Ever since I gave up on my final essays to catch Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower on the big screen and failed because all the seats were booked, I’d been committed to watching the rest of the movies in theatres. I am very lucky that I was able to do so for not only Lost Butterfly, but also Spring Song. Now, I know it won’t be available outside of Asia for at least another year, so I’ll keep this post as spoiler-free as possible.
Considering how average I found the first two films to be, I was surprised I enjoyed Heaven’s Feel III. Spring Song to the extent that I did. Don’t get me wrong – Presage Flower and Lost Butterfly had some of the best anime fights I’ve seen, enhanced only by dramatic Kajiura soundtracks – but I had less to say about the characters and found myself waiting for some of the emotional scenes to be over. Especially a certain bedroom scene (Fate/Stay Night being an eroge and all, sure, but the execution was just cringey).
Spring Song was the most thematically powerful out of the three, and though the first two films didn’t do much to make me go beyond pitying Sakura on a basic level, the third movie really got me internally screaming “Sakura deserves all the happiness in the world!” like everyone else. The guy sitting beside me actually cried throughout the final quarter, and I could kind of relate.
It’s no joke that Heaven’s Feel is the darkest Fate/Stay Night route, and you would have known from watching the first two films too. Spring Song not only fleshes out several characters (Sakura, obviously, but also Rider, Kirei, and Zouken), but is probably the adaptation that explains the Holy Grail War the fullest. Its explanations are far from enough and leaves anyone who didn’t play the game (like me) with a ton of questions, but it does provide critical context that’s previously unaddressed by other adaptations.
If there’s anything to criticize about the film, in addition to it not being too friendly to casual fans of Fate, it’s the convoluted logic behind some magical fights and action scenes. That goes for every other Fate show though, and I’m a thematics > logic person, so it wasn’t too difficult to overlook.
As it’s a two-hour film that has to wrap up one of three main routes of the original game, the film does suffer from fast pacing at times, particularly when it comes to critical battles. I didn’t mind when I was watching it, but I’ve seen a few reviews complaining, and do think they have a point.
Based on other early reviews I’ve read, some players of the original game were also disappointed that the movie cut out certain iconic scenes and lines, and felt that the climactic scenes left more to be desired. After reading about those VN only scenes, I can kind of see why, but I also thought the movie was strong enough as it was, and was impressed by the materials that were added (some good flashbacks and quotes).
Trying to say as little as I can, but it’s the female characters’ time to shine! Shirou doesn’t steal the ladies’ shows like he always does, and I’m happy to say that nobody got confined to the role of damsel-in-distress without having their own moments.
Spring Song is a remarkable exploration of heroism, sacrifice, and redemption. It gives Shirou a chance to go beyond acting on what is right, but forces him to determine what happens when who/what ought to be right isn’t. In other adaptations, I’ve found Shirou annoyingly hypocritical. Here, Shirou stops constantly trying to throw away his life for vague ideals on justice, and truly learns to reflect on the fact that “people die when they are killed.”
About Sakura. I’m sorry for calling her “boring” before. I still have some qualms about her characterization in the earlier films, and how rather simplistic and predictable her descent into madness was, but what Spring Song established was giving Sakura a voice, rather than forcing us to see her through Shirou’s ideal-blinded eyes all the time. It really makes her more sympathetic and more convincing – quite an accomplishment, considering how unstable and self-contradictory she gets as the film progresses. I’ll say it again, the world belongs to Sakura!
Also, I’d like to say that I’ve never understood Kirei Kotomine as well as I did after this movie. It did justice by presenting him as a more morally complex character than I was aware of in both Fate/Stay Night 2010 and Fate/Zero. Plus, he’s had more comedic moments than ever before in the Heaven’s Feel trilogy, and Spring Song certainly built on that in fantastic ways.
Sound and Animation
Out of all the Fate/Stay Night servants, Rider has always been my favourite to see in action – hair, chains, figure and everything. You bet Spring Song scratched that itch. Ufotable + Yuki Kajiura can’t go wrong! Again, you’d have to suspend your disbelief a bit with Ufotable’s hyper-extension of space and characters’ superhuman ability to navigate them while dodging flying objects, but that’s really just an anime thing, and you’d be fine if you’ve ever watched any shounen. As an FGO player, I can say that the servants stayed true to their skills and NPs, and the fights made me quite happy.
Didn’t find the ending song as memorable as the first two (it needs time to grow on me), but in classic Kajiura fashion, its lyrics and musical motifs echo the first ED, so it’s still worth listening to the very end. For those of you who want to get ahead of yourselves, it’s out on YouTube already:
Complementary Type-Moon Works
Here, I’d like to clarify that the only Fate works I’ve seen in full are the 2010 Deen adaptation of Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero. I’ve seen some of Unlimited Bladeworks and looked up the rest of the plot, and have had Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family on my TBW list for too long. I’m caught up with the mobile game Fate/Grand Order, but am used to skipping dialogues.
While this movie sure makes me want to play the visual novel, it’s not a prerequisite for enjoying the trilogy. That being said, as anyone who’s seen the first two films would have figured out by now, the Heaven’s Feel movies skip a lot of the central plot (including the iconic Saber contract scene), and you’d need to have seen at least one Fate/Stay Night adaptation to have a good grasp of what’s going on.
Having seen Fate/Zero would be excellent, and I’d also like to add that watching the Garden of Sinners movies would greatly enhance your experience. This isn’t just because the third film features an exciting Garden of Sinners cameo, but because Ufotable animated both, and you can really see how Fate/Stay Night built on Garden of Sinners prototypes in this trilogy. Perhaps you can say the same for Unlimited Bladeworks, which I still haven’t finished, but Heaven’s Feel is a little more similar in tone and subject to the Garden of Sinners series. It added to the feels aspect of Heaven’s Feel for me.
Here are, in obscure point form, all the other (un)important things about the film:
- Divine Banquet Craft Essence
- Kyrie Eleison.
- I am…the bone of my sword…!!!
- Ah, the cute and modest minions of darkness
- Rin goes yagate kira kira! (don’t kill me for the reference)
- Sister’s Noise
- The puppet master
Alright, I hope I covered everything without covering everything. What are your thoughts on the first two films, and do you have anticipations for Spring Song? Highly divisive questions, but what is the correct Fate watch order to you, and who? Genuinely hope that Spring Song becomes available in the rest of the world soon, so I actually have people to discuss the film in English with!