It’s happily ever after for everyone in the final episode of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works after the conclusion of the 5th Holy Grail War. Shirou and Rin are in marital bliss, studying in London and enjoying a simpler life without the complications of murderous Servants and twisted Masters. As an episode, this epilogue doesn’t add a great deal to the greater story; in fact, it feels more like a little gift to fans who might not want to part ways with their favourite characters just yet. As a conclusion to the whole UBW storyline, this epilogue really leaves a lot to be desired – it reopens some issues that the series itself closed and does feel like a needlessly detailed prolongation of a story. I’ll talk a little about the episode itself and then a little about the Fate route and my experience with the VN so far. Mostly, I’m going to make the argument that this entire episode was really unnecessary and that the key bits could have been tacked on to the end of last week’s episode to make for a great conclusion.
In my head, this series ended last week and this week’s episode felt almost like an OVA more than an actual part of the story. Apart from the characters and some minor references to what they went through in the series, the events of this episode really have no bearing on the story. This episode doesn’t introduce anything new – which is fine, it’s an epilogue after all – but neither does it really offer us any closure that last week’s episode didn’t. Last week, we had the conclusion of every UBW related plotline – Gilgamesh’s defeat, Shirou acting on his ideals and turning them into tangible results, the end of the Holy Grail part of the story and Shirou and Rin get their happy ending. This week’s episode actually feels like it spoils the neat and tidy closure that last week’s episode provided us with but without offering any real narrative benefits in return. We get to Rin and Shirou’s domestic life, which is nice but hardly intriguing; we see a bunch of characters we’ve never seen before and while they seem interesting/entertaining enough in their own right, it’s hard to really care too much when you know it is the final episode of the series.
The one substantial plot point that the episode offers is a question about Shirou’s future and his state of mind after the Holy Grail War. I have mixed feelings on the series reopening the issue in its finale – on one hand, I love that we aren’t pretending that Shirou’s epiphany in his fight with Archer suddenly solved all his issues and uncertainties but on the other hand, I do feel like it isn’t something that needs to be revisited and that opening the issue again pretty much retroactively dilutes the emotional impact of their fight. I’m all for realism when it comes to character development and that’s why I like that Shirou continues to struggle and search for answers but I also really believe that sometimes in fiction it’s perfectly fine (if not outright preferable) for things to be resolved in a cleaner and neater fashion than they would be in real life. I’m not saying that we have to go for the full escapism route where nothing bad happens to our characters and they just float through life on easy street, but sometimes the whole point of fiction is to create situations which will never happen in real life. Rin and Shirou do reflect on the relativism of the importance of their experiences; that although the Holy Grail War was a major, life changing event in their lives, in the bigger scheme of things, it wasn’t such a big deal to anyone else. It’s a nice touch and sort of puts things in perspective for the audience but at the same time, it does diminish the impact of the whole series – we watched the entire Grail War thinking that it was a big deal and it’s a little cruel to find on the final episode that we got excited for a ‘minor affair in the East’.
On matters of Fate
I did mention last week that I would talk a little about my experiences with the VN and the Fate Route in particular. It’s a little weird coming to Fate after knowing most of the plot for UBW. It’s like there are things that I thought would happen but turned out differently – like Saber facing off against Assassin, but without Shirou meeting Caster at all. There are also things which just happen differently and throw me off because I came in expecting something else – for example, very early on when Ilya and Berserker first find the gang outside the church and Ilya backs off when Shirou uses his body to shield Saber; I was expecting Archer to pop up and fire some shots but that obviously doesn’t happen. Of course, as the plot diverged more and more, I had fewer moments like that, but it was a little trippy early on. On the whole though, I enjoyed it, though I’m not sure if I’ll ever really get fully accustomed to the medium. I don’t want this to run too long, especially since I only played the Fate route once and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch of details and missed a lot of the less explicitly stated implications. I’ll start with the issues I have with both Fate and the VN as a whole, mainly so that I can end on a positive note.
