate and some really deep and cold colors elsewhere. Detail is fantastic as this is a richly designed world and the high frame rate animation is pitch perfect as it unfolds with no issues at all. For those that adore the visual design of the series, this release does every single thing right.

The packaging for this limited edition release is pretty good overall with what it gives us though it’s a bit light in areas I would have liked to have seen a bit more. The set comes with three clear Blu-ray cases that are in a standard sized heavy chipboard box where it’s done in all white. The front of the box is striking with the foil design done for it with just the log where the text is in red while the symbolism is in silver behind it. The result is a glossy and appealing first impression that feels very Japanese. The back cover has one of the great main cast key visuals to it where it looks very slick thanks to the glossy paper here and with it featuring a mix of darker colors for the background and the brighter for some of the characters it has some good pop to it. The wraparound for the set covers the details cleanly and clearly where the front breaks it down by text with what’s included while the back covers some of the technical details of it in an accurate form.

Inside the box is the three clear cases where the two main show discs hold two of the discs each. The cover art uses some of the familiar promotional images with one focusing on Saber in the middle with blue hues while the second puts Shirou front and center with more orange hues as he’s surrounded by the important women in his life. Each case is appealing as it focuses on the artwork with little else besides the series logo in simple script off to the side. The back covers carry the color theme through there while breaking down the discs with what episodes are on it by number and title. The reverse sides of the cases don’t have any artwork of note and are mostly just done with a solid field of red. The soundtrack CD case goes for the solid red as well with some of the magic symbols on the front of it in gold that looks good but is certainly done with a light touch. The back cover goes for the solid red with white text that has the tracks by number and name. It’s minimal to be sure and an area where you wish it used the artwork for the front of it rather than symbolism.

The other piece here included is a booklet rich in information that should delight the hardcore fan and intrigue the newer fan. With a solid two page introduction to the world that was created and why, it delves into an extended dialogue between the director and producer overall before shifting to them talking about the individual episodes. It’s full of great information that provides a little more context. The booklet also brings in a great look at character designs, background artwork and the project as a whole to make it a visually appealing piece.

The only thing missing are postcards. I love the postcards that are made for Aniplex releases and the lack of them here is certainly noticeable, unfortunately.

The menu design for this release works really well, especially in the area where it’s one that you don’t mind leaving running while doing other things. The layout goes for the logo in the center with some good background design images uses to set the tone, such as the sunset sky, while over it it brings in different panels of character artwork before swiping them off for other pieces. it has a great smoothness to it that keeps you watching and enjoying seeing the pieces that are chosen for it. The navigation along the bottom, which doubles as the pop-up menu, goes for a bright blue on black look to mimic the Magic Circuits that Shirou uses in the show. The navigation is simple but very effective in its use, which makes it a breeze and seamless.

The extras for this release are fairly meager but unsurprising. Located on the fourth disc we get a collection of the various teasers and promos that were put together for some of the characters and the show itself, all of which are fun to check out to see how it was marketed. The other extras include the relevant opening and closing sequences associated with the episodes on this set where they’re done in a clean format. Which is worth watching just to take in the beauty of it all.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the success of the Fate/Zero series, it was no surprise that an attempt to make more of the franchise would happen. With the Prisma Illya spinoff delighting fans and all sorts of material to work with, the idea of animating Fate/Stay night again but in this newer style while working a different route from the original anime adaptation made sense. Add in that it would come out in the tenth anniversary year of the game itself coming out and you could see it all coming into place. While I thoroughly loved Fate/Zero, I had enjoyed the original Fate/Stay night series when it first came out and during the recent re-release. But there’s something more about how Fate/Zero was designed that just took it to a whole other level. So the opportunity to see it again in similar fashion, smaller in scale as the story demands, had me intrigued. But let me be very upfront; while I enjoy the properties a great deal I’m not one that is heavily invested in the deep details, links and connections to the various works and games. I went into this series enjoying it as a work unto itself, though with influence from Fate/Zero. But this one has to succeed on its own and I’m not looking to draw larger comparisons from there.

First, let’s just get this out of the way. The animation for this series is utterly gorgeous. It’s the kind of richly detailed work with some strikingly beautiful color design that reminds you of the importance a proper colorist plays in bringing shows to life. The fluid nature of the animation is really a big draw here in scenes big and small and just understanding the kind of intensity required to bring this to life is overwhelming when you dig into it. The result is that this series is the kind that for obvious reasons feels a lot more real and given more weight overall because of its design. You have a sense of setting and room design that makes you believe everything in there is there for a reason and could become a part of the interactions at any time. That has you taking in the show with a fresh view each time, which certainly ups its replay value significantly. And that’s on top of all the details of the story when you do try to connect it to other works.

The premise of the series is a simple one that opens up to a whole host of angles it can explore. After four different Holy Grail Wars have existed in secret in the past, where mages have battled it out to try and gain control of the grail in order to have their wish granted, the fifth one is about to begin. There are various family lines that exist in the world with mages that goes back quite a ways, making it a complex series of interactions at times in an effort to acquire such real power. But within all of those events nobody has truly gained control of it. The last time it played out was ten years prior and the fallout from it led to the destruction of a large area of New City in Japan. The city has rebuilt in the time since though and the story takes place in nearby Fuyuki City, where echoes of that past event still exist. It’s here that we see the gathering of forces, focusing on a pair of mages in particular, in order to gain control of the Grail. All while other forces operate in the background and in secret trying to pull the strings.

