Review/discussion about: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 2nd Season
Everyone has their own set of convictions. Whether they are religiously, politically, or morally based, there are certain creeds that we, as individuals, follow. Depending on the ideals we hold, our very person is shaped, directing the lives we lead and the paths that we take. For me, I uphold a simple one: “a little kindness goes a long way.” So I try to do just that. I hold the door for others, give my thanks whenever I can, and call my family to check up on them. Small stuff, and probably pretty common too, but such actions have nonetheless made me into the kind of man that I am today, and hopefully who I’ll be in the future. Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 2nd season hones in on the convictions we maintain, but it never escapes its own faults to make its beliefs worth listening to.
Stay Night 2 follows immediately where the second season left off. Shirou and Rin are still fighting in the Holy Grail War, Servants and Masters work to take out their enemies, and all the while greater implications are brought to the forefront.
There’s a well-known term in anime and other mediums where narratives are involved. It’s a negative one that most sane plots try to avoid because they literally don’t make sense. This term is called the “plot contrivance.” In short, it’s an event that isn’t fully explainable or even natural in the context of the show. Think “deus ex machina” where some godlike figure descends from heaven, someone thought dead reappears alive, or a character magically gains a brand new ability out of nowhere. The reasoning behind it is usually “just because.” Their existence is often the product of the author or director writing himself or herself into a corner, with the only option available being a free out that lacks any basis.
Stay Night 2 doesn’t partake in plot contrivances, but it constantly finds itself one step before, dabbling in something very similar called “convenient inconveniences.” What are these? They’re inconvenient events that just so happen to occur at precisely the convenient time for the plot to move in the direction it wishes for it to go. They are just barely believable and only marginally rational. But it’s evident that the plot is being forced down a specific path rather than occurring naturally. Many anime have this, but so long as they aren’t particularly egregious, frequent, or otherwise palpable to the viewer, they can more or less be excused.
What exactly constitutes as a “convenient inconvenience” and what doesn’t? Let’s start with something that isn’t. At one point, Shirou, Saber, and Lancer arrive once more at Illya’s mansion to confront Archer who had kidnapped Rin. Saber decides that, instead of going to her Master’s side – the logical conclusion – she will stay here and witness the fight between the two men, letting Lancer be the hero. This already sounds dangerous and stupid. Not having everyone available to save such an important person seems like a bad move. Thankfully, Saber’s decision to not help Rin is justified; the battle between Archer and Shirou is an outward representation of Saber’s inner struggle. Meaning, Saber’s decision coincides with the progression of the adventure (and by extension her character) thus far.
Now, what is a “convenient inconvenience?” Following Archer’s death, Gilgamesh is ready to face off against a questioning Saber, a distraught Rin, and a severely broken Shirou. However, Gilgamesh decides not to fight them because…there’s too much soot in the air. This perfectly captures the idea. Gilgamesh literally doesn’t fight the damaged trio because there’s too much dust around him. It’s a silly justification because the audience expects this confrontation to happen now, especially given the circumstances. Instead, the plot is pushed down a path that feels as if the anime wants it to go there rather than letting it happen naturally.
The word “constantly” was used earlier because Stay Night 2 encounters and intentionally dives into this pitfall far too often to go unnoticed. Gilgamesh doesn’t kill Rin and Shirou at Illya’s mansion the first time because he’s “too tired” from fighting Berserker despite being the greatest Servant of all-time with the most Noble Phantasms. Archer betrays Rin and Shirou and joins Caster, yet Caster lets them walk away because Archer asked her too while ironically wielding a weapon called “Rule Breaker.” Lancer defeats Archer and has the chance to kill him but doesn’t because “my job is done.” Lancer manages to rise and defend Rin not once but twice in the span of five minutes after presumed perished. And even near the end, the Holy Grail manages to appear next to Gilgamesh after already being destroyed.
That last paragraph is basically a list, but they are all examples of the same tactic: artificially prolonging events through “convenient inconveniences.” There are even more not listed here – such as Kotomine having Lancer kill himself rather than Rin or Shinji given the opportunity to escape the burning mansion – that further demonstrate the narrative’s unnatural feel.
One argument against all of these examples is that they have some kind of justification backing them. For instance, Lancer living after killing himself derives from his overall terrible luck (is it unlucky or lucky that he missed his heart?) or Gilgamesh being so perturbed by getting particles on his clothes comes from his arrogant personality (why not just fight them outside?). But they’re often flimsy or weak; they generally require the audience to scratch his or her head and say “I guess…” in response. In essence it comes down to tolerance, but Say Night 2 teeters too much on the edge between acceptance and absurdity to give everything a free pass.
All of this says nothing of the inordinate amount of exposition used during the fight scenes, the disregard for needed information on topics such as the “Counter Force” or “Guardians,” and the show’s plot twists being lackluster in execution. Here again there’s an argument, that usually takes the form of “read the visual novel.” That’s great, and without a doubt gives a more fulfilling experience. But on its own, as a standalone anime, there is no excuse to make the narrative as bogged down or as broken as it is. One shouldn’t have to read other material to receive a complete offering. It’s like reading a book that has removed key words or paragraphs and asks you to reference a different book to fill in the missing pieces. It’s not fair to the audience and it’s not fair to the narrative, and the same applies to anime.
Due to the length of the previous section, this one will be kept short and sweet. To put it simply, Stay Night 2 has some of the best visuals in the medium. The background art is vivid, gorgeous, and realistic in its presentation; character designs are crisp, detailed, and appropriate for each person’s personality and demeanor; and actual animation is consistently high when it comes to duels, hair, facial expressions, explosions, running, and any other form of movement. The studio behind the venture, ufotable, demonstrates that, if anything, they can create beautiful shows that captivate the eye.
