Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 07

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ufotable sure makes great-looking CGI look easy.  So why can’t everybody do it?

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.

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  1. g

    "and the dialogue almost poetic.

    That's one way to put it, with lines such as: "I don't know who he is, but to hold Saber at bay he must be a master swordsman indeed." and "I should hardly call him a hero if he failed to stop the likes of you."

    I'd persoally go for "Sophomoric" and "over-wrought".

    I did like the continuation of the utilitarianism versus idealism with Shirou and everyone else, even if it belied a colossal lack of introspection (which is part of the point), but the lines were terrible, if they weren't half-intended as self-parody.

    Show's definitely beautiful though.

  2. J

    Well at the end of the day it is ultimately text from an eroge written well over a decade again. It's sort of kind of interesting, but poetic? Yeah I really don't know about that one at all, it's pretty ham and straight forward. I mean you take away fanservice which this show really doesn't have all that much of anyway really and it's still all pretty otaku heavy material and rather straight forward heroism commentary to me. Maybe I just have more experience with this sort of material in general I don't know, but I've yet to find anything particularly extra special in either of the two Fate series scripts that I've seen so far to date that would make me want to lavish it with the kind of praise some people give it.

    That's not to call the script poorly handled, I'm just failing to see the masterful dialogue and riveting commentary that's going to make me think extra special hard about the show I'm watching. I wouldn't even call it pretentious like some people say about Type/Moon, it's really just kind of….I don't know…I keep coming back to straight forward outside of all the jargony stuff but there's nothing especially complex about any of it to me.

  3. R

    If you take away fanservice from TypeMoon, you might as well stop calling it TypeMoon at all.
    Saber would be hairy man without the moe ahoge hair and Rin wouldn't wear a skirt.

  4. R

    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.

    Action is still impressive. And I would agree that this series is at its best whenever they leave out those annoying elements. The series also feels more compelling whenever it ties its themes with that of F/Z, creating a more engaging whole. Though I ams still waiting for that momen where the series really starts to give more weight to the premise of people fighting over an artifact that can practically be used to rule the world.

  5. K

    Yeah assassin also reminded me of Lancer. I like his character a lot. I just hope he gets a better end.

  6. D

    Fate in general, and this series specifically really do shine when all the moe-moe fanservice is left behind. It was always a bitter sort of element for me as a fan of the VN, having these stories padded out with endless blushing scenes, harem parades and "ooooni-chan!'-s. With TM working on a Tsukihime remake, I wonder if they can abandon all the fanservice and truly focus on what makes both it and F/SN great. And if the answer is yes, can we expect Fate to get similar treatment in the future?

  7. S

    I think that Caster summoned Assassin who should be a Saber as Assassin due to the innate concealment boosts assassin class servants get. He was able to be summoned this way due to his swordplay revolving around methods that attempt to kill in the least amount of moves which is very much like an assassin. This ties in to what Archer said about him being assassin class but not a true assassin.

  8. R

    I think what makes Shirou's journey very interesting is how he is entirely self-aware of his own hypocrisies and contradictions.

  9. R

    >budgeted hard sci-fi or mecha series


  10. Sure, that would have been great, as one example.

  11. E

    I think they are playing safe. By adapting a series who already has world wide hardcore fans. They really need the money, to pay all the CGI artists.

  12. A

    I think my biggest surprise this episode was the fact that, against all odds, those massive arm guards/gloves Saber always wears were not actually decoration!

  13. The forearm guard is a hugely important part of traditional Western suits of armor.

  14. E

    Japanese swordsmanship versus European swordsmanship.
    It's something that you can't get from the visual novel.
    Great job, ufotable. Great job.

  15. o

    I don't want to be 'that guy', but budget is really not as important as you might think it is in making good animation. No doubt ufotable has quite a bit of money to work on this, but the more important part to creating good, consistent animation is almost always good scheduling. Having a lot of really good animators (and the money to pay them) also helps, but if the scheduling is bad and things aren't getting animated, checked and fixed properly due to time constraints its pretty obvious the end product isn't going to end up looking very good.

    Take a look at a show like SnK, it had a pretty large budget but its pretty obvious from the long recaps, off model cuts, reused assets and the ridiculously long credit lists that things weren't going very well at all production wise (that's not to say it didn't have some impressive cuts, which it certainly did). They were literally hiring hundreds of animators every week who couldn't actually do anything because of how rushed everything was. That aside, the fact the director had to apologize about the quality of the show says a lot.

    So basically having more money doesn't necessarily equate to having a better looking show. ufotable has a lot of money, yes, but what's more important is that they know how to use that money and give their staff the time they need to make the show look good.

    Sorry for the rant, its just that its a bit annoying see people think that F/SN (and a lot of other shows) are better looking because they have more budget. Good looking shows can be made on small budgets (look no further than ufotable's own manabi straight, which was probably one of the best looking SoL of 2007 but broke even with an average of 2300 sales per volume) and shows with big budgets can still look bad (e.g SnK, KLK).

    Uh, but on topic, this episode was probably the best of the show so far. I have a feeling things will only get better from here on out.
    (I think this was my first comment on here after lurking for about a year, haha)

  16. D

    It was definitely a good post! So a show needs a good scheduling as well, didn't think it needed it as much but I can see your point. I wonder how you can transplant that to the other studios…

  17. K

    Can you make a spoiler review? I want your perspective in that are.

  18. Interesting idea. But honestly, the depth and breadth of my knowledge probably isn't great enough to make that worthwhile.

  19. Z

    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.

    Good call. Lancer/Kayneth Arc was a highlight for me in F/Z too.

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