We are closing the book on a chapter here at Shallow Dives in Anime. With this post, I will have covered every Fate installment (aside from those that came out last year). I think it is only fitting that we end this milestone with the first piece of the series. An installment that has been derided and dismissed by fans. But is that to be deserved? Well as always, I am going to try to look at the series with fresh, fair and understanding eyes. With that said, let’s take a long awaited dive into the Studio Deen adaptation of Fate/Stay Night.
I want to preface this post with what it will NOT be. Simply put, I am have no interest in comparing this piece of work to the later Ufotable ones.
That is just not fair. To compare this series to what Fate would become is not right. While people have their hang-ups with this version, many of which I share. It is not proper to place any legitimate criticism on it simply because it wasn’t made by Ufotable. Studio Deen’s work needs to be judge on what it IS, not what Fate would BECOME. Things got better, far, far better. But the story of Fate and its anime adaptations would not be complete without this piece of work. It is to date, the only adaptation of the Fate route, and could very likely be the only one we ever get. Series author Nasu has gone on record that should it ever be adapted again, there would be massive rewrites, so this may very well be the only version of this we ever see.
However, that also does not mean we shouldn’t be fair and level honest thoughts on the series as well. Fairness cuts both ways, and I won’t hesitate to call a spade a spade. Which is why I have to say up front that Deen’s Fate/Stay Night is a meh adaptation of a very meh story route.
As I’ve said in previous posts. The Fate route remains the weakest of the three that make up the visual novel. Compared to the tightly told and introspective Blade Works, and the gripping thrills of Heaven’s Feel. The Fate route feels empty and undercooked. Part of that is due to the story itself. The Fate route is responsible for introducing the concepts, ideas and characters that its story would spend the next 60+ hours examining, tearing down, and building back up. It has to tell a simple A to B story, so Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel can be free to go where they go. As a entire experience, that means Fate is indispensable, but as a stand alone story, it is just weak.
Simply put, the Fate route as portrayed is mostly a series of captures and escapes, interspliced with harem-like moments back at the Emiya household and bits of character banter between Saber and Shirou. While none of it is bad, there isn’t any of the depth that would make the other two routes stand out so much. Don’t get me wrong, Saber and Shirou’s relationship is fine enough, two self-sacrificing people who struggle to accept the (heh) fate that life dealt them, but it feels at times undercooked, or depends too much on extra material to hit home. I’m saving more of my thoughts for a later post this week, but in a series that has two other amazing romances, the first (and most likely canon) one feels flat. Characters like Rin feel too much like a supporting character, stripped of much of her drive and desire to prove herself. Series baddies Kirei and especially Gilgamesh feel thrown in to give the story a end-game boss to fight. It is only my best girl Illya who ends up in a better place, finally getting a real happy ending then the (admittedly more thematically proper) ending of Heaven’s Feel.
Which is why as the story enters its second half, bits and pieces of the other two routes show up in an attempt to pad for time. Things like Saber’s fight with Assassin, an extended Archer fight with Berserker are taken (or inspired from) Blade Works, and are harmless additions. But the biggest of these are being the confrontation with Caster. What is shown in the anime and the use of Sakura is lifted directly from Heaven’s Feel. There is no confrontation between Rin and Sakura in the route, and any hint of them being sisters is absent. Caster herself, who barely has a role in the route is upgraded to a secondary villain, and while it is fine, feels very out of place for someone who has dabbled in other installments.
However, it is not all doom and gloom, as there is there is much to enjoy. While the animation is nothing to write home about, the art style is another story. It may not have Ufotable’s polish, but Deen’s work is wholly and completely devoted to the visual novels. So many times it felt as if the characters had leapt right from the screen, as they are so similar to what the VN showed us. The Japanese voice cast remains perfecting casting and even in these early days, display a mastery of their characters that would only get better as time went on. The music is a perfect blend of original tracks and cues lifted from the visual novel. And while Aimer’s mark on the series is iron-clad, it is Disillusion by Sachi Tainaka that remains in my mind, the true theme song of the series.
Studio Deen’s Fate/Stay Night may be a weak adaptation of the weakest route. But it is still a piece of history. The animated starting point for a series that would go on to make billions and become a mainstay among the anime fandom. It may be dismissed by other fans, but I do think it is something that deserves to be treated with respect. It could have been all we ever gotten, and if that was the case, then I don’t think it is a bad as people say. And until we get the long-awaited Ufotable Fate adaptation, it will be all we have of this part of the story. If you are just getting into the series, I will suggest you skip ahead to the Ufotable work, but If you love the series as much as I do. I suggest you go in with an open and accepting mind, and you’ll probably end up taking more away from it then you expect. This is where that story began, and where it will begin again.