We ended last week just as things were starting to get good – Lancer had revealed himself and issued a challenge to anyone in vicinity that he up for a bout or two. How long he intended to roam the streets of Fuyuki looking for a fight is an open question, as is the question of what Lancer’s plan was if multiple Servants showed up. Fortunately for him, Saber and Irisviel boldly answered his challenge despite being cognizant of the fact that they could be walking into the most obvious trap ever set. All things considered, it will be very surprisingly if Saber and Lancer’s fight proceeds as either side plans given how many variables in this fight are out of their respective controls. Neither combatant knows of the other’s identity and Noble Phantasm; and at any moment, the fight could run out of their control with the entry of new Servants into the fray. I, for one, am holding out for a no-holds barred melee between all the Servants, but seeing as that has never happened before, I won’t hold my breath; I’ll settle instead for some three or four-way shenanigans.
We open the episode, with an intense stare-of. Saber and Lancer are locking eyes, searching for the slightest weakness to pounce on, wondering who will emerge victorious from their dance with death. As Irisviel watches on, she can’t help but be drawn by Lancer’s eyes; his green, lush eyes and she suddenly remembers everything that marriage to Kiritsugu isn’t. “Charm magic”, Saber explains, but if her anti-magic defences are so strong, how did she even know it was there? Unfortunately, we don’t get to see Saber and Irisviel fight over Lancer and Lancer explains that it’s a curse he was born with, one that predictably, only affects women. What a happy coincidence that he’s up against two women. The strange thing is that Lancer says it is a curse, which would only make sense if it affected him negatively. A safe guess would be something that would keep him from killing women; while cliché it would allow him to inflict a thorough beat-down on Saber without her actually being in any real danger. Lancer seems genuinely glad that his first opponent isn’t a pushover though in his place, I’d be careful what I wished for. Thankfully, we’re done with the traditional pre-battle banter; it’s time for some good old fashioned brawling. Kiritsugu and Maiya are off a short distance away and trying to detect Lancer’s Master moving into position as well; Kiritsugu displays some tactical intelligence by not taking position in the most obvious vantage point but instead watching the watch-post. I’ve mentioned it in the past and I’ll do it again; the various Masters’ experience and competence makes this War feel like more of an even contest. We see it with Kiritsugu’s tactical sense, with Tokiomi’s machinations, with Rider’s grandstanding. Of course, not everyone has a plan – Waver is still mostly clueless, Kariya has been missing since the first episode and we haven’t heard a peep from Ryuunosuke and Caster.
The fight continues, with Irisviel and Saber providing running commentary. I’m glad that they include both characters’ thoughts and observations – it would be weird for the entire fight to occur in silence and it’s interesting to see Saber’s thought process in the middle of a fight. Irisviel, for all her worldly innocence, is fairly observant as well and emphasizes the salient aspects of the fight so we can better appreciate its subtleties. Lancer is able to push Saber on to the defensive but she’s able to land a (very) superficial cut. Unsurprisingly enough, Saber’s invisible sword is throwing Lancer’s estimations off and the lack of information, on both sides, of the others’ Noble Phantasm is making both fighters a little more cautious than they would normally be. Kiritsugu and Maiya are keeping an eye on things from a distance; Kiritsugu with his sniper rifle has found a better vantage point than Maiya has and in short order, locates Lancer’s Master – Kayneth Archibald! Kayneth is watching the fight as well, undoubtedly believing Irisviel to be Saber’s Master, and also unaware of Kiritsugu having him clean in his sights. Kiritsugu is about to take the shot but something seems off – he looks around and is shocked to see Assassin (one of them, anyway) still alive. Considering that Assassin-class Servants are supposed to be the stealthiest, I find it terribly amusing that Kiritsugu and Maiya have both gone undetected for longer than this alleged Assassin. Aren’t Assassins supposed to be able to mask their presences? Was it just pure luck that Kiritsugu found Assassin sitting where she was? Also, what kind of terrible Assassin just sits there in plain and open sight? Had Kiritsugu not detected her, this would have been a great opportunity for Assassin; two Masters, each focused on the other, oblivious to the threat of an Assassin that they believe to be dead. Too bad Assassin is so bad at her job.
