This article is kind of confusing, I apologize in advance. There are too many shows with the same name and it is hard to keep them all straight! But, that’s why I’m writing this article…
A lot of people have been asking themselves lately how to go about watching the Fate/Stay Night series because there are several shows in the franchise and while they have the same themes, they don’t follow a chronological order. This is also a quandary I faced last year when deciding to watch the series, so I’d like to share my thoughts in order to help more people be a part of this unique world and its Holy Grail battles.
Before we dig in, I’d like to quickly address why you should watch this series and go through the trouble of keeping these shows straight! They are really fun. Boiled down, the premise is simple: what would happen if you pitted a bunch of historical (fiction and non-fiction) characters from different time periods against each other in battle? Would King Arthur beat the crap out of Alexander the Great? Could Gilgamesh kick Bluebeard’s ass? If that doesn’t sound like a fun premise, then I think you’re crazy.
Here are all of the existing Fate/whatever animes in the order they were produced:
Fate/Stay Night (the “original” anime series, 2006 by Studio Deen)
Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Bladeworks (movie, 2010 by Studio Deen)
Fate/Zero (anime series, 2011 by Ufotable)
Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Bladeworks (anime series, 2014 by Ufotable)
There are also two others which we are not going to talk about here: Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, which is a magical girl spinoff/sequel from Fate/Stay Night that looks kind of ridiculous and I haven’t watched, and Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel which is a movie that was announced last year but is not available yet.
You may be looking at this list thinking “they all have the same name ARE THEY THE SAME SERIES?” Each series is distinctly different, but there are plot and character consistencies throughout. The reason for this is that the original Fate/Stay Night light novel had three different ending routes: the original ending, which can be seen in the original anime series, the “Unlimited Blade Works” route, which can be seen in the Unlimited Blade Works movie, or probably in the new Unlimited Blade Works series (season 2 has yet to come out so it’s hard to say), and the “Heaven’s Feel” route which is being made into a movie.
Fate/Zero was created as a prequel to all of the events in Fate/Stay Night, so although there may be a few similar characters here or there and the theme of the story is the same, Fate/Zero is a more unique series than the others.
Plot: The common thread through all of these is definitely the plot. Every fifty years, the “Holy Grail”, a mysterious object of great power, descends from the heavens and comes to Japan. The Holy Grail will grant the bearer one great wish. However, in order to obtain the grail, those who seek it out must fight in the Holy Grail war. Only those who are mages or have the ability to use magic are able to participate in the battle, and the Holy Grail will choose the seven mages that it finds the most compelling to fight, based on the wishes in their hearts. Each of these mages then must summon a great heroic spirit who will fight for them in the grail war (this is where the historical figures come in.) It’s basically an all-out war among these 14 participants until only one servant and master is left standing.
I started out watching these series with Fate/Zero, which made the most sense to me because chronologically the story happens first. I was a little concerned about not being able to understand what the Grail war is all about, having not watched Fate/Stay Night, but there is a significant amount of time spent explaining the details and I really had no trouble understanding what was going on.
Fate/Zero’s story is about the seven mages and their heroic spirits who fight in the third Holy Grail war. The mages and their heroes are quite a unique bunch, to say the least. The story revolves around Kiritsugu Emiya, who was a sort of mercenary mage before he married into a prominent German magic family for the sole purpose of winning the grail—for himself and for his bride’s family. He summons the heroic spirit of King Arthur, and the series looks at his adversaries as a master and his heroic spirit’s adversaries as well.
I won’t go into all of the characters here because there are a LOT of major characters, but they’re fairly easy to keep track of and are all really unique, with their own special motivations. Some, like Kiritsugu, want to find a way to save people in the world with their grail wish while others have different ambitions or none at all. Bluebeard’s master, for example, sort of accidentally summoned Bluebeard even though he’s just a creepy serial killer, and Waver Velvet is a young student trying to get revenge on a mean professor who winds up stuck in the middle of the grail war.
My favorite parts of the show are watching the servants interact. Arturia, for example, acts exactly as you might expect King Arthur to act, full of grace and valuing honor above all else in combat. Alexander is rather reckless and sort of lazy (his master teaches him how to play video games) but extremely powerful. And Bluebeard is exactly as creepy as you’d expect a serial-killer with new magic powers to be with a serial killer master. Some servants and masters call temporary truces with each other to gang up and defeat a common enemy. The masters are also very interesting to watch to see the wish that each of them has, and how that affects the way they act. Overall, a great series, and I’d highly recommend giving it a try. Don’t be put off by the people walking around explaining the backstory in the first episode or two, as it moves quickly after that.
“Original” Fate/Stay Night (2006)
To be perfectly honest, I wish I’d skipped this one entirely. The anime has not aged well at all. It is nowhere near as action-packed as Fate/Zero, it falls into a lot of anime clichés, and is honestly not that interesting.
The story in the original Fate/Stay Night revolves around two main characters: Shinji Emiya, the adopted son of Kiritsugu Emiya from Fate/Zero; and Rin Tohsaka, the first daughter of Tokha Tohsaka from Fate/Zero. They are high schools students in the same class, and both of their parents have passed away.Due to the catastrophic and unusual events of the previous Grail war, only ten years have passed before the war restarts. Rin summons an Archer heroic spirit, but he has amnesia and is unable to remember his true identity. Through a freak accident, Shinji somehow ends up summoning Arturia (King Arthur) and enters the grail war as a master.
This series focuses a lot more on finding out WHO the masters are than Fate/Zero did. They aren’t all immediately made known and with the added fact that there are inexperienced high schoolers fighting for a powerful object, there are threats at every turn. But again, it just hasn’t aged well at all and is such a drag to watch. If I hadn’t watched Fate/Zero first, I might have dropped the series altogether.
Unlimited Blade Works (Movie)
Honestly, I would recommend watching this movie instead of watching the old Fate/Stay Night series, if you’re interested in the older versions of the series. It basically takes the series footage, splices a bunch of it together to eliminate all the weird clichés and drama leading up to fights, and then creates a new and interesting ending. It’s a lot better than watching the original series.
“New” Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works Anime Series
This show is soooooo good. The animation is absolutely superb. The fights are freakin epic! Every character interaction is meaningful and there’s not really much wasted time on screen, unlike the original Fate/Stay Night series. The plot is essentially the same as the original Fate/Stay Night series, following the same characters with the same heroes and such, although there are small plot changes thus far and the cliches that I hated from the original are removed. We will assume that Season 2 will follow more of the Unlimited Blade Works route (which I’m not going to spoil, but it’s really cool!) I honestly am waiting with baited breath for the second season, which is set to start next month!
Conclusion: My recommendation would be to skip the original Fate/Stay Night and Unlimited Blade Works series entirely, and start with Fate/Zero and roll right into the new Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works series (basically, watch both the newer Ufotable series) in that order. Fate/Zero lays out the story really well (probably better than Fate/Stay Night actually), and you’ll get some backstory and history on the few recurring characters that return in Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works. You won’t miss anything from the original series and I can’t really see watching the Unlimited Blade Works movie if the series is going to address this ending. The original series ending is much lamer, IMO, than the Unlimited Blade Works ending.
Tl;dr: If you want to watch some shows in this series but skip the crappy stuff, watch Fate/Zero followed by the new Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works series. Fate/Zero is available subbed on Crunchyroll or dubbed on Hulu Plus or Netflix, and the new Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works series season 1 is available subbed on Crunchyroll, with Season 2 set to start airing on Crunchyroll as well next month.