[Anime] Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works – The Beginning Of The Circle (S2E6)


UBW Season 2

One of the tell-tale signs of a series approaching its climax is when its story begins to get increasingly turbulent. It feels like it wasn’t all that long ago that things in Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works were nice and easy to understand – Saber was Shirou’s Servant, Archer was Rin’s and everyone else was an enemy that needed to their respective asses handed to them. That the story has gotten more chaotic is not a criticism by any means however; in fact, this week’s episode, titled ‘The Beginning of the Circle’ is possibly one of the most holistic episodes of the season, if not the whole series. It has a little of everything that makes this show so absorbing – the beautiful visuals, the mystery behind several of the characters and the probing questions on what a meaningful life really is. The show’s title has been dropped a few times previously but it feels like this episode is very much our introduction to what exactly ‘Unlimited Blade Works’ really is and why it was deemed important enough to warrant a place in the title. Along with the long-awaited reveal of Archer’s identity (I was so wrong, it’s honestly embarrassing to think about) and the congregation of various villains, the episode keeps the plot moving and the tempo up as show prepares to begin its ascent towards its crescendo.

There are three elements that this episode focuses on: Shirou, Archer and his Noble Phantasm, Unlimited Blade Works. The three are closely intertwined but each deserves to be examined in isolation from the other two. Archer’s identity is pivotal to this discussion, so we will begin there. Basically, to anyone who didn’t piece it together based on this episode, Archer is Shirou. It’s not entirely clear whether Archer is an alternative version of Shirou, like from a different timeline or from a possible future, or if it’s set in stone that Archer is basically who Shirou becomes but it’s crystal clear that they are the same person. It is a simpler explanation that anything I cooked up before and it lines up perfectly with everything we’ve been told about Archer so far – it explains how he knows so much about Shirou, it explains how he knows Saber and Fujimura, it even explains the pendant. Looking back, there were plenty of signs but it’s one of those things where it’s unlikely anyone who wasn’t looking would find it. From a purely literary standpoint, Archer being none other than Shirou is actually brilliant; it gives this amazing symmetry to both characters’ conflicts and in some ways, it’s the perfect embodiment of Shirou own struggles. Shirou’s dream since the fire has been, to put it simplistically, to save everyone. He doesn’t just want to save the murdered – he wants to save the murderer too. It’s wildly optimistic, as several characters have noted, and likely not something a mere human can accomplish. It’s not too wild to think that Shirou might have jumped at the opportunity to become a Guardian, even if it meant giving up the peace of his afterlife for it, if it meant that he could achieve the power and ability to make his dream a reality. There’s something to be said at this juncture about why Shirou thinks that he is undeserving of something like peace after his death and it’s likely to be the same reason he doesn’t feel like he deserves to have fun. Rin, in particular, has touched on this in the past and we can fully expect it to come up in the future as well – along with why exactly Shirou feels such a compulsion to justify his own existence and go above and beyond for every person he meets. The fire incident explains a good deal of it, but I suspect the promise he made his father is another major part of it. Still, once he became a Guardian, surely things would have worked out, right? Well, the answer to that goes back to something Kiritsugu once told Shirou, to something Shirou was forced to learn on a certain bridge not too long ago – sometimes, or even often, saving one person means sacrificing another. The imagery the show uses to convey this is perfect – we see Shirou/Archer, in a pose of mental anguish, on a veritable mountain of corpses. Imagine how devastating it must be for someone like Shirou, who sacrificed everything he could to save everyone, to have to continually have to forsake the few for the sake of the many. It’s a perversion of everything Shirou thought he could accomplish and it’s precisely why Archer feels like he was betrayed by his ideals. All of this leads to strange juxtaposition between the two characters – on one hand, we have Shirou, who is still determined to some everyone and be the superhero he promised his dad he would be, trying to his very hardest to stay true to the purity of his dream despite now having actual evidence that things won’t work out if he takes that route while on the other hand, you have Archer who is so thoroughly disgusted by the way things have turned out that he wants to presumably eliminate the problem at its root – if Shirou died before becoming a Guardian, the laws of time will ostensibly ensure that Archer never comes into being. The ominous likelihood of a time paradox lurking aside, the beauty of the contrast is that one character is so determined to stay true to his dream that he will give a 100% of himself and then some in order to achieve it while the other character has become so disillusioned that he is also willing to go well beyond what most would consider reasonable measures in order to ensure that he never even exists. The best part? They’re both the same person. In fact, that’s perhaps, symbolically speaking, the best part of the Archer-Shirou conflict: it’s essentially Shirou fighting himself, which, if you think about it, is sort of the point of this whole affair. Sure, there’s a Grail and a War and all that but at its centre, the story here is really about Shirou overcoming his various issues and, in effect, overcoming himself. Of course, the conflict with Archer makes it a lot more literal but given the kind of viewpoints that Archer holds, and specifically that he holds them as a result of starting out the same way as Shirou, makes the conflict feel much more meaningful.

