First Impressions Digest – Sora no Method, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works

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Sora no Method is a real test for me, in so many ways.
Sora no Method – 01
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There’s not much about Sora no Method that would draw me to it under normal circumstances.  Only one thing, in fact, though it’s an important one – it’s an original series by Hisaya Naoki, creator of Kanon and Sola.  Hisaya has a proven track record of packaging elements that normally leave me cold into something genuinely compelling, and so far he’s been as good an example as any of the theory that writers are the most important element in any original anime.

As for Sora no Method, I’m certainly not ready to say Hisaya has scored the hat trick with this one, but I can say there’s a certain confidence and purposefulness with the writing that makes the series more enjoyable than it should be.  Make no mistake, this is unabashedly a moe show, but Hisaya does moe better than just about anybody because at least in the past, he’s been able to pair it with genuinely interesting magical realism and characters.  The art and animation by Studio 3Hz, a new player on the scene, is quite good – this sort of show almost has to be pretty succeed, and Sora no Method does.

At first glance there’s nothing to suggest this premise is going to be fundamentally different than countless other series of its type, not excluding Hisaya’s own – though a female POV character is unusual for him.  We have a young girl named Komiya Nonoka (Natsukawa Shiina) returning home to Lake Kiriya City after a long absence, having left without saying goodbye.  We have a mysterious blue-haired girl named Noel (Minase Inori), a strange disc that hovers over the lake, a dead mother, broken promises and a splintered group of childhood friends who touched magic in the dim days of their youth and are now (barely, by the looks of it) teenagers.

All in all that’s pretty stock stuff, but the stock and trade of Hisaya is taking stock and making it come alive.  Can he do it here?  It’s way too early to tell – I did like the premiere but there was certainly no single element of it that blew me away.  I almost always prefer shows where the characters drive the story, but with Hisaya it’s generally the other way around – while he writes good characters, it’s the pathos in the scenario that gives their stories poignancy.  And there’s simply no way to judge Sora no Method until we know if that scenario has the legs it needs to bring the series to life and make it distinctive.  Hisaya has been away from series anime for a long time and there are certainly no guarantees, but I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t.

Fate stay/night: Unlimited Blade Works – 00
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I’ve tried to make it through Fate stay/night once already and failed, and building around this one of the least interesting characters in the mythology hardly seems like a recipe for success.  I liked Fate/Zero a lot more, but that was a series that followed the usual Urobuchi Gen pattern of starting with a bang and finishing with a whimper.  With all that being the case, I don’t go into this series with a whole lot of optimism.  I know it’ll be hugely popular (anyone who’s seen the lines at the Type-Moon booth at Comiket could attest to that being a lock) and I’m not expecting to follow along.  That’s not a line I’ve ever wanted to stand in.

All that may be the case, but that doesn’t stop me from being once again awestruck by the work ufotable does.  There’s no denying that in terms of production values Unlimited Blade Works is a marvel – the fight scenes at the end show that off most obviously, but the episode looks great even before that.  Like F/Z this series builds a strong narrative momentum by the end of the premiere (actually a double-episode – and the next will be as well, apparently).

I won’t call that lipstick on a pig, because even I can acknowledge that there’s a certain pull to the elegant premise that drives this mythology and everything in it.  For about a cour I was pretty entranced by it myself, but by the end of F/Z I was back to thinking that the Fate story is ultimately hollow.  It’s pure fanservice on every level, even if it is some of the best and most eloquently presented fanservice in the business.  Type-Moon does a good job of attaching a veneer of depth to it, but ultimately this is a glorified RPG that fetishises moe, GAR, and GAR-moe for its own sake.  This is about selling VNs and Blu-rays, not telling a story that has any real meaning.  But is it better to convincingly pretend you’re telling a meaningful story than not even try?

One thing can certainly be said – it’s certainly better to package this material as beautifully as its packaged here.  It makes F s/n a much more engaging watch than last time, even if Tohsaka Rin (Ueda Kana) is every bit the pure pandering character that F/Z’s Saber was.  It’s the nature of the mythology that the personalities of the Servants will change, of course, and Archer (Suwabe Junichi) is cast in the hero’s role this time, with Lancer (Canna Nobutoshi) as a cocky and arrogant antagonist.  I don’t know if we’ll get the stable of distinctive personalities among the Servants and Mages this time around that we did in Urobuchi’s F/Z, and if not this will likely be a less interesting series on the whole.  But it’s hard to ignore, both because of how genuinely regal ufotable’s production is and the hypnotic nature of the premise.  That will likely keep me watching and maybe even watching, despite a lack of confidence that I’ll be satisfied in the end.
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31 comments

  1. E

    Unlimited Blade Works is the best route in my opinion, bro Enzo.
    As long as ufotable adapts it faithfully, unlike Deen, it should be a satisfying ride.
    Of course, this doesn't apply to people who hate Type Moon just for the sake of hating it.
    A pure fan service? That's not true. Even though it's not a deep story where blogger can write prose on of it, either.
    I say it's a proper continuation of Fate Zero's last episode, which if you remember, Shiro said to the dying Kiritsugu that he's to continue his dream. The dream that Kiritsugu gave up as he grew and realized how real world is.

