Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
Episode 4

by Gabriella Ekens,

Shirou Emiya is not good at grail wars. He doesn't try to hide his command seal, presumes that his scary weirdo teacher is innocent, and calls Saber by her title in public. It's frankly a miracle that he's even made it this far. It's appropriate that this episode begins with a discussion of pity, drawing a contrast between Ilya's lack of it and Rin's dangerous abundance of it for useless Shirou. The assumption that ruthlessness wins grail wars led to Fate/Zero's tragedy, so it'll be interesting to see how Rin and Ilya's respective approaches to Shirou pay off.

Otherwise, this episode was bound to be a step down from the last four. It's a lull before the storm, consisting mostly of emotional closure and foreshadowing for things to come. As pure character and plot development, it's fine for what it is though. Saber continues to get along pretty well with Shirou. She appreciates his considerate and trusting nature, but still chooses to withhold her identity. There's more explanation of magic mechanics to get the newbies up to speed; this time it's all about the class system and the risks involved in casting magic above your level. Unlike previous exposition scenes, this one doesn't have much of an interpersonal conflict brewing beneath the surface, although the episode as a whole dwells on the difference between Shirou and Kiritsugu as masters. Saber follows Shirou to school to get a feel for the place where he insists on going every day, and there they have a number of curious run-ins with students and faculty. Saber thinks there's something odd about Mr. Kuzuki, Shirou's placid history teacher, and given how some of his shots are framed, I'd say it's a good bet that he's involved in the grail war somehow. Meanwhile, Sakura seems even more flustered by everything than usual, and Shirou's classmate Mitsuzuri expresses her concern for him and his unhealthy levels of self-denial. During their conversation, he flashes back to Fuyuki City's destruction ten years ago, linking his martyr complex to the carnage his witnessed there.

Finally, Rin continues to display emotional flab toward Shirou. She's absent from school today in order to investigate some mysterious gas leak incidents, which are not really gas leaks or all that mysterious, of course. She's in favor of hunting down Caster, a servant with unknown capabilities who's wreaking havoc on the city, and allowing Shirou to live, since he's a vulnerable master. This is in contrast to her espoused principles, which are becoming more and more apparent as a persona she tries to maintain rather than her true self. The cracks are also beginning to show in her working relationship with Archer, who constantly reproaches her. They're sort of an inverse to the Kiritsugu/Saber relationship from Fate/Zero, where Saber was the idealist and Kiritsugu the pragmatist.

Fate/Stay night: Unlimited Blade Works still looks great, although it's difficult to follow the last episode's balls-to-the-wall action. Last time was all acrobatic pirouettes by Saber and bursts of magic between Rin and Ilya. Now all that energy is turned inward, giving the characters an expressive dimension to whether they use or conserve that energy, and how. There was some awkward CG in the form of Caster's skeletal minions, but they're taken care of quickly. Otherwise this show's integration of CG is excellent and should serve as a standard for other anime. All in all, it's an understated episode of one of the season's standout shows, functional and entertaining but reaching towards something beyond itself.

(Also, please no naked Ilya in the future. I know that it wasn't that explicit and the scene was otherwise good, but I would not like to dwell on unclothed children in my anime. Yes, I know that she's really like twenty or whatever but let's be real that's not an acceptable excuse. This wasn't in the visual novel either, so bad call. Fate/Stay night: Unlimited Blade Works doesn't have to be a show you can't watch in public.)

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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