So, with all that said, is there really hope for either Archer or Shirou? It’s an odd question to ask really, because if you think of it, Archer’s fate is pretty much set at this point. Even if the story takes an unexpected turn and Archer kills Shirou, it would be hard to say that he found salvation of any kind, especially in the context that the characters use the term. In fact, the presentation of the Unlimited Blade Works reality marble, which was absolutely gorgeous, seems to imply that Archer is really past saving at this point. If had the chance to create your own reality, where things could be exactly as you want them to be, what does it say when you go with a barren, desolate wasteland instead of something a little more optimistic? You could argue that the world in the reality marble is meant to intimidate or that it appears differently to outsiders than to Archer but neither explanation feels right. The desolation and lifelessness of that wasteland is a fittingly bleak setting for a character who seems defined and motivated by his disillusionment and cynicism. That said, it was hard not to impressed by it – the massive gears in the sky, the seemingly endless collection of swords stuck into the ground, the awe-struck music that accompanied it. The scene didn’t last long and in fact ended rather abruptly but there were a few highlights – firstly, Shirou was having visions of that world before Archer even cast it, which would indicate that on some fundamental level, Shirou feels some sort of connection to that place. We have seen him dream of it before but neither we nor the characters knew what it was at the time. Shirou seems much more proficient at his sword projection while inside that marble and justifiably so – after all, it’s not hard to imagine that what works for Archer will work for Shirou too. Equally unsurprising is that Archer knows a great deal about Saber – he calls her the King of Knights (which is a weird thing to call a young girl), seems to know that she wields a ‘holy sword’, a sword that he capable of mimicking or recreating and also knows a good deal about his circumstances and life. He has a soft spot for Saber, regardless of what he says and even does and yet again, it’s not hard to see why; just in this episode alone, Saber is incredibly supportive and clearly cares a great deal about Shirou. We don’t see it directly but you have to wonder what her thoughts are about seeing the boy in front of her grow into such a cold and distant man. Yet, the frostiness might not tell the full story either – there was a moment, barely a second long in which Archer seems like he dropped the act and gave Saber an honest, no-bullshit answer: “I  should never have become a hero”. The face he makes isn’t one filled with duplicity – he’s not trying to fake her out or to call her bluff or even just annoy her. There’s regret on that face and a heaviness in those tones and in that moment, you really feel for what Archer could have been and what he became instead.

