The answer, of course, is that it isn’t this easy – not remotely. That and the fact that the budget for these Type-Moon adaptations is off the charts, of course (that doesn’t hurt a bit either). I really wish this studio took on more high-profile series that weren’t part of the T-M family – I’d love to see what they could do with a lavishly budgeted hard sci-fi or mecha series, for example. You need budget to make great action scenes look as smooth as they do with this show, but you need artistry too – and ufotable clearly has that in droves.
I’m not only here to praise the studio, though – like all the odd-numbered episodes, this week’s Unlimited Blade Works was an action extravaganza. But this was the best one yet – the best ep in either F s/n TV anime by a good margin, and on-par with most of the better episodes of Fate/Zero. The action was stupendous, obviously – that’s a given (though it was especially beautiful to watch this time). But the writing was crisp and concise – though practically pulling a facial muscle from winking at the core audience so often – and the dialogue almost poetic.
It’s like a miracle – when you strip away the pandering and tropes from a Fate series in ufotable’s hands, you get something truly exceptional. Comparing a masterwork like this to, say, Episode 4 is to me like watching the transformation of King Theoden in The Two Towers. It’s like the writing is liberated, a miasma cleared from the room, all that waifu bullshit and mugging for the camera leaving behind a lean and powerful story. When stripped to its essential core the Fate saga has a sense of grand scale and tragedy to it, something for which “Fate” could hardly be a more apt title.
At this point it becomes very difficult indeed to talk about the episode without venturing into spoiler territory for those who don’t know the hidden meaning of stuff like Caster’s assessment of her opponents. I’ll just say I love the permutations of the Servants and their strategic thinking. Caster reveals that she’s actually summoned Assassin herself, a seeming violation of the rules (Archer declares that rather than summoning Assassin she’s summoned an “Assassin-class Servant”, which is an interesting distinction). Archer reveals that he’s actually planning to let Caster continue to harvest the souls of the local residents, in support of the larger goal of taking out Berserker so he doesn’t have to do it himself. The cherry on top? He also says Rin wouldn’t approve – which is why he’s impatient for Caster to get her act together and suck enough souls to take out Berserker.
All I can really say about the Archer-Shirou dynamic is that it’s a fascinating one, whatever you may know about them. It seems pretty clear that if Archer had truly wanted to kill Shirou, he could have – though Saber chalks it up to Shirou’s good combat instincts (she does like to soothe his battered ego at the same time she mends his battered body). This dynamic is perhaps the most interesting element of the UBW storyline, both for reasons I can and can’t mention. Fundamentally this story revolves around Shirou’s idealism and whether it’s a realistic path, in a Grail War or in life. “You don’t want victory, you want peace.” Archer sneers at him derisively. “and peace doesn’t exist in this world.” Is what Shirou believes hypocrisy, as Archer contents – or is it indeed something pure?
Perhaps my favorite fight this week was between Saber and Assassin, who for me fills something of the same character niche Lancer (who was my favorite character) did in F/Z. It was a really spectacular display in pure visual (and aural) terms for starters, with Sasaki Kojirou’s exquisite Ganryuu swordsmanship matched against Saber’s classical European style. And of course, it’s been proved by Stephen Hawking and scientists at Cambridge that Miki Shinichirou is incapable of being in a scene without improving it by an order of magnitude. Watching the two of these heroes square off is really, in my mind, the essence of what makes Fate cool – gorgeous animation, the clash of East and West, the tragedy of noble souls being plucked from history to serve at the convenience of, well – fate. As far as UBW goes it just doesn’t get much better than this – and it’s just as much a function of what’s removed from the story as what’s added to it.