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Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel
Marking my 2100th review here on Mikomi is this latest installment of the Stay Night continuity of the Fate franchise exploring Sakura's route from the Fate/ Stay Night visual novel game. The darkest route within the game, Heaven's Feel runs over three two-hour films exploring the main heroine's slow descent into darkness due to the manipulations of the Matou family elder, Zouken, who puts his own plans into action to eliminate the other Masters and Servants within the Holy Grail War for his own ends. Realizing Sakura's descent as their relationship deepens, Shiro finds himself conflicted over how to help Sakura as the Grail War pushes onward.|
There is a definite tonal shift in how the Heaven's Feel film trilogy feels with its content and mood. While Fate and Unlimited Blade Works were equally as serious with their story directions, the moods with both were a bit more lighter and the content with both would be on par with what you could typically find in many action TV anime aimed for a more general audience as both adaptations were based off the "all ages" version of the original visual novel game. Plus, the developments with Shiro in both story routes, despite their different developments, are largely the same to a degree as they don't greatly change the direction in which he chooses to come to terms with his ideals.
For Heaven's Feel though, Sakura's involvement in the plot makes for a different beast in that Sakura's character story is one where a more mature-aimed storyline and content would be necessary to adapt it considering its occasional sexual focus and dabbling into elements of horror. No longer constrained by TV content standards, the movie format allows Heaven's Feel to get more intense with it content given the more graphic level of its violence and not being shy to dabble into the sexual developments of Shiro and Sakura's relationship. For the latter, it isn't on the explicit level of the original visual novel. But it's the first animated adaptation of the Stay Night game not to shy away from exploring its more sexual elements.
Outside of the higher levels of content, the story focus also offers up a more psychological element to its developments in the exploration of Sakura's character. Without spoiling too much, I'll just say that Sakura's life has been a literal hell being raised by the Matous and you at least got a sampling of how that life was seeing the animated adaptation of Fate/Zero. The psychological toll of this is explored throughout the film trilogy, with Shiro's presence in Sakura's life becoming both a source of joy and inner torment for her as she witnesses the close bond Shiro also shares with Rin.
Besides Sakura, several other major characters get their own developments focused on with how Sakura's developments affect them. Shiro gets major focus as coming to learn more of Sakura's ordeal causes the biggest inner conflict for his ideals compared to prior Stay Night routes as he is forced to sort out how to react to his beloved's corruption. Rin and Illyasviel find themselves dealing with issues related to family bonds as they interact with Sakura and Shiro respectively as the world of magic strained these bonds to varying capacities.
Moving onto plot developments, Heaven's Feel does a great job for the most part of following the general story developments of the visual novel. The six hour total runtime of the film trilogy allows for a reasonable amount of time for major story and character developments to naturally progress, while still advancing the plot at a fairly reasonable pace. Because the film trilogy is made in mind for viewers of Ufotable's animated adaptations of Stay Night made throughout the 2010s, Heaven's Feel does skip over a good amount of the scenes and events that played out from the two other story routes of the visual novel under the expectation that fans would have already seen these in prior installments. This also includes removing a good amount of the visual novel's filler that explored the inner thoughts of characters and lengthy conversation scenes that slowed the progression of the story down. The movie does, however, expand on some key scenes from the visual novel that help enhance the impact that major events have on some characters and also adding in a sequence of scenes in the first film that show the beginnings of Sakura and Shiro's bond.
This said, the effort to try condensing the story route's events into a three-part film trilogy with each film being at two hours a piece does comes with its imperfections. Typical of visual novel adaptations, certain characters with more larger roles from other story routes of Stay Night get limited to no character exploration as they get quickly killed off due to the Matou family's increased relevance within the Heaven's Feel arc. Disappointingly, one major story development in Heaven's Feel with reduced exploration is the more closer family bond that Shiro and Illya have. A number of visual novel scenes focused on exploring their relationship either got removed or reduced in their length for the movies. This creates a rather jarring point during the third film's ending with Illya's role in it as the visual novel had explored more about how events with her got to that specific point instead of feeling like some sort of deus ex machina as the film portrays it. The compression of events also affects how some other scenes play out and may come across with Fate anime fans who aren't fully aware of the particulars of how specific events originally came about from the visual novel.
Presentation-wise, Ufotable returns to offer its animation talent for the film trilogy and retains the gorgeous, highly-detailed visuals and fluid animation offered up from its prior adaptations of the Fate franchise, which especially gets emphasized during the film's action scenss. Fan reception to the film's soundtrack may vary, as nearly all of it are original, dramatic compositions and lack any of the original music tracks from the visual novel, except for another remixed version of EMIYA played during the third film. Far as my thoughts go on the soundtrack, it's hit-or-miss for me as the dramatic compositions work nicely in a number of the film's major moments. However with the horror element offered up in Heaven's Feel involving Sakura and the Holy Grail, the soundtrack isn't the best fit to incorporate into scenes that put any emphasis on said horror.
Having been wanting to see an animated adaptation of Fate/ Stay Night's Heaven's Feel route for years now, I'll admit I'm content for the most part with what this film trilogy offers up. It retains the darker, more mature story elements of the story route offered from the visual novel with the psychological toll of the Holy Grail War's events affecting Sakura and the inner conflict Shiro faces with his ideals when deciding how to save his beloved from her cruel fate. The transition into anime format does have its shortcomings with some elements to its story focus condensed or removed and the choice of soundtrack composition feeling questionable at points. But beyond that, I'd still recommend long-time fans of the Fate franchise to at least give this film trilogy a watch.
Last updated Sunday, November 14 2021. Created Sunday, November 14 2021.