Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
Whew, this one was a doozy. I had to watch it a few times to keep track of everything. Let's get started on Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works episode seven...
After settling the terms of his truce with Rin, Shirou has a tense conversation with Rin's servant Archer on their respective goals in the war. The next day at school, Shinji Matou taunts Shirou by spreading rumors about the attacked Mitsuzuri. Shirou spents the rest of the day looking into the school's mysterious boundary field with Rin, who seems to be developing feelings for him beyond an appreciation of his investigative skills. Shortly after this, Shinji reveals his identity as the fourth master to Shirou, proposes an alliance, and attempts to blackmail him using Sakura when he rejects his offer. Later that night, Shirou explains his strengthening magic to Saber, revealing that for some reason it works especially well on bladed weapons. After falling asleep while working, Shirou is whisked away by the servant Caster, who's after possession of Saber and reveals herself as the culprit behind the "gas leak" incidents across town. Saber rushes to rescue her master, but she's held up by another new servant, Assassin, on the steps of Ryuudou Temple. However, Archer shows up at the last minute to bail Shirou out, and the episode concludes.
Clearly, Fate/Stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is continuing to balance many narrative threads at the same time. It hasn't slipped up in its execution yet, and this episode succeeds at stacking revelations onto built-up character development. Shinji's description of Mitsuzuri's wounds suggests he's the master of last episode's purple-haired servant—Rider, through process of elimination—and that he's responsible for most of the attacks around the school. Actually, it's become more apparent that most of this grail war's action will center around the school, and that an awful lot of it is tied into Shirou's personal life. Now that the Matou's are revealed to have been a mage family, Shirou's openness with Sakura about Saber seems to be a bad idea in retrospect. (Although Shirou, in his naiveté, hasn't realized that yet.)
Meanwhile in the Emiya household, Shirou and Saber are growing more comfortable around each other, but Saber continues to withhold her identity and goals. For as strangely happy as Saber has seemed in the aftermath of Fate/Zero, those events have still affected her, and she may have changed in ways we haven't yet realized. I also appreciate how this version of Shirou reacts to Saber's reproach by apologizing, validating her feelings, and shifting the topic to strategy. It's such a massive shift from Shirou's oppressively entitled interior monologue in previous versions. It makes it a lot easier for me to engage this story as a woman when it's not constantly invalidating my worldview in its telling. They even manage to express that Shirou is sexually attracted to Saber without making it skeevy! Good job, showrunners.
Most importantly, this was the first episode to address the brewing conflict between Shirou and Archer. For some reason, the two have an instantly repellent relationship. It makes sense in light of their opposite ideologies, with Shirou as the youthful idealist against Archer's experienced cynicism. Shirou believes that masters can form mutually beneficial personal relationships with their servants, while Archer views master-servant relationships as necessary, transient alliances in a war to the death between all involved. Archer insists that he isn't a threat to Rin simply because he died without a goal to make him desire the grail for himself. Of course that means if Archer was to acquire a goal, Shirou and Rin could be in mortal danger from one of their closest allies. The music in this scene is tense, perfectly amplifying the barely-contained conflict between man and boy. From this confrontation alone, I'd say it's more a matter of when Archer will turn rather than if, and that event will be central to the show's thematic resolution.
The montage where Shirou is compelled to make his way to Caster's headquarters at Ryuudou Temple is the episode's standout visual moment. Shirou and Caster's POVs interchange throughout the scene, interspersed with fluid effects that convey the disorientation and "lost time" that Shirou experiences. Otherwise, the show looks as good as usual, with some particularly strong animation when Caster dodges Archer's arrows and Saber knocks Shirou into a wall during training. Going back to the dream sequence, I also like how it offered a glimpse into Caster's past. One of the things I'm most excited for in this adaptation is the full visual rendering of events that were left as text in the visual novel, like most of the servants' backstories.
I'm worried that Caster might retain her VN identity as a "vengeful, scorned woman." I like her character, but the gendered baggage around her is unfortunate, making her more of a sexist caricature than necessary. Please treat her well, ufotable. Otherwise, the shift in this story's casual sexism fully towards Archer's perspective has some promise. I'm excited to see how it all goes down.
The next episode promises to be action-packed, depicting the battles between Caster/Archer and Assassin/Saber. It'll be well-earned after three solid episodes of story buildup. All seven servants are now accounted for, but who knows what else the Holy Grail has in store?
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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