A journey into Fate/stay night begins

Until Fate/Zero appeared, I’d never planned on watching Fate/stay night. At the time of its airing back in 2006, it’d always seemed a tad too pandering for my tastes. I knew nothing about it and was happy to keep it that way, but then, last year, I tried watching Fate/Zero and realised that I wanted to know more about its underlying story, that of the Holy Grail War. I’m a fan of shounen anime, after all, and one of the finer traditions of the genre has always been the tournament arc.

The Holy Grail War is Fate/stay night‘s tournament, fought out between 7 ‘masters’ and their magical ‘servants.’ Masters are live humans, typically from some clandestine magical order, while (and here’s the really cool part) servants are long-dead heroic legends transported from the afterlife. In Fate/stay night, one master has the Greek legend Heracles (Hercules) as her servant, while another has the samurai Sasaki Kojirō (ever since Rurouni Kenshin, I’m fascinated by historical samurai.)

If Fate/stay night were just a show about legendary heroes hanging out and trading punches, I’d love it unreservedly, but sadly, it isn’t.

This set-up may sound a little familiar: the main character, teenager Shirou Emiya, lives alone, but, as you were probably wondering, who the hell’s going to cook his food for him?! You needn’t have worried, because the younger sister of a school friend is there almost every-day making ridiculously extravagant meals for him and his female teacher, who also just hangs out at Shirou’s house a lot!

That’s already the state of play at episode 1, but would you believe that within a few more episodes, he’s sitting around the dinner table with no less than 4 girls? Later, he’s kidnapped by Illya, a young girl playing Master intent on making him her Servant.

That’ll be the eroge (erotic visual novel) roots showing, then.

It also doesn’t help that for the first half of the series, Shirou’s almost constantly coming out with some of the most hilariously chauvinist reasons for trying to fight in his female Servant’s, Saber’s, place. She’s a million times stronger than him, but he won’t have it, because it’s a “man’s duty to fight” or whatever. This all culminates in Shirou duelling with Saber, and getting his ass handed to him, over and over again.

He learns his lesson, but remains an incredibly stupid and frustrating character to watch. What this does, at least, is highlight how the traditional gender roles have been turned upside down by their pairing. Saber is chivalrous, proud and aggressive and defines herself only as a warrior, but Shirou refuses to see her as anything but another girl he needs to protect. It’s painful to watch, but proves interesting as they come to understand one-another’s place.

I’m determined to finish Fate/stay night. I’ve complained a lot here about it’s more anime-centric problems, but what one can’t deny is that the mythology underpinning it all, the rules of its world and the competing magical underground. is just fascinating. One could compare it to an almost Game of Thrones-level of detail: both have their own dedicated wikis and develop the sense of a larger story unfolding beyond that of the main characters.

If nothing else, today I finally learnt what an “Unlimited Blade Works” is (indeed, I’m surprised by how literal that name turned out to be!) I feel like I’m levelling up again as an anime fan!

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

10 thoughts on “A journey into Fate/stay night begins”

  1. Shirou’s attitude toward Saber is very frustrating indeed. What most fans, including those who’ve read the VN, fail to realize, is that it’s born out of his attraction for her. The anime takes the version of Shiro from the first VN route, which is the version infatuated with Saber, and the only one who does this. He’s incredibly stupid, sure, but even he understands that what he’s saying is nonsense – he only says it because it’s the only reason he can think of. It’s a very subtle way to show his love for Saber, and I find it quite realistic too.

    Anyhow I wouldn’t say you have to finish the anime. As anyone familiar with the VN would tell you, the second half is complete non-canon BS, made up by DEEN. The Nasuverse has very deep, complex rules (some fans disagree and say Nasu’s making shit as he goes along, while others agree but claim even he gets confused from time to time, handwaving some of his statements when interpreting events, I’m in the third group and consider Nasu’s declarations canonical), and that second half tramples on way too many of them. You could try reading the VN if you aren’t one of those people who are afraid of anything longer than a Harry Potter installment and can like or at least stand the unique writing style. If not, keep in mind that most fans consider the adaptation of FSN to be a failure, outright deny the existence of Shingetsutan Tsukihime, and generally dislike any show not made by ufotable.

    1. *Not that the VN is about legendary heroes hanging out and trading punches, it’s mostly buildup aka kitchen porn , but we love it anyway.

