Anime Reporter turns its gaze to Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, Yuji Yamaguchi’s alternate timeline film based on the Fate/Stay Night anime series.
Type-Moon’s Fate/Stay Night has had an unusual trajectory as a series, beginning as an erotic visual-novel pc game before moving on to more mainstream visual-novels and fighting video games, a manga series, an anime series and now the first film adaptation, Unlimited Blade Works. The series revolves around the war for the Holy Grail, a never ending battle between seven magi to claim the Grail for themselves and have their wish granted. Accompanying each magus is a spirit servant, a warrior of legend brought through time after their death to serve their masters in each battle. The plot is focused around Shirou Emiya (voiced by Naruto’s Noriaki Sugiyama in Japanese and Blue Exorcist’s Sam Riegel in English), a student who’s accidentally brought into the fray of the war after being killed and resurrected by two separate contenders for the grail. Once revived, Shirou joins the fight, becoming a magus in his own right and accompanied by spirit servant Saber (portrayed by Fairy Tail’s Ayako Kawasumi in Japanese and Michelle Ruff, the voice of Rukia in Bleach, in English). Saber compensates for Shirou’s lack of magical training and ruthlessness by being a cold and effective warrior in battle.
The Fate/Stay Night series has always been rooted in the element of choice, with the visual-novels of the series offering alternate endings and storylines dependant on the choices made by the player and apparently the anime is no different; while the original anime series had its own storyline set during two weeks of Shirou’s involvement in the Holy Grail war, Unlimited Blade Works diverges entirely after Shirou’s resurrection and creates an entirely new storyline for the same character. Whereas the original series was moved forward by Shirou’s romantic feelings as much as battle, UBW is a violent, gritty battle royale which deals more with Shirou’s personal conflicts and ambitions rather than any personal relationships.
The first couple of episodes of the anime, up to the point where the stories separate, are compiled into a rather abrupt montage during the opening credits, leaving the viewer only minimal time to absorb anything of the storyline. Unfortunately, this trend does not end there, with the story often leaping from one plot point to another with little in the way of explanation and some characters are introduced early on only to disappear entirely from the rest of the film. While there is a plot, it can feel very laboured and forced by the midway point of the film with antagonists for antagonists’ sake and character development feels very rushed and unsatisfying with stock evil characters sliding neatly into line, one after the other.Thematically, the movie makes intense use of betrayal and self-doubt, which often serve as the more interesting aspects of the plot. However, as events unfold, without engaging characters, the suspense eventually falls flat.
In terms of animation, Unlimited Blade Works is an unusual blend of styles. Characters are rendered in a simple and basic style, forgoing some of the detail of modern anime while battle scenes and gore are represented vividly with some fantastic use of special effects being utilized for magical attacks. Some battle scenes in particular may prove to be more memorable than the narrative as a whole. The action itself is brutal and intense, with fights serving to replenish energy and interest, overshadowing most of the shortcomings of the plot.
Overall, this film is perhaps best suited for those already attached to the world of Fate/Stay Night and invested in its characters. Newcomers may find the learning curve somewhat steep without at least a passing knowledge of the story beforehand.
Likeable Characters: 4
Special Effects: 8
Fans of the anime series may find this movie to be a satisfying, battle-adorned supplement but newcomers to Fate/Stay Night are unlikely to get much satisfaction from the half-hearted character development and sporadic storyline.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is available on DVD and Blu-ray now from Manga UK Ltd.
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