What They Say:
This is the story of an omnipotent container able to grant the wish of anyone who claims it—the Holy Grail.
The third route of the visual novel game, Fate/stay night, Heaven’s Feel, also known as the Sakura Route,
will be brought to the big screen at last.
Seen through the eyes of Sakura Matou, who’s in love with the hero, Shirou, this tale will close in on the truth about the Holy Grail War.
It is the saga following Fate (a.k.a. the Saber Route), depicting the wish of Saber, the Servant summoned by Shirou, and Unlimited Blade Works (a.k.a. the Rin Route), which, through the battles fought by the magus Rin Tohsaka, depicted the path taken by the hero, Shirou Emiya.
Heaven’s Feel will be produced by ufotable, the company behind the 2014 TV anime adaptation, Unlimited Blade Works.
It will be directed by Tomonori Sudo, whose work as a character designer/animation director includes numerous TYPE-MOON anime adaptations.
And now, the curtain will go up on the Heaven’s Feel trilogy—as [I.presage flower] comes into bloom at last.
Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel I Presage Flower the movie takes the Fate series in a new and complex direction. Whereas Ufotable’s Unlimited Blade Works anime adaptation works as a perfect introduction to the world and the Holy Grail War – as was the case for me – this movie series is built solely for those that are the hardcore fans of the franchise.
Ufotable employs some interesting design decisions for this first film in the trilogy, beginning with a prologue that is set more than a year before the start of the war, (briefly) chronicling Sakura and Shirou’s story up until the day he becomes a master. The first 15 minutes or so of the movie will be pleasing to fans as it brings some much needed backstory that was previously missing. However, upon arriving at “present day”, the story takes an odd shift that makes it impossible to recommend for newcomers to Fate.
In what is a quick anime opening-like montage, it rapidly skips over just about everything that occurs at the beginning of the war, including key events like Shirou summoning Saber, his first interaction with Rin, and those first couple of familiar fights. It is a bold decision that was jarring at first, even for someone like me with those events fresh in my memories from my time with Unlimited Blade Works.
This bold new take on the series is carried throughout the entirety of the film, as was hinted at by my time interviewing the Director of Heaven’s Feel: Tomonori Sudo-san. In my interview with him prior to the screening of Heaven’s Feel I, he told me that “all of Ufotable was 100% all-in with making this final arc into movies instead of a TV series like Unlimited Blade Works so that we would have the most freedom to express the story and characters with no restrictions.”
Despite the swift and relentless beginning, the first half of the movie is still surprisingly slow. It takes its time setting up where the characters are headed in this arc. For those that already know fan favorite characters like Shirou and Saber, there aren’t many changes to their motivations. Shirou, in particular, is still chasing after becoming a “hero of justice” as much as he did in previous iterations – if not more than ever. As such, the focus for this first film is mostly centered on the relatively undeveloped side character Sakura.
While the first two arcs centered on Saber and Rin, it should be no surprise that this one is her moment to shine and Sakura easily steals the show more than anyone previously, and this is only the first third of the story. Unlike her supernatural co-stars Saber and Rin, she is seemingly normal at first glance, yet, her relationships with her brother Shinji and housemate Shirou are what make this movie truly shine.
Not only did I have the honor of interviewing Sudo-san, but I had the chance to sit down with the voice of Sakura: Noriko Shitaya-san. Shitaya-san told me that like the movie as a whole, Sakura is a complex character “who has clear feelings for the main character Shirou. She wants to protect him more than anything else and that is clear from watching this first chapter.”
In our discussion regarding her relationship with Sakura’s brother Shinji, Shitaya-san had this to say: “Shinji is seen as the heir to the magical family and because of that, she gives him respect and will not disobey him. She even feels sympathy for Shinji.” It is clear in the movie that Sakura is perhaps the most complicated character in the series, taking abuse, neglect, and deep emotions into her heart and still continuing to be the better person.
Her loyalty and passion for those few she loves was both heartwarming and painful to watch, a testament to the mature and high-quality writing that is featured in Heaven’s Feel I, in addition to Shitaya-san’s phenomenal, stand-out performance. That same quality is seen in the animation, too. Ufotable was already creating some of the best animation ever with series like Unlimited Blade Works and The Garden of Sinners, and the switch to a feature film has only cemented that further.
The “freedom” that Sudo-san mentioned to me in our interview clearly allowed the studio to further enhance and refine the visuals throughout the movie. Characters are sharp and stylized, shadows and sunlight realistically change the look of the environment, and the colors are deep and rich in every scene. My biggest complaint with the film is the slow pacing that results in very little action until the end. There’s really only two fights in the whole movie and they both occur basically in the finale.
However, the wait was absolutely worth it. The effects and animation during these fights transcended anything that even Ufotable has done before. When I pressed Sudo-san – who got his start working at the bottom as a simple animator – on how they are able to create such amazing animation, he gave this moving speech:
“For Ufotable, we’re all about having skilled animators that have the passion to push themselves to the highest limit. The entire company has pride in every single thing we do and a production side that equally allows us to always push everything to the limit. An important key to Ufotable is hiring the new generation of digital animators to come in and teach us veterans. We all absorb from each other and experiment and evolve that way together.”
This was made apparent in the high-octane, very satisfying action of the two main fights. The liberal usage of 3D in the backgrounds was surprising but also extremely well-done. In one particular moment, a group of cars get involved in a fight and it was so ironically unreal how real they looked onscreen. Everything about these fights and the movie as a whole was unnerving, as there were constant twists, turns, and nods for the most hardcore of fans to keep you on the edge of your seat.
I genuinely felt worry many times, as death was frequent and shocking in Heaven’s Feel I. Characters I didn’t expect (or want) to see go were killed in absolutely gruesome and gory ways. All I’ll say is one such moment perfectly used the color red as an accent to the otherwise dull gray’s of everything else in the scene. The entire film builds towards this heart-pounding, tense finale that, despite being just part one, successfully concluded this first act of the series while still setting up some certainly insane story beats to come.
Though it is not at all for newcomers and the pacing of the first half can be frustratingly slow, Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel doesn’t fail in pushing the envelope for storytelling, animation, and the future of the series. Believe it or not, Ufotable has somehow improved its visuals, with its few fight scenes ranking among the best in the entire industry.
As much as I love Rin and Saber, the focus on Sakura in this arc is much needed. Her seemingly normal aspects are the perfect contrast to the overtly supernatural Holy Grail War. Her passion in her relationships with Shirou and Shinji drive the film forward even in its slowest moments, in large part due to Shitaya-san’s impressive voice work. It helps that the slow first half pays off in a finale that is tense, shocking, and left me both speechless and impatient for the next installment coming in 2018.
Release Date: November 18th, 2017 (USA)
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