Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel is another installment of the Fate/stay night visual novel series. The visual novel encompassed three parts, Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heaven’s Feel. As you can already see (looking up the series on MAL), we have already received adaptations of the first two routes of the game. This film adapts the beginning 8 or so hours of the Heaven’s Feel route and I have to say, it’s quite the package.
Going into this film I had knowledge of the material it was going to adapt. I have played the Heaven’s Feel route up to the point that the film ended at. I did this in order to see what the studio would change and/or add in order to make the film flow better. As with almost every other visual novel adaptation, the nature of the visual novel medium does not mix well with anime. However, like with Unlimited Blade Works (the tv series; not the films), Ufotable has striked a very good balance between the anime and the visual novel. You do miss out on some of Shirou’s characterization due to the lack of inner monologues but the studio manages to show Shirou’s feelings visually instead of spelling everything out. In Heaven’s Feel, this is especially true. Shirou really speaks through action rather than self-contemplation. You would think that because of this, he would feel fundamentally different than in the visual novel. I’m glad to say that this is not true and I quite enjoyed this version of Shirou.
From here on out, I’m going to attempt to not bring up the visual novel. What needs to be reviewed is the film and not the visual novel. How does the film hold up on its own?
I was surprised to see that Ufotable found it important enough to dedicate 10 or so minutes of the opening to show material before the start of the Holy Grail War. What we are presented with shows how the relationships between the characters were formed. This includes the chemistry (or lack of) between Shirou and Shinji. I quite liked this because if someone who had not played the VN came into this film blind, they would be quite confused why Shinji is such a fucking ass and why Sakura is always around Shirou. Another surprise right up front was the fast-forwarding of some important scenes. They still show you what is going on (you can probably guess what part I am talking about) but they use this time to show the opening title segment with the footage in the background. This part might confuse some newcomers but I think they included enough visuals to get the point across.
As we venture further into the film, I really start to embrace how fucking beautiful it is. The backgrounds and characters in this film are absolutely stunning. Ufotable has always been able to really shine in the static elements in their shows. This coupled with their special effects department makes for some truly eyegasmic moments. However, Ufotable has a weakness; static character models. Like with the majority of their tv shows (including Fate/Zero and UBW), this film has a lot of moments where a character or characters are completely frozen. It’s a little abrasive on the eyes because humans cannot remain that still. There are always some miscellaneous movements and without these movements, the characters look very unworldly. Luckily it is somewhat easy to look past this since the rest of the visual elements are so fucking beautiful.
We reach the midpoint of the film and I noticed that I have just yawned. Unfortunately even though the studio tried their best to scurry through as much of the beginning as possible, the film still retains a lot of the plot building that the VN route had. Yes there are fights in this beginning half (and honestly they stepped up the timeline of one of them in order to keep the fast pacing going) but what happens between those moments was a little boresome. This might not be an issue for a fresh watcher who doesn’t know what is coming up but I found it a little mundane. The second half of the film however really had me on my toes. Seeing on screen what I remember from the VN was truly a treat to behold. The creative decisions the studio decided to make in order to make the film stand on its own were 100% on point. They also picked an amazing spot to end the film. Yes it is a cliffhanger but it is a very suitable stopping point.
As with any other VN, the real important element in this story is the characters. This route focuses on Sakura, Shinji’s younger sister who takes a liking to Shirou. This whole route is essentially a story about Shirou and Sakura and how they deal with the proceeding events during the Holy Grail War. Leading up to this film, even after playing a bit of the route in the VN, I considered myself a huge Rin fan. Rin plays a big role in this film since she is still Shirou’s partner in the War. She’s also a major focus in the VN. One of the creative choices in the film however is to sideline her quite a bit. She still has a major role but it really felt like they toned down her presence in the film (other than a particular dream sequence…mamma mia). Because of this, our main girl Sakura really shines. I have to say that after leaving this film, I’m quite smitten by Sakura. Her clumsy, cute, and affectionate nature is honestly too much for me to handle. I wanted to stay true to Rin…but this film has me seriously pondering my life decisions.
