To say that this episode makes things more interesting would be the understatement of the century. We are introduced to our protagonist, Emiya Shirou and get a peek what his extremely eventful day was like. It’s the same day that we saw in the previous prologue episode – except that we see it through Shirou’s perspective. Like the events of the first day, things start off slowly, very slowly in fact to the point that were it not for one or two references to magic and the same, gorgeous animation style, you might be forgiven for asking if it is the same show. Ok, not really, since there’s plenty to indicate that the characters are linked but nothing truly noteworthy happens until the halfway mark after which things really take off, not only in terms of the action but we also get to peel back some of the duller layers and get a look at our protagonist, his past and his motives.
We are introduced to a whole host of new characters and since we will be spending a lot of time with them, I think it’s a good idea to run through some of the more major ones in more detail. Let’s start with Emiya Shirou himself. On the surface of things, he seems like a pretty dull kid. I wouldn’t say that he has Rin’s spark when it comes to…well, anything, really. She is smarter and far more entertaining to watch but mid-way through the episode (and right at the beginning) we see that Shirou has some hidden depths to himself too. What caught my eye about the character was the way his past has guided his present and that comes down to two major influences:
- The fire that killed his biological family can be seen as the main reason he wants to help others but also could explain why he is so very quiet and seemingly, dull. It’s not uncommon for those who are exposed to severe trauma to withdraw into their shells and I know that the quiet kids do usually get the label of ‘boring’ attached to them (it’s a tossup between ‘boring’ and ‘mysterious’, really).
- His adoptive father, Emiya Kiritsugu, who holds a philosophy that is diametrically different from Shirou’s. We’ll talk more about their differing views in a bit.
These two influences suddenly make Shirou more interesting to me than Rin. You might recall that I found Rin’s motives for the Holy Grail War a little lacking – winning for the sake of it is the true competitor’s spirit but it feels like the wrong mindset for something like a Holy Grail. Shirou’s motives seem nobler – he helps everyone without exception even when they blatantly exploit him in the process. This is where I have a problem with the character though – it’s not that he understands that he is being exploited but chooses to carry out the task at hand anyway but rather that he doesn’t understand that others are making use of him but just wants to help because it’s the right thing to do. I find that mindset extremely simplistic but we’ll see how participating in the Holy Grail War will force him to change that overly altruistic mindset. On a more plot-oriented note, I wonder if Shirou will be our guide to the magic of the world. There are hints throughout the episode that Shirou isn’t nearly as gifted as Rin in that field and that could provide the creators’ exactly the right avenue for some much needed exposition in that area.
Then we have the Matou siblings. One is an adorable, sweet girl who I suspect has a thing for Shirou (I’m pretty sure everyone except Shirou suspects it because that’s how these things go, right?) who for some reason is at his home early in the morning to cook breakfast. Is breakfast a metaphor for sweet morning sex? No, it is not, it isn’t even a metaphor for baked beans and toast. She seems rather ordinary aside from her looks but she is made noteworthy by the sharp, almost implausible contrast between her and her brother. Shinji Matou is a dick. At first, I was going to suggest that he wasn’t really evil but just a really, really unpleasant bully of a boy but then there were the implications that he beats his sister into submission which, I must say, seems oddly dark for this show. Then again, it’s two episodes in, I can’t exactly say I have a grasp of this show’s tone just yet. I think Shinji also tells us something disappointing about Shirou – the two are friends, or used to be, and I think it’s simply Shirou being happy that he could be of ‘use’ to someone but unfortunately that someone happens to be someone who is utterly shameless and amoral. I wonder if in Shirou’s mind, he is compensating for surviving the fire when his family didn’t by helping others as much as he can, sort of like a karmic mortgage that he has to pay off. I might also be reading too deeply into this.
Shirou’s family is rather unremarkable on the whole though. We have Fujimura whose entire purpose in life is to provide comic relief between the more dramatic scenes that we’ll see. We have Issei from school who tries and fails to teach Shirou a little about the way the world works and last but certainly not least, we have Saber. Saber is totally no-nonsense. She gets to the point and seems to accept the fact that her Master is pretty much clueless about everything. She seems stiffer about the rules and honour and the proper form of things than the other Servants we’ve seen so far. She also seems considerably strong than either of them – she is able to dodge Lancer’s sure-kill skill, somehow. I would actually be really interested in knowing how she dodged a skill in which the outcome has already been fixed and is able to change the means as per necessity. That seems hopelessly overpowered but the fact that Saber can dodge it means that either she is even more overpowered or that Lancer doesn’t even know how to use his own fucking finishing move. In any case, it doesn’t seem like it now but I suspect Saber with her manly and knightly ways, will prove to be a great match for Shirou and his hero complex.
Actually, let’s talk about this character and his hero complex. The difference between father and son are of particular interest to me. Kiritsugu’s philosophy seems to reflect reality – it’s not actually possible to save everyone and more often than not you save the people who are on your own side. From a practical standpoint, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that statement but I feel like Shirou’s own personal philosophy is born not out of opposition of his father’s philosophy but rather out of enhancement of it. His father couldn’t save everyone so in Shirou’s head perhaps it’s only natural that the son should try to accomplish what the father couldn’t. In my head, it’s all beginning to coalesce now – why Shirou is so adamant about helping and why he wants to be a ‘hero of justice’. The Grail might be able to win him the power to achieve that but I think it’s a goal that works better as something that can only be strived for and never actually achieved.
I feel like I’ll be repeating this every week but the animation is absolutely gorgeous . No, seriously. The fight scenes will leave you just slightly aroused. Very aroused if you’re into that kind of thing. I’ll try to get my hands on some GIFs next week so that one and all can witness the glory of Ufotable. The opening song is great too. I didn’t understand a word of it, but the visuals that accompanied it were pretty cool too. There were a bunch of other, more minor things that I didn’t get to mention above but are worth pointing out:
- There is definitely something up with the gas leak and the murdered family. Too much attention was called to both for it to be just casual world-building. Rin mentioned that Servants can kill normal people for energy – is this Lancer’s work? Or is it one of the others?
- There is something up with the pendant that Rin uses to save Shirou. Archer returns it to her, saying it only belongs to her but in this episode Shirou finds it and pockets it. By the time Saber and Archer fight, Shirou has not given the pedant back to Rin but in Rin’s episode last week, she had it with her before they even left for Shirou’s place. Is this just a goof or did Archer somehow steal the pendant from Shirou in between? That doesn’t seem possible given that Shirou was awake throughout it.
- The mysterious white little girl is being mysterious. And white. And little. There are two ways to interpret her line – either not summoning Saber will by itself kill Shirou (due to a build-up of energy or some other magical mumbo-jumbo, look, I don’t know ok?) or without Saber, Shirou will die. Will the cute, ominous little girl kill him? And why is she calling him Onii-chan? Is she also a survivor from the fire, a member of his biological family?
Well, that’s all I got for this week. What will Rin and Shirou do? Will we have war or peace? See y’all next week, same time, same place.