Two shadowy figures are engaged in a violent battle as an inferno rages through the centre of a city far below. A young boy wanders through rain-soaked devastation; the last thing he sees before collapsing into unconsciousness is the face of a dark-haired man staring down at him…
Fast forward ten years to the mundane life of high schooler Shirou Emiya. Living alone in an old samurai compound inherited from his adoptive father, he’s watched over by his teacher, the klutsy Ms Fujimura, and quiet Sakura Matou, the kind-hearted sister of one of his classmates. Shirou’s just an average guy – except, that is, for his secret magical skill in mending objects, and the fact that Kiritsugu Emiya, his adoptive father, was a mage. Not to mention the disconcerting visions that he experiences in which he glimpses the indistinct form of a shimmering sword…
Odd events have begun to occur in Fuyuki City again: unexplained gas leaks and brutal murders. A strange little girl passes Shirou in the street and, smiling sweetly, warns him, “You’d better hurry up and summon a servant soon, mister – or you’re gonna die.” But it’s not until this ‘average guy’ sees his classmate, the unattainable Rin Tohsaka, accompanied by a red-clad warrior, that he finds himself plunged into an arcane battle. He has been drawn into the Holy Grail Wars, which is fought to the death between seven magi and their magical warrior servants to attain the True Holy Grail which will grant a wish to the victor. Rin has been training for this all her life – although she has not been successful in summoning the powerful servant called Saber, being paired instead with the caustic-tongued Archer. As a third warrior servant materializes and challenges Archer, Shirou discovers that his own life really is in danger. One of the rules of the Holy Grail War is that any human who witnesses a battle must be killed.
The seven classes of servant are: Saber; Archer; Rider; Berserker; Lancer; Caster and Assassin. Each servant is a reincarnation of a hero from the past, with specific abilities, but divulging their original identity will give his or her opponent an unfair advantage, as that knowledge will also reveal potential weaknesses. So the servants aim to keep their original names a secret wherever possible, fighting by using the abilities specific to their class. Why do the servants fight? Because, Shirou learns, if their master wins, they will be granted the fulfilment of their wish too. But when Shirou gains his own servant, she turns out to be Saber, a warrior of pure and noble heart, the one that Rin was hoping to summon. Now there is no escaping his destiny; in spite of his lack of training and his feeble skills as a mage, he will have to compete in the Holy Grail War, if only for Saber’s sake.
“When you save one life,” Shirou remembers his magus father telling him, “you’re generally not able to save another.” Are these prophetic words for Shirou? Or was his father speaking of his own experiences?
‘Fate/Stay Night’ starts strongly with the compelling (even if not strikingly original) premise of chosen humans using magical servants to duel for a magical prize. There are undeniable similarities with ‘Buso Renkin’ here, especially in the violent way that the unsuspecting Emiya is propelled into the secret war being waged in his home town. Then, things slow down a little in Episode 3 when we are treated to the inevitable info dump as to what really lies behind the sudden appearance of legendary warrior figures. A shame, in a way, because up till then the mysteries surrounding the catastrophic fire that destroyed the centre of Fuyuki City, had been intriguingly introduced.
Things liven up again when the servants, Saber, Lancer, Archer, and Berserker, take centre stage. And even though we don’t learn much about Saber in these first four episodes, from her summoning (when she appears from the magical circle to the strains of her very own theme by Kenji Kawai) it’s made clear that she is a warrior of dignity, with an old-fashioned sense of justice and honour.
This was my first encounter with the TV series based on the PC game called ‘Fate/Stay Night,’ for it’s taken four years for the US-licensed shows to get a R2 release in the UK. There was quite a buzz about the series back in 2006 – and, I notice that there’s a new film ‘Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works’ due later in 2010. There’s certainly plenty of attractive collectables still around too; Saber figures seem to be a perennial favourite.
In the US dub Sam Regal (Sasuke in ‘Naruto’) makes a sympathetic Shirou, while Liam O’Brien (Gaara in ‘Naruto’) captures Archer’s sarcasm well. Kate Higgins (Sakura in ‘Naruto’) impresses as Saber, making a convincing alternative to Ayako Kawasumi (Nodame in ‘Nodame Cantabile.’)
Have I been spoiled by the two and three volume releases of series such as ‘Code Geass’ and ‘Gurren Lagann?’ Because I was distinctly disappointed to find only four episodes in Volume 1 and no extras except for textless songs. It’s a lot easier to get involved in a long series when there are more than four episodes to watch. So while it’s a little early to judge how well ‘Fate/Stay Night’ will turn out – this first disc is certainly worth a look.
An exciting start to this fighting series with a likeable, believable hero that only flags a little in the middle when the explanations begin.