Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – Prologue


Ahhh… Finally. This is like a breath of fresh air.

Everyone who’s played the original Fate/stay night visual novel knows that the original anime adaptation, though pretty cool as a standalone work, was bad. Terribly bad. Like a chopped-up mess of the Fate route with awkward Heaven’s Feel splices, poor animation and very little appropriate mood-setting. Then Unlimited Blade Works got a movie, and that was…better, I guess. Animation was better, atmosphere was better. But still, compressing the medium-length route of what’s essentially a novel into 100 minutes was a joke. Even I, who had played through the entire VN, was almost confused at parts because the movie was so rushed. So it was better, yes, but not quite good enough. Fate/Zero breathed life back into the franchise with an expertly-adapted prequel series, but it couldn’t change the fact that the VN adaptations were less than stellar.

Passing the torch to ufotable was, in my opinion, an excellent idea. They did a great job with Fate/Zero. They’re working on a Heaven’s Feel movie. And now we finally get a real Unlimited Blade Works adaptation.

Did you know that the VN has an English word count of about 1,000,000 words? That’s a lot of words. That’s more than twice as long as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, where the three books total about 473,000 words. The Bible is also about 1,000,000 words. Just think about that for a moment: Fate/stay night is as long as the Bible. Makes me feel sort of bad that I’ve made it through that VN, but not the whole Bible. Work in progress, I guess.

I’ll get to the point after another comparison. The Lord of the Rings movies adapted the books very well, in my humble opinion. Each movie adapted one book from the trilogy. Looking at the director’s cut versions (which contain even more details from the novels), the run times for Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers and Return of the King are 208 minutes, 223 minutes and 251 minutes respectively. Put together, that’s 682 minutes of “film length.” Throw that into a simple comparative formula and the Fate/stay night VN should have about 1,442 minutes of film length. Assume each route takes a third of that length (which is wrong, since each route is different length, but I’m trying to make this easier) and each route should have about 481 minutes of film length. Now see why a 100-minute movie adaptation of Unlimited Blade Works didn’t really work? That’s barely one-fifth of the length it should have been. We should have had an eight-hour movie, not one barely passing one-and-a-half hours.

Sorry. My point is that a full season is exactly what we need for a proper Unlimited Blade Works adaptation. And what better way to kick off that remake than with an hour-long prologue?

Note: this is not really a First Impressions because since I know the Fate/stay night universe so well and am very familiar with the source material, there’s nothing to speculate upon. This is a simple review of the prologue episode for the new Unlimited Blade Works adaptation. Even so, this is getting a First Impressions tag anyway, since the function is much the same.

Mild spoilers warning. I’m going to assume that most people watching this anime have seen the original Unlimited Blade Works movie, if not having played through the VN as well. I’m expecting no Fate/stay night universe novices here. If you do happen to be a complete novice, then my tiny little spoilers likely won’t mean anything to you, so there probably won’t be any problems, but even so: friendly warning. 

The prologue was great. So enjoyable, in fact, that I almost missed a couple of little flaws. Well, I suppose they’re not really flaws, but they stood out regardless. Apparently ufotable didn’t see fit to completely maintain the original feeling of mystery from the VN route. We got Sakura talking to Gilgamesh, explicit animation of Archer projecting his swords repeatedly, dialogue drawing attention to that fact, a soundless visual of Archer uttering his projection mantra, and an almost in-your-face focus on the importance of Rin’s gem pendant. For a VN fan, these changes were pretty “woah,” but that doesn’t mean they weren’t cool anyway. I personally believe this adaptation is supposed to be a treat for existing fans of the franchise, and if that’s the case then boy am I satisfied so far.

I’m really glad that this episode adapted the VN’s prologue. It really helps viewers get a feel for Rin’s character, so much more so than if they had delved right into the main story. This is especially important considering Rin is the female protagonist of this route. We really feel Rin this episode, we understand her. Possibly in an even more detailed fashion than the original text conveyed. This is exactly what a proper visual adaptation of a written work should be: something that enhances and expands on the experience, rather than something that portrays a lesser alternative.

Excellent art, excellent animation, excellent visual effects. The Archer and Lancer duel is finally good. The Command Seals stand out. Characters have varied expressions. Magic circles glow like they should. Invisible servants shimmer. Archer pours tea.

Archer. OMG Archer. He’s been one of my all-time favorite fictional characters ever since the VN, and now I get to watch him in glorious 2014 animation! What’s not to like?

I’ve read a couple reviews written by people who apparently don’t know exactly what’s going on with the story right now, and those were interesting in their own way. Lots of speculation about what might be important, what might happen soon, so on and so forth. I can’t do that, and I can’t fake it, so if you do happen to be new to the franchise (or at least to this route) I’d recommend checking out a few of those. I’m not going to go over what happens here, and I’m certainly not going to pretend to speculate plot.

Yeah there’s literally nothing wrong with this episode, from my perspective at least. Can’t wait until next week when episode one airs. Hopefully we get the now-classic screenshot of a newly-summoned Saber again.

Rick out.

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