Let’s do this, one last time.
What’s the Story?
Ten years after a disastrous fire erupted in Fuyuki City, the Holy Grail War has begun again. Seven Mages have been called to summon seven Servants, the spirits of heroes of legend, and now they will do battle for the all-powerful wish granting relic, the Holy Grail. Shirou Emiya has no interest in wishes, other than his own wish to become a Hero of Justice, but when he learns that the last Holy Grail War caused the fire he was lucky enough to survive as a child, he feels compelled to act. Trouble is Shirou is a pretty inept Mage and is in no way prepared for the bloodbath that is to follow, especially when an old childhood friend turns out to be a competing Master. Meanwhile something strange is making moves in the background, turning the war towards a dark outcome and what’s going on with Sakura, the girl who not so secretly loves Shirou?
The fate franchise, by this point, is a massive, complex beast, just asking someone where to start can get you several different answers (though for my money Fate/Zero is your best bet), and I’ve come to the conclusion that my favourite entries in the series are always going to be the offshoots, the prequel and the alternate universe stuff. The series that ufotable did before this film, Unlimited Blade Works, had an amazing start, before face planting in the second half. Having said all that though, Heaven’s Feel is the storyline I’ve been waiting for and, from what I know of it (I’ve done my best to avoid details of what actually happens over the years so I can appreciate this properly), this may be the one for me. This time we might get an exploration of the Rin and Sakura relationship, not to mention Shirou and Illya might have a proper conversation for once to talk about their family stuff. Heck, Shirou might even get an ending that doesn’t involve him carrying on being a self-sacrificing martyr with only the woman he loves to keep him sane (gods I hated that resolution to UBW).
Let’s talk about the film though, firstly, if you’re new to fate franchise, turn back around right now. Don’t watch this film until you’ve watched Unlimited Blade Works at least, and you’ll probably want to watch Fate/Zero if you want to get absolutely everything, but that plays into the unique nature of Fate/stay night. For those that don’t know, Fate/stay night was originally a visual novel with three distinct routes to play through the game, the routes use the same characters and locations across the same span of time, but the stories diverge at certain points to fill in new bits of back story and lore, so that while each route’s story is its own, they build on top of one another to form a complete whole. While I find that way of story telling fascinating, it does create problems in the adaptation department. Adapting one route is more than enough to fill an entire series, but adapting only one route is only giving you part of the story and if you then choose to go on and adapt another route, you’re going to be stuck rehashing several things at the beginning of the story before you hit the point were the story diverges.
That’s the problem this film faces and it never manages to quite overcome it. It does its best and, honestly, gets off to a really good start. The opening of this movie begins a year and a half before the typical events of Fate/stay night, we get to see the devolving friendship of Shirou and Shinji and how Shirou and Sakura came to know one another. It’s a good look into relationships that we know of, but haven’t really gotten the focus in past iterations of the story. Then we come to the problems, the film chooses to skip over a lot of the events from the beginning Fate/stay night (since they’ve already been animated in Unlimited Blade Works), only animating a few scenes that we need to see again or that lead into changes. Even then a lot of the early scenes cover ground we’ve seen before and the new scenes lack the emotional impact because unless you already know these characters you’re never really given a chance to invest in them.
It’s annoying because there’s a lot of stuff in this film that is really cool and interesting. The animation is jaw-droppingly beautiful and the action sequences are some of the best I’ve ever seen (the fate franchise has never looked this good before, ever). We get conversations I’ve been looking forward to for ages, but there’s no build up to them. There aren’t that many scenes of daily life and we skip over several big events and the characters reactions to them. Those have all been animated in Unlimited Blade Works, but for this story, as you watch it, it feels like your skipping steps and just bouncing from one random scene to the next. It becomes a patchwork narrative and it just doesn’t work because the story hasn’t had time to properly build up to those big moments to really make you feel, and while I enjoyed them, I didn’t enjoy them as much as I should have. The connective tissue of the story is missing. Hopefully the next film will feel more complete since by the time this film ends it’s well and truly separated from all the other versions so we won’t have to skip past anything next time.
In the end Fate/stay night Heaven’s Fell 1. Presage Flower is a film for fans, but it’s what it sets up that has me more excited than anything that happens in the film. The animation is beautiful, the fate franchise has never looked so good and the fights are electric, but when it comes to the characters there’s too much missing from the journey the characters go on. I understand why they did it, that stuff has been animated elsewhere, but without it the bigger moments in this film just don’t have the same impact. We’ll see how the next film turns out, when that eventually gets released in the UK.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.