Throughout the course of the season, the viewer, naturally, forms a set of opinions, assumptions and expectations of the story and the characters. For instance, the viewer might believe Saber to be a powerful Servant or Shirou to be a weak Master. Of course, there are reasons for these assumptions; the viewer is either explicitly told so or bases it on other characters’ opinions. “The Fifth Contractor”, easily one of the densest episodes of the season, not only gives us reason to question both of the above assumptions but also gives us a lot of food for thought. The identity of Caster’s Master is almost irrelevant at this point; by the end of last week’s episode, there was clearly only one person it could be. That is not to say that that particular Servant-Master duo didn’t have any tricks up their respective sleeves, but episode’s real surprise was unveiled only at the conclusion of their fight. As aesthetically impressive as the fight was, it often feels like the action is the simply the means that the shows uses to resolve the characters’ various philosophical and ideological conflicts.
Still, the fight sequences in the show are nothing to sneer at. This episode’s fight between the three Masters was especially notable, for a variety of reasons. The least of them is Archer’s continued absence. It was wise on Rin’s part to identify Archer’s odd sympathies for Caster and pre-empt a potentially disastrous situation in which Archer helps Caster in wiping out Shirou and Saber but the mere fact that she was forced to side-line her own Servant surely doesn’t bode well for the future of their informal alliance. The fight was perilously close as it was – Rin was taken out in the blink of an eye after Saber got positively manhandled by Kuzuki. It was shocking to see not just because no one suspected Kuzuki of being that badass (despite the comments of the efficiency of his gait) but also because we’ve seen Saber fight Berserker somewhat evenly – for her to get destroyed like that by a mere human seems impossible, though of course, Caster was enhancing his strength and speed. The highlight of the fight was Shirou stepping his game up and for the first time in this adaptation, doing something incontestably amazing. The build-up to his sword summoning was rather subtle, on hindsight – we have seen his strange admiration for Archer’s weapons and his fighting style but actually mimicking his magic was not a step that anyone expected Shirou to make, at least not this quickly. Of course, it would ruin the moment if Shirou were to summon these weapons only to promptly be disarmed by the infinitely more seasoned Kuzuki. Thankfully, his diligence in learning from Saber seems to have paid off in a big way, though it still does beggar belief that Shirou’s skill with swords improved by that much, that fast.
Kukuzi and Caster are a fascinating couple. Their combat strategy is, as mentioned, unusual, but beyond that, there seems to be a certain level of trust and respect between the two that we haven’t seen outside the protagonists. While neither of them can be considered ‘good’ people in the most conventional sense of the word, neither do they give the impression that they are truly evil. In fairness, Caster does seem to be the more ‘evil’ of the two – there is a certain arrogance in her demeanour and she does appear to derive some pleasure from cruelty but ultimately, it is a little odd to expect beings as powerful as these Heroic Spirits to really feel compassion and empathy for every nameless civilian in the world when they are fighting for something as ridiculous omnipotent as this Holy Grail. We don’t know Caster’s motivations yet though it would seem that as a mage, she has taken Archer’s sentiment of ‘a mage must have blood on his hands’ to its logical extreme. Meanwhile, however, Kuzuki has taken a more detached, hands-off approach. He isn’t entirely wrong in asking why he ought to concern himself with the lives and deaths of the nameless masses when they don’t particularly care about him. It seems like Rin and Saber could have avoided a world of pain for themselves by fighting Caster alone and leaving Kuzuki out of it. The trust and respect mentioned previously shows itself in how willing Kuzuki is to let Caster handle matters on her own; while one interpretation is that he honestly doesn’t care what the outcome of the battle is, I think the more likely one is that he honestly believes Caster can handle their opponents. It seems likely that Kuzuki was the one who killed Rider – Kuzuki’s brutally effective moves look like more likely to create the kind of corpse that Rider left behind, more so than a sword slash could, in any case. Kuzuki was also in school, had both means and motive; I think we can declare the case shut.
Last week, I suggested the possibility of a connection between the dreams that Rin and Shirou had; they both featured similar backdrops and while Rin’s focused on Archer, Shirou’s centred on himself. We see a new, extended version of Rin’s dream, complete with a poem that has some very familiar lines. “I am the bone of my sword” was the line he spoke right before firing a mythical sword at Caster. Piecing together the little that we know of Archer, it seems clear that the poem was something rather meaningful to him; not only does it feature so prominently in the montage of Archer’s past (which appears vaguely medieval) but it is also what helps him perform his magic. For now, however, my curiosity is less about Archer’s identity and past but more about why Shirou would have similar dreams and what the connection between the two characters are. Given that Shirou is capable of mimicking (on a smaller scale), Archer’s magic sans actual archery, it seems like Caster was spot on in suggesting that the two were very alike. This makes the dynamic between Shirou and Archer all the more confusing; on one hand, Shirou clearly hates the man and his ideology but conversely, seems oddly fascinated with his fighting style and weaponry. Perhaps to some that seems rather hypocritical, as though Shirou hating Archer’s attitude means that he is supposed to hate everything about Archer but personally I feel like the show is setting Shirou up as an equal but opposite force to Archer, in a sort of ‘I’ll beat you with your own tools’ sort of situation. Regardless of what exactly is going on between the two characters, a second clash between them seems imminent.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is clearly building up to something; the pieces have been coming together very subtly but what the final revelation will be is yet unclear. We are approaching the mid-season mark but for each question the series answers a dozen more pop-up. What have Ilya and Berserker been up to? What about Lancer? Various pieces have been slowly moving into place over the course of the last couple of episodes – we seen Shirou slowly become a fighter capable of contributing to his team’s cause while Archer’s unhappiness with Rin’s leadership has also been subtly highlighted. The most intriguing of these plot elements is Shinji and his new Servant, hiding in the wings. It occurred to me that this new Servant could be a Rider class Servant for no other reason than Shinji’s first Servant was also a Rider but honestly speculation is rather pointless at this late stage. The unnamed Servant’s speech felt somewhat empty, however – what exactly is his motivation? He seems to imply that there are too many irrelevant and worthless people around these days but how does that connect to it being ‘too much of a good thing’? Is he one of those characters that just want to cleanse the world of boring people? It would certainly explain his friendship with Kirei, if so. While we can’t attest to Kirei being a good judge of character, it seems like Shinji and his new Servant are much more likely to see eye to eye.