Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #000 – Archer the Combat Butler

hisui_icon_4040 I felt an almost electric excitement as I waited for the first episode of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. The overall story of Fate/Stay Night always had a stormy history. The visual novel is generally well-respected but it is long and it has never been officially licensed. Plus lets face it, the sex scenes while an allure to some don’t do the game any favors. That means the audience for the Visual Novel is restricted to a bit of a niche audience within a niche audience.

The original animated adaptation of Fate/Stay Night always had a mixed reputation. While it grew the fan base beyond the initial group of VN fans the production was flawed. While it is not utterly loathed like the Tsukihime anime it is always considered the inferior product. It tries to mash together all three plot lines of the game into one slightly misshapen chimera of a narrative. The lackluster and workman Studio Deen animation is nothing more than an additional anchor around its neck. Even their theatrical adaptation of the Unlimited Blade Works path came of as a rushed clip show. So it seemed Shiro’s adventure was doomed to be one of Type-Moon’s most famous stories with nothing but mediocre animation.

Then the Fate/Zero anime came to town. Ufotable’s has proven itself with their version of Kara no Kyoukai so when they were chosen to produce the Fate/Zero anime over Studio Deen there was much rejoicing. The Fate franchise would finally get the treatment it deserved even if it were just for the prequel. Fate/Zero brought in a renewed interest in the franchise as well reinvigorated the long time fans dreams of getting the animated version they so desperately wanted. So when the Fate/Stay Night remake was announced it was as a time of celebration. Fans wondered what paths would and would not be produced. What format would the story be in? Kara no Kyoukai was a series of movies and Fate/Zero was a TV series. As it turns out the 2nd path of the game, Unlimited Blade Works, would become a TV series while Heaven’s Feel would get the cinematic treatment. Despite some grumbling the overall feel was positive. The dream was real.

Personally I can honestly say I myself have been hit with an intense case of the feels. Unlimited Blade Works is my favorite path in the game. We see Shiro make some real progress as a character, we get Archer’s full story, the story has some of the most iconic fights in the game, and it is the only path where Saber has an actual happy ending if you play your cards right. While most people were looking forward to this being adapted I have a special level of interest in this part so the intensity of my feelings are a bit stronger. This version has a lot of expectations to live up to but if anyone can jump a hurdle that high it is Ufotable.

The Fourth Holy Grail War ended with a great and terrible fire. In an unprecedented occurrence the Fifth Holy Grail War has started a mere decade after end the of the last. Rin Tohsaka, the daughter of a mage killed in the last war, is determined to the be the victor. Unfortunately for her the summoning ritual does not give her the Servant she was expecting (still a better than a certain Rider or Caster) and so she has to make the best of the cards she is dealt. While Rin and her newly summoned servant get off to a bit of a rocky start they quickly develop a strong bond. But of course that means that things can’t run completely smoothly for the dojikko heroine.

The prologue of the visual novel is definitely an interesting place to start. While it has gotten a certain amount of lip service in other versions of Fate/Stay Night, if for nothing else one of the most iconic scenes with Archer on the couch, it generally is overlooked in adaptations. It focuses on Rin with only Shrio only appearing in the background. If anything it is usually seen as a vestige of when Ayaka Sajyou was the protagonist of the story that would be modified into Fate/Stay Night. But considering how much it builds up Rin it is a good place to start her path as it fleshed out Rin and Archer’s relationship in greater depth than anything else. It also drops a lot of subtle hints of things to come in both Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel.

The opening scene works really well as a bridge for viewers who have only seen Fate/Zero despite the fact it was never meant to do that. It firmly reminds the audience of Rin and Tokiomi and well as giving them a clear indication of how much time has passed since Fate/Zero. It also brings up the fact that several of the big reveals like Gilgamesh’s existence, Tokiomi’s death, and Kirei Kotominre’s sinister nature are all known to anyone who watched Fate/Zero. (OK I admit that last one should have surprised no one but it is still worth mentioning.)

I pondered quite a bit how reading Fate/Stay Night spoiled certain surprises for the prequel when Fate/Zero was on to anyone who went it with foreknowledge and now we can see the reverse of that happen with this show.

After the connecting flashback we see a groggy Rin wake up to start one of the most important days of her life. It is mostly a little Tohsaka service that also goes a long way to establishing her character. While it sets up her plans to participate in the Holy Grail War it also gives us a first set of little seeds that seem inconsequential but are far more important in retrospect. We see Tokiomi’s old lab that will be familiar to anyone who watched Fate/Zero. We also get our first glimpse of Rin’s pendant which is important in any path but a keystone of this path above the other two. There is also a shot or two of the snake-skin used to summon Gilgamesh which acts as both a good shout out as well as a reminder that he is still lurking in the background.

