Thursday 15 December 2011

Anime REVIEW: Fate/Stay Night

Fate/Stay Night is a 24 episode anime series from 2006, based on a Japanese visual novel by Type-Moon. While the visual novel had three divulging scenarios, the anime series follows only one of them (the 'Fate' scenario) while showing glimpses of the others. The second scenario, titled 'Unlimited Blade Works', was made into a theatrical film of the same name.

Orphaned in a catastrophe ten years again, Emiya Shirou lives inspired by the man who took him in following the event, wishing one day to be a hero of justice. Soon, he becomes tied up in the sixth ‘Holy Grail War’, in which seven masters with seven servants battle to the death to obtain an ultimate power with the ability to grant wishes. Despite having limited magic skills, Shirou experiences a twist of fate when he summons the most powerful servant, Saber.

Along his battles he learns that each servant contains the spirit of a fallen hero, and that the event that orphaned him is not only linked the last Holy Grail War, but that he also has more involvement in it than he originally thought.

The story on the whole was very good, progressing towards what should have been an exciting finale (but I'll get onto that in a moment), with some twists and turns along the way. However I couldn't help feel that the fight scenes were a little on the weak side. For a character anime fans often tout as being a badass, Saber sure spends a hell of a lot of time getting her ass kicked. And then when she DOES win, its either by aid from Shirou or by having near invincibility from the her sword sheath - the source of her power. I realise the show mainly about Shirou and Saber was often fighting at half strength, but even then her reputation as the strongest servant both in and out of the show seemed overblown. The episode structure was also repetitive, with more episodes ending with Shirou shouting "SABEEEER" than I'd like to count. But what's worst of all was the comedy/harem elements dropped into the show, either as one note jokes or larger segments of episodes (particularly early on). They completely change the tone of the show, feel incredibly forced and usually involve by far the worst character in the series - Taiga Fujimura, Shiro's guardian and homeroom/english teacher.

The art seems very promising to begin with, showing off some interesting character designs and some gorgeous backdrops and action sequences (Saber's initial summoning a particular highlight). However I felt the overall quality to drop in places throughout the show, leaving some odd moments where it looked rather cheap. The main thing I noticed was scenes where the characters were drawn without pupils, leading to eyes that looked practically comatose. The other thing that let the art down (much like the story) was the comedy moments - the exaggerated facial expressions, actions and comedy backdrops simply didn't fit the tone and only served to cheapen it.

But perhaps it is the supporting cast that is Fate/Stay Night's biggest flaw. Outside of Shirou and Saber (and perhaps Rin), the rest of the cast fall into the categories of either uninteresting or underdeveloped. The majority of backgrounds are shown via brief flashbacks with nothing more to support them, and the master/servant combos in the lead up to the finale seem like after thoughts. Despite them all seeming like interesting characters, they are either quickly disposed of or appear towards the beginning to the series, then disappear until a few episodes later where then they're offed in the show's anticlimactic fashion.

On the other hand, Unlimited Blade Works follows a much more interesting path - while the first twenty minutes or so are essentially a recap of the series up to a point, the rest is a VERY different experience. Being a theatrical film, it obviously benefits visually from a far greater budget but the story is much more interesting, answering questions left unanswered in the 'Fate' story and giving more time to the other characters (some mains from 'Fate' are killed almost immediately, and Saber spends the majority of the time lurking in the background). Most notable is Archer, who goes from semi-interesting character to fully fledged badass. The problem is though it's cramming a whole scenario into a 105 minute movie, meaning the plot is somewhat rushed resulting in characters appearing and disappearing rather quickly. Had it been developed more I definitely would have a far bigger love for the franchise as a whole.

Overall, Fate/Stay Night was a good series, but nothing particularly mind blowing. There was a lot more that could have been done with its 24 episodes of run time, and to fully understand character backgrounds requires more internet reading than I could be bothered with. Fans of the visual novel might have more fun with this, but for those unfamiliar with it Fate/Stay Night falls firmly within the category of "good, but forgettable" anime.