So, as some of you might know, I’ve been throwing myself headfirst into the Fate series as of late. Starting with Grand Order not long ago, I’ve continued to take in all sorts of Fate content. Honestly, I’m having a blast. I already love the series, as I thought I would. It’s quite good, and I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff, really. Well, I’m almost done Blade Works, and I love it. So, let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about something widely considered bad.
Fate is a notoriously tricky series to get into. That’s mostly because of how its adaptations work. We’re just focusing on the main Fate/Stay Night stuff for now, not the magical girl or other spin-offs. Please, they just complicate things more.
Basically, the simplest thing to understand is the original Fate visual novel. That’s what most of the anime adaptations are from, besides the spin-offs and Fate/Zero. The VN has three routes and four adaptations covering those routes comprised of two TV series and four movies made by two studios. Ufotable, the one you’ve likely heard of, and Deen, the one we’ll be talking about today.
The VN routes have an order. The Fate route first, then Unlimited Blade Works, then Heaven’s Feel. Studio Deen adapted the Fate route in their 2006 adaption, Fate/Stay Night. Later, they did a movie for Blade Works. Then Ufotable took over, turned the Blade Works route into a highly beloved anime series, and then did three movies for Heaven’s Feel, the last of which just released. Are we on the same page?
Which means that most of the confusing stuff stems from the fact that two studios worked on the Fate adaptations, and in a surprisingly simple turn of events, a lot of the anime series we’ve gotten are actually still based on the original source material made almost two decades ago.
I hope I explained that well and I hope that makes the Fate series seem less intimidating. It’s not that bad, to be honest. I wish somebody told me this years ago. I may not have waited as long.
What we’ll be talking about today is the original, and only, adaptation of the Fate route. Studio Deen’s Fate/Stay Night. To put it mildly, people don’t like this adaptation. They really, really do not. I have been warned for a while now it was bad. That it was a bad place to start, and I’ve heard an equal amount of time how good the VN is. So, I did both.
I went through both the VNs Fate route and Deen’s take on it. So, was it really that bad, and why do people think that if it is? Well, I’ve seen a few reasons, and of course, I have my own take on why. First, what is the Fate route?
There’s no way to explain the specifics well, but a simple explanation isn’t too bad. Think Pokemon, and yes, I’m using this again. But instead of trainers fighting with Pokemon, it’s masters fighting with servants.
Except the servants aren’t weird creatures. They’re spirits of both historical and fictional descent in human form. Also, the masters aren’t 10-year-olds collecting gym badges. They’re magic teenagers and a few middle-aged men that are forced into a battle to the death called the holy grail war.
Our main character, Shirou, isn’t magically inclined, yet is still forced to do battle if he wants to protect the ones he cares about. Also, he has some pact with a beautiful blonde sword fighter named Saber he accidentally summoned who can beat the crap out of pretty much anything. That and almost dying a bunch is decent motivation.
The Fate route is but one take on this setup, just as Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel are. Each explores different sides to many of the characters, as well as focusing on Shirou’s relationship with one of the girls, so the route names are generally synonymous with them. Saber’s, Rin’s, and Sakura’s routes, respectively. Think of them as parallel worlds, essentially.
I originally planned to detail a lot of the changes between the VN’s Fate route and Deen’s take, but honestly, there are few. Still, what they did alter was fairly big.
This post isn’t about the Fate route in detail. To summarize my thoughts on it: go find the VN if you can. If not, watch Deen’s adaptation. It’s a fine anime, and again, the only take on the Fate route in anime form. I want to talk about whether Deen did it justice.
Let’s talk about the biggest complaints I see, starting with the easiest one. It isn’t faithful to the Fate route. That is not incorrect. It actually adapts certain sections from both Heaven’s Feel and Blade Works. So if we’re talking faithful, then no. Deen didn’t do that well. However, there’s a reason.
The Fate route has some issues. I enjoyed it, but it is by no means a complete look at what Fate/Stay Night is. Certain characters get introduced just to be dropped off the face of the Earth. Some seem important then are shoved to the side. It isn’t the complete story.
That makes perfect sense. The VN has three routes for a reason. It’s why there’s an order. With each route, you reveal more and eventually have a complete story as well as some fun alternate scenarios.
