I had originally planned to cover this episode as part of a digest post today, but in the end it didn’t seem right to cover UBW in the same mode as those other series. Whatever issues I have with the franchise – and they’re considerable – this is a series that in ufotable’s hands is simply in another weight class. It would be like serving Kobe beef and In-N-Out french fries on the same plate. Not everyone likes Kobe beef and In-N-Out fries are tasty, but that just isn’t a good fit.
I’m very conflicted about whether to cover this series for a number of reasons. Most simply because I do indeed have major issues with the material itself, which I’ve communicated at length already. In addition to the fact that it’s a bit of an empty shell in my view, the entire structure is built around certain philosophical principles that I don’t remotely agree with (and the brief appearance of Kiritsugu only brings that realization back home).
But Kiritsugu is also a reminder of the other reason why I’m hesitant to cover Unlimited Blade Works. In a vacuum there’s certainly enough that’s worthwhile to justify blog it – interesting but flawed series can be among the most rewarding to write about. But the truth is, Type-Moon generally and Fate specifically are not fanbases that take well to any criticism of the material whatsoever. The fans who feel that way may not be the majority but they are the loudest, and they turned coverage of Fate/Zero (a series which I think is on the whole better than this one is likely to be, because Urobuchi’s ability to round out the characters makes a real difference) into a vitriolic sideshow. And they’ve already made their presence felt with the premiere of UBW last week.
So in deciding whether to cover this series I’m forced to ask – is it really worth dealing with all that again for a series I like, but don’t love? The answer, sadly, is probably not – covering F/Z was a fucking nightmare by the time it limped across the finish line and given that any future coverage of UBW is very likely to contain both praise and criticism on my part, there seems no way that scenario wouldn’t repeat itself. This issue isn’t unique to Type-Moon, certainly – there’s an element of it in every insanely popular franchise – but this happens to be one of the few insanely popular franchises in which I have enough interest to consider blogging it.
That’s a shame, because for all its warts, in a vacuum UBW would almost certainly make my blogging cut based on its merits. The fight scenes are sure to be glorious – they certainly were this week, brief as they were – and there are long stretches in-between the bouts of unvarnished pandering when the series has a kind of quiet dignity that I quite like. This episode brought the full-scale introduction of Emiya Shirou (Sugiyama Noriaki, who I’ve always thought was badly miscast here) the character everyone loves to hate but (ironically) I don’t really mind. He forms one of the moral centers of Fate, but I’ve always felt he was a bit of a narrative straw man – a naif set up to make it easy for the franchise to rip his belief system to shreds, which it ultimately needs to do in order to justify its story. Someone has to be the fall guy the audience hates on in shows like this, I suppose, but I always thought Shirou was the sacrificial lamb in both the internal narrative and external presentation of the Fate mythology.
As for the other major introduction of the week, this route’s Saber (Kawasumi Ayako) I’ve been pretty plain about what I consider her role to be so there’s no need to rehash it. She’s certainly fun to watch in combat, at least. The first two eps have been classic introductions, in fact, but the story is about to get bigger as the real meat of it begins to play out. There’s going to be some good stuff there, as always – whatever meat there is on these bones I’m sure ufotable will serve it up in appetizing fashion. I’m not closing any doors yet – we’ll see how this version of the story fares in the hands of a studio who can make the best of it. Maybe they’ll surprise me and come up with something so compelling that I don’t have any choice but to stick with it.