The traditional Halloween movie review is back and I wanted to try something different with an action anime I had seen at the Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival earlier this month.
Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower
劇場版 Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. presage flower 「Gekijouban Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. lost butterfly」
Duration: 120 mins.
Release Date: October 14th, 2017
Director: Tomonori Sudo
Writer: Akira Hiyama (Screenplay), Kinoko Nasu, TYPE-MOON (Original Creator),
Starring: Ayako Kawasumi (Saber), Noriaki Sugiyama (Shirou Emiya), Jouji Nakata (Kirei Kotomine), Noriko Shitaya (Sakura Matou), Kana Ueda (Rin Toosaka), Mai Kadowaki (Illyasviel von Einzbern),
Animation Production: ufotable
Fate/Stay Night is a venerable series for those who know of it. Originally starting in 2004 as a visual novel from indie video game company Type-Moon, it is an operatic story where the protagonist can join three heroines offering different routes to the finish – Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, Heaven’s Feel. What was an underground game won hardcore fans and became esoteric with every addition to the franchise over the years. This includes the many anime adaptations courtesy of animation production powerhouse ufotable (Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack). Close collaborators of Type-Moon, they have attempted to try and be faithful to the game’s story and pack in everything into a short running time. Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower is a fateful adaptation that takes on the same-titled, lesser-explored route.
Winter is descending on Fuyuki City as the nights close in and snow begins to coat the ground. Fuyuki was once devastated by a massive fire which took many lives so snow would be a welcome cover for those terrible memories but death continues to blight the place as a string of random “accidents” begin to be reported on the news complete with injuries and fatalities. Amidst the emergency something seems to be stalking the night as murders begin occurring and the way people die are spectacularly brutal and spectacularly bloody.
Thrown into this is Shirou Emiya, an earnest and honourable high schooler who was orphaned by the fire and later adopted by a mysterious man named Kiritsugu who inspired Shirou to cultivate his magic abilities. Aside from magic training, the biggest drama for Shirou is the creeping sense that Sakura Matou, a quiet and loyal friend who he has feelings for, is suffering abuse at the hands of her family. What he doesn’t realise is that he is about to be entered in a to-the-death tournament called the Holy Grail War, a conflict where each participant, a Magus, aims to attain the Holy Grail, an artefact that can grant wishes to the wielder. The route to victory for each Magus is magical combat conducted by Servants, warriors who have the spirits of great people from history and Shirou has his own Servant, a female knight named SABER, and they will duel with other Magus some of whom are downright evil…
There is a lot of lore to get through and the film doesn’t always do it as it elides some of the details of the Holy Grail War and even omits to tell the audience who everyone is as well as what Servants are – mythological figures from history such as Medusa and Hercules. Indeed, Shirou’s own servant Saber is King Arthur and how Shirou gets Saber is rushed through in a late opening credit sequence. Fortunately, enough of the situation is explained in an info dump that is accessible and even entertaining because it is delivered in a lecture from veteran magus Kirei Kotomine to Shirou via voice actor Jouji Nakata’s performance which drips with condescension and arrogance. He, like his other VA’s do well in imbuing their thinly-sketched characters with some personality even if the writing skimps on defining them more and the acting lets them down as they adopt bland poses and let’s not forget the awkward mapo tofu scene which still stands apart from everything going on…
What really caught my imagination about the film was the horror aspect of it, from the narrative where Shirou’s innocence is shattered as he enters the horrific shadow world (which probably mirrors the audience’s confusion as to what is going on) to the violence that is perpetrated which is truly gruesome as characters are put in impossible to escape conflicts that result in being called out to fight and facing tough choices in combat, the results of which see blood and gore spray across the screen and bodies dismembered. Indeed, the film is most exciting as it pitches the audience into a series of battles ever more spectacular and gory thanks to the deadliness of the Servants and the evil lurking in the hearts of Magus.
A constant threat lurking in the night comes from the the Servant, True Assassin, a dagger-wielding slender man wrapped who looks like a corpse robed in bandages and a cape who leaps around the battlefield; Berserker, a huge hulking monstrosity with a jagged club-like sword who takes up large chunks of the ground and chops down huge swathes of scenery when he swings it; the Black Shadow, an unfathomable alien presence which takes the form of a spectre that haunts Fuyuki City, floating around in silence as it seeks to consume Servants for their magical energy. Shirou has to face these otherworldly combatants and the sense of threat really emanates from these brilliantly drawn characters who bring a terrifying presence to the world thanks to their extreme physicality, inscrutable behaviour and lack of reasoning. They engage in some hectic battles with over-the-top action choreography and camera placement/movement that take advantage of different environments create breathtakingly exciting battles that bring out the personalities of the characters even more.
The film looks fantastic, with a range of tones brought out by richly detailed backgrounds capturing a range of places such as the the warmth of Shirou’s richly-furnished home, a shinto shrine shining with frost, and the darker, danker areas of a Fuyuki city such as the gothic house that the Matou’s live in, alleyways where Servants feed on innocent victims. There are characters and objects animated in 3D CG that occasionally stand out but it is easy to overlook because the general sheen of the film has a fantastical feel by the supernatural battles and the sublime colouring.
As a fan of Type-Moon’s works, I was pleased to watch the film and see it capture enough of the story to be coherent. This can be seen as a battle anime with elaborately detailed characters who are truly otherworldly and supernatural in their beauty, ugliness and skill. You can actually go into the movie with little knowledge of the franchise/story and enjoy the atmosphere and stylings of the designers and animators. I had a blast when watching it at a cinema and hope to catch the second and third instalment in the trilogy.
Thanks for reading and HAPPY HALLOWEEN.
Since starting the Halloween reviews, I have covered Nightmare Detective, Strange Circus, Shokuzai, POV: A Cursed Film, Charisma, Don’t Look Up, and Snow Woman (2016), Snow Woman (1968).