Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Rant on Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works

Hey, long time no post.  Been busy.  Working on a novel.

I think it is official:  I am a masochist.  I must enjoy pain.  I like a feeling in my gut that whatever entertainment I am consuming is dicking me around and screwing with my head.  Otherwise there really can be no explanation as to why I continued to watch Studio ufotable's  "Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works" the kinda sequel to their "Fate/Zero", one of the best anime series of this decade.

Now this is not a review because I have not seen all of "F/SNUBW: Ridiculously Long Abbreviation" yet.  This a rant.  The difference is that with a review, I would have seen the entire show and come up with a final definitive opinion on it.  With a rant, I am just generally pissed off, am abandoning all reviewing structure, and will just jump into my point, willy-nilly.  The point I'm making is this:  "Unlimited Blade Works" sucks.  Technically "Fate/Zero" is the prequel to this, so that is the work you're supposed to experience second.  But that's not how I did it, because "Fate/Zero" was awesome and I never would be interested in this whole franchise otherwise.  As somebody coming from "Fate/Zero" - not somebody who has played the original hentai game this now-hentai-less show is based on - this has been an awful sequel.  I should have dumped this episodes ago and never written anything at all (I held myself back for a long time before this, too).  But here I am, still chugging along, trying my best to find a silver lining.

Here's some positives:  "Unlimited Blade Works" is probably the biggest blockbuster of an anime series ever released.  The anime is stellar across the board.  Any one screenshot from this show is cinema-quality.  Action-wise too "Unlimited Blade Works" is fantastic.  "Fate/Zero" is clearly blown out of the water in terms of fluidity of movement, expense in individual fight scenes, and definitely in background drawings, which are gorgeous beyond even Miyazaki at some points.  However "UBW" will never manage to surpass the final climatic fight of Kiritsugu vs. Kotomine (spoilers) from "Zero", which is currently a good candidate for being the greatest single fight scene in anime history.  Here's why:  no matter how much money you pour into your animation, you cannot replicate the emotions and build-up that "Zero" had to create that fight.  Because "UBW" just does not have those sorts of characters, does not have those emotions, and instead is mostly the tale of a high school dimwit and his bitchy girlfriend.

"Unlimited Blade Works" took a roughly six month hiatus in order to finish the second half of the twenty-six episode series.  Since it's return it has actually been better than ever.  Last week's episode was easily the best of the series, and the one before that was the second-best of the series, both focusing on backstories of previously purely villainous characters and showing stunning plot twists in the story.  But while it was suddenly a legitimately good show, it also gave me a glimpse of what this show should have been from the very beginning.  Instead this week we returned to our regularly scheduled programming:  Rin and Shirou bickering.  That's when I finally snapped and decided: I need to tear this show a new asshole.  Not later when it finishes, but now.

Yeah, Shirou gets this face a lot on a daily basis, I imagine.
The main plot of "UBW" is that Kiritsugu, the most hero-ish character of "Fate/Zero", has died in the previous decade.  With him gone nearly all of the previous masters of the last Holy Grail War, a battle amongst expert mages in some unnamed Japanese city, have died, meaning the torch has now passed on to their descendants.  Shirou is Kiritsugu's adopted son, who meets Rin, the daughter of Tokiomi Tohsaka*, and together they join forces in the next Holy Grail War.  They must battle such people as Shinji, a bully from their school, Kiritsugu's blood daughter Ilya, and the witch queen Medea from Greek mythology.

Already an issue comes about where while "Fate/Zero" was a story of many characters, who were often equally sympathetic, "UBW" decides it has to just be about Shirou.  This fits with the original visual novel, where you played as Shirou who had to choose between three hot chicks to bang, each one leading to an alternate storyline.  This newest "Fate/Stay Night" series is an adaptation of the storyline where Shirou hangs around with Rin has many hours of belligerent sexual tension, then presumably at the end they bang.  Being a far more simplistic story in structure, "UBW" also makes it so that the Shirou-Rin team are the only ones who can be considered 'the good guys' with everybody else being plain old evil.

Already I hate this.  I fucking despise this decision.  But that's criticizing the story for being what it is, it's like complaining about a Romance novel for being shallow and smutty.  My real complaint comes when the story is just not nearly as interesting.

All the awesome fight scenes in the world cannot save "Unlimited Blade Works" from being inferior.
As a veteran Japanese RPG gamer I immediately recognize Shirou for what he is:  a bland audience stand-in.  In the hentai game - which I will continue to remind people is a porn at every opportunity before they declare it a Sacred Text - they should have made him a silent protagonist.  Shirou is dim-witted, learns the situation painfully slowly, has no sense of strategy, is dense to the affections and feelings of the women around him, and just isn't very likable.  Most of "Fate/Stay Night" was a romantic dating game ending in banging, so Shirou had to be an audience surrogate.  You could even justify his awfulness in that way, you don't want an extremely charismatic fascinating character in that role, because the audience is typically going to be a teenage male who wants to project themselves into him.  You can't believe you are James Bond, but you could believe you are this pathetic twerp.

If you were to mold up the most generic anime protagonist imaginable, he would not quite be Shirou.  There's just a bit too much personality and backstory for him to fit, but Shirou is in that kind of league.  The guy does have some psychological underpinnings for his hero complex... though his father had the same thing and still was not a total moron.  So really his best qualities are a repeat of the themes of "Fate Type-0" just done worse.

Now that it is not a game, that Shirou has no particular connection with the audience other than being the stupid guy who needs everything explained to him, he is atrocious.  And really do not get wrong, in terms of bad anime protagonists, Shirou is probably merely mediocre.  But you have to realize what he's replacing.  Shirou and his equally generic tsundere** are here, instead of Kiritsugu the badass anti-hero assassin, or Rider the King of Conquerors, or Kariya the tragic man killing himself to save little girls from their horrible fates, or the nihilistic priest discovering and relishing what a psychopath he truly is.  I know I'm going backwards here:  "Fate/Zero" is the second story, "Fate/Stay Night" is the original, but goddamn we have lost so much to gain nothing narrative-wise.

There is just TOO MUCH ACTION on this show!  How can you ever keep up!?
Where "Fate/Zero" was often a slow burn in it's first season, it was also a very strategic show full of gambits and counter moves.  "Fate/Stay Night" is the tale of two generally clueless teenagers way over their heads.  Most of the first ten episodes have almost nothing at all happen, with such highlights as a picnic, a dinner, a visit to a batting cage, and a whole day's worth of classes and school activities, Persona-style.  The assumption seems to be that these two leading characters are just the most infinitely charming figures in the world so their raw force of personality will keep the audience entertained - and they are not.  You could get Jesse and Seline from Richard Linklater's Before Trilogy, put them in this show, and even they would not be able to keep up the chemistry and charm..

Worse, Shirou is a horrible player at the Holy Grail War.  If he had been in "Fate/Zero" he would have been wiped out in a single day.  Rin constantly yells "baka" in her typical anime female form, but she can hardly call herself Hannibal at Cannae either.  They are saved only by a sluggish pace where none of the villains seem very interested in doing much of anything until the heroes are sufficiently ready for actual battle.  So if much of the pleasure of "Fate/Zero" was the brilliance of the players and their ability to come up with new tactics and manipulations, I guess you're shit out of luck.  I hope you like Rin's thighs!  The one character you are supposed to hate, Caster, the evil witch Medea who has so far been the main villain, is ironically a brilliant tactician who has been doing everything she can to win, exactly as the heroes of "Fate/Zero" would have done.  Now in a whiplash of tone that kind of behavior is considered despicable.

Whatever, Shirou and Rin and their long awkward blushing friendzoned annoying teenage quarrels can fuck right off, Blue Highwind has joined Team Caster.  Go Evil!

"UBW" has finally picked up its pace upon its return from hiatus, so I suspect there will be no more picnics or visits to the highschool to boost up Shirou's Social Links.  However it already feels like it might be too little too late, since the "Unlimited Blade Works" route will leave entire subplots from "Fate/Zero" unaddressed.  Sakura was something of a big deal in "Zero" with the most tragic backstory of pretty much anybody.  Looking ahead into spoiler territory, "UBW" has no particular plans for her, or her evil grandfather with a face that looks like Satan's left testicle.  All of this will just lie wide open, completely ignored.  But don't worry, the ufotable isn't going to ignore it entirely, they'll just make a movie to spread out the money train even longer.  Why have one complete story when you can have two incomplete ones?

Sakura:  "What the fuck, Shirou?  Your boring life stole all my screentime!"
And in yesterday's episode, after a few weeks of Caster pulling plans and the return of the ultimate golden villain Gilgamesh, we finally have stakes and the plot is moving quickly.  Yet just as it does, yesterday's episode had to bog down for what felt like ten minutes as Rin had to blush when Shirou called her his girlfriend, then yell out "baka!" a lot.  You go from severe drama, wild plot twists, factions shifting, exciting stuff, then it instantly has to stop to continue a romance tumor that only made sense when this was a porn, but no longer needs so much time since we're definitely not going to see Rin's tits***.

Ultimately "Fate/Zero" was a tragedy, "Fate/Stay Night" is an action shonen series.  When your story will most likely have a happy ending you can never have moments as glorious and beautiful as say, Rider's last charge.  But even if the tone and purpose is different, I will have to disagree with this "UBW" series' methods.  I understand that the hentai game is extremely popular in Japan and in the West, and those fans will be furious over any change.  But couldn't we streamline the best parts of "Zero" and the best parts of the original Fate?  Being faithful has simply wasted mountains of cash and incredible animation, along with Rin's lovingly-depicted ass.  Do not tell me we could not have a taught fast-moving action series with multiple villains in all the time that unfotable could not cut at least four of the episodes of the first season of this show to fit in Sakura's plotline or at least get the story moving!  I don't care how much I'm ruining your precious hentai game's story, that's still going to be there for you to enjoy and fap to.  What I would like to have along with that is a good anime instead of a shitty one. 

But it's too late now, I'm stuck with this show.  It is unfortunately not so unwatchable that I can put it down, I do need to see where this goes.

EDIT:  A few weeks later I saw a few more episodes of this show.  Basically every character I liked and every remaining plot thread from "Fate/Zero" still around was fucked up the ass and that was it.  I had nobody left in this show to care about.  So I'm free now.  This is one of the worst anime series I have ever come across in terms of disappointment.

* Tokiomi Tohsaka is still my least favorite anime character of all time.  That is the second and probably not the last bit of hyperbole that will be used in this rant.

** I hate tsundere characters, by the way.  I find the entire fetish towards this kind of female character creepy.  I also don't understand it:  why would you want the kind of girlfriend who is going to be moody and mad at you for no apparent reason and can never be honest with her feelings on any level?

*** If you actually are a fan of this romance, remember, this is essentially a male-gaze version of any Young Adult book written for girls, and is just as empty and exploitative.


  1. Yippe your back and in a few days I was going to ask the frequent commenters on what we should do.

    But yeah on the anime.....never touched the show and don't have any plans to. I have more then enough anime on my stack.
    Still I have to admit the animation looks good.

    Once again glad to have you back.

    Sword Of Primus

    P.S Without spoiling too much can you tell us if your novel is fiction or non-fiction?

    1. Fiction. Cyberpunk. I only really have the energy to produce one major piece of writing a day, and since I've been writing most days on this, it hasn't faired well for the blog, unfortunately.

      Luckily April was a shit month for movies, NOTHING came out at all other than Furious 7 which I really need to review.

    2. Cyberpunk.....not would I have expected from you. Not thats a bad thing.

      But i would have expected either dark fantasy,horror or intergalactic science fiction or real life type story like the homeless man finding then sweepstakes pop bottle.

      But I am curious none the less and hopefully there will be more interesting topics for blog posts in May .

      Sword Of Primus

    3. There was also Ex Machina which was great but I can't recall much else,

    4. Cyberpunk novel?! Sign me up! I can deal with minimal blog updates if a cyberpunk novel from BH becomes a reality!!

  2. I partly agree with you, that they could have done a better job handling this series, even if (unlike you) I'm rather fond of Rin and ambivalent about Shirou rather than hating both. Having said that, as someone who has read the VN, I can tell you that including Sakura's story means going the Heaven's Feel Route, as (while it's hard for me to explain without spoilers) if her evil grandfather is active, you aren't really going to get a proper Grail War. Basically, you can't just cram her story into a few episodes, as it would take over the entire series, unless someone kills Sakura. Honestly, I would have preferred that route, and it sounds much more like what you want (including no truly happy endings) but I guess Ufotable decided that this would have a wider appeal, so they decided to do HF as a movie.

  3. Here's the thing with Type-Moon visual novels: they are decent visual novels but they would all make awful anime series for a few reasons:

    Kinoko Nasu's narration is great, but it's not something that can be easily translated into anime. The guy loves to take his to explain to the audience the characters' feelings and thoughts, their backstory, and well as the rules of the universe he created (mostly all the magic related stuff) in a way that can turn an otherwise boring and uneventful scene into something great or memorable. Sadly, most of this is lost in anime or any medium without a narrator.

    The lack of choices, secret point systems, flags, and other videogame stuff remove a lot of the excitement the visual novels had, as well as the variation in the scenes, even in the same route. Hell if they ever adapt Heavens Feel (Sakura's route) all the crazy deus ex machina bullshit moments that require the right choices to be made across the second half of the game will lose all impact or just confuse or the audience.

    The way the game is meant to be played, with each route being unlocked after completing the previous, some important plot points and questions that only show up in a particular route are left out in the others. Like:
    Saber's route explains the reason for shiro's healing power, related to fate zero.
    UBW explains Archer's true identity, one of the biggest plot points of the game, almost changing every scene where he shows up.
    Sakura's route explains the most important thing of all: the truth of the holy grail, the war and the thing contaminating the grail since the 3rd war(the one before zero).

    And that's just the videogame problems, the story has it's issues as well, like the fact that the first 20%of every route is the same(that's where it splits depending on choices), and the first 40-70% is pretty boring, depending on the route. Or the fact that the most common reason for sex scenes in type moon novels is to do it as a ritual to restore mp. yeah. though it makes sense in the sakura route, but that's a spoiler.
    And as you said:"Fate/Zero" was a tragedy, "Fate/Stay Night" is an action shonen series.

    In short: It's a good game that doesn't translate well into anime and can't compete with a better crafted story with a more interesting theme like Zero.
    Hell it's not even as good as it's own parody:

  4. Rin is a fucking bitch. People actually hate her because she has too much control over the relationship.

  5. You know that the game creator Kiriko Nasu and the author and illistrator of the First Fate/stay night Manga Nishiwaki Datto, actually both agreed and commented that Rin and Shirou's relationship is the only relationship that won't last for long. They even stated that they were meant to break up following the events of the route.

    This is because, their relationship is too one-sided, with Rin in too much control.

  6. Oh yeah, Datto, also expressed his dissatisfaction, when it was decided that Unlimited Blade Works was going to be animated again. He states that the move was, completely bias, uncreative and just plain wrong. stating that the Heaven's Feel route would have been a better choice for ufotable, rather then something that had already been made into a film by Studio Deen.

  7. you are retarded tbh

  8. Rin has a lot more depth to her than you give her credit. She was a Tsundere before it was even a thing, with it being part of her inner character conflict (she was raised to think being a mage meant being like Kirei, so her Tsundere outbursts are her trying to reconcile that fact that she wants to have fun but can't admit that because it would dishonor her family).