On paper, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is rather bog-standard anime fare. There’s a Biblical-themed war set to engulf the world into death and chaos, and it’s up to some plucky high school kids, each paired with their warrior sidekicks, to either save our planet or claim it as theirs to conquer. There’s action, romance, drama, comedy, spectacular animation and even more spectacular exposition. All in all, a normal day at the office…
Just what is then that makes Unlimited Blade Works’ second half a richly absorbing and downright thrilling watch? Is it the finely-tuned character development found in Holy Grail War Masters Tosaka and Shiro? Is it in the multi-layered plotting, with its sharp, precise weaving in and out of events and motivations? Is it in the spellbinding animation?
Whatever it may be, it is of course impossible to understand, let alone enjoy, Part 2 without having seen Part 1, which we can now confidently say is left in the dust. It isn’t bad per say, just… dull. A whole lotta exposition and what has the distinct smell of manufactured tension kept a potential riot of an anime lower than boiling temperature.
Fortunately for us, Part 2 blows the lid off of Part 1’s pan as we surge way beyond boiling temperature. Tosaka and Shiro may be the lead characters here, but they aren’t the stars anymore. We see the breadth of the Holy Grail War in full effect, not just in a literal sense, but a personal one too. Each of the Holy Grail Masters are given full dramatic aplomb, as their own stories slip into the narrative. Some are heart-breaking, some are pure evil, but all of them through endless curveballs into the story, crafting an unbeatable level of depth that makes Unlimited Blade Works all the more absorbing.
The Servants, however, come off a little shorter, and live up to their names in more ways than one. Whilst there are some tantalizing attempts at making these warriors three-dimensional, they’re development is trapped by the very story they serve. All except for Archer, the sole Servant who receives the most captivating of stories. He spent much of Part 1 as the buff, uncomplicated thug who hints but rarely delivers. Here, however, Archer is blown wide open…
Perhaps what really makes Part 2 of Unlimited Blade Works tick all the boxes is how it balances everything into a cohesive package. A very all-encompassing tale of death, destruction and war is given a very intimate perspective. The clashing ideologies of how Shiro and Archer is the stuff that Batman v Superman can only dream of. This isn’t an anime to be devoured, it’s an anime to be savoured.
FATE/STAY NIGHT: UNLIMITED BLADE WORKS - PART 2 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: TAKAHIRO MIURA / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: AYAKO KAWASUMI, KANA UEDA, JUNICHI SUWABE, NORIAKI SUGIYAMA, JUNKO NODO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW