Monday, October 11, 2010

Unlimited Blade Works Review and Preamble

I haven't been a Fate/Stay Night fan for long. In fact it's probably been three years this month. However, despite not being into it as long as some fans, I feel about as strongly about it as I do many other properties that have been with me for a longer time.

My love for Fate/Stay Night is exclusive to the Visual Novel. The Visual Novel is unlike many other Eroges and VN games in that there are three distinct paths the main character, Shirou Emiya must go down. Each path cannot be unlocked until the former has been played through until the end. These three paths are called: Fate, Unlimited Blade Works (henceforth referred to as UBW), and Heaven's Feel (HF).

The real genius in this model is that although all three stories have the same beginning, they don't reiterate a lot of the same information. For example, some of the grand revelations in the "Fate" storyline aren't even addressed or are figured out a lot quicker by the characters, so there is a never a point the reader is like, "Alright get on with it I know all this already." However, there is some things revealed in Fate, that is needed to know by the reader to understand UBW and HF. It is a literary work of art in my opinion. How can you tell a story in three alternate universes, that is essentially the same story but have all three versions be compelling? Fate/Stay Night is the answer to that question.

That being said, the Unlimited Blade Works is hands down my favorite route in the novel. Fate I liked because of Saber and all the mythology, but I really hated Shirou in that path. He was a male chauvinist to an umpteenth degree. Some of this I realized is deeply routed in Japanese customs, but when you compare Shirou in Fate to his UBW and HF versions, you have to wonder what was wrong with him. In UBW he is a complete heroic badass, and doesn't even stop to let Tohsaka or Saber fight for him (though he still prefers protecting them when possible).

The Heaven's Feel route I enjoyed for the story and creepy atmosphere and the focus on Rider, but I absolutely can't stand Sakura, whom is the female protagonist in HF, and thus really made it less enjoyable for me.

The Fate/Stay Night anime was mostly based on the Fate scenario, with some bits added from UBW, and some made up stuff, that just make the whole thing unwatchable. When I went back and watched it a second time, I enjoyed it more, but really I don't like the anime.

So when the movie version of Fate/Stay Night was announced, and claimed to be based on Unlimited Blade Works, I couldn't help but get excited. Then news came out that Studio Deen, the company behind the anime, would be handling it, and I got nervous.

Last night I watched the Unlimited Blade Works film, and I haven't been this torn about a movie in a while. I mean that quite literally. Half of me loves it and half of me hates it.

Compilation films, when spoken together, are two dirty words to western audiences. I'm not sure how the Japanese feel about them, but I know whenever news comes out that an anime is getting a feature film, all excitement is instantly quelled when it is later reveled the film will be a compilation film.

Compilation films are those that takes the anime and cuts it down into movie length. Usually, what results is a truncated version of the story with much of the personality cut out. On top of that, huge gaps of the story are missing and as a result, the movie makes no sense to anyone who hasn't already seen the TV series. To this day I don't really know who the intended audience for these films are.

Now that I have said that, I must point out that Unlimited Blade works is not a Compilation Film from the Fate/Stay Night anime. UBW features brand new animated scenes, that could possibly melt your eyeballs with their flashy elegance and beauty. There isn't a single scene in UBW that comes from the anime.

So why do I even make the distinction of a Compilation Film? It is because that is exactly what UBW feels like. It isn't a real movie. It is a Compilation film based on the Unlimited Blade Works route in the visual novel if that had been animated into a TV show.

What I mean is that unless you have read the Visual Novel, Unlimited Blade Works likely won't make a lick of sense to you. This is mostly true for the beginning of the movie, when the scenes change location to location without a single speck of dialog explaining how the characters where at home and now in a church and now on a bridge. It kind of reminds me of the anime equivalent of the Old Spice commercials. I halfway expected Shirou to look at the camera and say, "I'm on a horse."

However, if you read the visual novel, everything will make perfect sense.

This is why I said I am torn in my feelings for the film. I actually caught myself thinking during one pivotal scene in the film, "I love this." When I read the novel, I wanted to see that scene animated, and here it was in full glory, rendered almost exactly how my mind had pictured it. For that, the film succeeded in matching my expectations from a visual level. The action is so fluid and so beautiful that it is almost a dream come true to see it as such.

But as a film it just doesn't work. A film needs to be able to tell a story from beginning to end without need of previous knowledge. It needs to stand alone. This is why adapting a book into a screenplay is such a hard and tedious job, and no one likes doing it. The creators of Unlimited Blade Works movie just decided to skip this integral step and animated their favorite scenes. So as a film it is a complete and utter failure.

So really it comes down to what kind of a fan you are. If you read the Visual Novel, and have a complete understanding of the situation, then you will most likely enjoy this film. Even if you haven't read it in a long time, it isn't confusing at all, as long as you have read it.

If you are completely ignorant to all that is Fate/Stay Night, then you might want to stay away from this film. It is not the way to be introduced to the wonderful and magical world of Fate Stay/Night.

Ultimately, the perfect place for this movie would be to be re-edited into the original visual novel, so that when those scenes happen it goes straight to the animated version. That I wouldn't mind seeing at all.