Where this series succeeds is in its characters and attention to detail in bringing it to life. Because of what the team here has accomplished before and the strong purchasing power of its fans, we get a very different than usual series that allows it to really explore things in a beautiful way. The zero, first and twelfth episodes of this set are double length episodes that uses that to really make the two main characters engaging and accessible. The opening episode introduces us to Rin Tohsaka, a young woman who has prepared herself to be a mage for pretty much her entire life. She gets the first episode largely to herself as we see her going through her preparations, summing of her Servant that will battle other Servants and mages for her, and some of the first blush encounters that will complicate her participation in the war. It also allows for some strong bonding time to be seen between her and Archer, her Servant.

The first episode does mostly the same kind of things but from a different direction and reasoning with Shirou Emiya, a young man the same age as Rin that survived the cataclysm of New City and the previous Holy Grail War where he lost much in so many ways. This takes us through some of Rin’s storyline again, from his perspective, and really humanizes and makes him accessible in a great way. The problem and good point to his story is that while we really understand Rin from the start and her motivations, Shirou’s takes longer as he’s thrust into the Grail War and you initially get the sense that it makes no sense to him. Discovering more about him along the way and the secrets he holds is like peeling back some great layers that surprises the view – and Rin. He has a larger plan himself, though a simple one, about what it means to participate in all of this considering his losses and how he was brought up afterwards. While Rin is in it to win it and for no more reason than that, Shirou’s reasonings are a bit shrouded, though you get a good sense of him in his desire to be a hero and protector of the innocent and those that can’t fight. And even of those who can fight, since he suffered so much before and understands pain and does his best to ensure others don’t feel it.

The course of this set takes us through several encounters with other Servants, and a master or two, as the sides are feeling themselves out, alliances are being set up and tactics are being put out there in order to test each other. Amid all of this we get Shirou attempting to live his life like normal while also having to deal with the Servant he’s gained with Saber. Unfortunately because of the way she was summoned, she can’t be dematerialized and hidden from view easily and instead has to live as a normal person in many regards all while being tied to Shirou, who is considered a weak master in both heart and body as well as mana. That complicates things for Saber as she has her own agenda with the Grail but it also gets complicated because she ends up getting to experience things with Shirou that she wouldn’t otherwise if she was just strictly a Servant rather than someone that he spends quality time with.

The enjoyment from this show comes from watching the way that Rin and Shirou end up working together to some extent to deal with the initial aspects of his becoming a mage as she feels some responsibility towards him. It then shifts to a bit of need along the way because one of the other Servants, Caster, is causing some serious trouble in the city when one of the rules of sorts of the war is that it shouldn’t involve others. The dynamic between masters and Servants is definitely interesting to watch, though the Command Seals that they have to establish certain things with their Servants isn’t given a proper enough amount of time, and their use feels off in a lot of ways as well. But that’s more nitpicking of something that becomes more important down the line as opposed to the odd trapping that it is here. With the push against Caster, it shows the way that the Servants can definitely have their own plans and motivations and that through their being imbued with Heroic Spirits from ages past can complicate it all the more because of their own agendas. They’re not just tools, no matter how much the masters may want them to be.

An area that I was really curious to watch this time around in this interpretation is that of the relationship that Shirou has with others in the show. And primarily in regards to the two main women that he deals with here with Rin and Saber. While there are certain elements there that can bloom into something bigger on both fronts, what I really liked about this half of the show is that it’s not outwardly trying to really pair anyone together. Viewers may do that but I really don’t believe that the show does itself, at least in a meaningful way. Rin does become closer with Shirou over the course of it and there’s a very good friendship that’s developing amid the craziness of what they’re really doing. But you know in the back of her mind with her desire to win at all costs that she knows she’s going to have to kill him.

Shirou’s relationship with Saber is one that also feels very much like a growing friendship, though part of his attention towards her is one where he’s trying to care for her because of some of her unfamiliarity with the present day world, even after she tells him she’s been here recently. Saber, for her part, is doing what she can to protect her master as well because that’s a big part of her job. But because she also has her own agenda and goals with the Grail she often comes across as more focused about that than him, and in a sense viewing him as the tool that can get her what she wants. There’s typically a decent amount of shipping going on between these two and I get it, but similar to what’s going on with Rin I really don’t get the strong and overt aspects of it that we often get in so many other series. And that nuance here really drives home one of the big appealing aspects of the show.

In Summary:
With Fate/Stay night, there’s that sense of familiarity about it because of the previous incarnation that can be hard to shake. I didn’t watch this series in simulcast form because I wanted to marathon it and just savor it in the two halves form. This incarnation of it takes the familiarity of Fate/Zero in its design and style and applies it strongly here – and all for the better. It’s obviously a more visually appealing show than before but it also takes what we had and adds so many more layers to it, layers that we were familiar with but weren’t executed well, and shapes it into something rich, beautiful, and engaging. It’s a very different story than Fate/Zero even if it does have plenty of ties that bind and the fact that it works with a mostly younger set of leads can be a little disconcerting after Fate/Zero where it was more about the adults. But here it has that layer of the “sins of the father” coming into play as it expands on it. While I may not go all utter fanboy and delve deep into the details of the games, spinoffs and various routes of the games that can be adapted, what I do find is that this is a thoroughly engaging world ripe for exploration and this incarnation is to me the defining version of the Fate/Stay night story.

Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Textless Opening and Ending, Trailer/TV Spot/CM/PV Collections.

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

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: August 25th, 2015
MSRP: $219.98
Running Time: 420 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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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