There’s been a fair deal going on in the last couple of episodes, so it was a little bit of a relief that the show decided to give us some time to make sense of everything that happened. We get some comic relief from Shirou being himself, at poor Issei’s cost but more importantly, there are a great many questions that this episode raises and it remains to be seen if the show is going to be able to tie all of them up satisfactorily. Who is the blond man and what is his connection with Shinji? How are Rin and Sakura connected? We get some further insight on Shirou’s personality and background and it’s about time – the scenes delving into Shirou’s character are among my favourites and give us a rare chance at seeing the world the way he does. He has an interesting worldview, arguably naïve and doomed to fail but his determination to stick with it, as mentioned in this episode, despite knowing that makes it all the more fascinating.
The general reaction to Archer’s appearance was really disappointing. I mentioned in the previous episode’s discussion that I felt Shirou should be angrier at Rin and after giving it some thought, I guess it’s fair to say that Shirou was sure that Rin didn’t order the hit on him and hence didn’t blame her for it. I got the sense that maybe his crush on her was also influencing him a little – maybe he didn’t want to believe she did it in the first place. However, this episode makes it clear that it’s the former but now I’m surprised all over again at how mild his reaction to Archer popping up (late, I might add and isn’t that convenient?) is. To be fair, both Shirou and Saber are wary of Archer and Saber reacts as she would to an enemy but for all that, it seems like there’s no anger on Shirou’s side, no questions of why Archer tried to kill him exactly, unless there’s an understanding between the two that their philosophical differences was worth the violence? I don’t want to overthink it, but it just felt strange. I’ll admit that I’m a little torn because I do like Archer as a character but I don’t want him being let off the hook for his actions just because of that. Also, what was up with him taking so long to get there? Rin doesn’t live all that far away from the school. I wonder if he didn’t think it would be neater if Caster/Assassin manages to take Shirou and Saber down. In fact, wouldn’t it kill two (or four) birds with one stone if Shirou and Saber died to Caster/Assassin but weakened them enough in the process that Archer could just step in wipe them out. That way he wouldn’t be violating Rin’s Command Seal and there would two Servants out, including pesky old Shirou.
I’m also going to point out that the Servants’ reactions to Rider’s death (or her self-sacrifice?) are very representative of their ideologies. Saber honours Rider as a hero who did her duty to the very end and I can’t put my finger on why, but that sentiment feels so apt coming from her. Saber has always struck me as a ‘proper’ Servant in that she is both supportive of Shirou’s plans and accepting of his inexperience while doing her very best given the limitations. I can’t help but feel we don’t know a thing about her though. She’s been very well characterized without revealing anything about her and that particular mystery is eating at me. Anyway, back to my original point; contrast Saber’s reactions with Archer’s – he is dismissive and disdainful. I don’t think he was doing it just to be provocative either. I get the feeling that he genuinely believes that it’s only natural that a weak Servant like Rider be eliminated from the contest early one and speaking from a perfectly objective point of view, I can’t say I disagree. Saber seems to be more sensitive of Rider’s sacrifice but that sensitivity is apparently not something Archer cares for. I know Shirou doesn’t say anything about it in this episode, but based on his reaction last week, it seemed like his reaction would be similar to Saber’s. This is probably me reading way too much into it, but it appeared like Shirou, going off of his I-should-save-everyone mindset, felt powerless that someone had died on his watch and perhaps it reminded him of his dad’s lesson – saving one person (in this case, I guess helping Rin fight the golems off) means letting another die (Rider). Usually, I’d point out that Rin is a friend whereas Rider is decidedly an enemy but it’s Shirou so I don’t think he would consider it a valid point in any case. It felt like the main takeaway from the scene wasn’t so much what their individual perspectives were but rather that there is still some unresolved tension between Archer and Saber/Shirou. Archer isn’t done with Shirou just yet, you mark my words. It’s a shame too because Shirou’s been getting more useful these last couple of weeks and it might be in Archer and Rin’s best interest to keep him around for a while longer, if only to delay the confrontation with Saber (who we have yet to see go all out).
