Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is a twenty-six episode anime series, which takes place a decade after the events chronicled in the exceptional Fate/Zero. Once again a septet of rival mages must square off in mortal combat to determine who shall claim the fabled Holy Grail – a magical artefact capable of granting its owner any wish they desire. In line with the competition’s rules each participant is permitted to summon a heroic spirit to act as their servant/bodyguard. These mighty familiars take the form of legendary warriors who, depending on their preferred fighting style, are classed as either saber, archer, caster, assassin, berserker, lancer or rider (the last one on that list is so attractive that most guys would gladly ride-her.)
Unlike its predecessor, which covered the Holy Grail War from the perspective of all seven challengers, Unlimited Blade Works’ narrative focuses mainly on Shirou and Rin. The two teenage magicians have formed a temporary alliance in order to take down their mightier/less scrupulous rivals. Shirou Emiya is inept when it comes to spell casting (his powers are limited to incantations that enhance an object’s durability) but thanks to a strong sense of justice (and healthy dose of plot armour) he is able to overcome the odds whenever push comes to shove. His partner/love interest Rin Tosaka on the other hand is an accomplished magus who specializes in techniques that store mana within shiny gemstones. In case her twin tails hairdo hasn’t given it away already, she is a tsundere.
Studio Ufotable, who also worked on the show’s prequel, have once again succeeded in dazzling audiences with their pristine artwork. Although it may only be July, I very much doubt that any other show scheduled to come out in 2015 will surpass Unlimited “Budget” Works’ visuals. The sublime animation and CG enhanced particle effects make every Heroic Spirit duel a true marvel to behold. The spectacular action set pieces don’t however come at the expense of story. Fate/Zero may have delivered a more cerebral plot, but Blade Works is no slouch in the storytelling department either. Twenty-six episodes is pretty lengthy, by modern anime standards, but it’s barely sufficient to accommodate this rich visual novel inspired tale. To squeeze it all in a couple of episodes end up running for over forty minutes.
I am pleased to report that Unlimited Blade Works is a worthy successor to Fate/Zero, which is high praise indeed given that I awarded Zero the runner up spot in my Top 5 animes of 2014. Unlike Studio Deen’s subpar 2006 rendition of Fate/stay night, Ufotable have done the source material justice. Not only are the production values superior, but the narrative is vastly more intelligent too. The most prevalent example I can cite is how do-gooder Shirou Emiya is portrayed. I found Studio Deen’s take on the character to be insufferable whilst the Unlimited Blade Works version comes across as a decent protagonist. Of course one’s opinion of a character can only be enhanced when the script doesn’t have them spouting nonsensical lines such as the infamous “people die if they are killed.”
Despite all my praise Unlimited Blade Works does have some minor flaws. The biggest one would have to be how the story’s pacing dips during the segments that deal with Shirou and Archer’s rivalry. It would have been nice if some of the exposition could have been annexed in favour of longer fight scenes or giving more screen time to the supporting cast (particularly as a number of prominent Fate characters failed to do much in this route of the visual novel.) For a series based on an adult title I was also unimpressed by the manner in which the novel’s more intimate moments were circumvented. I wasn’t expecting porn, but what’s wrong with a tasteful fade to black that cuts to the morning after? Forget the birds and the bees… in the world of Fate/stay night it’s all dragons and dolphins.
FINAL RATING: FIVE STARS