This week on Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, the series’ most compelling conflict reaches it inevitable conclusion and it is a surprisingly amicable one given the deep-set disagreements that the two characters have had with each other. Whether the fight’s conclusion clearly favoured Shirou or was a little more bittersweet depends on your opinion of the characters in question but either way, it is very much in line with the themes that the series has explored so far. Unfortunately, the peace that Shirou and Archer reach is a short lived one and we find ourselves parting ways with one of the show’s most fascinating characters. Symbolically, Archer’s death very neatly tied up his entire character arc and offered him some of the redemption that some viewers might have felt he deserved, though it isn’t hard to anticipate complaints of a somewhat anticlimactic end to both the series’ most visible antagonist and his fight with Shirou. Amazingly enough, that was only half of the episode – Gilgamesh, who apparently just stepped out for a moment for a smoke-break, returns to make a statement about just how far below him all the other characters are. In doing so, he also reveals a tremendous amount of information regarding the true nature of the Holy Grail War and the Grail itself, something that will have grave consequences for the few characters still left standing. This week’s episode, aptly titled, ‘Answer’, continues the trend set by the previous episode of being dialogue intensive, not just in the sense that the characters are talking a lot, but also in the sense that they are discussing ideas and concepts that demand that viewer’s full attention in order to be fully understood. However, where last week’s episode was somewhat abstract and more figurative, this week’s dialogue is much more direct and explicit. It’s a welcome change, in all honesty; deciphering the meaning behind Archer and Shirou’s conversation last week was demanding. The increasing number of internal character monologues helps as well – this week, we had Saber, who has pretty much been a bystander this season, sum up the conflict between Archer and Shirou. Some might see that as poor writing – it’s directly telling instead of showing – but there is definitely some value in being able to condense the essence of the disagreement into a couple of sentences. That said, this episode does not really introduce new material; neither Shirou nor Archer have any new arguments to make for their respective cases. The fight between them has thus far had both a symbolic and literal level – on the symbolic level it was Shirou’s relentless, determined belief in his idealism versus Archer’s cynical disillusionment, while on the literal level it was Archer, the Servant, versus Shirou, the Master. However, by the time of the fight’s final blows, those levels have almost entirely merged and the physical fight is decided, in the end, not by the respective combatants’ strengths but instead by the strength of their convictions. This leads to some interesting observations about the episode’s conclusion. It was clear that Shirou didn’t defeat Archer so much as Archer threw in the towel. This isn’t to discredit Shirou, mind you, but it ought to be clear that even right at the very end, Archer was in a position to take Shirou out. In the beginning of the series, Archer’s pragmatism was his defining characteristic, especially given its sharp contrast to Shirou’s optimistic idealism. Yet, in this fight, where everything is on the line, Archer very consciously sets that pragmatism aside and succumbs instead to sentimentality. At one point, he even remarks to himself that there is no need for him to fight Shirou on equal terms, but he realizes intuitively that overwhelming Shirou using an unfair advantage would not prove his point, or as he says, ‘would be like admitting defeat in another, crucial aspect’. This is not something a true pragmatist would say and it’s a sign that at his core, Archer doesn’t just want to dispose of Shirou (and given the sheer number of chances he has had, we could have guessed) but instead wants vindication; he wants Shirou to know that he (Shirou) was wrong and that Archer was right. You could argue that it’s a petty thing for a Heroic Spirit want, almost spiteful in its own way, but that would be ignoring the degree of resentment Archer feels towards his former self for getting himself into his current state. Is Archer’s defeat an admission that Shirou was right, or do it mean that Archer did not think that he could defeat Shirou? There is a key difference between the two – the former means that Shirou was successfully able to make his case and sway Archer away from the poison of cynicism but the latter means that Archer essentially gave up on trying to convince Shirou, that Shirou essentially just wore Archer down. Of course, the former makes for a more emphatic conclusion, yet it isn’t too clear, at first at least, that that is what happened right until the final moment in the fight. It feels that throughout this episode, Shirou continues to gain conviction, and Archer, seeing this, begins to lose his. At first, he refuses to accept Shirou’s answer, but something changes along the way. Archer recognizes the look of determination in Shirou’s eyes all too well but there is a key difference that Archer doesn’t explicitly state – Archer’s eyes were devoid of hope when he had that look, he was following his path with blind determination because it was all he knew. Archer, as we found last week, did not get any pleasure from the process of trying to save others and so, somewhere along the way, even