Of course, the series’ main story still focuses on the Holy Grail War. Character building is important but at the same time, it allows the viewers to directly see their actions. While Illya isn’t the most powerful servant in the show, she does make quite an impression against Shinji’s servant, Gilgamesh. What comes around goes around and events that unfolds shows her devotion to Berserker. She even shows her genuine concern towards her maids. The show also does a decent job with characterizing her past including the Einzbern family.
Do be warned that there will be some Fate/Zero spoilers involved. However, by this point, you should of watched Fate/Zero anyways. Later on, there are also some big reveals regarding Shirou and what his destiny may await him. It’s what really makes the show thrilling as it anticipate what viewers awaits next. What is holding the show back though is some of the omitted content from the visual novel. From what I understand, it added filler material (or so some fans call it anime original) and extended dialogue that makes some scenes unnecessary longer.
A strong point of this series is also the character relationships. At the center of it is Shirou who builds connections with others. In season 1, he build a prominent relationship of trust and respect with Saber. In the second part, he plays an important role alongside Rin. The first half of the series neglects Saber’s prominence as the majority of the time, she is trapped by magic. And without a servant, Shirou is running around without a servant.
He can only put trust in people such as Rin and at one point even admits that he has feelings for her. In essence, it shows how Shirou’s role can have profound influence on others through his ideology. In the meantime, other characters such as Illya/Berserker, Shinji/Gilgamesh, Caster/Kazuki all gets their screen time of relationship connections. There’s obviously some contrast between these especially with their climatic moments. But for what’s worth, Fate Unlimited Blade Works can really make some impact when it shows the way these relationships are executed.
As the protagonist, Shirou’s ideal and growth is a pivotal part of the show. This becomes a bit controversial at some stages as some people may not agree with him. Furthermore, these put into conflicts with others such as Archer and Gilgamesh. His idealism is similar to his former servant, Saber in many ways as well. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t put much emphasis in Saber as much as part 1. It still gives her some time for development and evolves both her and Shirou, but just not them on a personal level or at least as much as Shirou and Rin. Similarly, Shirou’s battle against Archer seems more like the apex of the show to me rather than the final fights. Here, we can see that Shirou is fighting for an ideal rather than just winning the grail/fight.
On the other hand, Shirou’s battle against Gilgamesh is stereotypical. Gilgamesh is a character that lacks strong characterization compared to the others although the show does flesh out his personality in full view. Egoistic, prideful, and arrogant are just a few words to describe him. But unlike some of the other servants, his relationships aren’t so well developed. Just look at Shinji for an example and see where how he ended up. As the latter half of this season unfolds, we’ll learn much more about each characters’ reasoning for their choices. And Fate being a show that emphasizes a lot on this with lectures and metaphors, it’s no surprise by this point. What I do have some issues with is the comedy and romance development. The comedy part seems like it has some improper timings. While it’s not a core part of the season, I feel like they don’t belong in this franchise at all except for some of the slice of life scenarios; mostly seen in season 1.
Ufotable does it again. When it comes to artwork and visuals, the series shows why it’s a powerhouse. Action is fairly solid especially in some of the more exciting fights. The Unlimited Blade Works is also highly decorative with the countless swords and symbolism. The backgrounds also has a mythic feeling to it when it matches its fantasy elements. My favorite parts would be the flower garden in one of the earlier episodes as well as the Unlimited Blade Works world. They really gave the word elegant a worthy meaning. Furthermore, we get a bit of violence to go along with all the action. Shinji, Illya, Caster are among some of these character that becomes a prime sample of this. On the other hand, the show isn’t immune to censorship. Some of the more graphic content is censored by magical context while we get a rather obscure symbolism between Shirou/Rin’s bonding. Hey, it’s not like this was surprising though. Did you actually expect them to do it on screen?
Soundtrack is a stronger point of the series. The OP and ED theme song has an eerie tune that matches with the coordination of its presentation. Shirou’s battle theme is also emphasized to show how much he has grown throughout the season. You simply cannot beat “Brave Shine” or “ring your bell”, and that’s a fact!