Looking at this screen before typing this post, I am a bit astonished and a little wordless. I mean, obviously not the second one literally because this is a blog, but you know what I mean right? This is the end of a long journey for these Heaven’s Feel films. Especially thanks to covid shutting down all the theaters where I could have watched these films earlier. Waiting for any sort of release, digital or otherwise was a pain and I finally watched it. It’s been so long that just getting to watch it was its own emotional journey. Especially since I am not a person that pirates anime often. Unlike the other things I do that for because there isn’t any hope for a digital or physical release, I knew that Spring Song would come out eventually. This is the longest I’ve ever waited for a release and in the end, it was worth it mostly. It’s a good film, but not a great one.
Heaven’s Feel is a trilogy of films that, of course, focus on the Heaven’s Feel route from the original Fate/Stay Night visual novel. Each route features our protagonist Shirou as he teams up with his Servant Saber in order to fight in the death game for the holy grail against six other master mages and servants from all over history in magical powered form. The first route, the fate route, is focused on Saber herself. Unlimited Blade Works is more focused on Rin Tohsaka as the main protagonist and is a bit messier and darker than the fate route. Then we have this film’s route which is centered on Rin’s abused younger sister who was traded to another mage family due to ancient customs and who faced horrible things no human being ever should. Her name is Sakura and she’s had a hard life and just wants some happiness. Is that so wrong?
Since this film series is Sakura’s story, that’s a good way to summarize them. Heaven’s Feel I or Presage flower is our larger introduction to her and the usual grail war stuff. Sakura has always been a background character beforehand, so it’s nice to see her up close and person by forming a friendly bond and them beyond with Shirou every day. The second film, or Lost Butterfly, is where Sakura’s past starts to take over as she starts to fight and lose against the darkness within her from her abuse and the ssytem that doesn’t like her as she gains power from the holy grail. As expected, everything goes wrong. So obviously, that means Spring Song is about Sakura’s redemption and destroying the past systems that lead to Sakura being abused.
So yes, the film does not start in very comfortable places. Sakura is running around with her dark powers trying to form the holy grail, Shirou has a servant arm attached to him, Saber was taken over by Sakura’s dark grail goop and is the very sexy Saber Alter, Illya, who is technically Shirou’s big sister, is in trouble considering that dark Sakura also has Berserker under her control as well. The only servant that is free is Sakura’s original servant rider who is endlessly loyal to Sakura and wants to see her return. The entire film is a climax and handles all of these things and more in two hours of time. It’s a very emotional movie but it never feels like a dark one to me despite everything going on and the messed up and horrid nature of all of these things.
On a character level, Spring Song is very good. There is a lot of simple, but very good relationships and character beats that feel natural to how they move and are resolved. The jealous between Sakura and Rin is very present here and very relatable considering how Rin always seems to get all the good things according to Sakura’s point of view and Sakura is always gets tortured and nothing she ever wants. It’s very Gamora and Nebula from Guardians in the Galaxy in that sort of way if you know what I am talking about. Did this conflict just appear now? Well no because it’s always been there in the franchise, but this is the first time its been brought into focus. While Shirou is there, the story feels resolved because of how Rin finally accepts and saves Sakura.
The theme of siblings is something that radiates throughout the rest of the film in different ways. The relationship between Illya and Shirou is very adopted sibling in nature and while a small bit, plays into the film in very good, soft, and sad ways. I also think that Rider (or Medusa) sees Sakura as some sort of sibling too and Rider’s kindness leadsto Sakura’s redemption later on. Plus, I can’t help but feel like Kirei is Shirou’s bad uncle because he know’s Shirou’s dead father (because he was his enemy in Fate/Zero) and uses that abuse in interesting ways. In general, all of these relationships are fun and interesting. I really dig this cast so much.
Where this film partially diminishes itself is when we discuss how the past systems hold down this system. As a person who has watched Fate/Zero, Zouken or Sakura’s abuster, has a heavy presence in this film. If I didn’t watch Zero, I wouldn’t know who he was because the film doesn’t dig into his horribleness as much as it could for good and bad. Seeing Zouken die three times is wonderful and feels so good that I wish he died more times before it was permanent just to make him suffer more. Kirei is another person that represents the past. While their interactions in the middle of the film and conclusion at the end of Spring Song make sense, Shirou is still held down by Kirei until Shirou can be the person he wants to be in this story. So Kirei’s conclusion and Zouken’s conclusion led to the kids finally being free to live out their lives.
In the end, the complete lore behind the holy grail is a little too much for this film. I realize that this is Fate/Stay Night and there is always lore behind every corner, but I wish it could have been concluded more organically then “here it is when it’s more important”. For instance, does knowing who created the grail itself really add to the experience? Well, I guess so but it’s not important to the characters at all except for that dagger Rin has to fight against Sakura’s magic. Same with Sakura being slowly over taken by a servant with no personality by the name of Angra Mainyu. All Angra does is eat hot chip, look angrily as they are being pushed out of Sakura’s life and also stare at all the things going on around them as they inevitably die, and lie. These are nice wikipedia entries, but for a six-hour story told in a short amount of time, nothing as important as they could be. The fate dead weight just hangs out and is so blah. I feel like this could be skipped and it would be a stronger film. Sometimes, leaving things unexplained is ok.
The strongest part of all of these films for me are the visuals. Not just because Ufotable is behind their production. They have done a stellar job with Fate/Zero, Unlimited Blade Works, and other franchises that are not a part of Fate and the Nasu verse, but the Heaven’s Feel films are just so good. As strong as a television production can be, it can’t do what a movie can. These Heaven’s Feel films show how inhumanly strong Fate Servants are. Their attacks and bodies go so beyond the physical limits that humans can do for even Ufotable’s love and work put into their other series. The crazy thing is that it’s all very believable because it’s all directed well. There is a heft and weight to every individual character, their level of abilities, and the damage put into the scenery around that is so astounding to me. I just can’t say enough about it. If anything, all of these films can be a fantastic show case for art and animation if there wasn’t anything else to discuss.
In the end, I think Spring Song (and the other two Heaven’s Feel films) are good movies that shouldn’t be missed for fate fans. Heck, I know that fate fans have already watched it. I do not think that they are solid or the most perfect films possible because this is still hours and hours of story crammed into six hours of movie time. There are a lot of bumps and compromises that make the film not as strong as it could be. For instance, the lore and other things are not as strongly placed or associated with the Heaven’s Feel films because there isn’t as much time to organically place them into it. Unlimited Blade Works and Fate/Zero struggled a bit with this as well, but at least they were given enough time or used in a more character specific way. Characters first and lore second was a good decision, but the fact that there was a compromise means there is some heavy weights behind all of it so it couldn’t be as strong as it could be. Making an adaptation is a pain for this reason…