Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
Earlier in these reviews, I was worried that Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works might not have enough story to fill out its runtime. The pace had become glacial, and not all of the added material felt like it contributed to the story. Seven episodes later, I'm confident in saying that I was totally right. FSN:UBW has taken the express train into snoresville, and I'm unsure if it can recover at this point.
Part of the problem is that Unlimited Blade Works isn't a very complicated story. It breaks down to Shirou confronting the endgame for his ideals (his future self as a broken and morally compromised man), and either choosing to change or continue down that path. Rin also learns that she's a loyal, moral person and not a ruthless pragmatist, but at this point in the narrative that transformation is already complete. Everyone else is either a tool of Shirou's story or an obstacle for him to overcome. For example, Lancer is fun, but he has no thematic purpose. Neither does Kirei, really – he's there as a holdover from other routes, just to supply the real villain, Gilgamesh.
Compare this to Fate/Zero, where almost every single character had their own well-articulated interiority and message to impart. Fate/Zero's Kirei: if you emotionally neglect your children, they'll become broken (and possibly dangerous) adults. He also acts as Kiritsugu's foil. Fate/Zero's Lancer: unfortunately, the world does not reward nobility. His fate also foreshadows Saber's. I can do the same thing for more than a dozen other characters. These characters were well-articulated because they were constantly interacting with characters other than the lead, Kiritsugu. Their worldviews are revealed and challenged by each other.
By contrast, FSN:UBW is chained to Shirou's story. Who else has a developed arc divorced from Shirou in FSN:UBW? Caster is a tragic scorned woman who finds solace in the sentient hunk of rock Souchirou and uses ruthless means to start a new life with him. So, alienated and empty people can find solace in each other? The world's cruelties turn good people into bastards? How is this applicable to the Shirou/Archer or Shirou/Rin stories? I'd say that Shirou and Rin are alienated, but not empty. Archer was a well-intentioned person who became a jerk because the world was mean to him, but he never has a substantial interaction with Caster besides out-ruthless-ing her at one point. War is hell, I guess. That's the only other story that FSN:UBW tells. There just isn't very much going on, so the material is very diluted. It probably would have been best as a 13-episode series.
I haven't been having much fun with this show for a while. It became all about the extremely dour Archer/Shirou relationship around the time Saber was kidnapped. There have been some bright spots (like Lancer and Gilgamesh) but even they're being pushed out of the way to make room for Archer's broodfest. Also, in order to compensate for the dearth of material, the show has fallen into a strange pattern of following up episodes where plot happens with ones that laboriously explain the significance of that plot over and over. This frustrates me as a reviewer because the show is both doing my job for me and churning out episodes where not much actually happens. This week, Saber, Shirou, and Archer had a twenty minute conversation that reiterated Archer's nihilism and backstory as a Counter Guardian. Some lip-service was paid to Saber's regrets and her life as King Obvious-Spoiler, but it didn't amount to anything. She's not the focus of this route, so she doesn't get an arc. I already discussed Archer's deal in last episode's review, and I don't feel like repeating myself.
Now for Stuff That Actually Happens: Shinji prepares to assault Rin, Lancer rescues her, and Kirei formally reveals himself as Lancer's master. ufotable spilled the beans on Lancer's identity early, so this scene doesn't have much impact. What does have impact is Lancer's death – seeing that his servant has become attached to Rin, Kirei commands him to stab himself through the heart. I do question the decision to split up the beginning and end of this scene, but we'll see how it plays off next time. This is also where Rin learns that Kirei, her mentor, is actually the man who murdered her father. Despite how emotionally significant this should be for her, the direction prioritizes Shinji's reaction over hers. It's an odd choice that undercuts her role as the secondary protagonist.
Finally, Shinji's assault on Rin was gross and unnecessary. It wasn't as bad as it could have been (no blushing or squirming), but the shots of him feeling up her legs were clearly meant to titillate the audience. I'd prefer it if my entertainment didn't expect me to derive pleasure from a woman being nonconsensually felt up, thanks. Rin is also strangely limp throughout it. She doesn't struggle or spit in his face, like you'd expect she might. Instead, she's as limp as a log. Normally, she's a very assertive person. I used to think that Shinji was funny, but that was back when he didn't seem like a threat. Please no more rape imagery, UBW.
I hope that this is the worst episode.
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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