It’s time to look at the legendary Fate Stay Night show. If you know anime then odds are that you have to have heard of this show at some point or another. The fate franchise has always been pretty massive and so it makes sense that when you take the best animation company and put them on this project, it’s going to be a big hit. I have a separate editorial talking more about animation soon, but for the sake of argument right now, Ufotable does have the best visuals. This show is definitely real solid and one of the things I like about it is how there are a lot of moral debates and philosophical discussions. I always like that kind of thing. The show’s first half is rock solid and while the second half stumbles a bit I would still say this is a very good show in the end.
The plot revolves around a kid named Shirou who lives a rather ordinary life at school. He is treated as a bit of a pushover due to his ideal of wanting to help everyone at all times. Still, he’s satisfied with where he’s at, but then he suddenly gets thrown in the middle of a big fight going on and is fortunately able to summon a servant in time to survive. He is now a participant in the Holy Grail War and must take out the other masters. Throughout all of this, he needs to keep his ideal of being a Hero of Justice. Ultimately that will be the toughest part of the journey.
Lets quickly talk about the Holy Grail War to really understand this. 7 Masters are chosen to be in this war. They are chosen by the Holy Grail and typically come out of prestigious magic families. Each master is then to summon a powerful servant who is a mythological hero of legend. The Holy Grail will only appear once a single servant remains so the idea is to destroy the other servants. Of course, the easiest way to do this is to take out the master since the servant can’t continue to exist without one. There are a lot of different methods to try of course and the only result that matters is victory.
The concept of the Grail War is definitely another gold mine. It’s basically the Hunger Games but with each player having an immensely powerful guard at their disposal. It makes for a great dynamic as well as trying to figure out who each Heroic Spirit is. Good luck though because a lot of them are pretty obscure. I dare say only two of them you would be able to figure out and even then it’s hard to say. The others I definitely would not have had a shot from the start. So from here the show really picks up. It’s got a very serious atmosphere throughout. Not to say that the show is without its happy moments of course. I’d say it’s definitely more upbeat than the original but there’s always a sense of foreboding.
The very episode (Episode 0) was the perfect pilot for the series. An easy 10/10 episode with a lot of replay value. It explains what is going on very smoothly while also giving us two fight scenes. I thought this was a clever way to also start the series off a bit differently by having Rin as the main character. While it might be a little hyperbolic to say that this is flatout the best episode in the series, it really might be. I’ve basically seen it 5 times (Twice normally, twice abridged, and once via reaction) and I can’t get over how well it is done. The characters are immediately interesting, the animation is out of this world, and the soundtrack is epic.
In general the first half of the series is pretty near perfect. I think the first 12-13 episodes (I forget what is exactly the halfway point but you’ll know it because the theme song from the original show plays) are basically 9/10 caliber. It has set all the pieces on the board and now you just need to see what happens next. I would consider this show to be an action mystery with some horror elements. At this point things are as dire as ever for the heroes. The villains really have all the cards and the problem is that there are different villain groups so you don’t know who to go after. I also thought the song here was perfect and suitably emotional.
Let’s continue with the strengths of the series. The animation is absolutely masterful. One Punch Man is still the best looking anime if you ask me, but this would probably take second. Ufotable really does not disappoint and all of the fight scenes here are excellent. There is no such thing as a poorly animated fight here. Everything’s just on point and it does a really good job of showing how powerful all of these characters are. You really feel the vast difference between the spirits and the humans. It also just makes a difference having great animation, really sucks you into what’s going on. The scenes just feel very powerful and you’re especially taken off guard in the beginning. Both the Archer vs Lancer (Round 1) and Saber & Archer vs Berserker fights happen within the first few episodes and quickly show you that you’re going to be in for an amazing ride.
The soundtrack is also top tier as I mentioned. The best theme in the show is probably the Archer theme. It was a really good theme to have show up whenever he pops in. Both of the openings are also excellent as well as the remixed version of the original theme song. Then you have Last Stardust which is a great emotional theme near the end of the series. Pretty much every theme in the show is really solid and you can keep on jamming to these tunes for a long time. It’s got a lot of replay value just like this show.
