Do you guys remember when I reviewed the first Heaven’s Film last year? I thought that review was going to hold up as badly as my Tada Never Falls in Love review because my feelings on Fate have grown more complicated as of late, but I recently went back to it in order to prepare for this current review of the second film and I was surprised how much of what I said still impresses me. Now I don’t think Fate fans are all that bad anymore as long as I interact with them in real life rather than online, plus even though I still don’t like Presage Flower, I at least understand its appeal some more. Still, I think most of my criticisms back then were fair, especially since I looked at a few forums discussing Presage Flower and quite a few Fate fans agreed with me that the movie was flawed for the reasons I stated.
Still, I probably could have been a little kinder to the movie last year. Yes, it was a setup film, but it wasn’t that bad for a setup film barring the fact that you needed to see the Unlimited Blade Works adaptation to understand the beginning (although I found out that’s a design choice for reasons I’ll get into later). Sure Sakura, the main focus of the Heaven’s Feel arc from the original visual novel, wasn’t in it too much, but it did end with Saber getting taken over by Assassin, so it’s not like nothing happened in it. And that brainwashing isn’t just a temporary speed bump either. Saber in Heaven’s Feel is primarily supposed to be a bad guy, which is something i didn’t realize when I initially saw that movie. Obviously I don’t go out of my way to look for Fate spoilers, but apparently it was such common knowledge that you’d think I’d have at least heard of it prior. I heard about Shinji being an even bigger douche in this route than the previous ones after all.
Anyways, I’m bringing up that old review in order to indicate how my feelings on this movie project have changed even before I went into the second installment of this trilogy. Fate as a franchise is still Tetsuya Nomura-levels of convoluted and the really important characters always seem to be the most boring, but with the popularity of Fate GO and my desire to become more unbiased within the anime community, I understand that unlike Key or the Science Adventure series (unless their upcoming visual novels get rave reviews I guess), Fate is going to be around for a long time. And as such, I should try to give what’s considered to be the best adaptation (or at least the one on par with Fate/Zero) some more respect. Which it turns out is pretty easy to do because Lost Butterfly is a definite improvement over the first movie.
But before I get into describing the film itself, I want to go over some of the details surrounding Heaven’s Feel in general that I kind of glossed over in my review of Presage Flower. As I mentioned back then, Fate has always been popular for as long as I can remember, but the first few anime adaptations were made by Deen during their crappy years, and thus ended up getting forgotten with time. It wasn’t until Fate/Zero became the hottest shit that it achieved true recognition amongst the mainstream anime fanbase thanks to the popularity of Gen Urobuchi combined with ufotable’s high production values. A few years later, Unlimited Blade Works came onto the scene and pushed that popularity even further despite having a vocal hatebase amongst the Type-Moon fandom (and outside it) in the same way die-hard manga fans dislike the current adaptation of The Promised Neverland. Then Fate GO came out shortly after to take the mobile gaming market by storm, ensuring that the franchise’s status as one of the longest-lasting legacies in weeb culture and thus waifu culture was changed forever.
The Heaven’s Feel adaptation was announced around the same time as the Unlimited Blade Works one as a movie project, and it wasn’t until 2016 when it was announced to be a trilogy of films not too dissimilar from Kizumonogatari or those CG Godzilla films. This came off as a huge relief to fans because all of the routes in the Fate series are long as is, and Heaven’s Feel itself is considered the best route from the original visual novel by a large percentage of the fanbase. However, there were worries regarding why it couldn’t have been a TV show instead since ufotable is known for high-quality animation regardless of format and a TV show would allow for more time to tell the story. Of course, said worries disappeared once they saw the actual product, because lord knows Heaven’s Feel makes the Unlimited Blade Works adaptation look like an asread production. The character designs don’t look nearly as awkward. The direction is way better. And more importantly, there are some actual fucking fight scenes to drool over.
Disclaimer: the one big thing from my review of the first movie that I really need to retract was that the action scenes were crap. Because obviously, I was going blind when I initially saw them. They may be effects-heavy, but they’re a big step up from Fate/Zero (which felt the need to interrupt the action every few seconds with loads of shonen-esque philosophy) and Unlimited Blade Works (which were barely there and very rarely fought on equal terms), and more importantly, actually justify all of the money and time put into them. Not to mention all of the symbolism associated with them that I initially missed, but several Youtube videos pointed out.
