Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
Now this is more like it. This episode consisted almost entirely of original material, and it also happened to be the most engaging one in a while. In the Fate/stay night visual novel, we never got a glance at Caster's original master or the beginning of Shinji's assault on Einzbern Manor. They're practically given their own episode here though, and this emphasis on new material work out pretty well! One of the best things about this adaptation is that it isn't so chained to Shirou's POV, so there's more room for interactions between other characters. It's pure fanservice, but a good kind of fanservice – just extra time with characters who won't be around for much longer.
Caster's original master was a pompous jerk who couldn't stand that his servant showed him up. It makes me wonder why he summoned Caster, considering that class is guaranteed to result in a superior magus. Whatever, he's not the first idiot to die in the Grail War. The point of this character was to make Caster more sympathetic, which seems necessary in light of her recent actions against Saber, and they accomplish this by making Caster's previous master as unlikable as possible. He's a douche-bro with a dumb haircut and a stereotypical arabesque harem, who plans to win by synthesizing child slaves into magic crystals. Basically, he was this war's version of Fate/Zero's Kayneth El-Melloi, a pedigreed Mage Association foreigner who entered the conflict for glory. Caster is opposed to his methods for being both skeevy and inefficient, so her master insults and beats her. He subscribes to the “traitorous witch” interpretation of the Medea myth and mistreats her. This show, by contrast, reads Medea as a tragic victim-turned-victimizer, so this doesn't work out well for him. As revenge, she breaks their contract with Rule Breaker, then burns down his laboratory and murders him, even though this guarantees her imminent death. As she lies dying in the rain, yearning for her homeland and contemplating the futility of her actions, Kuzuki finds her and takes her to Ryuudou Temple. He makes a new pact to save her, and Caster is smitten – men haven't been very nice to her over the course of her life, and Kuzuki is an exception. Currently, it seems like the ancient Princess might be motivated by her new beau.
They do stray from the VN a bit here. Originally, Caster pretends to be loyal to her master until he wastes his command seals on trivial matters and she can murder him. Here, the two have an antagonistic relationship from the beginning, and Caster's master wastes his seals on massive idiocy. (Of course she can break the contract by stabbing herself, moron.) I also appreciate that Caster wasn't sexually abused by her Master. That would've been a cheap way to accrue sympathy, and the show is stronger for not going there.
In terms of present-day plot, Shirou and Rin decide to solicit Ilya's help in taking down Caster. They head to her manor, where Ilya is embroiled in a battle against Shinji and his new servant. Sella and Leysritt, Ilya's maids who are most prominent in Fate/Hollow Ataraxia, are fan-favorite characters, and they're given a moment to shine by bullying Shinji (always approved) before his servant kills them with a shower of blades. Then an enraged Ilya barges in with Berserker to eliminate the intruder. Ilya's tough, but judging by how easily Shinji's servant wiped out the Einzbern bodyguards, I suspect that he'll be a problem for our heroes in the future.
After a weak introduction to the new season, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is back to what it does best – lavishly animated confrontations between familiar characters. I'm impressed that this episode didn't feel like a waste of time despite maintaining the series' glacial pace. This also might be one of the best looking episodes so far. The flower garden in particular was a gorgeous set piece. The bright color palette was a nice change-up from last week, where so much of each shot was dominated by black. It looks like next week will start out with a bang – Ilya versus Shinji, brat versus brat, Hercules versus blond mystery bishonen. Will Ilya finally get to have her conversation with Shirou? And what is the homunculus' relation to Kiritsugu?
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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