by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 20 of
How would you rate episode 21 of
Episode 20 marks the return of the series to present time. With only six episodes to go and less than 48 hours of in-universe time left, that means that it's time to start thinning the cast even more. But rather than go for the major figures left, the writing decides to eliminate some side characters it no longer needs first.
First up is Maiya, Kiritsugu's right-hand woman. The series had yet to even hint at how she came to work with Kiritsugu, so she explains that briefly during a conversation with resting, weakened Irisviel: she was a child soldier that Kiritsugu rescued off the battlefield, and Maiya is just an alias Kiritsugu gave her, not her real name. The way she describes herself – a disposable human shell with little inside – is a stark contrast to Irisviel, who is full of passion but weak on the outside. Admitting that she does not expect to survive the Grail War and looking back on her past are two major death flags for secondary characters, but that it happens so immediately after they finish talking about it is the big surprise here. Normal people – even trained ones – have no business in the Grail War, anyway. “Save your tears for your wife” is a great and fitting final line for her.
But who killed her and carried off Irisviel? Certainly looked to be Rider, but there was something fishy about that from the first moment it happened. None of that was Rider's style at all. But that was clearly done with the might of a Servant, and it also did not fit Archer. That left only Berserker as the culprit, whose Noble Phantasm apparently can also allow him to conceal his true appearance. This, Kirei mentioning him being a knight, a comparison to other knights, his obsession with Artoria, the fact that he's crazed, and the image of him standing by a lake in the first half closer all point to him actually being Lancelot. (There are several accounts of Lancelot going half-mad or full-mad over something associated with Guinevere, and he does appear in different guises in some tales associated with him.) But that has little immediate impact; it will become more important later.
That's because the big fight this time is Between Rider and Saber. Rider was looking to face her anyway after Waver spent a whole day resting on ley lines so Rider could replenish his mana, an activity which also brought the two closer to a mutual understanding than ever before. A vehicle-based chase sequence was hardly what anyone expected out of the series, but Saber's pursuit first of the fake Rider and then the real Rider is one of anime's best action sequences of that type. As much as I like this Rider as a character, seeing Saber knock him down a peg before heading off was quite satisfying. He had been getting increasingly condescending towards Saber. The way his intent to recruit Saber after beating her fits perfectly with his nature as King of Conquerors was a slick touch, though. I always appreciate a story which thinks out its details like that.
But that is not the only plotline running through these episodes. Kiritsugu's aim to target Tokiomi instead leads to the discovery that Tokiomi is probably already dead, which throws his whole image of what's going on into chaos. That chaos is embodied by Kirei, who, now that he is freed of previous constraints on him, is becoming quite the devil himself. He still is not as twisted as Zouken Matou, but he is clearly delighting in messing with people, in this case by setting things up so that it would look like Kariya killed Tokiomi in front of his wife, thus leading Aoi to reject him and thus sending him into a tailspin. Push someone over the edge like that and they can do horrific things, like choking to death the one they most love.
This is the second time that a female character has been very chillingly and graphically choked to death (or the semblance of death) in this series, and it won't be the last. The series' odd fascination with this is one of its most disturbing aspects. No additional meaning may have been intended here, but I cannot fault anyone for reading meaning into this that has nothing to do with the events of the series.
Overall, and despite that one distasteful aspect, these two episodes firmly put the series back on track for a spectacle of a finish.
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