The script is also excellent. It’s a little harder to describe what an amazing script is without watching it but the show’s just super interesting. Just about any conversation with Archer and Shirou is one to watch. In general you could also say the same for any conversation Archer has. He just has a really good way with words and articulating what he’s thinking in a way that makes you really think about what’s going on. He’s certainly manipulative and uses this to great effect. Due to the nature of the show being a mystery, it’s also important that everyone acts cryptically without being too obvious. I thought it was all handled rather subtly. Due to how the show goes through 3 routes so you have to watch them all to understand everything, that spins perfectly here as not every plot line is actually explored, adding to the overall mystery of what’s going on here.
Now to the second half. First, I have to say that while it couldn’t execute nearly as well as the first half it is still pretty solid. We get quite a lot of top tier fights in the second half and they may even surpass the first half. Shirou vs Archer, Gilgamesh vs Berserker, and Rin vs Caster are all excellent fights. There’s a lot of variety in these action scenes so none appear to be identical. Since the tournament is getting closer to ending that means everyone is forced to start making moves so now the plot is at its most explosive. In particular I think that’s why Gilgamesh vs Berserker is a fight that particularly shines. I always like when villains attack each other because it’s harder to tell who will win. In this case you’ll have a really good idea just by context clues but it’s still great. Especially because Gilgamesh is a third party at this point so you really don’t know how he is going to affect things.
So what was weaker about this half? Well, it did start to creep a little more towards the Fate/Zero edge that I’d prefer to avoid. It never gets nearly as over the top gritty as that show but it goes farther than it needs too. One brutal scene is when Illya is blinded by Gilgamesh. It’s a pretty brutal scene and one that feels really unnecessary at that point in time. I don’t see how the scene really adds to anything. Then we get an origin story where a bunch of dogs get slaughters. That felt rather extra as well and there were much better ways to show a bond. Additionally I don’t see how the character got so injured by them when his durability should be so great.
The Caster and Saber stuff could also be a bit sketchy. It doesn’t go super far or anything, but why? Caster didn’t really seem like that kind of character. Especially from her origin where she is played as more of a sympathetic character. Why did we need kid sacrifices again? She did good in putting a stop to this even if it wasn’t in the best possible way. At the very least she was way better than her master. Finally there’s the Shinji and Rin stuff by the end. The show really wanted to do its best to make sure there was no way you could like Shinji. It succeeded of course and he’s definitely one of the worst in the series. These scenes together don’t negate all the good we get in this part of the series of course, but it’s also why it can’t come close to matching the first half. The first half of Stay Night is ideal and you could just watch it over and over again.
Shirou is the main character so naturally there’s a lot to say about him. He’s definitely a very solid character. Shirou does act a bit too much like a pushover during the start of the series but at least he has a better reason for it than most. He wants to be a Hero of Justice but is ashamed at how weak he is. As it stands, Shirou currently doesn’t have the ability needed to accomplish this goal. So in a way he punishes himself by doing all of these extra stuff. He’s still getting to help other people out which is ultimately his goal and that’ll just have to do. This war gives him a chance to really test his ideals and work to not let this game corrupt him. He does an excellent job of this and is definitely a very good main character. I already wrote an editorial about why his ideals are correct so it almost goes without saying that I think he’s great. He can also fight when needed and steps up when the chips are down. The other characters give him a hard time but would be in a tough spot without him. I’m not really on board with Shirou’s romance plot though. I think that could have been whittled down some.
Saber is the main servant here or at least she works with Shirou. In the first show she is definitely the main heroine with a ton of screentime but you could argue that her role is smaller than that of both Rin and Archer this time around. She’s still a solid fighter although I consider her to be over hyped in universe. When she is first being summoned there’s a huge deal about the Saber class being the most powerful and that everyone’s in trouble. Then she proceeds to lose almost every fight she gets thrown into or when she has the upper hand she is unable to close the deal. I’ll have more to say on that in another time. Power isn’t the only factor in how likable a character is though and so I still like Saber quite a lot. Her goals and motivations are pretty strong as well. She’s an excellent tactical fighter and is always ready to jump into the action. Her moves may be considered a bit more straight forward and basic next to what some of the other Servants can do but her physical stats are still high enough where she is able to get the job done this way.