As for why Heaven’s Feel is considered the best route, we need to get into explaining what these routes actually are in the grand scheme of things. Anyone with even baseline knowledge of what a visual novel is will know that those games are basically “choose your own adventure” style stories primarily focused on getting together with a girl by the end. However, Fate/Stay Night takes this model to the extreme in that not only are all of the routes canon, whatever girl you’re pursuing determines which of the seven competitors are important to the narrative and which end up getting their necks broken within the first hour, making it impossible to combine them like with the anime adaptations of Clannad or Steins;Gate, and there is no time travel to justify Shiro jumping to another route after one ends like with Higurashi or Rewrite.
And the funny thing is, it’s recommended you do the routes in order from worst to best, because Unlimited Blade Works depends on some knowledge of the Fate route to get the true experience (although you can use Fate/Zero as a substitute) whilst Heaven’s Feel depends on knowing elements of both the Fate and the UBW route to understand what’s going on. I don’t have enough room to summarize the three routes, but let’s just say that Heaven’s Feel had a high barrier to entry in order to fully appreciate it back when the original visual novel was first made. That’s why Presage Flower had no problem with assuming I had already seen the Unlimited Blade Works TV show prior, and just to let you guys know, I did end up watching the entire thing a little while ago in order for this review to come off as more informed.
I’m not really sure what details from the prior adaptations we’re supposed to know in order to appreciate Heaven’s Feel besides the basic personalities and backstories of Saber, Rin, and Shiro, along with all of the Servants who end up dying early so that the ones who didn’t have much screen time in the previous routes get their turn to shine. However, the thing that apparently makes Heaven’s Feel so great is that not only is it a culmination of everything the prior Fate adaptations were building up to, but it’s also when Fate gets into really dark territory, not unlike what the Chimera Ant arc was for Hunter x Hunter. And all because Sakura, that purple-haired girl who barely got any screentime in the previous routes and did nothing but call Shiro “senpai”, is actually more disturbed than Jeffrey Dahmer.
If you’ve ever seen Fate/Zero, you’d know that Sakura and Rin are actually sisters, and the former was fed to a ton of bugs that corrupted her body after being adopted by the main villain of the Heaven’s Feel route and creepy old fart, Zouken Matou. Apparently this is supposed to be a big spoiler and thus Fate fans say you shouldn’t watch Fate/Zero before seeing this movie project, but considering I saw Fate/Zero back when it first aired, those suggestions are wasted on me. Anyways, Lost Butterfly is when Sakura fully takes center stage in the narrative and thus the true substance of Heaven’s Feel actually shows up. It even starts with Shiro already out of the Holy Grail War because ironically, the less importance Saber has to the narrative, the better said narrative actually is.
Lost Butterfly’s story can basically be summed up as Sakura trying to take control of her life, but her corrupted body makes that all but impossible. It starts off with the reveal that she is the true master of Rider who had been using her Command Seals to give her abusive brother, Shinji, control. However, she eventually rebels against him and starts living with Shiro, all the while fighting her desire to take his virginity because apparently the bugs in her increase sexual desire. Shiro and Rin try to form an alliance with Illya in order to increase their survival chances, but her Berserker ends up getting killed by a corrupted Saber, Shiro loses his left arm in the crossfire, and Archer gives him his own arm before dying as well. Shiro and Sakura eventually grow closer and have sex with each other whilst hiding from Zouken, but Sakura ends up getting so corrupted that she kills innocent people whilst sleepwalking and Gilgamesh ends up biting the dust in his two minutes of screen time as well.
The movie basically ends with Shiro realizing he might have to kill Sakura in order to prevent more deaths whilst Sakura ends up going past the point of no return when she tries to take matters into her own hands, only to realize that moving back in with Shinji was not a wise decision. Speaking of Shinji, everyone pretty much hates the dude, but apparently only the Fate fanbase somehow hated him even more, and I wasn’t quite sure why until it’s revealed near the end that he had actually been raping Sakura for years. Not that this is out of character for him given his obsession with Rin in UBW, but now I understand what my Fate-loving friends mean when they say “fuck Shinji”.
