Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
Ufotable's Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is back and about the same as usual! That means lots of long-winded conversations about idealism, soft gradients, and shots of Rin Tohsaka in her miniskirt. So far the biggest departure from the first season has been the color palette. The cyan and yellow that dominated Shirou's schoolyard antics all those months ago (to think that it's only been about a week in story time!) have been replaced by shades of blueish-black. It's an appropriate transition. In stark contrast to their optimistic beginnings, our heroes are currently on the brink of loss. They've seen death and now betrayal, with Archer switching to Caster's side out of dissatisfaction with his master's continued allegiance to the incompetent magus Shirou. It's a crippling blow. Shirou and his servant Saber were just forced apart, and now the other half of the Emiya-Tohsaka alliance has been tossed out of the ring. With just one-and-a-half functional masters and no heroic spirits, do our heroes still stand a chance in this historic death match? (There are twelve more upcoming episodes, so yes, but let's play into the suspense for a moment.)
Of course Archer turns out to be a turncoat. He's repeatedly said that he goes wherever power leads him, and Rin has gradually revealed herself to be nowhere near as ruthless as she claimed. On the other hand, Caster has ruthlessness in spades. Her historical identity is revealed to be Medea of Colchis, the mythological Greek princess who helped Jason obtain the Golden Fleece. In order to help him escape her father, Medea dismembered her brother, and when Jason betrayed her, she killed their children. Medea has been interpreted at various points throughout history as both a vile traitor and a victim to be pitied. Like Helen of Troy, she may have been cursed by the gods to love Jason against her will. His abandonment after all that she had done for him was a cruel act that left their children disinherited slaves. Medea has a tangled identity as both a victim and a victimizer, and her portrayal as Caster plays into both.
Rin has also figured out what Archer is. (The other question of who he is remains open.) He's a “protector” – a special type of servant that appears during times of turmoil to prevent humanity from destroying itself. The show doesn't mention what summons him to do this or why, but the important thing is that he's grown disillusioned with humanity. He discovered that assaulting the superficial problems caused by human conflict is a futile, exhaustive endeavor that never scratches at the real issue of why people fight. It's like babysitting a toddler for all eternity. You want them to grow, but all you end up doing is cleaning up the same mess over and over. So Archer turned into a bitter old fart who gives himself over to witches. You might be better off without him, Rin. At least Shirou doesn't talk down to you. It's also strange that Archer let them live, so maybe he's plotting something?
This episode also got to what I've been least looking forward to talking about in this show: Saber Lily. That's the semi-canonical name for what Caster does to Saber when she refuses to obey the witch. I'll be brief about it. The good news - they took out the dialogue that makes it explicit that Caster is sexually torturing Saber. The bad news – they leave Saber in a pose and outfit straight out of a sexploitation film. It could have been much worse, but moments like these strain my ability to enjoy what should otherwise work as a general audiences action show. Saber is a cool lady character in a medium with a dearth of those, and it's sad to see her abused unnecessarily for an audience's gratification.
Fortunately on the lady front, the Rin/Shirou romance continues to be handled well. After Archer's betrayal, Shirou finally admits his feelings for Rin. She accepts his comfort and spends the evening crying into his back. While most of the story threads around them are various strains of self-important nonsense, the burgeoning connection between these two abandoned kids continues to be the series' beating heart. They should just smooch already! Okay, maybe when they're not running for their lives.
I still feel that this is the point where the first season should have ended. It's the second half of the one-two punch that starts with Caster taking Saber, and the seasonal split dulled its impact. They also could have opened this cour with the nice fight scene that takes place next episode. As it stands, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works part two opened at its dullest (interminable conversations) rather than its most riveting (gorgeously animated action spectacular). Let's hope next week delivers!
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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