There had been quite a good number of tales that concern the legendary Holy Grail. Those stories often come in the form of depictions within different time periods, but none is as known as the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Director Yuji Yamaguchi’s “Fate Stay Night” anime series is based on the visual novel which became a video game and then made into a manga by Datto Nishiwaki.
The set up for the anime series is pretty simple and quite frankly, easy to connect with. There is a war that happens once every ten years and this is fought by the descendants of Magis called ‘masters’ and the spirit servants who fight the battles in the frontline. Shirou Emiya (Noriaki Sugiyama) is a kindly young man who lives to help others and often, his generosity makes him seem rather naïve and gullible. One evening he becomes caught in a struggle between two servants, a Lancer and an Archer, Shirou is caught in the crossfire and only through the aid of a master named Rin Tohsaka (Kana Ueda) did the encounter not prove to be fatal. But seems like there is more to Shirou than at first glance, since the bloodline of magis also courses through his veins. Summoning his own spirit servant called Saber (Ayako Kawasumi), Shirou is poised to join the Holy Grail wars just to insure that no master or servant would use the power of the Grail for their own selfish ambition…
I do have to admit that this anime series took a little while to pick up. I remember finishing this first collection before but I never got around to finishing the second half of its saga. I suppose this is a good time to review this first half (12 episodes) before I tackle the concluding half. “Fate Stay Night” starts off rather amiable, given that its premise is about a war to win the Holy Grail. The way it moved around its script resembles shonen anime, the viewer is quickly introduced to the likes of the magis, who are involved in the war. It feels like the series wanted to do a quick start (further development would come later) to make the viewer understand that this is an action-fantasy adventure. There is a lot of character build up in the first 5 episodes, and quite frankly, the script went for an almost rather care-free route with humor that kind of felt juvenile at times. I stuck with it, since the fights placed in between were cool, and they gained intensity the more you go deeper into the series.
The script and direction wanted to be a little ‘cute’ I suppose. There is something to be said for the development of the relationship between Tohsaka, Shirou, Sakura, and Saber. I really thought that I was watching one of those ‘teen’ shows at times, even though I found it to be a pleasant application of the reversals of the ‘damsel in distress’ device. It was nice to see a bumbling idiot like Shirou to be rescued by the likes of Tohsaka and Saber. It made the character a little more interesting than expected despite the fact that he was annoying. Shirou was less than a novice in the magical arts, and he struggles to find his own special power. It was a clever move to develop the plot itself along with the main protagonists. Shirou is a pacifist and would rather die himself than to risk even his ‘servant’ getting hurt. This made me see how someone who goes against ‘set expectations’ could actually be improving something, and this worked with the Shirou-Saber dynamic. Shirou treats Saber as a fellow human being rather than a weapon which makes their relationship more interesting with a lot of room to grow (but not entirely innovative in a narrative sense). I also liked the way the script played on the conflicted alliance-friendship between Shirou and Tohsaka. It made me hope that something interesting and different from what I was expecting was going to turn out from all of this, that I became invested as to where all of this is going as it really picked up by episode 8.
The spirit servants themselves have different interesting qualities that define their abilities and personality. They are former ‘epic heroes’ in their past lives, and so from assassins, to knights and demons they fight in a style all their own. The script managed to give them an air of mystery as they have ‘hidden-protected names’ and to know them may reveal their vulnerabilities. The character designs reflect what a servant truly is; I thought the designs were clever, albeit the 'expressive eyes' on Shirou did not do the series any favors. The battles in this first 12 episodes serve to persuade the viewer to look forward to more epic battles. I do hope that the battles become much more intense, since the episodes appear to be shorter than I expected, I fear that the script is being held back. There is a lot of potential around here, and hopefully things will really pick up after this collection’s conclusion.
“Fate Stay Night” may not be in the same caliber as other anime series (Ergo Proxy, Cowboy Bebop, Black Lagoon) that have become classics in their own right, but I appreciated the way it managed to follow a smooth script. It invested in laying down its groundwork that the rules became defined, as well as doing a little foreshadowing (I think I may have figured out Saber’s true name in the climax) to add some potentially surprising developments in the second half of its saga. I saw potentials for predictability, but that may prove all well and good as long as it follows a smooth flow of its script. The first 12 episodes in “Fate Stay Night” Collection One may be a little more of a ‘tease’ when it came to epic battles, here’s hoping to a grand pay off in collection two. Of course, one needs to see where all this is going before I give this a recommendation.
Collection One comes fully re-mastered in bluray, and it looked to be a huge improvement over the Dvd. The effects looked better than ever, and it sounded crisper than I remember. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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