You really shouldn’t feel all that cheated when the engrossing fantasy anime Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works leaves you on a cliffhanger after an entire season Although one could be cynical and argue that these twelve episodes act as something of a prequel to the main event (i.e., season 2), this first season offers a rich, riveting tale of war mixed with some delicate, finely-tuned character dynamics.
One of several anime adaptations of Type-Moon’s Fate series of visual novels, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works follows a duo of high school students, Shiro Emiya and Rin Tohsaka, as their relationship develops within The Fifth Holy Grail War, a secretive magical tournament in which Masters are teamed up with spiritual warriors known as Servants, all of whom do battle against each other for the coveted Holy Grail, able to grant its winner any wish they desire.
The war itself is a tricky business though, with identities being kept secret, rules being broken, and Emiya being unwittingly dragged into the whole affair, his desire to be a self-proclaimed hero of justice repeatedly clashing with Tohsaka’s no-nonsense fight to the death attitude. The Holy Grail War itself, at a glance, doesn’t get a whole lot of love itself throughout the season. It’s talked about a hell of a lot between the characters, but it all amounts to a hefty handful of moments when Fate/stay night’s action side really gets a firm grasp of things. When it does however, it’s highly welcome, blending crisp, gorgeous animation with head-swooning direction makes for hook-laden battles throughout. The more these battles take place however, the more you realize that Fate/stay night isn’t lazy with its action as first thought, it’s economical.
Nothing here is overblown or overdone, these 14 episodes strike a strong balance between blitzkrieg-level action that threatens to tear the world apart (is there ever an anime where the stakes are any less?) and more intimate, immersive characters, who’s diverse motives and personalities give them a sense of welcome individuality.
The plot of the anime is as deceptive as its initially slow, cumbersome beginnings. The first few episodes give the illusion that the whole affair is going to be nothing more than dragging character studies, and the set-up of high school kids fighting in a fantasy-themed war may reek of unoriginality in the world of anime, but Fate/stay night offers twists and turns that have a freshness in their unexpected nature.
Oddly enough, both familiar plot and conflicting characters benefit each other, the well-worn plot giving the characters room to develop and intrigue as the season progresses, and the characters themselves opening doors for the plot to really swing in its twists and turns.
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works may take a while to get going, but once it does you’ll find it difficult not to become intrigued by its mature fusion of ambitious adventure and diverse characters. As mentioned, it may well be annoying to find that this first season insists on letting the story continue into a second season, where far grander action and deeper drama is promised, but for now Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is an immensely solid affair. This anime finds potency in taking familiar themes and delivering them in a straight-faced manner that still manages delight in throwing curveball after curveball. Roll on season 2!
FATE/STAY NIGHT: UNLIMITED BLADE WORKS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: TAKAHIRO MIURA / SCREENPLAY: KINOKO NASU / STARRING: MELA LEE, KARI WAHLGREN, KAIJI TANG, BRYCE PAPENBROOK / RELEASE DATE: 25TH APRIL