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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The War Of The Holy Grail

Or: First Thoughts On Fate/Stay Night
The day that Emiya Shirou's life changed forever...

Fate/Stay Night volumes 1-4
Original story by Type-Moon
Adapted by Dai Nishiwaki
Published in English by Tokyopop

The story takes place in an ordinary Japanese town, Fuyuki City. Hidden from society, there has been a deadly war going on in this town. Seven sorcerers known as "Masters" summon a powerful familiar called "Servants" and they all fight each other till the last one. The last one is said to attain the Holy Grail which will grant them a wish. Only a few knows when this War started and what the Holy Grail is, but the war was about to begin again this year. The main character is Emiya Shirou, who lost his parents in a fire and was adopted by a man who called himself a sorcerer. Admiring his step father, he has been training himself to be a sorcerer. However, he had no talent and he could barely use one type of sorcery. His step father has already passed away, and today he's a sorcerer without any skills or knowledge. He is involved in the War of the Holy Grail when he accidentally summons Saber, who is said to be the strongest servant of all...

Based on "Unlimited Blade Works", the second part of the game. (Source: Wikipedia)

Spoiler alert: Spoilers for the first four volumes of the manga beyond this point! Please do not share any spoilers past this point in the series, please!

Look, I've finally gotten around to checking out Type-Moon’s legendary series, Fate/Stay Night! Can I be one of the cool kids yet? Oh, okay. I have to admit, the Internet really hyped up my expectations. A lot of blogs I follow can't stop talking about it, especially after the premiere of the prequel series Fate/Zero (which I've luckily not paid attention to too much lest it ruin the original for me). I just happened to grab up an armful of books from the F/SN series while at the library and gave it a go only a couple of days ago.

And you know what? Fate/Stay Night is absolutely wonderful. I love it! It's not perfect but it's pretty darn near there. And it has Saber and Rin Tosaka, which also makes it very much close to perfection.

I came into Fate/Stay Night knowing near to nothing about the actual story or who most of the cast is, especially since the Internet fandom is pretty Saber-focused. This is actually kind of a shame because I adore Emiya Shirou. He's self-sufficient, good with mechanics, has a kind heart and a noble cause. He wants to save people and be someone who upholds a notion of justice that will benefit everyone and keep innocent people from being harmed. A little naive, yes, but I think that's why Emiya is the perfect kind of person to be thrown into such a conflict as the Holy Grail War. It's the kind of a fight that will change his preconceived notions of what honor and justice is, especially in the context of when people are actually being killed for a greater ideal or goal (which in this case would be the Holy Grail).
Saber, flashing her Noble
Phantasm like a boss.

He also must deal with becoming odd bedfellows with people such as Saber, his accidental Servant and knight in shining armor, and Rin Tosaka, who has already stated clearly that she is going to win this war, which means she will most likely have to kill Emiya to make that happen. There’s also a lot of realizations Emiya has to break through if he wishes to truly realize how the War works, including finding out that people close to him are more involved than he’d ever known.

It seems like Emiya and Rin's relationship so far is the most dynamic and unusual of them all. Emiya needs Rin's assistance and knowledge about the War's history to make himself stronger and less reliant on Rin's skills. Rin needs Emiya to get stronger so he is less of a liability on the battlefield - knowing full well that they will eventually have to fight to the finish if one of them wishes to win. This isn't the Hunger Games, y'all; two tributes don't get to take home the prize if the audience really likes them. It's less Quarter Quell and more Game of Thrones; you either win or you die.

(How many pop culture references can Sarah fit into her Fate/Stay Night review? Let us find out!)

Rin Tosaka is absolutely fascinating to read. And y'all must agree with me, because it seems like Rin and her partner Archer are some of the most popular Type-Moon characters in their canon. She's perfectly capable of balancing her school life with her life as a Master, well enough that she is the most popular and responsible student on campus. She is really admirable for her intelligence and planning skills as well as her beauty, but also dangerous because she has one goal in mind - and that is to win the Holy Grail, even after finding out two of her classmates are rival Masters with their own respective Servants.

And I think that is part of the reason why the Holy Grail War, so far, terrifies the crap out of me. You have these respected, old as balls magus families grooming and training select members to enter these wars on a generational basis, where the odds of them winning are extremely slim. Plus, they have to work with these Servants who are reincarnations of past legends and heroes, and god help you if you summon a shitty one. Everyone wants Miyamoto Musashi as their Saber; no one wants Benedict Arnold as their Archer. Plus, there is no second place. Win or die, them's the breaks. So the majority of these families are sending their loved ones off to a distant battlefield, knowing very well they probably won't come back alive. Harrowing stuff.

Rin Tosaka and Archer,
looking cool as always.
Also, I can only imagine the kind of mental and emotional damage that comes from a lifetime of training in the magus and combat arts just to compete for the Holy Grail, a moment in your life that will either kill you or make you victor for your family. So yeah, a whole lot of George R.R. Martin-esque stuff going on. Wait; does this make Emiya a Stark? Or a misplaced Lannister with Saber as his Brienne? Maybe this line of thinking isn't a good one, yikes.

Speaking of Servants, there's Emiya's armor-clad Servant, Saber. She has yet to reveal who her true self is - but thanks to the spoilerly nature of the Internet, I'm pretty sure I already know! I won't say here because I'm not a jerk, but damn. Can't wait to see Emiya's face when he finds out. Funny enough, Saber almost revealed her name against the samurai Servant protecting the temple, but ended up not doing so. And so, in-text, her true self remains a mystery.

We've also seen a small glimpse into the true nature of her Noble Phantasm, the special weapon that each Servant has. I have to assume hers is pretty damn brutal, since the first time she tries to use it, she warns Emiya that the full force of it could pretty much devastate the surrounding city. So, naturally, Emiya had her nix that plan.

Really, I don't feel like I know much about Saber at this point. It's slow moving getting to figure out who she is, and her personality has only started to really shine through. We've seen her fight and we've seen her protect Emiya and we've had the occasional domestic scene where Saber acts like a normal young woman and not a reincarnation of a hero from long-ago sent to Japan to fight to the death. But she seems brave and chivalrous as she should be, considering she's a knight, and she is also very understanding of Emiya's character once they spend enough time together.

Her efforts at keeping him safe make me smile; his face when Saber suggested she sleep in the same bed as him was priceless. I love her but I don't know much about her, however I think the series is doing a very good job of slowing unwrapping her character's many layers until we get to see the true and final Saber.

Overall, there are a lot of things in Fate/Stay Night currently pulling in my attention, from the world-building to the history of the Holy Grail War to the ever-expanding cast of characters, Servants and Masters and civilians alike. I cannot wait to read more of this series – and then watch the anime, and the film, and Fate/Zero, and all the other Type-Moon properties I can get my dirty otaku hands on. Plus, I need more Rin Tosaka and Archer in my life. They are so wonderful together!

For more information about the Fate/Stay Night series, you can check out the Funimation page for the anime series here as well as the Japanese official page for the series here.