Alright, so before we jump in to the next episode, let’s do a quick recap of everything that went down last week. The Masters were chosen and the Servants were summoned; so far, we have Kirei-Assassin; Kiritsugu-Saber; Tokiomi-Archer; Kariya-Berserker and Waver and Kayneth with unknown Servants. We have Lancer, Rider and Caster unaccounted for, as well as one Master. We saw the conflict between Kiritsugu and Kirei foreshadowed (is it foreshadowing if it’s that explicit?) as well as Waver’s and Kariya’s reasons for participating in what promises to be a bloody affair. We also got a whole bunch of information on some of the more technical aspects of the Grail War, the various characters’ pasts and their current state of affairs.
Right off the bat, one of our questions is answered – the red haired giant is the Rider class Servant, who goes by the lofty title of ‘King of Conquerors’. While I don’t know who that is, I do recognize that there is an instant parallel between him and two other Servants we know to be involved in this War. Saber is frequently referred to as the King of Knights while Gilgamesh is often called the King of Kings. If this gregarious giant, with his pimped out fur coat and swaggering bravado, is anywhere near either of their power levels, this war promises to be a destructive, explosive affair. Personality-wise though, Rider has this comfortable mix of confidence and camaraderie. He’s friendly with Waver, much in the same way a Sergeant is friendly with his men; despite the equality that that friendliness conjures, it’s clear which of them holds the power in the relationship. His confidence and braggadocio elevate him far above the rank of a mere sergeant though – this is a Servant who knows his own strength and does not believe he has any reason to hide. Waver’s mind-set, on the other hand, is much more timid. Waver has this small-team mentality where he wants to try to be as low-key as possible and not ruffle any feathers, at least for the moment, whereas Rider is all ‘bring it!’ I have to say that Waver’s attitude is probably the safer one though the way it manifests itself is a little annoying. Waver’s plan will keep the two of them alive and in contention for much longer but if everyone played as safe as Waver seems to want to, the Wars should be so boring. Given what we know of the kind of stupidly overpowered creatures in play in this War however (I’m thinking of Saber and Gilgamesh, though Berserker looked legit too), maybe Rider will come to regret his gung-ho attitude. When going up against unknown enemies, discretion is far from a bad idea, after all.
Rider and Waver were sneaking around looking for books and we soon discover why. Rider, the Servant summoned from Macedonia, is none other than Alexander the Great! The hype is real – the title ‘King of Conquerors’ is a well-earned one. Alexander the Great’s legend is very much alive and well even in our time and his accomplishments have certainly passed from the realm of reality in the realm of semi-myth; it’s the very stuff that Heroic Spirits are made of, really. I don’t know what kind of Noble Phantasm a Servant as well-known as him could have, but it had better live up to his awe-inspiring reputation. It’s almost adorable then, that Alexander’s first thoughts are of conquest – far from being dismayed by just how little of the world (relatively speaking, of course) he conquered when he lived, he is actually excited by how much more there was. I can foresee Rider easily becoming one of my favourite characters, even if it means having to put up with Waver. Still, we get a glimpse that as friendly and boisterous as Rider is, there is some steel below the velvet – when Waver gets a little too uppity, he is silenced quickly with just a look from Rider.
Rider also drops a few pearls of wisdom; “The world cannot serve two lords”, he says. He’s absolutely right and I can’t help but think that he and Gilgamesh are going to get along fantastically. I also feel like Rider is one of the few Servants who is genuinely excited to be in this new world and new era – Servants in Fate/Stay Night, for example, didn’t really seem to care, one way or another, about what new possibilities the new age offered; something about Rider’s enthusiasm about it is endearing. I also really like that Rider takes the effort of understanding his Master’s ambition, though he comically harsh and quick dismissal of Waver’s ambition negates that sentiment somewhat. Regardless of whether or not you’re gunning to take over the world, compared to the possibilities of what an omnipotent wish-granting chalice can grant you, Waver’s objective is admittedly petty and small. Really, at first thought, Waver’s desire to be taken seriously, doesn’t seem to necessitate a Grail to fulfil – until you realise that that’s exactly what it’s going to take for someone to take Waver seriously. To be fair though, Waver’s goal here is acceptable and honestly, is much more human and tangible than the larger, abstract, ideological and spiritual ends that characters like Kiritsugu and Kirei have in mind. Waver is having none of it though – apparently, smacking people around and ridiculing their ambitions tends to piss people off. Waver demands to see Rider’s power and Rider obliges, producing the ox-cart from the legend of Gordium (if my memory serves). Rider then tells Waver to go play iSpy on the other Masters and Servants while the grown-ups busy themselves with maps and daydreams of conquering the world. There are some big question marks over Waver’s competency and his ability to compete with the likes of Kiritsugu, Kirei and Kayneth, but that’s balanced out by how impressive his Servant appears. Still, it does seem like every Servant in this series (including Fate/Stay Night) is impressive in some way or another. Except, True Assassin, but I digress. I feel, at this point in the story at least, that Waver would be a better opponent for the Masters of the Fifth Holy Grail War. I say that mostly because of his lack of preparation, which to me was the defining characteristic of most of the Masters in the Fifth Grail War – Shirou, Shinji/Sakura, Kuzuki all sort of stumbled into the war in some sense whereas here, the Masters are at least cognizant of what they’re getting themselves into. We will see if Waver can keep up; if he can’t, I don’t see men like Kiritsugu or Kirei showing him any mercy.
