Anime Reviews: Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel - I. Presage Flower
Some Basic Information About This Long-Awaited Film
Title: Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel - I. Presage Flower a.k.a. Gekijouban: Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel
Film Length: 120 mins.
Release Date: 10/14/2017
Age Rating: 15+ (strong violence, mild language, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Shirou Emiya, adopted son of the late Kiritsugu Emiya, has always strived to be someone who can help others--a hero of justice to defend the innocent and right the wrongs of this world. That opportunity comes to him in the form of the 5th Holy Grail War--a battle royale in which seven Masters, Mages chosen by the Holy Grail, fight alongside seven Servants, powerful figures from myth and legend, until one pair is left standing. Because his original home was burnt to the ground by the aftermath of the previous Holy Grail War, Shirou resolves to participate and prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Unfortunately, mysterious incidents affecting dozens of Fuyuki City's citizens begin to occur, and Shirou fears that his underclassman and burgeoning crush, Sakura Matou, might be in danger as well. To top it all off, a looming, ominous shadow--frightfully similar to the one from Shirou's recurring nightmares--seems to be at the heart of these dreadful occurrences. Can Shirou live up to his dream of becoming a hero, or will the weight of cruel reality crush his dream like an insect?
The Good: Gorgeous art direction and animation; judicious use of "show, don't tell" philosophy; thrilling and exciting for fans of the story from the visual novel...
The Bad: ...and incomprehensible gobbledygook to everyone else
The Ugly: Now I really want some mapo tofu...
So, why was I excited for this, exactly?
I've gone on record plenty of times across the internet about my relationship with the Fate franchise--Fate/Zero is the best damn thing in it bar none, Fate/Stay Night is a mixed bag written by a crazy person, and everything else is entirely irrelevant--and ufotable's recent adaptations provided a neat excuse to dredge up these opinions yet again. While their Unlimited Blade Works TV series was far and away better than the original visual novel incarnation, it was still nowhere near a perfect series. Because of their tendency to make the adaptations superior to the originals, I had high hopes for ufotable's Heaven's Feel film trilogy. I mean, I still do. It's not over yet. But given that these films cover the only legitimately good route of the visual novel, it's only natural that I be excited. Was my excitement rewarded? Let's find out.
How does the film live up to the hype?
First of all, ufotable have done it again, with regards to delivering a beautifully atmospheric feast of visual splendor. It's not quite at Akira-levels of baby's-bottom smooth animation, but given that it's just one part of a larger project, I'll count it as a win. The usual moody lighting and evocative color choices ufotable are known for are out in full force with Presage Flower, and they truly elevate even the most mundane of scenes. Gotta give props to the cinematography, too--they found a lot of really creative angles and camera movements to inject into many scenes, and it makes the action set-pieces a real treat. Speaking of which, there's a lot of action in this movie, and it's worth seeing just for those scenes alone.
Audio-wise, the film is no slouch. I've always maintained that one of the biggest things right with the Fate/Stay Night visual novel was its top-shelf voice acting, and much of the same crew brings their winning performances to the adaptation. I don't think I'll ever get tired of Jouji Nakata's portrayal of Kirei Kotomine, his baritone is just so sexy! And musically, Yuki Kajiura makes a comeback to the Fate franchise, whipping up a thrilling blend of symphonic string sections and roaring guitars and eerie synths she so loves to weave together, adding a lot of character and foreboding to the proceedings. Always good to hear new stuff from her, if you ask me. We also get a nice, soulful pop ballad courtesy of Aimer for the ending credits, and she is also a returning figure I am more than happy to see again.
Another facet of the film I found greatly enjoyable is its adherence to the classic filmmaking mantra of "show, don't tell." Anime is often notorious for breaking this adage--even my baby, Fate/Zero, is frequently guilty of this grave sin--but there are many subtle little moments present in the film that clue you in to what's going on behind the curtain, and I always appreciate that. In particular, the scene where Sakura sees the red marks on the back of Shirou's left hand can be interpreted several ways and I love that kind of thing. And Shinji's bizarre, changing behavior towards Shirou is left largely to your own conclusions as well. Too bad a lot of this fun deductive stuff is gone when you already know the story, but it's a treat for newbies...one of very few the film offers them. More on that later!
But for those of us familiar with the source material, Presage Flower is a thrill ride that takes some of the best moments from the early portion of the story and turns them into a marvelous spectacle that kept my eyes glued to the screen. And not only that, the less-is-more directing style, to me, vastly improved the characters' personalities, just as the Unlimited Blade Works TV series did. There wasn't even a single moment where I wanted to strangle Taiga with her own intestines! But to finally see scenes like Lancer vs. Assassin and the legendary mapo tofu meme animated so lovingly is a joy in and of itself, and fans of the source material will find great enjoyment in this film.
Where does this adaptation fail to impress?
So, umm...remember how I said I'd get back to how the film doesn't toss newbies very many bones? That's because, even as a film trilogy, they had to cut a lot of stuff. Hell, Shirou's initial deadly run-in with Lancer through his summoning of Saber and the consequent encounter with Archer are all shown merely as an opening credits montage nearly 30 minutes into the movie. Anyone not already familiar with Fate/Stay Night's not gonna know what the hell's going on, and the film blazing right past the rules of the Holy Grail War, how Command Seals work, the nature of the Servants, etc. is just going to leave them dazed and confused.
I mean, it's already a two-hour movie, so adding all that exposition back in would make the film a little too unwieldy, but it's Persona 4: The Golden Animation all over again! You can't just skip around a bunch of story content and not get away with it--I am going to call you out on it! It may be more convenient this way for people who've already ridden the bus, but at least extend some kind of olive branch for the new arrivals!
Also, Berserker is mostly rendered in 3D and he looks kinda weird at times. I don't have anything else to add to that, it's just a nitpick.
So, will there be hype for the sequels?
You'd better believe it. Presage Flower didn't end at the moment I was expecting it to, which is fine, but I think I know where the upcoming second film, Lost Butterfly, is going to end, and if I'm right, it will be a must-watch film based purely on that. But even so, I love the story of Heaven's Feel, and even if it's going to be compressed like it has been, I am gonna ride this train all the way to the end, baby! And if you're a Fate/Stay Night fan, you're probably already on-board with me, and we're gonna see some crazy stuff in the next few years--crazy stuff we've been longing to see animated with almost seductive glee. And it will be glorious.
Final Score: 8 out of 10. While those unfamiliar with Fate/Stay Night will be utterly lost and frustrated by the film's cherry-picked narrative, fans of the visual novel will no doubt delight in seeing this route come to life in such loving visual splendor at long last.