Of course, this fight isn’t just about Shirou and Archer, at least not literally. Rin has been taken ‘hostage’ but somehow that feels almost secondary. On more than one occasion, Archer has shown a softer side to Rin and for her own part, she seems genuinely upset that Archer turned out the way he did. To some extent, it would seem that she feels responsible for it; she mentions not understanding why no one in Shirou/Archer’s life ever helped straighten him out or at least asked him to seek professional help. It’s sweet that she is so concerned but her concern is also heavily tinged with helplessness – it’s the same sort of helplessness she felt when confronting Shirou about his attitude towards life. Of all the characters, it seems like Rin understands Archer the best (arguably better than Shirou, though that’s really up for debate) though that might just be because she has to most information about him but it might also be because she has had access both versions of the character – when he was just Shirou and when he became Archer. Her frustration and disappointment that neither Shirou nor Archer can be saved is touching but perhaps a little premature; Gilgamesh’s return, presumably sans Ilya’s heart, might just offer Archer a means of redemption. It brings up an odd quandary – we need Shirou to face off against Archer; it is the crucial confrontation that both their characters require, but it would also be a great turn of events if Archer decided that he has some heroics left him in after all and decides to fight Gilgamesh off of Rin. The last option would be to just kill Shinji – it might not change the outcome of the plot significantly, but it would win him a good many popularity contests. There is already tension between Gilgamesh and Archer – Gilgamesh calls him out as a ‘Faker’, presumably because while the former uses authentic Noble Phantasm swords that he’s stolen from the corpses of his enemies, Archer’s are self-made knockoffs. The episode ends with another massive confrontation looming on the horizon – Lancer, being an all-round nice guy, returns to back Shirou and Saber up and it’s looking like it’s going to be Gilgamesh versus Lancer and Saber while Shirou faces off against Archer all while trouble is brewing in Caster’s former home now that her Servant is Master-less and looking for a way to survive; next week should be fun.

On a final, totally unrelated note: I have begun my VN journey! I can’t say I’ve gotten used to the writing style just yet (it feels really long-winded and the pace is so slow) but I’m not going to make the mistake I did last time and try to rush through it.

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25 thoughts on “[Anime] Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works – The Beginning Of The Circle (S2E6)

  1. Excellent review as always.

    Shirou doesn’t mind if he loses to anyone but Archer is the one person he cannot allow himself to lose against, which is the core of the whole self vs ideal theme of the show.

    Slight correction: Gilgamesh didn’t steal other people’s weapons. Since he is the oldest hero ever recorded, and since he possessed everything in the world, he had ownership of all noble phantasms during his time. After he died, the contents of his treasury started spreading throughout the world as the noble phantasms of the heroes who would come after him.

    It is this universe’s interpretation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, since it is indeed the oldest heroic legend every recorded and lots of myths and legends that came after that borrowed some of those ideas.

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  2. Again you’ve done a very good job of analyzing the characters, especially hitting the nail on the head with Gilgamesh’s reasoning behind calling Archer a “Faker”. And you’re definitely not the only person who didn’t predict Archer’s true identity either.

    The writing in the VN definitely isn’t the best and some bits do feel bogged down but it’s totally worth it. The story, characters, everything is just great. If you are committed to reading the whole VN then I would advise on holding off on watching Fate/Zero until finishing the third route “Heaven’s Feel” since Fate/Zero heavily spoils that route (which in my opinion is the best). Though it is ultimately up to you to decided on what viewing order you want to go with.

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  3. Glad to hear you are reading the VN’s. Hopefully we get a review when you complete it, or something. I also would recommend the Kara No Kyoukai movie series that was written by the writer of Fate/Stay Night and also animated by Ufotable. A lot of the lore and terminology connects with this series, and it is in the same universe; but mostly it’s my favorite work by them and getting reviews on the movies by you would be awesome lol. Gotta admit, your writing still and analysis are both really amazing. Good work.

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    • Thank you! Yeah I’ll definitely be checking out Kara No Kyoukai at some point. Is there any overlap with the Fate series?

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      • Kara no Kyoukai has some characters that (briefly) appear in the Fate series, one in particular is important at the end of the Heaven’s Feel route, and another does appear briefly in Zero. For most part it’s mostly relevant lore wise. I believe the actual timelines of Kara no Kyoukai and Fate are parallel, while Tsukihime happens on the same timeline as Fate.

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      • Here’s a guide if you want to get into type-moon related series, http://i.imgur.com/3D0ELQr.jpg. You do not have to follow it completely, just make sure you read/watch the main stuff. What I have completed/intend to read (in order) are:
        Fate/Stay Night VN (of course)
        Fate/Zero anime
        Fate/Hollow Ataraxia (though I skipped much of the SoL portion to get through the main story)
        Tsukihime VN (I heard that it’s recommended to finish this VN before watching KnK. I’m currently reading this at the moment)
        Kagetsu Tohya VN
        Kara no Kyoukai

        … and that’s all for now. The only spin-off I’ve watched is the Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya anime, and boy did I love it. Actually, the whole reason I started getting into fate (which led to me reading VNs) was this anime. I watched it totally without knowing anything about the fate series just because I thought it looked like a fun show, and until now I’m still trying to finish all these type-moon stuff…

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      • Actually Kara no Kyoukai’s original (online) publication predates all the other Type-Moon works so it doesn’t need Tsukihime or anything to be read before seeing it.

