The Fall 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Rating: 5 (of 5)
Review: Usually I do not qualify previews based on my personal preferences, but in this case I will make an exception. Not only am I a big fan of the entire animated Fate/ franchise but also Rin Tohsaka is far and away my favorite character in the franchise. For someone like me, this 48 minute opener to the adaptation of the original visual novel's Unlimited Blade Works story path really couldn't have been done any better (beyond a higher animation budget, of course).
For the benefit of those for whom this series is their first exposure to the franchise, every few decades mages duel using summoned Servants from one of seven classes – Archer, Saber, Lancer, Rider, Berserker, Assassin, and Mage – for the right to claim and make a wish on the Holy Grail. These Servants are Heroic Spirits who usually embody figures from history or legend and who have powers and abilities in line with their origins, and each carries a powerful Noble Phantasm as a sort of trump card. Teenager Rin Tohsaka, the highly magically capable scion of one of the houses of mages that has traditionally competed for the Grail, is determined to participate in the newest round in memory of the father she lost ten years earlier. Though she is disappointed at having summoned Archer instead of Saber (the most powerful Servant), which results in an initially-contentious relationship with a Servant who cannot even remember which Heroic Servant he is, the match gradually starts to show signs of being a better fit than she first realized. Unfortunately an innocent bystander gets caught up in the affair when she and Archer encounter another Servant, and it is one that she cannot afford to let die.
In the original Fate/stay night anime series, nearly the entire story was told from the perspective of Shiro, the central character and eventual master of Saber. Even though it looks, from the Next Episode preview, like the series will return to that focus, this double episode's shift to the alternate perspective on the earliest events of the series fleshes out the start of the story considerably. It establishes much better the initially-rocky relationship between Archer and Rin and how they started to grow past that and, perhaps most importantly, fleshes out Rin more as a character. Though she was always a distinct personality, here we get a much clearer sense from the beginning of where she is coming from and why, and that allows some of her early choices to make more sense.
But the production does a lot more right than just that. For a change the pacing of the opening episodes is actually quite comfortable, information is not provided in an overly info-dumpy fashion, and the tone is smoothly-handled with a gradual build to the more intense scenes and battles that wrap the episode. Excellent use of the musical score deserves a fair amount of the credit, and while the visuals aren't top-rate, they aren't bad, either. The biggest plus, though, is overall effect. A great first episode should get viewers interested and involved and leave them practically panting for more at the end. On that the opener is an unqualified success.
Fate/stat night is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Yeah, that was a premier. Fate/stay night's understandably one of the big hype shows of the season - the visual novel it's based on is highly regarded, the characters are ubiquitous, and Fate/Zero has already established ufotable as a creator of fine Fate-themed productions. Personally, I found Fate/Zero enjoyable but uneven, and my attempts to play the visual novel ended in pacing and prose-related disappointment.
But this? This I can get behind.
In this first two-part episode, we're introduced to Rin Tohsaka, who's gearing up to take part in the mysterious (if you're just starting here) Grail War. We see her reflect on her absent father, mingle with acquaintances at school, and finally reveal her mage nature as she summons the “Servant” Archer. The episode ends with a confrontation with fellow Servant Lancer, and finally the introduction of a third, Saber.
That plot rundown can't possibly do this adaptation justice, though. ufotable always make visually engaging productions, and Fate/stay night is no exception - the colors are rich, details sharp, and lighting and shading almost “animation filmic.” The strong character designs are brought to life by gorgeous animation - characters express personality through movement alone, and the moments of actual action are almost breathtakingly well-articulated. Characters don't pop off the background, but exist within sets with a real sense of place. The world feels real.
None of that aesthetic splendor is let down by the narrative or direction, either. This double-length episode is paced confidently, with the show seemingly in no rush to introduce its world. The first ten minutes are wholly dedicated to depicting Rin getting up for school and going about her early day - that's a choice you'd think would be tedious, but instead the show is able to deftly relate her personality across a variety of small daily actions. She's proud, but also impulsive. A jerk, but also guided by strong morals. Born to win, but also living in the shadow of her father. That lightness of telling extends to the show's general exposition, as almost none of the details of the coming Grail War, or the nature of the Servants, are over-told. The conversations between Rin and Archer naturally elaborate a great chemistry while also offhandedly revealing most of the context the audience needs. The show offers mysteries, but not cheap cliffhangers - the things we don't know are simply things the characters haven't yet had to explore. And by the time this episode is complete, I already feel like I know these two characters, and completely believe in their mutual respect.
And that finale! The fight between Archer and Lancer is just incredible. Great choreography, dynamic framing, lush animation - it's the kind of fight you associate with anime, but that most shows can't actually execute. It's a beautiful, thrilling thing.
If I were to search for quibbles, I could say that some of details of this show's exposition weren't quite as graceful as the rest. But in the face of all this episode does right, that'd be splitting hairs - this is a gorgeous, confident debut, and I dearly hope the show lives up to this first episode.
