Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works

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Fate/Stay Night is one of those franchises that needs very little introduction. TYPE-MOON’s hit visual novel from 2004 was adapted for anime  in 2006, and while the original series was good for the most part, the show suffered due to an inherent problem with any visual novel adaptation.

Visual novels are a strange blending of anime, manga and games that, in a number of cases, allow the player a degree of choice over the events in the story (although there are some purely linear ones out there). The issue though, is that the same event may have several different outcomes that are dependent on the choices made within the game, and it’s this aspect of many visual novels that causes the most problems when it comes to making an adaptation as the storyline for these types of games are generally lacking in certain areas. The first anime version of Fate/Stay Night, for example, didn’t just follow the game’s Saber arc but also included bits from the other two arcs as the plot was believed to be too weak to support a 26 episode TV series.

Unlimited Blade Works, the second story arc from the game, has now been adapted as an anime movie, and unlike the TV series it promised to be a more faithful reproduction. The major question though, is whether the franchise works better in this format.

Ostensibly, Unlimited Blade Works is an alternative retelling of the original story, with many of the fundamental plot points, characters and settings included. The major difference between the two though, lies in the aim of the plot. In the original Fate/Stay Night (or Saber Arc, whichever you fancy), the goal was to stop the creation of the Holy Grail and end the war once and for all, but Unlimited Blade Works only uses this as a peripheral concept, with the main story being about the relationship between Archer, Tohsaka Rin’s noble phantasm, and Emiya Shirou.

The main problem with the storyline is simply that it becomes too caught up in itself. While the basic concepts are good, the plot is far too reliant on knowledge of the previous anime series or the game itself. There are far too many occasions where no explanation is given for an action or event, a factor which doesn’t help viewers with little to no knowledge of the franchise. Granted there is some effort made at the beginning of the movie to bring the casual viewer up to speed, but this is nowhere near enough to support the weight of the actual story.

That said, fans of the franchise may find this entertaining viewing at the very least, however they may also find it lacking in certain areas, in particular where the characters are concerned as, again, Unlimited Blade Works relies too much on what has gone before.

The problem with the characters is one that is fairly typical when it comes to movies – a lack of development, however the fact that this is an alternative retelling of an existing tale only serves to make this more pronounced. Both Rin and Shirou are decent enough characters for the most part, but one has to question why Shinji receives almost no development at all (and I never actually thought I would ever use that sentence when talking about anime), especially as a number of events in the story occur because of him.

There seems to be a kind of blatant ignorance of every other character aside from Rin, Shirou and Archer in Unlimited Blade Works, which may be due to time constraints admittedly, but given the degree of overacting and the long, drawn out fight scenes, it should be asked if this is actually the case. In addition to this, Shirou’s abilities seem to grow at an accelerated rate over the course of the movie, and while one may accept this as some innate ability, the lack of any back story where this is concerned makes it nothing more than a convenient addition to the plot.

Be that as it may, this movie is looks very good for the most part. Studio DEEN have done a great job with Unlimited Blade works, but given that the director and most of the crew worked on the TV series, one might expect them to improve on their previous work. The animation is of a very high standard, and is a far cry from that of the TV series. The characters move very well, especially during the numerous combat scenes, and while they may look the same as always, their respective designs have been sharpened up. The settings have also undergone a degree of sharpening up, and are now more vivid and detailed than in previous versions of the story.

That’s not to say it’s all good in the visuals department though. There are occasions during where the design logic simply doesn’t make sense, Saber’s evening gown being one of them. There are also occasions where the characters movements seem far more theatrical than is necessary, especially during several of the combat scenes.

Which, strangely enough, brings me neatly on to the acting. Unlimited Blade Works uses many of the cast from the original series, which is generally a good sign for any retelling. Unfortunately the seiyuu have worked on many other projects over the last four years so their familiarity with the characters is not as good as it once was, and this shows in the amount of over acting in the movie. It seems as though the actors and actresses have focused more on the popularity of the franchise than the need to get the role right, and because of this it sounds as though they’re trying too hard. In addition to this whichever bright spark decided that using English in certain scenes would be a good idea should be flogged as it seems totally unnatural, especially as it makes the character look foolish.

As far as the music goes, the movie is well served with a selection of dramatic, classically themed pieces to enhance the numerous action scenes. The sound effects are also very well crafted and choreographed, although it should be pointed out that certain scenes can become overwhelming with the combination of speech, music and effects.

On the whole, Unlimited Blade Works isn’t a bad movie, but it’s a far cry from being great either. The simple fact is that it’s entertaining in its own right, but there’s little there to recommend it to those unfamiliar with the franchise. That said, one could fairly watch it and find it works to a degree as a story, but only if they could forgive the lack of detail in the story, and the fact that the plot has several areas that needed further investigation.

That said, everything about this film screams out that it is definitely one for fans of the franchise, and ultimately they’ll be the judge of whether it’s good or bad. The movie may have its flaws, but fans may find these are forgivable as the well choreographed action scenes may make up for a lot. It could be fair to say that this movie was made specifically for fans of the franchise in the first place, as the efforts to introduce newcomers to the series seem a bit slapdash.

One final point is that while the TV series needed to borrow from the other game arcs in order to fill out the story, Unlimited Blade Works is almost the exact opposite, and because of this one has to wonder if the franchise would work better as a 13 episode series rather than either of its current iterations. At the very least there would be more time for explanations and the actors would be able to relax into their roles.

Whatever the case may be, we shall have to wait for Heaven’s Feel to find that out.

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