        That chart is definitely only if you want to go all out, though.
        More concisely, I’d say the order, starting from F/SN VN, would be like this;
        1.F/SN (VN, all three routes)
        2.F/HA or Fate/Zero
        F/HA is a fandisk so actually SOL scenes are kind of the main point, but it does actually do an excellent job on expanding some characters histories and….characters, in particular Lancer, Caster, Kuzuki and Rider. The brief flashback last episode was actually a hacked up version of a scene from F/HA.
        Fate/Zero is the prequel, set during the Fourth War. Definitely should not be watched without Heaven’s Feel as well, as there are significant spoilers there and the end might be completely confusing without it.
        3.Kara no Kyoukai
        Actually these can come at any point, but keep in mind the movies are out of chronological order (it goes 2 4 3 1 5 6 7) when watching it. Should watch in release order, asintended.
        4.Tsukihime
        If you’re going to look at it, I would definitely recommend the VN, and not the anime, which was bad to the point this (http://i279.photobucket.com/albums/kk137/Erwaldosdai/NoTsukihimeAnimu.gif) became a fandom meme.
        Unfortunately, it is definitely dated to a level Fate isn’t quite yet. Nevertheless it’s definitely an engaging read.
        Kagetsu Tohya comes after Tsukihime
        5.Pretty much anything else can come now.

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  4. This was a great read.

    Just some things I think might help out your understanding;
    -The Throne of Heroes (essentially, where Heroic Spirits and Counter-Guardians are stored before summoning) is actually explained in the Fate route beforehand, and brought up again in this scene in the VN, and the explanation given here, while covering it, felt a bit brushed over.



    That’s not the whole explanation, there’s a long infodump, but the bit from the episode put together with this should clear it up better.
    -To be sure, what Archer wants is to create a paradox-as shown in the above image, as the contracted individual is removed from the normal time axis, a regular death won’t do much. This is why he saves Shirou from Caster but decides to make a try at killing him just moments later. Him killing his ownself, he hopes, will create a paradox which the Throne of Heroes won’t be able to handle and will erase his existence.
    Saber has this line in the VN;
    “…How can it be? Archer, your wish is a mistake.
    Why, why do you wish for such an end? Even if you do so, you…”
    Will not be saved.
    Saber bites her lips and stops herself from saying so.
    -Gilgamesh’s collection isn’t quite like that. Well, I don’t doubt some are like that, but in Nasuversian mythology ancient Babylonia was some kind of super civilization that laid down the prototypes of many creations that would not come for a long time later. And the nature of his Noble Phantasm of having the originals means, even if something new is created, and it is impossible for a prototype to exist, it will generate a prototype. Whereas his are the original versions of Noble Phantasms, older and stronger than their descendants, Archers are weaker copies of other Noble Phantasms, hence Faker.
    -Also, in universe, parallel worlds are a thing along with the ability to traverse them (hence the existence of different routes) so whether Shirou becomes Archer or not after the end of any route is up to interpretation, but I myself would not say so, for a multitude of reasons, with the possible exception of Fate, and even then probably not.
    And additionally, the three routes scene in the novel are only three of many possible realities.

    If there’s one problem I had with the presentation of UBW, it’s that the ground looked kind of….well, off. Oh and I believe the confrontation between Shirou and Archer went differently in the VN, where he also projects a larger group of swords against Archer so he doesn’t step up to the front so as to manually deflect them, but in acceptance of Archers challenge. Nevertheless the scene was alright here, if a little unclear toward the end.