The empty streets don’t clue Rin into the fact that she has woken up an hour early to the mayhem with the clocks but it does bring up an interesting question. Did her father really set everything up so that when she opened up the box in her will all the clocks would go crazy? It is possible. Despite being a cold and calculating man he did always seem to have a genuine affection for this older daughter. (Sakuraless so.) So it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could have been that playful with Rin. On the other hand the Grail has been shown twist fate in order to draw people towards participating in the Holy Grail War. It is not out of the realm of possibility that many of the little errors that lead to Rin summoning the Wrought Iron Hero, over say Enkidu with remains of the snake-skin her father used, is more the work of the Grail’s meddling than anything else.

I admit that is more of a theory than anything even remotely based in fact. I thought it was worth bringing up.

Then again we see Rin have her seal as a Master before she summons Archer so clearly the Grail had its sights fixed on her so maybe it is an idea that is not totally out of the question.

Since Rin came in early she runs into Ayako Mitsuduri. She interestingly enough appeared briefly in the Studio Deen version of the anime but she is just a nameless victim of mana draining that Rin and Shiro find. She like the Three Amigas (Kane Himuro, Makidera Kaede and Saegusa Yukika) is a character who gets much more screen time in Fate/Hollow Ataraxia as well as being the stars of Fate/School Life (also possible part-time magical girls). It is a good time to add a little depth to Rin outside of being a mage which establishes her as an actual human being.

At the same time we get a dozen little clues for bigger secrets. The most obvious is the introduction to Sakura and letting what is not said between the two of them speak more than anything that could be said aloud. It is clear that they know each other but it is equally obvious that there is a non hostile tension between them at the same time. We also learn that the best member of the Archery club recently had to drop out which seems inconsequential but turns out to be a detail that is thrown out casually so as not to draw undue attention to it but be obviously right under you nose when you understand why it was important.

Shinji comes along being a creeper because that really is his specialty. A real PUA before there was a term for the such. It sets him up as the pesky mini-boss that he is while letting us see what an acidic wit Rin can have when she is pushed in contrast to her honor student facade she usually presents people. As the difference between the mask you wear and your true self is one of the biggest themes of this path it would be poor storytelling to not have some clear examples of that in the first episode.

We also get a bit more insight into her involvement with the archery club. It is clear that she has been silently observing the club up until recently but for reasons has refused to disclose to anyone. While Shinji assumes it is to gaze up his visage it is clear she had been going for other reasons. It nicely sets up Rin’s interest in Sakura and Shiro while showing that she plays the cards of her true feelings close to her chest.

While this is all very important for Unlimited Blade Works it that is doubly true for Heaven’s Feel. The fact that while Rin clearly still has a deep sisterly affection for her sibling she hides her feelings in cloak of aloofness. Of all the masks that Rin wears this one is the point of dishonesty that probably hurts her the most.

I am curious how much of this they will go over for Heaven’s Feel films? (I assume films. I don’t think Ufotable is silly enough to try to cram that whole story into one film.) Will they assume people have seen this TV and not retread that ground? Heaven’s Feel is the longest path so they don’t have any time to waste but there are some really good scenes here that while not vital are strong scenes in building the relationship of the strained sisters. Maybe they will play a little film of select parts from this series before the first film. I think that splits the difference well.

I really just wanted to throw in a picture of Taiga Fujimura being herself 100%. This is probably the only arc that she is anything but a comedy relief character so I might as well bring her up. (That is a reasonable enough excuse.) Also here is to hoping that we get a return of the Tiger Dojo with Zecchan and Student #1 in the omake.

We also see Rin interact with two familiar young men. While more prominent Issei Ryuudou is the less important one they are both clues into who Rin really is. Issei and Rin have an extremely polite antagonistic relationship. They loath each other but at the same time they both too socially conscious to do anything untoward to each other. At the same time it is also clear that Issei is far more invested in the feud than Rin could ever be.

But this confrontation distracts the camera from the actual protagonist of the story so he mostly just stays as mysterious as you can make someone as forthright as Shiro. The most telling part of Rin and Shiro’s interaction is how Rin is always observing Shiro but never entering his world. She is clearly fascinated by him but never even contemplates crossing that boundary. She would never do something like join the archery club like Sakura did.

