“II. lost butterfly”
Before Nasu Kinoko wrote Fate/Stay Night, he wrote Tsukihime. In that visual novel, a significant portion of it was spent on the protagonist being confined to bed, dreaming about how someone who may or may not be him him may or may not be sneaking out at night to possibly kill things that may or may not be people. That is, not very much happens and when things do happen we couldn’t be sure it was happening. Fun. This seems to be the way that Nasu ‘Unnecessarily Complicated’ Kinoko likes to write, because when he got around to writing Heaven’s Feel he basically did the same thing again. The second act of Heaven’s Feel was slow by design. This works in text — our protagonist needs time to sink into paranoia and wrestle with philosophy, plus it’s easy for readers to blast through large chunks of text very quickly — but it probably wouldn’t play well on film. Thus lost butterfly does things decidedly differently. It de-emphasises the ‘Emiya Shirou contemplates his navel’ segments (while adding extra imagery), and heavily hypes the fights. The end reasult is that the script is a bit choppy but there’s a lot more there to distract us from noticing. In the visual novel, Berserker vs Saber Alter was a simple one-sided stomp because the dark side gives you infinite mana. In the movie it’s still a stomp, but whoa! Whoa! Whoa! If the only thing you remember about lost butterfly is pretty purple explosions I honestly don’t blame you. Say what you want about the Fate franchise, but it’s definitely got the prettiest magical kabooms in the business. Unfortunately, though the shiny doesn’t really contribute much in terms of substance. As far as the plot is concerned there is only one central takeaway from these 2 hours of anime. This is the part of the story where Sakura eats everybody.
In the various Type Moon popularity polls Sakura consistently placed behind the heroine of the other two F/SN routes, Saber and Rin. It’s easy to understand why. Saber and Rin are, for the most part, purely likeable characters. This is not just on a subjective level; in the context of the story they are there to be liked without controversy or reservation. I mean, they’re the good guys. Saber is an actual knight in shining armour, and even when she turns heel her version of evil is sexy. As for Rin, she’s always been positively swashbuckling. Even in Heaven’s Feel, Sakura’s route, Rin’s a big damn hero. In contrast, Sakura’s not really one of the good guys. Less time is spent making us like her than making us feel sorry for her. Sakura’s a big woobie. She suffers the most horrific abuse. She has the Little Sisters vision from Bioshock. We have Shinji in close proximity for us to freely hate. But by Sakura’s own admission, she’s not a good person. Just going by cardinal sins, she checks of lust, envy, and gluttony right of the bat. And let’s not forget the fact that she’s an actual eldritch abomination who’s going to kill everything.
I think it’s telling that both Fate/ stay night and Saya no Uta were written at around the same time. You do you, Japan.
Despite all the antipathy we may feel towards Zouken (who’s one thing I didn’t need ufotable to visually spice), I still must begrudgingly admit that killing Sakura is the right call. It’s one unfortunate purple girl weighed against the extinction of all mankind, and The Wrath of Khan taught me long ago how to solve that equation. Killing one to prevent genocide is a rational choice. But this is Emiya Shirou, hero of justice we’re talking about, and he’s never had much use for rationality. This is something from the visual novels that the anime adaptations don’t really engage with properly: Shirou is insane. The ideals he lives by, wishing to save everybody, are impossible, yet they rigidly rule his thinking. So of course he’s not able to do the deed; Shirou is fundamentally incapable to rationalising sacrificing the few to save the many. To do so would break him. What Heaven’s Feel does is push Shirou’s insanity to the limit. In Sakura is someone who’s gone too far to be saved and perhaps for the good of humanity shouldn’t be saved. But he’s going out of his way to save her anyway.
Of course, siding with Matou Sakura, enemy of all mankind isn’t a good look for an aspiring hero of justice. So I guess he’s replacing his old insanity with a new one: that madness we call love. His decision isn’t irrational, per se (‘Just because you’re correct doesn’t mean you’re right!’); he’s just chosen to value Sakura over everything else that lives. Which is… romantic, I guess? I guess it’s good that the two are crazy for each other.