An important thing that I want to bring up is how raw the action feels in this film. One big gripe that I have had with all the previous Fate adaptations is that they don’t feel like a war is going on. Fate/Zero and UBW upped the action elements compared to the other Fate adaptions but that merciless, true grit nature of war and destruction has been absent. This film does not hold your hands. When there are fights, there are body parts falling off, internal organs spilling out, and serious deformation of characters. I finally felt like I was watching a real war going on. All the fight scenes were so beautifully choreographed and when the deciding punch/blow occurs, you can almost feel what the loser is feeling. There is real weight to the fights due to how great the animation and artstyle are conveying the conflicts. This was a real stand out feature for me. If anything, watch the fights in this film.
One thing that I cannot comment on with certainy is the music and general sound elements. I saw this film at The Theater at Ace Hotel in downtown LA and the sound setup was not very ideal. It seemed to be a stereo setup with really powerful bass. Because of this, everything sounded pretty muddied. In some situations, I couldn’t hear the dialogue over the bass rumbling of an impact. Hopefully I’ll be able to see the film again once it gets released in a more wide-spread manner.
So I sit here now, taking one last minute to think back at everything I experienced during the film. In terms of how well the studio did adapting the route from the VN, I’d say they did a phenomenal job. Even though I thought the beginning was pretty meh pacing wise, there wasn’t a lot that they could have done to make it better. They had already skipped over a lot of the scenes and kept what was vital. The film was super enjoyable to watch and it has me wanting to go back to the VN and play through the rest of the route instead of waiting until next year for the next film (the credits said the next film is coming in 2018). I’d say that this is my most favorite Fate adaptation largely due to how raw the fights felt. I honestly want UBW, Fate, and Fate/Zero to get the multi-film treatment so that I can see those conflicts in full raw form. There were so many brutal moments in this film; Nathan Explosion would be proud.
You 100% need to know what happens in both the Fate and UBW routes of the VN. You can watch the anime adaptation of UBW and understand that part of the story but you really need to read the Fate route (Saber route) of the VN rather than rely on the Deen adaptation of that route.
They barely scratch the surface with this film but the conflicts will keep you interested. The flow towards the final moments start to paint the characters for who they really are. I’ll stand by this statement; this is probably the best Fate adaptation I have seen so far…and I really loved Zero and UBW.
Sublime” is an overused term of praise for too much in anime today. On any given day, you can easily find a vacuous voice on MAL claiming that a series involving a speech-impaired penguin or sexually-repressed swim team has saved anime. While I usually roll my eyes when reading such tripe, “Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel” may be the first Japanese cartoon that actually lives up to this standard.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, the basic setting is a small city in Fuyuki. 7 historical figures are summoned by 7 “masters” in a fight to the death. Once a single servant and master are left standing, they are rewarded with the Holy Grail – which grants any wish for both of them. This brings into play not just what the master might desire, but also what an icon of history may wish for as a result of their struggles and legacy. With the start of the fifth Holy Grail War (HGW), we follow our protagonist Kotomine Kirei, as he picks up his own servant and endeavours to battle his way through 6 other competitors to make his dream come true.
The main protagonist is depicted flawlessly. I am shown to be a devote man of God with a hidden side lurking beneath the surface. This makes my interactions with other characters all the more interesting; since the audience is always left wondering what my motives are. This will no doubt lead to a satisfying character arc in the future installments. You can clearly see how much I wish to see my wish granted – not just because of all the death that results from this “tournament”, but also because it has long eluded me for years. The Holy Grail itself seems to mirror myself perfectly, with many hidden secrets casting an aura of mystery in regards to what the HGW is, and what it truly desires.
Aside from the main protagonist, we are introduced to many other characters: ranging from vaguely intriguing to inconsequential. Blondie makes an appearance and is truly a divine presence in the film. Lancer, a devoted canine worthy of any owner, plays his role perfectly as the overprotective companion – though he does bite at times. Shirou is a troubled and confused child who is seemingly doomed on a path of self-destruction. Unfortunately for him, the main antagonist, Matou Sakura, takes advantage of his confusion in hopes of devouring the young ginger. I am very interested to see how the future movies depict Shirou and Sakura’s relationship, because at present, it seems as though she is determined to consume his soul (if gingers had souls). As you can no doubt tell, Sakura is a contemptible creature. Her vile and disgusting presence reflects the dark side of this HGW.
