Fate/stay night is a brilliant series, and the anime adaptation of Unlimited Blade Works did it far more justice than the movies. While it still doesn’t compare as well to Fate/Zero in my opinion, it’s definitely one of the best animes I’ve ever watched.
I love the new animation style carried over from Prisma Illya, which just feels fresher and more modern than the previous ones. The fights have benefited enormously as a result, being more dynamic, exciting and fun to watch. The series as a whole also feels far less draggy, with greater intensity due to what feels like more fight scenes than Fate/stay night.
Obviously, I don’t need to talk about plot, given how deep the story is, and how this is just one of the routes carried over from the game. I have to say, I think of all the three I’ve seen, Unlimited Blade Works might be my favourite route. Heaven’s Feel promises to be even darker and more dramatic, but given that it’s going to be adapted as a movie, I fear it may go the way of the UBW movie. Fate is a series that demands the 20+ episodes of an anime in order to really show its amazing story, and a movie just doesn’t have enough time.
I love the darker tone of UBW compared to F/SN, daring to venture into territory often reserved for seinen rather than shōnen. Also, having read up on the Fate universe after watching F/SN the first time, all the foreshadowing made so much more sense. This, in addition to all the important exposition, made UBW far easier to understand than F/SN.
Characters feel far more developed in UBW as well, compared to the original F/SN. Every major character gets plenty of development, and none of them are truly evil, only carrying different dreams, ideals, beliefs, and so on. It’s a series that is blanketed in shades of grey, and the characters bear that out. It’s a pity about Saber getting far less development this time around compared to many other characters, but I’m glad to see a lot more development and even just basic clarification for the other characters that only served as antagonists in F/SN.
That said, I am ambivalent about the use of flashbacks to develop characters, but it’s not as bad as Naruto, and there’s no running away from flashbacks when we’re talking about Heroic Spirits who once lived in the past.
As the main character, Shirō still annoys the heck out of me. At least in UBW he realises how silly his dreams are; it doesn’t stop him from trying, but at least he’s self-aware. Unfortunately for me, Rin would rather be with him than be my waifu, but that’s the nature of anime. I really love the tsundere Rin they presented here; it’s not an attempt to gush about how well they wrote her character. It’s just me being really smitten.
(Not that tsundere works anywhere but in anime. Still.)
Unfortunately, I still have some quibbles. The exposition and monologuing got really long as the series built to its zenith. I get it, it’s important exposition for the viewers. But some of it felt forced, and Archer’s talking down of Shirō got repetitive after a while. Some of the scenes could be cut better too; interspersing the Archer/Shirō fight with Rin’s predicament is natural, but it felt off in its pacing and timing.
Shirō’s growth rate is also pretty ridiculous, but at least it’s more believable here than whatever happened in F/SN. I wished the ending battles were more epic too; F/Z really set the standards high for battles, and UBW failed to hit the mark. Finally, while I liked the way the series wrapped up, I really dislike the Sakura/Shinji dynamic. As much as I want to, I can’t forget the knowledge of Sakura’s childhood and what Shinji does to her. For the series to show Sakura caring for him so tenderly makes me feel sick.
But these are, in the end, minor complaints. I really enjoyed Unlimited Blade Works. It’s a worthy addition to the stable of Type-Moon animes. Let’s hope Heaven’s Feel doesn’t disappoint.