This post has spoilers for Fate/Zero (up to this episode and before) and Fate/Stay Night. If you do not wish for certain information regarding future plot points from this series or other related series to be revealed to you, you might want to consider not reading any further.
The fight between Caster and the rest of the cast is finally over but it required nothing less than a full-fledged Excalibur swing and proper teamwork from almost all the surviving Servants. This means that the Caster crisis, which feels like it has gone on for a good long while, is finally over but it will not be without its repercussions. For instance, Lancer lost half of his admittedly underwhelming Noble Phantasm power and in exchange Saber gained all of her admittedly incredible Noble Phantasm power – that development alone will greatly shift the balance of power among the surviving Servants. This was an especially visual episode, it felt like; we got some really well executed action sequences, particularly the aerial dogfight between Gilgamesh and Berserker; but also, plenty of cinematic shots as Saber prepared to deal the finishing blow to Caster. However, the episode wasn’t just flashy fighting – we got some character development too; from a character no less intriguing than Kotomine Kirei himself. We will talk about all these things and more but now that Caster is finally gone, I’m more interested in what impact the events of this episode will have the greater story, which we will now be returning to.
The one thing that this episode really drove home was that this entire affair was very much a team effort. Sure, Saber was the one who dealt the death blow to the monster but that itself required Rider using his Noble Phantasm to hold Caster and his monster off, Lancer to be chivalrous enough to break his lance to let Saber use her arm and even Archer to distract Berserker when he tried to interfere. I don’t know how many times Rider can use his insanely powerful Noble Phantasm but it is interesting that this episode makes it clear that ridiculously overpowered though the Ionian Hetaroi is, it wasn’t the appropriate weapon to use against a creature like Caster’s. It’s nice to see some sort of strategic significance to the Noble Phantasm types come into play since that doesn’t really feature much in Fate/Stay Night. The cynic in me can’t help but note that it is Kiritsugu, even more than Saber, who benefits from how this all plays out – the curse on Saber’s hand is lifted, giving Kiritsugu a Servant operating a full capacity again; Lancer is particularly affected by this given that he was the one who had to lose a Noble Phantasm; and since Saber was the one who dealt the finishing blow, it seems that it will be Kiritsugu who receives the Command Seal. So much for teamwork, I guess. One thing that also struck me in these past few episodes is how much less of an attempt the characters make to hide their Servants identities and Noble Phantasms. In this episode alone, you have characters like Lancer snapping their weapons, Archer flinging weapons from the Gates of Babylon all over the place, Rider discussing the limitations of his Phantasm pretty openly and even Saber revealing her identity and Noble Phantasm for all to see. It seems that the tricks and secrets in this series come from the Masters instead – Kiritsugu’s magic bullet, Kayneth’s fancy magic and so on. I wonder if this is just a result of the difference in the characters attitudes or if it’s just a result of circumstances forcing the characters’ hands. Circling back to my point about teamwork though; I feel that the mere fact that one faction gains so much at the cost of another sort of undermines the whole team effort aspect of it. It’s not teamwork if one guy does all the work but someone else gets all the credit.
Lancer’s decision in this episode is simultaneously, admirable, understandable and idiotic. On one hand, he is clearly taking one for the team; he knows he is putting himself at a disadvantage but believes it is in the interest of the greater good. His short speech to Saber before he snaps his spear says it pretty well – it’s in the screenshot above. Yet, even as he snaps his spear, you just know that the Fate universe is not one that is going to reward his good deed. Good karma in Fate is often rewarded, true, but in most cases it’s only if the good deed is committed by a protagonist, and Lancer just isn’t important enough to fall under the safety of that umbrella. In some sense, Lancer’s primary obligation isn’t to morality, chivalry or any such abstract concept. Lancer’s primary obligation has to be to serve his Masters’ interests and I don’t think weakening himself so drastically helps Sora Ui or Kayneth in any discernible way. Following that path of reasoning, you can make the case that Lancer is being pretty selfish here, choosing to ignore the realities of the Holy Grail War in order to satisfy his own belief in chivalry. On the other hand though, Saber is equally invested in the notion of chivalry and I can foresee her repaying this debt to Lancer later in the series. Make no mistake, there is a debt and a pretty sizable one at that; sure, Lancer might have released the curse on her arm because he was invested in defeating Caster’s monster and there was no way of doing that without Saber but he also bailed her out when Berserker decided to pick a fight with both Gilgamesh and Saber at the same time. Saber might pay the debt back or she might not, but either way, this whole sequence of events has played into Kiritsugu’s hand perfectly. He was able to read Lancer like a book and then play him like a fiddle. It will be rather interesting to see how Sola Ui and Kayneth respond to Lancer’s newest act of charity.
