It’s a must-see story, but there are so many animated versions of the Fate universe. What’s the best way to go?
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You can just watch it in order of release. You can start with the first anime and work your way up to the latest. Many may argue that some versions are a waste of time, or that it’s better not to watch all the episodes chronologically. Here’s my reasoning.
Fate’s story centers around the Holy Grail War. This epic battle royale sees legendary historical figures summoned by mages to fight for the Holy Grail’s wish-granting power.
Fate/Stay Night started out as a visual novel, which was an interactive story with multiple paths. The plot hinged on the choice of the player’s love interest near the beginning of the game. This resulted in a unique sequence known as a “route”, or a series of events. You can choose from Saber, Rin, or Sakura, the young mage girl. One of these three routes will be followed.
- 1. Saber: The Fate route is the easiest and defaults you to the first one.
- 2. Rin: The Unlimited Blade Works route assumes that you have already played Fate. There are even more plot twists.
- 3. Sakura: The Heaven’s Feel route. This is the last and darkest route.
You can see that anime cannot adapt to three different timelines at the same time. In 2006, “Fate/Stay Night”, a 26-episode series that adapted the Fate route and took small bits from other routes, aired. It gave fans an accessible, but well-rounded, look at the Holy Grail Wars world. But perhaps it was a little too well-rounded, as it ended up being an action-modern-fantasy-epic AND a romantic-comedy-slice-of-life-harem. Studio DEEN’s unoriginal fight scenes made this the first Fate anime. However, many people agree that it did not do the story justice.
This could also be true for the 2010 film version that ran for 105 minutes. The visual novel has more than 24 hours to play, so there’s a lot of content. This means that some of the climaxes may not feel as strong as they should. If you are interested in Fate, there is still value to these Studio DEEN animated films!
Fate/Zero predates Fate/Stay Night. It began as a light novel series, and was later adapted by Studio Ufotable into an anime series between 2011-2012. Fate/Zero, in contrast to previous entries is an excellent series! Digital post-processing uses a variety of colors and patterns of light diffusion to produce a mature spectacle with spectacular backgrounds and fight scenes. Gen Urobuchi’s original story features his unique style of tragedy. He builds up idealistic characters before destroying their dreams.
It makes perfect sense to skip 2006 and just watch Fate/Zero. Do you really want to watch 26 episodes of mediocrity when there are 25 episodes full of greatness? Is Fate/Zero not chronologically prior to Fate/Stay Night? This mind-set, as tempting as it may seem, almost contradicts the creator’s intent. Fate/Zero was a prequel created after Fate/Stay Night was made. It had to have a pre-established end that involved all characters failing in order for the battle to continue in the next entry.
This would normally result in the stakes being lower since the audience already knows what the outcome will be. But, like I said, Gen Urobuchi (aka The Urobutcher) trademark is tragedy. The irony is made worse by knowing what fates these characters will face. The fleeting moments of joy and hope they have are often accompanied by a sense of sadness when you realize that your favorite characters will face an unfair defeat. Every instance of doubt or betrayal is extremely foreboding.
Dramatic irony is a hallmark of the Ancient Greek tragedy form. Shakespearean plays such as Hamlet and Oedipus, Rex are all extensions of folk tales. This allowed audiences to have a closer connection with the characters and helped them understand the pain they experienced. Fate/Zero is the same: How can we really appreciate their struggles and not feel that they are futile? To get the best experience, I recommend that you watch the 2006 series first before Fate/Zero.
Studio Ufotable recently aired 25 episodes of an adaptation of Unlimited Blade Works. However, it is not a replacement series for 2006. As I said above, Unlimited Blade Works has plot twists that aren’t covered in Fate/Zero. UBW should be seen after Fate/Zero to get a fresh take on the original series.
Ufotable will also produce a trilogy of films based on Heaven’s Feel (beginning in 2017), which will likely also be its own thing. Heaven’s Feel is not the most accessible route in the original visual novel. I recommend that you still watch all the material before starting to prepare.
So in summary:
- Fate/Stay Night (26 Episodes – DEEN 2006) (the Unlimited Blade Works Film from 2010 is optional).
- Fate/Zero (25 episodes – Ufotable, 2011-2012)
- Fate/Stay night [Unlimited Blade Works] (25 Episodes – Ufotable 2014-2015).
- Fate/Stay night [Heaven’s Feel] (Film trilogy, Ufotable 2017 -????)