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Thoughts on Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works

Note: The second paragraph contains spoilers for the movie. I’ve colored the text for the spoilers white so it will not show up unless you highlight it.

I watched the BD for Unlimited Blade Works recently and I was surprised how much I ended up enjoying it. The first act of the film is pretty choppy. Basically it’s “ya’ll remember the Holy Grail Wars, right? Yeah? Good.” Then it kind of feels like a video game, where characters are progressing to the next level, contending with low-level enemies in order to make it to the boss. I was pretty tepid on the movie until it entered the second act and started slowing down. After that UBW started to feel like an actual movie and I was entertained.

That’s not to say there aren’t still big gaps in the narrative, such as Shiro suddenly becoming a kickass fighter with some slick moves and superhuman agility, despite continually getting his ass handed to him prior. Also, how exactly did everyone know Shiro becomes a legendary warrior? Maybe I missed something but I don’t see how they were able to determine Archer was Shiro. Getting back to Shiro’s fighting ability, I did find it very satisfying to see Shiro finally realizing his potential and actually winning fights. The TV series merely flirted with the idea but ultimately favored Shiro being a useless clod who kept getting in the way and didn’t contribute anything of real value, much to my frustration. However I didn’t care for the scenes that showed Saber looking, shall we say, compromised and submissive. I don’t remember if that was in the TV series or not but it did a real disservice, considering how strong her character is otherwise. 

Unlimited Blade Works a fine looking movie with lots of crisp detail and fluid animation. The production staff at Studio Deen was able to choreograph the fights in ways the TV series wasn’t able to and I found those scenes exciting to watch. And I’d be remiss not to mention the nice artistry of the backgrounds, particularly the surreal environment of Archer’s Noble Phantasm. I also liked the dub; it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the TV series but the cast didn’t sound like they were stumbling due to the long break and Michelle Ruff was a good replacement for Saber. Liam O’Brien and Sam Regal were solid as Archer and Shiro respectively and I rather liked “Tomokazu Seki”* as Gilgamesh. 

In all, it’s a movie with problems inherent to covering a large amount of material in a 100 minute runtime but I found myself fairly happy with what I saw when the credits rolled. It you like the Fate/Stay Night series, or better yet if you’re familiar with the game it’s based on, Unlimited Blade Works is worth the time investment. 

*The English voice actor credits on Sentai Blu-ray are a little strange. A couple of the actors in Bang Zoom’s dub decided to go uncredited so Sentai substituted the Japanese voice actors for those rolls during the English credit scroll.

Brighter Than The Dawning Blue Notes

I mainly picked up Brighter Than The Dawning Blue because of the combination of it being on sale and having “blue” in the title, because so far I’ve seen several unexpectedly good series based entirely on those two criteria. I admit, though, that I like the setup: Everyguy ends up living under the same roof with the Princess of the Moon on account of her doing a homestay with his family to improve Earth-Moon relations, since his sister is an aide for the President of Earth.

Princess Feena is saccharine sweet as a protagonist, but gets credit for being much tougher and more practical than most characters of the sort. Tatsuya is also pretty bland, but not entirely unlikable, and also is rather less of a weenie than most teenage male protagonists. (He’s also voiced by Susumu Chiba, who I like, except that I kept having to shake the feeling that I was watching Welkin from Valkyria Chronicles in high school, not helped at all by the fact that he looks a bit like a younger Gunther.)

The only memorable thing at the beginning are a few bits of unexpectedly off-kilter comedy—most notably an Aliens parody, some Indiana Jones references, and the tendency of Tatsuya’s younger sister to brain-freeze in the face of stress. Otherwise it’s mostly mushy romance with scattered bits of comedy.

The romance does get credit for coming to the front by the midpoint of the series, and for the point of it being about making a difficult relationship work rather than two awkward people avoiding each other for an entire series until finally getting together at the end.  It’s a much more interesting dynamic to me, and the series handles that end of it relatively well, albeit with a lot of sugar and a moderate amount of shallow silliness. Overall that was probably its strongest point, though.

That’s not what made it memorable, though. That was what happened after about ten episodes of wholly mediocre lightly comedic romance with a bit of sci-fi twist (spoiler): It turns out that the deadpan flying girl who’s been hanging around being mildly mysterious through the whole series is a literal ghost of the war between the Moon and Earth possessing somebody.

