I first discovered Fate/Stay Night by seeing some video clips of Saber and Gilgamesh fighting, followed by Gilgamesh expressing his desire for her. I figured this must be one hell of a romance, and so I bustled over to my anime sources to check it out.
Then I found out that the leading character is this human boy who somehow becomes a mage Master and receives Saber as a Servant. That's okay, I told myself. Saber still gets all the attention because she's the most powerful and the most mysterious character in the series.
Then the lead character, Shiro Emiya, starts being surrounded by all these girls. I kind of caught on when yet another girl suddenly decided to live with Shiro... when he's already surrounded by three girls. I still told myself that it's okay. After all, Gilgamesh is definitely hotter and more powerful than Shiro. And by then I was already too intrigued with Gilgamesh's identity to stop watching this series.
Then before I knew it, I have been duped into watching a shounen anime with a female harem theme. Fate/Stay Night is based on an erotic visual novel game created by Type-Moon. It has been adapted into an anime series with 24 episodes, which aired in 2006. The series has then been adapted into a manga series. Type-Moon also released Fate/Stay Night game spinoffs.
Shiro is actually an orphan. Ten years ago, his parents were killed in a massive fire. He was the only survivor of that catastrophe. He was found and adopted by a mysterious man named Kiritsugu Emiya.
A few years later, Kiritsugu revealed to Shiro that he is a mage. Shiro then had all these idealistic visions of using magic for good, and he asked Kiritsugu to teach him so that he too can become a mage. However, Shiru's progress was slow. Kiritsugu passed away a few years later, and Shiru's mage abilities only extended to magically diagnosing and repairing machines.
While Shiro goes about his daily activities, a war among magi is unfolding. Every ten years, Fuyuki City is the site of a competition for the Holy Grail. Seven magi are chosen to participate in this deadly game, and each is known as a Master. Each mage receives a magical being that is bound to obey his or her orders (to a certain extent), and each is known as a Servant. Notably, Servants were prominent fighters back when they were alive, and most of them are still widely known in history.
The main objective of the Holy Grail war is to have the last Servant standing. Only then can the Holy Grail be summoned to grant the wishes of the victorious Master and Servant. And so during the war, Masters and Servants battle to kill each other. As Servants are very powerful, Masters often seek to kill other Masters instead. Without a Master, a Servant becomes unbound. However, an unbound Servant can then bond with another Master who has lost his or her Servant.
The anime starts with another mage, another high school student named Rin Tosaka, summoning her Servant. Unlike Shiro, Rin was raised to be a mage, and she knew that she will be competing in the Holy Grail war someday. She sorely wants to get Saber as her Servant, for she knows that Saber is very powerful. However, she ends up with Archer, who is a relatively unknown Servant.
The war soon begins, with mages hitting the floor running. Shiro inadvertently witnesses a battle between Archer and another Servant, Lancer. The war is supposed to be a secret, so Lancer springs to kill Shiro and thus effectively silence him. Shiro survives Lancer's first assault because Rin used her magic to heal him.
Lancer attacks Shiro for the second time. At a dire moment, Saber appears and announces that she is Shiro's Servant. Then she proceeds to fight Lancer. Thus, Shiro becomes a participant in the Holy Grail war.
Shiro reluctantly participates in the war. His main objective is not to win the Holy Grail, but to prevent further loss of lives. He wants innocent people spared, and he seeks to eliminate only Servants and not Masters. For some reason, Rin cannot bear leaving Shiro to flail around by himself. They establish a truce that is supposed to be temporary, and she shows him the ropes of being a Master.
Together, Shiro and Rin discover the other Masters and Servants. They also work to thwart other Masters' diabolical plans to exploit innocents in order to win the war. At the same time, they also have to protect themselves because other Masters and Servants do not think twice about killing them. Both Saber and Archer reluctantly work to abide by their masters' wishes.
When Rin loses Archer, she resolves to continue helping Shiro attain his objective. As the war progresses, the two of them realize that there are darker issues that underlie the quest for the Holy Grail. Shiro also finds that he is attracted to Saber. He starts wondering who she was in her previous life, what her motives are as a Servant, what she wants from the Holy Grail, and if it is even possible for the two of them to be together.
The graphics in this game range from respectable to great, which is probably not surprising, since it is based on a game... and games nowadays are obligated to have fantastic graphics aside from fantastic gameplay.
The seiyuu for the characters are decent. I really don't pay attention to the seiyuu until something about them bothers me. The only weird part is when Archer starts speaking in English during his final battle. Maybe I'm just not used to watching anime with Japanese audio and English subtitles that suddenly switch to English audio.
I suppose the main character is okay. Shiro is a nice, sweet, naive, and somewhat gullible guy who just wants to save the world. For some reason, he attracts girls everywhere, hence the female harem. I'm glad he's not a clumsy and perverted lecher, which is how I generally view heroes of female harem series. I'm also glad that there is really no fanservice in this series. That would have been the deal breaker for me.
Rin's presence also made me stick with this series. She is a main character, and she seems to help Shiro primarily because she wants to help in the war and not because she has the hots for him. Or at least, that's how I chose to interpret it. She is also mischievous, crafty, feisty, and somewhat dignified. It's just too bad she's not The Main Character.
Saber is a main character as well, and much of the storyline revolves around her. She is portrayed as emotionless, efficient, reserved, and somewhat two-dimensional, and so it was hard for me to like her as much as I liked Rin. She is haunted by her past and is confused about her feelings for Shiro. What a surprise. I kept hoping that Archer and Gilgamesh are actually the same person and that Saber will end up with him.
This anime is actually pretty good, even though I profess myself as a rabid fan of series with female protagonists that have several guys fighting over them. So if you prefer gooshy shoujo anime but would like to experience some variety, this might be worth checking out. Of course, you have to make sure that you do not expect gooshy developments.