Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
Time for the penultimate episode, where Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works wraps up the entire story. I'm surprised that there's an entire episode left. Gilgamesh is dead, Saber is dead, Archer is dead (after briefly still being alive), and the Grail has been destroyed. Shirou and Rin remain to live out their lives in peace (until Shirou's hardline idealism turns him into a broken shell of a man, but we're blissfully ignoring that.) All's well that ends well, except for Shinji's continued existence. “Sorry I couldn't save you, Shinji…” Seriously Rin, what are you thinking?!
First, it's time for some thematic resolution. (Or re-re-re-resolution, in this case.) Shirou reaffirms his ambition to sacrifice himself for others, this time against Gilgamesh. I've expounded on why this fails as a resolution to the show's dilemma – it's just selfish obstinacy rather than noble-self sacrifice – and the last minute solution the show posits to this paradox is Rin. She'll try to prevent Shirou from becoming Archer, and that's the best answer UBW can give us. That's altogether too much pressure to put on an equal partner in a relationship. Make sure that your hubby doesn't fall into existential despair and become a hardened executioner in service to a cosmic bottom line! It's a bad solution, and I've heard it before. At least it didn't take three episodes to discuss this time.
I'm also unimpressed by the resolution's visual execution. It feels like they're recycling set pieces. Shirou's reality marble was the backdrop for three episodes during the show's thematic climax with Archer, and now I never want to see it again. As an empty expanse of CG dust and clouds, it didn't have a long spectacle shelf-life in the first place. The grail itself isn't much better. It features some of the gaudiest color work in a show that's otherwise been quite good at color design. Compare any frame of Rin scaling the flesh mass to Ilya's backstory episode or Gilgamesh's introduction, for example. Everything is obscured by splotchy darkness here, and someone's been going overboard with the brightness and contrast filters.
Shirou's method of defeating Gilgamesh doesn't even make much sense. His advantage is that he can counter Gilgamesh's firepower one-to-one, not knock his noble phantasms out of the sky with any swordsmanship of his own. Shirou can make swords, but how can he suddenly jump thirty feet in the air? How can he use Rho Ais twice, when Archer using it once depleted almost all of Caster's mana? Not even battle mages like Kiritsugu or Kirei from Fate/Zero could perform video game jumps like these. I mean, I'm all for the conclusion of Shirou taking Gilgamesh out with Unlimited Blade Works, I just don't think he would do it while tumbling around like Super Mario. There's also a disappointing lack of variety in the noble phantasms they conjure. They have an infinite number of legendary weapons from throughout world history to choose from. This amounts to some greyed-out models of swords, spears, and axes in this battle. Yawn. This would be a good place for Easter eggs! Maybe have Gilgamesh launch Lancer's Gae Bolg, or Caster's Curse Breaker, etc., some stuff that's recognizably powerful and diverse. Ufotable missed their chance to make FSN:UBW's conclusion a real spectacle.
I wish they'd let Gilgamesh change out of his awful track suit. Of the three outfits he had in Fate/stay night, this was the least impressive by far. He's supposed to be the main villain; let him don his iconic golden armor. Gilgamesh really does seem clinically depressed in this route. I blame Shinji. The illusion of carefully-crafted worldbuilding has also collapsed by now. There's no rhyme or reason for what the grail is doing. First it needs Shinji, and then it needs Gilgamesh when it doesn't have Shinji. Shinji is right there, on top of you, with Rin. Why not just try harder to get Shinji back, and then have Saber destroy Shinji AND the Grail? Nothing would be lost.
Then Archer came back to deal Gilgamesh the finishing blow. This was a bad, but obvious twist. Even though it discounted his ideals, the show still esteems Archer. He survived to approve of Shirou's stubborn decision to embark on the path of becoming a Batman-style tortured avenger and deliver some Archer ex Machina.
The battle is over. Next episode is all epilogue.
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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