Fate/stay night is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4.5 for Type-Moonies, ??? for new viewers
I've seen Fate/Zero, I've seen the first few episodes of the old F/SN anime, and I watched a friend livestream the million-years-long VN...but watching this first episode of ufotable's new Fate/stay night anime was the first time that I really felt like I understood the character of Rin Tohsaka. She's not just a hoity-toity tsundere stereotype. Rin has layers and nuance and immediate strong chemistry with her servant Archer. I want to see a lot more of her already, and I want to see how this new series characterizes her daddy issues and moral struggle in the pursuit for the Holy Grail. It just took a 45-minute compression of F/SN's bloated and poorly-translated source to bring that strength across...and what an excellent compression it is!
This first episode covers the entire prologue of the Fate/stay night visual novel, but cuts out all the endless internal monologues and exposition-dumps, assuming the audience has played the visual novel, or more likely, assuming the audience has seen ufotable's Fate/Zero anime, which this follows heavily in style and execution. That said, the production values and art design are the same, but the cinematic direction here is already miles stronger than in Fate/Zero, imbuing even the (much shorter) dialogue scenes with more life and even improving on the previously lauded action scenes, although there's only been one so far: the first battle between Archer and Lancer. No longer must we endure a text scroll of "the red flash appeared, the blue flash dodged, the red flash covered the distance between them in a whirlwind," interspersed with redundant information about Masters and Servants. Now the strength of the original material is all front-loaded, with crazy fight choreography combining teleportation and unconventional "fencing" with quick snippets of Rin's thoughts to give the experience character. It will be interesting to see if this is truly a straight adaptation of Unlimited Blade Works, or if elements from other routes will be sprinkled in to paint a fuller picture of this world as a 100% direct consequence to the events of Fate/Zero.
That said, this episode is probably best experienced as a sequel to Fate/Zero rather than a jumping-on point, and may be harder for the uninitiated to appreciate. (This is especially weird considering the original VN was the jumping-on point, and Fate/Zero the impenetrable novel prequel for prior fans only. Have they switched places now?) It's hard to say whether or not this new F/SN can be recommended as a standalone. It's perfectly comprehensible (with maybe a small amount of googling) to new viewers, but maybe it shouldn't be. The intended nuance of the tiny, awkward scenes between Rin and Sakura or Rin and Shirou are lost without the context of Fate/Zero, and even though it's great to have those expositional monologues ripped out, there is no overt explanation of the Grail War here to help new viewers along. So it's a tough call.
Regardless, this is a very nice foot forward for the new adaptation that displays more powerfully than ever before why the Type-Mooniverse has so many ardent fans. It's pretty, it's sharp, and it's well-paced. More, please!
Fate/stay night is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rin Tohsaka's kind of a jerk.
She's also a mage from a long line of 'em who is participating in the "Holy Grail War" - being that centuries-long fight for the Holy Grail, which grants the owner a single wish - and needs to summon a Servant using an arcane ritual for the coming battle. She's hoping for a Saber (the best class of servant, apparently), and uses a bunch of magic gems at just the right time in order to increase the odds of that happening, but screws it up and winds up with an Archer, who can't remember his name or where he came from, but he'll kick some ass for her anyway.
The next day at school Rin runs into a magic barrier placed by another as-yet-unrevealed mage, who has a particularly competent Lancer servant ready to take Rin and Archer out. Unfortunately, during the heated fight, there's a witness - red-haired not-quite-introduced-yet Shirou, who's lying in a pool of his own blood but isn't dead yet. Witnesses have to be "dealt with", but Rin can't bring herself to finish the job, so she heads home, realizing shortly thereafter that the Lancer's probably going to go back and carve poor lil' Shirou's guts out once he notices he didn't land a killing blow the first time. Rin and Archer take off to stop that from happening, but there's a problem: Saber shows up and blocks their way.
That's about as short an explanation as I can give for the events in this 47-minute double episode of ufotable's hotly anticipated Fate/stay night, a completely new adaptation of the visual novel meant to tie in more directly to Fate/Zero (and presumably replace the original anime adaptation, which isn't quite up to Fate/Zero's level of quality). If you aren't already at least a little familiar with either the Fate/stay night visual novel or the events of Fate/Zero (or even just the terminology this series uses) then most of this is going to be gobbeldygook to you; the show presumes familiarity and doesn't spend a lot of time explaining what mages are, why they summon servants, who the servants are, etcetera. If you do kinda-sorta know what's up with the Fate franchise then this is really A+ material; the interplay between Rin and Archer is fun to watch, and their relationship matures even just across these two episodes (it's compelling viewing even with Type-Moon's stylized self-serious dialogue that can come across as pretty stiff sometimes). Mostly the show is just gorgeous to behold; ufotable's top-shelf animation brings all of this to fluid life, with incredibly detailed and lush background work supporting some truly outstanding character animation (particularly in the Archer vs. Lancer fight that takes up a good chunk of the final act).
Even as someone with only enough knowledge of the franchise to make sense of what's going on, I really enjoyed this double episode. I'm pretty sure newcomers could potentially have a good time with it too, provided they filled themselves in on some of the show's basic vocabulary as they went along; it isn't impenetrable, but it doesn't hold your hand on that stuff either. I have my qualms with the visual novel's story (particularly the Shirou character - he isn't really in this prologue episode, which I was A-OK with) but this is an adaptation I can get behind, even if all I'm doing is gawking at it. Longtime fans waiting for a flashy big-budget adaptation of a story they already loved certainly got their wish here; the rest of us get to go along for the ride.
Fate/stay night is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
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