Fate/Stay Night, as a visual novel, had a several routes the player could take through the game. The original F/SN anime adapted the Fate route, with the inclusion of some elements of the Unlimited Blade Works route, with varying degrees of success. After Ufotable’s successful adaptation of Gen Urobuchi’s novel, Fate/Zero, there was question of what it would look like if they were to adapt one of the routes of the game, and in particular the Unlimited Blade Works route in its entirety. Two years ago, we got that adaptation.
As with the original series, the show follows Emiya Shirou, Rin Tohsaka, and Saber (Arturia Pendragon) as they make their way through the fifth Holy Grail War, and in the process deal with some of the aftermath of the fourth war, as seen in Fate/Zero. The route itself shifts by shifting the narrative focus from just Shirou and Saber (and Saber’s background), to putting equal weight on Rin as a dual protagonist. With that, instead of focusing on Saber’s backstory, we instead focus on Archer’s backstory as a Heroic Spirit, and his connection to Shirou.
In addition, because Ufotable also adapted Fate/Zero, and because Fate/Zero came out after Deen’s adaptation of the Fate route, this series takes the opportunity to go into the particulars of the previous Grail War, and how it effects the participants of this one, in a way that the Deen series couldn’t. The character dialog and motivations get a bit of a touch-up because of this. In particular, when Shirou re-affirms his personal philosophy later in the series, it makes sense through what he’s gone through that he’d continue down that route, though with mindset that because he’s informed by the information another character gives him, he’ll use that to try to avoid those mistakes.
Ufotable’s animation fits with their usual high marks, to the point that when they ran into financial issues and ran into some quality hits towards the third quarter of the series, I really didn’t notice. Their writing and animation also gives some of the characters who are more background characters more life then they would have received otherwise. In particular, the character of Sakura, who is basically your standard wallflower in the Deen series, has much more energy to her, while still keeping her traits as a semi-Yamato Nadeshiko.
That said, some of the comedic elements of the Deen series are more downplayed. As an example, there is a scene in the Deen anime where Shirou and Rin are fighting at school. Shirou runs down a flight of stairs, and Rin leaps down in pursuit. In the Deen version, Shirou nearly wipes out, and as Rin leaps after him, he points out that she needs to be careful because of her skirt. Rin panics and checks her skirt on her descent, ultimately nearly wiping out herself – and leading to her having a strong Tsundere reaction as she continues her pursuit. In this series, the entire chase is played completely straight.
Unfortunately, as with Fate/Zero, Unlimited Blade Works got a US release by Aniplex, which means the show is going to cost you an arm and a leg, with the DVD release costing you approaching around $80 each for Season 1 and Season 2 on RightStuf – which is still considerably cheaper than it would cost to buy it on Amazon.