Fate / Stay Night Vol. #1 (also w/limited edition) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, November 30, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What They Say
The Holy Grail War Begins!Ten years ago there was a secret war fought by master mages with their servants in order to obtain the Holy Grail and the result was devastating to everyone. Today, the Holy Grail War is beginning again with new masters. One such master, Shirou, must now come to grips with the reality of the secret world of war mages and their summoned servants when he unknowing summons his own servant, Saber; the one said to the most powerful servant of them all. Perhaps, Shirou will be the one to prevent the destruction that had marked the first war.

The Review!
The fifth Holy Grail War is now taking place and it is once again in Fuyuki City. This time, it has a very personal connection for one of the Masters involved.

For our primary viewing language, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Both tracks for this release are done in a good solid stereo mix that comes across very well here. The show has plenty of moments of useful forward soundstage directionality to it when it comes to the dialogue and action effects. The somber and quiet atmosphere is also very well served throughout the show. The series has a very distinct mood to it with the soundtrack it wants to use and the in show pieces by Kenji Kawai build it up perfectly. In listening to both language tracks, we didn't notice any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2006, this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Similar to other moody and atmospheric shows that Geneon has released recently, the transfer for Fate / Stay Night is in excellent shape and looks fantastic throughout. Beyond a couple of very minor moments of some shimmering when at least a medium range distance shot is occurring, there isn't anything to really take issue with here. The colors look very good, generally maintaining a very solid feel without much in the way of break-up or general background noise. The dark colors are very good looking while the vibrant areas shine just right. Cross coloration and aliasing are basically non-issues as well here, which leaves just a few areas of gradient visible but that's entirely a source issue.

Using artwork either from a rental version or maybe a reversible piece, the cover art here is very attractive looking as it brings in some of the central characters from this volume and really blends them together well with the reds. Saber stands out because of her very different color scheme and it really works well for tying it all together. It is disappointing that the Japanese sideways covers aren't used here since I think they're just so striking, but it looks like we may get them as reverse side covers. This volume's reverse side has the same style and text featuring Shirou, though I can't find that one online to compare. The back cover is similar to the front in that it's a dark and stylish piece that features a wheel image that has images from the show along the way, one for each episode. Topped off with some character artwork it helps to maintain that really atmospheric feeling to all of it while providing the summary in the middle of it. The bottom portion is pretty standard though with a listing of the discs extras and basic features as well as the production information and a technical grid. The insert included replicates the front cover artwork and opens up to a two panel spread that features Saber, showing off designs and shots from the show itself. The back lists the release months for all six volumes of the series.

Not really pushing the boundaries of creativity much, the menu goes with the simple design of a lighted magic circle in the center of the screen while other more obscured ones rotate in the background. The foreground circle has the logo along the top and provides your basic set of navigational points, including my disliked combination of extras and setup. Individual episode access is here though which is a plus. A bit of vocal music plays along with the menu but the way it all comes together it feels like it slows down in an odd fashion before it restarts. Seamless menus continue to elude most designers, though more from technical barriers than anything else. Access times here are decent but I dislike that the setup doesn't allow for choosing English with subtitles. The disc played according to our player presets though.

The extras are a bit light but the Japanese releases look to be much the same way. This volume includes the clean version of the opening sequence as well as a production artwork gallery.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fate / Stay Night is the latest game to make the anime conversion over here, though this one has a bit more going for it with its origins in the TYPE-MOON realm. Originally starting its airing in early 2006, this DVD comes barely nine months after the first Japanese DVD release " but with a few more episodes overall.

At first, Fate / Stay Night doesn't seem all that original as its themes and storyline is one that has been seen many times before. It's in its execution that it manages to rise a bit above a lot of those and the promise of it actually being something that isn't just another variant. With it not being based on a manga that either goes on for too long or is still running, it has the potential of telling a much cleaner story. Whether that potential is capitalized on or not is something that is still to come.