Nasu does have a bit of a penchant to adding a trio of comic relief girls to his series. Souka Tsukihime, Hanei Misawa, and Akira Seo filled that role in the Tsukihime series and the Three Amigas do the comedic heavy lifting in this prologue. Like Shiro they show how much Rin is forced to distance herself from others despite having a natural charisma because she is a magus. She clearly does not live the life of ascetic monk as she hangs out with Kaede but at the same time she seems to keep people at arm’s length as well. She could only let someone with magical ability get any closer that casual acquaintance. It makes her the most popular girl who still has to eat lunch alone on the roof.

Rin comes home to a nagging message from the less than holy priest, Kotomine. It is a testament to his little mind games with Rin that he is so easily able to get her riled up into pulling the trigger and summoning a servant. It is clear he wants Rin to participate in the Holy Grail War and most probably in the same sense that he tricked Bazett so he could bump her off as his leisure. I suppose that is the lesson he learned the most from his Dad during the last war. But the call solidifies her resolve to the point that the Grail clearly chooses her.

This part is familiar to anyone who has seen the original TV series. The semi disastrous summoning of Archer is the one scene that every version includes. I think the common “Why didn’t the Eagles fly the Ring to Mount Doom” in this part of story is if Rin is a magical genius why did she foolishly assume that she could get a good servant without a summoning catalyst. Like with the Eagles question it can be simply be hand waved away by merely assuming it was a bit of out of character writing to get Nasu the result he wanted. On the other hand I think the episode does a good job of explaining why things went down as they did.

The first answer is outside of the episode but it is important to remember that Rin is sort of poor when it comes to the magical world. Her father is dead, her mother is either dead or seriously brain-damaged, and Kotomine is her only guardian. She might have been trying to get a powerful catalyst but could never get the resources in line to get something powerful enough to stake her life on. Remember most of the participants in the 4th Holy Grail War had powerful families backing them with extraordinary resources. The only exception was Waver Velvet who stole his catalyst and Ryuunosuke Uryuu who was chosen by the grail to participate.

Secondly Rin was clearly relying on that what was in the box her father left her. In the end the snake-skin was no longer usable but it was a powerful catalyst when it was placed in the box. Rin could not know that until she got the box open which she apparently only was recently able to do so.

And thirdly it is easy to forget that Rin can be somewhat prideful to the point of arrogance. She clearly just assumed that she could wing it with lots of mana and good timing. Plus she has a 50/50 shot at summoning a Saber so even a mediocre Saber is a level or two above a decent Servant of any other class.

Plus it can be hard to tell how much of it is the influence of the Grail. Its machinations can’t be overlooked. That is one tricky Angra Mainyu.

What maters is that Archer, the Hero from the Future, was summoned.

The problem with servants is they tend to have a similar nature as the person who summons them. This means that agreeable people tend to get affable servants and prickly people get more problematic partners. So the tsundere Rin summons someone whose mask is just as elaborate and essential as hers. This of course means that initially get along like vegan and a carnivore trying to come up with a joint menu for a catered event. They can work together well when they want to but only a fool or an optimist would assume it would start as easy sailing.

At first it is clear that Archer assumes he is the boss. He basically demands that his young Master hide behind his back while he takes charge. Clearly he does not know the young lady he is talking to (Or does he? More on that later.) and a fight breaks out to the point where Rin actually uses one of her Command Seals to get Archer to obey her. At first it seems like they are going to be an odd couple that takes the entire story to learn to work together until they realize that they were actually quite similar and if anything that is what made their initial meeting so strained.

BUT as it turns out the female protagonist of Nasu’s initial unfinished draft of the story is no longer the heroine. It is Shiro’s story. Therefore we can’t spend that long watching these two come together. We need to get these two working in something close to harmony fairly quickly.

And so Rin and Archer then do what they do best: Explain magical systems! While her character is far more complex than that she is pretty much Nasu’s little exposition machine when he needs her to be. So a good deal of the relationship between masters and servants is explained here. We will get much more detail about that when Shiro comes along but that just shows that Professor Rin’s job is never done.

The more important thing here is Archer’s supposed memory loss. He says because of the botched summoning he does not remember who he was as a heroic spirit. But one of the eternal questions of Fate/Stay Night is how much does Archer ever know. In the Fate path it is hinted he knows more than he lets on and in the story it is a vital fact. But we never really ever find how much he knows. It is always clear that some of his amnesia is not faked and that the broad strokes of the 5th Holy Grail War are known to him but more than that is unclear.

Overall that is probably for the best. Archer having complete a total knowledge of his version of the events of the 5th Holy Grail War would easily open up plot holes of why did he not do X when he knew Y was going to happen. Cleary his presence has changed several very vital things so he could never have a complete road map of what was going to happen but he should at least have knowledge of who was where at the start of the conflict.

