Anime Review: Fate/stay night – Heaven’s Feel II. Lost Butterfly

It feels like an unnecessary point to say, but it bears mentioning nonetheless – Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel II. Lost Butterfly is very much the middle installment of a trilogy. While the first film in this route, Presage Flower, had a very dark ending, this film manages to go into darker places and ends in a dire place. While the first two routes had a degree of brightness to their endings, and I have no doubt that the Heaven’s Feel route will be no exception, it’s important to go in knowing that.

It also bears mentioning going in, and I’m mentioning this before the cut for those who don’t want to read further before seeing the film – even though I’m going to minimize spoilers, that I would give this film a content advisory for sexual assault and suicide. Neither is depicted explicitly on screen (sort of), but it comes up, so it’s important to know going in.

Each of the three routes of Fate/Stay Night have something of a theme. The Fate route is about the world and the Grail War. It’s as much about introducing the world of mages and establishing the concept of the Grail War to the player and audience as it is for Shirou. The Unlimited Blade Works route is themed about choice and destiny – will Shirou choose to travel down the route of becoming a Hero of Justice? Even if following that route will cost him everything? If he knows going in where that might lead, can he avoid that fate?

Heaven’s Feel is about family, and it’s made clear based on the characters who have the focus in this film – Sakura (naturally), Rin, and Illya – with Zouken, Kirei, and Shinji lurking around the periphery. Rin and Sakura – biological sisters separated by adoption, Illya and Shirou, both children of Kiritsugu, Shirou adopted after the events of the last Grail War, and Illya separated from her biological father by the machinations of the Einzbern family – and all four of them now under the same roof – something that hasn’t really happened in the main series and game since the Fate arc.

This leads to the focus of the character arcs in this film being on reconciliation – Sakura and Rin getting to be together in a way they never had a chance to be since they were very young children, Illya getting to spend time with the brother she never knew, and with the implication being also strongly that she learns that her father never intended to abandon her. This part of the story feels very strong and emotionally resonant – and it’s given a dark underpinning by the life that Sakura lived.

Oh, yes, this film makes it very clear that Sakura’s life sucked. The Crest worms – which we learn are actively killing her, to the point that is strongly implied – until it is made clear later in the film – that Sakura has been repeatedly subjected to sexual assaults by Shinji. It’s enough of a thing that it’s soured me on the episode of Emiya Family where Sakura cooks dinner for Shinji, because it’s a kindness that he doesn’t deserve.

It’s also rather clear – with the establishment of Shinji’s history of rape – that Nasu did think through this decision, and by putting this revelation here, under these circumstances, in a way it causes it make sense and feel like it works with the plot instead of being forced. Over the past two series, the first film, and even in the earlier portions of this film, Shinji is the Butt Monkey of the Fate universe. He’s killed ignominiously by Berserker in the Fate route after getting stomped by Saber. He’s treated worse than baggage in the Unlimited Blade Works arc by Gilgamesh (who openly resented being attached to the little shit) before getting turned into a Grail Vessel – and here he’s punked by Shirou, Rin, and Archer, before being outright ignored.

Shinji is a man who is, in terms of magical power, social influence, and even standing in his own family, impotent. He has absolutely no magical power. He’s not the heir of the Matou magecraft. He’s supposedly the prince of the school, but Rin, the school idol, will not give him the time of day. Thus, his acts – in all the routes – from trying to drain the life force from his classmates to his history of sexual assault against , are all born out of his desperate, pathetic attempts to feel powerful.

This leads, in a way, to this film coming out kind of at the perfect time – coming in the age of #MeToo. Because as women are coming out to talk about their experiences with sexual assault – they’re not just talking about the people who assaulted them and outing them – they’re also talking about how sexual assault made them feel. And things I’ve read and heard these women say they’ve felt maps with what Sakura talks about going through in this film.

This leads to the film’s finale, which is tragic but completely comprehensible given those circumstances. It does make it unfortunate that the next film’s arc may very much be Shirou ultimately being the knight in shining armor riding to Sakura’s emotional and psychological rescue, but considering the ways that Ufotable has expanded and revised the story of the Unlimited Blade Works route, that they can learn from what’s going on in the world today, and work to heighten Sakura and Rider’s role in the trilogy’s finale.

As of this writing, the film is not out on home video, but if you want to see the first film, it’s currently available at RightStuf on Blu-Ray.

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