Whether each scenario deserves an adaptation is another debate, but I can’t really speak on it since I haven’t been through them all. I would say, based on other people’s views, yes, they do, and I also agree with that from what I’ve seen. Still, three adaptations on one story seems pretty extreme, especially when it’s for a VN that has yet to be adapted at all. It may not do well enough for that.
You then have to ask yourself what route gets adapted. Deen thought Fate, or Saber’s route, and though Blade Works is more beloved (and just better, in my opinion), it feels like a pretty good “canon” route if there would be one. I think Saber and Shirou feel most fitting for what the story is, and the route has a fairly epic conclusion with the hero to end all heroes. Sounds good.
But you then have to address the problems I mentioned before. It’s only a third of the story. Caster, a servant built up pretty heavily in the Fate route, is a pushover in the very same route and given no exposition. That’s one bit of bad storytelling, in my opinion, but it’s so she can have time in a later route.
Sakura, a pretty important friend to Shirou, is utterly shafted in the Fate route later on. I almost forgot she existed. It’s so she has time in her route. That’s two pretty big issues that would need to be solved in an adaptation.
To help this, Deen decided to add sections of the other routes and stitched the plot together in such a way to make it all work. Such as making Sakura present in Shirou’s home more, solving Caster’s stuff, and giving some, admittedly, useless added time to another servant, Rider, and a few other things.
This makes it not very faithful, except when it’s focusing on the Fate route. When it does, it is. Think of it as a faithful Fate route, just spliced together with sections of different routes and just a bit of glue to hold it together well enough.
I said this before on Twitter right after I finished the anime: if you were to make a one shoe fits all Fate/Stay Night adaptation, one that only cares to make a single all-encompassing Fate/Stay Night experience, it would look very much like what Deen did.
What was added from the other routes in no way detract from the Fate route is. They quite literally spliced portions from the other routes in between the events of the Fate route to create a more complete story.
For what it does, it does it well. But this leads to the next problem: the other routes were better. Meaning it upsets people that they only see small snippets of Blade Works and Heaven Feel, possibly butchering the routes as a whole. It also doesn’t help that most people feel they did a bad job with the parts of the other routes.
I completely get why you wouldn’t like the parts they added in. From what I know of the other routes, they did a fine job. But to those who love those routes to death, kind of like how I feel about Blade Works currently, I get it. You’re probably way more informed on that. So I won’t discuss it.
What I can tell you is that the Fate route has a ton of problems. I liked it, but I did think it was all over the place—borderline a mess in some cases. Caster was certainly part of that. There’s a whole portion of the story dedicated to a fight between Saber and Assassin that has no resolution. Beyond that, there were many pacing issues.
The entire progression of the holy grail war is strange to me. Fights are in odd places, sometimes with odd resolutions. Shirou often progresses the plot in the weirdest ways. Most of them with him not understanding the situation he’s in and being a moron. Still, Shirou is much, much more than that. I want to be clear. He’s a fantastic character.
I have heard some say that his character is watered down a lot in Deen’s adaptation. I didn’t think so, really, at least not to the degree I’ve heard. I think you still got the point of him from the perspective of the Fate route pretty well. He acts a little too much like a generic shounen protagonist, but that’s because he is fairly similar to one. What makes Shirou such a special character isn’t what he does. It’s why he does it. His beliefs and reasoning for the actions he takes are what makes him a really solid lead.
I think Deen’s Shirou is still about the way he is in the VN. The biggest problem is we don’t get many of the monologues we get in the VN. Those are a chance for us to dive into Shirou’s psyche and really understand him. Those monologues are really what makes him such a well-written character. It gives us the why behind his “I’ll protect everyone, especially women” attitude and makes him seem far less generic and ever so slightly less sexist.
Shirou seems generic because his actions are. He’s riding a very thin line, and unfortunately, with the jump away from the slower VN format, he falls on the other end of that line. I still think Deen did an alright job with his character, despite what people say, but they did miss some nuance, sadly, but the different medium didn’t really allow them to capture it. So, I do really like Shirou, but that’s why I hate it when he does weird things throughout the story, and it does happen.
The oddest of which, I think, is near the end. VN, anime, whatever, this whole sequence of events is odd. Shirou and Saber go on a date. Shirou gets pissed at Saber and runs away from her. He goes home and falls asleep, still angry. He wakes up and sees Saber’s nowhere to be found. He runs to her, kind of makes up, and gets stopped by a really strong servant on the way home. Yup.
