The Holy Grail War is a dramatic battle royale involving seven mage Masters and their summoned Servants – the spirits of animeafied heros and heroines from both history and folklore. Only one Master can win the Holy Grail, which comes with the added bonus of granting a wish. Generations of powerful magical families have fought over the thing and consider it a matter of honour and duty to finally obtain it. The thing is, every single Holy Grail war has ended with horrific tragedy so far…but that doesn’t stop the young mage Rin Tohsaka from preparing for the Fifth one.
A popular and elegant young lady who lives alone, Rin is a skilled mage whose father – Tokiomi Tohsaka – was involved with (and died during) the 4th Holy Grail War ten years prior. She is determined to do his name proud and win the Grail and so tries her hardest to summon a Saber class servant – always regarded as the strongest kind.
Unfortunately, her timing and preparation was slightly off and she instead ends up with the sarcastic Archer. Besides not being the one she wanted, Archer’s memories have been scrambled and he can’t even remember what ‘Heroic Spirit’ he actually is. Luckily for Rin, he’s incredibly strong, which is just as well because despite the fact that the Holy Grail War has barely begun, an enemy Servant of the Lancer class has appeared to cause trouble at her school.
This is the legendary anime studio ufotable’s take on the most well-known of entries into the Fate franchise, acting as an easy sequel to their previous Fate/Zero and a tidy replacement for that awful 2006 Fate/Stay Night anime from Studio Deen. The vaguely ironic thing is that Fate/Stay Night had always been intended to be the first series to start the franchise with, with Fate/Zero being a prequel novel that should be read (or watched) after, yet here ufotable are very clearly assuming you are watching this after finishing Fate/Zero. As someone who always thought that the common ‘don’t watch Fate/Zero without watching (the 2006) Fate/Stay Night first!’ line of thought was complete bollocks, this delights me. (I watched F/Z first, after all, and I don’t think anyone should have had to watch that other F/SN first in order to enjoy it. I don’t think anyone should have to watch that other F/SN at all.)
If all the above is incredibly confusing to you, then you are not the show’s intended audience, and you were also probably rather confused by the synopsis. I can definitely see that this first 47-minute long episode would be nothing but a beautifully animated, confusing mess to people who weren’t already fans of the franchise. On the plus side, ufotable assuming audience knowledge means that there’s a lot less time spent on exposition – something that heavily weighed down Fate/Zero’s first episode. The exposition that does remain is mostly revealed through conversations – and in one part where Rin is inexplicably talking to herself – a remnant of the original game’s narration, sure, but I think it would have seemed more natural were she merely thinking instead of talking.
The episode itself is basically the same as the game’s prologue, slightly stream-lined without being too rushed. On one hand, it does feel a bit slow in places, but on the other the kind of gentle, slow scenes it has do a really good job of establishing Rin’s character. She’s not the generic tsundere she’s often assumed to be – she’s a competent, intelligent young woman with a lot of depth. She’s one of my favourite characters in the Fate universe so I especially enjoyed all the focus on her. As reflected in the anime’s title, this version of the story is focusing on the ‘Unlimited Blade Works’ route of the original game of which she and her servant Archer play a much larger role. I almost forgot how much I loved these two characters together so I can’t wait to see more of them – they have a fantastic dynamic and play off eachother well. It’s rather sad, though, that despite how this episode 0 makes it seem, Rin is not the main character – that would be Shirou Emiya. He appears a few times in the episode itself but the story will take off for real next week with him – and everyone’s beloved Servant Saber – as the leads.
This is an ufotable production, so the animation is absolutely jaw-dropping at times and all the backgrounds are detailed enough to be mistaken for photos at a glance. While it’s content to just look pretty for most of the run-time, the eventual fight scene between Archer and Lancer was fantastic. Just like ufotable’s Fate/Zero, this is a gorgeously put-together show. It’s hard to recommend it to people who aren’t already fans but it gets a ringing endorsement for me if you are.
If the number of screenshots hadn’t already tipped you off, we’re going to be blogging it, having planned to ever since it was announced. ‘We’, by the way, are Junko and I the big Fate-fans. As I already stated, my month-long holiday in Italy means i won’t be able to blog anything except for the small handful of First Impressions, but Junko will be reviewing the next few episodes and we can take turns with it when I return.