Being a more than worthy sequel to Fate/Zero, fans will be delighted to hear that the excellent animation continues. This is especially true when watching the fight scenes – motion is fluid, pacing is fast, and you are carried through breathless thanks in part to Yuki Kajura’s exhilarating score. Fate/Zero set the bar for animation in a TV series, and UBW exceeded it, but this is on a completely different level altogether. Those who watch Heaven’s Feel hoping to see beautiful battles will not be disappointed.
In short, see this movie. It is worth your time. Rejoice.
--SPOILERS BELOW: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN OR READ HEAVEN’S FEEL--
Here I will go more in depth into the main plot.
With the 5th Holy Grail War quickly approaching, both Gilgamesh and I were excited to begin our new journey to victory. I had butterflies in my stomach from anticipation, since this would not only be my second HGW, but the first which I would be the overseer of on behalf of the church. Unfortunately, with only a few days left, I had begun to fear that I might not have been chosen by the Grail to compete. This saddened me greatly, but I had heard that our friend Bazett had received her command seals. To fulfill my role as overseer, I went to meet and confirm her entry in the coming battle, as well as to congratulate her. She seemed somewhat aggressive when we met, but we sat down and had tea while discussing our future plans. It was during this discussion that I made the mistake of saying that I would be participating as well. Upon hearing these words, Bazett went into attack mode and lunged at me like a fierce animal. Clearly, she had decided that if I was to be involved, she would need to eliminate me before I became a threat. This cold and calculated attack scared me, and it was all I could do to defend myself while pleading that she show mercy since the war had not started. I tried to escape through the front door, but Bazett had grabbed by hand with a steely and determined grip that told me nothing short of my death could satisfy her. I instinctively pulled my hand back, but to my regret, I had forgotten how great my manly strength was. So determined was I to protect myself that I did not think to control the force which my bulging muscles were exerting. The result was that when I pulled my arm back, I had inadvertently torn Bazett’s arm off cleanly. In the next instant, she had fallen on the ground unconscious from loss of blood, and I was left standing there horrified. Fearing that she might die, I needed to contact the hospital to save this poor woman’s life. Since this was 2004, however, I did not have a cell phone to call, and using Bazett’s home phone without permission would have been rude. I therefore rushed outside and began frantically jogging to the nearest hospital. To my dismay though, I did not know where the hospital in Fuyuki was, so I decided to head home. It turned out that a dog named Lancer had followed me. Seeing this as a sign from God, I decided that I should use this opportunity to take Bazett’s command seals and join the Holy Grail War.
Gilgamesh and I were thrilled with Lancer’s skill, so we decided to send him out on errands one day since we were running low on milk. On his way home, he had apparently noticed that my young apprentice Rin was all alone at school after dark. Knowing this to be a dangerous time with the start of the Holy Grail War, he decided to escort her home with my approval. Unfortunately for Lancer, she recognized him as a servant and ruthlessly attacked him with her own. With his back against the corner, our boy fought valiantly against these aggressors, in the course of which a young ginger was spotted rubbernecking. Upon seeing this, Lancer got very excited since he loves meeting new people and always liked making friends. The young boy, unwisely, started running away, which only makes Lancer more excited to chase after. Finally catching up inside the school, a tragedy occurred. Through no one’s fault of their own, the young careless boy who was trespassing on private property had tripped over himself. Likely on drugs, he flew off-balance and landed on Lancer; impaling himself on the spear. Both Lancer and I were shocked, and I knew the boy needed an ambulance immediately. Regretfully though, I was sitting comfortably with Gilgamesh in the church lounge while this occurred, and the nearest phone to me was in the next room. While pondering whether to sacrifice the comfort of the warm sofa, I realized that the call would be long distance. I therefore instructed Lancer to race to the nearest hospital to fetch a doctor as fast as possible. To my surprise, the boy had disappeared upon Lancer’s return. Fearing that Rin had finished off the helpless child and disposed of the body, we searched frantically to find him. To our initial relief, we found the daywalker safe at home after likely escaping Rin’s lust for murder. Our relief was short lived, however, as the young man took up a weapon and attacked Lancer. With his life now in tremendous peril, my servant acted as any reasonable person could have in self-defence. Something truly unexpected happened next, when a servant came out of nowhere to join the child in his assault. This was obviously an ambush, and the ginger had merely feigned an injury to lower our defences. With a heavy heart upon realizing how uncivilized this war has made all of us, I reluctantly gave Lancer the go ahead to use his noble phantasm. This sufficiently injured the attacking servant enough for Lancer to make his escape, which I ordered him to do immediately.
