Fate Stay Night is a major franchise developed by Type-Moon with dozens of spin offs. It is most recognizable as an anime series, or more specifically, the birthplace of the characters Saber and Rin Tohsaka, two faces that have overwhelmed anime conventions worldwide since its 2005 game release. After twelve years, Fate Stay Night’s third heroine, Sakura Matou, has finally had her moment in the sun with the new Fate Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel which has premiered successfully in Japan this past October.
However, people who have yet to watch any of the Fate Stay Night anime might be met with confusion and a couple of tough choices. Many people who try to find the Fate timeline won’t know where to start, and it would take a little bit of research to figure out which anime series is the best introduction and which order you should watch them in. Lucky for you, if you haven’t started yet and want some loud, opinionated shut-in who has spent the last ten years of her life waiting for someone to ask her opinion about anime, then you’re in luck! Here is a detailed explanation of which adaptation would be best for you to start with, and why:
The first thing you have to know, is the the series started out as a visual novel. If you don’t know what a visual novel is, it’s sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure video game. There are a different number of endings and paths you can experience while playing the game, but most can be divided into three routes. The protagonist, Shirou summons a servant named Saber. Her objective is to get the Holy Grail by participating and winning The Grail War. Rin Tohsaka is also fighting in the grail war with her own servant. There are seven different classes of servant that you can summon: Lancer, Saber, Archer, Assassin, Caster, Rider, and Berserker.
There are three routes:
Fate Stay Night Route – Saber’s Route.
Unlimited Blade Works Route – Rin’s Route.
Heaven’s Feel Route – Sakura’s Route.
Each route has almost all the same characters, a similar timeline of events, bountiful action scenes and plenty of time for you to fall in love with whichever girl the main character has chosen to deepen his relationship with.
The differences are that each character takes on a different role and we learn new information about them depending on their position in the route. Someone who is a vital character in one route might be killed off instantly without any thought in another. The journey the protagonist goes on and the lessons about life he learns also change based on the specific challenges he faces and alters how he looks at himself and his ethics.
There is no “canon route”, though some may argue that the Fate Stay Night route is probably the closest to canon, most fans accept all three as “what really happened” so there’s no wrong answer when picking your favorite. Now that you have an understanding of the basics, I’ll jump into the options you’ve probably already been given by wikipedia, your friends and internet elitists.
Should I watch Fate Stay Night (2006)?
Fate Stay Night’s first ever anime adaptation premiered on January 7th 2006, from Studio Deen. This explores the Fate Stay Night route, where you learn the most about Saber (aka blonde girl with bun, blue dress and sword).
I would recommend this route if you wanted a well explained introduction to the series, have been a fan of other early(ish) 2000 anime and, like other anime from this time, want a detailed introduction to each character AND their motives. Also, since most Fate Stay Night fans started with this version, if you enjoy watching things “in order” then I’d definitely start with Fate Stay Night (2006).
This route focuses on the relations between Shirou and his father, and with Saber, as well as Saber’s past, Saber’s inner feelings, and Shirou’s struggle with his survivor’s guilt.
Most Fate fans have started with this anime, since it was the first to be released. For about four years it was the ONLY adaption of the series, so the only option was to start with this. It is also still the only adaption of the Fate Stay Night route, so if you’re a Saber fan it’s almost a necessity to watch.
This is a completely valid choice to start with, however, for the sake of your enjoyment and also my safety from other fans, I need to start with a disclaimer that this adaption is the most hated adaption by Fate fans. The most obvious problem is the art. This adaptation lacked the budget of the later ones, and was made nine years ago. Along with this, the art wasn’t particularly great, even for it’s time period.
The second problem being that despite this being the Fate Stay Night Route (aka “Saber’s route”), Studio Deen, not knowing that there would be future adaptations, tried to put parts of Rin’s and Sakura’s routes with Saber’s. Because of this, much of Saber’s story got lost, or was interrupted by the inclusion of the other characters’ stories. This led to her story being less expanded on, than other adaptations.
