Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
Episode 23

by Gabriella Ekens,

Well, this episode is an improvement over last week because more than one thing happened in it. After a round of not-sex, Shirou and Rin head out to stop Gilgamesh's plans for human extinction. Shirou is supercharged, Rin can't use magic, and Saber only gets one shot of her Noble Phantasm. Saber is supposed to distract Gilgamesh, but ends up waylaid by a fight against Assassin. Shirou holds the ancient king off for a while with his mana-enhanced projection powers, but ultimately stands no chance against him. Meanwhile, Rin pulls Shinji out of the Grail's fleshy mass, but that only makes it angry.

Gilgamesh's weakness is his pride. He's the strongest servant, but his tendency to underestimate his foes means that he'll be reticent to bring out the big guns. The biggest gun is that red spinning drilldo thing, Ea. It's an anti-world noble phantasm, which means it can destroy pretty much anything, including Reality Marbles. This is a problem because Shirou's projection powers are dependent on a Reality Marble, Unlimited Blade Works. So Gilgamesh could have annihilated Shirou/Archer whenever he wanted. He just doesn't, because he considers that a waste of his powers. Hubris, pride before the fall, all of that jazz.

I'm not sure what the point of Saber's fight against Assassin was. He was a loose end, but the narrative wasn't clamoring for Assassin's backstory at this moment. Gilgamesh's reunion with Saber would have been a lot more interesting, because they have history. Saber is Gilgamesh's motivation. He's the main villain in this arc, and the core reason he's stuck around – to claim Saber as his own – has barely been addressed. Assassin's backstory is also strangely on-point for how wasted Saber's character has been. He's a broken freak servant (due to having been summoned by another servant.) That makes him a historical figure who's been summoned as a fictional character. It's like the Grail pulled the version of Sasaki Kojiro as portrayed in folklore into reality rather than the man himself. (As opposed to the historical King Arthur, who was a teenage girl, or Gilgamesh, who looks like part of a Korean boy band, of course.) As a result, Assassin doesn't have much interiority, and exists solely to guard Ryuudou Temple's gate. This is also reflective of Saber, in that she mostly exists as Shirou's muscle and the reason for him to be in the war. There's no way to change this without deviating from the visual novel, and that's the last thing this adaptation seems willing to do right now. So Saber is excluded from what should be her battle. It's a shame. The visual novel is structurally unsuited for a linear TV series adaptation, and this degree of slavishness has made the anime not only dramatically inept, but baffling toward the end.

Shinji somehow emerges from being Tetsuo'd unharmed. It's unnerving that Rin is so eager to rescue him – the slimeball did sexually assault her – but there's a way it could have worked thematically. Shirou's idealism doesn't just let him rescue the people he likes, after all. Unfortunately, it isn't articulated well. Shirou and Rin don't express anger toward him appropriate for all he's done: he's a rapist and attempted mass-murderer who beats his sister. It seems like FSN:UBW doesn't understand the gravity of what it's depicting.

Visually, this final confrontation pales in comparison to earlier encounters. The fights with Ilya, Caster, or even Gilgamesh's introduction in episode fourteen were more striking setpieces. I think they failed to make Shirou's Unlimited Blade Works powers look very interesting. He uses those ying-yang shortswords exclusively, and Gilgamesh's mass-produced blades are all this repellant dirty yellow color. The portals full of weapons have been overused at this point too. After the fifth battle of dudes shooting swords at each other, the novelty has worn off. There's no physical motion here, it's all power spam, and there are no more opponents left. It might come across better in prose, but it's stagnant in animation.

Just two more episodes remaining...

Grade: C+

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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