And just like that, we have our first Servant casualty of the series! A poor showing from Rider overall; she was around for such a short time that I can’t bring myself to really feel anything about her death. That said, I am disappointed that we didn’t find out who she was, what her Noble Phantasm was and what exactly she rode. I guess having an inexperienced (read: incompetent) Master is a bigger deal than I thought and it makes me worry for Saber. And Shirou too, I guess, but mostly Saber. I was surprised by how quickly we dove back into the action after the strange twist of events at the tail end of the previous episode, and we will talk about the way that was handled in more detail below, but I guess the more frequent fights are a sign of things heading towards their mid-season climax. One of these days, I’ll need to do a proper accounting of each team’s assets and liabilities because right now, with the unfortunate exception of Rider, it seems like anyone’s game, though that’s more because we don’t really know enough about anyone to make a proper call.
The episode opens with Shirou training with Saber as per normal and I immediately thought I skipped an episode. I was expecting Shirou to take some time to recover and was expecting him to consider the fallout and implications of Archer’s betrayal. Instead, not only do we see him fully recover after having his back opened up, he’s back in training! Did I miss a memo or has his healing factor reached Wolverine levels? What I’m getting from this is that there is bad blood between Archer and Shirou/Saber but the events of the previous episode didn’t quite constitute an open declaration of war. Even with the previous episode’s post-credits scene, I’m a little uneasy about why Shirou isn’t angrier at Rin. If Saber ran rampant, wouldn’t Shirou be held accountable? Clearly, he blames Archer, not Rin, but in his position, I would still be a touch more suspicious of Rin. It would be hilarious, albeit very passive-aggressive, if Shirou was pretending to not understand that Rin wanted to have lunch with him just to annoy her, his way of getting back at her for Archer almost killing him.
I wish I had more to say about Rider but she got taken out before she could really even get started. It feels to me that making bold moves is a terrible strategy in this Holy Grail War for the simple reason that when you know nothing about what the enemy has to counter you, you’re essentially running blind and painting a target on your back. With Shinji as her Master, I can’t say I’m surprised that her strategy was so unrefined and in-your-face; given Shinji’s overly villainous behaviour (complete with sinister laughter), I guess he’s exactly the kind of showy character that would value style over getting the job done. Rider’s death was particularly violent, with her head nearly ripped off, and if I’m being totally honest, I wasn’t really expecting something quite that graphic. It’s pretty clear that Caster is behind this though and why not? With Assassin around, it would be a 2 on 1 fight and given that even Shirou was able to fight off Rider for a brief few seconds when they met, I think it’s fair to say that Assassin would have made short work of Rider. What bugs me though, is that Assassin wasn’t anywhere in sight and twisting someone’s head off isn’t something you can achieve with a blade. Maybe there’s a much more brutish side to Assassin that we haven’t seen or Caster’s minions did it. I hope it was Assassin instead of a minion though – it would be really pathetic if a Servant got taken out by a lowly summon. A more interesting point though is who Caster’s master is. Shirou seems sure that it’s someone at the school but I’m not sure I would like that twist of events – it’s a little cheesy that that one single school had at least four out of seven Masters involved. Still, it’s not hard to make guesses since we only know a very small handful of character in the school setting:
- Kuzuki (somewhat likely). He’s evil looking and Saber explicitly made a point of how efficient his walk was. I’m thinking that he’s Lancer’s Master, since Lancer was skulking around the school. I just don’t know how I feel about all the Masters being so conveniently placed.
- Archery girl (sorry, I forgot her name). It would be an interesting twist, but not a particularly good one. I suspect her mostly because she seemed thoroughly out of it the last time we saw her (very briefly) and while the explanation was that she was recovering, I wonder if Caster hadn’t gotten in her head. Still, not a big fan of this option, it just feels tacky.
- Student council guy (likely and surprising) He’s had a good bit of interaction with Shirou and lives in the temple! Moreover, he seems like a decent dude and would have moral reasons for wanting to save the school and take Shinji out, especially since we’ve already seen him badmouth Shinji. He seems pretty capable too, and he should provide better opposition to the Shirou-Rin duo.
- Some random guy we’ve never seen before. This is the worst option of the lot.
I feel like I don’t do the animation justice in these write-ups. I can’t emphasize how much I love the animation in the fight scenes. Shirou using his Command Seal (for the first time since the opening episode) to summon Saber got me hyped. There was definitely the feeling that the tide of the fight turned the second Saber entered the fray. Ultimately, the buildup was a bit of a disproportionate to the action since she didn’t get to do much apart from fight off some minions – Shirou, Rin and Saber were all assembled and ready to finally go for the jugular and actually take a Servant out, only for us to find out that they are too late. I guess I was expecting a bigger payoff from this bounded field plot point. Shirou wasn’t the only one who used a Command Seal though; off-screen, Rin used hers too and while we didn’t see it happen, I think Rin is trustworthy enough that we can take her word for it. At first, I was really confused as to why Rin would waste something as precious as a Command Seal on restraining Archer against an enemy she technically would eventually have to kill anyway, especially considering how she wasted her first Seal. After I thought about it a little though, I think it makes sense if you think about it as her way of indicating how important Shirou and their alliance/ceasefire is to her. On top of that, I think it’s a matter of honour too – she gave her word and she intends to stick to it. I hope she doesn’t come to rue this generosity in the future. On a more optimistic note, we’re seeing Rin and Shirou working more and more as a team, which is nice and kind of cute in its own confused way. I’m not much of a shipper but they would make an interesting couple…
It’s a small section of the opening segment but it feels like the show is hinting at some kind of connection between Rin and Shirou. Previously, Rin had a dream sequence similar to the one Shirou has at the start of the episode, though hers featured Archer. Shirou’s arm is growing armoured scales and I can’t help but think that this going to play out with Shirou being a more defence oriented Master to balance Saber out (she has a sword, he is the shield…ok, I’ll stop now). I mean, the show is called Unlimited Blade Works, so at some point, I’m guessing that comes up. Regardless, this is probably a good time to talk about Shirou himself, independent of the cast of characters he’s surrounded by. I know I tend to give him a lot of shit and I won’t lie and say that I’m particularly impressed by him. However, it’s not like I despise the guy and in light of that, I think I should say something positive about him for a change. He was sensible enough to use his Command Seal without agonizing about how many he has left and that probably made a big difference in this episode’s clash. More importantly, it seems like every so often, whenever the audience begins to stop taking him seriously, we are reminded that while he might not be the most battle-worthy member of the team, he’s been improving and has some other valuable qualities. His composure in the face of the numerous unconscious, possibly dead, students was a sharp reminder of the kind of experiences he’s been through and it’s sort of random, but I’m reminded of what Archer said about the best mages having blood on their hands. Shirou hasn’t killed (as far as we know) but he has some familiarity with death and notably, isn’t afraid of it or fazed by it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while he is still the weakest link on the team, he has the courage and spine to stand up and do something when others are too shocked or afraid. It’s not a lot, but it’s definitely something.