Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
I think that Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works might've overdosed on itself today.
This wasn't a bad episode. In fact, it was almost too much of a good episode - the emotional notes were all in the right places, but the bombast was turned up to eleven for every single one. I had to remember to exhale while watching. I'm not sure if I've even processed the whole thing yet. For a while, I couldn't decide if this was more of an A- or an A+ experience. There are solid arguments for each.
F/SN:UBW is a deliberately paced series. Like its prequel, most of the runtime consists of setup for explosive confrontations that occur every four or five episodes. The last one was episode three, with Ilya, and this is seven, so that mean's we're due for another, and boy, does this episode deliver. There's lots of Archer and Caster - the two characters being built up in this arc - as well as some Saber and the mysterious bishonen Assassin. The first half consists of parallel confrontations between these two pairs, but then Shirou gets his dumb butt involved, and it all goes to hell. Archer manages to get Caster to back down, only to have his ideological conflict with Shirou finally boil over, leading to an extended argument in the rubble of Caster's meteor spells. It ends with Archer attempting to kill Shirou, only to be stopped by Assassin, who's developed some sympathy for Saber and decides to buy them time. Amazingly, despite hating the guy's guts, Shirou leaves without any hard feelings for Archer over the incident, and only vows to become stronger in order to prove him wrong.
Shirou's visible transition from disinterest to surprise to disdain when Archer mentions the possibility of servants taking charge of their masters was the character moment of the episode for me. It makes sense that Shirou wouldn't be able to fathom this sort of conflict, seeing how easily he acquiesced to Saber's personhood. His nobility can really be blinding sometimes. In general, I love the sense of humor this version of the story has developed for Shirou. From Archer dangling him over the rooftop as they insulted each other to his intimidation face during the fight, it's all good stuff.
On the Archer front, it turns out that ufotable is good at making the character intimidating, but not make Archer's bad Myspace poetry about his magical sword powers actually coolgood at it. I'm into Type-Moon's brand of self-indulgent fantasy power spam (and it's tough to stomach this show if you're not), but some of the Archer stuff this episode was too much even for me. They've nailed everything else though, so I can't object too much. Archer jumping around in slow motion while spouting a silly catchphrase and totally wrecking the enemy is adorable - this part of the character was clearly written by the little boy in somebody. This is also where they drive home the moral conflict between Shirou and Archer far beyond all subtlety and straight into three-story-high neon-lit text. If you're not already familiar with Archer's "deal," there's a good chance you'll be able to decipher it from this episodes. They're making few bones (of my sword) about it.
The Caster fight might be the one I've been looking forward to seeing in action most. Fate/Zero's Caster, though a gruesome scene-stealer, was a subpar specimen of his class due to his master's complete inexperience as a magus. As a result, we didn't get a lot of the spamming-photoshop-effects magical acrobatics on display this time around. FSN's Caster was a top-tier magus in life and - also unlike her predecessor - isn't just messing around. She intends to win the grail, and it shows in her actions. While Rin and Shirou (well, mostly Shirou) were dawdling around, Caster established dominance over her master, took over Ryuudou Temple as her base of command, and even summoned a servant of her own, Assassin. It also seems like she plans on adding to her collection by trying to force Shirou into surrendering Saber. She's an imposing figure who makes a strong case for her own victory, despite Archer's continued condescension. Assassin, meanwhile, gets his time in the sun through a stunningly choreographed fight with Saber. Unfortunately, his actions are analogous to Lancers in Fate/Zero, which does not bode well for his happiness or continued survival.
Visually, this episode also manages to make the rest of the series look dull by comparison. Now that's a tall order, because this series looks fantastic overall. Usually there's one or two moments of standout animation/direction per episode, but this was just a continuous stream of it. It's so thrilling that it's almost too much to stomach during a single viewing. I had to keep pausing to breathe. The shots of Shirou and Archer standing above the crater were particularly excellent for reasons I can't broach without encroaching on serious spoiler territory. The most I'll say is that they were a callback to Shirou's recurring dream of the destruction at the end of the 4th Grail War. This episode had the same choreographer, Takashi Suhara, as Fate/Zero episode four (the one with the Saber/Lancer fight) and it shows. That was one of the best parts of Fate/Zero's first season, and I'm betting this fight will have a similar place in Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works.
Also, is it just me or did this episode also have some Japanese period film vibes? It might've just been the temple setting and presence of a samurai, but they did a couple of neat things with aperture framing and high angle shots, two of the foremost techniques that characterize jidai-geki. Hmmmm.
I really hope this show's scripts are localized well when it gets an english dub. It probably sounds just fine in Japanese, but I can't imagine an English speaker believably reciting lines like, "When you say that, your excessive stupidity hurts my head! Idiot!" or "You know you're an idiot, and you go around calling others idiots? Idiot!" Fate/stay night has had this problem before. (The infamous "people die when they are killed" was a mistranslation of a play on a Japanese idiom.) Still, this is a show where I'd really enjoy a good English track. I'd also appreciate more readings of Archer's "I am the bone of my sword" incantation to lull myself to sleep at night.
So, yeah, A+.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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