So, before we talk about this extremely interesting and exciting episode, I have an announcement! Since the winter anime season will be ending in March, the second half of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works will be resuming in early April, which leaves me with about four weeks to cover six episodes. That means that my schedule of an episode a week will leave me lagging behind the adaptation and I really, really want to watch this show as it comes out, so with that in mind, I’ll be doubling up and doing two episodes a week. It’s really busy in the real world but I’m going to try my best not to let the quality suffer and I’d like to be told ASAP if it does. I also want to give a shoutout to Nocorras, NoNameAvailable and HateMainOfAnime for all their helpful comments and feedback. Thanks guys!
So with that PSA out of the way, let’s talk about this hurricane of an episode. It would be an absolute understatement to say that this episode raised the stakes; we finally see Archer take action and put Shirou in his place after the latter’s constant cantankerous arguing. I was really excited to see the two fights break out as well; we’ve seen, in previous episodes, the kind of damage that Archer can put out when he gets serious and it would be interesting to see what kind of tricks Caster has up her sleeves. Still, having said all that, I’m having some issues with the way the whole Shirou vs. Archer thing is being set up and executed. It feels like the show skipped some vital steps, especially those in Archer’s mind, before moving on to the surprising conclusion. I’ll talk more about it in a bit, but first let’s talk Caster, Assassin and what’s up with the Holy Grail’s rules.
Of the two clashes in this episode, I was so very sure that the Archer versus Caster fight would be the more interesting. We haven’t seen Caster fight yet and to be honest, I was sure that the Saber-Assassin fight would be just another swordfight. In the end, Caster turned out to be a little bit of a let-down; it felt like all she had in her arsenal was generic magic beams. Sure Archer mentioned some ‘skills’ like this spatial transportation and innate time control but neither of those things really mean anything to me. I don’t think they’re supposed to mean anything just yet and both terms are fairly self-explanatory in their own right – we saw Caster swap her body out when Archer attacked and we saw her try to immobilize him in some kind of static field but overall she seems fairly underwhelming. It didn’t really feel like Archer had to really fight too hard to take her down – all it took was a single arrow. Speaking of the single arrow though, the line he says before firing (‘I am the bone of my sword’) doesn’t really make sense and I would chalk it up to translation error if he didn’t say it in English. I’m not saying that the sentence is grammatically wrong or anything, but I am saying it doesn’t make any particular sense. Also, the name he says when firing the arrow (‘Caldbolg’) is reminiscent of Lancer’s Noble Phantasm (‘Gaebolg’, I think). You’ll note that his ‘get serious’ mode arrows tend to be distinct from the generic arrows he used to free Shirou from Caster’s strings. It’s also not very clear to me how exactly Archer broke free of the static field that Caster had set up, unless he’s just that badass. This raises an interesting question – we’re about a quarter of the way through the season and so far, I know the name of exactly one Servant (Sasaki Kojirou, who isn’t even a proper Servant!) and the Noble Phantasm of only one (Lancer). I’m not saying that I need to know everything about all of them, but come on, throw me a bone here (heh).
Speaking of Assassin, I’m definitely like this Sasaki Kojirou chap. Unless I’ve misunderstood something terribly, he is not the real Assassin and is instead just something that Caster has cooked up. That’s pretty crazy, if you think about it. While Caster’s own combat skills aren’t anything to shout about, having an ace like this can certainly more than make up for it. I wonder if Caster’s history or legend or whatever is tied up with fake-Assassin’s? It might be that they are always summoned together or something. If not, I’m curious as to why Caster summoned an Assassin class servant when she could have gotten any other class. Didn’t Rin say that Saber is the strongest of the lot? I don’t mean our Saber, but she isn’t the only Saber right? Actually, that wasn’t specified but unless it’s the same seven people fighting each other again and again, I don’t see how that would work and in any case, if it’s the same seven, there’s no way that no one has recorded the various Servants’ names. I’m sure intel like that would be extremely valuable to any of these magician families. Does this mean that there are eight Servants in the War now? Or has the ‘fake’ Assassin officially filled up the slot of the ‘real’ one? Isn’t Kirei supposed to do something about this kind of tomfoolery? Not that he seems particularly inclined; he just seems to want front row seats to the ensuring bloodbath.
Still, even if Kojiro isn’t as strong as Saber, he seems pretty damn powerful nonetheless. Sure, he’s not borderline broken like Berserker or Caster (I’m going to say that the ability to summon a Servant is pretty damn crazy even though she basically got one-shotted by Archer today), but the fact that he is able to hold both Saber and Archer off is pretty noteworthy. Sure, they didn’t go all out on him but he hasn’t revealed his Noble Phantasm either and from the looks of it, his normal skills are strong enough to break the laws of physics. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him but I can’t help but think it’s a big loss for Team Caster that she and Assassin can’t work properly together because having two, fully cooperating Servants would more than double a Master’s chance of winning.
