Ah, the London epilogue! This was exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for when I talk about Unlimited Blade Works being ‘thorough’ last week. The original visual novel ended with Rin and Shirou accepting an invitation to the Clock Tower (the high seat of the Mage Association), but doesn’t dwell on what happens after. Their adventures in London has thus far remained predominantly in the realm of fan fiction, but has now received a coat of official paint. I approve of this addition. More Rin x Shirou is, of course, nothing to complain about, and London is to this day a remarkable place (did you know that the City of London remains its own corporate entity to this day? Fascinating). I do admit to holding a bias though; I seem to have a bit of an architecture fetish and I can be bribed to favour with a sufficient amount of old bricks. I can’t be the only person for whom medieval ruins rivaled Ponytail Rin for welcome visuals. No? Just me?
(Pretty though London was, it’s alas a reminder that Fate/stay night is still fantasy. I can’t imagine it getting this much sun in reality. And why the bagpipes? Probably to appease them rebellious Scots again (don’t hurt me Samu bagpipes are lovely).)
Even in epilogues, ufotable has an action quota
Aside from the somewhat out of place fight between Rin and her comic relief rival Luviagelita Edelfelt (Itou Shizuka), whom you’ll see more of in Prisma Illya next season, this epilogue served as a good way to wind down the rather messy conclusion to last’s week’s action (how did Archer come back? Don’t ask me). Almost obligatory is the where are they now segment, which at least assures us of who is still alive (yes, Shinji is too. If it makes you feel better, he’s mellowed out now). And as has been routine in UBW, Fate/Zero also gets mention, though I must say that this version of manly-but-long-haired Waver will never not be weird.
These kinds of loose ends need to be wrapped up before we can have a ‘happily ever after’. Which is why even Saber, the once and future king, needs a special appearance. Hopefully she sleeps content on the isle of Avalon. That said, the connection between Glastonbury and Avalon is likely the result of fraud meant to attract more pilgrims to the abbey, but that’s a different piece of cynicism for another day. Just enjoy the mood, okay?
The main question that pervades this epilogue and, indeed, most of UBW is still whether Shirou, as he is now, will still end up as bitter as twisted as Archer was. The conclusion that is reached in the end seems to be, quite confidently, no. Yes, Shirou will keep living by his ideals. Yes, those same ideals led Archer to a Bad End. But Shirou has more perspective now (fighting your future self would tend to do that, I suppose) and knows fully what he’s getting into. More importantly, he’s got a Tohsaka Rin now. Aw, that’s heartwarming. They’re a cute couple.
And hopefully, a happy ending for them means a happy ending for Archer too.
Epilogue (of the Epilogue):
I may have mentioned before that of the three routes of the Fate/stay night visual novel, Unlimited Blade Works is often considered the ‘action route’, and is quite popular as such. It is in many ways the ‘height’ of the general F/SN arc and Shirou’s coming-of-age story. Fate was about Shirou searching for his ideal and had to spend a lot of time setting things up, so it’s UBW, about Shirou living his ideal, that really gets the ball rolling. As you shall see when the movie comes out, Heaven’s Feel will be about Shirou abandoning his ideal, and will take a darker turn. It’s still plenty epic in its own right, though, and arguably writer Nasu Kinoko’s true form, so look forward to it.
Coming back to UBW, I would say that I am generally satisfied with this adaptation. Having read UBW before the anime is obviously not going to have as much of an impact on me. The first time, with all the twists and turns of the plot still unknown, leaves the strongest impression. All the ufotable-anime-only viewers are welcome to express their own unvarnished visions in the comments. I, on the other hand, will be focusing less on the substance of the story and more on the mechanics of how ufotable adapted it. I do this rant on adaptations often, and those who’ve read some variation of it before will have to forgive me. So much of anime is adaptation these days that it’s hard not to have to address this topic regularly.
Too often anime fans, or rather fans of anything at all, confuse an adaptation with a transliteration. What do I mean by that? Well, one hears horror stories about light novel aficionados following an anime adaptation of their favoured book of the month with the text in their hand, comparing each and every line, and throwing virtual fits if the anime deviates in any way. That’s a bit of an extreme example, but the idea is that there are some fervent purists out there. Some think that an anime adaptation of a text is simply taking the words and putting them to sound and picture. That the original novel or manga or whatever is a script to be dutifully followed in animation.
Any half-decent screenwriter tell you that’s 1) bad 2) impossible.
I don’t remember how many words of text Fate/stay night is weighed in, but even if a picture is worth a thousand words (a loose equivalence) one is going to go broke just buying canvas. Nasu gets very wordy at times, everybody gets a monologue, and the complex mechanics of his world were bought with sacrifices on the altar of exposition. An episode of anime, on the other hand, is merely 23 or so minutes. How much can you even read in 23 minutes, let alone say on screen? Fate/stay night is already a visual novel, already having pictures and music, but some extra compression is still going to be required.
As such, I consider episode 20, in particular the second half with the insert song, to be the strongest of the series. It reinterprets the visual novel into the anime medium, taking a very abstract concept, about the beauty of the ideal and blah, and really running with it. I wish they did more of that. There are still several points in the adaptation where it feels like people are talking a bit too much, and maybe some trimming was in order. Perhaps the staff as well as they could, given the material. This is still, by far, the superior anime adaptation of UBW, though when the competition is really just the movie and snippets of the Deen anime that’s not the highest praise. Ufotable got 25 full episodes to play with, after all, and time is a tremendous resources for any story. So it’s no wonder this version tells it the best. But it also manages to be very shiny in action scenes, and is confident enough to add relevant anime-original material (extra backstory for some characters, this very epilogue). That is, one can certainly see the effort (and money) that was put into this production, which is to its credit.
I think ufotable’s adaptation will stand as the definitive Fate/stay night anime for some time. I’ll even call it a suitable substitute for reading the visual novel, if pressed. Sure, it’s not going to be the same but that should never be the purpose of an adaptation. As Shirou might say, it’s about the idea. And I think ufotable’s version is as close to Unlimited Blade Works‘s ideal animated form as we’re going to get. They might not have always been successful, but they sure did try, and the result was beautiful in the end.