Note: I will be reviewing the whole Fate/Heavens Feel trilogy, as such there may be some generalized spoilers for the first two and you’ll want to be sure to have read last weeks article on the Fate/ franchise as a whole.
Heavens Feel has had a bit of an odd go of things as a story. Its one of the three main stories from the original game and is arguably the most “cannon”1 yet barely has a presence in the original, not very good, anime series due to being a very different take on things. While Fate is a story about the Holy Grail War and Unlimited Blade Works is a story about the Servants there’s enough overlap between them that you can merge them together. Not so with Heavens Feel, which is focused on the three families behind everything and pretty quickly goes off to do its own entirely unique take on whats happening.
After the success of Fate/Zero and Fate/Unlimited Blade Works it was pretty much a no brainer that ufoTable would come back and finally tackle this story, the only question was in what format. Being the longest story meant a TV series was a possible idea, before settling on doing a movie- and thankfully quickly realizing a single movie wasn’t going to work leading to it becoming a trilogy so as not to repeat the mistakes of the UBW movie.
Lets get one thing out of the way first, if this is your first introduction into the franchise you’ll be confused approximately 5 minutes into the first movie. Because the opening part of the game has been done twice before in previous TV series they rightly decide to relegate almost everything with the first day to a montage over the opening credits so you’ll want to at least have watched the first couple episodes of Fate/Unlimited Blade Works to follow whats going on there. With that out of the way the first movie wastes no time on getting to new stuff which is what you’re here for anyway. This whole storyline is focused heavily on Sakura (too heavily at times, we’ll get to that) so having seen Fate/Zero will help a lot in places too to understand whats up with her backstory, almost to the point of necessity actually since shes barely a character in any of the other incarnations and more than UBW this is the true sequel to the events of Zero. That first movie alone gives Sakura more development as a person and why she sticks around near Shirou than the rest of the franchise combined, and the second movie continues this with… uneven results.
The big difference in this storyline vs the others is that early in the War a mysterious Shadow starts to appear which can apparently ‘consume’ anything by touching it, even Servants, and promptly throws the whole Holy Grail War into a mess as several of the Masters realize they need to team up to stop this far greater threat. The first movie plays out mostly like what you’ve come to expect from the franchise with this bit of a twist until its final moments which see not only a major character “die” you wouldn’t think would bite it so early, it also sees the reappearance of Rider in her full strength mode to lay a smack down on True Assassin. The second movie takes these developments farther with a badly beaten Shirou attempting to form any kind of alliance he can to help Sakura as he learns whats happened to her only to keep running into more dangerous enemies and the constant suggestion Sakura is beyond saving and needs to be killed.
Here the trilogy hits its first major snag- the pacing of the second movie is awful thanks to adapting the middle part of the story. The first half is very action oriented before swinging hard in the second half to nothing but Sakura character development which slows things down to a crawl setting things up to be fulfilled in the third movie. This results in a movie which really can’t stand on its own no matter how sharp it looks. Also note the second movie has a couple different sex scenes in it, as well as talk of rape and an attempted rape so its very much a rated R movie that can throw off people used to the anime versions of the story playing things mostly for light fanservice.
The third movie is the culmination of everything up to this point across the franchise- finally explaining what Zouken is trying to do, why the Grail has been corrupted2, gives Kotomine more than one dimension, and helps bring Shirou’s journey with his most compatible girl to an end. In truth, the development for Sakura is good enough to almost make up for all the faults of the movies on its own- her tortured (literally) past is addressed and she comes to a measure of peace with everything that happened to her over the last 11 years. Plus she gets some very satisfying resolution to both of the main aggravations in her life at the end of the second and third movie. What it doesn’t do is give Tohsaka Rin the development she deserves and it has an ending which may not make any sense to someone who hasn’t played the game.
First off, Rin. Rin as a character is in a very rough spot, shes been a major figure in several anime adaptations but not even UBW really got into her deeper personality. The game has multiple scenes from her point of view letting you really understand that the persona she shows on the outside tends to be a front a lot of the time with a very conflicted inner core torn between her duties as a mage and what she wants as a person. That conflict is a HUGE part of the Heavens Feel story as she argues with Shirou constantly about what to do with Sakura because of it, and ultimately its her resolution to this conflict which saves Sakura more than anything Shirou does. The trilogy touches on this at times, but in its focus on Sakura it skims a lot of the Rin stuff which just leaves her hanging at the end (especially the epilogue which completely removes the considerable amount of stuff about her from it).
Then there’s the ending, which made me want to stand up and ask everyone I could in the theater if it made any sense to them if they hadn’t played the game, aka not a good sign. There’s really two major factors at play which creates three or four issues: the game is almost entirely in the first person so you get a lot of internal dialogue the movie doesn’t have so some crucial exposition about what some characters are doing/having happen to them is missing. The actual epilogue itself in the game is basically unfilmable, it happens two years after everything with someone going around thinking back on a lot of random stuff from that time gap so its almost all introspection, but what they put up there seems very short as it only cares about Sakura. This is fine as Sakura’s story is the whole point of the trilogy, except there is at least one dead character who suddenly shows up without explanation and a cameo from Touko Aoko (of Garden of Sinners fame) which is missable if you haven’t just watched those movies. They could easily have put in some lines of dialogue at various parts of the movie to have Shirou comment on his memories not working right anymore and/or have Touko actually meet with Sakura (like she does in the game) which would go a long way to making things not confusing to the point of distraction to newcomers.
Its made by ufoTable, it looks great. Moreover, its a movie and they absolutely went wild with the budget making everything as absolutely sharp as can be from little animation quirks (there’s a quarter pan in the third movie with Sakura’s face slowly turning to a glare as the camera moves which is very well done) to the big fight scenes. The big set piece of the second movie, a fight between Saber and Berserker, goes on a bit long which doesn’t do the pacing of that movie any favors, but the rest of the fights are gorgeous with the kind of impact you want to see from magically powered legends fighting each other. They even added in a couple fights in the first movie to give all the characters at least one showcase fight.
The music is pretty damn great too as you’ve probably come to expect from the franchise by now. Its hard to undersell just how much of it there is as its in almost every scene, yet it never really becomes distracting which is quite a feat.
Ultimately, as an end to the original run of Fate stories Heavens Feel is great. Its production values and focus on a very story-oriented aspect make it indispensible to fans of the franchise. The first movie is easily the best of the three telling the most complete story, just don’t sleep on the second and third parts as for all their missteps there’s still a lot to enjoy in each. The first two are available on blu-ray currently, with the third having just had its COVID-delayed theatrical premiere so it should be out within the year. Sadly none are currently on any streaming service, though unless you get 1080 streaming you want the blu-ray anyway for how good this all looks.