Fate / Stay Night Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, July 10, 2007



What They Say
The battle they knew was coming is finally at hand and the choice to run has been taken away. Now Shirou and Rin must confront the Master Ilya and her fearsome Servant, Berserker, the strongest Epic Hero on Earth! With Saber injured, it's up to Archer to save them. Having fully recovered, Archer is finally able to cut loose and prove to his master, Rin, that he is up to the task. In the end, Shirou and Saber will have to combine their efforts if they are to have a chance of surviving the Holy Grail Wars.

The Review!
With Saber nearly out of commission, Shirou must either force her to do the unthinkable or lose her forever.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Using artwork either from a rental version or maybe a reversible piece, the cover art here is another good looking piece. The trio for this installment has a rather dark but perfect design with slightly shadowed versions of Rin and Saber in the background while Archer is in the foreground with a full length shot. This volume's reverse side has the same style as the Japanese covers that features Archer. 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 has a new piece of art featuring the battle between Saber and Rider that opens up to a two panel spread that features Archer, showing off designs and shots from the show itself. The back lists the release months for all six volumes of the series.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
A couple of extras make their way onto this volume that are worth checking out. The new opening sequence is included in its clean form which is a real plus. The other extra is the inclusion of the live action music clip that was made for the opening sequence which is a short music video really. It's pretty nice and I love seeing these kinds of extras. It is unfortunately not subtitled, even though it lists two subtitle tracks on the fly, both of which are listed as "other" and appear to do nothing.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fate / Stay Night reaches an interesting area in its run as the characters must now face some serious choices after the events of the previous volume. With Saber having used her Noble Phantasm against Rider which has now left her practically running on empty, the eyes of others are on the new potentially weak targets that she and Shirou make. The only thing that's making a difference is the kind of compassion that Shirou has shown others in the past, though some aren't interested in reciprocating it.

The previous set of episodes had some good material as we watched how Shinji utilized Rider against Saber and Shirou in an attempt to make some progress in the Holy Grail Wars. Shinji's methods could be considered underhanded but there don't appear to be too many steadfast rules in this game, so seeing someone play to win when most seem to play to play was refreshing. The events provided a chance for Saber to really show off her stuff as others watched on but it also put her in the precarious position of using up all her mana. This is actually a position that Shirou has put her in due to his inability to give her mana or to command her to take the souls she needs for it. In the end though, she's a faithful Servant and does her best to defend her Master at all costs.

With Saber down for the count temporarily at the least, Shirou finds that Rin is brutally honest about the predicament that he's put Saber in. By not letting her do what she needs to do to gain mana and not being able to replenish it himself, she makes it clear that her road to recovery is blocked entirely by him. There are of course other methods that could prove useful in giving her something back, but these avenues are closed off initially when Illya comes to visit Shirou in the park and kidnaps him. Using him as a hostage in order to draw out Saber so she can successfully make another kill and more progress in the Holy Grail Wars, she's quite pragmatic about things. With her Servant being the Berserker formerly known as Hercules, and the fact that he needs to be killed twelve times in order to be stopped, she's hoping to convince Shirou to give in to what she wants and accept defeat so that she doesn't have to kill him.

This sets the stage for a series of fights as Saber and Rin won't stand for this and Archer finally gets to shine again with his abilities. Between these fights, which are well done and cover some good material not only for Saber, Rin and Archer but also for Shirou at long last, there are a lot of smaller moments that get covered. Finding out the fate of Shinji after the death of Rider wasn't a surprise though it does seem rather coldly done. Rin shows quite a bit of restrained emotion as the battle plays out and she realizes exactly where he lot is in with things. And with Saber, we start to get a real understanding of her past life and what looks like it could shape the future of her life as a Servant.

Shirou has often been called a weak male lead, something that populates a lot of these kinds of shows, but I've seen him generally as a conflicted lead because of what he's suffered. It's always easy to say, "If I was in that situation" and set out to do what needs to be done but its impossible to say unless you're really in it. Shirou is faced with some difficulties in these episodes as he is made completely aware of his responsibility towards Saber and how his choices have affected her. These episodes do a good job of putting him into the right perspective from several different angles. Rin gives him the rundown of what he's caused, Archer puts him into place by telling him what he should actually be focusing on while Saber's past comes to light which highlights who she really is and that has to be at the least a little bit humbling. I'm actually rather pleased by his development across the series as it's culminated into some good episodes with this volume that should allow him to really achieve things in the final two volumes remaining.

In Summary:
Fate / Stay Night has been an intriguing series from the start but it's had a few minor pitfalls along the way. Part of what has been problematic for me is that it feels like we haven't really been making all that much progress. Granted, it plays out better than a villain of the week show but there is a build-up of tension that at times doesn't seem like it's followed through well enough on. The last volume and this one have been pretty solid for the most part though between the battles with Rider and the Berserker and this volume makes out better by sprinkling in some real changes and revelations. The series continues to be enjoyable and it has me very interested in where it's going but it does still feel somewhat light and without any real meat to it after I finish each volume.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening 2, Live Opening Music Clip

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