This review contains mild spoilers for Fate/Stay Night (2006).
What’s the show? Fate/Stay Night (2006).
Oh~ an older show, huh? Yes, I know it’s rare for me to dabble in series’ that aren’t either from a current—or close to it—anime season or of a ‘certain genre’ but here we are!
Fair enough. So what’s it about? It’s about the Holy Grail War, a grand battle that takes place every 10 years in Fuyuki City, Japan. Every time this happens people with magic bloodlines called ‘Magus’ are chosen to be ‘Masters’ while historical figures from throughout all of history (both real and fictional) are summoned to be their ‘Servants’. They fight each other until only one Servant and one Master remains at which point the titular ‘Holy Grail’ appears—a powerful magical item that grants the champion any wish they desire!
Wow, okay, so that’s pretty interesting! What got you interested in this series then? Well it’s only one of the biggest multimedia franchises in Japan, spanning multiple visual novels, anime adaptions of all the games’ main story routes as well as a plethora of spin-offs, prequels which run the gamut of genres—and surprisingly which are of all (apparently) very high quality.
So it’s the hype of the series that got you interested? What? No, not at all. I don’t care about what’s popular, I care about what has lots of merchandise and as you can imagine with a series this long-running and pervasive throughout Otaku culture in Japan it has a lot of merch! And I loves me some merch!
That’s… kind of an odd reason to watch an anime isn’t it? You must really love capitalism if that’s the case… Truth be told, I just really wanted to watch one of the more visually interesting spin-off’s called ‘Fate/kaledid liner Prisma Illya’ but wanted to get the full experience of the series and figured I’d watch everything else first before getting to that series.
Again—kind of a weird reason to commit yourself to watching a series, but whatever you’re a weird guy so I don’t know why I’m even questioning it… I take that as a compliment!
Of course you do. So tell me a little about the characters, these “servants” and “masters”? Right, so our protagonist is Shiro Emiya and he’s kind of unique as far as anime protagonists go, in that he starts off the series almost like the ultimate push-over, willing to do anything for anyone just so he can feel useful to other people—even if it means people use him. In some respects his utter selflessness is hard to relate to—I mean everyone has hopes and dreams and desires and everyone is at least a ~little~ selfish, but not Shiro! The only thing he wants is to be able to save at least one person before he dies, because when he was a child his life was saved by a man who came to be his adoptive father.
Well that’s certainly noble of him… Yeah… maybe…
What? Isn’t it? Let me introduce some of the other characters and I’ll get to my ‘problems’ with Shiro.
Okay, sure, so I take it he becomes a ‘Master’, whose his ‘Servant’? Indeed he does, despite being ill equipped for the task (he has no real latent magical abilities, all he’s learned has come from his Magus father Kiritsugu who was kind of a purposefully bad teacher). Anyone, despite his lack of real magical abilities he summons Saber—the most powerful swordswoman of all the ‘Servants’ and the personification of King Arthur from history.
Wait, King Arthur’s a “she”? How does that work? What?! Are you saying King Arthur, can’t be a woman?! That’s so sexist, I can’t believe you sometimes!
This is just one of those anime things I have to go along with and not question, right? Damn straight. So Saber is a no-nonsense sort of gal, she thinks of herself as a King first and a woman second, she’s loyal, she’s powerful and she know what needs to be done and won’t rest until her goal is achieved—even if it costs her her life. You’d think that’d make her the perfect match for Shiro, except Shiro’s kind of a dick to Saber—unintentionally of course. He thinks that protecting her from combat and putting himself in harms way to ‘defend’ her is the right way to go about things. Except he’s completely negating her worth as a powerful fighter just because she’s a ~woman~ and he’s so committed to his self-destructive desire to “fight for what’s right” even if he’s grossly outmatched—as evidenced by the many times he dies.
Excuse me? “Dies”? Well he doesn’t really die, not fully anyway, because of reasons I won’t go into because they’re complicated and are kind of fun to uncover on your own Shiro has powerful healing abilities. So even if he does suffer life-threatening damage he manages to shake it off with a bit of sleep. I’d say it’s a bit of a cop-out but it’s absolutely a necessary plot element considering how much Shiro throws himself into the face of danger to protect ‘innocent’ people without any regard for his own well-being.
So is Shiro a good protagonist? His journey is something that anchors the series, yes he starts off as unrelatable and even condescending, but the series never fully sides with him—Saber puts him in his place regarding his reckless actions and selfish words on more than a dozen occasions and the series is all the better for it. It allows a sort of gradual and organic development into a more rounded character—one that sees the strength in others, one that is willing to admit his inadequacies and recognise his place and one who is worthy of Saber’s eventual respect, friendship and dare I say, love.
Love? Is this a love story? Well, yeah. The series is based on an erotic visual novel after all.
Excuse me?! Umm… I think you forgot to mention that! Did I? Oh well, it’s not really relevant to the anime adaptation—this series, despite having some romantic elements (and a wiff of harem) is pretty chaste especially given its apparently sexual source material. And while personally I would have liked it to have been a bit sexier (because, you know, pervert and all that) I think it would have been a bit awkward to see Shiro like that.
Right… Well we’re quickly running out of questions and we’ve spent most the time talking about the protagonist’s character flaws, what about the other characters? There’s a bunch, like seriously enough for a whole additional 20 Question review, but let’s face it, know one’s going to read that. The most important characters are Rin Tosaka a bit of a tsun, and powerful Magus who also happens to attend Shiro’s school. She serves as almost an endless font of exposition for all the information Shiro needs to know about the Holy Grail War, his burgeoning powers and the Master/Servant relationship. She’s also a part of the War with a ‘Servant’ of her own called Archer. There’s also his childhood friend, the timid and obliging Sakura whose importance in the story ebs and flows, but obviously will have a lot more to do in the various spin-offs. There’s also a bunch of antagonists, most interesting of all (at least in this reviewers opinion) is Illya—a sadistic little loli who is the star of the spin-off series I mentioned earlier in this review.
Ah… a ‘loli’ say no more… So first of all, I haven’t really gotten the sense of what you think of this show—like a concrete opinion on it overall. It’s really good—but and this is a big but… this series feels like it’s constantly battling a lot of constraints; run-time, budgetary, focus. Perhaps my opinion is a bit clouded by the constant bashings this series got online from ~hardcore~ Fate-series fans who seem to regard this as something of a ‘lesser’ product. And as someone who hasn’t read the Visual Novel it’s sourced from (and never will, so don’t even ask) I can only defer to their judgment that this is a truncated and perhaps even rushed effort from Studio Deen. But despite the issues, both apparent to the uninitiated and expounded by those ‘in the know’ this series still is very much worth watching as a starting point. It’s a bit clumsy and ugly at times but the overall story shines through and the characters are dynamic and compelling!
Final score and recommendation? Go to nearly every site out there and they’ll tell you “don’t bother with the original Fate/Stay Night anime series, play the visual novel instead!” Well you know what? Some of us don’t have 30+ hours to spend sitting in front of a computer screen clicking through text boxes. I say, if you’re interested in the premise of this series and want to start somewhere relatively easy seek out this series, just temper your expectations. The Fate-series (apparently) only gets better after this so treat this like an amuse-bouche and take what you can from the series, only to be spoiled rotten later on by better adaptations of other VN routes. Simply put, this show is occasionally compelling and contains some great characters that understandably have stood the test of the time in the Otaku zeitgeist. I’ll Stay another Night—80 out of 100.
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