I don’t think we even have enough information at this point to begin speculating on who Caster’s master is but I’m wondering if it even matters. If her master is basically a lobotomized puppet, then he/she could literally be anyone in the series and we wouldn’t even need to have necessarily seen them before. This is actually something that got me thinking about the exact nature of the relationship between Master and Servant. Sure, it would seem like the Servant can function fully autonomously of the Master, as evidenced by Archer and his presence at the temple without Rin’s knowledge, but then what exactly is the point of the Master? If I remember correctly, the Master keeps the Servant tethered to the real world but surely there has to be more than that? If most Wars are concluded by the winning Master killing all others then wouldn’t it be in each Servant’s best interests to store their Masters away in some little dungeon cell (regardless of the Master’s consent) until the War is done? Why risk total defeat by sacrificing both Servant and Master? Am I being too twisted here? I guess the Master can help in a support role – gathering intelligence, healing the Servant (as Shirou was supposed to do way back when) or just providing backup firepower and so on but it seems like a somewhat secondary purpose for Masters.
Anyway, let’s end today’s discussion with the highlight of the episode. There is a lot to discuss here, and I’m going to try my very best to structure it. What I’m really struggling with is how exactly an argument about morals and ideology turned into a vicious fight and a near murder? Surely Archer doesn’t feel that strongly about the subject? I mean, he dismisses Shirou’s opinion on most things the rest of the time, so why is this one topic so special? I remember that when Archer was walking Shirou home, it was a similar topic that fanned the flames between the two characters, so let’s take a look at what exactly is diving these two. It’s been established for some time that Archer and Shirou don’t like each other; Archer is too pragmatic for Shirou’s hero complex while Archer probably thinks Shirou is just annoying and will probably get Rin killed (I really hope this isn’t one of those stories where Rin has to die so that Shirou suddenly realizes he has to stop fucking around and get serious). Since their dislike for each other has been established, why did Archer (ostensibly of his own violation) come to rescue Shirou? Did he do it because Rin would not want Shirou to die at the hands of Caster? Was it to prevent Caster from gaining Shirou’s Command Seals (do those even matter? Everyone uses them like they’re no big deal)? Regardless, him coming to Shirou’s rescue gave me the idea that despite all their dislike, they were just one of those character couples that keeps arguing but secretly like each other. The second half of the episode definitely shot that theory down, rather brutally. Let me see if I can summarize Shirou’s position – he basically wants to save everyone, despite Archer and Kiritsugu insisting that it can’t be done. I should note that Archer and Kiritsugu’s moral positions are not identical – where Shirou wants to save everyone, Kiritsugu notes that saving people often comes with an opportunity cost whereas Archer is more about forsaking over the many to save the entirety. Archer and Kiritsugu’s positions are different but possibly compatible, the way I see it and perhaps that’s what Caster was alluding to when she noted the similarities between Shirou and Archer. To Shirou sacrificing a puppy to save the world would be unacceptable; to Archer that would be a fucking Christmas Day sale. I’m not saying Shirou’s philosophy isn’t admirable, but it’s far from realistic. On the other hand, Archer’s ideology is just plain cynical – sure, the plan to let Caster take Berserker down makes sense if you look at it totally dispassionately but that doesn’t automatically mean that you should look at it like that. One of the fascinating things here is that it’s too easy to shoot Shirou’s position down (at least for me) but it’s harder to point out where exactly to draw the line in Archer’s thinking. Yet for all of that, I don’t think Archer would ever mind a deal where he can save everyone and sacrifice no one in the process; it’s just that he is convinced that that deal will never be for real whereas Shirou believes that it can happen. In all of this, we haven’t even talked about Rin and her own confused compromise between her friend’s and Servant’s extremes, but we’ll deal with that when it comes.
The above paragraph was all written before some critical information came my way via the comments and I don’t want to pretend that I was smart enough to figure some things out when I clearly wasn’t, so I’m leaving the above paragraph in. First of all, I totally missed the scene after the credits. It’s short scene but an important one. We see that Shirou is angry at Archer’s betrayal but not with Rin; he basically accurate guesses that Rin was not involved in the incident. More puzzlingly, Saber doesn’t seem to think especially poorly of Archer despite him breaking the code of honour and betraying Shirou. Her comment about Archer not being the best fighter was surprising because we saw him hold Lancer off – sure he was disarmed a lot, but considering archers aren’t known for melee combat, I think it’s pretty impressive anyway. The other important piece of information was Shirou’s reason for hating Archer. According to the source material, Shirou could sense that Archer was trying to get Saber and Shirou in the blast that he was aiming at Berserker, despite knowing that it would do nothing to the latter. That’s as good a reason as any for hating someone, I would think. So, while I’m glad that I know this now, I can’t help but wonder how much I’ve missed out because it simply wasn’t presented in the show at all. I guess I’ll only find that out after the anime is done.