Watching the first Heaven’s Feel movie with an audience in a theater was a fun experience. With the right audience, when you watch action scenes you can feel the excitement of your fellow theater patrons and dramatic scenes can also be amplified by the collective investment in the emotional swell of a scene. The problem is the wrong audience can jar your out of a scene just as easily. While I enjoyed the hell out of Lost Butterfly in the theater but during certain scenes the audience reminded me they were also there in the worst possible ways.
I recently wrote up a history of the adult scenes of Fate/Stay Night and how they have been adapted into anime over the years. I know some of my readers know this all so better to put it as is own footnote for those who are not Type Lunatics. So if you don’t know what Realta Nua is you might want to at least skim that post. Otherwise, let’s continue.
At the end of Presage Flower, it seemed like Shirou had hit the bottom floor in his decent but as it turns out there were still several basements and sub-basements to get through before he hit rock bottom. After the Black Shadow, True Assassin, Zouken defeat Saber the Rin and Shirou alliance rush to find allies among the remaining Masters and Servants. But it is all in vain as the Black Shadow consumes several more power Servants including Gilgamesh and Hercules. To make matters worse the kindly Sakura seems tied to the monstrous Black Shadow. What will Shirou and Rin do if their greatest enemy is linked to someone so precious to them?
Heaven’s Feel has always been the most sexual path in Fate/Stay Night which is saying something since Fate/Stay Night is an adult game. Ufotable decided to keep true to that by retaining in the sexual content from the original PC version. There is no nudity so the adult scenes are somewhere between PG-13 and R. It is really a little too risqué to be PG-13 but it is a little too soap opera to fully earn an R rating. Overall I think they kept the intensity without diving into the realm of overindulgent fan service. They could have gone with the Realta Nua versions of the scenes but I think it would have dulled the themes a bit. This version let the story be mature and adult without being porn with plot.
The main problem with the theatrical experience was it was like watching the film with a bunch of little kids. The amount of hooting, hollering, and giggling during the sex scenes were just sort of embarrassing. I admit that as much as I love Fate/Stay Night it is not a combination of Shakespeare and Infinite Jest. It is very solid genre fiction with some clever writing at points alongside some of Nasu’s … peculiarities. That said I think the sex scenes were thematically appropriate and did not feel gratuitous, silly, or tacky. So while sexual content in a juvenile horny harem show or a disgustingly lascivious series like Master of Martial Hearts might elicit an awkward chuckle or an exasperated groan I think Heaven’s Feel dwells within a more dignified realm. Now you can argue about the merits and flaws sexual politics of the sexuality in Heaven’s Feel until the cows come home. As I said Nasu’s has some … peculiarities but I think it is all content that should provoke contemplation and debate but not laughter.
I was always in the camp that felt that would have preferred to keep the sex in the Fate/Stay Night adaptations. While I never felt that they needed to be as explicit as they were in the games but I would have argued that a more PG-13 version would have gotten the original story across without diving into the realm of pornography. I never had a problem with Realta Nua or anime and manga using it as the blueprint but it was not the way I would have gone. After watching Lost Butterfly in theaters I totally understand why it was the way that things worked for the longest time. If the original Fate/Stay Night anime would have had the original sex scenes and not a CG dragon I wonder if the series would have been as popular. I think those scenes might have prevented Fate from breaking out of its niche and remaining this series based on a porn game and nothing more. It is clear that even after 15 years of fandom there is still a sizable percentage of the fandom that cannot take the adult content seriously.
Beyond that despite that and having some killer heartburn that day I enjoyed the movie immensely. As always Ufotable brings their A-game when working on Type-Moon titles. The animation was spectacular and continues the high-caliber work they have been doing since Presage Flower. While the quiet scenes and fantastical scenes are still highly atmospheric and have gravitas the action scenes are what you are going to remember on a visceral level. The fight between Berserker and Saber Alter radiates raw power. It feels like the battle between two gods with everyone else being mere bystanders (other than the Black Shadow.) That is not to say that the other scenes are not as powerful. Many of the calm scenes do a great job in releasing tension to help heighten the tension of the creepy scenes. Also, the scenes of Sakura’s dreams especially just before she consumes Gilgamesh are a great mixture of whimsy and terror than blend together perfectly.
While I was watching this movie I sort of realized this is the most edgelord friendly of the three paths of Fate/Stay Night. I know that is a little mean and I don’t want that comment to diminish the quality of Heaven’s Feel but that also does not make it untrue. The fact that many of the strongest Servants have been brutally murdered or corrupted, Sakura’s dark past and decent into monstrous depravity, Shirou’s rejection of his noble ideals, or the general dark mood of the storyline are all hallmarks of edgelord materials. Back in the day, the Fate path was seen as the most basic and boring path, Unlimited Blade Works was the exciting path where things started to get good, and Heaven’s Feel was the mature and philosophical path. Looking back on it I respect what Heaven’s Feel does but I also feel some of the old acclaim comes from the timeless idea that darkness equals depth. I would never accuse Heaven’s Feel of being shallow. I just think that there is a decent amount of complexity of themes in the first two parts. In fact, the themes and story in Fate and Unlimited Blade Works help add a richness to everything in Heaven’s Feel. Parts of Heaven’s Feel only have the impact they do thanks to what the player experienced before that point.
It is a testament to the quality of Lost Butterfly that despite having a terrible audience I had a wonderful time. I guess I should be used to Type-Moon fandom being generally made up of cool people but also have a core bunch of vocal brats that have to put a damper on everything. (When Sakura in involved this is doubly so.) I was a little worried that Ufotable might have to rush things to do everything that Heaven’s Feel needed to do in only three movies. Lost Butterfly does an amazing job of setting up everything for the final movie. I can’t wait to hear the Spring Song.