Review: Fate/stay Night: Heaven’s Feel 1. Presage Flower (Blu-Ray)

From humble beginnings as an adult Visual Novel, Type-Moon’s Fate franchise is now a bonafide juggernaut, with the Fate phenomenon comprising multiple series spanning parallel universes and alternate timelines across more animated series, OVAs, movies, manga volumes and games than you can shake a Saint Quartz at.

Fate/stay Night: Heaven’s Feel 1. Presage Flower goes back again to the original visual novel and adapts the last of the game’s three ‘routes’, focusing on young mage Shirou Emiya and his relationship with friend Sakura Matou as the two are thrust into another round of a ritual known as the Holy Grail War, where mages summon warriors from history as powerful ‘Servants’ and battle each other to the death for the wish-granting power of the grail. The new grail war kicks off against a backdrop of Fuyuki City, which burned to the ground a decade earlier, and now a string of murders are rocking the rebuilt city. After retiring from his schools Archery club due to injury, the lone Emiya finds himself being helped more and more around his home by Sakura, his friend Shinji’s younger sister, until she all but lives at the house – arriving each morning to prepare breakfast and coming by after school to make dinner.

This is studio UFOTable’s third crack at telling the Fate/stay Night story. The original 2006 series of Fate/stay night focused on Shirou and his summoned servant Saber, and Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 2010 film and 2014 TV series focused on an alternate telling following Shirou and fellow mage Rin Tohsaka.

For this outing they seem to have assumed that anyone going in to this will be across the Fate/stay Night story already – After the opening which does a good job of detailing the relationship between the generous Shirou and the doting Sakura, her jerk brother Shinji and super creepy grandpa Zouken, huge chunks of characterisation and what I would’ve thought were extremely important story moments, such as Shirou becoming a Master and summoning his servant Saber, are glossed over entirely only for Shirou to suddenly buddy up with fellow Mage Rin Tohsaka and be introduced to the concept of the Grail War in a big vomit of exposition, and off we go.

Of the other adaptations I’ve only watched the 2006 Fate/stay Night TV series (the ‘Saber’ route) and even with that tucked away in the back of my mind the assumed knowledge the filmmakers are expecting from the audience does it some disservice, as while Sakura and her awful family are fleshed out as more important additions to this particular story, Shirou, Saber and Rin feel like they’re just being shunted from scene to scene so we can be quickly introduced to more Servants and watch some fights as it is finally revealed that Sakura’s brother Shinji is also a master in the war and their sinister grandfather is pulling strings from the shadows. Shirou starts to worry more about Sakura, Sakura starts to worry more about Shirou, the young Illya makes some ominous threats as a teaser for part two and everything generally takes a turn for the worst as a strange shadow creature that consumes Servants appears and yet more humans and summoned servants die across the city.

Visually the movie looks as excellent as you would expect from a franchise that trades on its action and character designs, and the fight scenes are well done, carrying a real sense of speed and weight to the blows as Masters, Servants and assassins go up against each other. Unfortunately for me the visual aspect doesn’t make up for the movie not telling the full story and relying on prior knowledge instead of standing on its own.

Those who voraciously consume anything with Fate branding on the tin will likely love this, but for the casual Fate-franchise-dabbler or someone entirely new, Fate/stay Night: Heaven’s Feel 1. Presage Flower doesn’t do a good job of building it’s world or telling it’s story as a self-contained movie. The broader underlying story is interesting and the characters have the capacity to be compelling, but the movie doesn’t give enough time to making either feel they’re all there for this outing. There’s just enough here for me to be curious about the second part of this planned trilogy, Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel II. lost butterfly, but not enough to have me frothing for it either.

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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.