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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works Limited Edition Box Set 2 Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

Fate Stay Night UBW Set 2 CoverIt’s the end of Fuyuki City as we know it…

What They Say:
Fuyuki City will be changed forever following the events that will come to be known as the Fifth Holy Grail War. With the Masters and Servants slowly revealing themselves and their intentions, the stage is set for the grand finale, and at the center of it all is Shirou Emiya and Rin Tohsaka.

The Holy Grail War continues, with each Master and Servant duo making their move for the omnipotent wish granter. Caster’s plans have been set in motion, beginning with taking Saber captive while Rin and Archer go their separate ways to continue their fights on their own. Without Saber’s aid, Shirou’s principles are put to the ultimate test. With many battles to come with expected and unexpected enemies, Shirou’s resolve begins to take form. Is his desire to protect people and become a hero, genuine? Or are they simply borrowed feelings? And will it be enough to carry him to the end?

Contains episodes 13-25 plus the original soundtrack II, a 24-page deluxe booklet, and an exclusive Weiss Schwarz collectible PR card, all in a rigid box illustrated by the original character designer, Takashi Takeuchi.

The Review:
Audio:
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.

Video:
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes we get here are spread across four discs in a four/three/three/two format where the fourth disc also has all the video 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.

Packaging:
The packaging for this limited edition release works by being consistent with the first set and that’s a very good thing for many fans. 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 logo where the text is in red while the symbolism is in black 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 accurate form.

Inside the box are 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 that we’ve seen before where it puts different pairings all while having a dark and grim feeling about them. Each case is appealing as it focuses on the artwork with little else besides the series logo in simple script off to the side and it doesn’t hurt that the illustrations are just beautiful in general. 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 blue. The soundtrack CD case goes for the solid drabby olive color inside while the front cover goes for a great visual of Archer and Rin back to back in the Marble reality. The back cover goes for more of the background material from this world and it definitely sets a really good tone about it.

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.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
The extras for this release are certainly familiar to what we had in the first volume where it’s got a good number of promos and TV spots and the home video spots as well. The clean opening and closing sequences find their way here that are from this half as well and those continue to be hugely welcome to visit after I finish the series. What we also get here is a kind of post-script OVA that has Shirou, Rin, and Saber in regular clothes just going out to enjoy some time together. It’s light and in its own way kind of meaningless for the seven minutes it runs, but it’s that one last fleeting moment with Saber before pulling this chapter of the story closed and that makes it worthwhile.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The back half of the Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works series is one that I definitely have some feelings about. But they’re things that, in the context of the few hours after watching it, that I’m not sure I can really put down fully without actually taking some time to think about it. Coming into this show only through this set after watching the original incarnation a decade ago and then restarting with Fate/Zero, there’s certainly some good reworkings here and this is definitely a stronger series for it. But it’s also a show that in the back of my mind I keep feeling like I need to just sit down for a couple of days and dig into Fate/Zero and then this without the years long breaks in between in order to truly soak it up and appreciate it. I envy those that are able to really do that these days as those days are behind me – at least until retirement someday!

With this set, there’s a lot of action and it really does dominate it, though it knows how to slow things down along the way as well so that it’s not a constant and unsustainable barrage. What we get with this half of it is the push towards the Holy Grail event itself and that means some serious whittling down of the cast right until the end where it comes down to just a couple of characters. This whittling away definitely makes for an engaging storyline because, as we saw in Fate/Zero, these characters are expendable as it progresses. With Shinji now tied to Gilgamesh, where Gilgamesh is really just using him as little more than a pet in order to achieve his goals, there’s plenty of little bits moving along here as Shinji is like the big man on campus and throwing his weight around. The problem is that he really hasn’t grasped what it is that they’re truly doing even after what he’s seen so far.

This comes through in an almost horrific manner when they go to deal with Illyasviel and her Berserker, aka Hercules. Ilya’s place is fairly well protected and I definitely enjoy that aspect of it because it offers up a little more fodder that, at first, doesn’t quite make it seem real for Shinji. But as her guardians are swept away in brutal fashion and we then see Gilgamesh going up against Berserker in a truly big and brutal way, particularly with the chains, it just takes on a whole other feeling in terms of scale and importance. Illya’s intent on winning to be sure, but as she starts the understand the level of power at play here you can see her looking for an out to try and save Berserker. The two certainly have made for some great scenes earlier in the series with their difference in size and appearance as that plays very well visually, but there’s a richer relationship at play here that shines through fantastically well as things go more and more south for them.

