Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

Tag Archives: 2006

Fate/Stay Night and Unlimited Blade Works (review)

Fate/Stay Night

Impression – a multifaceted, well-thought campaign (9/10)

Winter 2006 to spring 2006 (24 episodes)

Shirou Emiya is lucky to be alive.  Ten years ago he was the only survivor of a terrible fire that tore through a large suburb of Fuyuki City.  After his near brush with death, it seemed his good fortune couldn’t run out.  Kiritsugu Emiya, his adoptive father, was a magus who discovered Shirou had a talent for a curious kind of magic that involved fixing and reinforcing broken objects.  Even when Kiritsugu passed five years later, he continued to be taken care of by his kind, energetic neighbor, Taiga Fujimura.  But before his death, Kiritsugu didn’t just teach the young Shirou the basics of magic.  He also instilled in him a capacity for kindness and courage, prompting him to declare his goal in life to become a hero of justice.

But the enigmatic calamity that rocked Fuyuki city a decade ago is about to happen again.  Unknown to most, hidden in the shadows, a war is taking place between seven magi who will make use of contracted servants—avatars of heroic figures of the past—all for the purpose of having a chance to ask a wish of the powerful artifact, the Holy Grail.  When Shirou inadvertently witnesses one of the battles, the law of the magi is clear—onlookers must be silenced by any means necessary.  After being stabbed through the heart by the spear of one of the servants, he awakens surprised to find that he’s still alive. After realizing that his quarry survives, the spear-wielding servant makes haste to finish the job again.  But when cornered, Shirou subconsciously summons his own servant who drives back the attacker. However, he’s now become embroiled in the Holy Grail War where only the strong and clever survive and only the strongest and cleverest will attain the ultimate prize.

Even though Fate/Stay Night is often more spectacle than substance, it has an air of refinement about it that creates an atmosphere of nobility.  This feeling is primarily reinforced by “Disillusion,” the gorgeous title track that carries a lot of power in its gentle tones that rise up into extravagance as it finishes and each episode starts.  I know it’s a little strange to open a review about an anime by praising its choice of music, but that’s a fine example of the biggest strength of Stay Night.  Everything has a lot of depth and feels heavy and substantial—a clear indication that this is all part of something that’s much bigger than the sum of its parts.

The story is full of twists, turns and a few smart surprises that keep you on the edge of your seat; always leaving you wondering how things are going to proceed next.  A few of the quirkier events feel a little out of place for my taste, such as the episode where Shirou and Saber go on a date, but whatever.  I take it with good grace because it never feels conciliatory or done simply for the sake of following established formulas—even when I wish it could have been a little more ambitious or a little less obtuse with explaining what’s actually going on.

Yes, the writing takes a page from Evangelion’s playbook by giving the viewer an exercise in observing subtle clues to try and figure out things on their own.  While this isn’t a bad thing, it does mean that you’re probably either going to have to rewatch some of the more confusing episodes a couple of times or just cheat the hole process and read a wiki so you can discern what just happened. Personally, I enjoy this style of storytelling on occasion—something that challenges your intellect to track down the complicated, unseen intricacies that shape events.  But there are others who would prefer a more straightforward approach.  To that, I say this sort of thing fits for Fate/Stay Night and works with the plot rather than against it—a formula that keeps things moving and glosses over the dry parts that it can do without.

One of its main failings is that battles feel a little overpowered and broken, usually relying more on the servants arbitrarily powering up by increasingly roundabout methods that feel conjured out of thin air rather than something that’s actually relevant to their history, legend or personality.  But every so often the unique strengths of the seven different types of servants get played up to great effect and some really good moments of divide and conquer strategies and originally inspired teamwork give a few of the battles a very solid style.

All in all, Fate/Stay Night is a judicious anime and overall is very well-rounded in almost every aspect.  Tone-setting music, a diverse cast of characters with hard-to-read motives and some suitably epic battles all come together to form a complete work with little to complain about (unless you’re a hopeless fanboy who can’t let go that this is a for-TV anime that can’t stay true to every detail of the  visual novel).

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works

Impression – an action-packed, side-adventure (8/10)

Winter 2010 (movie)

Unlimited Blade Works follows an alternate storyline in the Fate/Stay Night visual novel that focuses on Rin’s Archer as a more important, main-ish character than the role he played in the anime’s TV plot, while very much downplaying the importance of Saber.  So if you’re one of those people who never figured out who Archer was in the original anime and you’ve managed not to spoil yourself in the intervening time since the series ended, you should definitely check this out.

I liked Unlimited Blade Works just about as much as I liked Stay Night TV.  It’s done in the spirit of the series, so pretty much everything good and bad about the anime can be said about the movie with a few caveats.  Namely, it’s a movie rather than a twenty-four episode series, so there’s some serious crunch time with the fine details that made Stay Night so polished.  I can overlook that because it manages to keep things tight and stays focused on the important details that drive the plot.  The unfortunate consequence of this is that it pushes a bit too hard and fast to get to the content that deviates from the original series.  This won’t be a problem for people who already know what’s going on, but that means Unlimited Blade Works doesn’t work too well as a standalone story.

I don’t really think it’s worth saying much more than that.  If you liked Fate/Stay Night, Unlimited Blade Works is likely to satisfy (unless you’re one of the aforementioned purist fanboys).  If treated as a supplementary companion, it is a wonderful alternative ending to a great series.

Shakugan no Shana (review)

Final impression – a triumphant beginning (10/10)

Autumn 2005 to winter 2006 (24 episodes + 1 OVA) (title literal translation – Shana of Burning Eyes, English synonym – Shana the Fire-Eyed)

High school has started and Yuji Sakai is already making the most of his youth.  But on his way home one day he steps into a sealed zone that is separated from the normal flow of time.  In here, he is attacked by monsters intent on devouring this strange human who can move within their trap.  But at the last second he is saved by a beautiful girl with flaming red hair; easily overpowering his attackers.  But despite protecting him from the monsters, it turns out Yuji Sakai is already dead.  His existence was eaten by a denizen of the Crimson World some time ago and all that remains of him is a tiny spark that will soon burn out.  He decides to spend his last few days before he disappears in the company of his savior, aiding her in any way that he can before he is gone without a trace.  However, a fortunate turn of events may give him an unexpected reprieve from oblivion.

Shakugan no Shana is a spectacular story.  It starts with the initial, horrifying concept of the enemies of humanity consuming people’s very existence as energy, leaving nothing behind to remember them by.  It’s a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that is dramatically mitigated by Yuji’s ability to keep a positive attitude about the whole situation.  He never despairs and is always thinking about how he can best make use of his limited potential.  It’s a testament to the tremendous strength of character people can exhibit when cornered by the most trying circumstances.  The series expands on its intellectual, action-filled beginning and moves into a more romantic theme as the steely Shana realizes that she’s not an emotionless killing machine and her feelings for Yuji go beyond mere camaraderie.  Even the final battle is more than it superficially appears to be because the plot never misses a chance to include a thought-provoking discussion about the characters’ inner motives.  And then to top of the amazing writing is the gorgeous art style of Ito Noizi and excellent music courtesy of Mami Kawada, KOTOKO and several other bands and singers who knew just the right style to set the mood for this epic series.  In short, the first season of Shakugan no Shana struck a perfect balance between fighting, philosophy, artistic tone and romance to create an amazingly profound first season.

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