This post has spoilers for Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero (up to episode 23). If you do not wish for certain information regarding plot points from this series or other related series to be revealed to you, you might want to consider not reading any further.
After an episode filled with of characters being forced to come to terms with the consequences of their ideals, you can’t help but walk away feeling like it would be better to never dream at all. In one of the series’ most emotionally charged scenes so far, Gilgamesh and Rider have their final confrontation. No punches are pulled, no quarter is given; Gilgamesh brings out Ea and Rider uses Ionian Hetaroi but it was clear from the beginning that everyone involved knew what the outcome would be. Rider exits the stage with his head held high; he was defeated in battle but Gilgamesh could not conquer his marauding soul. Meanwhile, the episode’s other big reveal, Berserker’s identity, was the source of further anguish for Saber, because clearly the poor girl hasn’t been through even. She is forced to accept the truth in Rider’s words when it looks her right in the eyes and says her name. There is a lot to praise in this week’s episode ‘The Sea at the World’s Edge’ but also a couple of points of criticism.
The highlight of the episode was clearly the confrontation between Gilgamesh and Rider. We’ve been waiting for this clash for a long time now, ever since that banquet of Kings, and this episode certainly delivered. The outcome itself was never really in any doubt; the audience knows that Gilgamesh will be there for the final showdown and the characters in-universe know that Rider has come to Gilgamesh in a weakened state after losing his chariot to Saber. Of course, Rider waves that little inconvenience aside; being backed into a corner only makes him fight that much harder, is what he says pretty much. As things turn out though, all the skill in the world can’t overcome an anti-world Noble Phantasm, but Rider deserves a lot of credit for his attempt. Gilgamesh is, of course, completely self-assured throughout the fight; the possibility of defeat never presents itself to him at all, though he does concede that Rider comes to him with ‘the possibility of victory’. You have to admire Rider’s pluck in asking Gilgamesh to join forces with him one last time before their fight; Gilgamesh naturally turns him down but the fact that Rider asked at all is a sign that he stayed true to his style of leadership right till the very end. Yet, for all the shit that Rider gave Saber about the shortcomings of her style of leadership, what about Rider’s own style? Throughout this Holy Grail War, Rider has asked Saber and the other heroes to join his side but not a single one even considered it. In the end, he was unable to conquer any of them – whether in the literal sense of overcoming them in battle or in the more figurative sense of pushing his ideology over theirs. I don’t think Rider’s philosophy lets him down to the same degree, and certainly not in the same way, as Saber’s does her, but it’s still something to note. I don’t know if this is the writer trying to tell us that no single leadership philosophy is perfect or if it’s just a consequence of the plot turning out the way it did.
The fight itself begins shortly after the two characters exchange a final drink. Rider, in a rare sombre moment, acknowledges what we all know deep down; this will be his final fight, Command Seals or not. Gilgamesh waits in anticipation as Rider summons his Ionian Hetaroi one final time; the visuals are pretty impressive as we see his legendary army come together for their last charge. Gilgamesh’s line is both damning and sad – “All dreams eventually disappear, when the dreamer wakes”. He acknowledges Rider’s achievement in uniting all these powerful warriors under the banner of his dream of conquest but notes, indirectly, that their conviction (and thus, their strength) is only as strong as the force binding them together (Rider’s dream of conquest and force of personality); when Rider’s dream comes to an end, so too will theirs. Rider lets out his ululating war-cry, and unfortunately, so does Waver, in what has to be the least intimidating war-cry ever sounded. Let’s talk about Waver for a second. Waver has never really been anything more than a sideshow throughout this series; in fact, the only purpose he’s really served is to bring out the more human aspects of Rider. Still, he impressed me in this episode, following Rider into battle and staying loyal right to the bitter end. Anyway, back to the fight, Gilgamesh draws Ea and at that point, whatever sliver of hope Rider had, evaporated. There is an interesting moment, as the the world of the Reality Marble comes crashing down, and Rider’s companions fall into the abyss. He looks ahead, determined, but you get the sense that he doesn’t want to look back and experience any regret – certainly, he’s not all smiles and jokes at that moment. The part of the scene where he emerges from the crumbled Reality Marble is very nicely done; it’s like he really is waking up from a wonderful dream to a drab reality. Waver officially accepts Rider as King and is given his first and last order; watch Rider’s final charge and live to tell the tale. Rider’s desperate final charge right into the Gate of Babylon is the culmination of his dream; we never really find out how Rider died the first time, but this time, we (and, more importantly, Waver) get to see exactly how Rider’s path of conquest ends and what comes of it, but I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Rider goes out fighting, dignified in his own way, acknowledged and respect by no less than the King of Heroes; I don’t think that’s a condemnation of his life’s path by the story. In fact, you could argue, given the more ignoble ways people in this series die, that what Rider gets really isn’t all that bad.
