Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
WARNING: This review contains major spoilers for Fate/Zero.
This marks week two of ufotable knocking it out of the park with anime-original material. Ilya's backstory isn't as much of a deviation from the visual novel as Caster's, which was largely invented, but it did give visuals to parts of her life that had never been seen before – and even add a bit of connective tissue to Fate/Zero! For all you F/Z fans, remember when a corrupted version of Irisviel emerged from the Grail to damn Kiritsugu? Well, the Grail's back to tempt Ilya, seeing as she's Kiritsugu's baby from his marriage with the Einzbern homunculus. In the aftermath of Fate/Zero's finale, it looks like the Grail's remains managed to crawl over to Germany in order to have a conversation with the mini-mage. Dark Irisviel's continued existence is troubling in and of itself. Why didn't she vanish at the conclusion of the last Grail War? Was all of the energy in the past Grail used up? Maybe it has something to do with why the Grail reappeared after ten years this time rather than the usual fifty. I'd say that this Grail War sounds fishy, but don't all of them?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with both Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night, we learn an important backstory tidbit this episode – Kiritsugu Emiya is Ilya's father, making her and Shirou adoptive siblings. Her mom and dad disappeared at the end of the last Grail War, leaving her alone in the cruel, cavernous halls of Einzbern castle. When Dark Irisviel crawls back to her, Ilya becomes preoccupied with taking revenge on her father, who she hears has settled down with a new child. That explains her renewed interest in participating in the Grail War after realizing that it's an awful conflict. It's an opportunity to connect with and/or exact revenge on her father's new family. However, she just ends up as this story's first tragic victim, a sad end to the remnants of Kiritsugu and Irisviel's love.
The Einzbern family specializes in creating homunculi – artificial people with enhanced magical powers – to fight in the War. Ilya herself is the culmination of a millennia of research, a special hybrid homunculi fathered by a human. She's imbued with a ludicrous amount of magic circuits and has command seals all over her body. She was designed as the perfect master for a Berserker, the most powerful but least reliable servant class. In terms of raw materials as a master, you don't get any better than Ilya, and her loss this episode just goes to show that you can't assume anything about what wins a Grail War. The Tall Blond Man, with his infinite supply of Noble Phantasms (!?!), seems to hold the trump card, even if he's physically weaker than Hercules. Maybe he's connected to Archer, who can also conjure blades? I wonder what'll go down when these two servants encounter each other.
The relationship between Ilya and Berserker was well-executed. The tiny master manages to connect with the giant servant by appealing to their shared status as tools in a larger conflict. Ilya recognizes the situation's horror. She's been operated on every day for years in order to increase her capabilities as a master, and sees homunculi who look exactly like her tossed in the trash heap on a regular basis. These defective models pin all their hopes on Ilya as the justification for their suffering. This is, of course, a ludicrous expectation that should never be pinned on any one person.
The episode's biggest weakness is overdoing it with the tragedy during Ilya's death scene. While the emotions worked, they spilled over into bathos a little bit with both Ilya and Berserker having around three "final moments" each. Visually, it was yet another accomplishment. The best moment was Ilya and Berserker's fight with the wolves. It was an unusually visceral and bloody confrontation for a series where combat is dominated by acrobatics and magic projectiles. I'll miss Berserker as a presence. He was animated with an impressive and fearsome amount of weight.
The question remains, what will Shirou and Rin do now that Ilya is out of commission? Who is Shinji's servant? What game is Kirei playing? The War is starting to rack up a body count, and our heroes are at a serious disadvantage.
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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