Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
Two years after the Grail War, Shirou and Rin have moved to England in order to attend Magic College. As the heir to a lineage, Rin formally enters the Mage's Association while Shirou is accepted on a three year trial. They live together happily as a couple. Shinji is, for some reason, alive and recovering from his stint as the Blob. Sakura visits him every day, presumably to poison him to death, thus purging the world of a great evil. Archer monologues into the void, because the show couldn't end without another one of those.
I really did like this epilogue. That is to say, I liked it as much as I possibly could in light of all that came before. The episode is fun and light like the series' first half was. It reminded me that Shirou and Rin do have good chemistry and that I want them to succeed as a couple. Rin's transformation into a stereotypical tsundere and the show's descent into Shirarcher's childish psyche nearly ruined their rapport, so this was a nice reminder that FSN:UBW is, at its best, a love story between two confused, goodhearted kids. The conversation they have at Glastonbury might be the most resonant one in the entire series. Newly post-adolescent, Shirou and Rin discuss how they're re-contexualizing their identities within the larger history of magic. For as Earth-shattering as it seemed, the Grail War was just a “minor Eastern ritual” to the Clock Tower, and there's a much wider world of people tampering with dangerous power for our heroes to get almost killed by. Having come to terms with their families, it's now time for Shirou and Rin to find their place within the magical community. It's a familiar point in young adulthood articulated well. Now if only they hadn't saddled Rin with the insane emotional burden of keeping Shirou from going renegade...
Yes, they're sticking to the “Rin will somehow prevent Shirou from becoming Archer” thing. I still don't buy it. Rin even says that her Number One goal in life is keeping Shirou sane. I get her committing to the relationship, but Rin is still an independent lady with her own desires. I can't see her suddenly channeling all of her ambitions into a guy, even if she does love him. On top of that, Shirou is already running down that dangerous path. He rejects a position as an official mage at the Clock Tower, which means he doesn't want to be supervised by an official body. I would question that, Rin. The show still falls flat thematically, and nothing can be done to salvage it on that front.
Except maybe having Waver Velvet show up for a scene to call Shirou an idiot. It's as if ufotable added this part just for me. A Fate/Zero character arrives solely to put down Shirou's character arc? Yes. All jokes aside, fully half of this episode was Type-Moon extended universe fanservice, and that was fun. Rin gets in a magical MMA fight with her nouveau riche rival, Luvia Edelfelt. Shirou and Rin have updated adult character designs. (Rin rocks a side ponytail and more formal version of her usual outfit, while Shirou wears a characteristically dorky green cardigan. I wonder what Archer would look like in that?) Then they visit King Arthur's supposed grave in Glastonbury to reminisce on the event that brought them together, the Grail War.
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works ends on a deceptively high note. I'm tempted to recommend stopping at episode 13 and jumping straight to this epilogue. All of the lightheartedness that makes the clumsy plotting palatable in the early going vanishes as soon as the second half starts. It quickly becomes clear that the show has no idea what to do with characters other than Shirou and Archer – a serious problem when there's a cast of two dozen and thirteen episodes to fill out. This one dramatic conflict was diluted far past the point of engaging storytelling.
At the same time, the production took a hit in this second half. The first half's thrilling fight choreography largely vanishes and we're left with characters launching particle effects and beam spam at each other. The set pieces became more drab (Unlimited Blade Works in particular was used to death), and the show takes on an exhausted tone. It's also ambivalent in its relationship to other installments in the Type-Mooniverse. It alternately relies upon and then denies a relationship to its prequel series Fate/Zero, creating a paradoxical experience. When it's adapted near-verbatim from the middle route of the visual novel, too many important moments rely on familiarity with the other routes.
All in all, I had high hopes for FSN:UBW in the beginning, but they proved unrealistic. This show just wasn't properly adapted into a standalone narrative, neither as a sequel to Fate/Zero or as a story that could be enjoyed independently. Courting so many demographics with different expectations for the franchise only turned it into a misshapen adaptive chimera. On a deeper level, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is likely to satisfy only the most dedicated of Type-Moon fans who are able to digest all its contradictory adaptive choices à la carte as reflections of the full Mooniverse.
At least I'll always have Lancie-poo's beautiful face.
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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