[Anime] Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works – The Final Decision (S1E12)


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There is an opportunity cost to every decision we ever make, whether we like it or not. Choosing one action over another will always result in us forgoing the consequences of the action ignored in favour of the action chosen. It is a simple concept, really, but humans are intrinsically greedy creatures and despite the irrationality of it, we often find ourselves wanting the best of both choices. It was this very same, simple but unavoidable, lesson that Emiya Kiritsugu tried to teach his son long ago. “You can’t save everyone”, he said but simple as it is, it is not a lesson that can be taught but rather one that must be learned. Shirou learns this lesson rather painfully in this mid-season finale of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. After a solid fifteen minutes of the gang having a blissfully idyllic day out, an ambush by Caster leaves Shirou with choices to make and not a single one appealing. For an episode that felt comfortable devoting that much time to Shirou and Rin letting their hair down, the latter half of the episode seems relatively rushed, with major revelations being thrown around offhandedly. Caster’s identity and Noble Phantasm are finally revealed and the final clue to Archer’s identity and connection to Shirou is provided (or is it?) but the half-season ends on a grim note as Shirou is forced to sacrifice Saber and bow out of the Holy Grail War.

The surprise date that Rin asks Shirou (and Saber, for reasons unclear to everyone, including Rin) out on is a rather strange opening to an otherwise serious episode but it does give us a final opportunity to see how Shirou and Rin have changed. As mentioned last week, Shirou’s survivor’s guilt is still very much a large part of his personality – even after all this time, he still feels like he didn’t deserve to be saved and doesn’t understand why he was chosen to survive when so many others died. It actively interferes with his ability to just kick back and enjoy the small things in life, a characteristic that has been noted multiple times over the course of the season. For her part, Rin has identified that something is clouding Shirou’s mind, and while she doesn’t know just what happened in the past, she seems determined to convince him that he deserves happiness just as much as anyone else. It’s a sweet gesture really, but it does seem like resolving matters with the Holy Grail will provide him with more closure than Rin can provide. Apart from that, their little excursion gives all three characters a chance to really just enjoy being alive without worrying about Masters and Servants and saving all of mankind. It seems almost a shame that Rin seems to get the lion’s share of the screen time – the few occasions where Saber lets herself stop being the quintessential Servant show an adorably human side of her personality. Watching her and Rin crack up over how ridiculous Shirou looks in glasses is enough to make you wonder how pleasant all of their lives would be if the Grail War wasn’t constantly hanging over their heads.

For better or worse though, the Grail War is hanging over their heads; Caster, now stronger than ever with an entire city feeding her, had created an enormous Bounded Field over the bridge and traps our happily content protagonists within. Three important events occur within this Bounded Field. The first of these and the least important really, is that Rin finally learns of Shirou’s past. Before this point, she isn’t aware of Shirou’s connection to the Holy Grail War and while it definitely doesn’t radically change anything, it does mean that she can stop giving him such a hard time for brooding all the time. The second, and significantly more important revelation, is the nature of Caster’s Noble Phantasm, Rule Breaker. From the little I understand of it, it’s exactly what it sounds like; she is able to break ‘rules’, though it would seem that that’s limited to magical ‘rules’. This definitely explains how she is able to command Servants despite being one and how she was able to mimic True Magic earlier in the season. The exact limits and boundaries of Rule Breaker aren’t explained just yet but it has potentially gigantic ramifications for the end-game; based on her brief confrontation with Kirei at the episode’s end, it would appear that she is able to break the rule that the Holy Grail requires only one Servant left in order to be summoned though the exact difference between the Lesser and Greater Holy Grails isn’t clear just yet. The last and most important event, of course, was Shirou being forced to choose between Taiga and Saber. The choice is a brilliant move, narratively speaking. It forces Shirou, who has thus far insisted that he will save ‘everyone’ (in a figurative sense), to face reality; as he is, he is in no position to do so. It’s a cruel way to learn an unpleasant lesson but speaking from a character development standpoint, it’s something that he will have had to confront at some point in the story in order for his character to mature and grow. Yet, for all that, it isn’t that this particular episode has made him give up his dream – he is down, and understandably so, but far from out. Grandiose claims like saving everyone cannot be made by the weak, however; only the strong are able to make good on such statements of benevolence. It’s something that feels vaguely in line with what Archer would say, interestingly. Regardless, it would make sense for Shirou to spend some time thinking seriously about how he can use what limited weapons he has in his arsenal to save the day.