Meanwhile, in the Einzbern mansion, all the way in Europe (I’m guessing), Kiritsugu spends some quality time with his daughter. This Kiritsugu is as different from the cold, methodical mercenary as it is possible to be – when he is playing with Ilya in the woods, he seems filled with a genuine warmth and happiness. As adorable as young Ilya is and as unbearably heart-warming as the whole scene is, I can’t help but remember that Ilya doesn’t see Kiritsugu alive again after this point. All this joy and happiness between them ends in bitterness for both sides – Kiritsugu, despite his numerous attempts, is never able to see Ilya again and Ilya (depending on the route) goes to her grave thinking that her father abandoned her to start a new family in Japan. Saber and Irisviel watch the whole thing as Saber questions her compatibility with her Master. I’m a little surprised that Saber sees this side of Kiritsugu and more surprised that she sees Kiritsugu with Ilya. She doesn’t seem to recognize Ilya when they meet again 10 years later and by that time, her impression of Kiritsugu has deteriorated so far that she seems to have totally forgotten that Kiritsugu too was capable of warmth and genuine affection. We get a little into Saber’s past and her motivations for seeking the Grail – as a brief reminder, Saber in Fate/Stay Night is convinced that she was a terrible King and she wishes to undo her decision to take the sword from the stone so that a more worthy leader could step forward. Her motivations are misguided in my opinion, but I’ve already talked enough about that in previous posts. For now, we see the beginnings of the conflict between Kiritsugu and Saber emerge: Kiritsugu feels a degree of pity towards Saber for being effectively forced into the role of King and a degree of anger towards those who forced it on her. Saber’s point of it being none of his damned business is well-taken though; not just because it isn’t really any of his business but also, I agree with Saber in thinking that he’s not in a position to be passing judgement on decisions made in an era he’s never lived in. Still, at this point the differences between them are hardly insurmountable and you get the impression that if the two of them just sat down (at the nice tea table Irisviel is sitting at, for example) and talked it out they would realize that their personalities aren’t that diametrically different. The blame doesn’t lie solely on one character’s head though; both characters must accept responsibility for being too stubborn and closed-off to actually have an honest conversation. In all this, I did note how well Irisviel understands her husband and I reiterate my hope that she can be the bridge to connect Saber to Kiritsugu. She herself does not think this is possible though and that makes me wary. I also know that Saber and Kiritsugu never do connect and that makes me sad. Lastly, I think it’s interesting that Saber is at least conscious of Kiritsugu’s dream – it’s an end that she can appreciate as noble, even if his means are anything but.
The conversation between Kiritsugu and Ilya continues with Ilya being heart-breakingly aware of the fact that her mother will be ‘gone for a long while’. Yet, the truly crushing thing is Ilya cheerfully accepting Kiritsugu’s promises. Kiritsugu miserably making promises he knows might not be able to keep just completes the all-round misery. From Kiritsugu’s perspective, this must be an incredibly difficult moment – he knows very well that his wife will be dead soon, regardless of whether or not he succeeds, and his only chance to keep the same thing from happening to his daughter is to win this War. I have markedly less sympathy of Kiritsugu than Ilya though, even despite what I just wrote – Ilya is totally innocent and clueless about the larger context but Kiritsugu is taking his actions knowing full well what the consequences could be. At this point though, he’s a little too deep in pull out from the War – the Command Seals have manifested themselves and even before they did, it’s unlikely that the Einzberns would let him just walk away with his wife and daughter, without him fulfilling his end of the pact. Kiritsugu’s broken promises do a lot of damage in the long run as it a large factor in Ilya’s view and treatment of Shirou later on, while it also gives Irisviel’s shade plenty of material to work with. All in all, it’s a mess of a situation and the only way that this knot comes neatly and cleanly undone is if Kiritsugu powers through and wins the war – and clearly, this will be his motivation during the times when the War gets rough.
The next scene opens with an unorthodox summoning, to say the least – the murders mentioned in the last episode were not the work of a Servant, but rather a Master. A serial killer has been murdering families, drawing pentagrams with their blood and repeating the chants to summon a Servant. The scene gets extremely disturbing when we see that he has a terrified little kid tied up – that he killed the parents first and left the kid for the end has some deeply troubling implications but we haven’t seen the end of it just yet. The serial killer in question is Uryuu Ryuunosuke. He is oddly jovial and if not for the fact that he’s a serial killer and possibly a paedophile, he would have seemed like a pretty nice guy, really. It turns out that Ryuunosuke is trying to summon demons, based on instructions left behind in a book he found. The tied up kid is actually meant to be a sacrifice for the summoned demon, though I can’t help but wonder what a Heroic Spirit would have to say about being offered a little kid as its first meal. I figure some spirits might not have much compunction about eating the kid, now that I think about it. The summoning works this time though and a robed, bug-eyed Caster class Servant is summoned. Ryuunosuke is almost comically unperturbed by the formation of his Commands, a brightly lit circle of blood and the appearance of a robed man saying strange things. He proceeds to introduce himself in the most blasé way possible – ending his quick one-line introduction with his special interest in killing young women and children. I’m not expert but as far as answers to the ever-famous ‘Tell me about yourself’ interview question go, this might be the most fabulously inappropriate response ever. Caster mentions craving the Holy Grail, which is pretty much a pre-requisite for a Servant being summoned but he claims that Ryuunosuke does too, which neither sounds right nor is a requisite condition for choosing a Master, at least not at this later stage of the Master selection process. I figured that as time goes on, last few Masters are basically picked just to make the numbers – whether or not they really crave the Grail is immaterial.
