Anime Review: Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel — Part 1 (ufotable)

I think Sakura does less in this first part than Hanekawa did in her own first part.

So I’m sure some of you guys have noticed by now that my writing speed has slowed down massively as of late. There are a lot of reasons why, but the main issue I’ve been having is that I just can’t find anything interesting to write about these days. Anime as a whole just isn’t as fresh to me as it used to be, and I’ve long since moved on from just writing something because I feel like it. I’m at this point in my online life where I’ll only talk about something if I really feel like I have something fresh to say about a subject, and it doesn’t exactly help that unlike Kim, I talk solely about specific anime. Now that may not sound like that much of a restriction at first, but then you get to some other rules regarding my anime writing that are currently in place:

  1. I generally will not write about anime that are more than a year old because I like to stay in the present. Tried it once with Ocean Waves and you guys didn’t seem to like it.
  2. I can only get motivated to write about popular anime because those are the anime people actually watch and I’m not well-known enough to convince the fandom to pay attention to something like the Youtube scene has been regarding Uma Musume Pretty Derby.
  3. With some exceptions, I don’t watch anime weekly anymore because I prefer binge-watching and staying away from “AOTS/AOTY” discussions. Also, the anime I’ve chosen to keep up with weekly since that rule was created…well let’s just say I want to get them over with because they SUUUCCCKKKKK! Yeah that wasn’t the least bit subtle, was it?
  4. While I have no problem with writing mini-essays (besides struggling to find a topic that deserves one as of late) surrounding an airing anime (or movie or game), I refuse to review an anime that’s not finished, especially not with this new format, which depends heavily on the series being done.
  5. The blog isn’t restricted to anime, but it’s the subject that me and my readers are the most passionate about, so I prefer to not resort to discussing American TV shows again. Plus, I don’t have anything interesting to say about what’s trending on pop culture right now to begin with. Avengers: Infinity War? Yeah, I’d rather stay away from the “is Thanos a protagonist” discussions. Steven Universe? Haven’t seen the latest episodes. Brooklyn 99? It got revived pretty quickly after its cancellation so what do you want me to say? Rick and Morty? I could do without 70 more episodes of it, but I also could do without more seasons of Highschool DxD and look how that’s turning out.

I’m sure most of you can see the problem I’m having with restrictions this specific to ensure. Basically, I have to rely on anime movies, Netflix shows, and the past season to carry me until Spring finishes, and that well is running dry. The one recent anime I really want to give a full review as of right now is Darling in the Franxx, but without the context of the apparent “second half” of the series, anything I say about that show now would just be incomplete, especially since it seems to just now be revealing its cards, ten episodes after I stopped giving a shit. And unfortunately, after my in-depth review of Violet Evergarden, I ran out of Winter anime to get me writing thousands of words about. I mean what were the other big hits of that season?

Citrus? Yeah, no way am I bothering with something that was meant to be exploitative trash. I prefer to to only target bad anime that fail spectacularly.

A Place From Across the Universe? People have been asking me to talk about it and all I have to say in response after watching that show is “why?”. The appeal of the show is supposed to be about how much you relate to these girls’ desire to travel before life gets in the way, and that’s too specific an angle for me to write about the same way I could about, say, Sound Euphonium – a show where some of the girls literally had to compromises their desires in order to prepare for an unfree future. Just watch Gigguk’s video on how the series inspired him for crying out loud. What do you need me for?

After the Rain? Too average to care about. The Ancient Magus’ Bride? That tensionless ending killed my motivation. Killing Bites? Not the least bit popular in addition to not being the least bit good. Yuru Camp? Again, I have no idea what you want me to say about that one that would go beyond camping edutainment. Aggretsuko? I watched the first two episodes on Netflix and didn’t find it to be the least bit funny.

Agh. Any big movies that came out recently?

…anything else?

…really?

…fine then.

