It’s finally here.
If you happen to be living under a rock, or just fortunate enough to be completely out of the Fate and/or Type Moon bubble, then you may not know what the big deal is about this particular release. Fate/Stay Night is a visual novel from 2004 that that has three different routes, the first two (known as Fate and Unlimited Blade Works) have had anime adaptions made of their respective stories, with some even receiving multiple versions. However, there was always a question mark over having an anime based upon the third route, Heaven’s Feel,. Due to its content being a lot more mature and darker than the other two, plus being much longer and more involved story-wise, a conventional adaptation (a TV series or one single film) was considered impossible or out of the question. But when it was first announced back in 2014 that a film was greenlit, with further news in 2016 that it would actually be a trilogy of movies to cover the entire route, it was considered a BIG event. The reception of the movie finally being released in Japan, and sequentially in other countries, only proved how much of a defining moment it was for Fate fans; reaching Number 1 in Japanese box office, and having tickets for its limited US screening sold out within days. Now it’s finally out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, after a brief stint at the Scotland Loves Anime event of last year, but can the first film live up to its own hype?
It’s been 10 years since the last Holy Grail War took place in the city with devastating consequences. One fateful day, whilst Shirou is at school, he accidentally witnesses the first battle of a new Holy Grail War and summons his own Servant, causing him to become a participant as well. Back at home however, he worries about his friend Sakura, the little sister of Shinji, his former archery club team mate; she has been coming around every day to help him with chores and spending time with him. As the war progresses, not only does he worry for her safety but she seems to be having nightmares plaguing her sleep.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear before I progress any further; THIS IS NOT AN ENTRY POINT INTO THE FATE/STAY NIGHT FRANCHISE. Not only does the movie assume you know the full rules of the Holy Grail War, and who all the Masters and Servants that are participating (which you would have gotten from the Fate/Stay Night 2006 anime and/or ufotable’s own TV series) but it also straight-up spoils important finale plot points for Fate/Zero. So, if you’ve yet to dive into this franchise, feel free to brush up on our handy guide here and come back when you’ve waded through the required material,because this movie is NOT beginner-friendly.
If you are a long-time Fate fan and were wondering how this movie would handle the plot and progression of this route in comparison to other Fate-related movies (most notably the 2010 film), you’ll be pleased to know that the film does not try to cram as much as possible into the opening movie nor does it try to rush through the plot points that we’ve already seen in Ufotable’s Unlimited Blade Works series (such as how Shirou knows Rin, or is able to summon Saber in the first place). Presage Flower roughly covers the first third of the route from the visual novel, with a few scenes expanded upon, whilst others are moved around, or in the case of Shirou’s inner monologues, dropped almost entirely. What is notably fleshed out in this film is any and all scenes that revolve around Shirou and Sakura. The film starts one and a half years before the main story begins, where we see how Sakura became a regular visitor to Shirou’s home and their relationship blossomed. This continues throughout the film, with many quiet moments between the pair, that act as heavy foreshadowing and/or double-meaning conversations for those who already know where the story is leading, but also contains incredible tenderness between the two that sees them become potentially more than just friends. This is absolutely the right way to go with this, because not only has Sakura being mostly sidelined or underdeveloped for all adaptations that came before, but she’s a very different type of love interest compared to the others. Saber and Rin are both action girls, who are very driven with their own goals and often have to stop to explain to Shirou what’s happening or drag him to survival regardless of what danger his goal of becoming a ‘hero of justice’ puts him in. Sakura is none of those; she’s on the outside of the war, an innocent completely left out of what’s going on, with no combat experience. So instead of being an equal to Shirou, he’s acting as her protector, which works in conjunction with his inner struggle to save all that will likely play a very large role into his character development into the later movies.
The movie isn’t all about Sakura however, like every Holy Grail War there’s battles to be had, and this movie contains everything that every Heaven’s Feel fan has been waiting for; epic action, gorier scenes, darker subtext and a much more foreboding atmosphere. This really helps sets this series of movies apart from the rest of the franchise; this is not a re-tread, this is something new. In fact, the film’s tone is much closer to the likes of Garden of Sinners (also a Ufotable work, if I might add) in that there’s a sense of impending dread always building, and that around the corner is bound to reveal something much darker and more horrible than what has come before. Those looking forward to that part of this franchise the most will certainly not be disappointed; from the Lancer vs. Assassin battle end scene, to the fate of Caster, the scenes are incredibly creepy and executed in ways that would have not been allowed on TV. However, the transition from the darker scenes to the tender moments of character development can be quite jarring. The sudden flip from quiet to chaos works in some circumstances, such as the first time it happens when Illyasviel makes her grand entrance, or towards the climax in Ryuudou Temple when the status quo is drastically changed. But the rest of the time they either have an unintentionally comedic effect (the battle between Saber and Rider being one notable example) or are frustrating interruptions, as if someone suddenly slammed the gas pedal and made the ride go 90 mph in a 20 mph zone. The movie’s moody tone is kept throughout the transitions, which is what keeps the film together, but a bit of smoothing out (either in script or editing wise) of one scene to another would have made the ride less bumpy.
As the film is animated by Ufotable, of course stellar animation is to be expected, and given their track record of previous Fate and Type Moon properties, the Blu-ray edition is definitely the one to purchase. The only downside is the use of 3D; usually Ufotable are masters of blending 2D animation with 3D tools, especially to execute complicated but stellar fight sequences, but in this film there’s a few instances where the 3D isn’t as smooth as needed. It’s especially noticeable in some of the battles that implement a 360 degree turn with the intent to really drink in the action, but ends up drawing attention to the really obvious and jarring 3D models.
The DVD and Blu-ray on-disc extras include PV and CM collections, Japanese trailers, plus 5.1 surround sound for both Japanese AND English. If you’re spending a little extra on the collector’s edition, you’ll also get a 32-page animation art book and a 52-page art book housed inside a slipcase.
If you’re a Fate fan, you’ll probably have already purchased this, but if you’re one of the very small number that hasn’t, this movie doesn’t disappoint. It’s too early to tell right now, for obvious reasons, whether this will end up being the best adaptation of Fate/Stay Night so far, but as a stand-alone movie it delivers exactly what you expect from this route and production company: beautiful animation, gorgeous music, thrilling action and the darkness of this story in all it’s gory glory. Not one to pass up, and let’s hope that the two sequels come sooner rather than later.