    2. Interesting that the second half of FSN is basically anime original. I never knew that was the case and perhaps explains why it feels so inconsistent.

  2. I was hoping you’d get around to watching this and if you did, it wouldn’t be too much of a drag for you. I must admit that I watched it in one go in the company of friends with some beers, which meant that we could throw around some banter and have little discussions during the boring bits (I wish we’d recorded it, but it would probably have been un-broadcastable).

    The VN isn’t so much a porn game as a very good (and very long) story with some sex scenes included to make it more commercially marketable – they’re like wisdom teeth really. Most of the series’ flaws come from other tropes and cliches of visual novels, and of course the idiosyncracies of the author (as much of an admirer I am of Nasu’s style, I’m keenly aware of how it’s an acquired taste).

    I have to say though that I completely agree that Shirou is annoying…even other hardcore fans of the franchise would agree with you on that I think. Type Moon works always have strong, fascinating heroines but the males are rather generic Anime Male lead types who seem to just fill a role in the story. They’re not all like that, but Shirou’s thick-headedness annoyed even me. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there’s a neat revelation later on that may or may not endear him to you by the end. Not much consolation in the meantime though.

    My favourite character of the entire story is probably Rin. She has guts, she’s a good laugh on screen and just gets on with things. Ignoring the fact that she’s clearly from the typical tsundere mould, she has several times the screen presence that Shirou has. And yes, the ‘mechanics’ behind the story, with its historical heroes, is fascinating and I think Fate/Zero does that job well too.

    The series isn’t a bad adaptation, but it’s far from as good as it could have been. I’m reluctant to recommend it on the grounds of it being far less accessible to people who aren’t already ‘into’ the Nasuverse, but Kara no Kyoukai is actually my personal favourite. It’s dark, pretentious, hard to understand and very demanding, but the anime adaptation for the most part faithfully recreates the source material – warts and all – and stands as one of those “why I’m a fan” titles. Even the Type Moon fans, who are notoriously rabid and hard to please, love it.

    Best of luck with the rest of F/S N though. With any luck, the patience you’ve cultivated over the years with Shounen Jump titles ought to stand you in good stead!

    1. I’m determined to power through the rest of the series and everything else that’s been animated from Fate stay/night before taking on Fate/Zero, which, at this point, feels like it’ll be a reward! Kara no Kyokai is definitely on my hit list once I’ve got my head around this iteration of the Nasu-verse, though.

      Although I saw it what feels like an age ago now, I remember really liking the Tsukihime anime, too! Apparently there’s a Nasu fan in me that’s been hiding all this time!

  3. “That’ll be the eroge (erotic visual novel) roots showing, then.”

    Nope, the eroge had this scene the same way, with nothing more explicit happening there either.

    The whole “eroge” had a significantly LOWER sex/plot ratio than your average Hollywood movie, and incomparably less than Game of Thrones. The only reason to even bother classifying it as porn is that the few sex scenes are more pornographically presented than in other genres(e.g: full frontal nudity, on-screen coitus), especially compared to other otaku media where sex barely ever happens, and even then it is just vaguely implied.

    1. Well, to be fair, it’s slightly more contrived than the average Hollywood movie if the VN still has all of these women inexplicably drawn to Shirou. It’s precisely that that makes it feel so “eroge,” Ilya’s presence in the story being probably the worst example of this.

  4. Ah, yes. Shirou! When a moment came when he FINALLY had to call for her (he had absolutely no other choice except die), I stared at the sceen, blinking in disbelief. Then I paused and went back to make sure I had seen that right. Maybe not a coincidence that the subsequent scene was excellent. Saber fought the enemy she should fight, Shirou fought the enemy he could.

    1. There’s a moment later on in the series when he tries to swing a sword with Saber. I just wished she’d snatch the thing off him and explain why he’s making her life so awkward. Unfortunately, with the way the series is going, it’s more like Shirou’s teaching Saber how to be a “blushing girl” :(

  5. Hey Bateszi!

    Long time no talk. I wish I had kept up with you to tell you how great this anime really is. I fell in love with it a few years ago.

    You probably don’t remember me but I just found your blog when i accidently googled my email address instead of typing hotmail.com lol. If you google search vardomke@hotmail.com you’ll see my post from back in july 19, 2007. Man that was a LONG time ago. SO did you get a chance to see Elemental Gerad?

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