Since we don’t know what exactly he remembers or when it is easy to assume that anything he is not clearly shown remembering might be something his mind is fuzzy on. It is a good piece of fog of war that keeps some of the tricky parts of time travel from littering the story with plot holes.

Oh and we have some crystal fish. Like the CG Dragon people love to bring them up so we might as well at least mention them even if it is in lip service.

Also did any Fate/Zero fan notice Archer playing with the magical combination device that Tokiomi used to use to covertly talk to Kirei with? I thought that was another sly wink at Fate/Zero that stood out enough to be appreciated but did not whack you in the face in an attempt to be a call back.

I think everyone really liked the scene where Rin makes Archer clean up the living room. If nothing else it really seems to be the point where their relationship is solidified. All the talk of Archer respecting Rin’s magic is fine and good but when he is thrown a broom and dustpan the die is cast on his future portrayals. He will forever be the snarky combat butler to Rin.

After her schedule is totally thrown out of whack Rin spends the day sleeping in and then skips school to properly prepare for war. It is also a good excuse for the audience to see more bed head Rin.

I just have to assume Archer can summon Shikigami like he was a Kekkaishi because he was able to fix that living room really quickly. Either that or he studied at  The Royal Garden at some point as he time as a Counter Guardian. (Also Archer seems like the sort of guy who might end up with a 156,804,000 yen debt. Although truth be told Hayate is probably based on Archer considering Hata’s taste.)

After some proper introductions Rin and Archer spend the day scouting out the city. Since the participants in the Holy Grail War have to remain out of the public eye when battling the day light hours are fairly safe. You can still run into trouble if you are careless but the morning is probably the safest time of day. While they don’t really find anything they do develop a good working relationship.

I will bring up the already sort of legendary “The Archer class really is made up of Archers” line. While it is a bit of an awkward Nasu line it does subtly point to something more important. Ayako Mitsuduri mentioned that the Archy club just lost one of their best members. Theoretically that person was skilled enough that if they ever became a hero they might be able to be summoned as an Archer after they passed on with that level of skill. It is little reminder to keep Archery in mind in general without blatantly saying that to the audience.

I do have to wonder how much Rin saved her own life by ignoring the end of Kirei’s phone call. Considering the fact that he straight up assassinated Bazett when her guard was down and then stole her servant it is not out of the realm of possibility to think he would not do it again. While it is possible that Kirei has something legitimate to say to her it was equally possible that he just planned to stab her in the heart, rip off her hand, and add another Archer to his servant collection. While Rin is hardly a member of Kirei’s fan club she has known him long enough to put down her guard especially considering she would not think that he was actually a Master. Since she does not actually see Kirei until she has Shiro and Saber in tow, and at that point it would have been nearly impossible to easily pull off an assassination, she seems to have dodged a bullet.

While their trip around town did not really turn up anything amusingly enough Rin going to school lets them discover the handiwork of the first Master they will detect. Despite Rin’s insistence that she is like 90% sure there are no other Masters at school they stumble upon a rather sinister Bounded Field. It seems someone has set up a rather blatant magical field around her school. Rin concludes either the magus behind the field is so powerful they don’t care who sees their swagger or so incompetent that subtly is utterly lost on them. Either way she will not allowed such disrespect in her back yard.

Also the fact that if the field is activated it would turn everyone in the school into mana rich blood Slurpees.

An important little moment is Sakura coming down the stairs while Archer and Rin are discussing strategy. At this point the audience has to be aware that there is something special about Sakura. She would not show up this many times randomly. The question is then how much does she know. She clearly acts like she did not hear Archer but she was not that far way. Is she a Master? Is she mage? Is she magically aware? Is she just a regular girl. (Clearly not, but we can pretend that is an actual answer.) Rin obviously knows her more than most people but is also still keeping her at arm’s length. Why?

Coming back at night turns up unexpected results. Rin plans to come in and delay Blood Fort Andromeda from activating. She can’t permanently stop it from activating unless she takes care of the person instigating the boundary field but she can at least make their life difficult until she can confront them. The only problem is that before she can do that a certain servant class stumbles upon her activities.

Ah Lancer. An E in the luck skill is hardly a sufficient summary of how cursed Cú Chulainn seems to be.

Now at first it seems profoundly stupid to call out to Rin while she is distracted examining the runes but when you just consider him the straight villain that he is initially portrayed as. When we know that Lancer is doing this all against his will then his generally lackadaisy monologuing makes more sense. He can’t disobey his orders but at the same time he does not have to perform his duty to the best of his abilities.

That said you do get the feeling he does want to throw down with Archer fair and square. A is A and B is B.

