Fate / Stay Night Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, February 16, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What They Say
The Magi have assembled and the War for the Grail has begun. A new battle begins as the next Servant attacks and draws blood. Who could Rider's master be? Shiro must be extra careful as even his closest friends could be deadly enemies. Nonetheless, Shiro isn't your typical master as he reveals when he attempts to have Saber interact with his "normal" lifestyle and introduces her to his teacher, Ms. Fujimura and his close friend, Sakura.

The Review!
Shirou finds himself in a new temporary alliance as the threat that he faces also impact a few other Masters.

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. The downside is that other than Saber, the characters are from events on the previous volume with only a small amount of impact here. This volume's reverse side has the same style as the Japanese covers that features Tohkasa. 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 Tohkasa, 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.

Similar to the Japanese release, extras are slim here and this installment has only a clean version of the ending sequence on it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In some ways, Fate / Stay Night is reminding me of how Shakugan no Shana is set up in terms of episode layout. The opening volume did a solid job of introducing the basics of the show and running through at least something resembling a set story arc. We got to know how the world works in rudimentary terms and introduced to the primary cast of characters and their situations. With the second volume, it brings us into the next storyline that goes beyond this volume while still building on everything that came before.

Interestingly enough, a lot of the focus here is around Tohkasa. Normally I'd expect them to spend time building the relationship between Shirou and Saber while mixing in some problematic relationships with everyone else. Instead, this is dealt with fairly quickly and early on as Shirou has realized he can't deal with keeping Saber hidden. Bringing her out into the open doesn't exactly win him any friends among the girls he's closest to but there's a realization among them that Saber only has his best interests at heart. It also helps that even though they want to see some sort of romantic angle to the relationship so they can complain more they're unable to actually find one. At most you have Saber feeling unsure about how her Master is so compassionate.

Tohkasa's introduction in the previous volume followed fairly standard methods but I was glad to see that she hasn't moved from the mindset of removing Shirou from the field. With this being a kind of contest where eliminating the opponents is critical to advancing, compassion for those around you is a serious liability and a standard storyline mode. Shirou is playing right into that by not keeping Saber at his side and trying to live a normal life while he can. So it's little surprise to see Tohkasa trying to take him down once he comes to school unguarded. Like any really interesting relationship, they tend to start with a bit of an adversarial nature and these two go at it in different ways. Her no nonsense approach to removing a future threat is as obvious as his wanting to just get along with everyone.

Since the two are placed at odds with each other, it's little surprise that the real threat at the moment isn't each other but a much more powerful Master that's gone so far as to place a barrier around the school. The pair isn't exactly forced to work with each other and they're not going along the thought of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," but they do find themselves in a situation where it's more important to utilize each other in order to deal with each other later. Through this new alliance of sorts, the field starts to expand as we see a new Master and his minion making plans and trying to work a deal as well as starting to unravel the larger mystery of what's going on in the town with a far more powerful master. The storyline looks straightforward at first with Tohkasa and Shirou going at it but it expands into something far more interesting at a slower pace than I expected.

The shows visual style continues to be a real winner here as it works with both a real world setting and a subtle but effective use of outfits for the minions of the various Masters. The magic and other effects coming into the modern day setting isn't exactly kept at a minimum but it is done in a way that really makes the show have a greater sense of drama during the fights. In some ways it feels reminiscent of how the X TV series was done. The character designs continue to be very good and the added exposure to Tohkasa in this volume made her a far more appealing character. The young men in the show also stand out well as both Issei and Shinji come across much better this time around.

In Summary:
Fate / Stay Night doesn't have much in the way of major revelations during this set of episodes but it does build nicely on the world that it's establishing. The show seems to lay the ground for a couple of storylines here but the main one with the very powerful Master that's operating in the city builds quite well as it goes along. There are a number of interesting hooks throughout the episodes and the show in general but it hasn't hit a real high point yet that elevates it to something more. Thankfully there are four more volumes to go and plenty of room to play with.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Ending

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: 29.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fate / Stay Night