the Fate of a franchise

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Yesterday, I dragged my wife to the theatrical premiere of Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel, because I’m a nerd. She had no idea what the anime was about. The film barely explained the concept that underpins the franchise, which can easily discourage newbies from diving in. The question is, of course, was the film made for anyone but the true fans? Does it have to appeal to anyone else?

Fate is a multimedia franchise which started out as an erotic visual novel (Fate/stay night), then was adapted into several anime and movies and games. The business model is lucrative, as it relies on pre-existing fanbases to continue paying tribute to their favorite stories. The only reason anyone would be interested in the Heaven’s Feel movie, by that logic, is because they got sucked into the fandom vortex and are obliged to keep up with the story. This also suggests the movie doesn’t have to be self-contained but can rely on other franchise installments to explain the narrative.

Heaven’s Feel rode the coattails of its massive backstory, feeling like a rushed patchwork of story elements I was familiar with instead of a solid narrative. As a fan, I appreciated the new content; I also acknowledge that there are two other films to come. But despite knowing Heaven’s Feel is a spinoff based on Fate/stay night, failing to inform potential new audiences about the dynamics of the world seems a bad business decision, especially for a franchise looking to suck people into its sprawling narrative. The practice feels a bit exclusionary, which can work as a business tactic if the existing base can be reliably milked for more money. This makes some sense: historically, the notion was that anime is for middle-income, lonely salarymen in Japan, who could afford to drown their sorrows in cute cartoons and pricey toys.

I’m expecting a couple expensive PVC statues in the mail later this year, both based on the Fate character Jeanne d’Arc. I must be one of those “milked” fans…