Fate/Stay Night is a rather typical contemporary fantasy / romance, with a lot of random action and side stories going on in the background. It is based on one of the most famous and acclaimed visual novels by Type Moon, known for its complicating storyline and poetic way of writing. But they made the unfortunate mistake of dealing with Studio DEEN for its adaptation, and the results are clear from the start. Its production values are plain BAD and the story is presented in a most short and simplified way. Of course that didn’t prevent the majority of the fandom to deify it and consider it one of the greatest shows ever made, back when it first aired.
As long as you see it as a romance with a lot more going on that just some school and some teenagers, chances are you will love it. If you try to see it as an action or adventure show, chances are you will again love it… if you are a Bleach fan. The action may look fancy but it is completely simplistic and unreal in its execution. Sure, it’s all about superpowers and magic, anything is possible, and unreal is cool, yet that is exactly what makes it so superficial as well. It very juvenile, and to be frank completely useless in the overall story; they just threw it in for fancy attraction. Any swordfight in Serei no Moribito or Sword of the Stranger looks a billion times more interesting and as for superpowers and energy rays blowing up stuff, I am content with the brain-dead action of Dragonball Z.
But there is a lot more in it other than immature action, and that would be mystery and school romance. It also has some of the most complicating terminologies you can ever hope to encounter in any game and its characters are very distinctive and easily memorable. There is definitely a lot of context you can pay attention to and talk with others about the philosophy of each one of the major players.
Down to it though, the whole show is mostly just fan catering, wish fulfilment, and escapism. The plot is extremely naive, with shounen stereotypes and silly teen romance splattered all over the place, while all the fighters have a ton of bravado for the sake of giving importance to things that are otherwise shallow. Which is not a bad thing if it’s done right. And it’s not done right. Well, not as much as it could have been that is. The story is hardly presented in the poetic and complicating way of the source material and you practically get a far more childish version of the characters and the setting. Plus, the game has many different paths that affect the progress and the plot, and it also has several different outcomes and endings, all of which need several hours of reading texts and picking up choices. It is far more interesting, artistic and interactive. The anime on the other hand just picks one of the routes, takes out a lot of context, and poorly mixes in some events from other routes that only manage to make the overall plot looser and watered down.
Now let’s try to see the series as a stand alone feature without comparing it to the game. As far as execution is concerned, the anime is just fine at making you care about the characters, its story is easy to follow and there is a plethora of weird creatures, weird powers and weird name references to various mythologies from all around the world. Sure, it is an ok fantasy story with interesting personalities and a romance that transcends time… and gender. As long as you like the context and variety of themes, you will love the show.
On the other hand, if you are one of those viewers who looks at the finer things of a show, chances are you will be disappointed with what is going on under the skin. For example, the core story begins as a gathering of powerful fighters and magicians, titled Masters and Servants, all of which are destined to fight until only one remains, so he or she can have any wish granted. Well ok, sounds corny, but it is an objective. The thing is you clearly see how for most of the show the Masters and the Servants are not trying to battle one another even when they can do it right away. As if they don’t care about winning or as if the scriptwriter is clearly showing you that he needs to prolong the showdown as to fill a whole season. Thus the show moves really slow and usually involves completely useless skirmishes that are there just as shallow entertainment.
Plus, the lead character is quite repulsive in a way. He is the typical talentless teenager with a blunt personality (a typical strategy in visual novels and anime in order for everybody to assume his role) but otherwise has broken powers that give him an almost unfair advantage over the others. I mean, first he gets resurrected by another Master when she would normally let him die. Then he summons his own Servant without even knowing how and gets saved. Then he gets slashed hard but survives because he has fast regeneration, then he is spared by other Servants for no reason, then he gets trained by a Servant when in effect than lowers the chances of his Master to win the war. Not to mention his attitude. The “I MUST PROTECT MY FRIENDS” syndrome strikes again. Gah, they could easily replace him with any other shounen character and you wouldn’t tell the difference.