So yeah, it’s not really hard to see what exactly is in Heaven’s Feel that makes it stand out from the previous routes, now is it? Rape. Incest. Bloody fingers. That dream sequence you need to see to believe where Sakura is acting like she’s in the setting of My Little Pony in order to cover up the harsh reality that she’s officially started her career as a serial killer. It’s all here, and it’s done pretty naturally without ever getting exploitative or pretentious about it. Like I said in the Presage Flower review, Heaven’s Feel doesn’t actually have much in the way of unnecessary dialogue compared to the previous Fate anime. It relies on “show don’t tell” a lot more, and I really appreciate that. What’s fun about watching Sakura slowly turn into a living cannibal is how much it conflicts with what the characters want and how they try to pass it off as alright despite it not actually being alright. This is the kind of stuff that visual storytelling was meant to portray, and I’m happy to see that ufotable is finally understanding how animation is supposed to work.
That said, the movie still feels slow at times. There are only two big action scenes in Lost Butterfly, and they pretty much end around the halfway point in order to focus on Sakura’s slow descent into madness, with an emphasis on slow, because there’s a limit to how much of a person’s psychology I can watch before I demand the anime actually do something with it. Of course, there’s one more movie left, so Lost Butterfly ends before we can actually get to seeing this payoff. That’s one thing I don’t like about a lot dark subversive anime out there. Even when they’re good at actually portraying depression or capturing what it means to be a piece of shit, they seem to think that you don’t have to go beyond that in order to tell a good story when in reality, you kind of do. I don’t see the point in getting all mopey if you’re just using it to say “depression stinks”. No fucking shit, Sherlock. Tell me something I don’t know.
I guess we’ll see if Spring Song is a fitting conclusion to this project next year, but on its own, I’d say Lost Butterfly is okay. There are a lot of things to like about it, but the movie started feeling thirty minutes longer than it actually was around the time Sakura decided to go back to Shinji. Type-Moon in general has always been bad at balancing their build-up to action ratio, and this movie is definitely not the thing to change people’s mind, especially since Shiro is still kind of “meh” as a lead character with his simplistic ideals. Take the “okay” from a person who’s not a fan of this universe for what it’s worth.
That said, the good parts of Lost Buttefly were really good without any question. I absolutely loved Alter Saber kicking more ass in one movie than regular Saber ever did in any of the other anime. It really is strange to me how the most popular character of this universe gets shafted so much (sometimes literally) because the creators of this franchise don’t know how to use her effectively, but I’ve got to say that turning her evil definitely worked in their favor. And while I can’t say I was ever really scared by anything in this film, when it was being creepy, it’s hard to not contort your body at the fact that Sakura now has blood on her teeth.
As for the characters, they’re pretty much how they always were with only the focus characters like Rider and such really shining. That said, Rin is much more likable in her sister’s route than her own one considering she’s not acting as stereotypical tsundere with a boner for the main lead in this project (and yes, I’m fully aware she popularized the twin-tailed version of that trope in the 00s). I’ve heard that Illya is supposed to be a major part of Heaven’s Feel, but her importance apparently got cut down severely in this adaptation, so it’s unknown if the third film will flesh her out or if the producers are just comfortable with us knowing she’s the true daughter of Shiro’s dead guardian as well as the new vessel for the Holy Grail. Either way, they never became really boring and that’s fine for what the movie sets out to do.
I’m not really sure if it’s right to judge each entry in the Heaven’s Feel trilogy as its own separate movie since these sorts of projects are very rarely meant to be more than glorified series with long-release dates in-between episodes. I did the same thing with the Kizumonogatari trilogy back when that was getting release in theaters, and let’s just say I need to give that entire project a new review in the future. That said, if you’re nearly two hours long, I think you deserve to at least be judged the same way most Star Wars fans judge Empire Strikes Back on its own. And on your own, no Lost Butterfly, your high barrier to entry and inconsistent adaptation choices prevent you from being one of the greatest anime movies of all-time like certain corners of the Internet say you are. But you’re definitely more deserving to be recognized as a good standalone entry as part of a much larger universe than that fucking Black Panther film.
Why? Because with this film, you actually have good action. You actually have good visuals. You actually have good management of tone. And you actually made me interested in seeing how all of this concludes. Now if only you actually had a cool pop song associated with your name.
- Were people really turned off from hearing that Heaven’s Feel has sex in it? Somewhere in his grave, Russ Meyer is laughing at the amount of lewdness in this movie.
- But which trilogy capper is going to have the best action? Spring Song or John Wick 3?
- I know some people were annoyed at me laughing at some of the dialogue, but in my defense, Aniplex’s shitty translations weren’t helping.
- So does Sakura just live a normal murder-free life in the other routes or something?