Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #001 – People Almost Forgot Shiro is the Hero

hisui_icon_4040 Of course they realease two hour long Unlimited Blade Works episodes in the two weeks where it would hurt the most. It is not only the beginning of an anime season where I am behind on SWAT reviews but I just survived a four day long New York Comic Con. This is going to be a bit of an endurance run for me but if nothing else these posts help me organize my thoughts a bit. If the post kills me then at least I died in the service of Type-Moon. But enough crying over my schedule. Lets talk about the episode.

I know people are surely saddened by the fact that Rin is not the protagonist of the story but such are the disappointments of life. As much as certain vocal people might want Shiro to disappear he is the hero of this story. I actually like him so I am hardly broken up about it. I am curious to see how the fans who really only know Fate/Zero take to him. He is much more the shonen hero as opposed to the seinen protagonist like Kiritsugu. How many of them will stick with this very different main character especially when the story is so much more focused on him?

Shiro Emiya’s adopted father survived the 4th Holy Grail War but its scars racked his body and soul. Years later Shiro lives a mostly normal life where his minor magical ability acts as an arcane parlor trick that he uses to repair broken items as opposed to most mages who live lives researching the darker secrets that lurk in the shadows. But when the Holy Grail war starts up the hedge wizard is drawn into the conflict in the mostly bloody way possible.

While all the events of the 4th Holy Grail War would go on to effect the 5th version there was no greater tragedy than the great fire. Anything the holocost did not destroy it made sure to alter in a way that could not be ignored. So while Shiro survived the fire but he was permanently shaped by the sea of flames. His dreams and in many ways his whole existence circles back to that event and what it means to have survived it.

The aspiring hero is awoken from his nightmare filled slumber by an unpopular purple haired girl.

We start with Shiro’s everyday life. While he clearly has some small amount of magical knowledge his life is mainly a routine existence enhanced slightly with the mystical. He has mainly stayed off Rin’s radar because he uses such low-level magic as to be barely noticeable.

It is also clear that Sakura has inserted herself into Shiro’s life. She has not done so in any harmful way. It is clear that she saw that Shiro was in a predicament when he was injured and used it as an opportunity to spend time with him. He clearly enjoys her company and they have formed a tight bond.

The most interesting aspect is that while Sakura is generally the shy and meek one she can be bold when it comes to Shiro. Rin on the other hand is famous for being forward and open but sticks to the shadows when it comes to Shiro.

The new opening by Mashiro Ayano really sounds like the earthmind openings to the Vita version of Fate/Stay Night . It does a nice run down of the cast with the Servants feeling very other worldly as they appear. Interestingly enough Saber and Gilgamesh, the two servants who are the most material with physical bodies, are not like that.

The sequence with Shiro reaching out to the endless horizon is an important piece of symbolism. They have used a similar piece of visual metaphor before by showing him reaching out for the stars in the PS2 opening but I think the clear sky here works better for an Unlimited Blade Working opening. It better represents the difference between his ideals and Archer’s.

There is also a good deal or Archer and Caster in the opening. Since they are two of the most important Servants in the path I’m glad they got a good deal of screen real estate in the sequence.

There was one other person who got a lot of screen time and that was Saber. I can already hear the cries of Type-Moon fans who are outraged that the King of Knights is getting an undue amount of attention. I would like to remind everyone that Saber is a fairly important part of this story. While Rin is clearly the heroine it is not like Saber just goes out back for smoke breaks for a majority of the story.

Also at this point you should all be used to it. You can just wait for Heaven’s Feel where you will get exactly what you want.

This is the only path were Taiga plays a major role so it is nice to see her tearing up the screen here. She is probably the closest Fate/Stay Night comes to having a mascot character (I’m including Saber Lion in that assessment.) Even more than Sakura it is Taiga’s job to be a representation of the mundane in Shiro’s life. (Sakura’s job is to show that the supernatural is more ingrained in his life than he realizes.) It is amusing to see her being competent (if childish) considering how much off a total goof she is like in Fate/Tiger Colosseum or Fate/Extra.

In retrospect she does seem to be the archetype from which teachers like Sally-Chan-Sensei and Miho Amakata are derived from. I’m fairly certain she is not the Ur-Goofball-Teacher but I would not put it past her to list her measurements as “curvaceous” and her weight as “marshmallows.” Then again that is why she is “a character loved by the entire staff of Fate/stay night.”

When Shiro gets to school we see the events that lead up to him seeing Rin from his perspective. It is interesting to note that from Rin’s perspective she is always lurking on the edge of Shiro’s perspective  just outside of his awareness. She assumes that she is knowledgeable about him but he is unaware of her. When we see the same scene from’s Shiro’s perspective we see that Shiro is much more aware of Rin than she thinks. He clearly views her as a distant enigma but someone who he does not easily ignore.

But even more importantly is the fact that we see Shiro’s continual tendency towards self-sacrifice. While he just sees himself as someone who is always being helpful it is clear to people close to him like Issei that Shiro clearly has a problem. Shiro cannot turn down helping anyone no matter how much it puts him at a disadvantage. Later on in the episode this will come to truly bite him in the ass but getting him killed will only be the FIRST indicator that his selfless attitude is sickly.

After two seasons of Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya it is easily to forget the real Illya after seeing all of the Hoe! styled magical girl from that show. But we have returned to Illya being to the proper Devil Child that she is meant to be.

It easy to see this scene as just an excuse to introduce Illya. In many ways that is its entire purpose but it also fleshed out Illya’s motivations in retrospect. Illya clearly wants to see Shiro as until this point she only knows him as the child that her father chose over her. While that is not actually the case, and that perception is totally due to the misinformation given to her by the Einzbern family, it defines her relationship with Shiro. She clearly has a bond with him through Kiritsugu but at the same time a deep resentment as well. (Also to be honest she also has an attraction to him because this is based on an eroge.) In retrospect she is far more interested in observing him as her stepbrother than as a Master. The ability to face him as an opponent is more of a bonus than anything else.

The mark on Sakura’s hand is the first real indication that things will not be going well from now on. I’m trying to remember if the bruise on Sakura’s hand is just Shinji’s abuse or if it is the faded mark of her giving up her command seal. Either way what matters is that Sakura wants Shiro to stay away from her brother. Part of it is clearly Sakura internalizing her abuse a pretending like it is not happening. She clearly has battered person syndrome and refuses to tell Shiro what is going on but looking back it is clear that she also has new reasons to not want him to get involved. Now that Shinji has a Servant it would be very easy for him to make Shiro disappear if he wanted to. Also an intense amount of investigation into the Matou family might just get Shinji killed if he stumbles upon the wrong bit of information especially with the family on high alert due to the Holy Grail War.

While Sakura is able to make Shiro drop the topic for now it is clear that he will not forget what her saw.

A simple amount of inqury quickly shows that Shinji has become quite the little monster since Shiro left the archery club. Ayako Mitsuduri gives Shiro the lowdown on how Shinji has been terrorizing the younger members of the club now that she is busy and Shiro was driven out. It now seems that Ayako is the only one left in the club that still has the guts to stand up to the little tyrant. Considering how Rider tried to drain Ayako for mana in the Fate path, which was almost surely on Shinji’s orders, it would not be that hard to imagine the little Napoleon commanding Rider to snuff out Shiro for daring to speak out against him.

This is the first major scene we have gotten that was not in the original visual novel. This little comedic interlude with the Three Amigas (Kane Himuro, Makidera Kaede and Saegusa Yukika) is hardly vital and most of the information presented here is given to the reader by various characters in other conversations. It mostly seems to be here to reenforce the normal world before things go crazy.

I think that is the main reason. But at the same time I do have one secret wish at the same time. I do wonder if they are playing them up so they are more memorable. The three of them, along with Ayako Mitsuduri, are much more prominent in Fate/Hollow Ataraxia. If they were going to make a Fate/Hollow Ataraxia anime it would make sense for them to play these characters up a little more so when they show up there you know who they are. I’m sure once the serious plot developments start there will be little room for these four to show up so best to get them on the screen when you can.

Side note: It is becoming harder and harder to separate these three from their appearances in Fate/School Life. I now just assume they go off-screen and play Sepak Bola Api0, meet Socrates, and make Kinnikuman references to each other after Shiro leaves.

