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Theatrical poster for Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel

Fate/Stay Night Poster (Source: Wikipedia)

If you can get past the Continuity Lockout, Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel I. presage flower is the best that Fate/Stay Night has ever looked, albeit with a very choppy edit and very little time to connect with the characters. Many spoilers ahead.

The common beginning and why it’s a problem here.

In all three paths through the Fate/Stay Night visual novel[1] Shirou Emiya stumbles across an opening bout of the fifth Holy Grail War between Lancer and Archer, and is almost murdered by Lancer to keep the Masquerade in place. He is saved by Rin Tohsaka before accidentally summoning Saber when Lancer shows up to finish the job.

Going into detail about this is fine when you’re adapting the fate path where Shirou falls in love with Saber. That moment when he sees Saber and thinks she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen really does sing in the often underrated Deen/Stay Night from 2006.

It’s absolutely essential when you’re adapting the Unlimited Blade Works path where Shirou falls in love with Rin[2]. In fact there’s two versions of the Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works opening episode, one from Rin’s perspective and one from Shirou’s.

But when you’re adapting the Heaven’s Feel path where Shirou is supposed to fall in love with Sakura Matou?

That common beginning is a distraction from the core story that needs to be minimised, but doing so contributes heavily to the Continuity Lockout effect of the film. You’re also left with the problem of explaining the slightly odd relationship between Shirou and Sakura that is seen in the other paths but not really explained.

I watched the film the first time with friends, and they basically had to leave about halfway through because of the lockout[3]. That said, if you do have the background, presage flower[4] does a solid job of handling the common beginning and to a lesser extent the problem of Sakura.

An earlier beginning

presage flower begins about a year and a half earlier than any of the other adaptations to give the film a little time to explore the developing relationship between Shirou and Sakura. Whilst I appreciated this, it is subject to rapid scene changes that can be slightly disorienting.

On the bright side this sequence also establishes a fair degree of agency for Sakura, something I felt the character had lacked in previous instalments. Shirou’s comment about being defeated by the stubbornness of a younger girl is highly amusing, and it’s equally clear that his guardian Taiga Fujimura was equally flummoxed[5].

The opening credits

That common opening is then handled through the opening credits in a highly condensed manner, and also with no dialogue. The imagery here is extremely rapid, and again I suspect is at least slightly disorienting to viewers without the necessary background to recognise what they’re seeing.

In what is supposed to be a film trilogy built around Shirou and Sakura, this approach was absolutely the correct call by the creative team but I think it also contributed to the extent to which my friends were lost in terms of understanding what was happening.

Moving on

Once the story heads into the Fifth Holy Grail War, presage flower is on firmer ground. However despite being visually spectacular the rapid scene changes, and relative lack of character work in the first half do drag the film down somewhat.

Somewhat ironically events begin to be explained a bit better, and the character interactions realised more, in the second half after my friends left. I don’t want to spoil the details too much here, as this is where the events of presage flower diverge wildly from fate or Unlimited Blade Works.

Lancer does get one really good action sequence, but is ultimately still the Chew Toy of the Fate franchise.

There are also elements that strongly imply that the events of Fate/Zero, particularly around Irisviel, are about to come back to haunt a lot of characters.

The pacing

I don’t know what it is about the Fate franchise but it never quite seems to hit that “just right” level of action vs character pacing. The various TV series are too drawn out whilst presage flower feels like it had to be compressed to hit a particular story beat before the run time ran out.

The earlier beginning I mentioned above helps some with fleshing out Sakura’s character. The 2nd half of the film tries to build on this, and on Shirou’s tendencies to be the hero, but felt somewhat weak overall. Much of the run time is eaten by the admittedly spectacular action sequences.

Against that there’s fewer opportunities[6] for Shirou to be an idiot and require insane levels of Plot Armour.

The look and sound

It must be said that Fate/Stay Night has never looked, or sounded, better than presage flower. The film is simply stunning to look at and this is ably supported by an excellent soundtrack and a solid sound effects mix.

The verdict

Overall I think I liked presage flower for now, and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing lost butterfly when it hits Australian cinemas later this month.

But whether I’ll like it once the trilogy is done I’m still not sure about.

The Snark

[1] This is an assumption on my part.

[2] BEST GIRL.

[3] And for which I’m sorry. I’ll try not to do that again to you.

[4] There is no way I’m typing out Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel I. presage flower more than I have to.

[5] No surprise there to be fair.

[6] At least so far. There’s still two films to go.