Speaking of Archer, his timely breach of the Bounded Field seemed awfully convenient – he swoops in to save the day just as Shirou effectively throws Saber under the bus. His dislike of Shirou has been plain since the beginning – he has not wanted him participating in the War, ostensibly because Archer didn’t want Shirou dragging Rin down along with him. His true motivations might be considerably more complex, especially in light of the stunning revelations of the episode’s final section. Let us consider what little we know of Archer. He seems to be a hero from the past, judging by the flashbacks Rin saw in her dream. He didn’t have a particularly pleasant life from the looks of it, either. He uses projection magic, like Shirou, and understands his (Shirou’s) outlook on life surprisingly well, despite vehemently opposing it. Add in Archer’s admissions that he does know Saber from his previous life and we might just finally have enough to formulate a vaguely plausible theory of who Archer is. We know that Saber was summoned in this period before and that the last Holy Grail War was about ten years ago. We know from Rin that Saber was one of the last War’s ‘finalists’, which means she was summoned in the previous war. Next, it’s almost guaranteed that Kiritsugu was involved in the war as well, based Kirei’s dislike for him. The speculative part is thus: Archer was Kiritsugu’s Servant and thus, based on his own knowledge of Kiritsugu’s philosophies, has some understanding of where Shirou is coming from. It would explain how Archer knows this particular Saber (though, not why she doesn’t know him nor why that would lead him to go easy on her) and most importantly, it would explain why Archer specifically asks about Taiga. The theory is far from perfect but it’s all I got for now. The reveal is coming soon surely, and I’ll have to hold out till then. It would seem however, that Rin knows more than she is letting on – there was wary look in her eye as she asked Archer if he remember who he was and Archer’s reply wasn’t particularly convincing. It’ll be interesting to see how this particular angle plays out.

There is one final, major talking point before we can wrap this episode and season up. Since the first episode, I had assumed that the show had goofed on the pendant in the prologue and that the subsequent episode corrected it by having Shirou take it with him instead. However, in this episode, when Shirou finds it in Rin’s house, he recognizes it. This is curious because the only reason it is in Rin’s house is because Archer retrieved it for her from…where exactly? If Shirou woke up and took it with him, where did Archer get it from? Are there two pendants then? Assuming that this isn’t a massive plot hole on the writer’s part, there is something very seriously amiss here. The pendant makes its reappearance at an appropriate time, however. It is a mark of Shirou’s deep debt towards Rin, a debt that he hadn’t even realized he owed until this episode. Clearly, this will be his primary motivation going forward – he has a debt to pay and he is far too noble and proud to forget the debt and leave Rin to fight Caster, Assassin, Kuzuki and Saber all on her own. Yet, Rin is adamant that Shirou stay out of it – it would seem that now that he is no longer a Master, their temporary alliance has ended and Shirou’s continued interference will lead to her considering him an enemy. It’s unlike that she is ruthless enough to kill him in cold blood but it won’t matter – in his current state, it is virtually impossible for him to offer the like of Caster any real resistance. However, there are wildcards hanging in the background ready to make their move; with Caster’s attack on Kirei, it’s clear that all rules are off and that might just provide enough of an incentive to prompt Team Berserker, Team Lancer and Team Shinji to make their moves.

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7 thoughts on “[Anime] Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works – The Final Decision (S1E12)

  1. Nicely done. I always look forward to your reviews.

    That said, I’m not sure you noticed, but there was actually a preview for the second season after the credits at the end of this episode.

    As for Rule Breaker, you basically have it right, but are overselling it a bit. Rule Breaker can basically destroy, dispel or subvert any sort of magecraft (like, for example, the command spells which force a servant to obey his or her master) but can’t break rules of the World (like how magecraft works). So, stealing command spells: yes. Helping her get a second servant: very possibly, as the grail is, at the end of the day, part of a magical ritual. Helping her use the grail without all the servants being killed: again, this is plausible, as it’s possible she could use rule breaker to destroy the magical programming determining how the Grail works, or something like that. However, being able to mimic true magic in her specially created bounded field is not a function of rule breaker: that’s just the power and skill of a magus so legendary that she ended up becoming a heroic spirit.

