If you haven't seen any episodes from the Fate / Stay Night series, you'll probably need a Wikipedia primer like I did to make sense of what's going on. The 2010 film from Studio Deen (Vampire Knight, Higurashi) is both dense and elliptical with a great deal of backstory for the ongoing battles between Masters in something called the Holy Grail War. Unlimited Bladeworks makes a token attempt at laying out the overall premise of the series, but for the most part it's much too busy whizzing through a plot that introduces characters just before killing them off (often brutally).
It's a lot to take in and you might get a little lost without a scorecard, but let's give it a try, why don't we?
Our hero is Kiritsugu Emiya, a high school student who unwittingly unwittingly stumbles into the middle of a violent conflict between Masters or magi (essentially human summoners) who use their Servants to fight it out for the right to win the Holy Grail, a chalice which grants wishes. Unlimited Bladeworks draws attention to how previous contests occurred infrequently over the centuries while this one seems to have been moved up by outside factors. Add to this the fact that normally there are typically only seven magi and their accompanying Servants while this battle's number fluctuates beyond that number and it's clear something funny is going on here.
The tension of the series is whether Emiya can remain the good and just man he set out to be when he was younger, and for him that means saving lives wherever he can (something that's kind of tough to do when there are six other people out there trying to kill you). His Servant is the ultra-serious Saber, one of the most powerful of the lot, apparently.
Fleshing out the side of the heroes is Rin T?saka, another magi and Emiya's classmate who's more responsible for his participation in the Holy Grail War than she lets on at first and her Servant, Archer, whose true identity is one of the major mysteries at the heart of the series and the feature itself. Oh, and he does not care much for Shiro and is willing to change sides when circumstances suit him. What's Rin's plan if the contest is down to just her and Shiro? Would she kill him to win the Grail? I don't think this is ever addressed in the movie, but maybe it came up during the series.
At this point, I'm at a loss to delineate the rest of the murderer's row of Masters and their Servants who make up the rest of the cast or even what all of them want. Essentially, it's a series of shifting alliances, some expected, others unexpected, as they each try to hack away at one another and win the prize.
The powers of the Servants and their Masters are generally very inventive and violently executed. Make no mistake: this is a bloody, bloody film, and the innocuous, almost lighthearted opening is very contrary to how brutal it actually gets in its relatively brief running time. As soon as you get used to a new player in the conflict, they're probably going to die, and horribly.
I'm now really curious about the series having seen the feature, especially since it's clear that the plot and the characters' relationships will be a lot more coherent and easy to follow with the tons of background. Because coming in blind as I did, Unlimited Bladeworks might be a little bit of a challenge to follow.
Audio and video
Sentai/Section 23 puts out a nice disc, and this one is no exception. The colors are crisp, clear, and vibrant, the image striking and colorful.
Both the English and Japanese tracks are DTS 5.1 and both are pretty rich in terms of circulating sound around your room.
Fate / Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD.
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