Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel I. presage flower
Blu-ray Limited Edition
Before the Holy Grail War began, Shirou Emiya was just a slightly lonely high school boy trying to get by. Forced to prioritize work over his club activities, Shirou drops out of the archery club when he injures his shoulder at his job. Much to his surprise, his "friend" Shinji's younger sister Sakura shows up at his house to help him out, and the two form a bond over the following year. When Shirou is thrown into the Grail War without any real knowledge of what's happening, Sakura remains by his side – in no small part because Shinji is abusing her. As Shirou and Saber begin to sort out the War, Sakura begins to show signs that she's a lot more involved with the conflict than Shirou realizes.
Of the three main heroines of the Fate/Stay Night franchise, Sakura Matou is perhaps the most easily overlooked on first glance. Sweet and retiring, the quiet young lady feels more like a supporting character when compared with stoic and motivated Saber or the wily and determined Rin. But that's all the more reason to be excited about the domestic physical release of her route's first (of three) film: as in the legends of deaths beneath their boughs or roots giving sakura blossoms their hue, there's a lot more going on beneath the surface of Sakura as a character than her calm demeanor would suggest.
It is, however, advisable to be familiar with both other iterations of the original 2004 visual novel, whether that's via their anime adaptations or from having played the game. Presage Flower skims over a lot of the “shared route” storyline, largely simply giving a montage during the opening credits of Shirou's first real encounter with the Holy Grail War, but also just glossing over any real character development for Rin or other established characters. In terms of telling the complete story of Sakura's route without boring the target audience of franchise fans with excessive repetition, this really does make sense, but it also is a fairly high bar to entry for those who simply want to watch a beautifully animated film.
The story this time begins over a year before Shirou ever summons Saber, focusing on his quiet unhappiness with his current life and the way his relationships have soured because of it. A scene where Taiga browses through an old photo album shows a much happier Shirou a few years prior, with his friendship with Shinji Matou standing out as a relic of his past. When the film opens, Shinji is very clearly out of patience with Shirou, and while he's certainly not the world's most understanding character, it feels more like he's frustrated with the other boy than actively angry at him. When Shirou drops out of the archery club (not officially, but certainly for all intents and purposes), Shinji essentially writes him off, but is unable to put his feelings aside. While this almost certainly results in Sakura showing up at Shinji's door in the rain, it isn't clear whether that's due to her brother sending her over or if Shirou is a convenient excuse to get out of a very unhappy house.
Although Shinji doesn't feature very much in the film, with the focus being on Sakura's slow growth into someone who can express her feelings as Shirou makes her feel safe and cared for as well as Shirou's own dawning understanding of who his adoptive father really was, his impact on the story feels very important. By the time Shirou figures out that Shinji has been hitting his sister, we've already seen enough to draw the conclusion that Shinji may simply be doing to her as was done to him. Viewers of the also-excellent Fate/Zero TV series will already be familiar with Matou family “training” and the culture of abuse in that household, but even without that, Shinji's attitude alone and Shirou's initial brief meeting with the family patriarch are enough to clue us in that something is very rotten there. In an interview with the franchise creator, Kinoko Nasu, included in the “Animation Material” booklet that comes with this limited edition, Nasu says that Shinji didn't want to be (stay) normal – but that in the end, his normalcy was something he could neither overcome nor accept. This feels like the core of Shinji's character, explaining his attitude in general and his actions towards Sakura and Shirou.
For Sakura, life in the Matou household has made her withdraw inward. The true movement for her over the course of the film is the way that Shirou allows her to express herself, even if doing so is still plainly difficult for her. Her life has been filled with so much emotional and physical pain that ordinary hurts no longer appear to bother her – Nasu explains a scene where she wears sandals in the snow as the cold not even being a pain that registers with her anymore. Rin recognizes this more than Shirou at this point, but as Shirou's complete and utter lack of self-preservation becomes increasingly apparent, Sakura is able to open up more and more, so it's likely simply that he's not in a position to see the changes she's making – changes that will doubtless take on much more significance in the second film.
As you may have guessed, this limited edition comes with some nice extras, one of which is the aforementioned booklet featuring extensive interviews. Those interviews do contain some significant spoilers, however, so save reading it for after watching the film. Also included is a CD soundtrack with Yuki Kajiura's music for the film, a hardcover artbook, and on-disc English cast interviews. The artbook and interviews are perhaps the most noteworthy pieces, as the former contains some gorgeous pieces both fun and symbolic, with one of the most striking being Sakura standing in a falling-down greenhouse, smiling as it crumbles around her.
With its beautiful animation (some of the best snowfall I've ever seen in anime), largely fluid blend of CGI and hand-drawn animation, and effective use of music, Presage Flower is one of the strongest entries into the franchise. It does come with a warning for the bug-phobic (and one intentionally disturbing scene of Kirei eating), but if you're invested in this franchise, this is worth your time.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A
+ Beautifully executed and thoughtful story, Sakura and Shirou's growth feels more subtle than previous Fate entries, nice release extras
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