If you have read the visual novels then you know that this episode was not going to end well.
This episode has a hard act to follow. It basically goes on right after we got a pretty powerful episode that was mostly new material. New material that was intriguing for new fans but mind-blowing for the older fans. Instead this episode knows it is got a boatload of feels surrounding the tortured life and horrific death of Illya. So in that regard it is safe. But it also gives us some new information about Illya and Berseker although it would be near impossible to beat what we learned about Caster. It still had enough to be a worthy successor to the last episode. It just hits different parts of the emotional spectrum. It also ties things a little more to Fate/Zero which I think will give this a little more kick to anyone who has only watched the Ufotable productions.
It seemed that Berserker and Illya were the most dangerous team in the 5th Holy Grail War so it made sense for Rin and Shiro to try to team up with them when confronting Caster. But the original Rule Breaker has decided that this alliance is not meant to be. While Hercules is a mighty hero he is no match for the King of Heroes arsenal of Nobel Phantasms. Illya reflects of what brought her to this monument just before her journey comes to a close.
Shinji’s little moment of premature triumph is about the only thing we get to break the tension of the episode. From here on out it is all Fate/Zero style tragedy.
It is clear that while Berserker is insanely deadly in close combat he is vulnerable when it comes to ranged weaponry. So when Gilgamesh starts spamming weapons out of the Gate of Babylon it seems that the fight has mostly been decided at that point. The fact that Berserker insists on protecting Illya is not doing him any favors. If he just gave up on protecting his master he might be able to close the distance quick enough to smash the King of Heroes which would pretty much end the fight. While Gilgamesh has a stunning offense his defense is far less.
The thing is as the fight later proves Gilgamesh is more taunting Berserker than anything else. He knows that if Berserker actually gets in close he has Enkidu to tie up the giant so he can just ping away at him to his leisure. As much as Gilgamesh pretends like this fight could go either way he knows that the odds are completely and utterly in his favor.
Another reason he is sort of an ass hat.
As the fight goes on we get David Lynch’s Unlimited Blade Works when Illya starts to flash back. So far while Takahiro Miura has been very good at staging the general composition of the episodes so far he has not really gotten that experimental with his adaptation. He has mostly proven that he is skilled at making a faithful anime version of a visual novel that plays to the strength of the medium it is being ported over to. These scenes with Illya seem far more personal in style than anything that has come before this. It is clearly more of a metaphorical journey through Illya’s past. The parts with the wolves happens pretty much like it did in the game but everything else has a far more dream like logic to it. I suppose Illya’s conversations with the Grail in the shape of her mother could have happened that way but her talk with the previous homunculi of the von Einzbern is clearly metaphorical. I have to wonder if this is Takahiro Miura stretching his legs in an area where he has a bit more free range or is the more the style of who ever was the episode director. I would be curious to ask the staff about that if the ever came to an English-speaking convention.
I never realized how much the Grail itself influenced Illya’s transformation. While the scenes here make it clear that Illya gave into temptation of hate and bitterness I always thought that it was solely the Einzbern family that was fostering these dark impulses but it is clear there was some supernatural shenanigans as well. At the same time I think Irisviel’sl ghost also represents the von Einzbern lust for the grail. Their tainted mechanical love and obsession with obtaining their mad goal is only amplified by the Grail’s influence but it was not solely created by it. Both Illya’s family and the Grail have a synergistic effect that warps her own insecurities and hurting that turn her into the little devil child that fights in the 5th Holy Grail War. The experimentation and conditioning channel these dark feelings into a sociopathic edge in what was otherwise a bright and normally adjusted little girl in Fate/Zero.
There is something serenely chilling about the scene where Illya goes into the room of discarded homunculi. It really bring into focus how far the von Einzbern family has fallen. It is clear that the Matou family is practically a zombie with Zouken essentially being a lich via his crest worms. They have fallen so far they had to buy Sakura to get any vitality back in their bloodline. At first von Einzberns seems far more healthy but the mere fact that they hired an outsider like Kiritsugu during the 4th Holy Grail War speaks to how desperate they were getting. The fact that at this point they have decided to pool all of their efforts into one last hurrah with Illya shows that there is no much time left for them as well. Win or lose they will still stay around after this try at the Grail but if they win they will might flourish and if the lose they will only continue to rush towards destruction.