Yep, it’s time to give some attention to the Type/Moon universe: a franchise I was happy to avoid back when it seemed like Metanorn and obnoxious trolls that were basically “the Danganronpa fandom before Danganronpa was a thing” seemed to be the only ones to care for it. But nowadays it is everywhere to the point that it’s basically the new Key of our generation. Lots of casual fans love it. Lots of snobby elitists hate it. I’ve never been a fan of anything Nasu has written, but to be fair, I don’t like a lot of light/visual novel adaptations for reasons I’ve stated so often I’m going to spare you the grief of having to hear them again. And now it’s gotten big to the point where if I ignored it any longer, I’d be an incredibly stubborn recluse who can’t accept that things change, especially in anime.

Anyone who’s followed me for long enough are aware of how I change my views on things all the time. Not at constant split-second intervals or anything like that, but time does cause me to re-evaluate myself and what I want from anime as well as other mediums and aspects of life. And I have to admit, the idea of doing just one of the routes in the Fate franchise as a series of movies did hold some appeal in the same vein that Air worked better as a movie that only adapted one route. Of course, that film also benefitted from changing a lot of the details from the original source in order to make it less stupid, which is something you can’t really do in today’s anime world.

At least not without making the entire thing ten times worse in the process.

But I should probably start with describing what Heaven’s Feel – and by extension the Fate franchise – is before delving further into the film. Fate/Stay Night is a visual novel from 2004 that was made during a time when visual novels were required to have underage sex and multiple girls falling for the stand-in lead’s charismatic-less penis in order to sell, and is centered on an event known as the Holy Grail War – a sort of magical battle royale between seven individuals and their historical partners in order to obtain whatever wish they want.

The game became a massive hit in its home country due to the intriguing lore and interactive storytelling, which led to the inevitable anime adaptations during a time when they existed as little more than cheap all-age advertisements for the source material before KyoAni showed everyone that they could also be expensive advertisements for the source as well. And it didn’t help that Deen wasn’t exactly very good back then, so when they got their hands on the franchise, they proceeded to piss off the fanbase with a lackluster series and a movie adaptation that was more confusing to watch than Louis CK’s bizarre methods of sexual assault. Seriously dude, how exactly is jacking off whilst a woman watches you sexy in any conceivable way?

As such, the franchise’s popularity was mostly kept cult, but then Fate/Zero happened and became a massive hit, riding off of Gen Urobuchi’s popularity as well as the production values brought by ufotable in order to bring to life a massive battle royale saga that intrigued the fandom with its deep philosophies and eye-watering action visuals. And it sucked. Literally nothing happens for more than half of the show besides a load of setup, fake-outs, and massive CG battles where the characters spoke more than they fought. The dialogue scenes were poorly animated and went on long enough for the hot water in an elephant-sized bathhouse to cool down. And the characters were incredibly forgettable badasses with one less badass kid thrown into the mix.

It was around the time I finished that series and let it stew in my mind for a bit that I realized Type/Moon was just another terrible popular franchise that only stands out when compared to the dreck standards that light/visual novels usually set for themselves. And it wasn’t fun to diagnose the way Key and the Science Adventure shows were whenever they screwed up, because most of its issues come from how much the characters just won’t shut up, yet somehow never get to the point. So I decided to just ignore the franchise when more adaptations came out from the ufotable adaptation of Unlimited Blade Works to that A-1 Pictures adaptation of Apocrypha, the latter of which ended up turning out so bad that it’s ranked alongside the original Deen adaptation of Fate Stay/Night as one of the worst Fate anime of all-time. However, ufotable’s adaptations kept drawing more people towards the series and now it’s become just as popular in the West as it was in Japan during the original visual novel’s debut. Whoever says that “if you ignore something, it’ll go away” is a goddamn liar.

By the way, is it a spoiler these days to reveal that Saber is actually King Arthur?

