Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 10

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And just like that, the switch is flipped…

It’s hard to believe that in any season Unlimited Blade Works could be only the second-most maddeningly up-and-down series, but so it is this Fall. No, in first place would be Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an anime that could be so simultaneously sublime and awful to that extent.  It’s unique. And I don’t mean from one ep to the next, or scene, or even moment.  In the same moment.

That’s not to say that UBW isn’t an incredibly frustrating watch, though – it’s just that the extreme highs aren’t so sublime and the lows so viscerally nauseating as they are with Shigatsu.  As well, I think the key to the puzzle with UBW is pretty straightforward, and I can sum it up in one word – dignity.  There are others things that make the stellar episodes stellar, obviously – the superb action sequences, the sense of scope, the moral and ethical ambiguity – but dignity is the catalyst.  It’s always present in good eps, and always absent in the bad ones.

I think it’s human nature after an episode as excellent as this one to lament the fact that there are so many mediocre ones, but by now I’ve accepted that as the lay of the land.  Still, I’m always glad when UBW gets down to brass tacks, and always glad I stuck around to watch it.  It had everything you’d want from this series – great fights, Rin in quietly thoughtful rather than waifu mode, Saber allowed to be dignified (that word again), and Shirou being badass.  And of course, almost no Shinji.

It had something else too, which is the formal introduction of a Master who single-handedly raises the water level in that pool.  Generally speaking the masters in UBW are a weakness, but Kuzuki-sensei is another matter.  He is, yes, dignified – but he’s also someone who doesn’t twirl his moustache or mug for the camera.  He scowls, goes about his business, and when his cover is blown he opens up a can of whupass on anyone in range of his fists of fury.  The scene where Shirou confronts him is one of the best in the series, because it reflects Shirou’s idealistic hope that this man he admires (and even more, that his best friend loves) doesn’t have to be an enemy.  And it shows Kuzuki’s hard and unsentimental view of his role both in the world and the Grail War.  It’s really good stuff.

The scene that follows is top shelf as well, as it shows off Kuzuki in action and, in doing so, represents a watershed moment for Shirou.  The action is up to ufotable’s usual high standard, and the choreography is excellent.  You get an idea of just how formidable Kuzuki is when you see Caster caught off-guard by the opposition, but Kuzuki able to best all three of them without breaking much of a sweat.  It’s only when Shirou’s desperation inspires him to heights he didn’t know he could reach, using projection to create a pair blades similar to the ones he sees Caster using in his mind’s eye.  He’s as surprised as Rin by this, as it transcends anything he’d ever been able to achieve, but it’s what allows him to land a blow on Kuzuki and leave him open to a sneak attack by Saber, forcing Caster to rescue him and the pair of them to retreat to the temple.

There’s a lot of subtext in this moment, of course.  Rin is visibly disturbed and very intent in considering the meaning of what she’s just witnessed.  But at that moment the episode switches gears for its final act, showing us the new Servant that Kotomine has paired Shinji up with – Gilgamesh, who we haven’t seen in what feels like months.  This is an obvious mismatch in every sense, but Gil is as always interesting in his sinister way.  He tells Shinji an interesting story, of how he chose ten slaves with the intent to kill one of them but ends up being unable to kill any.  Why?  Because in Gil’s old world, every one of them has some essential value.  In Gilgamesh’s eyes this new world is overrun with the superfluous – and little offends his sensibilities more.  It’s a rather chilling moment, though of course that’s entirely lost on Shinji – and Gilgamesh’s ability to deliver quietly chilling moments is every bit as welcome as Kuzuki’s dignified, stone-cold bad-assery.

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  1. s

    So, unless I'm missing something, why in the world would Rin decide to go into this battle alone, without her archer? She's used a command spell to restrain bad behaviour, and she needs to take out caster and master, who much was unknown till he did game-set-match. That's not inexperience, that's pure absurdity. I can only hope that the reason for this is tangible enough not to appear plot-contrived, But this UBW we're talking about being yoyo-ish between episodes.

    Kuzuki's performance did give a Fate-Zero's flavour that was indeed glorious to watch. A master whose planning/calculation with a somewhat laidback-but-intense demeanour spoke volumes of how to do a character without showing much. And it made me appreciate just how much leeway i was giving the new guys all in the name of "experience".