First off, there is the matter of the story’s pacing. Fate takes a really long time to get interesting. I wasn’t fully invested in the story till Saber faced off against Rider (though I liked her fight with Assassin too), which was on the seventh or eighth day of the story. There is just way too much of boring domestic life stuffed into the story, which I can honestly say is something I hate about this series. I can understand that you need some comedy relief and downtime to delineate the different more exciting segments but I can’t bring myself to care about Fuji-nee or Sakura or about what Shirou is having for breakfast/lunch/dinner or who is doing the chores. A good amount of Shirou and Saber’s relationship is built up in those domestic scenes but it just wasn’t enough to sustain my interest.
I also don’t really know how to feel about Saber and Shirou’s relationship. I can see why it happens and I do like them as a couple but I think watching UBW first made me biased towards Rin and Shirou. As a result, I think of Saber-Shirou as a cute ‘fan-fic, what-if’ type of pairing and Shirou-Rin as the ‘actual’ cannon pairing. I realise that that’s not the case, but in my head, that’s just how it is (deal with it, Saber fans). One of the things that bother me about their relationship and their dynamic though is that, while I understand Shirou’s motives for caring so deeply about Saber, that care and concern often manifests itself as blatant sexism and often as outright stupidity. Claiming Saber shouldn’t be fighting because she is a girl sounds about as sexist as it gets and the only reason that it’s somewhat understandable is because Shirou is actually worried that she might get herself killed but isn’t able to verbalize it properly. Yet, as the story goes on, it takes him far too long to really just recognize that Saber is a lot more capable and powerful than he is, so you’ll have moments even mid-way through the story where he is trying to protect her from blows that she could probably have tanked.
I also didn’t like that Ilya joins Shirou’s gang. I like her, she’s interesting enough and definitely has value as a character but her going from wanting to murder Shirou and his friends to becoming his little sister at home is utterly ridiculous. She ends up becoming little more than comic relief on the domestic front and I felt like it really just makes it harder to take the story seriously while also painting Shirou as something of a pushover. There is some justification for it, I suppose, but it isn’t nearly enough. It would have been fine if Shirou just spares her life after the fight in the forest – after all, Shirou is exactly the kind of guy who would spare his enemies but her actually living with him sort of breaks the suspension of disbelief. On a related note, I find the whole numerical approach to the Servant descriptions very off-putting. Like, I’m fine with the extra info that the journal provides, regarding the hero’s past and his/her weaponry but giving it a numerical value makes it seem like a video game, which would still be fine, but it never affects anything- it isn’t like those stats of agility or strength and stuff ever matter except when comparing between Servants. Even in those cases, there have to be better, more organic ways to compare them without literally giving them a numerical value.
Lastly, I’m also not a big fan of Nasu’s writing style. The descriptions of the way magic in his universe works are convoluted and sometimes just needless long-winded. There are couple of times when they are just plain nonsensical – for example, something is both ‘real and spiritual’ or something else that is blatantly contradictory. Funnily enough, I do get what he means but either he or the translators could be clearer. Of course, there is also a matter of the sex scenes which I put firmly in the category of comically erotic. We’ve talked about them before and while the changing in writing style is really jarring, they are pretty short and rather skip-able.
Saber. At first, I really didn’t like Saber. She seemed so bland and vanilla – most of her responses early on are slightly longer versions of ‘Yes, Master’, ‘No, Master’ and ‘Get your fucking head out of your ass, Master’. The more we see of her though, the more interesting she becomes. More than anything, I absolutely loved how her story mirrors Shirou’s especially when it leads to deliciously ironic situations where Shirou is telling Saber to think of herself instead of others. The parallels between Saber’s story and Shirou’s are a big part of what made their relationship work for me – it meant that Shirou wasn’t just going for the cute, blonde (well, he was) but that he also did understand her on a deeper level, even if he didn’t agree with her views. I also really enjoyed her backstory, even if it means brushing off the whole ‘King Arthur is a girl?!’ issue. One thing I didn’t fully understand is what happens at the end – Saber returns to her timeline and she seems to have made peace with letting history play out the way it does, so does that mean she has returned to a time before she drew the sword from the stone?
