Welcome back! There were a lot of emotions flying around in last week’s episode – there was the deep poignant sorrow that accompanied Kiritsugu and Ilya’s final meeting as well as horror and revulsion when Caster and his Master were introduced. The episode did end on a strange note however – Kirei ordered Assassin to take Tokiomi out but despite easily avoiding the Tohsaka manor’s traps, Assassin was discovered by Gilgamesh, called a worm – fittingly, based on the fight he put up – and then summarily executed, leaving Kirei both exposed as a traitor and Servant-less. I’m hoping to get an explanation of just what Kirei thought to accomplish with his actions in previous episode, at some point. The previous episode was also a little slower than expected – it felt like we were very much in the set-up stage, with Masters and Servants still being introduced. Hopefully, we’re done with all that; I’m ready to see some action!
This episode opens moments, presumably, after that episode’s ending. Tokiomi congratulates Gilgamesh for a job well done, though, of course, Gilgamesh is affronted that he even had to spend the effort. Tokiomi’s tone with Gilgamesh is deferential, bordering on the reverent – a significant difference from the tone that Kirei employs in Fate/Stay Night. In Fate/Stay Night, Kirei spoke to Gilgamesh almost as an equal, as a partner in their sick joint venture, but Tokiomi is giving in to Gilgamesh’s ego and playing the part of grateful servant. It isn’t clear if Tokiomi is really as awestruck as he appears; at this point, either option is possible. It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for him to be in awe of Gilgamesh’s powers – it’s easy to be in awe of a Servant capable of potentially destroying worlds. At the same time though, he could very well have realized that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar and rather there attempt the impossible task of bringing Gilgamesh to heel, Tokiomi might have decided that it would be easier to coax and cajole the golden boy. There is an important line that Gilgamesh leaves with, one that sums up his perspective on this War and his reasons for deigning to participate in it: “No matter how precious a treasure this Grail of yours may be, I won’t let those mongrels fight over it without my permission”. This establishes him not as an equal participant in the war, but instead as this parental figure that is stooping low enough to roll in the mud with the others. I get the answer to my questions right after Gilgamesh leaves though: yes, Kirei sacrificed his Servant on purpose and under Tokiomi’s orders and no, Tokiomi isn’t quite as star-struck by his Servant as he would have said Servant believe. I still don’t think Kirei’s sacrifice was worth it, but I’ll comment on that if Kirei doesn’t address it in this episode.
News of Assassin’s death is spreading – through the eyes of his familiar, Waver has seen the first Servant fall. Rider barely reacts to this news; he correctly surmises that Assassin was never really a player in this deadly game and the King of Conquerors has better things to do than bother about nameless Servants sulking in the dark. Rider’s sights are set higher than this Grail war business though; he is thinking of how to conquer the world. B-2 bombers, Tomahawks, tanks; Alexander the Great is reading up on modern warfare and thinking of how to take America out. It feels like something Alexander the Great would do but the focus quickly returns to the matter at hand. Rider berates Waver for not paying enough attention to Tokiomi’s Servant but from Waver’s point of view, I can sort of see how the whole thing could have happened before he had time to really think about who to watch. Waver does raise have a good point about how Assassin’s death is good news for Masters in general and weaker Masters like himself in particular. Waver and Ryuunosuke are probably the Masters most at risk to Assassin’s machinations though it remains to be seen just how competent a mage Kariya really is. Rider’s strategic mind quickly realises what Waver’s inexperienced one did not: everyone would have seen Assassin’s death and the status quo, short-lived though it was, has been disrupted. There is a brief discussion of the nature of Noble Phantasms, but we can skip that. What I found more interesting was Rider’s personality – “Food, sex, sleep, war”, he says, “Whatever you do, enjoy it to its fullest.” Rider’s mentality seems to one of embracing life and having no regrets about anything he does but while that’s all well and good, I think I’ll be more interested in seeing how his philosophy holds up when he encounters serious setbacks. That ‘no-regrets’, YOLO lifestyle is all well and good until things go wrong; it takes true courage to take responsibility when that happens.
