A large swathe of this week’s episode is actually just exposition. It’s fairly interesting but I’m really glad that things picked up at the tail end of the episode because apart from the sudden developments at the end, I feel like nothing really happened in this episode apart from a lot of talking. We get a few major reveals like who Rider’s master is as well as our first peeks at the Caster and Assassin Servants. Things end off before they really get good though and the next episode promises to be full of more gorgeous action sequences as we get what looks like a massive four way clash. Still, there is none of that in this episode so instead we’ll take a look at Archer, whose character we get to really see for the first time since his introduction as well as the oddly antagonistic relationship he has with Shirou.
So, what exactly is the deal between Shirou and Archer? Unless I’m missing something, there really isn’t any reason for Shirou to be so hostile towards the man. It might be that Shirou knows that Archer was trying to take Saber out along with Berserker a few episodes ago, but it doesn’t feel like Shirou has reached that conclusion. Honestly, it’s a little pathetic – Shirou is more or less useless in every fight (and I really, really don’t see how Saber’s sword training is going to help in a magic fight) though watching him challenge Archer was pretty good comedic relief. Still, it’s strange that Shirou doesn’t have any beef with Rin, who has openly tried to kill him, while hating Archer, who hasn’t. I can understand the animosity on Archer’s end – I’m sure he just sees Shirou as this annoying brat that is going to end up holding Rin back. It also doesn’t help that Rin has an odd soft spot regarding Shirou which might also turn out to be her Achilles heel when things get serious.
Beyond their weird love-hate relationship though, I’m more interested in what Archer had to say about the nature of the Heroic Spirits. There is something rather tragic about these legendary spirits being stripped of their humanity and forced to serve high school kids as Servants but beyond that I wonder what he meant when he said that Servants had no choice but to answer the Grail’s call? Does that mean that they are being compelled by something to seek the Grail? Or by someone (Kirei, I’ll bet)? Archer says very clearly though that he is not seeking the ‘malevolent device’ that is the Grail so that doesn’t seem likely. I wonder if the reason that Archer doesn’t seek the grail is because he died fulfilled. Other Servants might want to use the Grail to fulfil their lives’ wishes but Archer is immune to that since he died a happy man? Ugh, I guess it’ll be revealed in due time. On a slightly related note though, Archer also says that Shirou cannot consider himself a mage until he has blood on his hands. What does that say about Archer’s regard for Rin? Is she a killer too? What will Shirou do when he finds out? In fact, what about his dear old dad – if Archer is right, then was our kindly, heroic Kiritsugu a killer too? Questions! Or not – it’s actually pretty easily explained if we consider the whole thing a biased opinion from Archer, who gives the impression of being very results oriented in his world view.
So, in a twist that surprises literally no one, Shinji is the douchebag behind the school’s boundary field and is intending to sap everyone inside it of their life force. Why, then, is Shirou letting him off so easily? Surely, Shirou isn’t stupid enough to think that Shinji is going to live up to his promise of not fighting in the Holy Grail War right? I have to give Shinji some credit though. His plan is actually pretty sound – he sets up the massive boundary field in a place where two others Masters just happen to spend a large portion of their day and even if they dodge the field, he gets to supply Rider with a large amount of mana. He seems pretty calm about Shirou being a mage/Master too, surprised at best, but not shocked. Does he know something we don’t? More importantly, what does his status as a Master mean for Sakura? We know that mages are made through bloodlines which would mean that Sakura is one too. I actually brushed aside the reveal that Shinji was Rider’s Master because I saw it coming but it potential implications for Sakura are very interesting. On a different, but related topic, I find the dynamic between Shinji and Shirou very confusing. Early in the season, I remember a character-defining scene for Shinji when he palms off his extra chores on Shirou who accepted it because ‘it’s good to help others’. It established Shinji as an ass but it also raised the question of why exactly they were friends at all. Likewise, Shirou is willing to keep Shinji’s secret in the name of that friendship, but I wonder if we’ll ever find out how these two, very dissimilar characters became friends.
I’m guessing that the odd visions of a desert or tropical beach that Shirou was shown as Caster drew up to the temple are linked to her identity since it’s either that or she realized that after a cold, cold winter, Shirou just wanted some time on a sunny beach and that that would be the best way to lure him to the temple. Let’s go with the former for now, though with Shirou, I just can’t be sure. I won’t talk too much about Caster right now since I’m sure we’ll see more of what she can do next week and I’ll fight the urge to research the name Sasaki Kojirou too since I think we’ll get more of an introduction next week as well. Instead, I would like to give a massive shoutout to whoever does the music whenever Archer appears to do badass things because that theme is just amazing. Archer is no slouch himself, pulling off a clutch save of an otherwise useless main character – seriously, he’s almost died again. Is this going to be a nightly thing for him?