though he was determined to be a superhero, just gave up trying to find happiness. The difference however, is that Shirou, right now, is equally determined but still has that hope intact. This isn’t the final nail in Archer’s coffin however; instead, it is that one incredibly poignant moment where he sees in Shirou the same version of himself that promised Kiritsugu that he would fulfil his life’s ambitions. In that moment, Archer suddenly remembered what it was like to full of that kind of idealism and that, much more than any of Shirou’s glancing blows, defeated him. It is hauntingly beautiful if you think about it; in that moment, Archer goes from knowing that Shirou will absolutely fail to, on a subconscious level at least, wishing that he succeeds. Visually speaking, the fight’s conclusion had some interesting imagery too. When Shirou made his final charge towards Archer, the landscape of Archer’s reality marble changed. It wasn’t a stark difference, but it was definitely noticeable ‘brighter’, for the lack of a better word. Was that Shirou ‘dispelling’ Archer’s Unlimited Blade Works reality marble, or was he overwriting it with his own? We have reason enough to suspect that Shirou will one day go on to make Unlimited Blade Works and it isn’t entirely unreasonable to think that this could be Shirou’s first, unknowing attempt at creating it. After all, if the reality marble is the creator/owner, sort of asserting their mental image on reality, then that could definitely be what Shirou, at the height of his own hype, was doing. Either way, the visual effect was pretty powerful – Shirou, backed by a more optimistic, bluer sky, driving back Archer’s gloomier, more despondent reality marble, made for some great, meaningful contrast between the two characters. Before we move on to Saber’s sudden characterization and the new revelations about the nature of the Grail, let’s take a moment to eulogize Archer. Since the beginning, he has been one of the cornerstones of the series, providing both dry humour and dramatic developments. Throughout the series, despite his increasingly erratic and questionable behaviour, it has been nigh impossible to see him as a ‘villain’. In fact, despite his role as one of the primary antagonists in the show, it feels that characters like Caster and Ilya were more ‘evil’, or at least more antagonistic, to say nothing of the likes of Gilgamesh and Kirei. By and large, the Servants have not had the epic, larger than life deaths that a part of me really, really wants. Instead, most of them seem to go out with a whisper instead of a bang; Caster, betrayed by Archer, dies in Kuzuki’s arms; Lancer, betrayed by Kirei, dies quietly too; Rider pretty much dies off screen; and who knows what happened to Assassin? Berserker got the best death yet, putting the fear of (demi) god in Gilgamesh but Archer would probably be next on that list. Archer’s death was pretty sudden, and more than a little anti-climactic; just as things seemed to be settling down, Gilgamesh appears from nowhere and takes him out. In every other regard, however, his death was excellently executed, some pun intended. In previous discussions, I have repeatedly wondered whether Archer would ever get the redemption his character deserved and what that redemption would look like – it was clear to me that Archer was far too sympathetic a character to not get some form of redemption but I worried that any overly altruistic move Archer made to receive that redemption would clash with the essence of the character and his motivations thus far. Thankfully, those worries were for naught – Archer’s decision to essentially take a bullet/sword for Shirou wasn’t just him being a good guy, it was a culmination of his entire character development so far. Of course, it gave him some believable redemption, since sacrificing yourself gets you instant karma points and sacrificing yourself for someone you dislike only doubles that but there is more than that at play here. A part of Archer saving Shirou is a tacit acknowledgement of the latter’s dreams – if Archer wasn’t, on some level at least, convinced that Shirou deserved to live, then he wouldn’t have pushed him away. A bigger part however, is just how that one act ties into the whole conversation of the mutual exclusivity of saving one person versus saving everyone. Archer states that it is impossible to do both and it’s something that has come up very frequently, yet, if you think about it, Archer’s decision to save Shirou means that Archer has chosen to save the one, so that Shirou can save everyone else. Gilgamesh, intends to kills everyone (which is a disappointingly bland goal, I expected better), and it seems that it will fall to Shirou to stop him, which means Archer decides to save both Shirou and the world at the cost of his own life. It’s also, fittingly enough, something that lines up well with his duties as a Counter-Guardian and might even explain (beyond the pendant) why he was summoned in this era. Archer’s sacrifice is a little bittersweet though – in this end, the point that you can’t save everyone still stands. Archer indirectly saves everyone but himself yet therein lies his redemption; he chooses to save the world, filled though it is with traitorous ideals, over himself. In all of this, we should also mention Saber and how fitting it is that she understands both Shirou and Archer’s point of view – after all, she was Servant to both of them at some point, in some time. It feels like it is a little late to develop her character though and as much as I appreciate the effort, at this point I feel they might just be better off leaving Saber’s dream, whatever