While Team Rider begins to make its move, Kirei heads to the Church to formally turn in his letter of resignation. He will no longer fight the good (?) fight and officially asks for the Church’s assistance. The whole thing is a gigantic sham though; Risei, being Kirei’s father and a fellow conspirator, welcomes him into the Church and confirms, completely without irony, that the Church is neutral ground. Kirei then reveals that he didn’t have just one Assassin – he has a small army of them! In a lot of ways, this sort of makes sense; as a single Heroic ‘Spirit’, the Assassin we saw was simply far too weak to do any real harm but this many of them ought to be able to wreak havoc, especially since it allows them to be in more than one place at a time. It’s also impressive that Kirei is able to supply mana to so many Servants at once though if each of them is individually weak then it might not be all that strenuous. The simple genius of this plan is also clear to me now: by making it seem like Assassin is dead, Kirei now has considerably more room to operate. Masters like Waver, for example, will be letting their guard down and can be more easily accessed. Yet, Kirei seems almost despondent; in the last few episodes, he has been a far cry from the deliciously evil antagonist we came to know and love in Fate/Stay Night. Indeed, it seems like he’s spiritually checked out – normally, I’d blame the death of his wife (who he didn’t love per se, but was fond of, in his own twisted way) for his mood but there seems to be more than that going on here. It feels like his heart isn’t in this fight just yet and he’s just going through the motions.
Meanwhile, Irisviel and Saber arrive in Japan using, amusingly, American passports and fake names. It’s Iri’s first trip outside her Einzbern grounds, and she’s full of wide-eyed excitement. Saber’s own reactions are much more tempered; you get the feeling that she’s in the mood for business more than sight-seeing. She walks us through her Riding skill, but of more import is the fact that Saber cannot de-materialize; the reasons for this are not explained here but we know from Fate/Stay Night that this is because Saber is not actually dead yet, in her own time (I won’t claim to fully understand how exactly that works, but that explanation is sufficient for now). I like the easy dynamic that Iri and Saber share; despite not being very similar in personality, they both seem to have this earnest kindness at the centre of their characters. You can see it in Iri’s innocent happiness at seeing the larger world for the first time and in Saber’s regard for her adoptive Master’s happiness. It’s absolutely adorable that Iri is picking out Saber’s clothes for her and doubly so that she chose to dress Saber up as a man and triply so that she chose to dress her up as Kiritsugu.
Elsewhere in Fuyuki, Kiritsugu is off being dark and mysterious and aloof. It seems that he will be a Master from a distance – Irisviel will be the decoy Master and thus the target for most of the enemy Masters. This strikes me as a great idea for several reasons, not the least of which being that Kiritsugu and Saber would spend more time at each other’s throats than actually fighting their enemies. It also means that the vessel to the Lesser Grail is protected though there’s a part of me that thinks that Kiritsugu also wants to make sure that Irisviel is safe because he cares for her. Maiya, Kiritsugu’s assistant, fills him in on what he’s missed; like Rider, she too has not bought Kirei and Tokiomi’s attempt at deception. It was all too convenient, she says, and you have to wonder, two out of the five Masters have already seen through Tokiomi’s little gambit; how many more? It’s unlikely that Kayneth will be fooled, though we don’t really know a whole lot about how smart he really is. We don’t know about Kariya or Team Caster but it’s likely that they had eyes on the place as well since Kirei mentions four of the five Masters watching the incident. There was one Master’s presence missing, Kirei noted, and it seems that that was Kiritsugu’s; Maiya caught the whole thing on tape, which would imply that she did not deploy a magical familiar. Kiritsugu has ordered a veritable boatload of modern weaponry for the purposes of this War via his assistant, Maiya; this, along with the camera footage, is a good reminder of what we were told in the first episode – Kiritsugu fights in unconventional, non-magical ways. The cache is fairly impressive and Kiritsugu checks it fairly thoroughly as well. Of special note is a pistol he requisitioned from Maiya, a pistol that is specifically noted to take two seconds to reload. It is an unremarkable pistol from the outside at least and seems considerably more dated than the rest of his equipment. He has a moment of dissonance however, when he realizes that the guns weigh more than his eight year old, effectively orphaned, daughter. Maiya consoles him and it is implied that they have sex; the tone of the scene doesn’t suggest that this was a spontaneous, spur of the moment kind of thing, but rather a fairly regular occurrence. Either way though, I have some thoughts on this: on one hand, it does seem like a slimy thing for Kiritsugu to cheat on his wife, but something about his interactions with Maiya gives me the impression that he doesn’t enjoy it or take any pleasure is his affair with her. He has the same look on his face as Kirei did when the Assassins appeared; both men looked miserable. That raises the question of why Kiritsugu is going through with this affair in the first place, though, and I’m not sure I have an answer right now. It could be something as simple and emotional as him being pained by the hurt he will be inflicting on his wife soon and needing someone, anyone, to help him forget it or it could just be that he is trying to cope with the loneliness of being separated from his family. Neither really fits; like I said, I don’t have a good answer (yet) for his motivations for the affair though I will say that I like that he isn’t the same unanimously good character that Shirou will later paint him as. Of course, we knew that Shirou’s impression of him was misinformed already, but it’s good to see the flaws in our protagonist for ourselves.