As such, now I’m stuck reviewing Heaven’s Feel, which I haven’t gotten to really describing yet because you actually do need the context of the larger Fate mythos to understand it. Simply put, the original visual novel consists of three main routes: Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heaven’s Feel, with the former two having already been adapted for anime. Heaven’s Feel is the route that is apparently about “the friction with real and ideal” according to Wikipedia with the main focus being on Sakura Mato, who you may remember as that purple-haired girl who was being eaten alive by worms in Fate/Zero as well as fan-favorite Rin Tohsaka’s sister (which is apparently a spoiler in the same way Darth Vader being Luke’s father is considered a spoiler). You wouldn’t know that just based on the movie alone though because after a twenty-five minute long prologue detailing how Sakura first met our main lead Shiro (mostly by stalking him and refusing to leave), her screen time becomes very sporadic, only really showing up as a narrative device to make it clear how much of a bastard her brother is.

The anime adaptation actually consists of three parts not too dissimilar from Kizumonogatari, except these parts are twice as long each to the point that they’re more comparable to movie trilogies like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Well okay, I’m not sure how long the other two films are. Maybe the first part is the two-hour introduction and the next two entries are as long as Winnie the Pooh. And the funny thing is, despite serving as an introduction to a new story in the Fate universe, Heaven’s Feel Part 1 feels more like a recap of Unlimited Blade Works with only a few details changed.

A big problem with trying to adapt the Fate series in movie format – or just adapting one route in general – compared to say, Air, or even Da Capo if the people who make those adaptations actually gave a shit, is that the inherent structure of the premise prevents any of the characters from getting adapted out in order to make the narrative flow better. If you can bother recalling since it’s such an old show now, most of the girls in the KyoAni adaptation of Air didn’t have any narrative importance and were kept completely separate from Misuzu’s story as an unfortunate side effect of trying to keep the fans happy whilst transferring a video game to a non-interactive medium. However, that also meant it was incredibly easy for the movie adaptation to completely write them out whilst keeping the core story intact.

These two girls only showed up for a 1-second cameo in the Air movie, which just goes a long way to show how useless they were in the series.

Fate unfortunately has to keep all of the seven masters and seven servants no matter what narrative it spins because the very rules of the Holy Grail War insists that you need that exact number in order to have a plot. This leads to a lot of scenes that come across as very fragmented. Ilya and Berserker show up for no reason other than to make Shiro do his iconic “save Saber” scene before cashing in their animated checks and calling it a day. Lancer is here, but I can’t recall what he did other than dying like a little bitch. Apparently Rider is supposed to have more of a focus in the Heaven’s Feel route, but I just remember her dying than coming back for a quick moment of triumph that doesn’t really go anywhere. Saber doesn’t even get an introduction. The film pretty much skips through her first meeting with Shiro and drops Rin into the narrative out of nowhere because that was already in the Unlimited Blade Works adaptation that you obviously saw, so why bother showing it again?

Uh, Heaven’s Feel. If you’re going to go that far to not establish things properly for newcomers, why didn’t you cut out the other numerous scenes from UBW that also made it in here? I’m pretty sure I could have done without seeing Berserker slash Shiro for the fifth time.

I think this scene is as iconic as Uncle Ben dying in those Spiderman adaptations.

Now normally I’d complain about the overly long redundant dialogue spoken by characters who like to walk around in circles, but Heaven’s Feel actually cuts down on the exposition a fair bit. Most of the action is actually told through action this time around, which sounds really promising until you realize that the action scenes are a load of shit. Have you guys ever seen Elektra? That really horrible pseudo-sequel to the already horrible Daredevil movie starring Jennifer Garner? Well there’s this really stupid scene where she’s fighting the main bad guy who tries to psyche her out with a bunch of floating sheets and the music is trying to make it sound really epic. The problem is that she’s fighting a bunch of floating sheets. The camera doesn’t exactly help, but my point is that you can’t make someone fighting a bunch of sheets cool.

Heaven’s Feel’s action scenes aren’t quite that bad, but they operate on the same level of “trying to look cool over trying to be cool”. Ufotable as a production company in general is pretty controversial due to their floaty direction and animation looking more like a tech demo for a video game rather than something suited for a full-length series, an opinion not helped by the fact that they keep getting hired to do the animations for various video games ranging from the Tales series to the upcoming Code Vein, and there’s very little in any of their Fate adaptations to help alleviate that opinion let alone with this one.