The plot, as a whole, is great. I know I said that Fate takes a while to get going, but by its climax, I think it has more than made up for its slow start. Having seen UBW, I really enjoyed the details that were left out – like mentions of Lancer’s previous Master, the extent of Kotomine’s evil and the surprising amount of power he wielded. I still do feel like UBW has a better story and the lack of Archer in this route did bother me a little but I think that when I begin on UBW, the lack of Saber in that route will bother me more. Some of my favourite moments in this route were watching Saber put Excalibur to proper use; she uses it on a number of memorable occasions. It isn’t entirely clear to me whether Caliburn, which Shirou projects during his fight with Berserker, is the same sword as Excalibur. I suspect that they are different but the names are definitely related. It did seem to me that Shirou is a lot less powerful in this route than he is in UBW. In the latter, he was projecting dozens of swords by the end but in Fate, projecting a single powerful sword is about the extent of his abilities. I don’t mean that as a criticism, since it gives Saber more room to shine, but it is interesting to note how Shirou’s development in that department changes from route to route. I do seem to remember reading that Excalibur/Caliburn is too powerful a sword for Shirou to project, but I can’t remember if that was from the VN or from a comment on one of the episodes. Either way, it’s always fun watching Shirou and Saber face-roll their opponents by bringing out the big guns.
As much as I do prefer the UBW story to Fate’s, I think I prefer Kirei as an antagonist over Archer. It’s strange because I like Archer as a character more than I do Kirei, but the latter is just so perfectly evil that he brings a much more menacing vibe to the fights. I found Gilgamesh’s role in this part of the story a little superfluous, almost like he was there just to give Saber a strong enough opponent to face off against though that might just be my bias, since I found myself more interested by Kirei-Shirou instead of Gilgamesh-Saber. I am also a huge fan of the interlude scenes. I’m not overly fond of Shirou as a narrator and so it’s always a nice, refreshing change to see inside some of the other characters’ heads. My favourite interlude though, is when Berserker finally beats Archer and is left wondering who the hell that guy in red was and why he was so damned powerful. Even the interlude scenes from Saber’s perspective are fun, especially since we get to see the inside of her head more clearly and get a sense of why she is the way she is.
So, in conclusion, liked Fate, but had some issues with it; nothing that’s going to prevent me from playing the rest of the VN but things worth mentioning nonetheless. I’m a little lazy to start on UBW especially when I already know its plot and would much rather just dive into Heaven’s Feel since everyone tells me that that’s the route that the whole VN is really all about. I suspect I might just fast-forward through some sections of UBW if I find myself just reading about things I already know, unless anyone has any reasons why that would be a bad idea (plot points, etc). Apart from that, I want to sincerely thank everyone for joining me on this ride and sharing these posts. I’ve had to religiously avoid certain parts of the internet out of fear of spoilers but I intend to dive back in to see what I missed. If anyone has any particularly insightful posts regarding this series to share, I’d love to take a look. I’m also genuinely grateful to all the context and information that the commenters provided but more thankful to everyone respecting my wish to stay unspoiled. Honestly, I didn’t expect to go the whole length unspoiled but I’m glad that I did. I’m going to be covering Kara No Kyoukai next (though I’ll probably take a break next week) and I hope you’ll all join me. I’ll also try my best to put out an overall review of the UBW anime sometime this week or the next but fair warning: I don’t think it will be quite as positive as I actually feel since I do need to account for the fact that a big portion of why I enjoyed the anime as much as I did was because everyone helped clarify questions that I would otherwise have dismissed as plot holes. Thanks again, and if you enjoy these posts, as always leave a comment or tell a friend!