It’s pretty fascinating how much talking is done and dialogue that ensues which ultimately leads to nowhere with the majority of the cast members. Some of the worst that this second season has to offer are Illya, Caster, Caster’s Master Souichirou, and Lancer. Lancer plays a prominent role in the festivities but next to nothing is learned about him besides the honor that he holds. Souichirou is similar; he came from a faraway place and, outside of a singular flashback, we come to know very little about him. Caster also follows this same trend. We see her devotion to “fair” magic and her adoration towards Souichirou, but the vain attempt to make her likable near her departure doesn’t work because of her present behavior and how little there is given of her past. As for Illya, she is granted an entire episode dedicated to making her less crazy and more relevant – due to how much she had been sidelined after her initial outing way back in the first season – but her immediate removal makes her a second-thought.
There are more, like Saber and Gilgamesh, who receive just enough attention to not be completely useless characters, but unfortunately aren’t given the resources needed to make them worthwhile. Even Archer fails, having the same, repetitive backstory replayed over and over in an attempt to make his plight rational. The best side character is actually the one who appears the least; Assassin’s talk of meaning, and the most important thing being what’s directly in front of us, is one of the most profound insights the show had to offer.
Perhaps the worst character though is Shirou. It’s hard to say what sort of impact the Holy Grail War had on him. He seemingly goes through a ton of introspection, wondering if the convictions he has are the ones not just right for him but those he himself personally believes in. In short, he doesn’t develop but instead goes through a reconfirmation, having his ideals reinforced through both a physical and mental battle with himself. He doesn’t change his stance, he isn’t looking to follow a new creed, and he can’t seem to shake his unending stubbornness. He stays nearly the same for the entirety of the season, remaining quite the static character despite the dynamic events he experienced.
Rin is, surprisingly, the best character the anime has to offer. At the minimum, the viewer does see a gradual shift in her outlook. In the beginning, the War was for her and her alone; she had no wishes and was simply there to prove the strength of her and her family’s name. But in Stay Night 2, her gaze transitions away from this goal. Now, she focuses on saving Archer and protecting Shirou – essentially the same thing, but instead of being so selfish it becomes clear that she does have a wish she wants to see fulfilled. Her determination is evident throughout, where she concocts plans to fight their adversaries, she shares her mana with Shrirou in a deeply personal moment, and nearly dies upholding his beliefs. Simultaneously, we also witness her open up in terms of relationships. Again, rather than being so self-centered, she: forms a pact with Saber, forgives Shinji for his treatment of her, and even boasts the romantic connection she and Shirou share. She isn’t a spectacular character by any means, but she does manage, by comparison, to be a diamond in the rough.
The opening theme is mysterious, with the vocalist doing the majority of the work; raspy and calm, she carries the piece where it needs to go, from foreboding lows to hopeful highs. The beat itself is strangely slow, but it works to give the piece a sort of “tugging” feel that gradually fills you with adrenaline. The guitar, like the vocalist, also performs overtime, making the whole package pretty darn cool. The ending theme isn’t sad, but nor is it happy. It’s a strange mix of the two, with the singers and instruments unifying to create a steady song that has a lot of power but lacks the impact required to make it memorable.
Listening to the rest of the soundtrack is rather pleasant. Each track is extremely orchestral in composition, with choirs and instruments that make everything feel as epic as it should. It’s also capable of going emotional when it wants to or even branching out to more techno-filled pieces. Perhaps even more impressive than the tracks are the sound effects. The sword clashes, foot plantings, and replications give the fights and situations greater appeal than they would without such detailed sound-work.
Voice acting for the anime is above average in all cases. A special shout-out is deserved for Ayako Kawasumi as Saber for her refined speaking and signature “Ex…caliber!” Kana Ueda as Rin for her girly yet determined voice earns one as well, as does Noriaki Sugiyama as Shirou for all of the screaming and intense lines he gave. Realistically, many cast members deserve recognition for continuing to reprise the same roles to give the (entire) series a certain sense of authenticity.
With all of this being said, I still had a good amount of fun with the anime. Rin is one of the best “tsundere” characters in the medium, with her adorable moments shining brightly. Saber is one of my favorite characters from the series, so seeing her in action (at least, in the latter half) was awesome to watch. I like her more than Rin, but since this isn’t Saber’s tale, there was less of Saber than I would have liked to have seen. And the battles, when theywere in full swing, such as with Lancer versus Archer and Shirou versus Gilgamesh, made me laugh in awe by how incredible they were. Some fights though, like Gilgamesh versus Berserker, were underwhelming, which was strange considering how strong they normally always are.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 2nd Season is an entertaining anime, without question. Its art and animation is top-notch, its music is powerful, and specific scenarios are a lot of fun. But with the massive amount of errors in its story and the majority of the cast being offensively bad, it ends up as a disappointing conclusion to a popular series. Hopefully when Heaven’s Feel comes around it doesn’t “trace” this one.
Story: Terrible, “convenient inconveniences” ruin the narrative, justifications are flaky, and awkward exposition tarnishes anything it attempts to do
Animation: Great, beautiful visuals, nice character designs, above average actual animation
Characters: Bad, the majority, from Illya to Shinichirou to Saber to even Shirou, are executed poorly, with only Rin and Assassin coming out on top
Sound: Good, nice OP, okay ED, good soundtrack, nice sound effects, above average VA work
Enjoyment: Fine, Rin is cute, Saber’s appearances were entertaining, and some of the battles were fun but not much else was
Final Score: 5/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3