it is, out of the show entirely instead of trying to force it in now. From what we can see, it seems Saber/Arthur, had a choice between happiness (left) and duty (right). Based on the legend, she clearly chose the latter and it seems that she isn’t sure herself if she made the right choice. Does she want the Grail so that she gets a do-over? Or does she think that getting the Grail would bring her the happiness that duty denied her? Neither option really fits perfectly, but a combination of the two could make for a complex, compelling character. Finally, we reach the tale of Gilgamesh and the Holy Grail. Frankly speaking, while I appreciate the show finally coming clean about just what the Grail is and isn’t, as well as revealing a lot more about the previous Grail War, the explanation itself was neither particularly well executed nor very clear. Regarding the Grail, the essence of it seems to be this – the Grail itself did not create the Holy Grail War; it is a purely manmade event. The War exists as a reason for the Servants – six of them at least – to kill each other and allow the victor to pour the soul/mana of the deceased into the Grail which will then fulfil the victor’s wishes. It isn’t clear just why the entire farce of the Grail War was necessary or why it needed to be made into this elaborate ritual but one could argue that Servants would be much less willing to butcher each other if they knew they were helping open the gateway to Hell. We have known for a while that the Grail isn’t really as benevolent an artefact as the legends (in our world at least) would have us think but there is a sizable gap between being non-benevolent and being outright malicious/evil. Essentially, the Grail is filled with malice, in the form of curses and when the Grail was broken previously, the outpouring of those curses essentially burned the city around it, resulting in the infamous fire that still haunts Shirou to this day. Yet, if it’s that malevolent an object, it seems clear that only an evil Master would actively seek it – unless, the Master who reaches it does not realize exactly what it is. Given the odd morality that mages in this world seem to possess, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that a mage might seek the Grail just for the sheer quantity of energy it could provide and disregard the negative consequences of using such an object. While all that is interesting, I find the information Gilgamesh divulges about the previous war to be much more interesting. First of all, this episode establishes that Gilgamesh was a Servant in the past war and explains how he is still around despite the War being long done. Him being an Archer explains the odd similarity between his and Archer’s techniques – Gilgamesh’s swords are a little more detailed and varied (and shinier) but that is only to be expected given his status as a legendary hero. Given his close connection to Kirei, who he even seems to mourn slightly, it would appear that Kirei was his Master in the previous War. Gilgamesh being the one of the last Servants standing would imply that the final conflict of the previous war came down to Gilgamesh and Saber, Kirei and Kiritsugu, thus explaining the enmity that the former had towards the latter. So why does Saber, who destroyed the Grail previously, want the Grail this time? The funny thing is that she seems as shocked as the rest when Gilgamesh unveils the Grail’s nature so was this one of the things that she forgot about when she was summoned this time? Or did she destroy the Grail inadvertently the last time? There are some questions that need to be answered – if her reasons for destroying the Grail the last time still stand, then does that mean she will be willing to give up her one wish this time too? We’ll end this week’s extremely long discussion with the character of Gilgamesh the Archer. As mentioned above, Gilgamesh’s final objective being a purification of the world feels like a let-down. I was expecting more from his character than some usual, run-of-the-mill villainous motive. His goal of being King of only the worthy does seem to tie in well with his previous conversation with Shinji about the value of an individual’s life having gone down in this era but still, I feel like this story deserves a better villainous agenda than ‘destroy the world’. The story is told on an intimate, character driven level and a motive like Gilgamesh’s doesn’t mesh well with that. Gilgamesh walking away from a perfectly helpless Shirou also feels like a cop-out – you have him right in front of you, you have your weapons already summoned but you walk away because of a little dirt? The idea there was that Rin, Shirou and even Saber are too far below Gilgamesh’s level for him to bother dirtying his nice jacket over, but if you consider Gilgamesh’s actions this episode, they consist of: appearing, killing Archer, handing out a mountain of exposition and then walking away while making vague threats. It’s rather clichéd behaviour for a card-carrying villain and just feels disappointing compared to how developed Archer’s motives as an antagonist were. Gilgamesh does get some redemption when he shows the slightest bit of remorse at Kirei’s death. We don’t know what kind of relationship they had, and I probably don’t want to know, but it’s good to see that Gilgamesh does have some level of respect for somebody; it humanizes him just a little. Watching him forcibly mutate Shinji into something grotesque after putting up with him for so long was a nice way to end the episode, though it you have to whether using Shinji as the Grail’s cup holder would make it less corrupt or more.