The next scene elaborates on the dynamic between Irisviel and Kiritsugu, revealing a little, in the process, about Saber as well. Irisviel is having fun frolicking around on the beach, under the moonlight. The whole scene is very, for the lack of a better word, pure; whether it’s Iri’s simple joy at seeing the moon and the sea for herself or just the effect of that visual, I don’t know. Saber’s thoughts on the sea are markedly different though – she never got a chance to see the sea as an object of beauty. To her, it was always this source of constant danger, to be watched with vigilance and monitored for new threats. This is also the second time in this episode alone that Saber has burst Iri’s bubble; first, Saber was all “flying’s so lame” and now she’s all “the sea is where my people died, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying it”. In all seriousness though, it serves to emphasis the vast difference between Saber and Iri’s perspectives. Iri is virtually a child in how inexperienced and innocent she is while Saber, as King Arthur, has seen some rough days and knows the ways of the world a little better. I can’t help but feel that there’s a little bit of a characterization gap between Saber here and the Saber that Shirou falls for in Fate/Stay Night. In FSN, Saber felt less mature and more like Shirou’s peer. There wasn’t such world-weariness in her and she seemed to be able to find joy in simple things like a moonlit night. I don’t know if I’m being selective in what I’m remembering but those are the impressions of the Saber I recall. The subtext between Saber, looking in her suit, for all the world, as a dressed up pretty boy, and Irisviel is also hard to ignore; Iri keeps call Saber her knight (which is a title Saber ought to be accustomed to, after all) and there seems to be this whole Prince Charming/Damsel in distress dynamic in play between them. The dynamic between Kiritsugu and Irisviel seems instructive as well; Iri’s statement that she couldn’t make Kiritsugu do something like take a walk with her on a moonlit beach struck me as very indicative of their relationship. You’ll note that the reason that Irisviel doesn’t want Kiritsugu to accompany her isn’t because he is occupied with the War and needs to focus on it but rather because taking that walk would make him happy and he would find that happiness painful. Why would he find that happiness painful? For the same reason he cried when his daughter was born, I’d guess. Every memory he makes with Irisviel is going to be tainted by the fact that he will be responsible for her death and it’s hard to really subject yourself to the torture of happiness while simultaneously reconciling yourself with having to bring pain to the the source of that happiness. Is there a way around it? Yes; he could just accept that Iri’s death is a given and enjoy the time they have left but if he was capable of doing so, he’d be a different character with different motivations. I do want to mention however, that Kiritsugu’s own estranged relationship with happiness could be a result of the wars he’s fought and the things he’s seen. Plenty of soldiers feel a sense of survivor’s guilt for escaping through things that killed others – in this way, Shirou, Saber and Kiritsugu are all alike. Each character, in slightly different ways, has an antagonistic relationship with happiness. It’s striking to me just how close Saber and Kiritsugu come to being compatible with each other and thus, just how narrowly they miss.
Saber and Irisviel are challenged, indirectly, by a Servant and decide to accept the challenge while the scene shifts to Rider and a cowering Waver standing high on the famous Fuyuki Bridge. Waver does little more than whine piteously while Rider watches for Servant activity. It turns out Rider was not the Servant issuing the challenge; instead, it was Lancer! They exchange few words; like the Fate/Stay Night Lancer after him, this Lancer expresses regret that they cannot exchange names despite this duel ostensibly being to the death. Lancer mentions spending the whole day searching for a Servant to fight but it seems Saber was the first one brave enough (or stupid enough, depending on how this goes) to step up to the plate. The episode ends before blows are exchanged though; it seems like we’ll get our first Servant fight next week instead.
Some closing thoughts on this episode – once again, we’re getting more character development and establishment than actual plot progress but given that we’re only three episodes in, that is par for the course. This series is being very deliberate in exploring its characters personalities and motivations and I, for one, am very appreciative of that. I also think that I’m beginning to settle into the various characters and the dynamics they share with each other. This week, for example, I barely blinked at the light-hearted tone that the scenes with Rider and Waver have though I will be interested in seeing how the show is able to adjust that tone for scenes that Rider shares with other characters. It does seem a little jarring to me to go from the humour of Rider’s conversation with Waver to Kiritsugu’s heavier emotions then back to laughing at Waver but not as jarring as it felt an episode or two ago. I found myself yearning for a little more action though and it seems that I’ll be getting my fix next week – can’t wait!