Fate Stay Night is one of those rare beasts, a successful anime that is not only based on a video game, but is not backed by one usual big anime companies. It’s a bit of a curiosity, but is it worth your time?
The Basic Plot
Every decade a ritual battle is fought for the Holy Grail, which has the power to grant any wish. 8 magicians are chosen, and given control of a “Servant”, a hero of legend to fight for them. Emiya, the adopted and largely untalented son of a magician, sees something he shouldn’t have, and soon finds himself drawn into this battle. He somehow summons Saber, a woman wearing ornate armour and carrying an invisible sword. With her support and the help of another magician, Emiya soon finds himself in thick of things.
He is My Master
Fate Stay Night is a fighting anime with a twist. There isn’t as much religious symbolism as the words “Holy Grail” would suggest, what we have instead is a combat style not dissimilar to Pokemon. We have the actual fighter, the Servant, while the Master gives orders and encouragement. A Servant’s actual abilities are quite varied, giving rise to interesting fights, but with lot of shouting from the sidelines. There is some depth to this, only a servant can actually touch the Grail, and a servant can’t normally be ordered to do something that’s against their character without using up command spells, for example. As it’s a ritual war there are rules, so there’s a little bit more to events than a gloried martial arts tournament, which has the effect of limiting some of the more obvious clichés. However, the series gets in the bad habit of using flashbacks whenever the characters have discussions about the battle in hand. Quiet moments of plot exposition often get filled with action sequences we saw mere minutes before.Of course, the most defining feature of the series is Emiya’s ignorance of these rules, and refusal to follow them when he gets told what they are. He becomes a Master by an apparent fluke and when he learns what the battle actually means (i.e. large scale bloodshed), he opts to do the morale thing and stop the fighting. He even refuses to let Saber fight for him, which is a little like Ash substituting for Pikachu. While honourable, the series doesn’t really handle this well, and he often comes across as naive idiot who has lost his entire supply of blood three times over. As a result, the series feels rather daft at times, even by the standards of the fighting genre.
Fortunately, the anime has enough self-awareness to point out the flaw in his reasoning, with Emiya’s rival/ally/classmate Tohsaka despairing of this like an older sister. Saber herself acts like the knight she appears to be, following Emiya’s instructions grudgingly, as she finds him immature. However anime limits itself by making this conflict in attitude is the basis for most of the character interaction and the drama. On the positive side, the series has a decent plot, and actually manages to generate a few surprises. No, really. One recurring theme deals with the identities of the servants, which are hidden for tactical reasons. Saber’s history is both off the wall and beyond guessing. There are a few attempts at comedy, as Emiya manages to get a large number of young girls to stay at his house, but the series suffers from a comic relief character that just isn’t funny. The predictable romantic subplot largely works, as by that point the series has done good job at characterising those involved. One memorable scene see Saber encounter Star Wars, while on a date with Emiya. This element was toned down from the source material, which had a decidedly more adult nature.
Fate Stay Night is an anime that manages to be mildly entertaining, but not especially interesting. There isn’t really a single aspect that stands out as noteworthy, but by the same token, nothing leaps out as actually bad. There are solid ideas here, but they aren’t used effectively (fangirl favourite Archer comes to mind). However, the series seems to deserve the success it has had, and I would welcome a follow up.