Review for Fate/Stay Night: Volume 4
Ten years previously, a secret war over the possession of the Holy Grail raged between mages and the powerful servants they had summoned. It was a conflict that laid waste to Fuyuki City, and the sole survivor, Shirou was rescued by a mage and adopted as a son. Shirou Emiya has an instinctive rapport with machines, and can sense how things are supposed to fit together, but before his father died, he was told that he had no magical talent at all. Having inherited the Emiya estate, he now lives alone, and goes to high school in New Fuyuki, but his past has left a mark on him. His ambition is to help people, and become a champion of justice. He's unprepared for the havoc that is to come. New Fuyuki will be the battleground for a new Holy Grail War, as seven mages will draw forth their servants and clash. He's also unprepared for the fact that he will be one of the mages, and he's totally unready for summoning the most powerful servant of them all, a cute girl named Saber. Now it's up to him to prevent the destruction that previously devastated his home.
The next four episodes of Fate/Stay Night are presented on this MVM disc.
13. Winter Castle
When last we left Fate/Stay Night, Saber had been battling Rider, but when Shirou showed up, she had to unleash her Noble Phantasm ability to protect him. The expenditure of power left her unconscious, and now, as she's showing no sign of waking up, Shirou is worried. Tohsaka bluntly informs him that without a source of mana, Saber may never wake up, and may even just disappear. The problem is that getting mana means ordering Saber to attack innocents and harvest their souls, something that he flat out refuses to do, while he lacks the magical ability to supply mana directly. Lost in thought, he wanders into the park again, and once again he meets Illya. But this time Illya is in no mood to be a little sister, she's seen an opportunity and she's taking it.
14. The End of the Ideal
Saber is determined to rescue Shirou, and Rin Tohsaka decides to help her against Archer's better judgement. The three of them head off to Illya's castle, but you know it's going to be a trap. Rescuing Shirou is the easy part, getting out past Illya and her Servant Berserker is going to cost them dearly.
15. The Twelve Trials
Rin has a plan as always, and finding refuge in some ruins allows them enough respite to prepare. The way she is now, Saber is ill equipped to survive, let alone fight, but Rin knows of a magical rite that will transplant some of Shirou's innate magical ability into Saber, allowing her to replenish mana at will. It will mean a degree of intimacy that the two aren't prepared for, but they need Saber at full power if they are to spring Rin's trap when Illya and Berserker catch up to them.
16. The Sword of Promised Victory
The battle goes badly, even though Shirou refuses to let Saber use her Noble Phantasm lest she burns herself out again. Even as Rin faces certain death, Shirou remembers Archer's words to him, to concentrate on his true strengths, and to believe in himself. His strength is visualisation, the ability to conjure objects at will, and if he believes in himself, he can produce a weapon that Saber is ideally suited to wield. As he begins to visualise, as sword begins to form, and not just any sword; Shirou recreates the legendary Caliburn.
Fate/Stay Night gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. It's an NTSC-PAL standards conversion of course, but it's the best one that I have seen in a long time. The animation is smooth, there's certainly no ghosting, judder, or problems with aliasing, despite all the dark scenes and well defined edges. In fact the only indication of a conversion that I can spot is an overall but not excessive softness to the image. The anime is impressive, well animated, with good, memorable character designs, a pleasant world design, and fluid and energetic motion.
We have just the basics for the audio, with DD 2.0 English and Japanese soundtracks, with optional translated subtitles or signs. The dialogue is clear in both versions, although I must state that I found the dub to be surprisingly inferior given the current state of anime dubbing in the US. It's been a long time since I watched a dubbed anime that actually sounded cartoonish, and it was a shame to see this particular blast from the past. The music itself is fairly innocuous and forgettable, despite Kenji Kawai's name over the end credits. There is a hint of Vampire Princess Miyu in the opening credits theme, otherwise the music just didn't register with me.
It's your usual anime disc treatment, with animated menus and a jacket picture for when the disc isn't spinning.
This time, we just get the new opening sequence sans text, a music video clip for that same new opening theme, and the trailers on this disc are for the Gravitation OVA, and Manga's X: The Movie.
Now that's better. Fate/Stay Night has wandered the middle of the road in terms of its story and its characters, which is great for people who look for something familiar and comfortable from their anime entertainment, but is a bit of a pain to write about. It's been hard for me to come up with something a little more informative than just 'more of the same'. This time around Fate/Stay Night does offer a little more than just 'more of the same', or rather it offers less. The first three volumes gave us a blend of drama and comedy, balancing on one hand the mage wars and the battle for the Holy Grail, and on the other hand a typical harem style romantic comedy. But at the end of the previous volume, things got serious when Shirou and Saber had to deal with Shinji and Rider. Rather than manoeuvring against each other like a chess game as they had been previously, this turned out to be a battle to the death. That serious tone continues and even deepens in this volume. There's not a lot of harem style romantic comedy to be had here, and Fate/Stay Night is all the better for it.
Of course the big revelation of this disc is Saber's true identity. I've hinted at that already so I'll avoid further spoilers, but it certainly adds to the show's interest levels, and gives even more meaning to her desire for the Holy Grail. While the previous volume was all about Rider and Shinji, this time it's Illya and Berserker, and it quickly becomes apparent that her cute little sister act from the previous volume was little more than just that, an act. When she returns this time, she's quick to take advantage of Saber's ill health, and kidnaps Shirou. She's following her grandfather's dictates, and fighting the Mage Wars for keeps, but there is still enough of the little girl in her to want affection, and to be liked. It's why she tries to convince Shirou to side with her, and when he rebuffs her, she throws something of a tantrum. With Berserker to act out her wishes, it's a painful tantrum for those at the receiving end.
Another interesting character development here is Rin Tohsaka, who for all her professed ruthlessness, and determination to win the Grail, decides instead to help Saber rescue Shirou. It could be enlightened self-interest, the need for a partner who can help her to achieve her goals, but it turns out to be a decision that demands that she sacrifice those goals. That she doesn't hesitate indicates that she has developed more than just a tolerance for Shirou; something that can also be said for Saber in this volume, although the enforced intimacy required to save her life only exacerbates that. We don't completely get away from the harem-ness in this instalment, and by the end of the final episode, we're back to domestic bliss in the Emiya household, with their new houseguest adding to the female roster of Shirou fans, and annoying everyone else by sharing his futon.
There are a couple of things that annoy me in this volume. The Archer and Shirou antipathy reaches a climax. Ever since Shirou met Rin's Servant, he's been rubbing Shirou the wrong way. His lofty attitude and refusal to allow for Shirou's weakness or inexperience constantly infuriates Shirou, but the thing is that everything Archer says to him is damned good advice. Of course Shirou leaves it too late before paying attention. There's something irritating about seeing his eyes narrow with anger every time Archer speaks, only for sympathy to come right at the end. Another bit of cheap writing is the swiftness with which Illya is forgiven. It isn't just the fact that she has been trying to kill everyone for the previous four episodes, there's also the matter of her self-confessed actions during the battle between Saber and Rider. Yet she gets the equivalent of a pat on the head and gentle admonition here. It's another thing that irritates.
So Fate/Stay Night's fourth volume is the strongest so far, concentrating more on drama and action, and dispensing with the frivolities. It also is the most irritating volume so far, thanks to some rather convenient and ill thought out character development. The strength outweighs the irritation though, and if you enjoyed the first three volumes, then you'll definitely want this one. In the end, while it certainly isn't more of the same in this volume, it is still trekking firmly down the middle of that well-travelled anime highway.