As a viewer who watched Fate/Zero first, I formed an affinity to the title. Each iteration of Fate/stay night has disappointed me to some degree. The Holy Grail War from Fate/Zero was on such an epic scale, filled with proper mages. Fate/stay night’s Holy Grail War always felt very amateurish in comparison. The supporting cast also was also rather boring, and I always liked Kiritsugu more than Shirou. Even though some of these things have not changed for me, make no mistake — this is the Holy Grail War that Fate/stay night always promised. It rivals Fate/Zero in its scale and epic nature. It’s also just as interesting and just as intriguing as the former, despite being a film, and the first part of a trilogy at that.
Kinoko Nasu has engrossed me in his universe for the better part of 12 years (I started with Kara no Kyoukai). It is only now that I’m able to see the splendor of Fate/stay night that so many have been raving about for years. This is not like any previous iteration of Fate/stay night though. It is both more brutal and many characters die earlier in this route than previous ones. Like, within 30 minutes or so.
Kiritsugu, How Can I Become a Hero of Justice?
Heaven’s Feel: I. presage flower begins with some very touching flashbacks between Emiya Shirou and Sakura Matou, starting with how they first met. One of the strongest aspects of this film is its ability to balance its characters and action. It doesn’t re-tread over old ground, so one should be familiar with the Fate series before watching the film. Sakura comes off as extremely bland in every other iteration of Fate/stay night, but this version of Sakura has some depth. You see from the very beginning that there is something incredibly tragic about this young girl. We may not have the answers yet, but it’s there. There are some beautiful scenes between her and Shirou, and I can’t imagine these character-driven scenes not foreshadowing some tragedy that has yet to come, as is alluded to in the film’s marketing.
Every Hero Needs a Villain
Some of the film’s strongest scenes are between Kotomine Kirei and Shirou. It’s obvious they are setting the two up for an epic confrontation, ala Kiritsugu and Kirei. Shirou learning the truth about Kiritsugu from Kirei and Saber was one of the most emotional moments in the entire film (for me). There are some very subtle moments in the film that are easy to miss. When Illya says “there’s no way a Servant would remember”, as she looks on at Saber, it’s hard not to have flashbacks of Fate/Zero and wonder what is going through Saber’s mind.
Zouken is much more prevalent in the film than I would have ever expected, coming out into the forefront, causing me to feel like this is the true successor to Fate/Zero. He appears to be the true villain of the film, and every scene he’s in is electric. Yet there’s more going on than meets the eye, and Zouken isn’t controlling all the players as we’re led to believe. There’s a wild card that will be expanded upon in the next film.
The Holy Grail War We Deserve
This is the Holy Grail War I’ve been waiting for. For years. Fate/Zero was great, but this may be even better. And it’s not because the animation is better because it’s a film. The scale is on one larger than we’ve ever seen before. The stakes are higher. We seem to get answers about mysterious happenings that are going on that we never get in the other routes (mysterious deaths, “gas leaks”, etc.). The fight between Lancer and Assassin truly shines as one of the best battles we’ve ever seen between two servants. It’s not even just the fights though. The stakes are incredibly high, and we know there’s some greater evil at play.
What is amazing is this is just the beginning of the Holy Grail War. We still have two more films to go, and as this film runs at exactly two hours long, that would give us four more hours of material. That’s more than enough for a satisfactory and epic conclusion beyond even Fate/Zero.
Yuki Kajiura’s Back
I was saddened to see that Kajiura didn’t return to score Unlimited Blade Works, but her work here in Heaven’s Feel is superb. It’s not simply a re-tread of Fate/Zero tracks as well, although you’ll hear a few familiar motifs. In fact, the music was almost un-Kajiura-like, which impressed me a great deal. Her ability to adapt her style to fit the needs of the story are incredible. The score is both somber yet epic, making sure we feel the full gravity of this Grail War without forgetting the characters. The score was incredible and it’s wonderful to have Yuki Kajiura back after her incredible job with Fate/Zero.
The Best is Yet to Come
Given how the film ended, the best is yet to come. There are still so many mysteries to uncover. While this film focused on Shirou and Sakura, while also giving characters like Rin, Saber, Kirei, and Zouken moments to shine, some characters felt forgotten. Archer didn’t have much to do and Illya appeared only briefly. One can only imagine that their roles will become much larger in the next film as the stakes rise even more.
Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel: I. presage flower isn’t just a great adaptation of the first part of the Heaven’s Feel route, it’s an amazing film in its own right. While it will be hard for newcomers to jump right in due to the fact that the film skips over several events we’ve seen animated time and time again, it’s the best adaptation of Fate ever put to screen, and this is only the first chapter.