Before we begin I would like to mention that Fate/Hollow Ataraxia finally has a full English release. If you like Kaede Makidera, Kane Himuro, Yukika Saegusa, or Ayako Mitsuduri from this version of the anime they are far more prominent in this game. In fact everyone who is not Kotomine or Zouken gets a good deal more screen time but these four really go from extremely minor background characters to real parts of the secondary cast (until the real combat starts.) So if you have been enjoying them and want to them a little more than this is the place to go.
It still has all the benefits and flaws of a visual novel. Your enjoyment mainly comes down to how much do you enjoy the added character details and minor world building you get from a visual novel. Do you see that all as added richness or boring dross that pads out the playtime. If nothing else there have been some major hints that a Fate/Hollow Ataraxia is in the cards so you can always just wait for that.
But the main purpose of this episode if to show off the team from Ryuudou Temple. Caster and Assassin don’t really get that much screen time outside of this arc so it is nice to see them shine here. Sufficed to say that if you really like these two don’t expect to see them a lot in the Heaven’s Feel movies. They basically make more of a cameo in that arc than a full appearance. The third of the Ryuudou Temple group is being left in the shadows so when he is revealed it is more of a big dea (also he would make certain parts of the episode much more complicated) .
The key moment is the tension between Shiro and Archer finally boiling over. It has been coming for a while but eventually something had to go off. The battle with Caster is merely the spark that ignites the firestorm.
A two front battle has started around the Ryuudou Temple. In the front Saber tries to get to Shiro but the blue samurai blocks her path forward. In the back Archer and Caster square off with Shiro in the middle. While Caster has many tricks up her sleeve the real fight might be between ideals of Shiro and Archer. It is a battle of perspective that might have a deadly conclusion.
The simple fight is between Assassin and Saber. Saber wants to get to Shiro and Assassin has been assigned to stop her. Beyond that Assassin is clearly in the mood to duel. Much like the historical character Kojirou Sasaki it seems that Assassin’s life revolves around a fated duel more than anything else. This time it is with Saber instead of Miyamoto Musashi.He does not seem to have a great love for his master as he generally only refers to her as a vixen. He even lets Archer slip by when he avoids Assassin’s general patrol area but in his defense he knew Saber was on her way. He actually seems to be quite happy to fight Saber so he can have a good old chambara styled battle.
Try as she might Saber has a hard time getting past this defender of the gate. While he has a huge nodachi called The Laundry-Drying Pole he unlike most spirits summoned under the Assassin class excels in straight forward defense rather than stealthily offense. It seems that his unusual method of summoning has led him to be quite a bit outside the normal parameters of his class. In fact in the game it mentions he is less of a true Servant and more like a wraith with the qualities of a Servant. But all of that in inconsequential. It merely means that Saber cannot casually waltz through the front gate until she can defeat this samurai.
When the battle between Caster and Archer goes south Assassin kicks up his game by bringing out his trump card. His Tsubame Gaeshi works much like Kenshin’s Kuzuryūsen technique. Tsubame Gaeshi lets him attack from multiple directions at once so the person he is attacking can’t dodge or block as they attacked from multiple directions at once. Kenshin’s technique is a little more dangerous as it attacks from nine different angles but Assassin’s technique actually seems to warp space so it is not a cut in dry difference in ability. It is powerful enough that even with a second of warning via her powerful instinct that an attack is coming Saber is only barely able to prevent the attack from being fatal.
If nothing else you have to be impressed that Assassin has developed a sword technique strong enough to be a Noble Phantasm despite not being magical in any normal fashion.
On a side note, while Invisible Air is a really cool visual effect for Excalibur does it ever really do anything for Saber other than hide the identity sword in the original game? It seems like anyone she fights almost instantly determines the dimensions of her blade within a few strokes. We never have a Han’nya styled battle where someone is thrown off by the length of her sword. In fact it comes up more in Fate/Zero but mostly as a way to either give Saber a speed boost or a ranged attack that is not the full on craziness and mana drain of the Sword of Promised Victory blast. But that is more a roundabout use of Invisible Air than its main purpose. It is like using the hilt of a sword as a hammer more than its blade.
While that is going on Archer and Shiro are having their own private battle. After the natural amount of pre-battle banter we learn that Assassin was summoned by Caster so she could have some melee support against classes that are largely unaffected by magic Archer seems to deal a lethal blow to the Grecian witch in a way that proves the value of melee support for mages. But of course a battle between servants can’t be that simple. As anyone who has played an RPG will tell it is wise to avoid fighting mages in their sanctums. They can use their most powerful magic there and usually have some major tricks that they would not have the time to use on a neutral battlefield. That is proved here as well.
It quickly becomes a battle of the ranged attackers. As anyone who has seen Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya will tell you Caster’s most effective attack is throwing down beam spam from above with her Rain of Light while flying with an Aero spell. It just lets her rain down death on her enemies while she is out of their range. Even Archer can’t casually snipe her while she is pouring down such firepower.
Eventually Caster realizes that Shiro is a far easier target. While she might still want his body for the ability to steal Saber from him (giving her a far more powerful and mobile melee weapon than Assassin) she can at least potential trip up Archer as he tries to defend the far more vulnerable boy. This leads to bit of banter between Shiro and Archer that really shows how their similar personalities prevent them from getting along. This is only exacerbated when Archer finally is able to deal a powerful blow to Caster.