A question for the readers: Who murdered this family of four? I can’t remember if we ever learn who killed them. It was clearly a servant but I can’t remember which one. Caster and Assassins’ Masters are both killed before Shiro summons Saber but I don’t think either of them seem like the type to bring their families with them to the Holy Grail War.

It seems a bit to casually brutal for it to be Caster’s handiwork. Also Rule Braker is not really a killing blade. Caster would most probably just drain them dry of mana and make it look like a gas leak. Murder like that is hardly Illya’s style as well.

That leaves Rider, Lancer, and Gilgamesh. Rider and Lancer both have Master’s who are immoral enough to have their Servant kill off mundane humans for mana and their weapon would fit the bill.

I would guess it was Lancer but Kotomine seems like the type to tidy up after his Servant’s messes a little cleaner than that. I would say Shinji but is he just that cold-blooded? Then again considering what he does to Sakura it might actually be overly lenient to assume the best about him.

It is not that important. It is mostly just a scene to show how things are getting dangerous around town but I am just personally curious if anyone remembers if any material explicitly says who killed that family.

For Fate/Zero fans we have a bit of an interlude to see the last days of Kiritsugu as he slowly withers away due to the taint of the Grail. At the same time we also see him clearly more at peace with his life. As seen at the end of Fate/Zero by saving Shiro it seems that Kiritsugu was able to save the last shreds of humanity he thought he had lost. He would spend the rest of life trying to keep Shiro out of the exact predicament he is about to land himself in the middle of. He also wanted to rescue Illya and raise her so she would not just be a tool and killing machine for the Einzbern family. On top of that his off-handed conversation about wanting to be a hero pretty much set his adopted son on his self-destructive path for most of his life.

None of Kiritsugu’s plans really worked out. His heart was in the right place but … overall his follow through could have been better.

Also visual novel readers will quickly realize that all those orphans in the background at the hospital where Shiro was are going to be turned into mana batteries for Gilgamesh by Kotomine. Fun!

Of all the fan service in the series so far the inclusion of Otoko Hotaruzuka aka Neko is probably one of the deepest cuts. As the owner of the bar where Shiro works she is fairly memorable but minor character from the visual novel. This little shot of her is exactly the amount she needs to appear. Enough to give her the nod that she and the Copenhagen exist but they don’t focus on her so much that she cuts into time they need for serious plot points and nuances. That is how you pay homage to the source material without being a slave to it.

A little more Tiger and little more Cherry Blossoms. The important thing to note is that Gilgamesh has a brief encounter with Sakura. This is a conversation that only really is ever explained in a Q&A with Nasu but the actual details are unimportant. It is just the King of Heroes feeling out all the major players and deciding that Sakura was actually worth talking to. Even if it is just telling her that it would be better if she just killed herself.

We also get Sakura trying to get Shiro back in the Archery club. The obvious reason for this is she just wants to see him more. In reflection I do have to wonder how much it is also to keep tabs on him to make sure he does not get caught up in the Holy Grail War. Since she does not know he is a Master Sakura just might want to make sure Shiro does not stumble onto anything horrible with some Hayate level luck. If that is the case then it turned out that she has a legitimate reason to be worried about that.

PS: You might be wondering why Taiga has “men.” As it turns out she is the daughter of a Yakuza boss. She is mafia royalty. And now you know.

Ah Shinji. You just know he is the sort of jerk that would be a Men’s Rights Activist. He just needs his fedora and Red Pill shirt because he already has enough douchebag attitude.

When Shiro calls out Shinji on his abuse of Sakura he just turns it around and makes it like Shiro is the bad guy. Actually in this case Shinji might not be exactly lying. If the bruise on Sakura’s hand is just her lost Command Seal he might have not caused that due to direct abuse. That does not really matter because the fact is he actually does abuse Sakura so even if Shiro is incorrect in this instance he is not wrong in calling out Shinji for his dark heart. The thing is Shiro can’t bring himself to do anything more than some lecturing as he has no real evidence. So in the end he just gets saddled with cleaning the Archery dojo so Shinji can go off and play with his groupies.

