A Masterpiece in All Aspects
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works which was animated by Ufotable was one of the most anticipated animated series when it was released in late 2014 and continued to be released episodically until mid 2015. Almost six years later, it still remains as one of the most beautifully animated productions ever.
The series is an adaptation of one of the most successful visual novels ever, Fate/stay night which was released in 2004 by Type-Moon, one of the biggest names in the industry, well-known for their storytelling prowess. Visual novels are interactive text-based games where the player can have a choose-your-own-adventure experience and literally interact with the story with visual and audio elements included in the background.
In the visual novel, players had the opportunity to choose between three main story routes. Each route led the player and the protagonist to interact with the characters differently and caused different endings. In essence, Fate/stay night consisted of three completely unique stories with a similar premise that can be experienced. These three stories were named Fate, Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel.
Before Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works was created, there had already been a previous adaptation of the Fate route of the series. When the president of the animation studio Ufotable, Hikaru Kondo wanted to make an anime adaptation of the Fate/stay night visual novel, the studio ended up deciding to adapt the Unlimited Blade Works route of the story instead of rebooting the Fate route.
The story follows Emiya Shirou, a hardworking young teenager with strong belief in justice who in a mysterious turn of events, becomes part of the fifth Holy Grail War, where combatants are paired with a heroic spirit which they summon and must participate in a battle royale and fight until only one combatant and heroic spirit is remaining. The winner is granted a wish from the Holy Grail.
Fortunately, Emiya is not completely defenseless in this death battle. He is an orphan who was raised by a retired mage named Kiritsugu Emiya who had died some time before the events of the story. With the intention of helping others, he had earnestly trained his body since a young age and possesses limited talent in magic. He also is paired with one of the strongest classes of heroic spirits in the Holy Grail War, Saber who is none other than King Arthur who he accidentally summons when he unknowingly walks into a battle between two other heroic spirits of the classes Archer and Lancer. With no other choice but to compete in the battle even if he is against violence and fighting, Emiya partners with another contestant at the Holy Grail War, Rin Tohsaka and aims to win the war in order to avoid future catastrophes happening as a result of wishes granted by the Holy Grail even though Rin’s heroic spirit, Archer continues to act hostile towards Emiya.
Unlimited Blade Works was a huge commercial success in Japan and was loved by audiences and critics alike on its release. One review in Kotaku read, “the most beautiful looking television anime series [he had] ever seen”. Much applause was also given to the story and characters in Unlimited Blade Works.
The series became a chart topper without much delay and in March 2015, it brought the Fate franchise to become the number one franchise in collective CD, book and video sales in Japan. Newtype magazine even awarded Unlimited Blade Works with the 'Best Work' award in 2015 as well.
There is valid reason behind the critical acclaim and success Unlimited Blade Works has garnered. This is a visually gorgeous animated series to watch. It’s so good looking that I could pause at pretty much any moment and take a screenshot in order to have a stunning wallpaper on my phone or computer. Finding any flaw in the animation throughout the series is a challenge for even the best nitpicker. The same can be said for the amazing music composed for the series throughout each episode.
Unlimited Blade Works takes the prize in storytelling as well. In an essence, the story is an action packed, poignant character study, showing the flaws behind a personality that is willing to do anything to help others and uphold justice. The twist nearing the end of the series regarding the conflict between Emiya and Archer is hinted throughout but still took me by surprise, and might even cause a few moist eyes at the conclusion. Re-watching the show after finishing the last episode turned out to be insightful since all the little details that went unnoticed the first time suddenly made sense, giving the show excellent re-watch value.
Unlimited Blade Works isn’t the only adaptation Ufotable has dabbled with. The Heaven’s Feel route is already underway, episodically released in a series of movies with two already out. Fate/Zero is also worth the watch as well, which follows the story of Emiya Kiritsugu as he participated in the fourth Holy Grail War. Both have also been received well by critics and viewers alike.
All-in-all, this masterpiece created by Ufotable is definitely worth all the hype and favourable reviews. If you haven’t gotten into the Fate franchise yet, this is one of the best places to jump in and see what all the excitement is about.