Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
After the climactic events of last week, our heroes could use a break. This means that it's DATE TIME for Shirou, Rin, third-wheeling grand champion Saber (who should be used to the role from her time spent with Kiritsugu and Irisviel), and Fujimura-sensei (who really should not have been placed in charge of teenagers). Plot-wise, the most significant thread is that Shirou's arm is messed up from that trick he pulled with projection magic during the fight with Souichirou, and it's giving him trouble with completing his chores. This is solved when Archer shows up to fix Shirou and lecture him about idealism again. Otherwise, this was another comedy/character development episode à la episode seven, but with the focus on Shirou and Rin's burgeoning feelings for each other.
Their relationship has undergone a number of permutations since the series began. First Shirou was a burden for Rin, a troubling reminder of her inability to live up to the expectations towards ruthlessness set up by her upbringing. Then, once Shirou proved himself somewhat capable, they were partners, people who could trust each other to a degree and cooperate to take down shared obstacles. Now that's grown into something more – genuine affection and mutual romantic attraction. If only Shirou would admit to it.
I know that Rin Tohsaka has a reputation as the ultimate tsundere, but Shirou is giving her a run for her money here. C'mon man, you like her; she knows and likes you back. Admit it, survive this war, and go make little wizard babies. After some extensive bickering, they do get to know each other better through a romantic chat in the moonlight, so they're on their way. They're pretty funny together, though. Shirou closing the door on Rin's face was a good gag. I like how uncomfortable he is around her now that they're in it hard for each other. Upon reflection, the school life parts of Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works could easily have been interminable, but they're made tolerable by this show's competence at physical comedy. It works better when it's subtle – stuff like Shinji's overzealousness at the opportunity to commit evil or Rin's barely-contained irritation when Shirou overlooks her advances. Fujimura-sensei doesn't work for me because the “wacky irresponsible teacher” shtick is such a cliché and there's nothing but unrestrained energy to her. Plus, some of the stuff happening to kids close to her makes me wish that they had a real adult around. It would've helped them a lot.
On a serious plot note, Archer's philosophizing is not nearly as deep as the show thinks it is. It's not vacuous, but he uses a lot of extraneous phrases to say what can be summed up as, “live for yourself, not a rigid, destructive sense of idealism stemming from an inherited hero-complex." That's a general flaw with Kinoku Nasu's writing - he'll come up with a relevant sentence and then pen a book of irrelevant material to justify it – but that becomes more apparent as Archer comes into prominence. There was some more odd dialogue as well. When talking about the boundary field around Shirou's house, Rin says: “Unlike the one at my house, you can sense human emotion in this one.” We're given no indication of what a boundary field looks like or how someone could read them as frigid or intimate.
The direction is also confusing regarding Saber's intentions when inquiring about Kiritsugu. She asks Shirou questions about him sometimes, but I can't tell what the direction is trying to convey during these scenes. Saber's face is often obscured, so I can't read her expression. When we do see Saber's face, it's curiously blank. I almost feel as though these scenes are being presented to me through Shirou's POV as someone ignorant of the events of Fate/Zero rather than that of an omniscient fan, unlike much of the rest of the show. Coming off of Fate/Zero, I'd expect her to be in the process of reevaluating her opinion of her former master through Shirou's perspective on him as a father. It seems like a missed opportunity to double-down on character development for both Saber and Shirou. It's becoming more apparent to me that Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works isn't interested in Saber's interiority. The fundamental misunderstanding between Kiritsugu and Saber was at the heart of that story's tragedy, and it's a shame to see it go unaddressed. It's an odd disappointment, although not one on which I can judge the show's standalone quality.
Next week, we send off season one with an hour long finale. Set up your boundary fields kids, it's looking to be a doozy!
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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