Even though I will agree that compared to the others, this is technically “the worst” adaption, I still did enjoy the anime, as it taught me new things, and helped me develop attachments to characters I hadn’t yet fallen in love with, even after watching UBW and Fate Zero.
TL;DR – Yes. But it’s aboslutely not the best anime on this list.
Starting with FSN (2006) is a great option. It introduces the characters, overall plot, and message of the series. It will make you more invested in the Fate universe, and make it easier to follow the rest of the different series.
This is the best adaption for beginners who know nothing about the series. It’s also still the only Saber route that’s been adapted into an anime.
HOWEVER, if less than stellar art, and poor adaptation of content and kind of cheesy story telling is too big of a turn off, then drop it.
Should I watch Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works?
Fate Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works premiered on October 4th 2014 from the studios Aniplex, Notes, and Ufotable. This route you will learn the most about Rin Tohsaka. (Aka the poster girl for “Tsundere” since memes were still cooling on the earth’s crusts.)
This is also a great adaption to start with. This anime’s release was celebrated, as it was made after the success of Fate Zero (made by the same companies.) The artwork is stunning and the storytelling is subtle but completely fair to its original content. Many fans both old and new consider this to be the best adaption so far of the Fate franchise in terms of quality.
This is a great choice to start with because you do not need to know anything, or any characters prior to starting this anime. This is an alternate timeline that exists at the same time as Fate Stay Night so any knowledge of the other routes that exist during the same timeline, or any prequels or spin offs, is helpful but unneeded.
This route focuses on Rin Tohsaka, the relationship between Shirou and Rin, the relationship between Rin and Archer, Archer’s past (which is seldom talked about), Shiro’s morals and what it means to be an ideal man, along with more information about the servants Caster and Assassin.
I would recommend starting with this adaption to most people, primarily because the art and storytelling is enticing. If you’re a regular anime connoisseur, and enjoy watching the latest and greatest anime, I’d definitely add this to your Crunchyroll queue.
I would PERSONALLY recommend starting with this adaption if your top priorities are:
- Beautiful Art
- Twist Endings
- Reflection of Morals and Perceptions
- Amazing Action Scenes
- Subtle Storytelling
However, the Unlimited Blade Works anime is a lot easier to follow if you have a basic understanding of the Fate universe first. Since it came out after over almost a decade of the fandom existing, it does allow for people who already love the series to follow it easier. It’s easy to watch this and have a little bit of a harder time following it, or becoming invested in thecharacters. A lot of people (myself included) have had an easier time watching this if they have a friend on standby to answer questions or offer short explanations about certain things from someone who’s already invested in the entire series.
(Be warned, don’t go looking for things online. Spoilers are guaranteed and pretty hard to avoid for this route.)
TL;DR: Absolutely, yes.
Unlimited Bladeworks nee
ds very little prior knowledge of the series to enjoy, explains everything from the beginning and has high quality animation up to par with all the other great anime that’s come out in the past three years. Many people have chosen this option and have become strong fans of the series. If you’re a fan of all of the up-to-date anime about a conflicted hero who is whisked into a world of magic and battle, this is for you.
However, is can be harder to follow or become invested in this particular adaptation. If you don’t find yourself enjoying it, try Fate Stay Night (2006) or talking about it with a friend who has already seen it.
Should I watch Fate Zero?
Fate Zero is an anime based off the light novels written by Gen Urobuchi, and produced by Aniplex, Nitroplus, Notes, Seikosha, and Ufotable on October 1st 2011. The reason I haven’t mentioned this adaption too many times yet, is because unlike FSN, UBW and Heaven’s Feel, it is not an alternate timeline, but a prequel to all three timelines that was written years later.
Many people will tell you to start with this anime if you want to get into Fate Stay Night, because it technically was the first to happen chronologically. It takes place during the previous Holy Grail War about a decade prior. Most of the main characters exist in this series as well, and the anime elaborates on their past to give more depth to the decisions they make to form the stories that take place in Fate Stay Night, Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel. This story is a favorite of most Fate universe fans I’ve talked to, and many people consider it better than it’s three prequels. I’d have to agree with them, echoing my love for Fate Zero and personally considering it the best and most enjoyable adaption. However, despite all this, I personally suggest that you do not start with this anime.