The actual choreography is lacking in weight or “back and forth” between opponents. A lot of the animation in Lancer’s action scene was basically just him showing off his footwork to a target that stood still. And the incredibly noticeable CG already sets the tension levels dangerously low as is, similar to when Hollywood movies rely too much on CG. Of course, most of this is rendered moot given how little characterization is given to Heaven’s Feel’s cast, but at least I could have appreciated the scenes on a blockbuster-esque level if they were shot better.

Scenes like this where the action is so busy to the point that I feel like I’m watching a badly-made lights show don’t help.

And I’m really not kidding with the poor characterization in this film. The entire cast comes off like generic visual novel stereotypes with arbitrary dark backstories tacked onto them in a desperate attempt to make them interesting, which causes them to feel like they’re being controlled by the plot. Even if you take into account rushing through the old material in order to get to the new stuff, I don’t feel like I learned anything about Sakura or Rin or Shiro or Saber that I couldn’t just look up on Wikipedia by the time the end credits rolled. Their personal philosophies are incredibly simplistic or are kept so vague to the point of frustration, and it doesn’t help that they can’t seem to figure out where the story to Heaven’s Feel actually is.

This is one thing that Fate/Zero got right: all of the characters had established motives to win the Holy Grail War and the majority of the plot was centered on winning said war. Heaven’s Feel uses the war as a framing device for the true main story, but it can’t seem to figure what plot point it wants to develop in order to have the story come to fruition. Sakura’s lousy domestic situation just shows up whenever it feels like it and doesn’t seem to have any connection to the other servants or masters aside from her asshole brother and Rider. Saber herself doesn’t seem to have any storyline significance other than to act as Shiro’s fighting tool (which in of itself is rendered moot due to how many physical situations the guy ends up going through), and I honestly can’t remember if Archer got any screentime. Kotomine Kirei is also in the film, but I couldn’t tell you anything interesting about him because he just references the crap things he did in the last Grail War without deciding if he’s going to participate in anything or not.

No matter how I look at it, this is not how you create the first part in a trilogy. It didn’t establish the characters beyond their basic stereotypes, it didn’t start the story right up to when the end credits rolled, and the production isn’t very eye-catching either. The character designs still look incredibly off-putting to me. It’s literally like I’m watching the walking dead what with the vacant-looking eyes and an art style that looks a lot flatter to me than was probably intended. Actually, I think the zombies in the actual Walking Dead had more life in their designs than the Fate cast.

I can’t be the only one who thinks these characters look like living Barbie dolls, right?

The final nail in the coffin that really makes Heaven’s Feel’s first part a failure in my eyes though is how impenetrable it is to anyone who’s never seen the Fate series. It’s one thing when a sequel film does it, it’s another thing when the new beginning of a story does it, and it’s definitely a big deal when major parts of the story depend on knowing some basic context. A lot of people complain about how Batman’s origin story has been told to us so many times that we’re sick of seeing it in the latest movie adaptation, and I agree with that statement, but that’s mostly because…well…when was the last time Batman’s past was ever relevant to whatever crime he’s foiling? It definitely wasn’t relevant in The Dark Knight. He’s kept up the crime-fighting against his rogues gallery for so long that at this point, the death of his parents has ceased to be a relatable reason for his actions. That’s why his villains have to pick up the slack in most of his stories, and at their best they’re definitely more than capable of doing so.

Unfortunately, Heaven’s Feel doesn’t have that excuse because none of the characters have any grounding to work off of, and skipping the origin of Saber’s relationship with Shiro when it’s a big reason why he’s the lead in the first place just caused me to tune out of the film by the time the opening credits rolled. No, I didn’t think the origin of his relationship with Sakura was all that intriguing, but at least it was there. At least when her abuse scenes happen, there’s some context to it. And there’s some context to Shiro leaving the archery club and being former best friends with a guy who quite frankly I have no idea why he was ever friends with to begin with. Yeah, I could have used some context regarding that as well.

