The setting behind the story of Fate is one that gripped my interest from the very beginning and for the beginning of this review I’m going to state that it’ll contain spoilers for not only the recent Unlimited Blade Works (UBW) series but the original anime series titled Fate/Stay Night. If you have an interest in watching this show, please look at my previous review for UBW.
The Fate series originates from a visual novel by Type-Moon, and contains one overlying story, but with multiple different story arcs and how to get there. So far two of the stories have been covered, there has been a prequel series, a sequel section of the visual novel after all the parts are finished, and UBW has gotten its own epilogue episode detailing the events of this specific series two years after the events of the series.
I will also caution anyone that is finding interest in this series to be selective of the visual novel variant that you pick up, as the original story novel contains explicit material and is not safe for younger audiences.
Shirou chooses to help Saber realize her dream, and along the way he wants to help minimize the loss of all life if possible. He wants to save everyone and be an ally of justice. Saber has no interest in being an ally of justice, but she does want to wish that another person had become King instead of her. Ultimately she feels that she failed her kingdom and believes the wrong choice was made.
In the fight to end the war, Shirou and Saber face Lancer, Berserker, Rider, Caster, Assassin, and finally Archer but not necessarily in that order. Every Servant is very powerful and is at war with each other, with Rin and Archer allying with them early on so they have the best chances of winning. With Shirou adamantly against killing anyone, they actually manage to fight and win with minimal losses. Saber only kills Assassin and Archer kills Caster and her Master. Shirou also manages to kill the extra 8th Servant, an Archer left behind from the previous war, as he was planning to use the Grail to wipe out humanity.
In the end I find that this was one of the most admirable things about the story. The Protagonists all stayed true to Shirou’s ideals and there were no human lives lost at their hands that could have been saved. Caster’s Master was a sociopath that didn’t care for human life and would never back down; Archer deemed that life as necessary to stop the war. Caster and Assassin were Servants, merely people that were summoned through time as spirits and were already dead in their own time. It’s not often these days that shows, or even games, will remain so true to their convictions. One of the best examples in recent years that everyone complained about was the remake of Tomb Raider. Lara kills one person and has a small meltdown after taking a life, and then you never seem to be bothered by it again.
The next part of this series that I enjoyed so much was seeing the different story arcs and comparing the results and knowledge of each show to both shows so far. This would also apply to the Unlimited Blade Works movie that had come out after the Fate/Stay Night series. Seeing all of the same events unfold with a different outcome because of a single different action early in the story made everything so much more interesting. The biggest moment in the show that caused a change in the plot was after my short review, after returning from the church the group encounters Illyasviel von Einzbern and Saber engages to defend her Master. The branching point occurs when Shirou tries to intervene to save Saber, nearly killing himself and Illyasviel leaves because this action ruins her fun. In the UBW version, Saber fights Berserker off until Archer has enough time to prepare a Noble Phantasm and takes a full life from Berserker. In this version, Illyasviel decides that Archer is much more interesting than Saber and leaves them alive for later. Such a simple action by Shirou trying to save a woman he just met at the cost of his own life changes the course of the series.
In Fate/Stay Night, Rider ends up being killed by Saber who becomes drastically weakened, Berserker kills Shinji afterwards. Illyasviel uses a sleeping spell on Shirou to kidnap him because he was out without Saber. Rin and Archer go with the weakened Saber to save Shirou and end up losing Archer, saving Shirou and killing Berserker. Since Shinji died, multiple parties need a new catalyst for the Grail so they look at Illyasviel instead. Kotomine and Gilgamesh kill Caster and Kuzuki near the end and take Illyasviel for the catalyst while she’s alone at Shirou’s home. The group of Protagonists never certainly find out who Archer is. Shirou realizes his potential much earlier and gets trained to fight by Saber herself. Saber and Shirou fall for each other and Rin still ends up with Shirou in the last moment of the show. Shirou loses his regenerative power because Rin finds Avalon inside of Shirou and they return it to Saber.
In UBW, Rider dies to Caster and Kuzuki and they leave Shinji alive so they can use him later. While Caster and Kuzuki keep being attacked by Shirou and Rin, Gilgamesh kills Illyasviel and Berserker for her heart to use as a catalyst and uses it on Shinji later to turn him into the Grail. Caster and Kuzuki are killed by Archer, who is still alive because he never fights Berserker. While Archer’s identity is revealed and confirmed directly by Archer, Saber never finds out what happens to her sheath, Avalon. Shirou never learns about Avalon and continues to have its regenerative power to become Archer in the future.
In the end of both arcs, Saber still kills Assassin and Shirou still kills Gilgamesh. In the Stay Night arc Illyasviel becomes the sole catalyst and she survives thanks to Shirou and Saber, but in UBW Shinji becomes a catalyst using Illya’s heart but he gets saved by Rin. It’s also still possible that Shirou becomes Archer while losing Avalon in Stay Night, but he would have a much larger risk to his life.
A simple action but a huge butterfly effect for the series.
The next big component for me was ufotable. I had seen their work with the Fate/Zero prequel and I was impressed with the
quality they put into their fight scenes. So when I saw they were in charge of re-doing the UBW movie and turning it into a 24 episode series I was immediately interested. I was also pleasantly surprised to see they added a prologue episode so the series started by showing Rin and Shirou’s first day before the war started, and then an Epilogue showing 2 years after the events of UBW.
The epilogue added in some characters otherwise not shown in the Stay Night or UBW series as they appear in other versions of the storyline, or don’t appear until after the 5th Holy Grail War in the Hollow Ataraxia version of the visual novel or beyond. The shows would otherwise end with some unanswered questions about Shirou and Rin, where they go after participating and surviving a war, how they adapt to normal life afterwards, and whether or not Shirou still ends up following the same path as the Heroic Spirit Emiya.
The last key to the series for me was actually a simple one, and I’m sure many other people enjoy the Fate series for this as well, the mythologies and legends brought up by all the characters. It’s a death match between legends like King Arthur, Hercules, Gilgamesh, Cu Chulainn (Hound of Culann), Medusa, and Alexander the Great. Type-Moon also took the time to construct abilities that resemble what these heroes would have used in their lives. Alexander was a great leader and his Noble Phantasm, or signature ability, was to summon a reality marble of his homeland filled with his army. They were so devoted to him as a leader that they swore loyalty to him even after death into the Holy Grail War. King Arthur uses the Excalibur as everyone would recognize, but also has a sheath that grants impressive regenerative abilities by name of Avalon. Looking into Arthurian lore actually tells that Avalon is the name of the place where Excalibur was forged and where Arthur was taken after sustaining severe injuries. It’s also said that people live there for hundreds of years.
I really enjoy when I can watch a show and be so intrigued by its concepts that I can go and research and learn new things. Type-Moon took a few liberties with each legend and story, but still keeps the heroes true to their legends as well.
I will continue to re-watch this series whenever I can find the time, and probably before any new arcs come out to refresh my memory of them, so I definitely recommend this to any fan of fantasy stories and mythologies.
Now to cross our fingers for the Heaven’s Feel and Hollow Ataraxia arcs are by ufotable as well.