Fate/Unlimited Blade Works Blu-ray Review
Fate/Stay Night told an intriguing story about Masters (mages) who summon
servants and fight alongside them for the coveted Holy Grail. The original Fate/Stay Night anime followed Shiro and his servant Saber as they fought the Holy Grail War. Fate/Unlimited Blade Works (henceforth UBW) follows another route in which Rin’s servant Archer takes the prominent role. The movie presents an alternative story in which Archer is not injured early on in the war and thus manages to actively manipulate other Masters and Servants. Unlike his lenient nature in Fate/Stay, in UBW he takes control of his own fate, betraying Rin and joining one of the other Masters with one purpose in mind – killing Shiro. UBW reveals the true identity of Archer and explains his motive for fighting in the Holy Grail War. His cunningness and surprising prowess in battle shuffle all the cards, changing the course of some of the events in the anime and the overall balance between the Masters. Old contracts between Master and Servant are broken and new alliances are forged in what is essentially a retelling of the Fate/Stay anime with different outcomes and a new ending.
If you’ve been following the Fate franchise along the years the above summary of Fate/Unlimited Blade Works must sound exhilarating to you. The UBW path in the original Fate/Stay Night visual novel was a great twist on the somewhat conservative Fate/Stay Night route. It offered more gore and more spectacles. It poured light on Archer, who was a bit neglected in the Fate/Stay route, and at the same time managed to make Shiro and Rin even more appealing main characters than before. Sadly it would be an understatement to say that the Fate/Unlimited Blade Works movie does injustice to the UBW route in the original visual novel. For starters this movie relies completely on the fact that you’ve already seen the anime Fate/Stay Night or have played the game. UBW doesn’t bother to establish the plot nor the characters. It begins by frantically showing you snippets of scenes from the series. The first three or so episodes from the series are covered in less than five minutes. However, if you assumed the pace will settle down after the initial events that differentiate Fate/Stay from UBW you are in for one nasty surprise. The entire movie continues to jump mercilessly from one scenario to the next without ever bother to connect them with conventional, yet often important, padding. One moment you are watching Shiro commuting to school, a few second later he is already in the warehouse of his home, a few seconds later he is leaving the city’s church. These “time jumps” continue throughout the entire movie. The impossible pacing hurts character development badly as there is no time to show them speaking to each other or interacting on a daily basis. The romantic relationship between Shiro and Rin, which plays a prominent role in creating the atmosphere that surrounds UBW, is relegated to one short scene in the end of the movie. Saber only says about three or four lines in the entire film, and she’s way better off than Illya or Shinji.
Furthermore despite the movie’s decision to drop the padding around the story major plot devices also get the boot. The important scene in which Shiro uses a command spell to prevent Saber from harming Archer in the beginning of the story is missing despite the fact that this key occurrence is what made UBW deviate from the Fate/Stay Night timeline in the first place. The conflict between Shiro and Archer is similarly lacking in length and depth. Archer’s backstory is only roughly explained and the match between him and Shiro is the weakest part of the movie despite being the highlight of the original game route. Even Archers famous Unlimited Blade Works quote is shortened to three sentences for simplicity’s sake
The animation in Unlimited Blade Works is superb. Every fight in the movie is animated fluently and effectively, and since the movie is essentially constructed from a series of fights you will not be disappointed by the way it looks. You might be disappointed by how it sounds though. On paper both the English and Japanese audio tracks are DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. But upon watching the movie I found several disturbing problems. The ambience between effects, voices and background music is off. The background music tends to be very loud while voices are way too quiet. Sound effects are either very loud or pitifully quiet, depending on the scene. There is no way to balance these problems and you might find yourself adjusting the volume again and again as you go along. The list of problems in this release goes on. The English subtitles are sub-par and amateurish at best. Several lines are cut short, leaving only a summary of what the characters are really saying in Japanese. In some case the wording and length of the sentences is altered to a degree that they no longer have any connection to the original Japanese sentence. There is an inconsistency when it comes to important terms – even though the mages are always referred to in the Japanese audio as Masters the English subtitles refers to them as Magi, Magus and Mages. This makes UBW inconsistent with both Fate/Stay and Fate/Zero. The English dub isn’t any better. Some of the dub casting is spot-on. Archer in particular sounds exactly like his Japanese counterpart. However the English voice actors and actresses often derail to monotonic tones, as if they are reading their lines instead of acting them. It feels strange an unnatural in conversations and will totally ruins the mood when heard in the heat of battle.
The Blu-ray from Sentai Filmworks’ is a bare bones release of the film. The only extras on the disc are trailers for other anime from Sentai Filmworks. Similarly to Sentai’s Angel Beats! Blu-ray the audio selection menu in Unlimited Blade Works does not work. You can enter the audio sub-menu just fine but pressing any button while inside the audio sub-menu will throw you back to the main menu. You can still change the audio and subtitle options from within the movie itself, but I am once more baffled by Sentai’s lack of success in making simple menu navigation work on their Blu-ray discs.
Fate/Unlimited Blade Works is a mishandled movie that fails completely on multiple levels. This movie was not made with newcomers in mind. If you are not already familiar with the lore and plot of Fate/Stay Night you will not understand the plot nor get to know the characters here. However even those who are familiar enough with the Fate/Stay Night plot and can follow the movie’s sporadic plotline will arguably be disgusted and frustrated by its presentation. The story, characters and emotional impact spiral out of control quite early on, leaving you watching a shadow of what made you love the Fate visual novel or anime. The impossible pacing makes you feel as if this is a summary to a bigger, more encompassing movie that was never made. The movie’s inherent faults are amplified by Sentai Filmworks’ faulty Blu-ray release. Sound problems and inaccurate subtitles raise their ugly head time and time again and the mastering of the Blu-ray feels rushed.
The overall quality of Fate/Unlimited Blade Works fails to come close to Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero. Even the most ardent of Fate fans are advised to stay away from Fate/Unlimited Blade Works.
- Excellent animation.
- An impossible pace that swallows the plot and characters whole.
- Inconsistent and amateur subtitles.
- Unbalance audio makes the movie sound either too quiet or too loud.
Final Score: 2/10 (Terrible)
Product Information: Fate/Unlimited Blade Works Blu-ray. Published by Sentai Filmworks. Release Date: June 12, 2012.
Review Equipment: A Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a PS3 using a ver. 1.4 HDMI cable.