Even eleven episodes in, it is surprisingly difficult to choose which aspect of this series is more enjoyable – the smooth, beautifully animated action sequences or the thought-provoking ideologically-driven debates the characters have with each other. The dilemma is a welcome one; one of the many things that keep this series from feeling like a generic fantasy is the careful attention it pays to its characters. Even fairly minor characters like Kuzuki and Caster, who we met last week, have understandable, if not sympathetic, outlooks on life and it’s the mark of careful characterization that these attitudes reflect and colour their motivations. The confrontation with Team Caster has left Shirou stretched a little thin and his allies take the time to plan their next moves. While that should technically mean a lot of strategizing and thinking, in reality, it translates to everyone taking it easy for some time. The downtime is important not just for the characters, who can just talk to each other and simply exist, but also for the viewers who can take the opportunity to really learn more about the characters and their personal thoughts and troubles. Shirou and Rin have come a long way from the first episode. While they do still argue frequently, it feels more as though they’ve reached an understanding with each other, of sorts. Shirou clearly respects Rin’s abilities and her experience but he never lets that respect get in the way of him telling her what he thinks she needs to hear and likewise, Rin too seems to have realized that while Shirou isn’t a magical prodigy, his dedication and courage are qualities to be valued and cherished. This isn’t just limited to their ‘professional’, working relationship; in this episode alone, Rin shows concern for Shirou when he drops the plates and does so without making a big deal out of it and refreshingly enough, it seems like Shirou understands and appreciates the gesture. Similarly, her irritation at his dedication to his father’s ideals doesn’t seem to really stem from the difference between her personal philosophy and his but rather from her belief that Shirou’s current path will leave him ultimately miserable. It’s hard to tell at this point just how well she really gets Shirou – thus far, she doesn’t seem to know of the fire he was rescued from or the extent of his survivor’s guilt but at the same time, she knows enough to ask the right sort of questions. A few of her comments seem unclear though – when she asks him if he enjoys magic, she says she might be misunderstanding something though it wasn’t too clear what it was. Likewise, she seems to comparing Shirou to someone but even that isn’t expanded upon though it is likely Archer, just based off of Caster’s comment and the total lack of other male characters it could be. Outside of her dynamic with Shirou though, Rin is still an interesting and entertaining character. She is audacious enough to back both Fujimura and Shirou into their respective characters; admittedly Shirou isn’t the most assertive when it comes to such matters but Rin made hilariously short work of Fujimura’s protests as well. It seems that some elements of her character’s central inner conflict haven’t fully been resolved – there was certain envy and admiration with which she spoke of the naturalness of Kiritsugu’s Bounded Field as though she too wished her own father had been warmer and kinder. That in itself clashes with her desire to be a proper mage and as revealed in this episode, her desire to be a mage is as much a result of the expectations of her as they are of her own enjoyment for the practice. The question that all of this brings up though is whether or not someone who is so, in their own words, hedonistic is really as practical and ruthless as Archer thinks? He did insist that Rin, as a proper mage, would be willing to get her hands dirty if it came to it, but what does that say about her character then? Does it mean that she accepts the violence that mage-craft brings with it (for whatever reason) just because the rest of it is fun? Or does it also imply that she enjoys the violence (unlikely given her horror at seeing a room full of unconscious students)? The last two episode discussions have brought up the possibility of a connection between Archer and Shirou and while this episodes offer substantial further evidence, it brings us no closer to actually pinpointing what that connection is. One possibility, though extremely unlikely, is that Archer is Kiritsugu himself. We don’t know a great deal about Kiritsugu’s life prior to rescuing Shirou from the fire but even if he was a participant in the previous Grail War, it seems unlikely that he performed any acts of heroism amazing enough to go down in history – Rin, the local mage, hasn’t even heard of him! Archer knowing precisely how Shirou’s magic (which can only be passed via bloodline, remember) is a big clue as is the fact that his flashbacks feature a fairly medieval setting. Unfortunately, none of the characters we know fulfil both criteria and so the theory-crafting train is forced to fruitless halt. However, Archer’s philosophy so directly opposing Shirou’s is surely no coincidence – the former simply knows too much of the way Shirou thinks and what drives him for it to be mere happenstance. Archer seems to be saying here that one drowning man cannot rescue another, that Shirou’s determination to save the world will result in Shirou dedicating his life for another man’s ideal. Yet, is that such a bad thing? Shirou isn’t taking a stranger’s burden upon his own shoulders; the ideal he is ‘clinging’ on to is his father’s, his personal hero’s. Surely, men throughout history and even today have died and continue to die for ideals that they didn’t come up with and surely Archer knows this as well. Yet, what he seems to be suggesting is fascinatingly in line with Rin’s own advice – Shirou has decided to champion Kiritsugu’s ideal but in the process has not taken the time to understand whether he truly enjoys it independently of the salvation he provides others. Archer’s outlook is decidedly bleak, of course; pragmatic as he is, he doesn’t believe in fighting for ideals but for real, tangible things (it’s interesting that that seems to preclude the Grail itself) and thinks Shirou’s entire self-appointed purpose of saving others is an exercise in futility. There is certainly a line to be drawn between Shirou’s boundless altruism and Archer’s narrow-minded focus and it shouldn’t really matter whether the meeting point between the two extremes is a realistic or feasible one. After all, ideals exist only to be striven towards; when they are reached, they become reality.