[Note: this post contains spoilers and some assumed knowledge of Fate shenanigans]
It status: happening!
Fate/Stay Night has gotten a couple of animated adaptations since its debut and popularity boom in 2004, but they summon a unanimous head-shaking from most of the fanbase, anime viewers, and those seeking quality television in general. Thus, when ufotable studios announced they were teaming up with the Fate crew for a remake (riding the wave of prequel Fate/Zero’s success, sensibly) everyone kind of perked up like kittens hearing their food tin opening. The original writer’s statement that it would be a completely new storyline trashed all debate about which of the three routes they would be adapting, too, so essentially we’re all riding into this headfirst with nothing but hype for protection. What’s going to happen? What aspects of the story are coming to the forefront? Who’s going to fight? Are we going to have to endure more awkwardly written romance?? My God!
In all seriousness, though, the news has summoned the usual adaption/remake sceptic that prowls in my brain as well as the squeaking fan. I know I’m going to watch it anyway, because this stupid series about wizards and mythological characters beating each other up has entranced me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have high hopes and an equal amount of curious apprehension for this new creature.
Here are some things to consider.
First, the environment this Fate/Stay Night is being made in is a very different one to the original: the creators are speaking to a pre-established fanbase instead of trying to create one, so the language they use will be different. Plus, they won’t feel the need to jam in awkward sexy bits to entice people. There need not be a romance plotline at all—though as the ever diligent WB points out, Shirou’s character development is significantly different in each route depending on what happens and, chiefly, who he hangs out with the most, because he’s an impressionable duckling.
The original writer has admitted he’s not happy with the way the Fate route turned out—and many will agree (myself included, as muttered about previously) that Saber was somewhat beaten over the head with her role as a romantic co-star. The new anime presents a clean slate to try this again, which is a concept I’m crinkling my nose at, I have to admit. I’m not averse to the idea of a love story in the background, if it’s done well and really felt integral to the story somehow, but that’s something that remains to be seen. Sans love interest, the character focus would be Shirou in his own right, and it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of golden dynamics throughout the cast to keep us invested.
That being said, the bonus of the separate routes (dating element included) was focus on different characters each time. Stay Night as a visual novel functions like an onion—each playthrough reveals a new layer, and you only really get the full, juicy, tear-inducing picture once you’ve completed all three routes. Archer, for example, is virtually non-present in the Fate route and then dies fairly early on, and it’s only in the second route that you get to know him (and subsequently go “oh” and fly head-first into heroic philosophy and “stop hitting yourself” jokes). You don’t even completely understand what the hell is going on with the Grail War until route #3, where you also get the first proper glimpse into the hidden depths of the previously-sidelined Sakura. Each route reveals and studies a different facet of the story and its characters, which is why adapting just one will always feel a tiny bit empty. Could this be fixed by a totally new storyline?
On one hand, sure, on another, it could lead to a bit of a mess trying to create The Ultimate Route, combining the best and most important elements from each into a coherent storyline, which also provides sufficient closure for the stuff dealt with in Fate/Zero. It’s not being written as a sequel, but the creators have to acknowledge that Zero is out in the world and has likely been watched by most people before they start the new Stay Night. Which is a pretty major game-changer—reveals that were shocking in Stay Night will now be basic knowledge, such as Kirei’s mean streak, Gilgamesh being in the world drinking all our wine and ruining everyone’s lives, Sakura and Rin being sisters, Ilya being Kiritsugu’s daughter (you get a secret sister plot twist! You get a secret sister plot twist! There are secret sister plot twists under all of your seats!) and most of all, the fact that the Grail is corrupt and caused the “mysterious” disaster ten years before.
Thus, the writers are going to have to strike a balance between character ignorance and audience knowledge. Which could be either hair-pullingly annoying (“For crying out loud, isn’t that thing you’re puzzling over obvious?!”) or a great device for suspense (“Don’t go in there! We know what’s in there don’t do it don’t do it!”), and of course a vessel for emotional hook-tugging to boot (“Noooo…. nooooo your dad tried the same thing noooo”).