Still, the best part of the show is its characters. They are given far more attention and immersion than most others out there; the majority of them are easily becoming likable and memorable. Saber, Archer and Rin may steal the show but the others are great too on their own little way. The problem lies when their motives feel messed up when they interact with one another. For example, why is Rin helping Emiya if they are meant to fight each other? Why is everybody going easy on one another for the same reason? Saber’s development in particular is so disappointing. After her love for Emiya starts to come out she seems to turn from a dynamic uncaring woman into a girly romantic passive sheep. We even made a joke about it by calling her Fate/Stay Kitchen. Not to mention how in the game she needs sex to refill her powers. WTF??? All that are nothing but otaku baits and no mater how cool they feel they are still not doing their characters much justice.
But beyond that, ok, the characters do get lots of development and colorization along the way and we do get a conclusive finale. It’s just that by that time the romantic part feels a lot more important than the war. Getting the Holly Grail feels like a minor extra when it was otherwise supposed to be the main objective. Not that it’s a bad thing but it does feel weird how it turned around. And hell, how conveniently was the murder of Emiya’s father revealed in the finale? And what, was that supposed to be a great showdown? Felt pretty simplistic to me.
I could also nag a bit at how everybody else (the NPCs that is) seems completely blinded to what is going on with the war, despite the fact that on each skirmish many roads and buildings get trashed. It’s like the whole story is autistic and feels laughable in terms of plausibility. Hey guys, if you can conquer the world if you win and nobody notices the slightest thing, then what was the point of it?
As for the production values, they are NOT awesome; unless you are still in your NARUTO IS COOL phase and any school with random teenagers with superpowers looks great to you. There are many scenes with static characters, badly designed body proportions, and an OST that sounds nice but you will forget soon afterwards. Standard DEEN treatment.
As far are historical and repeat value goes, the anime had lots of it for a few years after it was made. I mean it was a watchable adaptation, something which was very rare because adaptations generally suck. And it was based on one of the most famous visual novels. And most people fell for the basic outline of the story. But that no longer applies after 2011, were we get the far more enjoyable Steins;Gate visual novel adaptation. Plus, it was the same year they adapted Fate/Zero, the prequel of the game with far better visuals, plot and characters. So thus it didn’t age well and feels a lot less exciting if you try to watch it today.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 1/2 (badly designed in many scenes)
Character Figures 2/2 (very cool and likable)
Backgrounds 2/2 (interesting blend of fantasy with urban)
Animation 1/2 (rather high amount of stills, simplistic battle choreography)
Visual Effects 1/2 (rather cheesy and simplistic)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (great for the context of the show)
Music Themes 3/4 (good but not memorable)
Sound Effects 2/3 (good but not great)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 1/2 (just some guys fighting over a cup)
Pacing 1/2 (slow)
Complexity 2/2 (interesting blend of various concepts, complicating terminology)
Plausibility 0/2 (poor reasoning)
Conclusion 1/2 (messy but solid)
CHARACTER SECTION: 8/10
Presence 2/2 (cool/sexy)
Personality 1/2 (rather stereotypical but plays out fine; too bad their motives are a mess)
Backdrop 2/2 (most have a good one, based loosely on historical and mythological figures)
Development 2/2 (takes its sweet time but most get developed)
Catharsis 1/2 (messy but solid)
VALUE SECTION: 7/10
Historical Value 3/3 (who doesn’t know it?)
Rewatchability 1/3 (you will skip many boring explanations the second time)
Memorability 3/4 (definitely something you will remember for years, unless you feel the story is generic and the visuals bad)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Art 0/1 (looks lazy)
Sound 1/2 (sounds ok)
Story 1/3 (good ideas but presented very childishly)
Characters 3/4 (they are cool but I hate the protagonist)
Nowhere near as good as the visual novel but still a rather decent adaptation.