Rin gets a huge role here so it’s important that she be a good character. Fortunately that is the case and part of why episode 0 is so good. She’s just a very interesting character and prepared well for this tournament. She may have messed up a bit with the time but that’s a pretty easy slip up. One of the reasons why she is really good is the fact that she can actually fight. Unlike most masters who don’t engage in combat she can actually charge the field along with her servant. She has a lot of good back and forth discussions with Archer. I think she tends to be a little too lenient on him given some of the actions later on though. She just figured out too many things which in effect made her sympathize with Archer even more but after a while it is a stretch. Either way Rin is definitely a highlight here though and has too many good scenes to name. I’d say her biggest highlight is probably the battle with Caster.
Then we have her servant Archer. He’s a very mysterious entity from the beginning as he claims not to know who he is which makes battle tactics quickly. Also, he’s an Archer but always uses a pair of short swords. Still, this guy is pretty powerful. He gives all of the other Servants quite a tough fight as the series goes on and his role is massive next to the original. The anime perfectly nails his confident attitude and the design is extremely crisp. He gets a lot of great dialogue with almost everything he says being memorable. Again, I already talked about him a lot in my editorial so I won’t go as far into this. Additionally I can’t talk about his appearances in the second half of the show as much without going into spoilers. Needless to say, his reasons for doing what he did was interesting but given his goal I feel like he could have made a move a whole lot sooner. I suppose maybe he wanted an even playing field so he could really have a battle of the minds. It’s a reasonable guess but he went really far in doing this to the point where he was basically willing to destroy everything. Not really a proper goal for a Heroic Spirit right? The guy’s definitely not very heroic compared to some of the others. He is quite jaded and even if he ends up doing the right thing at the end of the day in a lot of cases, it’s hard to call him a hero for the most part. Of course, there can be solid debates on that well. Regardless, Archer is a very interesting character and actually rose to being my favorite in the franchise. That was Gilgamesh for a while but I’d say that Archer surpassed him with this one. A mysterious enigma like Archer who manipulated everyone is just hard to top.
Rider doesn’t get much of a role here. She got a bigger one in the original show and even there she didn’t really do much at all. I think fans of her will be a little disappointed at just how quickly it’s all over. She was never one of my favorite servants thugh so I was okay with it. Illya was always one of my favorite masters though so it was too bad that her role was reduced. In particular I missed the scene of her kidnapping Shirou. I thought that was a really ominous moment in the series and one that definitely raised the stakes. She’s still really fun here too of course. She has a lot of great dialogue and was definitely showing Rin up during their fight. Her role may not be huge but she’s as confident and smug as ever so she’s definitely still a winner as far as I’m concerned.
Berserker is one of the big servants. I always thought it was interesting that his debut is that he’s basically the strongest servant. It seems to happen 3 times in the series, first for Saber, then for him, and finally for Gilgamesh. He is quite impressive though and his Noble Phantasm is very practical. I also like the fact that he is shown to be very agile despite being a Berserker. It makes him a complete nightmare to fight and he is consistently shown to be a very tough fighter. I liked the guy and despite his tough exterior, he does feel like a real hero unlike some of the other spirits.
Lancer really stood out in this version. He stole the show quite a bit and from all of the heroic spirits he is easily the most heroic. He has a very solid honor code and is willing to resist orders to do the right thing. I also liked his ultimate attack. It may not work a whole lot due to plot hax and all but otherwise reversing cause and effect is almost impossible to stop. How do you stop something like that? He’s just a very cool character and whenever he appears you know something cool is going to happen.
Gilgamesh is also a character that just radiates power and a cool personality. I like how smug he is and as you can tell, this show is filled with a lot of fascinating characters. I just wish we could have gotten more scenes with him and Archer. I think you have the potential for a lot of great character dynamics with them because if you think about it they’re very similar. Regardless he is one of the coolest villains in the series. He doesn’t fear anyone and you never get the feeling that he’s outmatched. If he would get serious a little sooner then I think he could have caused some real damage to the others here.
