Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
by Gabriella Ekens,
Things are getting rocky for Rin Tohsaka. After the events of last episode, she's had to sacrifice another command seal and her relationship with Archer in order to maintain her alliance with Shirou. Her facade of ruthless pragmatism is rapidly slipping, and what's left doesn't seem like it'll earn her victory in the Holy Grail War. There's always been a choice for her, Archer or Shirou, pragmatic amorality or idealistic morality, and she's been skewing toward the latter lately. Her alliance with Shirou isn't just ideological either - she's got feelings for the lunkhead, and those feelings cut to the heart of who she really is as a person. If things got real for Shirou Emiya earlier on in the series, the same happens for Rin this time. Despite being trained as a warrior, she hasn't yet had to deal with death and destruction in the same way Shirou has.
So it's apt that this episode coincides with our first named character casualty. It's the morning after their near-cataclysmic fight at Ryuudou Temple, and enemy masters are already launching another attack - this time at the school, and with the intent of harming civilians. Remember that boundary field Shirou and Rin discovered a few episodes back? It was put there by Shinji Matou in order to harvest his classmates' souls and feed them to his servant, Rider. But something goes awry - he didn't anticipate the presence of a fourth master at school, who interrupts the ritual and stops the field by taking out Rider in a horrific fashion. Of course, Shinji manages to survive - he's too good a scumbag to go down before the third act - but with his plan foiled, he flees from Rin and Shirou, sure to return as a nuisance at a later date.
Meanwhile, Shirou repays Rin by using a command seal to summon Saber. She doesn't do much besides take down some skeleton warriors and get taunted by Caster, but the act is significant as a symbol of Shirou and Rin's growing commitment to each other. The biggest connection from last episode to this one is that Shirou has begun to emulate Archer's fighting stance in training. As much as Shirou hates the guy, there's also something that he can't help but admire about him. Curious...
The show's awkward dialogue also continues here. Hopefully, lines like "that girl is peeking into our classroom, nonchalant, yet brazen as can be" will be localized into something more natural. Right now they're distractingly prose-like. I consider the events of this episode the weakest material from the original VN. It's connective tissue meant to get us from one conflict to another, but it has a couple of plot holes that aren't adequately resolved in either the VN or this adaptation. First of all, why on earth would the fourth master leave Shinji alive? Yeah, Shinji let them kill his servant in exchange for his own life, but if Team Caster is supposed to be so ruthless, they really should have eliminated the witness. Shinji's survival is an unnecessary liability for them, and I know that it only happened this way so he could become relevant again later on. It's a small snag, but it stands out in this otherwise tightly plotted series. Secondly, it's always bothered me that our heroes seem completely blindsided by the boundary field when they knew about it in advance. FSN:UBW makes this a bit more realistic since the last few days were chock-full of action and the characters have barely had time to breathe, much less take care of a smoking gun, but there was so much down time in the VN.
Rin was also uncharacteristically out of control this episode, but I'm willing to accept that as a consequence of her naïveté during the war's first big conflict involving civilians. The real issue with Rin's role in this episode was that showing us her confrontation with Archer would have been better than having her describe it to Shirou secondhand, but whatever. Some of this anime's best adaptive choices have been when it decides to depart from Shirou's POV, and they missed the boat on this one. It happens. I'm also sad to see Rider gone so early. Her premature death was inevitable in Unlimited Blade Works, where the Matou storyline is largely sidelined, but I'd like to see her given the full ufotable treatment. Oh well, that's why we've got the Heaven's Feel film, I guess. She won't be the only one.
However, as if to compensate, this was also one of the funnier episodes of Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Shinji's ultimate scumbag routine is a blast. His voice actor, Hiroshi Kamiya, really makes the role, selling Shinji as a self-aggrandizing loser who manages to garner some following through his greasy charisma. Rin's feelings for Shirou are also obvious by now - the only person who hasn't realized is Shirou himself, but he's so emotionally oblivious that it's almost a superpower. I liked how hard she had to push to get him to sit next to her. They're charming kids, and things are only going to get rougher for them.
Overall, this was a pared-down, functional episode. It was entertaining, but consisted mostly of fallout from the previous episode and setup for the next confrontation. Next week, the hunt for Caster's master!
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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