I am sure there was a few people watching this episode that cried out “FINALLY!” when this fight starts. Until now the episode has mostly just been Rin running around preparing for the Holy Grail War, bantering with Archer, and talking to a creepy priest on the phone. That hardly screams out fantasy action. I’m fine with that but for everyone else we need to add a little spice to this dish.

The fight is really good as showing of the skills of the Servants involved. We see Lancer’s defensive game is almost unbeatable. While he never gets any good shots in on Archer it is clear that Archer could not beat him without upping his game considerably. Kanshou and Bakuya alone are not going to cut it.

At the same time Archer’s projection magic steals the show as he is able to draw an endless supply of his favored swords. If you look closely at one point he says Trace On during the battle but they make sure to let you hear what he is saying to keep that little spoiler from ruining it for the newbies.

But when things come to a head when it is clear that Archer knows Lancer’s identity. With that out in the open Lancer just decides that there is no reason not to use Gáe Bolg. Before it could actually be useful the fight is interrupted by an unexpected observer.

As it turns out any mundane witnessing the Holy Grail War must be silenced. So Lancer is easily able to take out the poor student who witnessed their battle. Archer mostly just sees it as a lucky break. He knows that Gáe Bolg is a killing move and could have easily ended their part in the war right quick. Rin is less pleased.

At first Rin seems saddened that one of her classmates died. She goes to see if she can do anything before they die but is shocked to see it is one of the last people she would have wanted it to be. Her stoic demeanor rapidly breaks down when she realizes that it was Shiro.

Her reaction is interesting. For one thing her obvious interest in Shiro makes this a blow but it is not the only reason. She also clearly upset because she knows that Sakura has a crush on Shiro and that in a way she is indirectly responsible for his death.

This shocks her into actually sacrificing one of her biggest trump cards she had saved up which is her crystal pendent. While she is fairly bad at healing magic her gem is powerful enough to give her the raw power to save Shiro’s life and heal his otherwise mortal wound. Overall while she is hardly thrilled to have lost such a valuable resource at least she will be able to face Sakura and know that Shiro is fine.

In many ways this sums up Rin. She talks a big game about being cold and calculating like her father but in the end she actually has a kind heart. She wants to treat people like statistics and devices but in the end she has too good a soul to be truly wicked like she wants to be seen.

At first everything seems fine. While nothing was really accomplished it also did not turn into a personal tragedy. Until Rin realizes it is not over. Lancer won’t stop until Shiro is dead. So as soon as Archer gets back they immediately head out to make sure her work was not in vain. But in her haste to save Shiro she runs smack dab into a different Servant. In fact the one Servant she was hoping to summon.

And so we have the arrival of the infamously famous blonde haired foreigner. If you expected anything but Saber love in this post you clearly went to the wrong blog. As much grumbling as there was on the internet about this scene it was the point where the original prologue of Fate/Stay Night ended. It was pretty much the only place you logically could have ended.

I did notice that this episode did not use a lot of the music from the visual novel. But at the same time it seemed like music that I had sort of heard before. Then it hit me. It all sounded like tracks from Mahou Tsukai no Yoru. A quick bit of research showed me that Hideyuki Fukasawa is doing the music for the show. Considering he is the musician behind Witch on a Holy Night it probably speaks to how much I have listened to the game’s OST while waiting for a translation. So it seems like the anime will be getting a lot of original score but I am sure some Keita Haga tracks will still be included. Just Like Sword of Promised Victory appeared in Fate/Zero I assume there is no possible way that some version of Emiya won’t show up in this anime unless they want blood in the streets. I do look forward to see what Hideyuki Fukasawa composes for key scenes and what he put his own spin on from the visual novel.

So far the first episode has lived up to the heavy burden of the expectations placed on its shoulders. If nothing else it is a clear indication that we are getting a rather faithful remake that seems informed of what to keep from the original story and what to polish in order to either make things run smoothly.They are also not afriad to incorporate material from Fate/Zero or Fate/Hollow Ataraxia. Since I’m not worried about what ufotable is leaving out I can sit back and relax and focus on what they added. I do wonder if we will get any tips of the hat towards Bazett or Caren in addition to nods towards Fate/Zero. But even if the Master of the Multi-Reverse Punch never comes up this remake seems to be on the right track. I’m looking forward to see the story start in earnest with Shiro in the next hour-long episode.

I guess I should also brace myself for the wave on incoming hate. As popular as they are Shiro and Saber have an equally large group of vocal detractors who will make sure they are heard anywhere there is a discussion of Type-Moon going on. But even that won’t get me down. This anime has been far too good for anyone to taint that experience.

– Alain

Advertisements

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s