Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
Shirou and Rin have pinned down the fourth master's identity as Souichirou Kuzuki, their teacher and Issei's fellow resident at Ryuudou Temple. This was an excellent confrontation episode, with possibly the best fight in this already gorgeously-realized adaptation of the visual novel. Hand-to-hand combat is rare in Fate, despite its premise of magical and weapons-based heroes duking it out. It's a huge shock that someone like Souichirou would even try to punch out Saber, much less win against her, although his victory seems predicated on the element of surprise. Then again, Team Caster has proven themselves a formidable enemy because they know how to use limited resources to their greatest advantage.
I liked how the fight utilized its setting. The sound design carries this best, from the way the glass shatters when Saber gets thrown through a window, to the clank of Rin's body hitting a railing at high speed, to the thud of Souichirou's fists against Shirou's wooden pole. All of it sells me completely on his speed and strength, and Souichirou's blows in particular have an impact that the more magic-and-weapons oriented fights lack. There's an extremely satisfying crunch whenever he lands a critical hit, and his movements are accompanied with writhing flesh sounds. The shaky-cam is also done well. It's a slightly-derided technique that can be overused in television anime, but I haven't seen anyone complain about it here. The camera's movements become more intense to match the severity of what's happening onscreen and halt when the bodies in motion do. This show knows how to use a moving camera effectively, and the fight with Souichirou exemplifies this.
Souichirou and Caster's dynamic is complicated. Although her previous actions have proved her both adept and willing to manipulate people to her own ends, she bristles at the accusation that Souichirou is her puppet. Still, she has been keeping secrets from him – he didn't know about the “gas leak” incidents or Shirou and Rin's identities as masters. For a mage as powerful as Caster, it should be easier to brainwash than deceive him, but she values his individuality despite being unsure of how he might react to her unscrupulous actions. Right now, Souichirou seems to have his own will that just so happens to not sway from Caster's very much. Their relationship has unexplored depths, and I'm interested in learning more about it.
Although Shirou managed to drive them back, it's difficult to tell who left the battle with the upper hand. Caster is still after Saber, but didn't make it out with her in time. She has a more honest relationship with her master now though, so they may be working in more active tandem in the future. Both sides have greater knowledge of their enemies' capabilities, and Team Caster has retreated to a nigh-unbreachable defense at Ryuudou Temple. Shirou and company suffered the most damage, (although Rin recovers instantly from a blow that seemed fatal. What the heck?) The only thing they know for sure is that they'll never have such a good chance to take them out again.
Meanwhile, Shirou's crush on Archer pays off when he's able to spawn the servant's trademark yin-yang swords in combat and hold off Souichirou. The reason why is still a mystery – apparently Shirou's innately skilled at projection magic, an unusual field with few practical combat applications, and it's just now starting to manifest. Is Shirou developing powers similar to Archer's, or siphoning them off of the Servant somehow? Either way, the connection between the two men seems deeper than just mutual hatred and fascination: curious. Rin also dreamt about her servant's past. Their relationship has dissipated to the point where Rin no longer trusts him around either Shirou or Caster. Things are going to be really bad between them soon. In her dream, Archer appears in the sword dimension where we keep seeing Shirou, impaled with blades, and relating memories of destruction. Actually, wasn't he summoned with amnesia? I wonder if he's starting to get a sense of himself again.
This episode's main downside is that the Matou family's magical worms resemble dismembered penises again. They're not as bad as the original VN's design in that the phallus is on the back and the head is a leech-like shape, but I would rather not be reminded of Fate/stay night's massively uncomfortable rape storyline that hopefully will not become relevant in this anime oh god. Why didn't they just opt for Fate/Zero's redesign, where they look like carnivorous sea cockroaches? Maybe hanging around Shinji for the past ten years turned them into massive--well, it would happen to anyone. So far Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works has been doing a great job of remaining woman-friendly. I really hope it keep that up.
Otherwise, that final scene at the Matou's is great. I love Shinji Matou. He is human slime and deserves everything that's coming to him. His shiny new Servant, gifted from Kirei, loathes him with every fiber of his regal being. It's even better if you know who he is and what he's done before. (I won't spoil for complete newbies, but it's common knowledge both early in Fate/Zero and by this point in the VN.) This character is also headed toward his comeuppance, but even he might not deserve Shinji. I liked his elaborations on his morality, too - his value system is incongruous with the “superfluous” modern world, and it grates on him. Who could be more superfluous to this story than Shinji? Well, maybe he'll find something for Shinji to do...
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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