Fate/Stay Night Blu-ray Review
For the last few centuries the city of Fuyuki has been a battleground between magi in an event that has come to be known as The Holy Grail War. Every sixty years seven magi use the power of the Holy Grail to summon servants to their aid and participate in this secret and deadly war. The servants are all epic heroes – monolithic characters of new and old myth with special abilities. The masters (magi) fight alongside their servants until only one couple remain. The winning master and servant will have their wish granted by the Holy Grail. Emiya Shiro is a high school student with a neck for a certain magical ability that enables him to visualize materials and fix equipment. When the 5th Holy Grail War begins he is blissfully ignorant as to what is happening in Fuyuki at night. Until one day he witnesses a fight between two servants and ends up summoning his own servant – Saber. With Saber on his side Shiro desperately tries to survive the ongoing battles. He partners up with the feisty master Tohsaka Rin (who is also his classmate) and eventually discovers that the last Holy Grail War had a huge impact on his childhood. In order to win the war Shiro and Saber will have to kill the other masters and servants. But Shiro insists on fighting the servants by himself despite his opposition being ridiculously overpowered and much more cunning. Will Shiro manage to protect his ideals without losing his life?
At its core Stay/Fate Night is a masterpiece of writing. Based on a blockbuster visual novel with the same name, it has a rich story, a convoluted plot and a plethora of interesting characters. The servants have unique classes: Saber, Archer, Assassin and so on. These classes define their base statistics but also serve to hide their true heroic identity. A servant can be more effective if his true identity remains unknown to the other servants. So in order to hide the servants’ identities the masters refer to their servants by their class name and there is great fun to be had in attempting to find out which hero each servant is (some of the servant don’t reveal their true identity throughout the course of the anime though).
Some of the masters are also interesting, mostly in a twisted kind of way. The main focus of the series though, lie solely on Shiro and Saber. Saber has a noble cause and stature. As a veteran warrior she tries to guide Shiro and assist him. But Shiro is a very strong-willed person with high ideals and an unbending mind. These characteristics make it very hard for Saber to deal with him. He insists on not killing the other masters, but lacks the magical prowess or strategic edge to do so. He wants to fight alone to keep Saber from harm’s way but barely has any knowledge in magic or self-defense. He belittles his own life but will do anything in his power to save others. These contradiction make Shiro’s action very black or white – a fact that will probably make you either love or hate Shiro for who he is and what he does. Unfortunately since the story is told from Shiro’s point of view and the anime only contains one route out of three that were available in the original game the other masters receive little to no attention. Even masters that play an important part or appear every episode, like Rin and Illya, are demoted to being irrelevant side characters before long. The other masters aren’t boring or unmotivated, so it is a pity Shiro is the only one to ever enjoy the spotlight.
On a much brighter note those who have already watched Fate/Zero will find Fate/Stay Night to be very faithful to the Fate storyline. Fate/Stay Night is a self-contained series, but has recurring characters from Fate/Zero and is in fact the true end to the story that Zero started. Truth be told Fate/Zero is based on supplemental materials from Fate/Stay Night but Fate/Stay fails to be as majestic and effective as Fate/Zero later became. Fate/Stay Night does come with better pacing though. No plot devise is abused and the opening theme blends seamlessly into the beginning of each episode. The series advances smoothly and each episode feels important and immersive.
As I plowed through episode upon episode of battles, tactics and a significant amount of chatter it dawned on me that Fate/Stay Night is a series that was animated ahead of its time. Just like 1993’s Jurassic Park, Fate/Stay Night had a huge scope that couldn’t be produced effectively with the animation and visual techniques that were available in 2006. Despite the elaborate character designs hair and movement are painstakingly simple and cheap-looking. The series was clearly not created with HD in mind and although this is the HD version of Fate/Stay that was remastered in 2009 it is well below the standard that we have come to expect from HD anime. The HD version does add more details to the backgrounds, making them stand out. It also does justice to the beautiful music. Unfortunately Sentai’s release doesn’t offer a surround sound track, but even at 2.0 the DTS-HD soundtrack sounds crisp and full. However, this is where the merits of this Blu-ray come to an their untimely end. The original Japanese HD version on which this release is based did not address the visuals at all. Because of that the series is plagued by pixelation and jagged lines. When the camera focuses on someone’s face (which happens quite often) you can clearly see big chunky pixels in the outlines of that face. The wealth of dialog in the show presents yet another problem in this localized Blu-ray. Fate/Stay Night is famous for its contextual richness and the Japanese cast often speak in a high-end language register. The English translation makes the basic of mistakes – it tries to literally translate each and every word to perfection. The result is a translation that would have been mighty befitting if this was a book but is too archaic and unpleasant for a streaming series. For example instead of translating the word “mahoutsukai” as magi or magician the translator chose to use the word thaumaturge, which on a modern widescreen TV still fills approximately a third of the space of a line. Such translations bog down the readability of the subtitles. There are other minor flaws in Sentai Filmworks’ Blu-ray release, such as ill-timed chapter selections (jumping to the beginning of episodes took me about one minute into said episodes instead of their beginning) and a subtitle sub-menu that simply refused to work on a PS3.
Even though it has its fair share of plot issues and its Blu-ray version isn’t all that stellar there still is a lot to enjoy in Fate/Stay Night. It isn’t as impressive or accomplished as the source material it was based upon and some viewers might find the main character to be on the annoying side. Nevertheless Fate/Stay Night has a rich story to tell, good action to show, and worthwhile plot twists to throw your way. It’s a shame that technical limitations are half of what keeps this series from reaching its full potential. The other half half has to do with uneven character representation, which could have easily been rectified with some simple changes. In the never-ending stream of anime we get to choose from each and every year Fate/Stay Night is a mediocre, yet satisfying action series.