    Shiro's projection just-in-time sequence was one that I was not expecting. Of course they're been foreshadowing his gravitation toward's Archer's style and approach, but to project the first thing that comes to your mind in a life-or-death situation is a good way to showing his tendencies to archer go way deeper than he's willing to admit.

    All in all, it can only get better, afterall, Gilgamesh (another experienced player) is about to enter the game. Try leaving your servant at home this time around.

  2. S

    She did not use a command seal to restrain bad behaviour she made him fell compelled to obey her just that nothing more and she made it so he does not attack Saber and Shirou, you may not have noticed Rin's distrust not only because of the way he makes suggestions but how he brings up Caster and the unsure way he's been behaving since he met her…

  3. P

    I'll try not to spoil, but if you've watched Fate Zero, you'll remember that archer class servants have a skill called "independant action" which, among other things, allow them to act independantly from their masters, take initiatives and even disobey him. See what happened to Tokiomi when Gilgamesh started to find him boring and decided to befriend Kotomine and you can see that there are reasons to be cautious with an archer as servant and what Archer said about Caster should be enough to be even more cautious.

  4. D

    I just took that as good characterization. Honestly telling me that makes me dislike Fate all the more now that there's just one more dumb name and technicality slapped on to what otherwise should be good writing, not a rule to abide.

  5. S

    Independent action only allows them to stay for a prolonged period of time without a source of mana it does not effect their personality so Gilga's choices were entirely his own archers are just good for a short time(typically a couple days) without a mana source.

  6. S

    Lol what…? There were absolutely no spoilers there so why has it removed makes no sense but sure blog administrator apparently you see something I don't…

  7. s

    @ Smith Dummer: Oh yeah, that's true, now that you mention it. My point is she could have easily died as a result of all these individual inconveniences/contexts leading up her going "servantless" if not for shiro. And that's not really something you want to be banking on based on the mind of a mage.

    @ Pierre Arnould: I remember that well. I read that off as more of a quirk a personality like gilgamesh would use rather than an active state. But it seems it can work both ways. The concept of archer trying to manipulate toshaka to the point of her keeping him at bay is interesting given that she saw how he became a heroic spirit, even though we don't know what exactly. Its that kind of nuance that I like in character interactions.

  8. S

    Well Rin is quite confident as a mage and Saber is suppose to be the better servant at least close-combat wise. Yeah she probably should have brought Archer but she didn't seem to think much of Kuzuki even if he was the master she couldn't have expected that Kuzuki ass whooping and Saber has high anti magic so Caster is not a good match. At the end of the day it comes down to a lack of information on Rin's part leading her to underestimate the scenario…

  9. s

    Exactly. She's confident to pull out mind games with little info – giving Saber magic resistance before the battle worked well since caster being long distance wouldn't have time to adjust before saber closed in on kuzuki. Another case of being caught off guard.

    That aside, have we seen lancer's master? He's been off radar all this while, and I'm hoping he's just as experienced or battle savvy than the younglins, though lancer did call him a coward at some point.

    I'm guessing three days hasn't passed for berserker.

  10. R

    Wow! This was definitely a fun one. While not as breath-taking as the Berserker fight, this battle with Kuzuki was really good. I'll agree with semoju that this had a bit of a Fate Zero-ish vibe to it. My only real complaint is that Shirour only revealing now that he already mastered projection kinda felt a bit forced.

    And yeah, I am still not fond of Shinji.

  11. A

    It's kind of amusing how ineffective Rin's become. I mean, she hasn't really done… well, anything! She screws up her summoning, gets stomped by Lancer, Saber, Illya and Berserker, lets Shirou get away just to be saved by him from Rider, misses Shinji's life draining field entirely and is rendered completely useless inside it, stops using Archer altogether and then gets roflstomped by Kuzuki to show for it, even with the benefit of an ambush!

    I'm surprised Shirou didn't come back to life as a zombie, because that is literally the only thing Rin has done right in her entire route so far. Don't get me wrong, I like that the show went out of their way to make Shirou look competent, but not at the expense of Rin's dignity– in more ways than one.

    …oh, I think you meant "Archer's blades" not Caster's.

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