Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #002 – Emiya Visits the Rip-Off Church

hisui_icon_4040 I just went to a showing of the The Tale of The Princess Kaguya in Manhattan with Vinnie, Ink, and Walter Amos after watching this episode. At our meal before the movie the topic of conversation inevitably turned towards the new anime season. Because I was involved we started to discuss Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. Ink was commenting that only a few episodes into the story the production already seemed far more involving the original Studio Deen adaptation. The superior animation and more delicate direction is surely a key factor but I think that this episode truly bring to light the most important difference. It is the focus. Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heaven’s Feel are all parts of the same game but they have very different themes. Or at least different answers to the question “What is a hero?”

This version takes care to just try to adapt Unlimited Blade Works with a laser focus. Everything that reinforces that theme from the story is played up and everything that detracts from that goal is dropped. At the same time it is informed of what came before it and what will come after letting all the key reveals be set up elegantly before the are unveiled. Even all the little elements that make it clear that this was the studio that made the Fate/Zero anime add to the story.

This may not be the Unlimited Blade Works the fans deserve but it is the version they need.

Having survived Lancer’s attack and summoned his Servant it is up to Rin to give Shiro a crash course in the rules of the deadly game he has become a part of. But Rin’s lecture is just a prep course for the main lesson from the less than savory officiator of the Holy Grail War. Spurred by the priest words Shiro formally join the battle only to quickly run into one of the most dangerous participants and her killing machine.

This picture is mostly just here because it has been awhile since we have had a proper 5th Holy Grail War Saber. I just want to soak it in for a bit. She really is a noble beauty. She really only speaks up when necessary in this scene but her commanding presence cannot be ignored.

As I said before Rin might be known by her various roles as a heroine, a tsundere, a twintailed zettai ryouiki goddess, or a tough rival but her most important role is back story generation engine and magical system tutor. Here is no exception. While Rin lays down a most general overview of the Holy Grail War, being a master, and Saber’s mana deficiency we see several facets of her personality. In general she displays her confidence and cool-headed attitude that define her as the classic beauty that she presents to most people but at the same time her childish need to win and her playful attitude slip out from time to time. While Rin does have an affection for Shiro she is hardly above busting his chops.

But Rin can only say and do so much in Shiro’s house. The conversation has to move to a place neither of them really wants to go. A place where Rin assumes is a neutral area but in actuality is anything but.

I have been wondering if they are showing off the pendent a bit too much in this episode. They are clearly putting in more effort than the Deen adaptation which mainly just figures you know what is going on when is shows up when Archer dies. It has been clearly established that while the pendent is unique there are now two of them several times. It even shows up in the ending credits as well. The question is at what point does it go from good establishment of twist to the dreaded land of overexposure? So far I have been loving all the subtle nods and delicate setups.

But am I too close to the material? Is this amount of establishment a good amount and because I know the twist it seems too obvious now? Is this the right amount of focus that should be given to the pendent, especially at this early point? Hopefully they will let it sit for a while until the reveal so it is a bit more of a shock when Archer’s identity is revealed. Maybe they need to lay a solid ground work here so they can let it drop elegantly to new viewers. Time will tell.

Technically this whole story might have ended very differently if Saber has briefly stopped inside the church to get something to drink.

Saber – “I’m terribly sorry but I am bit parched. Can you trouble you for a glass of water?”
Kotomine – “That is no probl …
Saber – “Kotomine! How are you still alive? Well. Time to correct that.”
Kotomine – “Damn. I sent Lancer and Gilgamesh away so no one knows I’m a Master.”
Shiro – “Are you going to stop Saber? For some reason, despite everything, I’m OK with this.”
Rin – “Stop her. Hell. I have been waiting my whole life for this moment.”

(Actually, Kotomine would just use a command seal to summon Gilgamesh but that is comedy killing logic.)

This is a scene that really established Kotomine as “the guy you just knew the first time you saw him to be the one pulling all the strings.” There are the obvious elements of Kotomine’s character design and demeanor whi show his darker nature. The lighting of the church and the priest’s almost predatory movements also help. But those are all the surface elements. The sizzle. But the steak itself is even richer.

The little perk up Kotomine’s voice when he realizes that  Kiritsugu’s son has become the seventh master or the way the briefly flash him clenching his hands when he discusses Kiritsugu’s victory. Also the way he subtly plays Rin and Shiro. He always knows the right word or trigger to get someone to do what he wants without making it seem like guiding them down a road not of their choosing. Using The Great Fuyuki Fire and Shiro’s nobility to get him to participate in the war despite his objections is masterful.

Despite being such an obvious villain it is nice to see how they let Kotomine still be delicate in his plotting. It is almost as if his obvious darkness masks his more sinister darkness like he was Mayo Mitama.

Another nice moment is Saber and Shiro finally solidifying their working relationship. It is such a wonderfully subtle call back to Fate/Zero without ever drawing attention to it. Saber’s shock at Shiro’s forthright and equitable view of partnership takes her by surprise. To those who have not seen Fate/Zero this is just a brief character moment. To those in the know it speaks volumes about her rocky partnership with Kiritsugu and how different his adopted son is. Kiritsugu was not one to warmly shake hands let alone speak more to her more than three times in total.

The rest of this scene is classic Rin. She wants to be a cold-blooded and calculating magus like her father but the better human being that is at Rin’s core always shines through despite her best efforts. As much as she says that Shiro and her are now enemies it is clear that she does not wish to fight a boy who she knows is a good and kind-hearted soul. It also lets her get in some great facial expressions that really win her a lot of fans. She is hard and efficient when she needs to be but her softer side shines brightly when it appears.

I think there is a distinct part of the audience that will mirror’s Illya’s sentiments when she declares that there has been far too much talking going on and that it is just time to fight. The juggernaut that is Berserker is a tower that anyone who has seen the Fate path can tell you can easily take on a well equipped team of Rin, Archer, Saber, and Shiro when they are prepared with several trump cards. Caught off guard it is more a battle to survive rather to win.

Since the post was running long, and I did not have a lot of time, so I skipped talking about the ending last time. “Believe” by Kalafina continues Yuki Kajiura’s connection to Type-Moon. This ending song is a bit more hard rocking than her work for Kara no Kyoukai or Fate/Zero but that is more in tune with tone of the shows. It is still very Kalafina but the heavier guitar section emphasises the more exuberant and energetic tone of Fate/Stay Night while letting the melancholy that pervades the work still shine through.

The ending animation does well to show how Rin and Shiro’s past have shaped them into the people they are today. Both of them are products of the tragedies, missing bonds, and aspirations that were forged in the fourth Holy Grail War. There are also some solid shots of Saber, Sakura, and Archer the reinforce their importance in this arc. Also for some reason the Three Amigas are there but I still think they are trying to sell them for when Fate/Hollow Ataraxia comes around.

I am sure that Randoseru Rin has already gained a creepy fan base but such is life.

Overall this seems like an episode where not that much happens. New viewers are brought up to speed on the Holy Grail War, older viewers get a refresher, and a lot of the “but what about this” questions about the Grail system are explained. But a careful observation will reveal that so many little seeds have been planted here that will only truly blossom later on. It is all well and good to animate fluid fight scenes but without the well-developed material around them the whole affair comes of as vapid and shallow. I’m looking at you Unlimited Blade Works movie. This episode proves that Ufotable understands what they are putting on the screen. They know what to cut, what to add, and what to emphasize.

And for everyone who was worried we will get some action next week.

– Alain

Previous Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works posts:

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #001 – People Almost Forgot Shiro is the Hero
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #000 – Archer the Combat Butler

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