I also really got into the subplots involving Caster as she gained her new master that was willing to let her do what was needed while not seemingly really grasping the stakes here. He’s just intent on helping her and that leads to some very dark scenes overall for Caster as she’s definitely looking to do a lot to put her stamp on things all while trying to get back to where she came from. I never cared much for Caster in the previous incarnations of the series, but she takes on a very different feeling here where she’s more accessible in a way, more compelling to the point where I wish we had gotten a route with just her story at the forefront in order to dig into her. Her material across the first half of this set is fairly well compelling as she’s orchestrating things well, but like so many others she’s underestimated not only what Gilgamesh is capable of but what his true intentions are.

The most compelling of the arcs for me is the one that involves Archer and Shirou, however. Archer’s story feels a little all over the place at times as it’s not clear where his true allegiances lie, but as things start to come together we get to the point where his story is truly just about putting Shirou in his place. And this is critical because it works the idea that some of these Heroes aren’t from the past but are from the future. I’m really, really, not sure how I feel about this aspect because of how it connects to Shirou but also just the idea in general. I can understand why it works as the Grail appears without regards to time and space in a sense, just at the command of those mages in whatever time that draws it in, so it makes sense that Heroes can be drawn from anywhere. But in a series where connections and coincidences are already overdone it just feels like a step too far. Particularly with the whole lack of resemblance issue that’s then forced into it towards the end. Yet I will say that it plays out very well and compelling as the two fight as we see Shirou realizing the truth and pushing himself and his abilities further and further in order to move past him and face the true threat that is in Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh was a character I liked a lot in Fate/Zero so I was glad to see his role staked out a bit better here and earlier in the show so it felt more grounded. His role as the king of kings that is working a larger plan due to his true understanding of the Grail works very well, and it also makes it easy to believe that he’s as confident as he is in believing that he cannot be stopped. His toying with so many people throughout this is spot on and I loved the moments where he gets surprised by the actions of some because they are unpredictable – largely because of Shirou’s influence on events. And that things come down to him and Shirou is no surprise either but the two of them take it to a really good level where Shirou feels appropriate by this stage to take him on with what he’s learned and his own approach. There’s the whole hero of justice thing that’s used as a refrain throughout but knowing where it leads him in the end, if the path is followed, certainly makes it a bit more tragic as we see Shirou doing battle here. But it fits completely with his personality and helps to cement him properly in the final episodes after being somewhat secondary for much of this set.

What truly won me over with this series, particularly compared to the original adaptation/route years ago, is that the focus is taken away from Saber for a lot of this. While she was the primary draw before, she’s more secondary here while being a pivotal player in events. The greater focus given to Rin is something that I found a lot more appealing as the two of them worked in trying to survive and win the war in the end, but also just in growing to understand each other more under the circumstances with how far they’ll go in order to do what’s right. They work very well together throughout this, though she has to deal with his impulsive and reckless behavior far too often, but it’s the epilogue episode that just sells it all the more for me. While the Grail War ends in its big and epic way, it’s the time that we see with them together two years later, grown up and more understanding of each other and the world, that just makes me want to see them find a proper route to happiness. I tend to not really get behind anime pairings since there’s so little real payoff, but I completely want to see these two take it to a whole other level.

In Summary:
The Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works world has a lot to dig into and we covered each episode in a big way when it was originally simulcast. Watching it here in marathon form over a day just drives home the power of the show, the characters, and the things they’re fighting for. This set works to whittle it all down and work on just a few characters as it heads into the finale and that’s very well done here as each character removed is given enough weight for it to feel like it has impact. The bigger story at play with the Grail is well handled and I’ll admit I wanted a College Years series to follow this up more than the cutesy magical girl stuff we got instead. Aniplex has again put together a fantastic looking set that just delivers in spades and will delight fans that want the show to look and sound its absolute best. It’s a series that poured a big budget into being made and the results are visible here in fantastic form. Very recommended.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Special OVA “sunny day,” Textless Opening and Endings, 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: 325 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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