As GLORIO’s official Type-Moon fan as well as a SoCal local, I was legally obligated to attend the USA premiere of the newest UFOtable Fate project, a film adaptation of Heaven’s Feel, the original visual novel’s third and final route. Or, to be more accurate, the first of three film adaptations of Heaven’s Feel. So, naturally, I bound and gagged fellow crewmember Gee-Man in my passenger’s seat and braved the infinite perils of downtown Los Angeles to discover if it was all worth the wait.
Other LA locals will understand my trepidation at venturing into the city, especially downtown. I normally only make the trek for Anime Expo or the occasional family function, and that’s because the city streets are the stuff of nightmares. Some streets are two-way most of the time, and one-way during specific hours; everything’s covered with a layer of filth, including the air itself; and the level of traffic is rightfully infamous. Worse is the parking situation: nearly every former site of a large parking lot in LA has been paved over and used as a plot for another multistory office/apartment. While the convention center has halfway decent accommodations, we were headed for a theatre a mile away. I ended up at a privately owned corner lot a block away from the theatre to the tune of twenty dollars. I could have purchased a whole extra dinner with that kind of money. I could have bought a bottle of whiskey and stayed home entirely, and that might have been a more enjoyable evening.
I joke – on the whole, the movie wasn’t bad. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Heaven’s Feel myself (like much of the western fanbase, I’m more of an Unlimited Blade Works guy), but of course I had my own little list of scenes from the third route that I wanted to see with the full-on big budget UFOtable treatment. They’re typecast as the Type-Moon studio now, and of course their adaptations of Fate/Zero (our top anime of 2012!) and Unlimited Blade Works (read my thoughts here!) are generally quite well regarded. I’d venture that Heaven’s Feel compares quite favorably to the other two, at least so far.
Around these parts, we endlessly joke about how UBW has a double-length Episode 1 in addition to a double-length Episode 0, adapting a number of long-winded scenes about magic, the Holy Grail War, Servants, Reality Marbles, school routines, the layout of the town, Command Spells, Shirou’s somewhat suspect relationship with Issei, plenty of cooking and cleaning, the fight between Archer and Lancer, Shirou getting stabbed, “Are you my Master?”, et cetera. I tolerated all of that mostly because they were rightfully assuming nobody watched the two Studio DEEN anime and thus were doing a pretty straight adaptation. For the audience tuning in after F/Z, it was technically all new material.
Thankfully – since it can be considered “known” now – the film skips nearly all of it in favor of building up Shirou and Sakura’s relationship prior to the start of the story. Saber’s summoning and her bout with Lancer are in an opening credits montage – using stock footage from UBW – and although we’re treated to a fourth rendition of Saber battling Berserker, it technically has a different outcome than the previous version, squeezing in on a technicality. On the whole, there’s just way less retreading than I expected, and what is there refers mostly to Fate/Zero. On the other hand, this means that the film won’t make a lick of sense unless you’re already in the know. Fate is such a huge franchise at this point that it’s probably fine (especially if the alternative is huge expo dumps), but it’s definitely a barrier to entry.
Still, as mentioned, Heaven’s Feel sure gets the full-on big budget treatment. There’s a level of polish and showmanship in this film that only comes from an abundance of time, money, and technical skill. I found myself bursting out laughing a few times at how exorbitant the animation got, with multiple shots of Shirou walking down hallways being depicted in lavish, high-framerate detail. UFOtable’s liberal use of CGI is on full display as well, chiefly used for massive background elements (including a lengthy Servant battle across the skyline), flashy particle effects, or chilling otherworldly silhouettes. The directing surprised me the most, however; when I think of director Tomonori Sudou’s previous work with Fate and Garden of Sinners, I don’t exactly think of shot composition or cool transitions.
The crowd was certainly enjoying itself, as well. I haven’t attended too many big anime showings (the premiere of Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade comes to mind), but every time, the audience hoots and hollers, making it feel like a real event. I could definitely go without the wolf whistling (and the inevitable anime male gaze shots that prompted it), but it’s hard to not get caught up in the mood when everyone’s laughing at a joke or when the characters spout their infamous lines. I flat out applauded at the first confrontation between Saber and Rider; it’s one of my personal favorite bits from the source material, and damned if UFOtable didn’t do it justice.
So, on the whole, if you’re at all interested in Fate as a franchise, I’d say to definitely check out this film once it’s widely available. Freed from the burden of carrying as much exposition as UBW and wielding the power of the film format, it’s perhaps the smoothest adaptation of F/SN yet. While I don’t plan on venturing back into the city if I don’t have to, I eagerly await seeing if the next two films will keep up the level of quality UFOtable has become known for.
Rank B++ Other Observations
- Many of Illya’s scenes from early in the story were cut, or – more likely – moved to the second film, which should feature her more heavily.
- It’s a bit harder to take Shinji seriously as a character when you know he shares a voice with Choromatsu.
- For what it’s worth, Shirou’s dream sequence isn’t quite the version from the original visual novel nor the all-ages version.
- A character redesign or two from Fate/Grand Order make it into this film. You’ll probably know what I’m talking about.