Determined not to let the past slip only into tragedy, Shiro was determined to become a hero of justice. Not because of a pre-ordained path, but because his misfortune has left him with the strength of spirit and the obligation to do so. Stripped of his command seals and bereft of Saber, both stolen by the rogue Servant Caster, this new loss binds him to his self-constructed fate a second time as he and Rin Tohsaka escape Caster’s clutches, leaving Saber imprisoned and Archer a deferent to the enemy, a sycophant to her power to bend all servants to her will. Master or not, Shiro is loyalty-bound to Rin, and she to him, in the melee of the fifth Holy Grail War. And his duty to save all from suffering is threatened by Caster, as she lays claim to Saber by breaking down her body and heart in enslavement.
In each clash of faith and blade, in verdant forest or surrounded by the concrete and glass of the city, the animation stuns, sometimes photorealistic with the stylised characters like spirits overlaid. Every beautiful battle, more like a dance than brutality, is a torrent of sacrifice, the loss of conviction, friends and comrades on either side of the war, save for Gilgamesh who remains static and lacklustre in spouting his misanthropic spiel. Even his Master, the spiteful Shinji, gains a new lease of empathy in Gilgamesh’s inevitable betrayal. This arc is one that sees unlikely characters bonded with each other and the audience as the final battle splices three conflicts, and the complexities of established relationships blooming in shared loss. Rin and Shiro finally stand on common ground and become all the closer for it. Sitting back to back under the night sky, they share their grief as abandoned Masters, Rin looking out over the city so Shiro can’t see her crestfallen expression, in an act simultaneously intimate yet defensive.
Both in such gentle stillness and the snap reactions of combat which often overlap, juxtaposed in the bloodshed and destruction with an artistic touch like blossom in pooling blood, Unlimited Blade Works proves itself the visually-inclined darling of studio ufotable, whose oeuvre champions the stylish underdogs in Tales of Zestiria and God Eater. Nourished by the studio’s enthusiasm for the hidden potential of a series, brought to the surface in outstanding direction, Fate/stay night has become their jewel in the crown, and a free and easy contender to any of its shonen rivals.
For our review of Part 1, click here.
Extras: English dub; clean opening/closing animation