Okay, so this review is for the Unlimited Blade Works anime series, and not the movie of the same name, which I haven't seen.
I started watching Unlimited Blade Works shortly after watching the okay series Fate/Zero, knowing that this show, its follow-up was much more beloved by audiences and critics alike, and it's fair to say that I was pretty excited to give it a watch.
And what do you know, the first episode (confusingly called "Episode 0" on Crunchyroll), was great, it really set up the story well, and the characters, and in the early episodes there was a very natural progression from the original series (Fate/Zero) into the sequel. But, as the show went along, more and more plotholes came up, which I'll discuss later, and more problems developed with the story which were never really explained, or were serious issues in their own right.
Before I talk about that, what and who is this show about?
This series is set ten years after Fate/Zero during the next Holy Grail War, and it focuses on the children of characters from that series becoming participants in the next war and summoning Heroic Spirits to fight with them to claim the Holy Grail.
The main protagonist is Emiya Shirou, the adopted son of Emiya Kiritsugu who you'd probably remember as the main protagonist in Fate/Zero, but annoyingly is dead now for no explained reason. He accidentally ended up in the war when he was attacked by the new version of Lancer (who is basically exactly the same as the Fate/Zero lancer only he looks different because he's officially a different character), and summoned Saber to be his servant. This is the same Sabe from Fate/Zero, and she hasn't lost any of her badassery. She rocks in this show!
Our other main protagonist is Rin Tohsaka, the daughter of the villainous mage Tohsaka Tokiomi from Fate/Zero, and she is also a pretty darn powerful mage (I'm going to call them wizards now, I hope that's alright with you). So anyway, she summons the mysterious Archer, who claims to have lost his memory and whose real identity is the most obvious plot twist ever. Heck, it becomes so obvious that the characters even work it out n their own without a big reveal (and they worked it out about eight episodes after I did).
So, anyway, you're probably thinking this:
So Dan, WHY ON EARTH DO YOU NOT LIKE THIS SHOW WHEN EVERYONE ELSE DOES?!?! ARE YOU A MINDLESS HATER??
To which my answer is:
No, of course not.
Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to like in this show, especially its soundtrack and its second theme song (Brave Shine), but it just wastes so many opportunities and it is so inconsistent with the way it portrays characters. Let's have some examples of things I didn't like about the show now, shall we?
- Interesting characters were introduced and then just completely forgotten about and never seen again. Like Sakura, for example. Anyone who's seen Fate/Zero knows that Sakura is actually Rin's sister, but this is never addressed in the show, and she just kinda stops being in the show about a third of the way through for no obvious reason, even though she had so much potential for some very interesting plot developments in terms of her relationships with both Shirou and Rin. But no, she just stopped being in it. [This can also be said for the girl with short brown hair in the high school].
- The characterizations and overall personalities given to a lot of the characters were EXTREMELY inconsistent. For example, when Illyasviel von Einzbern is first introduced as the Master of Berserker she comes across as a terrifying, sociopathic, cold, homicidal maniac, and her voice in the original Japanese version is just so creepy, made even worse by her lighthearted childish nature, and the surprisingly hilarious way she says "bye bye" (but that last bit wasn't creepy and is irrelevant. Then she stops being in the show for a bit and when she's back she's like a completely different character. Suddenly she stops being a creepy sociopath and becomes a tragic figure protecting her people in a war she can't hope to win. She becomes a sweet, innocent little girl who's just trying to do what's right. What is with that!?!?! You can't just completely change someone's personality and add a tragic backstory out of the blue like that, because it feels really forced and unnatural.
- And no, it is never properly addressed that Illyasviel and Shirou are siblings.
- Another example of the show being inconsistent is whether or not Rin and Shirou have feelings for one another, particularly in the middle part of the series (yes, I watched the whole thing, so I know what happens with them in the end, but I'm just talking about the middle of the series here). It's like, one minute one of them is open about their feelings and the other isn't interested, and then they just switch opinions like that which, in real life, just wouldn't happen. I didn't explain it very well, but you'll get what I mean if you watch it, and it really is irritating having them just alternate between their opinions of one another.
- Another problem I have with the show is the way it contradicts itself, and the events of Fate/Zero so much. For example, it is directly stated that you have to be a mage to summon a servant and you have to have sufficient mana (magical energy) to sustain that servant. This contradicts the events of Fate/Zero, in which Caster is accidentally summoned by a psychopathic child murderer who isn't a mage, but he was some nut job who accidentally summoned a servant while trying to summon a demon. And yet, Caster was able to perform horrific feats of dark magic even though his master in theory should not have been able to sustain him enough to let him be able to survive even one significant feat. [Granted, he was feeding Caster children who I guess you could consider "mana munchies", so this might be more of a problem with the translation in the subtitles of that line(?), I'm not sure.
- This also contradicts the event of this series itself, in which the slimy Shinji Matou (grandson of the evil old man from Fate/Zero) somehow becomes the Master of Rider despite the fact that he openly admits to not being a mage... So how the hell did he summon Rider, how the hell does he have the mana to sustain Rider, an how does he control Rider???? All these questions and more are NEVER FREAKING EXPLAINED! (And before you whine that they're explained in the Visual novel (if they are), let me remind you that I am not reviewing the visual novel, I am reviewing the anime as a standalone entity.
