Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 08

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Like the wheel of life, the artistic fortunes of any Fate series are forever turning.

This wasn’t an awful episode of Unlimited Blade Works by any means, but it certainly paled in comparison with last week’s sterling effort.  Any series with an ensemble cast is going to rise and fall depending on where the cameras are focused to some degree, but the swings seem especially wide with this one.  With most of the more compelling (and equally importantly, least annoying) characters like Archer, Assassin and Gilgamesh nowhere to be found, all that screen time had to flow somewhere.

I’m no huge fan of Tohsaka Rin, I’ll be the first to admit that – even as tsundere acts go I never found hers particularly appealing (switch one letter around and you’d be getting closer, but it’s not quite that bad).  But as long as she’s not being used to ladle out the waifu BS too liberally she’s tolerable, and apart from a couple of short bursts she wasn’t too out of control here.  But Shinji, on the other hand – there’s a special level of hell reserved for characters this annoying, and Kamiya Hiroshi’s performance is a big part of the problem.  With a character this badly written it’s hard to tell where the culpability line exists, but Kamiya is certainly an accomplice at the very least.  He’s one of those actors that can be very good in the right role, but a disaster in the wrong one – and who lands in the wrong one far too often.

Any episode that Shinji plays this big a role in (thankfully there aren’t many) is starting the game three touchdowns behind, and this one never quite catches up.  There are some cute moments with Shirou and Saber sparring in the dojo, and especially interesting is her irritation at the fact that he seems to have chosen to adopt Archer’s style rather than her own (must…not…say…more…).  And indeed, when fate presents him with an opportunity (indeed, a necessity) to show his progress later, we see a lot of Archer in Shirou’s combat techniques.  This continues a trend we’ve been seeing for a while, as Shirou’s formidability is slowly revealed not to have been absent, but rather dormant.

It’s Rin who’s probably seen more of that growth than anyone else, and she’s understandably and obviously feeling rather conflicted about it – in her defense she has a wide array of reasons to feel conflicted about Shirou becoming strong.  When Shinji’s plot (or rather, the plot which uses Shinji – and Rider – as dupes) brings near-catastrophe to the school, she’s again taken aback to see Shirou so calm and level-headed in the face of widespread casualties.  As he tells her, though, Shirou is “used to seeing lots of bodies” – a reminder that he’s not the naif she sometimes seems to convince herself that he is.

With Rider having fallen victim to the aforementioned plot, things are both clearer and more cloudy.  Who Caster’s master (hey, that rhymes) is still hasn’t been revealed, but there’s another master in the school somewhere.  It’s also worth noting that both Rin and Shirou have used one of their remaining command seals in the last day – Rin to keep Archer from attacking Shirou again, and Shirou to summon Saber’s assistance at school (that being the only way to get through the Bounded Field). It seems to me that if you can’t take out a master or servant outright, getting them to use one of their command seals is a pretty good consolation prize – and with one servant down and two more command seals used up, someone out there in this Grail War is having a pretty good day…

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  1. K

    Have to disagree with you about Kamiya's performance as Shinji. Don't get me wrong Shinji is annoying and I dislike the character but he is supposed to be annoying and Kamiya plays him perfectly. Not seeing how he was miscast here.

    What I didn't like about this episode is it taking place almost entirely in the school. While it was a serious situation, the school setting lessens the impact for me. It feels too insular.

  2. G

    I'm with Kim, I don't consider his role bad at all. He is supposed to be an arrogant and yet sniveling weasel of a master.

  3. He sounds like a 40 year-old man trying to sound like a sniveling teenager. Yes, the part is pretty awful to begin with, but for me Kamiya is just a trainwreck here.

  4. w

    Well, it is not that Shinji is badly written, there are actual reasons why Shinji is the way he is. He was actually Shirou's friend at one point, but he went bad along the years (something that is only shown fully in the next route, but looking at Zero it is easy to know that Matou family is not the best place to be raised.)

    That doesn't make him less of a human waste, of course.

  5. D

    I always felt that Shinji as a character was taken just a slgith step too far. I understand who he is and what he's supposed to be like, and sure, I buy it. But if they just dialed his cartoony persona down even a tiny bit, he would've played out way better.

  6. Yes, this is the essence of it on the nose – I'd just say they needed to go quite a bit more than a tiny bit…

  7. N

    I think that some VNs/harems can't bear to give the self insert male MC a credible male rival lest it threaten the audience's manliness

  8. A

    Hm… I'm so used to Shinji's voice that I didn't really think about it. I can't really tell if I like his performance or not– it just exists. It wasn't distracting, if that's what you meant.

    As for his comedically evil personality… I gotta go with GE. Just because there is an explanation for it, that doesn't take away the fact that he's designed to be a disposable mini-boss for the sake of the plot.

    Come to think of it, we're this far into the game and I haven't seen a single master that doesn't want to kill at least 6 other people and win the grail just for the funsies. Not that I blame the author for it, I mean, it's complicated to cram in other people's backstories from a first person perspective. I just find it kind of amusing that we have yet to hear a single wish from anybody other than Saber.

  9. While I don't hold any Fate scenario up to F/Z in terms of character (that's Urobuchi's influence, love him or hate him) I think by far the biggest gap is with the masters. The servants are for the most part the more interesting characters in UBW, but the masters are broadly speaking a bore or worse. Urobuchi really did manage to make the masters a far more engaging group.

  10. R

    Yeah, even for the "disposable" Masters in F/Z like Kayneth (F/Z Lancer's master) and Uryu (F/Z Caster), Urobuchi did make their stories and interactions with their Servants interesting. In here, I am rather disappointed. We didn't even get see the relationship between Shinji and Rider at all before she is killed off for the plot.

  11. M

    Must… Resist… Spoilers!!

    What I will say though is that unlike Fate/Zero, Stay Night is made up of three routes which means what you don't get in one route, you'll get in the other. Luckily, most of the really important stuff is in UBW and whatever was important in Fate can be added to the anime here and of course Heaven's Feel is getting a series of movie adaptions.

  12. R

    Honestly, I am getting tired of the "But FSN has three different routes" reasoning. I already get that. But that really doesn't take away from the fact that this UBW needs to stand as its own story independent of the other routes (in much the same way that the upcoming Heaven's Feel movie needs to stand up on its own). After all, it's only the UBW series that we are concerned here, nothing elese.

  13. D

    @Roger I don't think anyone is arguing against that. It's just that depending on which route the series takes, some characters can range from vastly important to almost irrelevant background props. And while Shinji specifically isn't exactly the shining beacon of well-written characterization, I personally think that having this rather dramatic cast difference between routes is one of the VNs bigger selling points. It doesn't just feel like a rehash of the same thing 3 times over.

    If we're talking purely from an anime standpoint, then yes, it would've been nice to have the whole Rider/Shinji side of things fleshed out. But I don't see how them being discarded takes anything away from the series quality overall.

  14. R

    Yeah, I forget to mention that we are solely talking about the anime here. And my concern is not that they were discarded, but we practically knew nothing about them before they were taken off the game. Heck we don't even know what Shinji's wish is and why the heck is he even participating in the Grail War. Those could have at least lent in some weight to the whole premise.even if Shinji's presence is short.

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