Fate/stay night: Advent of the Magi

Type-Moon‘s second visual novel game and their first commercial project, Fate/stay night, gained the benefit of a group more aware of how to work in the industry after creating the succcessful game Tsukihime. Both erotic PC games also benefit in terms of animation studios converting the story and characters into a general-audience TV-series that everyone can enjoy. Animated by Studio DEEN and licensed for US release by Geneon Entertainment, Fate/stay night: Advent of the Magi follows Shirou Emiya’s kind-hearted nature forced into a battle royale for the Holy Grail.

DVD: Fate/stay night: Advent of the Magi
Release Date: 12/19/2006
Release Studio: Geneon Entertainment
ADR Production: Bang Zoom! Entertainment

MSRP: $29.98, DVD with Box $39.98
Audio: English 2.0 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English, Signs-Only
Episodes: 4
Runtime: 100mins
Extras: Textless Opening, Production Gallery

Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product. Preview audio clips are available.

Ten years ago Fukuki City was devistated by an unknown explosion. Shirou Emiya, the soul survivor of this tragedy, has grown into a “nice guy,” though he is still haunted by memories of the past. With his foster father passing away five years ago, several friends have taken up watching out for Shirou. Sakura Matou, the younger sister of Shirou’s best friend Shinji, comes by daily to make breakfast and dinner. Taiga Fujimura also stops by daily as Shirou’s homeroom teacher and legal guardian. Between these two, his life is fairly well watched-over as Shirou takes care of the estate he inherited from his father and goes to high school.

Shirou is the kind of guy everyone knows at least one of. He helps out those who ask and this means that many people just take advantage of his kindness. Issei Ryudo calls Shirou in to help fix a heater in the student council office. Shirou is always happy to help, but hints to Issei that he needs some time alone to work on the device. With Issei gone, Shirou lays his hand upon the kerosene heater and uses his hidden power to trace the problem inside the device. The student who is handy at fixing things has a latent ability to see inside an object as if it were a 3D model and extrapolate how to fix or alter it. I bet his VCR clock doesn’t flash “12:00.”

With the device fixed, Issei and Shirou head to their homeroom before the teacher arrives. Passing by the pair is Rin Tohsaka, target of love letters from the male student body. Issei breaks down her stats like an accountant and his displeasure for the girl who has turned down every male suitor is clear as a sunny day. By chance, we are saved from any more explanations as Taiga Fujimura charges down the hallway, late as usual, to her classrom. A springboard entrance of “hello” ends with a thud on the ground. The class debates what appears to be a common happenstance and wakes her up with a group cheer of “Up and at ’em, Tiger!” which recieves some fussy complaints from the eye of the Taiga.. err, Tiger. The first episode moves through some basic regular events in Shirou Emiya’s life while a secondary storyline following Rin Tohsaka’s entrance into the Holy Grail war with an Archer servant she has called with her magus power.

Our second episode once again starts off with Rin Tohsaka having a conversation with her servant, Archer, over what his true identity is. Archer has lost, or claims to have lost, his memories when Rin called him with her power. They accept this as a minor setback and start to plan on finding the other six Masters of this war for the Holy Grail. Meanwhile, Shirou’s life continues its usual pattern. Archer team captain Ayako asks Shirou to talk with his best friend Shinji who has become quite the arrogant asshole since receiving a rejection from Tohsaka for a date. Shirou agrees and catches up with Shinji in the hallways to ask what is going on. Shinji humours him for a moment in the stairwell that the team is doing fine and blows him off just as fast.