Archer spares Caster for seemingly arbitrary reasons. This leads Caster to be amused how similar they are which of course get both of them to protest in unison. If all the fujoshi were not shipping these two because of their arguing during the battle then that exchange alone sealed the deal forever.
This leads to a bit of a philosophical debate between Shiro and Archer. Archer says that it did not matter how many times he struck down Caster. While her Master lives she can keep pulling her villain teleport before she dies. Plus if Caster continues to build up power she has the potential to kill Berserker who as it stands is the greatest threat on the battlefield. After she has drained her resources on that battle they can mop up whoever is left over. Shiro on the other hand is sickened by the idea that Archer would come up with such a reprehensible plan. Then it comes down to not only a question of ethics but a question of what ethical debate are they having in the first place.
Shiro sees the matter as a simple mater of doing what is right vs. what is easy. Do you fight the hard battle and possibly lose but protect the innocent or do you sacrifice civilians to make sure that your odds of winning the war are far more secure? On the other hand Archer is arguing that this is not a simple matter of black and white. It is more of a trolley problem. No mater which choice you pick you wind up having to sacrifice someone. In that case you have to choose which miserable choice is most compatible with your ethics. In Shiro’s mind if they let civilians be sacrificed to Caster they are just as villainous as the people they are fighting. Archer insists that the price of the losing is great enough that it is better for them to choose some sacrificial lambs to die rather than letting them all be stepping-stones for the dark future that would come with Caster winning the grail.
In a way this is almost a battle of pre-Fate/Zero Kiritsugu vs. post-Fate/Zero Kiritsugu. At what point does the good of the many verse the good of the few argument just become a way to avoid dealing with real hard choices? Are you merely sacrificing the good of the few because you refuse to sacrifice of yourself. On the other hand when it trying to save everyone a fool’s errand that makes sure that you cannot save anyone? Shiro clearly believes in the ideals Kiritsugu wanted to believe before he died whereas Archer has clearly embraced Kiritsugu’s original ideals.
When it is clear that Shiro won’t give up on his promise to be a hero of justice that saves everyone it prompts Archer into being able to do what he has clearly wanted to do for a while but was unable to do thanks to Rin’s command seal geas: kill Shiro.
A brief side note: When Archer is attacking Shiro we do get a flash of Archer dying and being summoned as a Counter Guardian to the Throne of Heroes via Rin. I do wonder if this version of the story will tell us a little more of how he died and became a hero. Technically Fate/Extra has given us a lot more details on what happened but that could be considered a separate timeline with a separate Archer (despite major evidence that they are the same person.) It is just that if they ever wanted to make his death in Fate/Extra his official canonical background this would be the best place to do it.
Thanks to some monologuing from Archer as well as a luck trip it seems that Shiro is able to get away from Archer and stumble to Saber. Assassin for his part realizing that the battle is over since Caster fled is more than happy to let Saber rush over to Shiro. If nothing else it shows the inherent nobility of Assassin who undeservedly seems to have been given an alignment of Neutral Evil. I mean he even allows Saber to take off with Shiro as he holds off Archer. Maybe he is just bitter about all the cheap tricks Musashi used to defeat him on Ganryu Island and welcomes an actual legitimate duel when he has the chance to fight a woman of honor like Saber.
(I guess that is a hold over from the rules that you have to be of evil alignment to learn the Assassin class in D&D. Plus I think his actions would be more Lawful Evil than anything else. OK. Enough of this. Nothing good ever comes of lengthy debates over alignment. You might as well have a subs vs. dubs debate.)
It is a shame Assassin never really got a chance to shine like other servants. Maybe the increased female presence in Type-Moon fandom will give him a little extra love especially after an episode like this.
This is the first time we get a major scene after the credits. It is mostly just little conversation between Shiro and Saber as they go over the day’s events. In many ways Saber shows that she is a good judge of not only Shiro but also Archer’s true nature. While they seem very opposed, they are in fact more similar on major points than anything else, but disagree in vital points of their dogma. This does lead Shiro to truly take up swordsmanship lessons from Saber so that he can fight on a level equal to his enemies.
I will say that despite the fact that this is technically Rin’s path we have seen a good deal of the bonds between Saber and Shiro. They clearly have a good deal of chemistry as friends but their interactions have distinct hint of romance as well. Part of me wonders if they are trying to set up the good ending for Unlimited Blade Works or do they just realize Saber is popular and don’t want to ignore her totally in favor of Rin. I am sure this is upsetting some of the Type-Moon fans that are sick and tired of the Saber bias as it stands but I think it helps all the character seem full as opposed to just some of them. The again I am also part of that hated group that makes sure that Saber in thrown into everything so maybe I’m not the best person to ask about that.
Still I would really love to see Sunny Day ending. It is my favorite of the five possible conclusions. My fingers are crossed.
Previous Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works posts:
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #006 – Shiro the Puppet
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #005 – The Silly Faces of Rin Tohsaka
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #004 – A Good Neighborhood Tiger
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #003 – Spoilers: Archer Uses a Bow
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #002 – Emiya Visits the Rip-Off Church
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