Kirei, watching the battle through Assassin’s eyes, reports back to his master, Tokiomi. Tokiomi takes all the information in and there is a little bit of an info-dump as Tokiomi carefully explains the implications of an Einzbern homunculus’ presence on the battlefield. It is implied that both Kirei and Tokiomi believe that Irisviel is Saber’s Master and that Kiritsugu is playing the supporting role by assisting her in non-Master matters. Kirei’s conversation with Tokiomi also establishes that Assassin has not yet detected Kiritsugu, Maiya or Kayneth; all this tells me is that Assassin is spectacularly useless. Even without the status of Heroic Spirit, Kiritsugu has gathered a lot more information than Assassin (including Assassin’s own presence) and was also inches away from eliminating a Master. Back on the increasingly crowded battlefield, Kiritsugu reassesses the situation now that Assassin has been confirmed to be alive. Maiya offers to distract Assasin so that Kiritsugu can make his move but Kiritsugu, correctly, in my opinion, opines that they are not in a position to brawl with Servants, even one as weak as Assassin. Besides, Assassin could very well take Kayneth out and Kiritsugu wouldn’t need to risk exposing himself.
All this while, the duel between Lancer and Saber has been going on, with Irisviel just awkwardly watching on. This is the one thing I’ve always disliked about FSN battles; it’s almost like a Pokemon fight in how passive the Masters tend to be. Both Saber and Lancer are each filled with warm fuzzy feelings and honour-boners because of how skilled and charming and polite and dreamy and all-around wonderful the other is but Kayneth, ever the kill-joy, tells Lancer to get on with it and stop pulling his punches. He gives Lancer permission to use his Noble Phantasm; Kayneth clearly means business. I can understand his need for urgency – he is standing in an exposed position and the longer the fight drags, the more likely it is that it will be interrupted and once too many new variables enter the field, he can (and will) very quickly lose control of the situation. Still, it seems early to unveil a Noble Phantasm (FSN Lancer used his in the first episode, see where that got him). For his part, Lancer is happy enough to go all out. He drops his shorter spear and (sort of) activates his longer one. The two combatants trash-talk a little and I can’t help but think that this fight is actually pretty slow paced. In the Unlimited Blade Works adaptation, the fights were longer and more continuous but this fight is constantly being interrupted as we move from the fight, to Kiritsugu, to Assassin and to everyone else before coming back to Saber and Lancer. The end result is that it feels like a lot of time has passed while, in truth, we have no real idea of how long Saber and Lancer have been at it. It also feels like the two of them have spent more time talking and walking around each other than actually exchanging blows, but maybe now that Lancer has been authorized to use his Noble Phantasm, that will change.
Just as I typed that, however, Lancer charges Saber and keeps her on the defensive. His activated spear is able to momentarily expose Excalibur, to Saber’s shock. Unsure of what to expect from the spear and unwilling to expose Excalibur for anyone looking on to see, Saber is forced to duck and dodge instead of taking to the offensive. She has a few close calls; Lancer isn’t messing around. Every deflection she is forced to make, to avoid be skewered, momentarily reveals Excalibur and it’s clear from Irisviel and Saber’s faces that they did not plan for this during their leisurely moonlight walks. Saber’s down but far from out, though. She intends to take advantage of an opening in Lancer’s attack to get a slash of her own in but when she tries to execute her simple strategy, Lancer’s spear, instead of glancing off her shiny armour, goes straight through it. It’s an interesting effect – the armour itself isn’t damaged, it’s almost as if the spear effectively ignored the armour’s existence. Combined with the Invisible Air dispelling, it seems like Lancer’s Noble Phantasm is an anti-magic spear. I’m just going to say that compared to what we’ve seen Servants do, an anti-magic spear is neither exciting nor intimidating. Of course, I’m assuming that’s all it can do but if so, it’s a pretty disappointing Noble Phantasm. Saber reaches the same conclusion as me and gets rid of her armour. After all, offence is the best defence; and all the more so when you have no defence. Lancer admires her courage but it seems he has a trick up his sleeve – his second spear, which he is able to use to disarm Saber and effectively negate her attack. Things are suddenly looking pretty bad for Saber; she dispelled her Invisible Air to give herself a speed boost as she charged Lancer and in doing so exposed Excalibur and got nothing but injury in return. The wound she received didn’t look too deep but it’s worrying that Lancer is able to so confidently hold his own.