  2. N

    "Type-Moon does a good job of attaching a veneer of depth to it, but ultimately this is a glorified RPG that fetishises moe, GAR, and GAR-moe for its own sake. This is about selling VNs and Blu-rays, not telling a story that has any real meaning. But is it better to convincingly pretend you’re telling a meaningful story than not even try?"

    "I saw four episodes of Hunter x Hunter and then dropped it. People obviously like this only because it is an old, mindless Shounen like the rest of them. But is it better to pretend that there is something more to it than not even try?"

    While those who watched Deen's atrocity may have nodded, this is EXACTLY how it sounded to anyone who read the VN. FSN is kinda the opposite of what you said, especially seeing as it is one of major reasons why VN market became more friendly to the non-fanservice VN's (and moe is not present at all outside of Illya who is moe only for being a loli). True, FSN is not deep at every moment, but when it does try to be, it does a fine job at it.

    "I don’t know if we’ll get the stable of distinctive personalities among the Servants and Mages this time around that we did in Urobuchi’s F/Z, and if not this will likely be a less interesting series on the whole."

    Aren't you the one who said that Urobutchi's characters are not the best thing out there ^_^; Anyway, FZ's characters are generally cooler, but FSN's are generally more likable and relatable (besides Shinji) and UBW route makes half of them shine (while HF route makes the other half shine… and Fate is just an introduction, character-wise it is only focused on Saber).

  3. I've lobbed many complaints against Urobuchi, but the inability to create colorful characters is not one, I don't believe.

  4. M

    I thought you wouldn't review F/SN as you are not really a great fan of the Fate series. Which is perfectly fine as people have different tastes, I'm not a fan of the Monogatari series even if it's quite a huge popular series.

    While I love the whole Fate series, watching this episode I can't help feel it's a travesty that Type-Moon gets to monopolize ufotable with their great production values. Other worthy and great series should be able to get this golden treatment for adaptation. But then ufotable might be able to get higher budget because we all know FSN is going to sell like hotcakes when it's out. Still I'm hoping that ufotable would adapt other series besides Fate and Tales of series.

  5. w

    Before this gets clogged up with Fate comments, I'll just say I thought Sora no Method was pretty great. I knew I was going to like it either way because I enjoy all that moe, pandering bullshit. But it's actually exceeded my expectations a little. It's hard to put my finger on why, but this does seem to be a cut above the rest. I feel like there's a little more dignity in the writing. The presentation was quiet, and the emotions felt understated and quite human. They've done a good job of demonstrating how the characters feel rather than telling us, which is nice. I'll definitely be looking forward to the rest.

  6. F

    Enzo, Give Shingeki no Bahamut a try, the first episode was Top Notch.

  7. It's in the cue, maybe today. Already pretty stretched, still in Kyoto and now suffering through a brutal internet connection.

  8. F

    Past few days hasn't been so kind to you, my friend, hopefully next week you are going to get better.

  9. M

    I'll chime in and say that the Fate series is actually a quite character driven story, so assuming Ufotable doesn't mess anything up (And they've done nothing so far to dissuade me from that, I think its a story you would like.

    Also this is the only route with no harem situation, so you're okay on that front. :)

  10. R

    To be clear, there is very little similarities between their stories, but Sora no Method actually gave me the same vibe as Nagi no Asukara. More specifically, the latter series' second half. The character designs look a bit similar and the music flows similarly too. And then there is the fact that they cast Kaito Ishikawa and Mikako Komatsu (these two really have very distinct voices).

    On its own though, the series is definitely interesting and I am sure to follow this one. Hope that this fares better than PA Works' Glasslip (Good for you Enzo that you dropped that series. It was just a horrid mess).

  11. S

    Eww lol that Fate hate is disgusting, too bad though I guess everybody can't acknowledge Type-Moons pure and utter greatness for what it is not to mention the insanely clever extensive epic complex power-system and world-building but hey the Fate haters probably know nothing about that. Anyways Rin for the win…

  12. s

    Hmmm I dont know, I think the fate franchise (at least the ones like fate/zero and the fate/stay night VN) have a meaningful story to tell under all that gloss. it's ultimately a tale of conflicting ideals and how people can be thrown into situations where they may have no choice but to betray the very things they believe in and living with those consequences. The theme of ideals is the one of the main reasons why the fate universe revolves around past heroes; they are the face of idealism. In the hands of a competent staff, i think the fate franchise offers quite the epic fantasy story; ufotable knows how to deliver when it comes to delivering a serious fantasy.

