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Source: Madman

Continuing with my run through the Fate franchise[1] I come at last to the original entry and nearly to the end of what I can lay hands on easily[2]. Fate/Stay Night is also, as far as I know, the only instalment animated by Studio Deen instead of Ufotable.

So, what was Fate/Stay Night like?

Overall I place it between Fate/Zero and Unlimited Blade Works, but with a stronger second half than Unlimited Blade Works

The Premise

The starting point for the premise is essentially identical to that of Unlimited Blade Works: The fifth Holy Grail War where Shirou Emiya accidentally summons Saber and finds himself in an awkward alliance with Rin Tohsaka.

The difference lies in the romance. Unlimited Blade Works is Shirou/Rin, Stay Night is Shirou/Saber.

It is love at first sight for Shirou but it takes until the last moments of Stay Night for Saber’s feelings to grow to the point of reciprocation[3].

The Masters

Oh dear lord: Shirou is just stupid in this path. The thickness of his brain is exceeded only by the thickness of his Plot Armour[4].

Rin helps as much as her still oh so very tsundere self allows, but there’s limits to even how much she can do in the face of Shirou’s stupidity.

Shinji[5] and Illya[6] have bigger parts to play, Kuzuki and Kirei somewhat smaller parts to play.

The Servants

Along with Shinji’s greater role, Rider has a much bigger part to play as well. Rider is apparently Medusa (which fits with Pegasus being her Noble Phantasm), but this is not actually revealed in Stay Night. Apparently the Heaven’s Feel movies will address this.

Caster’s role is also somewhat reduced, but actually manages to make Medea somewhat more sympathetic in this outing.

The Path and the Pacing

Up until about episode 8 or so, Stay Night and Unlimited Blade Works follow a fairly similar story with the major differences being in the character interactions rather than in the events.

Then everything changes and Stay Night heads off on its own path. The pacing of Stay Night does have similar issues to the other instalments in the franchise.

The core issue is that it isn’t if an early engagement between Servants will be a draw, it’s how will that draw be contrived this time. All three of the main universe instalments could easily lose 5 – 6 episodes each with a disciplined edit, and a willingness to end fights conclusively in earlier engagements.

The Not So Bleached Underpants

The original Fate/Stay Night visual novel is an eroge, and Stay Night the anime shows much more of this than either Unlimited Blade Works or Zero. The Bleached Underpants trope is certainly in play, but having two nude scenes with Saber, as well as putting Sakura in that outfit when Caster was going to use her to summon the Grail was definitely flagging the origins of the franchise to viewers.

To be fair the nude scenes for Saber are done quite discreetly, and do serve a character purpose in terms of showing how Saber is growing from an almost social automaton into a person who can love and be loved.

There’s also a couple of other scenes around, um, healing Saber and replenishing her manner which are also very suggestive of the original form these would have taken in the game. To again be fair these are not overdone, but appreciating the origin of the franchise will give the viewer context for these scenes.

The Animation

Let’s face it: Stay Night is a 2006 series but even by the standards of that era the animation is relatively poor. Only a year later Production I.G.[7] would produce Moribito with fight scenes that would still stand up well today. Stay Night… not so much. And for a series that tries to get as many spectacular fight scenes in as Stay Night, that’s a bit problematic. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that they’re looking increasingly dated, particularly when compared to Zero or Unlimited Blade Works.

The character designs are also cruder than the later versions (it’s particularly noticeable with Archer). That said, Stay Night does have my favourite OP of the franchise in Disillusion which is a lovely song, with solid animation to back it up.

Then there’s that dragon. That hilariously badly animated CGI dragon. The less said about that the kinder.

The Resolution

Any ending in which Kirei and Gilgamesh get smacked can’t be too bad. Bonus points for managing it more or less simultaneously.

Even if I snarkily tweeted the following at the time:

In this version, Shirou’s ideals of valuing others more than himself aren’t really challenged the way they are in Unlimited Blade Works, and indeed it can be argued that Saber comes to share those ideals. There’s also a couple of screens which are blocks of text that go through Shirou’s thinking of whether he’s prepared to lose Saber to destroy the Holy Grail, and whether in trying to save her he would strip her of who she was.

There’s three issues here bad, indifferent, and good. The bad is that this sequence, which is supposed to be the key emotional resolution for Shirou, again highlights the relatively poor animation of Stay Night. The indifferent lies in my suspicion that this is a fairly unimaginative adaptation of the original dialogue from the Visual Novel.

The good lies in the conclusion which is that Shirou loves Saber for who she is, and must therefore respect that by letting her go. And that’s the moment, just before she disappears, that Saber reciprocates Shirou’s feelings.

I did appreciate that, and the short epilogue that followed worked well enough as well.

Overall Stay Night worked well enough for me as a series. I think I rate Unlimited Blade Works higher overall, but Stay Night has a stronger second half that doesn’t stretch credibility quite as much. Well, Shirou’s repeated idiocies aside.

Question of the Post: Stay Night deals with one route through Fate/Stay Night. If you’re familiar with all three, which one is your favourite? Why? Is it because of the characters, or the message, or both?

[1] Previous reviews in order: Fate/Zero, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Bladeworks, Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya.

[2] As far as I know the first half of the 2nd Kaleid Liner series isn’t streaming, and the only other instalment that is streaming is the Fate/Grand Order movie.

[3] To be fair it takes almost that long for Shirou to admit it to himself and to Saber.

[4] Said Plot Armour being thick enough to put the citadel of an Iowa-class battleship to shame.

[5] A lesser jerk appears.

[6] A SMOL APPEARS. SHE IS CUTE. (and dangerous what with Berserker being her Servant).

[7] Possibly an unfair comparison.