Is the series trying to turning Gilgamesh into a running gag? In the second or third episode, we saw Berserker manhandle Gilgamesh before the latter was forced into a humiliating withdrawal by his Master. Even back then, the episode made Gilgamesh seem like a Servant was all bark but no bite – each time he pompously declared that he would grind Berserker into dust, Berserker prompted just smacked him down. In last week’s episode, Gilgamesh seemed to clearly have the upper hand – stringing Berserker along, dodging his attacks and really, just playing with him. Yet, all of a sudden, when Saber reveals Excalibur, Berserker decides that he’s done playing with Gilgamesh and just drops the golden suited Servant out of the sky. I’m not sure what the audience, especially those unfamiliar with Gilgamesh, are supposed to deduce from that – was Berserker just toying with Gil the whole while? Or did seeing Excalibur suddenly enrage Berserker to the point that his abilities received a significant boost? On a related note, who is Berserker anyway? I can’t believe I didn’t make this connection before but he is a knight – and most knights would be pretty familiar with King Arthur. Yet, it doesn’t seem like Berserker is familiar with Saber herself. Instead, he seems to have a particular issue with Excalibur. I can imagine his backstory being that he was a knight in a post-Arthurian era, who spent his whole life searching for Excalibur before going mad. So now, when he sees Excalibur, the object he spent his life craving, he goes into this (even more) uncontrollable frenzy.
This brings us to the pathetically one-sided battle between Kariya and Tokiomi. If you read last week’s discussion, you’d know that I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Kariya in this match up but I had hoped he would at least be able to make a scratch. No such luck; Kariya wasn’t just weak, he was practically impotent and Tokiomi, demonstrating a critical misunderstanding of the concept of mercy, burns Kariya alive. The burning bug man doesn’t die straight away but instead, falls over the roof to escape. For reasons that aren’t fully clear to me, Tokiomi doesn’t follow up and finish the job – instead, he just seems to assume that Kariya is dead and does not pursue him. Honestly, Kariya would really have been better off dead. Whatever, grand notions of saving Sakura from Zouken and Aoi from Tokiomi he may have had are well beyond him – not only does he not have the power to do either of those things, but with his mind fast crumbling, it’s not clear if he is still even sane enough to coherently pursue those goals. Kariya himself would probably have been happier dead – and that’s precisely why Kirei saves him. Kirei, as we have established, is a dick and saving Kariya is a classic Kirei move. On one hand, who’s going to fault Kirei for saving a dying man? After all, that’s almost unambiguously a ‘good’ thing to do, isn’t it? Yet, Kirei is doing it knowing fully well that all that Kariya has ahead of him is more pain and misery – so Kirei is basically doing a ‘good’ thing for ‘bad’ reasons. I believe this is the first time Kirei has openly acted on his secret, inner desire for others’ misery and this perhaps his biggest step into the darkness of his heart that we’ve seen so far. Does Tokiomi know that Kirei is changing? Does he even care at this point? I don’t think we’ve seen enough of Tokiomi to really get a feel for how his mind works, beyond his desire to appear elegant and proper at all times. He plays things safe, but is he a suspicious man? Probably not; he seems to still consider Kirei an ally and to be Kirei has done nothing to indicate that he intends to turn on Tokiomi – perhaps in his own mind, he hasn’t established that yet either.
Last up, we have the ‘Excalibur’ scene. I found this whole sequence to really well done from the visuals, to the music, even to Iri’s poetic monologue. The sudden focus on Saber felt a little strange to me though; Fate/Zero has thus far been an ensemble piece, with each faction getting a more equitable amount of screen time as compared to Fate/Stay Night yet, this particular scene sort of dropped the ensemble idea and instead established Saber the main character behind whom we must all get behind right away. That might be a little unfair though; Saber and Kiritsugu have both been protagonists from the get go but I think my reaction is more a result of the fact that each Servant was previously the protagonist in their own scenes. For example, when we see Rider and Waver do their thing, you sort of think of them as the main characters but in a scene like this one, it essentially sets up Saber as the main character overall, which is exactly what she is, but it felt strange to be reminded of it. Her screaming ‘Excalibur’ was as gloriously cheesy as always – not to mention as effective. Caster’s monster is pretty much vaporized, along with Caster himself. Caster wasn’t exactly the nicest of people – serial killers rarely are – but I did enjoy his dynamic with Ryuunosuke and it says something that two of the most heinous characters in the series enjoyed the closest friendship of any of the other, marginally better adjusted characters. I will also give Caster credit for forcing the rest of the cast’s hand – they couldn’t beat him individually (I guess Gilgamesh could, but that’s beside the point) and even together, it took a good deal of effort from each of them to get the job done. If Caster’s job was to play the supervillain, he performed really well and while I won’t go so far as to say I will miss him, I will say it was a fun ride while it lasted. He even had a final moment of redemption when he sees the purity of Excalibur’s light, repenting all his atrocities when he finally gets to see Jeanne again. I don’t think it’s enough to redeem his character entirely of course, but at the same time, I’m glad he got the closure he needed before his ‘death’, if that makes sense.
We end the episode with both Rider and Gilgamesh speaking of Excalibur and their opinions of Saber. Nothing has changed really; Rider still feels bad for Saber because as strong as she is, she attained that strength at the cost of her own happiness while Gilgamesh finds her intriguing in much the same way that we enjoy tragedies. Gilgamesh knows that Saber, as she currently is, is unable to shoulder the burdens of the expectations on her, but he finds her struggle to try anyway to be just adorably entertaining. It’s a condescending perspective, to be sure, but what else would you expect from Gil? With that, we draw a close to the Caster Crisis. By next week, there will be no more of this mushy team work crap – it’s back to every man/woman/spirit for themselves.
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