Starring Noriaki Sugiyama, Junichi Suwabe, Kana Ueda, Ayako Kawasumi, Hiroshi Kamiya, Jouji Nakata, Tomokazu Seki, Nobutoshi Kanna, Atsuko Tanaka
Directed by Yuuji Yamaguchi
I came to this film without knowing much about it. It was something of an impulse buy fueled by nothing more than a gut feeling. All I knew about the Fate/Stay Night series is that it had a blonde woman with a sword and medieval armor on its promotional art. I heard that this movie was a retelling of the original TV series with amped-up blood and violence. It sounded like a good jumping on point to see what, if anything, I’d been missing. After watching the film, I’m doubtful there’s a whole lot worth seeing in the series, but Unlimited Blade Works itself was well worth watching despite some flaws.
It has a very generic setup. Some crazy supernatural tournament is going on, and the winner gets to keep the Holy Grail as a reward. A bunch of people called magi control magical servants to battle for them. Then, surprise surprise, our poor main character Emiya gets unwittingly sucked into it and finds out that he too can use a servant and participate in the battles. It’s the same premise of a million other bland anime titles out there. Then there’s the irritable pretty girl who gradually falls in love with him despite constantly getting angry at him. It’s a tag team of the two most common anime clichés.
The rules regarding the contract between magus and servant are pretty vague. Sometimes the servants wantonly disregard orders, while at other times they are magically compelled to obey, no matter how much they try not to. I still have no idea what the Holy Grail was even supposed to do for anyone, either, and a subplot revolving around a red pendant made not even the slightest bit of sense. The film certainly could have done a better job of explaining what was happening. But considering how generic and recycled the setup and characters are, I don’t think I really wanted any more focus on the story. I’ll take a confusing, action-packed thrill ride over a tired, boring, but sensible story, thank you very much. Would it have made anything better to have a scene with Emiya learning all the rules and asking questions with wide-eyed wonder? No. I’m perfectly happy with having all that origin squeezed into the opening credits and quickly shoved aside to make room for the epic beat-downs to come.
Missed opportunities and problems with the story aside, I still had a blast watching this movie. My inner critic was noting all sorts of problems, but some older, more primal part of my mind took that critic and locked him in the basement of my brain where I couldn’t hear him. I mean, I’m almost at the end of my review and I still haven’t started bitching about the crappy CG. And you know what? I’m not going to. It was there, and it annoyed me, but it stayed mostly in the background where I managed to ignore it. Clearly my critic was thoroughly hogtied for that to happen.
Unlimited Blade Works gave me the experience I wish I had gotten from Expendables 2: an all-out assault of action that made me forget everything else. I’m not trying to rain on Stallone’s parade, because he did make a fun movie, but it didn’t unleash my inner Neanderthal the way Fate/Stay Night did. Maybe if JCVD had ripped somebody’s heart out…