For a long time now, I’ve wanted to rant about Fate/Stay Night, but somehow it turned into one those tasks that seemed best left until some asymptotic ‘tomorrow’. At long last, however, the time has come to turn my attention to the series and give it the shredding it deserves.
The length of time it took me to even start writing this rant perhaps says something in itself about the quality of Fate/Stay Night- where Mai-Otome, Good Witch and the rest demanded to be written about with some idea of promptness, the ending Fate simply left me so apathetic that I couldn’t bring myself to bring pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) to mention it ever again. At the back of my mind, however, I knew it had to be done, that my disappointment in the series would have be collected together into a single document, no matter how long it took, or how poorly written it might turn out.
As with its fellow trainwrecks, in the early weeks, Fate seemed to be blessed with no shortage of potential. The initial Curtain Raiser had seemed full of action scenes and intriguing personalities, and it seemed only natural to want to see their full TV series glory. And indeed, as the series began, everything seemed set to fulfil our expectations. A war between seven pairs of Masters and their summoned Servants with the Holy Grail as the prize- each one a legendary hero of a different class-what better set-up for the ultimate battle royale, an emotional and tactical extravaganza beyond anything ever seen before?
Unfortunately, such was not to be the case. Even at that stage, treacherous thoughts were beginning to invade my mind. What if the first half of the series turned out to be episode upon episode of ‘attack and retreat’ to keep everyone alive until death was switched on at around episode fourteen? What if our plucky and annoying hero, Emiya Shirou, used the powers of love, friendship and plot necessity to beat his worthier and more experienced peers? What if the whole thing turned into Shirou’s Harem Diaries? As it turned out, I was right to fear these things, and worse yet, they would be only the tip of a larger iceberg.
For indeed, as the weeks went by, more and more characters of limited depth and intermittent likeability were introduced, all destined to survive until death was activated at episode twelve. By that point, however, it was hard to care about such shallow characters suddenly turning into coloured sparkles or otherwise departing the storyline, leaving the survivors to join Shirou’s growing harem. Awful CG dragons, dull harem building, black slimy tentacles, crazed and illogical mid and final bosses- Fate had them all, and it wasn’t afraid to use them. By the end, all that could be said was this- “thank god that’s over.”
Character Summaries: the lazy efficient way to rant about the story
Shirou “I want to be Justice Man!”
I have a particular dislike of the ‘typical’ short-haired cocky lead, the sort who uses their position as main character to build harems and generally circumvent the usual rules of whatever world they live in. Unfortunately, Shirou is among the worst of the lot, an irritating character who refuses to let his servant, Saber, fight, simply because she is a woman (never mind that she is an accomplished swordmaster with years more experience than him). He is also at the centre of two of the series’ worst plot devices- the sheath of Excalibur within his body that makes him practically invincible, and his special ability to create anything he can visualise in his head. The latter is particularly ridiculous- in the fight against Berserker, for example, why imagine a sword instead of a flamethrower, immobilising block of crystal, or even just a very large anvil?
Saber “Honour, loyalty, and more honour”
As a legendary servant, and the reincarnation of Arturia (King Arthur, female edition), it’s no surprise that Saber ends up by the side of the destined main character. Predictably, Saber is the staid and loyal knight of justice who eventually falls in love with Shirou but has to return to her own time before she can settle in as first wife of his harem. At one point in the game, Shirou had to sleep with her to replenish her mana, but the anime takes a creative new route by making him destroy an incredibly ugly CG dragon inside her. Not so much a dislikeable character as a predictably dull one.
Rin “I want to be the main character”
Rin is one of the few things about Fate that can actually be said to be worthy- a cool and experienced mage with a fierce intellect (and a superior character design). Unfortunately, even Rin is far from perfect- for no discernible reason, she has a soft spot for Shirou, going so far as to use a valuable magical gem to revive him, and even summoning his heroic spirit in the form of Archer. By all rights, Rin should have been the main character, but instead she is relegated to the position of harem member.
Poor Rin, she deserved better than this.
Archer “I am the bone of my sword? Can I talk to the writers?”
