originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/655532...
Or to be precise: Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel!
It’s Animation Night no. 60, a big old milestone! Six tens and you’re all still lining up for me to pour anime into your eyeballs. Wild.
So what’s the plan? Tonight, we’ll be watching some of the biggest anime film series in recent years: the Ufotable adaptation of the Heaven’s Feel route of the eroge visual novel Fate/Stay Night as a trilogy of anime films.
No, come back! I promise it’s good!
So. Fate, and the broader ‘nasuverse’ such as Tsukihime, is a sprawling franchise, replete with word salad titles like Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya. Where do you begin? I suspect if you’ve heard anything about it it’s 1. king arthur is a girl lol and 2. “people die when they are killed”. Or maybe you know a weeb who’s obsessed with the Fate gacha game. Perhaps you’ve heard about ‘most famous anime trap’ Astolfo (who’s from the gacha game). But like… what actually is it?
To give the basic pitch, the Fate series depicts ruthless wizards summoning instances of historical and mythological figures in a ritualised fight for the Holy Grail, a nigh-omnipotent wish-granting magic artefact. The main character, Shirou Emiya, is (get this…) a high-school boy (no way) who finds himself unexpectedly drawn into the wizard battle after he accidentally summons a powerful Servant called Saber - ‘King’ Arthur, who is in this universe, was actually a girl.
From there… things get very complicated, but in short the wizards enact various complicated schemes to kill each other and their servants, we learn more about the conspiracies afoot in every direction, alliances are made and formed, and eventually after the cast thins out, we find out about the horrible secrets of the Grail.
The original Fate/Stay Night was an eroge visual novel by the pseudonymous author Kinoku Nasu, co-founder of Type Moon - a doujin circle turned full-fledged studio. This is to say, the sprawling storyline full of intricately cross-referenced lore, wide-ranging mythological allusions, and elaborate magic systems was initially ‘just’ a porn game.
Whether the eroge succeeds as a work of erotica, I can’t say, since I’ve encountered it exclusively in adaptations… but the general sense I’ve receved from people who have read it is ‘not at all’ and a general sense of feeling sorry for people who might have bought on that basis. But Fate became wildly popular all the same, even more so than Nasu’s previous novel Tsukihime… enough to launch a massive media franchise, especially when it became a gacha game. But more on that later.
As with most VNs, it’s a game with multiple routes: Shirou can get with one of three characters, and each one takes him to a different ending…
- in the ‘Fate’ route, it’s Saber herself. they have to fuck for magic reasons or something.
- in the ‘Unlimited Blade Works’ route, it’s wizard girl Rin Tohsaka, who is from an old and evil wizard family but herself one of the more well-adjusted characters
- in the ‘Heaven’s Feel’ route, it’s a different wizard girl, Sakura Matou, whose magical abilities are augmented by the efforts of her abusive wizard dad’s nasty worm rituals
The eroge was given a light novel prequel, Fate/Zero, written by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka fame. This focuses on a character who would eventually become to be Shirou’s adoptive dad, the cunning utilitarian Kiritsugu Emiya, in a previous round of the Grail War. I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
Got all that? …yeah that’s just a blizzard of names isn’t it. Don’t worry, the film will introduce it more gently! Let’s talk about anime…
The first brave souls to attempt turning Nasu’s massive novel into animation were Studio Deen. They took on a version of the story consisting primarily of the ‘Fate’ route, but with elements borrowed from the others. Unfortunately, their version was… not a huge success, remembered mostly for janky lines like the above and poor animation. I haven’t seen it, but I’m told it’s the most insufferable depiction of Shirou, and generally even extreme fans of the franchise (such as this guy) seem to suggest giving it a miss.
The second attempt came at the hands of the renowned studio Ufotable, who first took on adapting Fate/Zero in 2011-12; their interpretation proved a hit, and they followed it up in short order with an adaptation of the Unlimited Blade Works route; this pair is so far my entire exposure to the franchise, and they form a pretty good story in their own right.
Ufotable is now just over 20, and kVin (of course, who else?) has a detailed retrospective on the studio’s life here. Founded as a small studio in 2000 by Hikaru Kondo and a group of experienced anime industry workers in several departments, it grew around a vision of a studio prizing cross-discipline work:
his dream was a studio where creators could gather around a table and, regardless of their standing and specialty, have a say in a very diverse array of activities—“the more you do, the more likely you are to do something well” being his amusing motto
Kondo is elsewhere described as an outright ideologue, and he has a little of a chequered reputation now after he got done for tax evasion; but for better or worse he’s the personality most defining this studio. His first engagement with Nasu’s work was an extremely ambitious seven-film adaptation with The Garden of Sinners; with Fate/Zero they settled down into a pattern of lavishly adapting high-profile works, with Fate being one of the biggest. With Ufotable (when a project goes well) you can expect the flashiest compositing tricks, rigorous and expressive key animation, and all kinds of striking shots and setpieces…
So that brings us to tonight’s movie trilogy, Heaven’s Feel! These movies took on the last route of the VN, and with the time and budget of a film production, they can push that fancy animation even further. You can read about some of the names involved here (where would I be without you kVin?) for the first film…
As noted above, this is Sakura’s route; one in which Saber gets possessed by evil powers so the main Servant character is ‘Rider’, i.e. the life-draining witch Medusa… and thus, the one where we finally get a confrontation with Kotomine, the sinister priest who runs the Grail War. In the meantime: lots of character drama and astonishingly choreographed and effects-rich fight scenes key animated by people like Nozumu Abe and Hironori Tanaka.
But also, well. Focusing on a character like Sakura takes the story to some pretty dark places, and I’ve been advised the second movie especially involves some ecchi moments - by which I mean, iirc, lavishly animated bodily fluids and a lot of stuff involving worms - that might be rather uncomfortable! So I’m taking a bit of a risk showing this; I think if we could handle Made in Abyss we can probably handle this, but I’m definitely not going to throw us in without a bit of warning.
I’ve gone to the trouble of pulling down the fansubber recommended 34GB encode of these movies which took several hours… you can witness a fierce debate in the comments section here about the best ways to filter grain and whether honorifics make these ‘cancer subs’, as is typical of nyaa, but passion begets commitment to really fancy subtitling I guess. Of course I’m then going to absolutely murder this beautiful encode by cramming it through real time Twitch! I’m terribly sorry.
Anyway, I’m already over time with this writeup; we will have to save any sort of in depth thematic analysis of the Fate series for some other post. (Probably not written by me.) What I am pretty sure I can promise is that these movies should represent a kind of spectacle of all that is possible in the current era of anime, the era of the webgen and the digital composite… in every affective direction. Let’s take the plunge together! (Nasuverse nerds, this is your time to shine. Make sure we understand what we’re missing out on by jumping in at totally the wrong place!)
Animation Night 60 is starting… right now! Head to twitch.tv/canmom, I’ll be up in just a second.