Meanwhile, Rin is sitting in the back of the classroom talking with Archer. Archer and Rin can sense an enemy is nearby and obviously biding its time for when to attack. The pair agrees to wait until the school is clear before taking action. As the sun sets and students run home, Shirou runs across Shinji with a pack of fangirls tagging along. The little snot asks Shirou to clean up the archery dojo place so he can go have fun, knowing that Shirou will do it. Of course, Shirou agrees and sets to work. On the rooftop, Rin is bored waiting for something to happen when a Lancer servant appears overhead. Quickly, a battle erupts across the school grounds between her own Archer and the attacking Lancer. The noise brings Shirou out of the dojo to see what is happening when everyone notices that an innocent student is still there. Having seen what was happening, the Lancer stops the battle and chases after Shirou, who ducks inside the school.

Trying to understand what is going on, the Lancer manages to catch up with Shirou in his moment of rest and stabs him through the heart. Shirou collapses as the Lancer runs off and Rin catches up. She’s shocked to see that the victim is the nicest guy in the school. Rin fishes out a jewel and revives Shirou with a spell before running off. All good and well, except that it is the job of the servants to kill all witnesses to the Holy Grail wars. As such, Shirou’s life is in danger once again when he arrives home with the Lancer waiting for him. Rin and Archer rush to Shirou’s estate as Shirou defends himself from a second round with the Lancer. Knocked back into a storage shed, Shirou makes a last stand against his attacker. Behind him, a strange magic circle has appeared and in just the nick of time, Shirou’s savior blocks the deathblow from the Lancer. His savior is his servant; her name is Saber.

The remaining two episodes follow Shirou’s introduction into the Holy Grail wars, some background on what awaits the winner at the finish line, and a proper introduction to Illya and her Berserker servant. Rin holds Shirou’s hand through much of it, showing that her cold exterior is only for those she does not care for. His relations with Saber are a little less easy as he must learn to assume the role of Master and accept that he must fulfill his childhood dream of becoming the “Hero of Justice” in order to prevent another disaster like that of ten years ago. Saber has a general cold manner to defend her keep at all costs just as any proud knight would, so the introduction of a kind Master who is willing to risk his life for hers breaks the concept of being simply a weapon for another person. The pair are going to have their ups and downs in this series as they learn to work together.

The Japanese cast is solid overall with a few standouts like Mai Kadowaki’s Taiga and Noriaki Sugiyama’s Shirou. At the same time, the seiyuu for Ayako could use some work matching how expressive her own character is. The dub from Bang Zoom! Entertainment is fine, but nothing more. Not great, yet not bad, just average – which seems to be the general comment I would give to Kristi Reed‘s script and voice direction work. Casting could have been stronger with very few actors standing out. Sam Regal‘s Shirou is decent, but seems to need some work. “Jane Doe #27” (if you know who this is just wink and nod, because we know, too) is an odd choice for Sakura. Kate Higgins fits the cold nature of Saber and shows promise. Mela Lee‘s delivery gives some nice lift to Rin and will be something to keep looking forward to. Julie Ann Taylor has some classic moments living within the eye of the Taiga, I swear I’ll kill this joke before the series is over, as the scatter-brained teacher/guardian/abuser-of-kindness. What drags down the series, in my mind, is the dub script that tends to lose some of the original fun as it dulls down the original intent to its English translation. The slight alterings, especially when dialogue wouldn’t have been hampered for lack of time or mouthflaps, sometimes creates mediocre conversations for the characters.

Fate/stay night: Advent of the Magi has a slow start but is worth sticking around for. Regardless of whether you played any version of the Fate games, you will want to jump into the TV series. The DVD comes in two flavors: regular DVD and DVD with box to hold the series. The box features holofoil sides in addition to some beautiful artwork and is something I would suggest tracking down. The DVD transfer looks crisp on a widescreen TV, which is always a plus as more upgrade to newer TV sets. The subtitle script contains a few errors that should have been caught before publication, but nothing too major to stop you from buying the title. The extras are on the slim side with only a textless opening and a “Production Gallery” that is really six pictures of pre-production character sketches. Regardless, the animation and story more than make up for this with four episodes that introduce a good portion of the series’ characters and doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. If you are looking for something new to jump into, Fate/stay night: Advent of the Magi will be a very nice place to start.