The premise of the story is as said, something familiar. In present day Fuyuki City, we're introduced to high school student Shirou. He's a young man who lost his parents to a massive fire in the city some ten years ago but has grown up well with his foster father since then. Shirou is generally a fine young man, upstanding and very hard working. If he has a fault it's that he wants to help others and those people tend to take advantage of him. He knows it but still lets it happen since he wants to in his own way save everyone from something. His inability to do anything about his parents death have haunted him in that way. Like a lot of leading males, he lives on his own since his foster father died but he gets help from the daughters of a couple of friends of his foster fathers. Like most girls in this situation, they tend to mother him a bit too much and their relationship could go any way.

Where things are a little more different than the norm is that Shirou has an ability to touch things and understand what's wrong with them. If he places his hand on a heater, he can sense which areas of it are weak or failing. He seems to be a bit decent with tools but through his power he's able to reinforce the item in order to get it to work better. We learn through flashbacks that his parents had tried to teach him something of the ways of magic but the only skill that he really picked up was this. His father was a much more powerful magus but Shirou doesn't seem to have that going for him at all.

His life is otherwise straightforward. Unknown to him though is that a game is afoot in the Fuyuki City between a group of people known as Masters and their Servants. Seven Masters and their servants have been chosen by the true Holy Grail to participate in the latest incarnation of the Holy Grail Wars. This controlled exercise which nobody outside of it must see is orchestrated by the Grail itself in order to take seven potential candidates and figure out which one will be able to take control of the Grail and use its powers. Each Master is able to draw upon something innate of themselves and through their powers draw forth a Servant from history that will become their protector and warrior. These Servants are also the only ones that can actually touch the Grail, but only after all of the competitors for it are dealt with. Though killing is not required, the death of a Master is the only way to truly ensure the removal of a Servant from play.

Of course, it doesn't take long for Shirou to get caught up in everything as he learns that a classmate of his, the aloof but beautiful Rin, is a Master. A pitched battle on the school grounds where he is helping out late one evening has him mixed up in the events and it unleashes his potential as a Master. Like most plots of this nature, it's only when confronted with a real threat to ones life that their potential is truly drawn out. Among the Servants, there are different classes involved which have their own strengths. Rin's Servant is an Archer while one of their first opponents is a Lancer. Another that comes along is a Berserker while Shirou's is called a Saber. Shirou of course breaks the mold when he does things, mostly because of his lack of training, and his summoning of Saber goes poorly in that she's not able to become invisible in her spiritual mode. So now Shirou finds himself deeper and deeper in this latest incarnation of the Holy Grail Wars, something that has some serious connections to his past.

These first four episodes of Fate / Stay Night aren't groundbreaking. There is a strong sense of familiarity here because the opening plot is one that has been seen done a number of times before. But as we said earlier, it's the execution that helps here. The animation quality itself is very strong as it features some very good looking character designs and some nicely fluid animation itself. There are a few shortcuts here and there but they're few and far between. The show also builds its atmosphere very well as it does the dark moodiness just right. It doesn't hit you over the head with it or seem too heavy for what's going on. The characters also take things seriously when appropriate and are a bit lighter at other times. But they don't go to the extreme of being silly which is a fault some of them have. Fate / Stay Night manages to walk the balance of tragedy and darkness well with the hope of doing right and wanting to save people from darkness.

In Summary:
Though familiar, it's execution is very solid. Fate / Stay Night has a lot going for it, including the fact that it is from a game so that it avoids the problem of being part of either an ongoing manga or one that was brilliant but too short. It's not exactly an original show since it has origins elsewhere, but with those origins not being the manga it doesn't fall into some of the same episode by episode traps that other shows do. Visually it's a treat on a number of levels. The music is just right for building the mood without overwhelming it. And the acting on both language tracks is spot on, resulting in a very enjoyable show. The first volume does leave you wanting more which is a good thing, but they also answer a surprising number of things early on. Fate / Stay Night provides several hooks that will likely keep most people who try it coming back for more. Recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Production Gallery

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fate / Stay Night