A few months ago I took a deep, deep dive into the world of Fate Stay Night, covering almost every single series that has been published since the visual novel hit shelves in the late 2000s. What I didn’t cover, however, was the first route of that visual novel.
The reasons for that were quite simple: the anime adaptation of the Fate route sucks. Aside from a few clips, I have not watched it but from everything I’ve seen and heard I am not missing much. The Fate route anime, done by Studio Deen in 2006 was made in a time before Fate had really established itself, and before Studio Ufotable’s one-two punch of Fate/Zero and Unlimited Blade Works blew everyone’s mind. It was a different era, and while that can be forgiven, the amount of effort put into the Ufotable adaptations make the 2006 anime look rushed, badly animated, and just…not good. While things have gotten better for Fate fans since then, the Fate Route remains an outlier among the fandom.
With that said, and knowing that I should really look at this vital piece of the franchise I decided to spend the last few weeks slowly reading the visual novel of the route. So after the cut let’s dive into the Fate Route of Fate Stay Night.
The great thing about Fate Stay Night is that the story has three different versions that all compliment each other. While each route is wholly it’s own tale, with a beginning middle and end, the fact that all 3 covers roughly the same events over the same amount of time help things greatly. Fate, Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel using the same characters and settings, but exploring different themes helps make the cast more fleshed out. In a sense, you can’t really have a full view of the characters until you see their actions in all three of the routes.
Which is important, because the Fate route is the weakest of the three.
It is not bad by any means, but the Fate route feels the most basic and straightforward of the three stories of Fate Stay Night. It is the one that feels most like a traditional anime, with its themes and tropes ones that have been shown in other (sometimes stronger series). Unlike Blade Works where the entire story is dedicated to pointing out the bullshit of Shirou Emiya’s dreams or Heaven’s Feel gradual revealing of the horrors inflicted upon Sakura Matou, Fate instead is more about Shirou trying to strive to be the perfect ideal of his dream, and wrestling with his feelings towards Saber. The story is to the point, the themes are simple, and much of the depth and meat expected from the other two routes just isn’t present.
On its own, that would be a knock against the Fate Route, but since it is also one version of the events, it helps set the stage for the two stories that follow. If you walk away from the Fate Route thinking Shirou is a complete and total idiot (he is), who either gets kidnapped or runs off on his own a total of five times (he does) it makes the conflicts shown in Blade Works that much more enjoyable and cathartic. If you think that characters like Caster, Archer, Sakura, and Rider are wildly underused in this route (they are) then Heaven’s Feel and Blade Works fix that problem. The fact that there is even additional stories, ones that are almost tailor-made to refute everything Shirou is in this story, helps make the acceptance of his actions much easier.
As for Saber, the main heroine of this route. She more or less serves as a mirror foil to Shirou, a way for him and the story to explore the themes of moving on from tragedy, and accepting that you tried your best even if you failed. Saber’s arc of realizing that she cannot redo her time as King is done well, and her relationship with Shirou helps her make peace with Kiritsugu and the remaining plot threads of Fate/Zero. While her place as the mascot of the franchise is irrefutable, I do think that Saber is the weakest of the three love interests. Rin Tohsaka just has more chemistry with Shirou, and Sakura Matou helps tell a stronger story. Despite that, Saber does her job in the route well and never is a hindrance to it. I just think she served better as a secondary support character, but that’s just me.
Finally… let’s talk about the sex scenes. Are they as bad as I’ve been told?
Honestly? Yes and No. The first sex scene is just rubbish. It comes out of nowhere, derails the plot completely and seems to confirm the idea that the author threw them in there in hopes it would sell the novel. While the plot does it’s best to justify it in regards to the heroes situation it honestly just feels completely out of place.
The second, however, despite some rough dialogue is actually quite well done. At this point, Shirou and Saber have basically put all their cards on the table, and its place in the story feels earned and deserved. While the existence of eroge scenes in the Fate series is still strange, this one at least feels like a natural part of the plot and logical path the characters would take.
Fate Stay Night’s Fate Route is a decent story, helping establish the basic formula and world that both Blade Works and Heavens’ Feel would carry to greater success. Knowing that there are more angles to this story, that characters will be further explored helps sand much of the roughness of this route off. On its own, it is an above average anime story that has great concepts and ideas but only focuses on a narrow part of it. Viewed as one part of a whole, it feels very much like a primer to prepare readers for the heavy stuff that is to come. I like reading the Fate Route, but I am glad I left it to the last. I only hope that Studio Ufotable is able to give it the proper adaptation it deserves someday.
Oh, and Gilgamesh’s role in the story is really fucking weird if you haven’t watched Fate/Zero. Seriously the dude shows up out of nowhere and basically goes “I’m the bad guy now! Don’t expect us to explain it if you haven’t watched the prequel series!”