Rin’s servant, Archer may be archer class, but for reasons best known to the creators, he shuns the bow in favour of a pair of swords. The white-haired reincarnation of Shirou (how could anyone count such an annoying lead as a legendary hero), Archer is forced to spend most of his time off screen in invisible mode, before sacrificing himself with a Bad Engrish final attack in order to whittle down Berserker’s life count. Oddly, he is then glimpsed in a duel with Shirou in the second OP, a duel that can never come to pass in the anime. To his credit, he tries to impart some wisdom to Shirou, but his younger self refuses to listen.
Ilya “I want to sleep with Shirou-niichan!”
The series’ obligatory loli-bait, Ilya controls the ultra-strong Berserker, but always manages to get bored or call off the battle if there is any chance of her winning and defeating a main character. Her primary aim is to become first wife in Shirou’s harem.
The hulking reincarnation of Hercules, Berserker is a convenient mid-boss with twelve lives (give or take a few inconsistencies) and nothing in the way of dialogue. His lives are whittled down via Archer’s sacrifice, Rin’s jewel magic and a convenient plot device sword created by Shirou.
Lancer “Why did the writers forget about me?”
The reincarnation of an Irish hero, Lancer must be applauded for trying to kill Shirou not once, but twice (and if not for the demands of the plot, he would have succeeded). Unfortunately, for the bulk of the series, he is forced to take an extended holiday in Ireland whilst waiting for the writers to remember his existence.
Shinji “Hahahahaha!! Does that sound unbalanced enough?”
Every series needs a psychotic yet ultimately cowardly antagonist, and Shinji fills in that role for Fate until his timely demise. He’s more of a warm up to the main event than anything important in himself.
Rider “Fancy a little S&M?”
The bondage queen reincarnation of Medusa, Rider gets to dress up in her dominatrix outfit and attack the heroes with her chain whips until finally death is switched on and she becomes the first to die.
Sakura “Shirou was mine first!”
Shinji’s sister, and Shirou’s default live-in housemaid, Sakura handles the housework so that Shirou can scout new harem members. She is later revealed to actually be Rin’s long lost sister, and even gets a turn as a bondage queen under Caster’s control, but by then, there’s little reason to care.
Kuzuki “I want to be EVIL”
A teacher at Shirou’s school with pretensions to evil, Kuzuki works with Caster (although technically, he isn’t her master). Both he and his mild backstory are entirely uninteresting.
Caster “I also want to be EVIL”
The reincarnation of Medea, Caster killed her original Master, teamed up with Kuzuki, and summoned Assassin to be a frontline attacker. Despite her superior character design, she chooses to remain hooded.
Assassin “Let’s have an action scene”
Default hired muscle for the Kuzuki/Caster faction, he is more of a samurai than an assassin, and a reincarnation of a hero who is fictional even in the Fate world.
Kirei “Let’s destroy the world- come on, it’ll be fun”
At the beginning of the series, Kirei is the arbiter of the Holy Grail War (he won the last one by default, but received no prize), and the go-to guy for exposition. Since he is a priest, however, he is naturally the evil final boss of the series, who takes pleasure in capturing Ilya and using black slimy tentacles. Master of both Gilgamesh and Lancer, his goal is nothing less than to make the world more exciting by turning it into a flaming bloodbath. Who wouldn’t want to aspire to that?
Gilgamesh “Saber is mine, Saber is mine, Saber is mine…”
The leftover Archer class servant from the last Holy Grail War, Gilgamesh has exceedingly poor fashion sense, favouring Gold Piros armour and a spiky haircut. His goal is to make Saber his woman, and to that end he too forsakes the bow for any number of swords.
The curse of being an even more minor character than Lancer: The above characters may seem underdeveloped, but they are nothing compared to such personalities as Shirou’s teacher Taiga, friend Issei, or the head of the archery club- each of whom seem to have some purpose at the start, but are forced further and further off screen.
And so, at its conclusion, did Fate leave us with anything except a bitter mixture of relief and disappointment? Not really, it seems, unless one counts the money casually spent on overpriced Rin and Saber and figures. Unfortunately, the anime itself fell far short of expectations, and so, after the “True Mai-Otome” (contrary to all evidence, I am still working on this) expect “Fate/Stay Night Remix”, aka “yet another attempt to rewrite the story”.
Afterword: 6 things that are actually good about Fate/Stay Night
1. Character designs and artwork (selected characters only)
3. Selected 1/8 and 1/6 figures
4. Next episode preview music
5. Shirou getting run through with a lance (why did he have to survive?)
6. First OP, “Disillusion”