I already talked a bit about Shinji earlier so no need to go back into that. He’s a pretty terrible character. Kirei on the other hand is a lot more interesting. The fact that he’s more of a moderator is an interesting role in itself. He knows a whole lot more than most of the other characters and in a tournament like this that’s a huge advantage. He will be able to have a bird’s eye view of things. The voice chosen for him is perfect as well and I always did like the claw type weapons he uses. I’d have liked to see him do more in the series. Then you have the crew at Shirou’s home like Sakura and Taiga but they don’t really get to do anything here. Sakura has some interesting scenes with Gilgamesh but they’re completely off screen. I was surprised Shirou never tries to ask about that but I suppose at this point in time he was trying to keep her out of this. Taiga’s a reasonable comedy character. Her scenes don’t amount to much by themselves but it was good to show Shirou’s normal life before everything completely changed. She’s also good at fencing which is nice to note. At least it means she can fight a bit in self defense although it won’t help against a servant.
Caster gets a huge role in this series to the point where you could call her the main villain of the series. She may not be a close quarters fighter but her magic is so versatile that she can go head to head with just about any other servant. She tends to bend the rules quite a lot, making a mockery of the whole thing. That’s a solid way to approach things for a Caster though and I liked her plan. It was really just about perfect if you ask me and she just took too many risks by the end. She got way too greedy and it cost her.
Assassin is a pretty interesting character as well. In part he doesn’t feel like an Assassin though because the guy fights with a sword at close combat and quite well. He was easily overwhelming Saber after all. He’s very honorable and really just got a bad hand here. His actions are quite limited but he will leave a solid impression on you. Definitely a really fun character. Then you have Kuzuki. He does give some power level issues here though. I am glad to see a master who can fight but he should not have been able to do anything against Saber. I can understand the magic amping up his attacks to deal damage but he should have been far too slow to land any hits. No matter how the show tried to explain it I couldn’t buy into that. He made for a solid antagonist though. His set of ideals are definitely quite different compared to the other characters and how dead inside he is was pretty interesting. He’s a villain who isn’t pretending to be anything else.
There are more characters of course but those are the big ones. So I think this is a pretty good recap of the series. Ultimately one last thing to say here is that Fate has a ton of themes. That’s part of what makes it so much fun is there’s a lot to discuss and think about here. Every character has quite a lot of motivations going on here and a full plot to themselves. When you add that to every character then you’ve got a large multi layered story. It’s hard to find a story with as much depth as Fate. Typically you see this kind of atmosphere the more you get into pretty intense territory like Attack on Titan so Fate was able to grab that atmosphere without getting mired with the usual negatives that come with it. That in itself is pretty impressive.
One quick thing to note here is that the power levels can be a bit iffy though. I already touched on the whole Kuzuki managing to take on Saber and even overwhelming her in close quarters combat. I don’t see how that’s possible. Then you have the fact that Saber is supposed to be the strongest Saber but gets beaten left and right by just about everyone. I have an editorial for that at some point as well. How is she losing to Archer near the end of the series when the guy’s been without a master for a while and is super weakened? This is sometimes an issue for various shows where all of the characters have a lot of hype so we get a lot of deadlocks. There are quite a few of those here. Still, in this show it’s not like everyone lives so things do come to an end. Some fights just aren’t as believable as others. Archer vs Shirou made sense with the realization that one character was holding back for legitimate reasons while Gilgamesh vs Shirou is more suspect.
Overall, Fate Stay Night is definitely a show I would recommend. It’s got a top tier production behind it and now I can finally understand for real why it’s titled Unlimited Budget Works by fans. The series has a ton of replay value. When you’ve got a story that already has a good plot and then throw excellent music and animation at it you know you’ve got a winner. Ultimately I still did prefer the original version ever so slightly. It does lack in animation and soundtrack compared to this one but I thought it really nailed the uncertainty and the scary atmosphere of Fate. Perhaps it is due to the animation being darker and more misty but that show’s pretty hard to top. I also thought no moment in this show was quite as powerful as the Archer vs Berserker fight from that series which I never forgot. It was a real highlight for me. Either way, whether you’re a Fate fan or not you should definitely check this out. Unlimited Blade Works definitely sets a pretty high bar and there’s a lot to talk about here.