  13. S

    Fate is so deep you'd have to read up on it for an extended period of time to even begin to understand its deepness.

  14. m

    I remember being thoroughly impressed by F/Z's premise, the slick execution, and "mature" characters, but at the end of the day, I couldn't finish the series because everything felt so relentlessly bleak. I don't know if that was a side-effect of Urobuchi's influence or the fact that it was a prequel (and thus required to be tragic), but I felt there was no point in finishing something with little hope or lessons to take away from.

    Here's to hoping FSN proves me wrong. Because again, the premise is, as you said, hypnotic. It's a wonderful mix of history, mythology, and Greek tragedy.

  15. P

    Fate/Zero is very similar to a Greek Tragedy, much more so than FSN really. You're not watching it to see what happens at the end, you're watching it to see how people with strong conviction and ideals meet their end. I wouldn't say you're supposed to learn something so much as understand the consequences of living completely based on a set of ideals.

  16. A

    FSN:UBW is not Rin's story, at least not primarily, it's about Shiro and his motivations and issues.

  17. S

    Arn't all the stay night routes technically just explorations of ideals, mainly alternate takes on Shirou's hero ideal and the different ways it could have effected the course of the battle for the grail.

  18. H

    I am not sure if I understood right, are your or aren't you going to continue with F/SN? I certainly hope so. I loved your coverage of F/Z. It made me become a fan of your blog. You were very critical but ultimately fair. I didn't always agree with you but it was a much more interesting read than most blogs that have nothing but mindless praise or disdain for the series they cover.

    Unfortunately, I didn't find what I've come to expect from your blog right now. Only shallow criticism and early judgment. You barely even talked about the episode mostly just your preconceived notions or F/Z, neither that should have taken priority. You should judge F/SN[UBW] by its own merits first, and then compare with whatever came before.

    Furthermore, you really should forget whatever you think you know about Fate/stay night. I am not sure what you are talking about when you said you tried the series, but the anime is a piece of crap. I tried myself before reading the visual novel and quit out boredom part ways as well. As for the novel, not only you are forced to read the weakest route first but the pacing in said route is terrible, with a overly long prologue and a boring first half. The new adaptation will probably fix that issue by starting with a much more interesting story.

    I was really looking forward seeing your impressions of the new anime and I would hate to be disappointed. Even if you are to dislike the series, you should judge by what you see in the episodes, not by your assumptions of what the series is like.

  19. Thank you – that's nice of you to say.

    I don't know if I'll be blogging it yet – we'll see after the next couple of episodes. Ultimately I'll decide based on how much I enjoy the series, but to be honest the abuse from hard-core fanatics after any remotely critical comment about F/Z left a pretty bad taste in my mouth, and I'm not sure I want to deal with all that nonsense again. I think you can see it starting already.

  20. h

    Ah, I see. As I've said, I really enjoyed your criticism of F/Z. A hate blog can be more entertaining than a love blob precisely because it gives a different view of what you love. And your blog wasn't even that. It was far from being pure hate as it was clear you mostly enjoyed it (well, the first half of it anyway). The criticism was mostly fair and genuinely in-sighting. Sucks to see the fan dumb gave you a hard time.

    At any hate, blog coverage or not, I hope you can enjoy F/SN. Unfortunately, I fear you are approaching the anime with the wrong mindset for that, .though. You seem to be already convinced you won't like and that view always sour the taste of anything you watch. Furthermore, you seem to have also made your own assumption about the whole franchise based on the little you know and the dumbness of the fans. That is hardly fair.

  21. l

    I really hope you do decide to blog it. Any criticism towards anything Type Moon is always welcome. F/SN is most definitely not perfect and open to some criticism. That being said, I still think it's a great series and if you give it the chance it deserves I can definitely see you liking what UBW has to offer and it would be a pleasure to read your thoughts on the show just as it was for F/Z.

  22. D

    Maybe I'm turning into a curmudgeon, but Sora no Method kind of annoyed me. I like the tone and setting but I don't think I can sit through 10+ episodes of squeaky trying-too-hard-to-be-cute anime girl voices. They kinda made my ears hurt. :/ Maybe I'll wait until there's an English dub and hope the voices are a half-octave lower…

    F/sn looks gorgeous, though. As someone coming into this without any past experience of the mediocrity that was the first F/sn anime, I'm excited for it. If the story can keep up with the production values, this could be a great ride.

