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…