In other news, Shinji continues to be a shit. It takes a special lack of self-awareness to blame your incredibly poor performance in the War on your Servant, especially when your secret master plan was so flawed that five out of the six Servants (not including Rider, of course) saw it coming from a mile away. I mean, seriously, Saber, Archer, Caster/Assassin and Lancer (who we haven’t seen in ages) all knew about it, so if that was Shinji’s best shot, I’d say he truly deserves to be the first one knocked out of the War and honestly, if he was even slightly less of a shit, he would realize how lucky he is to be alive. How is he alive anyway? Why didn’t Caster kill him too? Did she just not see him as a threat, like Rin? In any case, his rant about it being two versus one confirms that it took both Caster and Assassin to kill Rider, so maybe Rider wasn’t that weak after all. Of course, the big question here is who exactly the last Servant is. My bet is that it’s the ‘real’ Assassin – we know that Caster’s Assassin was a result of her finding a loophole in the War’s rules but I suspected at the time that there was a true, original Assassin lurking around. Without a Master, I guess it’s natural that he would go to Kirei, the ‘judge’ of the War. What I don’t understand is how he is surviving without a Master – doesn’t he need a source of mana or something? Well, regardless of how that works, Shinji gets another shot at the Grail and I can’t say I’m too thrilled; that new guy looks sinister.
Kirei is an enigma, but a captivating one. It seems like he exists for the sole reason for making this entire affair as painful and miserable as possible for everyone involved. It’s a fairly fitting philosophy for someone who is the Grail’s arbiter and representative (I’m not actually sure that that is what he is, but it feels about right). The Grail has been described in negative terms before by the characters (Archer and Kirei himself come to mind) and it seems like Kirei has taken its negativity to heart. The odd thing is that despite interfering so heavily in the War, he does seem to legitimately be neutral. He doesn’t offer Rin any additional help despite being her tutor and he tells Shirou exactly what he needs to hear in order to convince him to participate; it seems like Kirei hates everyone equally. Given that, I wonder if he was even telling Shinji the truth about him being the first person to drop out. Shinji clearly has a massive inferiority complex and hates being looked down upon – just look at his reactions to Rin calling him a gnat in the last episode or how anguished he was about everyone allegedly mocking him in this one. Kirei, the magnificent bastard that he is, identifies this right away and pokes at this sore spot and Shinji’s pride does the rest. I’ll be amazed if he survives this war in one piece though I’m not so sure about Kirei himself. This show seems nihilistic enough that someone like Kirei might just come out of it unscathed as a demonstration of the Grail’s enduring strength or he might get taken down by his own hubris; at this point it could go either way.
Rin’s question above is really strange. It’s clear that there are only two people she could be talking about; herself or Sakura. Given that the conversation was about Sakura all this while and that Rin is very clearly a Tohsaka (she has the family crest, which from what I understand can only be passed by blood line), I have to conclude that Rin was talking about Sakura. So, what I’m gathering is that Sakura is adopted into the Matou family which would explain a great deal. It would explain why Shinji is a Master when Sakura isn’t even a mage, it would explain why he had no qualms about wiping her out along with the rest of the school (it’s the whole, ‘if you don’t have powers, you’re worthless argument’ ala Harry Potter) and it would explain why Shinji can get away with treating her like shit. I’m just not very sure that I like the way this particular development was just sort of blurted out. It feels like it came out of field; one moment everything is light-hearted and fun, the next the atmosphere is serious again and it seems like this could be a plot point. The question on my mind is how does Rin know that Sakura is adopted, when she herself doesn’t seem to? Who is Sakura’s original family and what were their reasons for giving her up for adoption?
Even though it isn’t a long conversation, Taiga’s motherly recollection of Shirou’s childhood gives us some interesting bits of further insight into his background and personality. She confirms that Shirou’s philosophy is more binary and rigid than his father’s. Where Kiritsugu seemed to be more of a moral relativist, Shirou prefers absolutism. I personally tend to be uncomfortable around moral absolutism but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing – every now and then, it’s good, even preferable, to have someone to draw a line in the sand to separate good and bad. Shirou seems to suffer from survivor’s guilt and it not hard to understand why. Being the only survivor of the fallout of the last Holy Grail War, he has to be wondering why he alone was ‘chosen’ to survive. I can certainly see the connection from him wondering that to him wanting to ensure that no one has to suffer through a similar tragedy again. Combine that with a role model like Kiritsugu and I don’t think it’s any surprise that he is hell-bent on being a ‘hero of justice’. My issues with Shirou are more that he lacks awareness of the bigger picture, that he doesn’t understand that his goal ought to be seen more as an ideal than something that can be realistically achieved. Until he changes that part of his character, he is only setting himself up for failure. What this scene made very clear was that the differences between Shirou and Archer essentially come down to the age old clash of idealism versus cynicism. So far, the show hasn’t really shown a strong inclination toward either, but that can’t last – a storm is brewing and there won’t be space for both in the upcoming battles.