There is a war going on between masters and servants in order to attain the Holy Grail. Each master can call up one servant each, and their task is to eradicate the other servants, either by defeating them or killing their master. When there is only one master or servant left, he or she is granted the Holy Grail, and any wish they desire will come true.
After being attacked and killed by a servant, Shirou Emiya is revived by one of his classmates, who is also a participant of the Holy Grail war. When the attacker learns of this, he pays his earlier victim a visit to finish the job again. It is then that Shirou accidentally summons his own servant, a girl named Saber. This is the story about how Shirou is involved in the Holy Grail war.
To get the admissions out of the way immediately: while I'm somewhat familiar with the concept of visual novel games, I've tried very few of them, none of them being Type-Moon games. While they've made more than the two I'm about to mention, Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night are probably Type-Moon's best known works, as both have had anime series made for them.
Whether these shows have been made for the sake of the fans of the game or not is a nice idea in general, but only if you discount the fact that it'll also very likely alienate the same fans who preferred one of the alternate routes in the game. As it is, Fate/Stay Night provides a fairly solid story based on one of the routes in the game (mostly, but not limited completely to, the original Fate storyline for any fans of the game who might be curious).
From what I can see, the art style is a pretty good adaptation of the game's artwork, and the animation is, if not blindingly impressive, at least pretty damn good. And the show being somewhat battle-intensive at times, that just makes it all the better. The only hiccup in the visual quality department is a 3D CG scene somewhere in the middle of the show that just looks godawful. It's a short scene, though, so even if it stuck out like a sore thumb, the shortness of it can and will make it easier to just forget it ever happened. The music is generally quite adept at setting the mood, even if it might be somewhat forgettable. And lastly, the English voice acting also easily adheres to the standards of a well-made dub.
At its roots, Fate/Stay Night is a story about the teenagers and the war they get involved in, but the anime is really more about the war itself and the servants who take part in it. Even the masters may also take part in the battles themselves, depending on their magical skills. To become a master, you have to possess a certain skill and be able to use magic. Added to that is the fact that each of the servants are basically spirits from heroes, each of which come with a certain special attack, known as "Noble Phantasms". Of course, it's worth noting that being of the "lawful" and/or "good" alignment is no prerequisite for becoming a master. And while the wars are generally fought on behalf of the masters, the servants themselves also fight for their own causes. We might not learn which causes each of the servants have, although in some of those cases, they may be born from regrets the servants had from when they were real human beings.
In the middle of all this stands Shirou Emiya, the guy who eventually (and accidentally) summons the most coveted of servants: Saber. Unlike the other masters (or, well... most of them anyway), he seems to have no clue what he's actually doing. His own minor skill is based around the ability called "Reinforcement", which allows him to create power lines of sorts, and the beginning of the show sees him use those abilities to... repair electronic devices. We quickly learn that his father had taken part in the last guild war, which lead to an entire town being completely destroyed. This has instilled a huge pacifistic streak in Shirou, which will eventually develop into somewhat of a problem once it's clear that he will be taking part in said war himself.
And while all this might be a reason not to hold his actions too much against him, it nevertheless needs to be said: Shirou Emiya is a complete idiot. In most of the first half of the show, he shows a remarkable ability to get himself into trouble while knowing his actions aren't exactly the smartest courses to take. He also spends most of the show refusing to let Saber fight, citing that "girls shouldn't fight", even if it's just a badly veiled excuse for the fact that he's aware that he can't supply her with mana. Mostly, he'll try to talk sense into the other masters, even when they've basically made it very clear that they've chosen to kill him just to make it easier for themselves. It'll take an enormous amount of anger, headslaps and derisive words from the others before he learns, most of which comes from Saber herself, but also his newly acquired partner, Rin Tohsaka.
I liked Rin from the moment I saw her. She's direct, blunt and generally takes a no-nonsense attitude to the whole war (and probably just about anything else) and, unlike most of the other masters, she's an able-bodied sorceress. She did gain a bit of a reputation for being an ice queen at school, which isn't a very accurate assessment of her personality in general. She might be an intimidating prescense to face even for casual conversation, but she's not really dismissive or emotionally cold. She does come from a well-to-do family, though, which may or may not account for her schoolmates' views of the girl herself.
Her servant, however, might come across as quite a lot colder. While Rin originally wanted Saber herself for a servant, the person she ended up with was Archer: a white-haired man clad almost completely in red. In the anime, he takes a great dislike to Shirou and his pacifistic attitude to the war, and wastes no opportunity reminding him about it. Like the other servants, he's based on a great hero, but due to various circumstances, we never learn about who that is in the anime. Which is a shame, because his secret identity actually plays a rather large part in his personality, actions and opinions.
There're also numerous other, more minor characters in the show. There's Taiga, Shirou's homeroom teacher, and another of the characters I didn't really like much. She constantly drops by Shirou's home to mooch food and generally boss Shirou around. Naturally, she didn't take lightly to either Saber's or Rin's moving in with the guy, but both of those scenes were delightfully settled by Saber completely outclassing her in a boken duel and Rin basically talking around her head (which, admittedly, isn't a hard thing to do). Then we have Sakura Matou, who drops by the Emiya estate to do the cleaning and cooking on Shirou's behest; which is a rather obvious sign that she's crushing on the guy. Sakura also has a brother in the exploitative and scheming Shinji. He's the captain of the archery team, and generally sticks around to take advantage of Shirou's patented shonen kindness and otherwise act like a smarmy bastard. And the last of the main characters can be found in the young aristocrat Illyasviel von Einzbern. When I say "young", I basically mean to say that she's a little girl. Despite this, however, she's the second of the two masters who are capable of doing actual magic, and her first appearance is done in the company of her servant: Berserker, a huge lumbering giant.
The story of Fate/Stay Night is deceptively simple, but it's the many events that make the show a little bit more complex than it might seem like. Naturally, the meat-and-gravy parts are generally related to the battles the players will have to engage in during the war. But Fate/Stay Night also seems to relish keeping -- and eventually revealing -- secrets. Expect a lot of "the truth isn't quite like it seems at first" scenes to pop in every now and then, especially as the show draws to a close. Allignment shifts are almost a given during the many face-offs, some of which might come across as more ridiculous than the others.
In another note, the battles are generally nice to look at. Most of them are actual physical combat, and since we are talking about characters that generally adhere to their given summoning names -- Saber, Archer, Lancer, Assassin -- battles do take on different flairs from time to time. There are a few cases of "my schwarz is bigger than yours" kamehameha
Fights, secrets, plots -- it's enough of either in here to make most people happy, I should think. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Naturally, there'll be violence, even a little bit bloody one. The redstuffs doesn't splatter all over the place, though, but viewer caution is recommended. There's also some darker imagery regarding a shield of some sort meant to drain students of mana, which has.... bad consequences for a local school. In other words, nothing too excessive.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Fate/stay night © 2006 TYPE-MOON / Fate Project
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