As ever Fate/stay night follows up an action-packed episode with a mostly talky one, but this was the best of its type since UBW began this run. There were a couple of conversations here that rose to the level of genuinely interesting, and the reliance on trope-driven comedy was relatively restrained. If all of the even-numbers episodes are at this level, Unlimited Blade Works is going to be in pretty good shape.
The first of those interesting conversations is between Archer and Shirou, as the former is accompanying the latter home under orders from Rin. This would be interesting solely for reasons that I won’t discuss out of deference to new viewers, but even if one knew nothing of either character’s background beyond what UBW has shown us I still think this scene works – which for me is the standard every anime adaptation should be held to (though many Type-Moon enthusiasts disagree with me).
Archer’s perspective on the Grail War is a bit of a revelation for Shirou – someone who’s in this game for something other than personal gain? It doesn’t compute because Shirou simply doesn’t have the information he needs to understand why this is possible, but he clearly files this news away for future reference. Archer’s presence itself is interesting in its possible permutations as regards all three principals involved (Rin being the third).
This episode is also about slotting more of the second-tier characters into place, and in fact most of the important ones (and all of the Servants) have now made their entrance. After a day of sigil-hunting at school by Shirou and Rin, the Master who placed them reveals himself unbidden – and it’s Shinji of course, who’s paired up with Rider. I’m not a fan of Shinji’s cartoon sneering or of Kamiya Hiroshi’s mannered performance but this an important piece of the puzzle. The last two Servants reveal themselves as well – Caster (Tanaka Atsuo) in a late-night attempt to strip Shirou of his command seals, and Assassin (the always spot-on Shinichirou Miki) – the legendary Japanese swordsman Sasaki Koujiro – who appears to be in-league with her. Of their relationship and their Masters little more can be discussed here without spoilers. Saber senses trouble and arrived to help, though Assassin foils her intentions – it’s only the timely arrival of Archer with an entirely unconvincing “I just happened to be passing by” that saves the night.
I suppose what more or less ties all this together is what ties this story together generally, which is Shirou’s slow journey from what he was to what he will become. It’s a hard education he’s receiving but every crash course – be it an attempt on his life or a training session in the dojo with Saber – fills in a piece of the puzzle he’s putting together, a picture of a world far more dangerous and sinister than he knew existed. What’s also being slowly revealed is that Shirou is neither a fool or a slouch in the Mage department – he’s more like a rough stone that’s being slowly polished, albeit in mostly rather painful ways.