Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
Episode 18

by Gabriella Ekens,

The big reveal has finally arrived. While Saber's identity is Fate/stay night's “Snape killed Dumbledore,” Archer's is easily its “Sirius dies” in terms of importance versus mass audience spoiler awareness. It hasn't been stated in dialogue yet, but all of the characters have figured it out. The visuals this episode went out of their way to make it as obvious as possible, so I'll just get out with it: Archer is Shirou from the future. Archer wants to kill Shirou to spare him the fate of becoming Archer. This makes sense, since Archer sucks, and it seems like it sucks to be Archer. I would prevent the existence of Archer if I could.

Archer's origin: over the course of his life, Shirou's idealism leads him to sacrifice more and more of himself for other people. His constant interference in other people's lives doesn't make them happy, doesn't make him happy, and just leaves him more and more disillusioned. It's a common dilemma explored in fiction – a single person shouldn't place the entire world's well-being on their shoulders because it won't help very much and wears the hero out quickly, limiting any help they can provide to the short term. If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back, yadda yadda, moral compromise is a necessary part of being a functional member of society. It's not new. This same theme has been explored in works as varied as Trigun, Maria the Virgin Witch, and even Fate/Zero.

The difference between Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works and these shows is that FSN feels like it's taking an awful lot to say very little. Its much-vaunted “study of idealism” is much less nuanced than what Trigun, Maria, and Fate/Zero managed to convey in shorter timespans. It amounts to “Shirou learns to reject the hyper-masculine concept that men shouldn't be caretakers or depend on other people.” That's about it. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine message. Many young men seem to have latched onto FSN for saying that, and that's valid. It's just not a grand study in morality. Fate/stay night isn't puddle-deep, but it's not saying anything particularly unique. It's spectacle with a well-done central romance, and that's more than enough to make it worthwhile.

It's theorized that the Unlimited Blade Works route's Archer resulted from the Fate route's Shirou. That Shirou would've been the one who entered into a romantic relationship with Saber, taking up her mantra of total self-sacrifice. This ideology is self-destructive for both Shirou and Saber. Shirou is the only member of the pair to survive the Grail War and practice this into adulthood. While noble, it's unsustainable on a personal level, and Shirou is eventually driven insane from despair. At some point he sells himself out to become a Counter Guardian and protect people forever. However, all this means is that he becomes a pawn in a cosmic game of checks and balances, killing as many people as he saves, driving him even more cuckoopants. He tries to find a way out of this by getting summoned into the Grail War as a servant and killing his teenage self before he becomes a Counter Guardian. But Rin botches the summoning and brings in Archer as an amnesiac. He doesn't regain his memories until after she's formed an alliance with Shirou, which means that he has to find a way out of his partnership, which brings us to the situation we're in right now. Yeah...it's a time travel narrative.

In other news, it's good to have Saber back, even if it's as a second wheel to Shirou's story. Saber and Rin make a pact, so Saber's finally become the walking fortress she was destined to be. I do have to call BS on something though – Saber would not have agreed to hang back and let Shirou take down Archer by himself. Shirou may have Important Feelings to resolve, but Rin's life is on the line, and there's no in-story indication that Shirou can take Archer down. It's not like one fighting or the other fighting is the only option! Saber could fight alongside Shirou. Part of his arc has been learning to rely on others, and he and Rin have been fighting in tandem for a while now. But no, this is an Important Shirou Moment, and he needs space to work out his issues, even if it costs everyone their lives. Not the time, dude.

I also don't like that they kept in Shinji's intent to molest Rin. It reflects badly on Archer's character. We're already iffy towards him for betraying half of the Grail War's participants, and now he's giving a girl up as a sex slave for not much of anything. I mean, we're supposed to see Archer as a misguided but fundamentally good guy. I can't see any version of Shirou doing this, especially for such weak reasons. The best case scenario is that it's part of another gambit. If not, I'm pissed.

Lancer joins the good guys again because he's crushing on Shirou Rin. They'll probably need him, since Archer and Gilgamesh have both chosen to crash in the remains of Chateau Einzbern. Oops. The two Archers don't seem to get along. They do have nearly identical powers, except that Gilgamesh possesses the original blades, while Archer has the ability to make copies. This also means that Lancer's master is there. That'll be awkward.

Overall, this was an eventful episode hampered by a few of the show's more unfortunate character moments. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is still going strong, but it can stand to not be this rocky.

Grade: B

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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