I don’t even remember what Fate/stay night was about anymore. I watched the Studio Deen production way back when (to be fair, 2006 isn’t that long ago) based on a friend’s recommendation. This was a few years before Moe Sucks came into being, so my mindset towards anime at the time was simply “Did I like this?” If the answer was no, I quickly tuned the show and its story out until I would just plum forget to watch more episodes. So I don’t remember a lick about the original story anymore. I know there’s a knight-looking lady. And uh, I think she falls ill at one point and maybe the main character had to “enter her” in order to save her? That’s pretty much it. Hell, I probably got that part wrong too. Point is, I’m watching Fate/stay night – Unlimited Blade Works as if I’m completely new to the series.
That’s not completely true, of course. I did watch… well, try to watch an episode of Fate/Zero, but when I complained about characters walking in a circles around another guy as they fed us exposition, fans of the story vehemently defended this sort of storytelling. The resulting “debate” turned me off from checking out the rest of the series. Oh well, that was then and this is now. I’m just going to try to take in Fate/stay night – UBW as it is without worrying about rewatching the original series, without worrying about what fans think, etc. Alright, UBW… what have you got for me? Hell, if it impresses me, I might even go back and rewatch the original series!1
— So what do I know about Unlimited Blade Works? Nothing, really. I just know that this will follow Rin’s route. I even heard they’re going to do yet another series to cover the third route. Do we really need to tell this story three times? I realize the story changes with every route, but to a large enough degree that we will do three different adaptations? That seems silly to me, but I suppose they can get away with it because of the source material’s popularity.
— The animation and the character designs don’t look too impressive for a late 2014 anime series, but maybe the show’s just staying true to the original Fate/stay night aesthetics. As such, longtime fans probably won’t mind, but I still won’t like it. You have a solitary red pendant sitting in a room of varying shades of dark blue. That’s probably eye-popping for a visual novel, but it looks out of place in an anime. As for Rin herself, she looks rather simple-looking, as if she belongs in an older anime. Like this profile shot of the girl; I think it looks ugly.
— Why is the prologue deliberately avoiding Shiro’s face?
— We meet a lot of new characters. Lots of new characters. And half of them seem to dislike Rin in some form or another. See, this is the benefit of not remembering a damn thing about the original anime series. I get to relearn why they dislike Rin! But she seems like she embodies the tsundere archetype, which would make her character come off prissy and elitist to others. Still, her words to the student council president seem innocent enough, but the guy bites back as if she had insulted his mother or something.
— Kind of awkward how the girl’s just sitting on the school’s rooftop, talking to herself. But usually, when you talk to yourself, you usually say personal, emotionally-charged thoughts out loud. And usually, those thoughts are a bit disjointed or staccato. A bit like stream-of-consciousness, if you will. Here, however, Rin’s just, well, feeding us exposition. Exposition with fully-formed sentences, and they end up sounding unnatural to listen to. In general, there’s just a lot of unnecessary information being bandied about. Again, longtime fans will probably complain if these lines are cut short, but to someone like me, brevity and succinctness should win out. This is an anime, so we should thus let the visuals carry a larger burden of the narrative.
— Like a lot of recent stories, Fate/stay night is all about some tournament, and the winner of said tournament will have their wishes granted by the, uh, Holy Grail. Rin wants to be able to summon Saber, the strongest Servant. It seems silly to me that the tournament would have Servants of varying degrees of power. That hardly seems fair. But in any case, Saber won’t be her Servant. I don’t remember much about the original series, but I remember that much. Plus, she’s wears a lot of red and shit, so she’s gonna get the red-looking dude.
— Rin was reminded repeatedly that she’s an hour early all day, and yet she still forgot to do her summoning at the right time? That’s careless, girl… So instead of Saber, she gets some badass bishie with chiseled abs. B-but it’s not the strongest Pokemon!
— So what are Servants exactly? I mean, where do they come from? Why do they exist? Why can’t we just cut out the middleman and have the mages directly battle each other for the Holy Grail? Hopefully, the anime will explain this to me so I don’t have to go look it up on Wikipedia.
— I guess the tsundere heroine got the right Servant to match her personality: “In the war to come, I will disregard anything you say. I will decide all battle policy.”
— Lots of exposition. Long story short, Rin and her Servant have now formed a bond, the guy’s name is Archer, and she’s a kick-ass mage. The girl ends up blushing way too much for my liking. It’s not even the first episode yet. This is just the prologue. If you’re going to tsundere this shit up, give us more tsuntsun and less deredere.
— Ooh, he won’t tell her his true identity (he claims he doesn’t know), so it’s going to be a twist… let’s hope it’s not a silly twist.
— Rin: “The battle I’ve been awaiting for ten years is about to begin.” Every little girl dreams of her first life-or-death tournament. Screw wedding day fantasies, this is what it’s all about.
— Why does Archer constantly close one of his eyes? What’s up with that?
— So Rin’s waited ten years for this tournament to begin, but she has nothing to wish for. This is especially damning because she can wish for anything if she wins. She can even wish for world domination. She’s just fighting because, according to her, “there’s a battle to be fought.” They make it sound like their lives are on the line, but at the same time, the girl doesn’t really have any convictions. Everyone has dreams. Whether it’s wealth, world domination, true love, or just raising a dead cat, everyone has something. So something’s messed up with Rin doesn’t even have a wish. But for some reason, Archer is content with this. More than content, in fact; he thinks she’s the ideal Master for someone like him. What? Does he have no wish either?
— How did Archer clean everything up so perfectly? Magic?
— More exposition as the girl walks to school, but at least the girl’s no longer talking to herself. More exposition as it is now nighttime. We can’t get enough exposition! Yeah, it’s episode zero, and as such, we’re not going to get much action. But there’s gotta be a more compelling way to set the story up. Giving us over thirty-plus minutes of exposition can’t be the only way to go.
— We finally meet a guy who carries a lance. I remember Lancer killing the main character in the original series, so this must be him. But yay, finally some action.
— The battle choreography honestly isn’t bad. Pretty fluid, actually. It’s pretty funny too that it’s more impressive-looking than a show like Sword Art Online, especially with the words “sword art” in the title. Better than Akame ga Kill! too, and let’s just forget Mahouka ever existed. That wasn’t an action anime with magic. That was a poorly-written textbook pretending to be about magic.
— This Archer doesn’t seem like much of an archer, though… Plus, I didn’t think you would really want to bring such short swords to a fight against a lancer, but this just shows what I know about combat.
— Nooooooo. Noooooo. Why are you pausing the fight to talk each other up?!
— So here’s the part I remember: for some reason, Shiro is still at school, so he stumbles upon this battle between the two Servants. For that, Lancer’s going to kill him. And trust me, Shiro knows a thing or two about dying:
You said it, brother.
— Why is Rin so worked up about Shiro dying? Does she like him already or something? Ah, if only I remembered anything from the original series. She saves him with her pendant, leaves his side, realizes that he’s still in danger from Lancer, so she rushes back to him… all in the matter of a minute or so. Funny how this part of the story happens so quickly, but the first forty-plus minutes took forever to tell.
— Saber finally shows up, and the episode comes to a close. So will the rest of the series be told from Rin’s perspective, or are we shifting back to Shiro? Probably the latter, huh?
— All in all, still too much exposition, but hurr hurr we’re setting up the story. Still, I only managed to get through this episode, because Rin and Archer can carry the narrative a tiny bit better than a pair of guys walking in circles around another guy. I’m down with the action in the episode. It’s just too bad it took like… thirty-seven minutes or something to get there. But hey, we survived episode zero. Maybe it gets better from here on out!2