Ryuunosuke doesn’t really understand or care for any of this Grail stuff. You get the feeling that he wanted to summon the demon more because he wanted a partner in crime than to fulfill any long forgotten family obligations. Imagine his consternation when Caster mutters something about Cthulhu and then proceeds to untie the little kid and set him free. There is no mistaking that something horrifying is about to happen though – the music doesn’t ease up and Caster, although cordial enough, does not seem like a good dude. The kid, now free, runs for the door, only to be grabbed with Cthulhu-like tentacles and butchered (thankfully, offscreen). “Some forms of terror are fresher than others”, Caster says – this is a Servant-Master pair made in heaven. In fact, I’d say this is the best alignment of interests between Servant and Master in either of the two Wars I’m familiar with. Caster correctly identifies that the moment of maximum terror is when hope turns to absolute despair and all of a sudden, he has a new number one fan – his master, Ryuunosuke. For his part, Caster can’t believe his luck – far from being horrified or even mildly disgusted, Ryuunosuke is like a kid let loose in a candy shop. Caster’s true name, Bluebeard, explains it all; Gilles de Rais is still notorious to this day for his penchant for torturing and sexually abusing his young victims. There is something about Bluebeard, as I will call him for now on, that feels like a real departure from Fate/Stay Night. In Fate/Stay Night the various Servants felt like they could be placed, roughly at least, under the broad umbrella of Heroic Spirits – emphasis on the heroic. Even the crueller Servants like Caster and Rider (let’s leave True Assassin out for argument’s sake), had sympathetic backstories. I don’t know if that can ever be the case for the likes of Bluebeard – even this early, he feels close to irredeemable. Maybe the series will pull the same trick on me that Caster pulls on his victims and lead me to believe that Caster is vile right before unveiling his inner goodness, but I doubt it. Still, there is something to be said about having an out and out, undeniably evil villain. It means that there are no inner conflicts in the audience and other characters have a common enemy to fight if the author needs a reason to bring those characters together. The character also becomes a universally acceptable target and a way for characters to show that even if they aren’t on the same side of the heroes, they aren’t that bad.
In the episode’s final scene, we learn that Kirei is already putting into motion his plan to kill Tokiomi. The odd thing here is that we aren’t given much of a reason why – even for someone like Kirei, who gets off on others’ misery, killing Tokiomi doesn’t just seem arbitrary, it also seems extremely stupid and poorly timed. He sends Assassin in alone, telling him he doesn’t need to worry about Gilgamesh (?!?) and expects that to work (?!?!?). Now not only is Kirei left without a Servant, but he’s also made an enemy of the powerful Tohsaka family. Of course, this could also all just be a fake-out but what’s pushing me away from this theory is the fact that Assassin very clearly gets slaughtered and a Servant, even one like Assassin, is a very heavy price to pay for a fake-out that presumably no one even knows about. Kirei is a lot of things but stupid isn’t one of them. We’re missing some key details here for sure and until we have them, I’ll hold off on the theory-crafting. I don’t really have much to say about this last scene except that Gilgamesh is as entertaining as ever to watch and the Gates of Babylon are still awesome. Watching Gilgamesh lord it over his opponents feels like the perfect guilty pleasure; you know you’re not technically supposed to be on Gilgamesh’s side but you just can’t help yourself.
This episode felt like a little bit of a mixed bag to me. It was slow in the sense that most of the episode was spent introducing us to characters and nothing really happened until the last scene. Each of the three scenes before it were interesting in their own way; Kiritsugu’s farewell to Ilya was especially riveting for me personally because of my emotional investment in both characters. Rider and Waver’s conversation comes second but while I can sort of see what their dynamic is like, the frivolity between them feels a little jarring given the setting. I guess frivolity isn’t the best word though; it’s not like the two of them are frolicking in a field. At the same time though, I don’t think I can compare Waver’s angst at not being taken seriously enough to the anguish that Kiritsugu is going through for the sake of his goals. Likewise, Ryuunosuke’s bubbly mannerisms clash horribly with his identity as a serial killer. To some extent that makes him even more unpredictable but at the same time, I find it hard to envision someone like Ryuunosuke actually harming people, even though I already know he has. On the whole, it felt like this episode had some great, emotional moments but the value of those moments got a little offset by the other scenes which felt more introductory and significantly less powerful. We will see what consequences Kirei’s rash moves will have next week as plot just begins to gather steam.