I found Rider’s last line to be a mirror of Ryuunosuke’s last words; the dream that Rider spent his life pursuing was inside him all along. Unlike in Ryuunosuke’s case however, this actually makes sense; to Rider, Okeanos represented the idea of conquest instead of an actual destination. When Rider reached Okeanos, the titular Sea at the World’s Edge, he would have conquered the whole world – as such, the sight of Okeanos would have been proof that Rider has achieved his goal. So, when he says that the sound of Okeanos’ waves was within him all the while, what he really means is that in living his life the way he did, he had already, unwittingly, achieved that dream. The end of your life is a sad time to realize that you already had what you were looking for all along but I guess better late than never. Gilgamesh sends Rider by to the Throne of Heroes and in a surprising move, spares Waver, though whether he does so because he genuinely respects Waver’s loyalty as Rider’s subject or because he doesn’t want to kill Rider’s friend isn’t totally clear. I’m going to go with the former – I think the take-away from Gilgamesh’s actions throughout the fight was that he saw Rider as someone worthy of calling himself King and that’s the closest that Gilgamesh will ever come to acknowledging someone apart from his best friend as an equal. It makes sense then that loyalty to a worthy King is something that ought to be respected and valued and thus Waver is spared. Even though Rider’s death hurts, I can’t say I have any problems at all with it. The character went out fighting and the various points he brought up during the series were all addressed sufficiently. I want to say that it was a satisfying death, but my sentiment is more that if he had to die, then this was a good way for it to happen, but I sort of wished it didn’t need to happen in the first place. Since I just can’t see any other way for Rider’s story to end without devaluing and derailing the rest of the story, though, I guess I have to accept that this was the best possible outcome of an unfortunate situation.
The other big talking point from this episode was the big reveal of Berserker’s identity. I had postulated in the past that Berserker would have some connection to Saber but that was a fairly obvious statement to make given that Berserker was clearly a knight. What I had not expected was that this Berserker was a person that Saber knew so intimately. I don’t know a great deal about the backstory (within the Fate universe) of Saber and her individual relationships with her various Knights of the Round Table, but from what Saber says in this episode, Lancelot was the best among them and his fall into darkness/madness really shocked Saber. The episode laid the connection between his fall and Saber’s failings as a leader a little thick, with the voiceovers of Rider’s admonishments but the point itself is well made. I’ll be very interested to know what exactly happened between them and whether Lancelot’s fall really was Saber’s fault – her reaction certainly had some elements of guilt to it. Beyond that, however, did I miss the memo that said that there was something inherently bad or evil about the Berserker class? Saber has a line in this episode where she says she can’t understand what she did to make Lancelot fall so low as to become Berserker, but I had always thought that any Heroic Spirit that had ever experienced even momentary madness was eligible to fight in the Berserker class? Can someone help clear this up? Berserker class Servants get a pretty big stat boost in exchange for their sanity, but beyond that I didn’t think there was any implication on their morality or worthiness.
The final talking point from this week’s episode is a minor one. We see Kariya continue to suffer, because clearly, the poor guy hasn’t been through enough yet. I’m not entirely sure whether Sakura actually visits him or if that’s just a hallucination of his but either way, I think he’s slowly realising that there is no way for him to win this War any longer. I don’t just mean that in the sense that there is no way for Berserker to beat Saber and Gilgamesh without killing Kariya in the process but also that even if by some miracle, Berserker did win, Kariya has essentially failed in every other way. He has killed the love of his life and in doing so, has ensured that that ridiculously idealistic dream that he had at the beginning, of essentially replacing Tokiomi in Rin, Aoi and Sakura’s lives is now more of an impossibility than it ever was before – and it was a pretty darn big impossibility before. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him though; even if nothing went as he planned, he tried his hardest and his intentions were good. It’s just that at this point, I kind of wish that someone would just put him down and out of his misery.
That’s all I have for this week – next week, I’m going to be doing a double feature of episodes 24 and 25 to wrap this baby up. I’m not sure I’ll be doing a combined write-up of both episodes or one for each but publish both on the same day. Following next week’s finale, I’ll be doing a review of the show overall and after that – well, after that, it’s time for a new series. More details to follow, but expect a survey next week. I’m torn between doing some of the highly regarded shows I’ve been hearing about and doing something that’s on-going right now; my initial plan had been to finish Fate/Zero in time for the Spring 2016 anime season but it looks like I just missed the beginning. I can catch up quickly enough though and I’m actually kind of looking forward to covering an on-going series. By the way, if you haven’t already, please follow me on Facebook or consider donating a dollar or two to me on Patreon or spread the word any way you know how!
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