I do wonder how much this is Illya’s perspective on the burdens placed on her and how much is the objective feelings of her family as a whole. I’m fairly certain that this scene is a simple and straight forward metaphor but the idea that Ilya is an unreliable narrator is still worth entertaining.
Part of me wonders if part of the reason Sella and Leysritt are in this scene is because they might as well use their time in the recording booth to have a few lines in this episode since they appeared in the last episode. Even if that is the case I don’t mind. I love them both so a little more time with them is greatly appreciated. Plus it is not to see them during “happier” (relatively) times.
We can see that at this point any of the old Illya has been burnt away by her training. Sella, Leysritt, and her new servants are merely a means to an end. She does not even pretend not to care about her new handmaidens. She seems about as interesting in talking to any of them as most people anticipate having a long conversation with new furniture. To her Berserker is just a beast to be broken like a wild stallion not a partner you need to form a bond with.
It is amusing to see an excited and cheerful Sella. You so often think of her as the stern and cold one whose greatest joy seems to be lecturing people. To see her giddy and eager to please is an unexpected bonus.
Leysritt is always Leysritt and that is why we love her.
This is probably the most unaltered part of Illya’s history but for good reason. The shot of the small Master and the giant Servant finally coming to terms with her new companion is striking and emotional. If anything you could argue that it tries too hard to go straight for the heart-strings which can turn some people off. But I think it portrays the powerful bond between this most unlikely duo. In a way they are both noble heroes who have been driven towards madness by circumstance. Here they are able to save each other from total darkness. They are both still clearly broken but they are far stronger and more stable together. Without each other Berserker would be more like the far more bloodthirsty Lancelot and Illya would be more unfeeling like Kayneth.
Do we still love Gilgamesh after this? I know the answer to that question. The number of people who love to make gifs of Illya getting her heart ripped out says volumes. I just wanted to say that more than anything else.
The scene where Shiro is desperately trying to intervene as Rin holds him down is rather heartbreaking. Rin clearly knew this was going to happen. She even warned him about it in advance but she knows that at this point their only role is to be observers. The fact that Illya is so coldly dispatched only makes it worse.
The best part of the whole affair was probably the look on Gilgamaesh’s face when Berserker beaks free of his chains. You know for a second he realizes that he was prematurely celebrating his victory and if Berserker has just a few more second of life he would have been nothing more than stain on the floor of the castle. It is a clear sign that for all his overpowered gadgets that cover up his inadequacies the greatest weakness the King of Heroes has is his pride.
Another member of the Emiya family had a life that ends in tragedy. When Illya is grabbing on to a random piece of rubble thinking it is Berserker it does border on sadness porn. I’m sure than the had writing was on the wall even for people who did not experience the visual novel but it does not make it any less powerful.
My only big complaint would be that I wish they had Illya be a little more active during the fight. She did not really have to change the course of what happened but seeing her throw around a Zelle familiar or two would have made it seem less like she was an accessory. Glgamesh would have merely had to have one or two swords from Gate of Babylon to bat them away but they would make her seem more like the fighter we saw earlier. You can write it off as a combination of Illya’s belief in her Servant and shock but it would have been a small addition that would have made a big impression even if it changed nothing in the end.
Well if Shiro and Rin were in the frying pan before this episode they have clearly landed straight into the fire at this point. Not only have they lost their biggest potential alley but now they have an even bigger threat right on top of them.
Previous Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works posts:
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #014 – All in Good Time
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #013 – Break Your Heart
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #012 – The Empire Strikes Back
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #011 – The Silly Faces of Taiga Fujimura
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #010 – The Bushwhackers
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #009 – The Issei Strip Mahjong Game
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #008 – There’s a Shortage of Perfect Breasts in this World
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #007 – Curse Your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal!
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