    I’m not going to comment on your two theories at the end, as any comment would contain major spoilers, but you did say one thing about Rin earlier which amused me: “it does mean that she can stop giving him such a hard time for brooding all the time.”

    Are we talking about the same Rin? Now that she knows why Shirou is so broken, I have no doubt that she will try even harder to bully Shirou into enjoying his own life; it will just be a more focused and informed campaign. Rin’s definitely not the sort to just give up on what she wants.

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    • I’m trying to nail down what exactly needs to change in Shirou’s personality for him to begin ‘enjoying’ life again. I mean, it can’t be anything too drastic and I’m trying to keep my answer to within what would be relevant to the show. Would winning the war really help? I’m not really sure at this point.

      Anyway, thanks for the kind words, it really means a lot to me. I missed the post-credit scene again, I’ll get to it sometime this week.

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  2. > As mentioned last week, Shirou’s survivor’s guilt is still very much a large part of his personality – even after all this time, he still feels like he didn’t deserve to be saved and doesn’t understand why he was chosen to survive when so many others died.

    Yep and they left out an important thought of his: http://imgur.com/PgBthLa

    The part with Tohsaka at the end isn’t her possibly considering him an enemy it’s her trying to protect him. She already said she won’t consider him out of the war and not an ally until he drops out himself. It was poor wording from the subtitles I think: http://i.imgur.com/aarhqJH.jpg

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    • Did they really leave out that thought though? I thought it was pretty clear from his expressions. In fact, I liked that he couldn’t quite express it openly, it made his struggle with it seem more serious that way. Just personal preference, I guess.

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  3. I was going to post this on reddit but your submission got deleted. It’s about your entire impressions rather than just this one episode.

    That was a very good read actually.

    Just a few things of note.

    There’s a lot of character arcs that you seem to be intrested in that won’t get resolved or even touched upon in the show and you will have to wait until the movies. There’s also a couple of things you’ll never get to see(mainly about Saber) because you didn’t read the first route which focuses on Saber and the Grail set-up. Shirou’s healing factor probably won’t be explained either because at this point in the VN you already know that and considering they are giving the first route in Japan for free, when the entire thing normally costs about $400, it’s safe to assume they expect people to have read that one.

    I suggest that if you can’t read the VN at least watch the old(2006) TV show so you can get some closure on certain things, just make sure to wait until you have watched this one untill the end and then the upcoming Heaven’s Feel movie(s?) because the old TV show spoils everything really hard.

    From the first episode you nailed everyone’s character almost perfectly, I’m sometimes worried that Ufo isn’t doing a proper job but if you managed to get all this from the show then they are most definitely doing a great job.

    I was tempted to quote a lot of things you’ve been saying since the first few episodes and tell you to remember them but it does seem that you have a very good grasp on what the show is doing and were it is going.

    It’s a shame that you may not read the VN because from what you’ve said you would like at least a couple of the bad and dead ends that will never get adapted.

    I’m looking foward on your impressions of the second season.

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    • >There’s also a couple of things you’ll never get to see(mainly about Saber) because you didn’t read the first route which focuses on Saber and the Grail set-up. Shirou’s healing factor probably won’t be explained either because at this point in the VN you already know that and considering they are giving the first route in Japan for free, when the entire thing normally costs about $400, it’s safe to assume they expect people to have read that one.

      Fortunately, both of those are explained in Fate/Zero to some degree. And who knows, maybe they’ll add in some Fate route only stuff in the anime only scenes.

      >I suggest that if you can’t read the VN at least watch the old(2006) TV show so you can get some closure on certain things

      I disagree, it will be so jarring to go from a Ufotable MOVIE to a DEEN 2006 TV Show, like ugh. Not to mention as I said, most things are explained in Fate/Zero. I guess Saber’s character arc only gets closure in the Fate route though.

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      • >it will be so jarring to go from a Ufotable MOVIE to a DEEN 2006 TV Show, like ugh.

        I know he probably wouldn’t enjoy it much, I don’t like myself but it does give Saber some closure and he may want that. Normally I tell people to stay away from it but I made that suggestion because of some specific comments he made and between reading the wiki and watching DEEN I think DEEN is marginally better.

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