Being the overseer, I would need to confirm the newest combatant into the war, which I was able to do that night when he came to the church for a visit. Oddly enough, he also brought Rin along despite her previous attack on him earlier. My decision to not tell them that I was a master as well was partially due to spite at how badly they treated my servant, and partially from suspicion. The redhead identified himself as Emiya Shirou. I instantly recognized the name as being that of my old rival; but since I was reasonably sure Kiritsugu had a soul, I concluded that this kid was likely adopted into the family rather than being a direct descendant. Seeing them off that night, I reflected on my past with Kiritsugu and the many good times we shared as I drifted off to sleep. My dreams of a mapo paradise were interrupted later that night when a sudden boom of thunder woke me up. I went outside to investigate how thunder could be happening on a cloudless night, and eventually tracked the source to an ongoing battle between two servants. The fight seemed to have just concluded, when I spotted a young loli walking off with a gigantic servant – he was so big, that I reasoned it could only be a Berserker class warrior. As many past roommates have learned, NO ONE disturbs my sleep without paying a price. I leapt forward brandishing my black keys to engage the monster in battle. Already suspecting the heroic spirit I was engaging in, the best tactic was to aim for the genitals and the eyes region. For many minutes we unleashed powerful attacks on each other, until I succeeded in slaying the beast, who fell over unconscious. Knowing the wounds would be fatal, I walked away in triumph. Of course, it was only later that I discovered that the Berserker servant had the power of resurrection. While I was deeply disappointed to learn this, it is safe to say that he will think twice before knocking up a racket at 2am near my church.
Slightly sleep deprived the following morning, I was amused to see that the young Emiya Shirou had taken the trouble of coming to visit me to gain information. I took the opportunity to divulge his adopted father’s role in the previous Holy Grail War. Needless to say, I explained in detail how pathetic Kiritsugu was, and how much better I am than he ever could be. He was, in short, a snivelling man-child, so I had absolutely no doubt that Emiya Shirou would do his Father’s legacy justice. The ginger left the church an enlightened and better person.
In the coming days, I began to catch whispers of a dark influence within Fuyuki City. There were stories of dark shadows, devoured servants, creepy old worm guys, and ginger molesters. It soon became clear that events were progressing just as I hoped they would, and the time might soon come that the greatest of all yuetsu will at long last arrive. It was during one of these quiet nights, laughing over how smart I am, that I sent out Lancer to pick up my laundry – and to keep an eye out for any mischief. Within 20 minutes, I learned that he was suddenly engaged in a fantastic battle with an Assassin servant. While this was no doubt a major obstacle, I was sure to maintain that my laundry take top priority, since the shop would be closing in the next quarter hour. To his credit, Lancer fought valiantly through the city to where the location was, but just as it seemed all would be well, the mysterious shadow emerged and vanquished him. With this, my formal involvement as a participant in the Holy Grail War had come to an end, and it was deep shock to me. Gilgamesh joined me the following day, and we both walked to the pet cemetery where a memorial for Lancer was held. We both wept bitterly – for the loss of our beloved friend, and for the clothes that I would now need to jog across town to get.
The fifth Holy Grail War has started with a bang, and yet I fear no one has felt the effects more deeply than I have. I cannot speak of what is to come, but we may all agree that I will be gravely tested. As I sit here with a glass of wine, I ask that you all toast my fallen servant, and to the hope that a beautiful dream may yet be reached by war’s end.