And speaking of Zero, there’s a potential for a shift in storytelling from hero-centric first-person narration to an omnipotent style that swings between all seven teams. These both work in different ways, but to be honest I’d be fine with keeping Shirou as our eyes and ears most of the time—Zero’s perspective worked because it evened out the playing field and made it more interesting, having no obvious main character, but half the fun in Stay Night is the mystery element that comes with not knowing what on earth is going on, and finding out the identities of Masters and Servants as you go.
And of course, there’s the business of wondering who is going to meet a sticky end in this new route (or more likely how it’s going to happen to the poor sods). My money’s on Lancer getting screwed over, because he and his ilk don’t entirely have an excellent track record, but apart from that it’s pretty up in the air. It’s not even always assured that the main villain is going to last to the end, because Kirei finds himself pretty well dead long before the climax of Unlimited Blade Works, and even our queen Saber gets axed fairly early in Heaven’s Feel. Which is another benefit of the multi-route storytelling mode—different, non-fixed paths mean different things can happen, outcomes to different decisions can be explored, and the good guys are definitely not always assured to win, or even survive. They’re killing this a bit with a singular storyline format, but I’m sure they can make it work. I hope so, anyway.
So yes, my main concern is that it’s going to be bad. Either way, it’s going to look amazing, and there will be entertainment value there, but I remain a strange cocktail of optimistic and sceptical about its content. Basically, my biggest fear is that, with the aforementioned already established fanbase, the creators are going to go into that self-congratulatory, fan-nudging mode that some series can suffer ([cough]stevenmoffat[cough]gameofthronesteam[cough] gosh it’s dusty in here! I have a real tickle in my throat) and we’ll end up with 26 episodes of convoluted wank the existing fans are expected to enjoy automatically.
All its flash and glamour can never really redeem the fact that Kirei’s Stay Night design involves a mullet, after all. I want the remake/new route to win me over, make me fall in love with the series anew, hey, maybe even get me as attached to the original as I am to the prequel. This presents a lot of new opportunities and I’m excited to see what they do with them. So bring it on, Type-Moon, and know that I will be awaiting whatever you offer me with narrowed but glittering eyes.
A comprehensive list of specific things I hope for:
- “My name is Tohsaka Rin. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Or at least get significantly slapped around the head to give some sense of closure for the betrayal and manipulation you’ve imposed on my entire family.”
- Shirou not being a naïve Ordinary High School Student (he knows some things, come on)
- Sakura being relevant and explored, but not exploited
- Archer backstory reveal, if only a little (we don’t want to clog up the story), to showcase the full impact Kiritsugu had even in death and continue the thematic arc about “heroic” ideals
- Speaking of Kiritsugu and other prequel dads, flashbacks
- And parallels! Between Rin and Tokiomi, Shirou and Kiritsugu, Ilya and Iri—basically as many characteristic and thematic link-ups between prequel and present as artistically possible. Not overdosed, but enough to notice (bonus points if they come in soundtrack form, because that is a subtle, quick and poetic way to break my fan heart)
- Cu. A sensible, entertaining amount of Cu (bonus points for Rin/Archer banter)
- Saber kicking Shirou’s ass
- Saber kicking ass in general, and not used as a demonstrator of how villainous a villain is
- It being acknowledged that Saber is genderbent without the “Girls cannot fight!!” conversations
- Saber finishing Gil off. Because retribution and empowerment and shut up, Gilgamesh
- No silly fan service! And for the love of all that is pleasant in the world, no contrived smut scenes!
- No one dying for heroic manpain. Unless it’s already been established (see: Claudia, half the female cast of Zero) and thus cannot be avoided with any amount of adapting, which case, ppbbbbthhh
- Last, but in no way least, some form of that scene with Kirei and the tofu. Truly a triumph.