There is another set of onlookers that haven’t paid for the pay-per-view but are still enjoying the show – Rider and Waver, from their little nest on top of the Fuyuki Bridge. Well, Rider, at least, is looking on; Waver is still getting over his fear of heights. Waver is more than content to sit back and let Saber and Lancer hack each other to pieces but Rider wants the glory of actually defeating them. He says some Gilgamesh-esque things about how it would be easier for him to just defeating them at once than go through the trouble of snuffing them out one at a time. I can’t wait to see what he’s capable of, with boasts like that. I just hope he isn’t one of those characters that talks smack but doesn’t show up on game day. It doesn’t seem like he is though; Rider’s an airbag but he’s no coward. In some sense, he’s a battle purist – he’s not really in this for the Grail, he’s here to fight strong opponent and see what the best of other Ages have to offer. While I do find Waver annoying, I do think that strategically speaking, he is being more prudent. Regardless of how strong Rider is, there is little to be gained from exposing themselves so early or trying to do the unthinkable and take on all the other Servants at once. He ends his little speech by flicking Waver’s complaints off and stating his vision of conquest: victory without destruction, defeating his enemies but not humiliating them – he is the kind of guy who you wouldn’t mind losing to because you know he will treat you well. Rider declares he is done watching from the side-lines and summons his very impressive ride; he is enroute to Saber and Lancer, to put an end to both their fight and their lives.
Neither Saber nor Lancer are looking too great themselves though; Lancer has severed Saber’s tendon and her left hand now hangs limp and useless while Saber was able to land a deep gash in Lancer’s arm as well. The true damage of Lancer’s blow is revealed just as Kayneth restates his impatience; Saber’s wounds cannot be healed. We get the names of Lancer’s spears – Gae Dearg (the magic dispelling sword) and Gae Buidhe. Those names don’t tell me a whole lot except that this Lancer, like his Fate/Stay Night counterpart, is also Irish. Wasn’t there a rule somewhere that stated that a Servant has to state the name of a Noble Phantasm before using it? Or did Lancer not officially use his Noble Phantasms just yet? Either way, it seems that Saber has figured out who this Lancer is – he is Diarmuid of the Radiant Face, appropriately enough. It’s a name that means nothing to me but sounds harmless enough. I would have taken him a little more seriously if he had been named Diarmuid the Brutal or something. If history remembers you mainly for having a pretty face, I’m sorry, but I can’t help but be a little dismissive. The mole beneath his right eye is said to enchant women and I can’t for the life of me understand why he considers it a curse. I guess there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, but still, talk about first world problems. Both Saber and Diarmuid have little fan-girl/fan-boy moments when they realize who they are facing and their little mutual appreciation society is exactly as palatable as that one couple in which neither side can decide who loves the other more.
The two are about to continue their fight, but just then, Rider pops up. He instructs them to sheathe their weapons and bow; they are in the presence of not just a king, but the King of Conquerors, the most famous general of the ancient world, Iskander the Great. Waver cannot believe his Servant just casually introduced himself for the world to see, but both if Saber and Lancer knew each other, they most definitely recognize the Persian/Indian name of Alexander the Great. Rider’s entry into this battle brings the total Servant count present here up to four – Assassin, skulking in the Shadows, Saber, Lancer and Rider himself. The episode ends with everyone except Rider dumbstruck by his sudden entry and uncertain of how to react. I guess Rider can have that effect on people.
I don’t have much else to say about this episode. The fight scenes were as gorgeous as I’ve come to expect from Ufotable though there are times with the artwork seemed less than – clear? Almost as though it was lower resolution or like the finer details of the characters faces hadn’t been fully drawn. It was pretty noticeable in several spots, and there were moments when Lancer had strange looking expression on his face and others where his face just looked blank and devoid of features. I don’t normally pay much attention to artistic details, but some of these really stood out. I also realized that the totality of Irisviel’s contributions to this episode were standing around, healing Saber (once), and looking shocked/confused/worried as appropriate the rest of the time. You’d think that she’d learn but nope,