In the wide world of anime there are very, very few shows that are generally viewed as very good whilst being popular. One such show was Fate/Zero, the anime adaptation of the light novel series and prequel to the Fate/Stay Night visual novel and anime. It’s two halves sit pretty in the top 100 on MAL and on the whole most people seem to have little to say about it. Personally I found the series to be generally very good, if a little slow at times.
The franchise more widely is perhaps slightly less critically acclaimed though it does maintain a certain reputation as a high class series, a point which has only been helped by the large budgets which have boosted the series along in the last five years – particularly on the part of the anime studio ufotable. This brings us to the point of this article: Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works, the 2014/15 series adapting the second route, Unlimited Blade Works, of the 2004 visual novel.
UBW takes the successful tried and tested formula seen in Fate/Zero and uses it again – with some subtle modifications. Seven masters and seven servants in a battle royal ‘Holy Grail War’ to win the omnipotent wish granter: the Holy Grail. The first cour of the series followed a similar line to Fate/Zero building up an enemy for the main ‘good’ group (in this case Rin, Shirou, Archer and Saber) to defeat. This part of the show is generally excellent: the main characters are focused on and developed well, giving us a solid background to their motivations while still progressing the plot at a good pace – these are characters that are flawed but, for the most part likeable.
This first part of the show follows a very similar plot line to Fate/Stay Night (2006) (that depicting the Fate route of the original visual novel) – the divergence in plot comes in episode 12, an extended 48 minute episode, that splits equally as light slice of life and hard hitting action. Episode 12 is one of the best episode of the series encapsulating the best of the action and animation while slipping in the light side of the show that I enjoyed so much. Although this part part of the show was fantastic it was not without holes, Ilya wondering off in episode 3 when the group seem to be at her mercy is largely a mystery but on the whole things like this don’t really make a difference to the overall quality of the show.
The second set of 13 episodes is significantly weaker than the first half of the show. While I wouldn’t call it bad, it’s reliance on fan service (someone explain Saber in a wedding dress please?!) does significantly increase and the characterisation, while clever in terms of linking one person with another, feels far more contrived than it did in early episodes – almost as if the writers felt an element of pressure to maintain the same standard throughout.
Overall the plot is strong throughout and the ending is satisfying (far more so than the ‘good’ ending in the Sunny Day episode). The characters, for the most part, are very good and the tone of the show is effective in carrying the show through its 26 episodes. In terms of animation, art and sound UBW has few rivals with fantastic opening and ending sequences, insert music and overall soundtracks; the attention to detail in terms of animation is second to none, particularly in the action sequences.
Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is an excellent anime that will inspire new fans to the medium, captivate existing fans with it’s high quality of animation and make Fate die hards say, ‘I told you how good it was’.
UBW can be streamed legally on Netflix. Go do it now.