ufotable has certainly stepped up to the plate with this LN adaptation. I can’t put anything on an equal footing with GC strictly in terms of visual prowess, but there’s no question that Fate/Zero is a very lavish and lovely series to look at. And while this episode was much more straightforward and simple than the first two, on balance it’s clear that we’re dealing with a very sophisticated and layered script by Urobuchi Gen. Taken mostly with the duel between Saber and Lancer, this episode was a showcase for some of the most well-animated action sequences in many a season. There wasn’t a whole lot of CG either – most of the fight appeared to be hand-drawn, reminiscent of the spear vs. sword scenes between Balsa and the Hunters in Seirei no Moribito, though a notch below and with a few more camera tricks.
The aforementioned battle was certainly a duel in more than name, as chivalrous as you can get. We already knew Saber to be Arthur, but Lancer is revealed to be Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, a famed Knight of Irish Mythology. Possessed of not one but two magic spears, plus a mole under his right eye that can make any woman (almost, not Saber) fall in love with him, he’s quite a formidable chap. There’s clearly a mutual respect between these two servants, a willingness to play by the rules, even as they strive to keep their identities secret from the other. They appear pretty much evenly matched, with Lancer getting the upper hand due to Saber’s tardiness in guessing the nature of his magical weapons.
Watching all this take place, as we know, is Rider. He too proves himself to be a chivalrous sort, thirsting for combat against great opponents but proclaiming his ideal to defeat without destroying or humiliating. That’s a pretty huge liberty taken with the actual Alexander the Great but it does make him an interesting character, and he drags hapless Waver onto the battlefield on his magic chariot, determined not to let one of the two great warriors die before he has a chance to fight them himself. With Gilgamesh likely also believing in chivalry I wonder if we’re looking at an eventual split of the servants into two different axes – it seems obvious that Assassin and Caster have no scruples, and it’s hard to imagine Berserker will either.
Of course it’s not just Rider witnessing events. Iris is standing by Saber’s side, healing her – and for that matter, Lancer’s master heals him as well. Is this an ability all masters have? Though Iris is only pretending to be a master, actually being a homunculus – but perhaps also a mage? Speaking of Lancer’s master, we finally get a look at Kayneth Archibald El-Melloi (Yamazaki Takumi), who besides having a name like an accounting firm is also the pompous teacher of Waver’s that we met in the first episode. Kiritsugu and Maiya are present as well. And they’re living up to Kiritsugu’s reputation as a “magus killer” with no battle ethics, as their goal appears to be to take out a few Masters with high-powered rifles. And the scope of Tohsaka and Kirei’s plan is becoming clear, as Kirei is using Assassin to spy on events. Pretend the servant is dead and the master is out of the game, and to use them as an extra pair of eyes to help Tohsaka and Gilgamesh? Very clever indeed.
So much has happened in three episodes that I’m hard-pressed to imagine what’s going to happen in two cours (with the second coming next year). This episode felt like it lasted about 10 minutes, it was so action-packed and fast-paced. It doesn’t feel in any way as if this story is just beginning – rather, it’s as if we’re fully immersed in a saga that could end next week without feeling rushed. Even with the premiere being 45 minutes that’s quite an accomplishment, and I’m getting the idea that Urobuchi has really created something of grand scale here.