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Fate/stay night Complete Collection PDF Print E-mail
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R2 DVD Reviews
Tuesday, 30 November 2010 00:00
Fate/stay nightFrom the people who brought us Tsukihime Lunar Legend, Fate/stay night is a tale of magicians, secrets, and an age-old battle between magic-users and their Servants for the power of the Holy Grail. It seems to have captured the atmosphere of its predecessor quite well, but with Tsukihime having had real problems with pacing, hopefully it'll improve in that department a little...

A battle between two Magi leaves a city devastated, and young Shirou Emiya as the only survivor. With his parents now dead, he's been living on own (although his relatives have a habit of trying too hard to take care of him). His father was a Magi himself, but while Shirou has some latent ability that he's put to good use to become something of a technical whizz, there doesn't seem to be enough there for him to hope of becoming a Magi himself - although he still harbours hope of becoming an "ally of justice", regardless. A series of unusual events around town has Emiya suspicious that something's going on, but what he doesn't know is that schoolmate Rin Tohsaka seems somehow involved...

TohsakaSaber

ShirouIllya

TYPE-MOON are another outfit who have a strong reputation for atmosphere - Tsukihime was dripping in it, and Fate/stay night, based as before on a visual novel, is similarly visually impressive. Fortunately, the pacing issues that ultimately let Tsukihime down seem to have been resolved this time around.

The opening episodes are devoted to introducing the characters and setting, before we get down to the main business. The story revolves around the Holy Grail Wars - the Holy Grail you've probably heard of before (someone by the name of Indiana Jones once went after it), and in this show's mythology it has become the prize that the world's most powerful Magi fight for. Once again the Highlander mantra kicks in ("there can be only one"), with the last Magi standing gaining control of the Grail and the granting of one wish. Each Magi is also Master to a Servant, summoned by them and reflecting their magical powers - so when it turns out that Emiya summons Saber, by reputation the most powerful of the Servants, you can tell that his powers aren't as poor as he initially thought they were.

Peaceful momentShinji

AlliesGaining strength

Other Magi that make early appearances are Rin Kohsaka, a rather attractive classmate with something of an ice-maiden reputation; and Shinji Matou, older brother of Emiya's friend Sakura. Emiya and Kahsaka soon strike up an alliance, but while Emiya seems to class Shinji as a friend, he's quickly painted as someone happy to use Emiya for his own ends. Sakura is far more like a friend to him (and potential love interest, if she had her way and Emiya wasn't paying so much attention to others) - she's been looking after him for the past year or so, along with his teacher Taiga Fujimura, aka "Tiger". Just don't call her that to her face. Tiger is a comic relief character, and great fun to watch.

The problem is that for a lot of the series, the Holy Grail War comes scores more like the occasional Holy Grail Skirmish, as the series focusses more on building alliances and trust than on open confrontation. There's nothing wrong with a good bit of political manoeuvring, but if you build something up to be a war, then it's not unreasonable to expect a good deal of large-scale confrontation - but that's something that's noticeably absent for the majority of the series. What you get is Rin trying to get the gravity of the situation through Emiya's thick skull, Saber trying to remind her new master just what she's there for (and no, hiding in her bedroom doesn't count). Initially at least, Emiya really doesn't realise what he's let himself in for, and while it does eventually dawn on him it takes a while, with the story idling in neutral.

GilgameshTorn

VictimFinal showdown

Once the show gets into its stride, though, it does so in style - and that's not just in the action department, as the growing relationship between Shirou and Saber also takes up a far amount of time. She's no normal woman, of course - as she says herself, "I've never thought of myself as a woman, nor have I ever been treated as one" - this is by way of explaining why she had no problem with Shirou seeing her naked, and there are a few other such incidents scattered across the series. And yes, Shirou does suffer a nosebleed. What's perhaps most interesting about this is what it tells us about the Servants: they seem human, they certainly have human motivations as far as their quest for the Grail goes, but there's also a lot either missing from their personalities or simply suppressed, all of which begs the question of what exactly they are. Saber at least gets her history filled in to let you know where she's coming from and what her own goals are; the other Servants sadly aren't so fortunate.

Along the way to the show's climax, there's one point that reacher annoyed me, where a "final" battle between the good guys and the designated bad guy is interrupted by the appearance of a new, more powerful villain, who apparently was pulled out of nowhere. I don't like surprises like that. I like these things to be foreshadowed, so that I'm not left with little question marks and "wtf!?" signs flashing above my head. But that's one speedbump on the way to the ending. It's an ending that's reached slowly - very slowly. Whenever I'm reviewing fighting shows, there's a frequent complaint I make about pacing of battles, and how I could well do without villains who spend what seems like forever posing, boasting, and explaining in minute detail just how they're going to whup your ass. Usually just before getting their own ass handed to them on a plate. Normally, 24-episode shows don't have the time to indulge in such luxuries, but somehow Fate/stay night finds some to spare, and we're left listening to certain characters droning on far more than I had the patience to listen to - to the point where I had a bad case of nodding dog syndrome at one point (I'm falling asleep.. no, wait I'm wide awaaaak.. zzzz). Not really a good thing for a series to induce in its audience.

The already-stretched battle sequences are then stretched further by flashback scenes, explaining events from the past for both Saber and Shirou that explain how they came to be where they are now and that give them additional motivation to rise to the challenges they're facing. While these flashbacks do usually provide useful information, they don't help the pacing. The end result is a closing arc for the series that ends up being far less eventful and entertaining than it really should have been, given the setup.

There's also less time spent on dealing with the aftermath than I would have liked, as Saber and Shirou get all of about 15 seconds to say their final words to each other before they're separated - and in one of the more bittersweet endings I've seen in a while, it's made very clear that their separation will be permanent and irrevocable. That being the case, I would have liked it to be a little less sudden, but so much time had already been used on the battle itself that there wasn't enough time to do much else.

If it sounds like I'm ticking off a list of flaws that I found with the series, it's because I am, but for all that Fate/stay night does miss the mark on a number of points it still manages to be worthwhile, primarily as it manages to tie up all the little loose ends and mysteries that the series had carried for its length - you're not left at the end wonder why x or y happened, it all makes sense and is consistent with the mythology that the series built around itself, and that's increasingly unusual these days.

Overall, then, Fate/stay night has been an above-average series, and even though the final episodes miss a few tricks with the way that the final battle is portrayed. In presentation and consistency, though, it scores high marks, and with some likeable characters making up the core cast there's a lot to like. Well worth checking out.

For full episode summaries and screenshots, check out the reviews of the individual releases:
» Volume 1
» Volume 2
» Volume 3
» Volume 4
» Volume 5
» Volume 6

Rating - ****

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