Shiro cleaning the dojo is a nice quiet scene where you get to see his potential to be a combat butler that always been within him. But beyond that it once again reinforces his affinity for archery and the bow. I have always been a little surprised when never get a scene or two of him with the bow to show off his skill but that might be just a little too on the nose.

Stayimg late at school is never fun and it is even worse when it puts you in danger. Again we see a scene from Shiro’s perspective that we previously experienced via Rin. This time we get the point of view of the antelope killed by the predator as opposed to the perspective of the nature documentarian who saw it happen.

Shiro is aware that magic exists before this point but overall he has been insulated from any of the horrors of the supernatural world. There is a huge difference between know that war exists by wtahcing TV and experiencing a battle by being dropped in the middle of one. He rightfully takes off like a rocket when he see the clash between Lancer and Archer but his legs can only do so much. Lancer easily kills him with all the gusto of a bored MMORPG player taking out some trash enemy for a quest. Lancer’s banter is the closest anything comes to solemn words for the death of a student.

Rin eventually finds Shiro and saves his life. Shiro seems aware of Rin’s involvement but he is dying so it seems far more dream like than a real experience. His fading consciousness hardly helps. By the time he comes to Rin is gone but it is obvious that what happened to him was not a hallucination. He trudges home as it is the closest place he has to somewhere safe.

The sanctity of his house is quickly shattered as Lancer comes to finish off the job he started. Shiro put up a valiant fight with some projection magic reenforced combat but he looks like an untrained child fighting a professional pit fighting adult. Lancer does not kill him less because Shiro’s fighting skills are so great and more because Lancer seems legitimately amused by Shiro’s struggle. But like is certain unwinnable battles in video games the goal is not to defeat your opponent. It is to run out the clock long enough that some third-party can intervene. That third party is a blond swordswoman in this case.

Saber comes out of the gate swinging. She has a few moments to introduce herself to her red-headed partner before going to tackle the blue warrior.

It the classic case of the unblockable sword vs. the unbreakable shield. Saber excels in her offense while Lancer has amazing defense. This means while they trade countless blows neither of them easily find a weak point in the other fighters’ technique. For all the talk Lancer gives about only observing he is really quick to throw out his Gae Bolg on a drop of a hat once it appears that they are not getting anywhere.

That said for all the hype that Gae Bolg gets in its description it is hardly the sure-fire killing technique it is made out to be. Sure it has the flashy effect that it reverses cause and effect and therefore it automatically pierces the victim’s heart and then the spear bends reality to cause the spear to make a shot that does that. The thing is that NO ONE every dies from it. For one reason or another everyone has a way to dodgem or block it. I THINK it finally kills someone in Fate/Hollow Ataraxia but that is not Unlimited Blade Works. I mean if Lancer just killed Saber at this point in the story would be quite short. The difference between the the hype on the writeup on this weapon is far greater than the reality.

You have to admire Saber for her eagerness. She barely dodged having her heart turned into a pin cushion and is still bleeding from a gaping wound in her chest but she is already on the attack with the next servant in the area. The only thing that keep Archer from getting his own nasty wound is the fact that Shiro commands Saber to stop so he can see who she is attacking (something that does not happen during the Fate path.) In the end Rin is showing her trademark kiler smile when she greets Shiro and his Servant. As Maki said Rin is the scariest and most dangerous when she is smiling and she is smiling quite brightly here.

As a Type-Moon fan I will miss these hour-long episodes. As someone who writes episode commentary for these shows I won’t cry too much that the episodes are going back to half hour chunks.

I was surprised to see how much Sakura material there was in this episode. She is clearly an important player in the story and her relationship with Rin cannot be overlooked. That said she shows up quite a bit for a storyline that is centered around her older sister. But Rin has properly entered the story in a way that Shiro cannot ignore even if he wanted to.

– Alain

Previous Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works posts:

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


3 thoughts on “Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #001 – People Almost Forgot Shiro is the Hero

  1. takashid says:

    Actually im pretty sure it was Lancer who killed that family. We get a close up on the dead women and her wound is a vertical line on her breast. If it was Rider, it would be a round hole.

    Not to mention, in the VN you hear about these murders from Issei who says that the police are saying the killing was done with a “long weapon” ……like a lance.

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