I get the point of the scene, but surely there was a better way you could have handled it than making Shirou do three laps around town with an anger nap in between. Shirou also gets kidnapped at one point because he’s making nice with the enemy who already tried to kill him, which starts the next part of the story. The Fate route just has some really weird ways it progresses through its arcs.
I liked it, but I won’t say it’s without fault. There are a few of them, and they very much transfer over to the anime adaptation as well. Sometimes worse, because the story really does work in a slower visual novel setting better. In the anime, it takes until episode 10 for Shirou to learn how to swing a sword. Then he’s fighting like a beast 7 later. That’s also due to the route splicing. One bad job Deen did. The holy grail war takes place over a much shorter timeframe than I thought, and I think that works to the story’s detriment if I’m honest. It’s not that the VN doesn’t have the same issues. It’s just that it’s more noticeable in the anime.
Which brings me to my personal reason why I think people don’t like Deen’s adaptation. I think it’s just the Fate route itself, not the adaptation of it. I went through the supposedly amazing VN at the same time I watched the supposedly horrible anime. I did the VN for a while and caught up with the anime. I heard and expected that the anime was awful. Not only that, I let my first experience be with the VN. I gave myself every single chance to see what the adaptation did wrong and hate it. But I just didn’t.
Deen’s anime, despite the few times it mixed in the other routes, was just watching the events from the VN unfold. Pretty spot on, really. It follows it almost perfectly, with very little deviation. Those deviations also don’t interrupt the Fate route because of the way Deen spliced them in.
The moral of the story here is that I think Deen tried to make an anime that summarized the whole of the Fate/Stay Night VN. They wanted one series to really give people that adaptation they wanted. And I can’t fault them. I honestly can’t. I just don’t think that’s what people wanted.
I talked about this a before in my long Guilty Crown thesis that I won’t even link because nobody will read all that, but once an opinion is widely accepted, like with people disliking the Deen anime, a lot of people will be biased and hate it straight off the bat. Popular opinions breed similar opinions. Mob mentality and all that. That’s not fair, but there are plenty of people who do look at it objectively. And if you do, you won’t find a horrible anime. I really don’t think so. And guess what, you also won’t find a perfect one, believe me.
What Deen ultimately did was tried to make the Fate/Stay Night anime adaptation. They tried to do a bit of everything, did ok at it, and gave the Fate route the old college try. It may have had pacing issues, may have made the MC a bit blander, and may not have had the best art ever, but they succeeded in making something alright to good. It was decent for what it was. Then Ufotable stepped up, made Unlimited Blade Works, a highly beloved better route, into an anime, did a stupendous job, and poor Deen got slaughtered in the process.
All I keep seeing is that you just can’t recommend someone watch Deen’s adaptation in a world where Ufotable’s Unlimted Blade Works exist. It’s a better route, adapted by a studio that did a better job. Once again, not that Deen did horrible, just that Ufotable did better.
And really, saying how much better Ufotable did is a lot easier now. Don’t get me wrong, I guarantee you it is far, far better. I’d damn near bet my life on that. I’m expecting close to a 10/10. It also focuses on Rin, so it may be an easy 12/10. 13 if they adapt the scene where she wears glasses. But judging the adaptations against each other is a little unfair. Ufotable’s came out eight years after Deen’s try, and you also have something to compare it to. Add that into the fact that Fate was fairly popular then riding off of the massive success that was the Fate/Zero anime. It was adapted into a different world.
It’s sad to me that Deen’s adaptation gets the hate it does. It really isn’t deserved. Whether you should watch it or not comes down to what you want. If you plan to just see what Fate is all about, go check out Ufotable’s stuff or the VN. You’ll probably have a better time. I don’t think I recommend this as an introduction to the series.
But if you’re like me and want to take a deep dive into everything the series has to offer, do not skip Deen’s adaptation. It’s worth checking out in its own right, and I do believe it’s a good adaptation all and all. It’s interesting to see how they decided to create the Fate anime if nothing else, right?
Thank you very much for reading
What’s your opinion on adaptations? Do they have to be faithful or are they allowed to do their own thing? I feel like that question ties into people’s opinions on this adaptation pretty well.