SUPER SPOILER WARNING
So, this is going to be a very hard review to write. I say that because I went into the show knowing a lot about the story already after already watching the more recent Aniplex/Ufotable "Fate" series, which I have already reviewed, and so I know that there's a lot that I've said already.
So, anyway, this show is based on the "Fate" timeline in the original Fate/Stay Night visual novel (whereas UBW is based on a divergent path in the same visual novel), so it starts off pretty much the same as the Unlimited Bade Works anime, with a lot of the same scenes and all of the same characters, though some have very minor differences in their backstories (e.g. the fact that Kirei killed Rin's dad has now shifted so that he killed Shirou's, and there's no mention of Illya's family all killing themselves if she loses the grail war in this version either), but I think that these changes were made for the best, for reasons I'll talk about later.
Anyway, I'd better start waffling and start actually talking about why I like this series so much.
I'll be honest here, it looked like the animation in this series was pretty low budget, as it just doesn't look as clean as in the Aniplex/Ufotable series, and it lacks their use of CGI. It also has some pretty weird animation errors throughout its length, like characters hair being invisible when it covers their eyes.
One thing I have noticed however is that the animators used their lower budget to their advantage in a surprising way. In the Ufotable/Aniplex series, Saber's use of the Excalibur noble phantasm to defeat enemies is a somewhat subtle but utterly beautifully animated sequence of dazzling integrated CGI embers and lights, and I have been led to believe that this is also true for the visual novels. Because that wasn't an option forr these animators, they decided to instead give Excalibur some epic wind powers and have it shoot balls of fiery magical energy. I honestly think this creative descision was the best possible one they could have made, as it meant that even with a lower budget they could give Saber some even more intense exciting fight scenes than before, even if the beauty of the scenes was lost, because so much more excitement was gained in its place, as seen in the video below:
And yes, that music you're hearing is the prototype version of a piece called "Sword of Promised Victory", which would later be re-used in Fate/Zero in the stunning scene in which Saber uses Excalibur against Caster.
It's hardly surprising actually that the soundtrack of this show was used as a basis for the soundtrack of the later "Fate" anime series, as the soundtrack of this particular series is probably the most spectacular I have ever come across, which is surprising, as there are no full orchestral pieces in the series (presumably due to budget), with tracks rarely containing more than 3 instruments. While Sword of Promised Victory is probably the best known of these, there's a piece called Unmei no Yoru (of which 3 versions are used in the show) which is utterly beautiful, and was used to open a lot of the episodes.
The video above is the piano version of Unmei no Yuro, but there is also a "slow chimes" version (which I can't find on Youtube) which is even more beautiful to listen to, as well as a faster chimes version with vocals and strings, attached below:
This show also negates a lot of my complaints about the more recent series. For example, it explains how Caster's master got his magic fists, Rider gets a lot more screen time, and she gets properly utilised in some creepy sequences, we see a lot more of Sakura, and Illya's personality remains consistently sociopathic, she doesn't just randomly undergo a complete personality overhaul like the UBW version. She starts off creepy and remains creepy. Heck, even when she's not in the war anymore and living with our heroes, she talks about killing Taiga in her sleep, and when in one episode it looks like she's going to turn all innocent and nice (like the UBW anime), it's later revealed to be a complete rouse to trick Shirou. This show REALLY got Illya right.
Another thing that this show got right was that it didn't over-use Archer or the whole stupid over-repeated intensely disagreeable rhetoric of how it's "so much better to be a selfish ***hole" like in UBW. With that said, similar dialogue is given by Rin, and unlike in thee Aniplex/Ufotable series, in this show the dialogue actually makes sense and is appropriate in this show because we actually see how much of a complete sucker this version of Emiya is at the start, and unlike the newer series we really see him develop into a stronger character as the show goes along. Even the bizarre romance with Saber in this version really works and leads to a lot of touching and conflicting scenes.
Though I do have some of the same problems with plot holes as I do in UBW (see that review for details), I will say that this show went to a really great effort to avoid making plot-holes within itself, and while some could argue that these were pointless detours, I'd say that they were essential and prevented the story from falling apart, and the explanation for Shirou's healing was just brilliantly conceived. In fact, I think the writing in this show was a lot cleverer than in the somewhat formulaic Aniplex/Ufotable series, and this show was a lot bolder and less predictable with its narrative, and what it wanted to do, and we got some very interesting subplots (though I suspect many of these like the one with Caster and Sakura were solely derived from the source material, they were pretty great all the same).
Gilgamesh is back in this show, too! With that said, I honestly don't like this version of Gilgamesh as much as I do the Aniplex/Ufotable version. Sure, don't get me wrong, he's still an exceptionally arrogant psychopathic mass murderer, and he is pretty similar to his Aniplex/Ufotable counterpart, but he's a lot more honorable than that version, and he has fallen in love with Saber. I'll be honest here, a lot of the characteristics that the newer animes have given to Gilgamesh actually belong to Kirei in this show (no, I don'tt know which show is closer to the visual novels), with Kirei being this "big bad omnicidal maniac".
In fact, this show made Kirei a lot more evil than his later incarnations and I freaking love this version of the character. In the newer shows we get a sense of how dark he is, but his potential was horrifically wasted in UBW in a short, anticlimactic story arc (I think Shinji was a little darker in this show, too). The change in this show to have him be the one who caused the death of Shirou's father instead of Rin's is probably a change from the source material based on what I've seen in the newer Fate series and on their wiki, and it is one that I fully support as it really gave Shirou a reason to keep fighting against him, it made him understand Kirei's twisted mindset more, and know why he needed to stop him at any cost (as well as the fact that Kirei openly admitted that he was going to kill millions of people just for kicks).
Kirei's betrayal probably works as a very effective plot twist in this show, as opposed to the Aniplex/Ufotable series when it was really freaking obvious because we already knew what he was like from Fate/Zero.
There just isn't much at all to complain about in this show; it's very poetic, it has great characters and exciting action sequences, it's slow when it needs to be, but it always stays interesting, and in the earlier episodes, the character of Taiga Fujimura really adds a lot of humour to the show with her hyperactive clumsiness and her attitude, and I think she's best viewed in the English language dub, in which she is perfectly and hilariously voiced by the amazing Julie Ann Taylor, who you might also know from brilliantly providing the voice of Princess Sophia in the English dub of Last Exile and Millie Ashford in Code Geass (though I'll be honest, I prefer the Japanese cast for pretty much every other character. Except Shinji, his English VA is pretty good too.)
One little nitpick I do have is this:
Seriously though, look at this thing, it's about eight feet long!:
Assassin's Japanese odachi sword is insane. Seriously. A sword that long is both very impractical to carry and difficult to control while sparring. Now I get that he has a silly amount of talent as a swordsman, but that would realistically be very difficult to use in any kind of duel against a longsword wielder or really anyone wielding a more maneuverable weapon. An eight foot sword would be difficult to put power into, it would be difficult to effectively be drawn back and rendered effectively useless from the moment it had first been parried. It's a stupid weapon, especially since it's not being used on horseback (the only possible reason that I can imagine anyone would ever want a sword of this length).
But all the other weapons in this show are great.
In fact, this show just is really interesting, really entertaining, but also really dark at times when it needs to be. The writing is smart, the characters are well developed, and the soundtrack is breathtaking.
Yes, you 100% should watch this show. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Don't forget to check out Addicted to Animation on YouTube, and my other MoviePilot reviews by clicking on my name in the top right hand side of this page.
I only have one more Fate series left to review (Prisma Illya), but first I'm going to check out Akame Ga Kill.
Thank you for reading.