In order to appreciate the story and a lot of the characters you need to form an attachment with them or their children. Many of the best parts of the anime revolve around information that’s only discusses in the Fate Stay Night alternate timelines. I’m not waving the possibility of “Fate Zero is the superior anime so they didn’t like the other series for a reason”, because that’s totally valid. I’m just saying it’s harder to enjoy the other two after the standard that Fate Zero set.
Despite it being considered by many to be the best, and despite it technically chronologically happening first, it is not the best anime to start with. It was created in the same way as the Star Wars prequels were written, years after the original had premiered and become successful so they could explore the universe of the franchise and elaborate on the character’s development. It’s probably the most well known nerd rule that you shouldn’t watch the Star Wars movies in “chronological” order by number, and I feel the same applies with Fate Zero and the Fate Stay Night timelines.
There are a handful of people I know with very good taste that have only watched Fate Zero and told me they enjoyed it. Fate Zero is also recommended more times by die hard fate fans, but it’s also where a lot of potential Fate fans go to die. The most common complaint with people who started with Fate Zero is that they had a really hard time getting into the other Fate Stay/Night anime.
Every time someone says that they “tried to get into Fate and couldn’t” they usually started with Fate Zero. On paper, Fate Zero looks the best. They’ll read “Fate Zero has the edgiest story, the darkest subject matter, amazing art and it’s the greatest adaption out of all of them” on paper, and then feel frustrated when they don’t care or can’t follow. “If I like that type of anime, and I care more about quality than I do about Waifus, then why waste my time on the others?” most people think before choosing Fate Zero. Their friends will tell them to give it another chance, but without the context, a lot of Fate Zero comes off as really boring. Sure, you’ll be sad for the girl covered in worms and separated from her family, but after learning who she is, you’ll be downright devastated.
It’s happened to me and my friends constantly. I didn’t care about the first episode of Unlimited Blade Works, so my friend told me to watch Fate Zero instead because it was better. I got about 12 episodes in and didn’t care so I gave up. Then, instead of finishing with Fate Zero, I restarted Unlimited Blade Works again and got really into it. By the time I finished UBW and started Fate Zero, I wanted nothing more than to binge the entire thing in one night. Every time someone tells me that they didn’t like Fate, I ask them if they started with Zero and tell them to start Unlimited Blade Works and see if that changes their mind. 9 times out of 10, they’re a Fate fan by the end of the week.
TL:DR: Strong maybe. It’s a “no” if you’re even a little unsure.
I don’t recommend starting with Fate Zero. I will tell you that it’s my personal favorite and usually considered the best of any other anime mentioned on this list. I feel like it’s best watched after you’ve gotten attached to the characters in Fate Stay Night, Unlimited Blade Works or Heaven’s Feel. Watch Fate Zero last if possible for maximum enjoyment.
It’s also because the bar will be set so high that you might not enjoy the others as much.
Should I start with Heaven’s Feel?
Fate Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel released in theaters this past October and will have it’s U.S. theater release at 7:30pm on November 3d. It is going to have two other movies following it, with the second to relea se in 2018.
It has not yet been released for streaming or public consumption as of yet, so it is impossible to start with this. It will be 2019 by the earliest that all three parts of the Heaven’s Feel film trilogy will be available for the public. Even so, once you have become a fan of the Fate series, I strongly recommend watching and learning about the Heaven’s Feel route no matter how the films come out.
Now that you have a basic understanding of your options, it’s up to you to start watching! I know that many fans might read this article and not see eye to eye with me on some of my thoughts, so I welcome all disagreements, conflicts of opinion and criticism as long as it’s not in all caps, or written in blood on my windshield. (and preferably in comment form.)
I’m happy that I was able to help you start the long, long, expensive journey of being utter and complete Fate fandom trash, I wish you luck!