    Oh, and there was one last scene with Shirou before he woke up and spoke to Saber.
    http://lparchive.org/Fatestay-night/Update%20214/
    It was a bit long and I think my comment has gotten too long already so I just posted the link.
    And there’s a bit more on Archer, too;
    http://lparchive.org/Fatestay-night/Update%20215/

    And we did get a (minor) hint on Saber’s identity, though I guess it’s far too vague for anyone to make anything of it. In particular with the flashback-the obvious thought for a female warrior is Joan of Arc, but by Archer’s comments here that doesn’t seem to fit, and we know Joan of Arc was burned alive at the end of her fight, whereas Saber seems to be “victorious” in battle in her end, surrounded by a hill of dead warriors, and like Archer, swords.

    About the VN, did you get the 2012 version? I’d highly recommend that version, the translation is much better so the writing isn’t awkward and there’s actually some mistranslations in the old version, I believe.
    And will you be blogging about it? I’d like to read your thoughts on that too.

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      • If you have an own executable for each route and the title screen shows “Fate/stay night [Realta Nua] + ” then you have the right version.

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  5. You have no idea how amazed and happy I am for you to so correctly analyze the characters and the scenery. Half of the problems most of VN watchers have with the anime is the lack of important exposition in the anime to explain the subtle theme and nuances, but you hit the nail perfectly on almost every aspect. From the nature of Unlimited Blade Works (a reflection of the soul made reality and it allows effortless projection), to the meaning of the insult Faker (Gilgamesh owns all the originals and Archer makes fake projections) , and even recognizing that despite the Holy Grail War being there, Fate/Stay Night is really Shirou’s story and his inner development, I wish everyone had the same amount of talent for analysis as you.

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  6. I gotta say, I was surprised that you hit the main points and nuances behind Shirou’s character just from the anime alone. Most anime-only viewers I’ve talked to…well haven’t really :P.

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    • Yeah, a few people have mentioned that, but I think it’s because most Anime only viewers don’t really stop to think about what they’re watching. To be honest, if I weren’t writing about it, I don’t think I would either but since I am, I end up watching each episode twice or thrice and so you notice things that someone watching an episode once, passively, misses.

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      • Yeah and to be fair if I was just taking the anime alone, I probably wouldn’t have been able to figure out all the little naunces. The visual novel at least made it easier since you actively hear alot of Shirou’s own thoughts through monologue. I still think you’ll find even more interesting nuances about Shirou’s character once you hear his monologues in the various routes.

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  7. My god… I’m ashamed for someone who supposedly knew a lot about the Fate series and franchise…

    You fucking nailed everything plus more. More than what I supposedly have known or derived from everything that I have watch and read about FSN.

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  8. It seems you forget that this anime has three routes. Meaning that different characters get different roles and screentimes in different routes. That’s why you think servants are blank:

    (I mean in your other reviews)

    For the three main servants:
    Saber gets her development and depth in Fate but get some development(Very little) in UBW
    Archer gets his development and depth in Unlimited Blade Works
    Rider gets her development and depth in Heaven Feels and Hollow Ataraxia

    4 other servants:
    Lancer gets his development and depth in Unlimited Bladeworks but mostly Hollow Ataraxia
    Caster gets her development and depth in Unlimited Bladeworks and Hollow Ataraxia
    Berserker gets more screentime in other routes but I think he has more depth in Unlimited Blade Works
    Assassin gets more screentime in Unlimited Blade Works although he does get depth in only Hollow Ataraxia

    For Masters

    Shirou gets depth in all the routes but in differents ways
    Rin gets the most screentime in Unlimited Blade Works, gets the more depth in Heaven Feels but also remains a main characters in Fate (The character that appears the most in this series beside Shirou)
    Shinji gets more screentime in Heaven Feels, has a bit of depth there but mostly Hollow Ataraxia
    Kuzuki gets his depth in only the Unlimited Blade Works anime as the novel made him completely blank
    IIya gets her depth and development in Heaven Feels and UBW is her worse route when it comes to importance

    Others

    Kirei gets more depth and development in Fate/Zero and Heaven Feels
    Archery Girl gets more depth and development in Hollow Ataraxia
    Most side characters get more depth and development in Hollow Ataraxia
    Sakura gets more depth and development in Heaven Feels

    And that’s why you think a lot of servants are blank since the only important servants in this route are Archer, Caster, Gilgamesh and debatably Saber.

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