    Have fun with your sisters, and don't worry too much about blogging! You never take breaks, so I'm sure no one will begrudge you a little vacation (and if they do, well, nuts to them). If you do get some downtime and are looking for something fun to watch, I recommend the premiere of "Gugure! Kokkuri-san." It wasn't on my radar at all but it surprised me with a great blend of sharp comedy, silliness, and warmth. Lots of giggles and a few feels = winning combination, IMO.

  23. b

    I'm disappointed you spent most of the FSN review talking about Fate Zero and your prejudices of the series based on an adaptation TYPE-MOON themselves refuse to acknowledge due to how bad it was at portraying the VN and its characters. Besides, DEEN's anime horribly adapted the worst route of the VN, Fate route, which only serves as an introduction to the story and unlocks the currently adapted UBW route, where the characters start to shine and develop.

    FSN isn't the deepest or most meaningful work you'll find, nasu isn't one of the best writers either, but you're exaggerating too much without having read the source material and praising Zero only for Urobuchi. Despite its eroge origins the story hardly has fanservice besides the 1-2 shoehorned porn scene, if anything there's some slice of life scenes about Shirou's daily life. All the fanservice is left to extra material or celebrations like Valentine's/April's Fool, Comiket, etc. and the spin-offs like Ilya's magical girl manga or Carnival Phantasm anime. Just considering the VN is 10 years old, there must be something to make both Japanese and international fans to still enjoy the story and its characters. TYPE-MOON, ufotable and Aniplex know this too, why is it bad for them to give it a good treatment? 99% of Shirou's criticism comes from people who only watched DEEN's "people die when they are killed" and I'm happy for this adaptation to get people to know the real Shirou. If you have something against the franchise and TYPE-MOON then no one can't stop you from disliking it no matter what it does.

  24. The longevity or popularity of a franchise has no direct inferential meaning as to anything about a franchise except its popularity, That's why "appeal to popularity" fallacy is in the first chapter of every Logic textbook out there.

    As to your second paragraph, there's more than one type of fanservice and there's more than one type of pandering.

  25. h

    You are right there is more than one type of fanservice, but I don't think it is fair to dismiss the whole franchise as fanservice ridden based on the little knowledge that you have. Specially not the very original story of the franchise that had to stand on its own before the popularity came.

    Yes, F/SN is not the most profound story out there, but it is also not particularly hollow (specially not compared with the many animes out there). Yes, there is GAR and Moe aplenty, but there is also its own story and ideas behind all of that. You just need to wait for the story to get on that (assuming the studios won't botch the story, of course, which I doubt anyway). To dismiss F/SN story without seeing it due to its action fanservice is the same as dismissing Gundam for the obvious mecha fanservice.

  26. You'll find "Argument From Authority" in the index right after "Appeal to Popularity"…

  27. u

    Kind of disappointing that you are basically ignoring his arguments. What was the point in replying if you are just going to handwave his comment?

  28. h

    @Guardian Enzo, I am not even sure what you are talking about. My first paragraph point is that you have to read/watch a story before judge it. I don't see how this is 'Augment from Authority'. My second paragraph was about reinforcing that by pointing that, yes, fanservice exist, but it is not necessarily all there is, the same way Gundam is not necessarily all mecha action.

  29. Z

    That's how he rolls.

  30. A

    I think a lot of the hollow feeling is an Urobuchi thing. It's not really a dig at him; just a tendency I've observed. Fate/Zero was meant to be a prequel and the feeling of the whole escapade being futile I think is an intentional effect. I won't really fault you for not liking that aspect; I had found parts of Fate/Zero to be very much shoved in one's face.

    However, I don't think it's fair to dismiss the show as GAR/MOE pandering as that would be glossing over the details. A show can use these things as an appeal, but it's arguably if that's the means to an end. I also do not agree at all that Rin is anyways a "pure pandering" character; honestly the majority of characters out there have some aspects that are marketable to an audience but it's debatable if she is defined by them. There's character development and dynamics that have to be explored and her backstory is already hinted in Zero. I sincerely doubt that she has the depth of some generic moe prop out of say,a Kyoani production.

    Anyhow, i don't think one can really reach said analysis at this point honestly. You are of course entitled to your opinion, but honestly, I do think you'd miss out on quite a few things though it was wise for you to check your preconceptions at the door.

  31. H

    I found FS/N more palatable divided into two sittings. The first 15 or so minutes was so boring I sorta skimmed initally. Just bumping into characters at school isn't a captivating way of selling them.
    Archer/Lancer battle was nothing short of spectacular, so more of that is welcome.

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