- Another problem that I have with the show is that its overall message seems to keep suggesting that living selfishly is far better than being selfless, and speaking not just as a Christian but as a guy who has never been selfish in his entire life, I disagree with this completely. It's a horrible message. You can't encourage the kids watching to be selfish because otherwise you'll live a depressing, unfulfilled and ultimately hypocritical life. That's an awful message, and it's made worse by the fact that it keeps being backed up by Archer's endless monologueing. I will say this, Archer, even in spite of his identity and backstory, is one of the least likable characters I have ever come across in anime. He's rude, nihilistic and just keeps betraying everyone... AND HE NEVER SHUTS UP, doing the same freaking monologue over and over and over again. In his final battle against Shirou, the fight scene lasted 2 freaking episodes, but it could have lasted five minutes and had the exact same impact if he and Shirou only had their monologue and response once, and not so many times I lost count. It made what should have been an epic fight scene into something BORING to watch.
....But it can't be all bad, right? I mean, Kotomine Kirei's still in it being badass and manipulative and evil and really cool... right? :O
Well, he is in it for a few episodes, but he isn't really the menacing force he used to be, and for all the buildup they did with him, they did end his story arc in a very anticlimactic way that will leave you thinking
Was that it???
Do not expect to be anything other than disappointed with the way his arc ends. It's too soon, it's not exciting, and it is very anticlimactic.
But don't worry, Gilgamesh is back in this series as its main villain, and blimey does this guy get made insanely evil this time round. His arrogance is even more inflated than it was before, his aristocratic belief that peasants have life too easy in the modern world has developed into omnicidal mania, and he freaking rips a little girl's heart out!
But, even with Gilgamesh there's a plot hole. For some reason, after he was able to survive the fourth Holy Grail War by bathing in the Grail's fluids, he required Shinji as a master from whom to derive mana a little later in the series for no obvious reason considering that he clearly already had plenty of mana later on.
But I'm nitpicking now, because his final battle with Shirou was pretty epic, not so much in terms of the animation quality which was just average really, but in terms of just how intense it was. You could feel the wrath building up behind his and Shirou's polarizing personalities, backed up by Gilgamesh's haughtiness. Gilgamesh even gets a very cool evil laugh during that scene that is well worth watching.
Oh, wait guys, did I just start praising this show, mid-complaint? Better get back on track with some MORE things that the show did wrong:
- The show made it pretty clear that Magecraft is passed down from generation to generation, often gradually weakening with each, but occasionally appearing in other bloodlines. The problem I have here is that Shirou is a naturally gifted mage despite only being the adopted son of Kiritsugu. This makes me wonder: where did his "Magic Circuits" come from? I briefly thought that the show was going to explain this and that Archer was going to turn out to be his father... But of course that wasn't the case, and as a result there's just this giant elephant in the room about Shirou's inexplicable wizardry that shouldn't be there.
- Why is the Church the moderator of the Holy Grail War if this isn't THE Holy Grail, but a different Holy Grail made by wizards? In fact, the whole nature of what the heck this "Holy Grail" is is completely confusing. Caster talks about there being sub-grails sustaining the form of the real grail that was somehow in Illya's heart, and while Fate/Zero established that this wasn't the "real" Holy Grail, this series goes further and says that it's a gateway to Hell, made of pureified mana.
Surely, The Church would have put a freaking Gateway to Hell under lock and key an never let it see the light of day, they wouldn't encourage people to fight to the death about it for magic wishes, that would be both extremely un-Christian of them, and extremely dangerous and idiotic from any logical standpoint.
Also, wouldn't it thus make much more sense to fight over the real Holy Grail that legend says "caught the blood of Jesus Christ" (or something like that), rather than waste time fighting over a source of pure evil? Forgive me if I'm ranting here, but this entire war is just flat-up idiotic.
What about the fight scenes?? Are they as great as in Fate/Zero????
I will say that there are a lot more of them than in Fate/Zero, but compared with the visually spectacular fight and battle scenes we've seen in both Fate/Zero and other Aniplex shows like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Sword Art Online, these just aren't all that impressive. Mostly, they're just standard sword fights with the occasional teleportation moments, which I think were probably just done to save on the animation budget, and as a result there are no jaw-dropping moments in this show in its fight scenes.
In fact, I don't think there's anything about the animation quality in this show that's particularly jaw-dropping. Sure, a lot of effort did clearly go into some of it, but even so, when you've seen the Excalibur scene in Fate/Zero, and a lot of Aniplex's other shows like Sword Art online in which almost every frame is staggeringly detailed and beautifully designed, the animation in this show is kind of a low-point for Aniplex in that department, just because it's "average".
And then there's the last episode.
It was really boring, it didn't need to exist because everything was well wrapped up in the penultimate episode, and Shirou's decision not to join the Mage's Association was pretty darn illogical if he wanted to become a true "Hero of Justice" while avoiding Archer's path and mastering his innate skills in the magic school from the first episode of Fate/Zero (which is revisited here).
I just feel that it would logically make a lot more sense to accept the offer, as he would have the ability to lead a great, noble life, use his abilities to the fullest, stop bad guys, and that way Rin could stay at the school and both of you could have a really great life together.
Oh, and a Professor Snape like guy is in it for a bit (R.I.P. Alan Rickman, you were a real legend), who I think was supposed to be an adult version of the Armin Arlert-like guy from Fate/Zero, but I'm not really sure, and I wish they'd clarified who he was in the episode.
It sucked. It started off so well, and it could have been so great, but problem after problem, plot hole after plot hole, inch-by-inch, this show became something unbearable.
Next I'm going to be watching ANOTHER freaking Fate series... The original Fate/Stay Night from 2006.
You have been reading "Addicted to Animation Reviews" by Dan King.