First, yes. This anime is an alternate universe of the Fate/Stay franchise. Given that I haven't watched any of the Fate/Stay franchise and I heard that this would be a good stand alone title, I wanted to see if it was truly stand alone and if it could be enjoyed without any knowledge of the cannon material. Given its average rating, I didn't expect much from it. But, for a 10 episode commitment, it seemed like something that I could easily pick up and breeze through in an afternoon.
I looked through the other reviews (after watching) and they seem to be addressing this series as part of the Fate/Stay franchise and how there was nothing from Fate/Stay in it, thus disappointment. That's because it is a spin off. It's meant to stand alone and, though it is difficult to separate them, should be considered as its own. Its an anime that I would strongly recommend watching - whether or not you've seen any installment of Fate/Stay. And, if you have seen other Fate/Stay titles, maybe consider watching it with a few months between the cannon and the spinoff.
This anime was good. Darn good.
The themes presented (friendship, family, overcoming trials) are typical for the Magical Girl genre. The plot can't even really be described as unique either. What's impressive is how the story is delivered. It was reminiscent of a lot of the classic Magical Girl anime titles, namely Card Captor Sakura and the recent Madoka Majica. Presenting itself almost as a parody of the Magical Girl genre from the start with all the slapstick comedy and antics. It dares you to take it lightly.
Enter the action. Almost non-stop action.
Every now and then you get a breather of some school life and inner strife. And then it's right back to the action which is beautifully animated.
The series doesn't waste time with filler. There wasn't any time to start with.
This series did in 10 episodes what many longer titles fail to do in hundreds: resolve plot lines.
While secondary cast members are essentially cookiecutter characters, they are still entertaining and development for them isn't really needed.
There were a few elements that felt contrived for the sake of fan service. Even when such blatant cliches were tossed into the story, they were well timed and balanced out the darker elements.
Without knowing a lot about the Fate/Stay universe, I was still able to understand everything. I never felt like I was missing out by not watching the cannon material. If anything, I wanted to immediately jump into the franchise head first if the action was even half as awesome as what this spinoff contained.
I remember thinking as the final fight ended "now that's how you do it."
This anime did a great job planting little hints early on regarding the darker aspects of the show. Without spoilers, it was very reminiscent of Madoka Magica, but without the Shaft animation gimmick to make the scenes feel more interesting while dialogue ran.
Instead of feeding you endless descriptions of power ups and battle mechanics, the characters did stuff. If there was explaining to do, it happened afterwards or short explanations were given amidst the battle. Enemies weren't dumbed down, the power curve was believable, and the underlying mystery kept the plot moving through the initially cliche Magical Girl introductions.
This anime brings you up to speed with what you expect of a Magical Girl series and then it doesn't hold back.
Clean, crisp, and stunning during the action sequences. The school scenes fall short with most background characters just standing still in the background, not talking, moving, or doing really anything at all. I usually care about that. But everything else was so good, it just didn't even matter this time. I was too busy trying to keep up with the banter and trying to figure out the little mysteries that were left along the way.