Before we jump in to season 2, I have a few announcements to make. First of all, this is coming a week late because I accidentally downloaded the Spanish subs. So, now I have 20 odd GB of a show in two languages that I don’t understand. I felt like this is important information to share. Secondly, you might not notice it, but I have officially migrated from WordPress.com to a separate hosting site (Bluehost). Functionally, there shouldn’t be any major difference, but I’m not as familiar with this stuff as I should be so, if you see something looking unintentionally funky, please let me know. There was an issue with a redirect loop for parts of last week but that should be settled now. Ok, now on to the post!
Last season ended on something of a cliff-hanger – a lot was left unresolved but none of the characters were in immediate danger. Caster had finally gone off the deeper side of the deep end he was already going off of and with his renewed faith in God, had summoned some kind of tentacled behemoth. The more sympathetic Servants – Saber, Rider and Lancer – gathered at the river to take Caster down once and for all but as of the last season, we had yet to see them actually make any sort of dent in the Caster’s monster. This episode, ‘The Mion River Battle’ is an eventful one but Caster’s massive minion provides more of a backdrop than anything; Caster is the reason these Servants and Masters are assembling but much of the action and interactions in this episode have little to nothing to do with Caster himself. Yet, by the episode’s end, it seems that Caster’s days are numbered, Ryuunosuke’s days have ended and the relationship between Gilgamesh and Tokiomi is more strained than ever. In between all this is a confrontation between Tokiomi and Kariya that I’ll spend a good deal of page space on.
Before we going on to talk about the events of this episode, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how spectacularly Kotomine Risei’s plan has backfired. The irony is that although the plan’s announced intentions were for the Masters to work together to combat Caster, none of them had any intention of doing so – until this very moment when circumstances gave them no other option. Yet, despite that, Risei is miserable because the whole affair is spirally out of control. It says something when even Kiritsugu, the series’ resident Machiavellian, is forced to admit that the situation is dire enough to warrant cooperation. Yet, the damage isn’t just to the Church and Risei’s reputation:
Tokiomi knows that even at this late stage if Gilgamesh were to pull all stops and draw Ea, the creature would stand no chance. The trouble is, Tokiomi has always positioned himself as Gilgamesh’s subordinate, a supplicant. How can a mere mongrel peasant like Tokiomi command the King of Heroes? Tokiomi gets a little lippy and is immediately put in his place by a furious Gilgamesh. The whole interaction reveals that the Tohsaka faction, though strong on the outside, is crumbling from within. We have already established that Gilgamesh has no respect for his Master or his abilities – but what interests me is if relations between the two men deteriorated to this extent on their own or with Kirei’s unwitting assistance. There have been a couple of occasions during their wine appreciation sessions where Kirei would sort of, slightly hint that Tokiomi is playing to Gilgamesh’s ego just to get him to do what he (Tokiomi) wants. Perhaps Kirei was able to give that idea just the momentum it needed to take proper hold in Gilgamesh’s mind. This is not to say that he gave Gil the idea but rather that he sort of confirmed Gil’s suspicions; even in this episode, Gil’s eyes narrow suspiciously when Tokiomi pleads humbly for Gilgamesh to act. I wonder whether Gil’s withdrawal was really because the monster offended his royal sensibilities or whether it was meant to push Tokiomi and test his supposed devotion. Either way, Tokiomi’s request for Gilgamesh’s full support is instantly shot down and Tokiomi is left to bitterly rue that even a Command Seal would gain him nothing in such a situation. Sticking with Gilgamesh for a second, we see him attacked by Berserker yet again. Is Berserker’s dislike for Gilgamesh fuelled by something in either Servant’s legend? Or is it more a refleciton of Kariya hatred of Tokiomi? Either way, thus far, we’ve only seen Berserker on the side lines and once in action early in the previous season – yet, once again, he is able to give Gil a run for his money. Gil doesn’t seem troubled at all in pimp plane (can’t he fly? What does he need a plane for?) but neither does Berserker seem to be stressing. Most of the episode’s action comes from this fight and it’s a pleasure to watch, though the fighter jets, missiles and dogfights seem odd in a Fate universe.
Speaking of Kariya’s hatred of Tokiomi, we get it all out in the open in this episode. I really enjoyed this confrontation because it was such a study of contrast between the two characters. Tokiomi is a man who is clear pro-establishment. He is a Mage through and through – we can see it in the emphasis he places on the proper Mage thing to do, in how he conducts himself and the choices he makes. He is refined and elegant but also follows a very different moral code from Kariya. Kariya, on the other hand, is more traditional in his morality, but is also more emotional and expressive. It’s strange then that Tokiomi, the cold, calculating one, is dressed the fiery red while the expressive, heated Kariya is dressed in duller greys and whites. The contrast doesn’t just end there though: this is a confrontation on every level – morality, sanity and skill. Neither man is totally moral; by Tokiomi’s own purple morality, he gave Sakura a gift greater than any other – the chance to learn magic – while at least a part of Kariya’s motivation here is Tokiomi’s wife. Even in terms of sanity, Kariya is the one who looks like he should be in a psych ward but it is Tokiomi saying the insane things. In fact, there is a scene where Kariya calls Tokiomi an inhuman monster, even as bugs are crawling out of his (Kariya’s) body – Kariya isn’t wrong; Tokiomi’s lack of attachment to his children is inhuman and its a great moment because we see just how much each character reviles the other. In the end however, it will come down to the contrast in skill and there, the men are nothing alike. Tokiomi is a veteran Mage, hardened by years of study while Kariya…well, there’s a reason he has bugs in him.
The most surprising moment of the episode came with Ryuunosuke’s death. I would have liked for Ryuunosuke to have been properly confronted because as things currently stand, the only individuals that Ryuunosuke has had any meaningful interactions with are Rin and Caster. The assassination was a timely reminder, however, that Kiritsugu is not fucking around. We saw him with the rifle back when he was on the docks but this time he didn’t hesitate to go for the kill. I have to say that I found Ryuunosuke’s death to be a little lacklustre. It was a subdued death – a good one for a character as active as Ryuunosuke – but the whole moral of what he was looking for being within him all along felt unnecessary. You know what though? Despite all that, I still felt bad for Caster. Caster’s response was somewhat subdued too. He quietly mourned his perfect Master and dedicated the rest of the chaotic affair to his memory – before ruining the whole thing by shouting COOOOOOL in his corny, high-pitched voice. Even my suspension of disbelief has limited, you know.
The episode’s final scene sets up Saber to come in an save the day – it turns out that they need an Anti-Fortress Noble Phantasm, as opposed to an Anti-Personnel or Anti-Army Noble Phantasm. Guess who has one of those? The only problem is that Lancer’s curse is blocking Saber from letting Excalibur loose but it seems that Kiritsugu has a plan to get Lancer to ease up on his cursing. The trouble I have with Kiritsugu is that even though I know why he’s doing what he’s doing, I find it hard to fully support. I get his motives and reasons but does he have to be such a dick? I can just tell that this plan is going to involve Lancer further compromising his honour or perhaps even sticking to his honour by doing (or trying to) what Saber cannot. Kiritsugu can’t help but manipulate and Lancer can’t help but be manipulated – it was a perfect match all along.