Treading on the dark abyss can be a monstrous task to take. It is a never-ending ride that can only be described in the most torturous terminology imaginable. This abyss that I am describing formed around 2006 by the name of Fate Stay Night. Not the visual novel mind you, the adaptation of one of the routes contained in the visual novel. The reason it is called an abyss is because it was hated by almost everybody and their mother with its tedious and mind-numbingly boring presentation. All it would take to rationalize the problem is to realize that Type-Moon was lazy with giving its adaptation in the hands of a studio that probably didn’t have the authenticity it needed to showcase the grand scale of the Fate series. It only took Type-Moon nearly ten years to sort of revitalize this by going on a different route, literally, with Unlimited Blade Works.
This might be controversial to say, as with the usual reaction by many who follow this franchise, this next iteration in the Fate series anime franchise is by far my favorite. Mind you, I am someone who has not touched any of the visual novels when I watched the anime. I’m making this statement based on how my experience is going through all of the anime, so no nitpicking adaptation problems from me. With that out of the way, how Unlimited Blade Works manages to succeed in being the best one simply from how the scale of its setting and story is structured in a way where it can easily focus on the pacing the story and characters better. It doesn’t have the biggest issue of Fate Zero where the scale of the setting was too big for the small amount of time it had to develop the characters. Not to say there is a lot of development in Unlimited Blade Works, as ufotable has realized that these characters have already been poised into our consciousness for so many media iterations that it’s almost pointless to do so. There are some decent character moments that involve the development, particularly with Archer which I will get to later.
Instead of Saber being the main girl with Shirou back in the original Fate Stay Night, we have Rin Tohsaka filling in for that role in this one. As someone who’s always thought of Saber as being a bland heroine in how they portray her in the anime, having Rin as the main focus was a breath of fresh air to say the least. Yes she is your prototypical tsundere character falling for the main protagonist, Shirou, but she does manage to hold on her own as a capable character who offers more than the trope that she possesses. Shirou has always been a hit or miss character, but mostly a miss, for many people. Fortunately, he is not as dim-witted and unlikable as he was in the original Fate Stay Night, even though he still is in short bursts in Unlimited Blade Works. The rest of the human characters such as Kirei, Shinji, Kiritsugu, and Illyasvi are all of the same quality, all having their range of pros and cons but with nothing of special value to this season in particular.
I have never been interested in the actual lore of the Fate series. The lore being the hero characters being spiritual manifestations of past famous and infamous historical figures never clicked with me as being anything groundbreaking in the slightest. That said, Unlimited Blade Works was the first season that actually peaked my interest in it from the moment it started to tell the backstory of Archer’s past life. Its told in a somber manner and with a grandiose impact onto our main characters that will easily make you want to digest more of what will happen next as it paces itself forward. What is disappointing is that the other heroes don’t get the same treatment as Archer and make them feel static in comparison. From a visual novel perspective it makes sense since a route only focuses on certain characters, but in anime it feels jarring at times. However it’s not terribly jarring to take in from Unlimited Blade Works perspective.
Once again, ufotable never fails to impress the fans and community by giving them a visual treat to splendor upon, if there is one thing they succeed in pleasing everyone. If you have seen Fate Zero before going into Unlimited Blade Works, nothing has changed dramatically from their original art design and CGI. Nevertheless, that isn’t to say it is a disappointing factor since it is always more than welcome to grace us with its visual grandeur, even with no change whatsoever. The fighting scenes are just as amazing to watch as it was with Fate Zero with the nice camera angles following the movement of the characters and the nice sound design of the spells being casted and swords clashing onto each other. Its almost a necessity to watch this on the highest quality stream or buy the Blu Ray set to watch them at their maximum quality.
Everyone has their own strong attachment to the series and can be a polarizing experience for some who’ve come to know the visual novels by heart. Me being one who does not fall into this category, as I’ve mentioned before, I realize that my voice might be viewed as limiting to some. I can only express how I felt going through Unlimited Blade Works as my favorite of the series in terms of it being a nice fun ride that I hope will continue to go on with whatever next iteration of the Fate franchise that Type-Moon is willing to whore out for pennies. Maybe it’ll be the final route of Fate Stay Night that they’ll finally do and that will be the end of it, who knows. But that will more than likely not be the case, as sad as that can be.