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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.

How to get Patlabor on Blu-ray without losing your shirt

One-Hundred and Eighty dollars. That’s roughly how much it costs to purchase both Patlabor films on Japanese Blu-ray from Bandai Visual and that doesn’t even include shipping and other fees you might incur. Sure the discs have English subtitles and dubbing, but $90+ per film? If that sounds like a bit much, there’s a reasonable English-friendly compromise courtesy of Proware out of Hong Kong.

Proware released Patlabor Movies 1 & 2 on Blu-ray last year. I had a chance to watch the first film, and I’ve checked out the second, and I must say the quality is rather solid. The discs are Region A coded, which means they will play in any North American Blu-ray player. Provided in a 1080p/AVC transfer framed in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, both movies look great. The clean-up work that was done is not the picture perfect remasters classic Disney films get, but the color correction is excellent and elements like film grain and visible paint strokes help give the image a nice sense of texture and a human touch. I haven’t seen a comparison to Bandai Visual’s Blu-rays, but I would not be surprised if it turned out to be the exact same encode. Anime releases in other asian countries, especially Hong Kong and Korea, tend to take the same audio and video streams from the Japanese DVDs/Blu-rays and I have a feeling that’s what we’re getting here.

The discs also includes the 5.1 Sound Renewal audio in Dolby TrueHD and a stereo Cantonese dub. Early listings for the discs indicated the English dub would be included, but that didn’t come to pass. That’s fine for me as Patlabor is a show I associate strongly with it’s Japanese cast. Speaking of, back in 1998 that cast was brought in to re-record their dialog for the surround sound mix so it’s a tiny shame that the original stereo mix isn’t included. That tends to be how these kind of releases work; in order to incorporate the Japanese video encode on a smaller Blu-ray (25GB vs. 50GB) things like additional audio tracks and special features are dropped. Sadly that keeps Proware’s releases from being as definitive as I was hoping. Can’t win ‘em all, and besides, the Japanese voice actors sound as lively as ever in the re-recorded version.

The most important part of the BDs for English speakers is the subtitles. As far as foreign English-friendly releases go I’d say these subtitles are among the best I’ve come across. I’m not entirely sure where the subtitles came from. They don’t appear to be the same as the subtitles Manga Entertainment produced years ago and I’d be surprised if Proware commissioned an original subtitle script. My guess is they copied the subtitles from Bandai Visual’s Blu-ray. There’s the occasional typo and grammatical error but my main criticism is that the timing is occasionally awkward and imprecise. However for anyone who has dealt with English translations on foreign DVD releases there are no deal-breakers to be found here. And if the subtitles are indeed an original translation then I have to hand it to Proware; this is not a turkey translation.

Oh yeah, did I mention the Patlabor movies are really good? The first film feels like an expanded and extended episode of the original Patlabor OVAs, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a well put together film that drags a little at times but is a worthy addition to the franchise. The second film however is very intelligent science fiction with themes that may resonate even deeper now than they did back in 1993. The third movie, Patlabor WXIII is… well, it is what it is but since Proware didn’t release it on BD I don’t feel any particular need to talk about it.

Proware’s Patlabor Blu-rays will run you about $25-$30 per film not including shipping. There are also no special features included, not a one. Still, getting both films for around 2/3 the cost of one of the Bandai Visual Blu-rays is a steal, especially if the video was taken right off the Japanese versions. I tend to use www.yesasia.com for importing asian releases however you can also probably find it at www.play-asia.com and www.dddhouse.com. If you’re interested, I wouldn’t dawdle. These kind of releases can go out of print at the drop of a hat and when they’re gone, they are *gone*.

Now Proware, how about releasing the spectacular looking Patlabor OVAs and TV series on Blu-ray with English subtitles? Hey, a fan can dream.