Seriously, I don’t think guy is ever not a douche any time he’s on screen.

At this point in time, not only do I think the Type-Moon franchise is incredibly flawed, but I’m pretty sure it will never be good. There are too many restrictions placed on its storytelling that you can’t adapt properly without shaking up the very core, and when the changes get to that level, why even call it Type-Moon at that point? I think most visual novel writers are big picture people who can’t write for shit which is why I tend to pay attention to them when they try to make it into anime a lot more than I probably should. Like them or not, there’s a lot to be learned when dissecting why Jun Maeda or Naotaka Hayashi just can’t seem to transfer their skills to a non-interactive medium. But while the same can be said for Nasu, I think he’s really going to regret the decision to make a premise where you have to have so many characters when his fame eventually runs dry. It’s not exactly a good narrative decision in American TV shows and it rarely works out in anime.

Personally, I think the most it’s ever worked out for Nasu was when Seiji Kishi made a comedic spin-off of his works. Wasn’t exactly a comedic masterpiece and it was still too character-heavy at times, but at least it wasn’t the Giant Robo spinoff with Ginrei in it. If you don’t get that reference…

…good.

======================================================================

  • F/SN: Heaven’s Feel Part 1 is not legally available yet, but you can watch the English dubbed version in theaters soon.
  • For the record, I was going to review Batman Ninja, but in the week or so after watching it, the film’s popularity dive bombed into the abyss so I said “fuck it”.
  • So does anyone actually acknowledge the Fate/Extella anime by Shaft?
  • To be fair to the anime I bother to keep up with weekly, I’ve recently started watching Food Wars again and it’s gotten entertaining again after Erina rebelled against her father. And I don’t dislike the Persona 5 anime despite its numerous faults.

6 responses to “Anime Review: Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel — Part 1 (ufotable)

  1. Random question, but will you take a look at the Chaos;Child VN? It’s a lot more mature than Steins;Gate because the main writer, Umehara Eiji, is a literary type of guy unlike Hayashi Naotaka. But there’s a problem with all the routes except the true route being pretty pointless (Nono’s route isn’t bad though).

  2. So are you cancelling the “Does This Hold Up?” Series? Also, what did you think of Batman Ninja. Heard the movie was messy.

  3. That’s probably the most negative Heaven’s Feel review on the internet. Good job. I won’t argue with most of your points, but I will say this: the film is intended to be a contrast with the UBW TV series, and it is assumed that the viewer has already seen it. In that regard, I see the inaccessibility to newcomers as a good thing actually since they don’t waste time retreading old steps (though you claim that they somehow do). I find it funny you said half the film was a rehash of UBW, since they literally skipped a ton of UBW stuff in the opening montage. In the same vein, characterisation was skipped in some places, since they assume you already know who Saber and Archer are, which, for example, both myself and yourself did. One more thing I want to say is that Saber v. Berserker is completely different in UBW if you payed attention, Archer drops a nuke on them instead of Shirou getting killed without dying. Yes, it plays out the same in the Deen series, but that was so long ago that this criticism feels rather forced. I realise ufotable visuals are a point of contention, but you can’t deny an insane amount of work went into them and even if you didn’t personally enjoy them, many others out there consider them a pinnacle of Japanese CG-integrated animation, which this film heavily showcased. You also didn’t really talk about UBW much, so I wonder what you thought of it in the context of your disdain of Nasu. You did watch it, right? I mean, if you didn’t this review suddenly makes a lot more sense, but somehow I doubt it.

    • While I’m exaggerating a bit, the details that were changed weren’t really different enough to make Berserker vs. Saber and some other plot points not feel stale for me. It’s still the same feel overall.

      Also, YMMV, but I’ve never been a fan of having to depend on knowing a previous entry to appreciate a sequel. Callbacks and building off plot points are fine, but ultimately I prefer works to stand on their own. Like the new Ocean’s Eight. Wasn’t a good movie, but at least you don’t have to watch the other films to know what’s going on in it.

Speak Up

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.