Wait, what?

There had been absolutely nothing supernatural up to that point, and suddenly we have a metaphor given form and shooting giant energy blasts trying to kill the main character with nothing but maybe three minutes of exposition by way of explanation. Which wasn’t even necessary to the plot, apart from an excuse for moralizing monologue. And it only lasted a single episode! I can’t honestly think of any other series I’ve seen derail itself quite that completely, that quickly, for that random of a reason.

It also throws an utterly random Deus Ex Machina into the finale, but that turned out to be a pretty good gag (and probable Crystal Skull reference), so I’ll let it slide.

Anyway, it wasn’t an embarrassingly bad show, and mixes things up at least a bit from the most generic sort of sappy romance, but it was entirely forgettable except for the bizarre detour toward the end. Not one of the best “blue”s, to be sure.

First Impression: Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

I’ve been a moderate fan of Lupin III in various forms ever since Castle of Cagliostro played a role in my becoming an anime fan back in the Streamline era, when we walked uphill to school both ways, in the snow, and the only anime we got was edited, dubbed, on VHS, and cost $35 a tape.  And we liked it.

Anyway, I just got around to watching the first couple episodes of the new Lupin III TV reboot, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (impressively, available uncut on Hulu, which is saying something for a show like this). One of the things that’s always set the Lupin III franchise apart, and kept it going so long—similar to the Bond franchise—is that it’s always changing and has never cared at all for continuity.

Even taking that into account, this series is quite a departure. There’s the fact that, as the title implies, it’s told from the perspective of, and focuses on, Fujiko, which is interesting in and of itself—she’s a less-playful character, being much more of a femme fatale than a slightly goofy superthief.  Much more notably, though, it fashions itself somewhat after the series’ earliest Monkey Punch manga roots, which was quite a bit darker than most of the later anime incarnations, and had a lot more adult content.

It also styles itself after both the manga and the general look of the era. The art looks quite a bit like the art of that early manga—lanky, of course, but very sketchy and with heavy, rough linework rather unlike anything else, period. The incredibly stylized coloring, more notably, is full of heavily stylized colors, random psychedelic patterns, and generally all sorts of flavor that hearkens back to some of the wilder animation of the late-’60s and early-’70s era that gave birth to Lupin. There have been a few anime that have done similar things, of course—older shows like Soul Taker, and more recent ones like Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei and Baka and Test—but it still has a unique look not quite like anything else and memorably retro-looking.

The combination of the very unusual linework, artistic flair, and stylized coloring gives the whole show a look rather like a Bond movie intro. Which is totally appropriate, and unlike some shows that end up drowning in their own style, or seem to be trying to hide behind their art, this one it really does seem to work well on—it sets the mood, defines the show, but still works as part of the story, and doesn’t distract from it. It also doesn’t seem to be trying to compensate for a lack of budget—it actually looks quite expensive, since the rough, ’80s-style linework still has a fairly high framerate and there’s plenty of motion and detail.

The stories are dark and colorful so far, with proper edgy flair of people who have too much and are pushing the envelope ever farther in search of something to keep life exciting.  It’s a total reboot, so it’s re-introducing the characters to each other, and the audience, and since it’s such a departure from past incarnations it’s actually sort of appreciated—it doesn’t feel at all like it’s wasting my time. Plenty of sex without seeming gratuitous, plenty of violence without it seeming like the point of it, and although the mood is dark there’s still plenty of excitement—it’s fast-paced and punchy, and there’s still a bit of levity. Plus at least a couple of huge, spectacular action scenes in the first episode.

My only real complaint is that some of the voice actors have been changed, but with some of the old cast in their 80s now, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually.  Still, Zennigata just isn’t quite Zennigata without Goro Naya’s voice, although it’s hard to complain about Koichi Yamadera as a replacement.  Kanichi Kurita’s still on board for Lupin, fortunately, and Miyuki Sawashiro is good as the new Fujiko.

I’ll reserve judgement on the series as a whole, but if nothing else it gets credit for being something that looks nothing like any other anime series out there, period, and for being a reboot of a beloved franchise that takes it in a very different direction but still feels true to the original spirit.