For the last few years I have been writing reviews (mostly anime, some live-action) for U.K. print mag MYM Magzine. What follows is the text of the submitted draft for my second commission back in 2013, reviewing the Manga U.K. blu-ray release of feature Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. To read the final version as edited by David Axbey please buy back issue #18 of the magazine.
Title: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works
Out: 30th September 2013
From: Manga Entertainment UK
Price: £24.99 (DVD £14.99)
Stars Out of Five: Three (Four if you’re a Fate/Stay fan)
Standfirst: Blades, blood and brutality in style.
With the original Fate/Stay Night TV series having been released by MVM in 2010, and the prequel Fate Zero now licensed by them, fans will be able to complete their Grail War collection thanks to Manga UK. However, is this flashy big-budget affair going to bring in those who haven’t seen the original series?
For those who don’t know, the original Fate/Stay Night was an adult visual novel, i.e. a fantasy porn adventure videogame, although more like semi-animated choose-your-own adventures than a full-on RPG. By no means the first one to be transferred into another medium jettisoning all the adult content, the problem faced with dropping the sex is the shows still have harem-like character set-ups, with a central male surrounded by loads of female characters who need more to do to be interesting now they’re not about to be possible shags for the player. Good writing and plotting can get around that, such as with Utawarerumono, and Fate/Stay Night’s following outside of Japan attests to the success of the TV version.
Fans of the latter need to be prepared for a feature that is more like a remix than a remake, although not as literally as the TV reproduction OVA. Fans of the original visual novel, however, may be more interested here, as this makes use of other story strands from it, creating something more like an alternate retelling of the original source. The set-up is the same: the Fifth Holy Grail War kicks off involving Magi competing for the wish-granting Holy Grail, each with their own Heroic Spirit warrior summons. Teenage mage Shirou ends up in the middle, and is saved and adopted by the Heroic Spirit Saber. Siding with him is schoolmate Rin, from a powerful magus family, whose servant is Archer and will be more important in this version
As with the TV series, the visuals and music are lovely and stylish, and remain the biggest draw. The characters are still recognisable, but the problem here is that, in an attempt to create a version that newcomers can follow, most of the plotting & characterisation developed over the series is crushed into the first third, effectively dashing through the first half of the TV version to get everyone in place for an escalating series of bloody battles. However impressive and dramatic the latter are, and they are, there is something of a risk of angering fans of the TV series/manga who expect to see more of their favourites than just these glimpses. The radical re-alignment of magi and servants in this storyline means fans will be shocked and surprised throughout the latter two-thirds, as blades rain down upon them and blood spills everywhere.
The blu-ray from Sentai Filmworks looks and sounds spectacular, although it does the blockbuster thing of having the FX/music track boost during the actions while dialogue remains quiet. No extras are included, which is a shame given the history of this franchise. With nary a trace of fan-service, no real romance, but gorgeous visuals, fights galore, and blood spraying all over the place, this certainly will appeal to traditional Manga UK fans. Franchise fans may be divided, but rest assured it’s nowhere near as bad as the Escaflowne movie in that respect.