Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 11

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This tune is strangely familiar…

It’s a weekend of farewells – Ferguson, Colbert, Mushishi – but Unlimited Blade Works is going to be with us for another cour, and even this one for another week.  In fact, like Ace of Diamond it’s going to ring out 2014 with a double-episode – though with this series, there’s just no telling whether that’s a good or a bad thing.  In hindsight I kind of wished I’d set my alarm for about 15:00 into this one, because it was only what came after that held my interest.

Unfortunately the early odd-even pattern of this series has proved unreliable, so there’s no sure way no know whether you’re going to get the good Fate or the bad in any given week.  It does seem a pretty good bet that you’re not going to get two sterling episodes back-to-back, though – it certainly hasn’t happened yet – so my expectations probably should have been more modest going into this one.  No point on harping on why when the reasons are pretty much the same every time, but I am compelled to note – this show really isn’t capable of executing humor as far as I can tell.  It’s an odd thing to say, but the more self-important and reverential the tone the better UBW seems to work.  it doesn’t come off as pretentious of precious, but dignified and substantial.  Maybe it’s because when the baseline is so far in the other direction, that highfalutin tone brings the proceedings right to Baby Bear’s Porridge levels.

So – let’s fast-forward past all the Rin vamping and Fuji-nee histrionics and just focus on what matters.  Shirou is having problems – half his body is numb, and he has no idea why.  He’s breaking dishes left and right, and has to beg off sparring with Saber.  He manages to hide it if just barely, but not from Saber’s trained eye.  It’s not Saber who gets to the root of the problem, though – no, that’s Archer, who’s stopped by to delivers Rin’s overnight bag so she can stay over and teach Shirou a lesson about magic (the one part of the first 15 minutes that was relevant being their conversation about whether he found being a mage fun in any way).

Again we venture into an area that’s dangerous to discuss, but as usual the arrival of a Servant lifts UBW’s game several levels. In the matter of a few moments Archer pretty much dissects Shirou and lays him open – the cause of his numbness, the contradiction in the life he’s choosing to lead and the approach he’s taking to the Grail War.  This is one of those grand and somber moments in Fate that really works – Archer (and Suwabe-san) absolutely nail the tone.  It works whether you know why it’s so significant or not – because of the way it’s presented, such that you know it’s significant even if you don’t know why.  It’s really good writing, the kind that this show is best suited to, and it does make you wonder how it and the material that preceded it this week could possibly be part of the same series.

What I especially like here is the way Archer frames the debate around the difference between a reason and an ideal.  This is central to the Shirou character of course – and by extension to the entire F/s n mythology – but I think it could also be applied to everyone in every Fate Grail War to some extent, Servant and Master alike.  I’ve made no secret of my distaste for Kiritsugu’s moral and ethical compass as expressed in Fate/Zero, and I won’t re-open that can of worms by dwelling on it now.  But if one were to look at Kiritsugu (as he was in F/Z) and Shirou as being moral/ethical polar opposites, that makes Archer’s perspective an especially fascinating one – and it’s when UBW focuses on questions of this nature that it’s at its very best.

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  1. D

    It's interesting to see just how different Shirou and Kiritsugu are despite sharing the same childish ambition. That difference also reflects on Saber's face when she hears Shirou talk about "what kind of mage" his father was, and I find those moments especially meaningful. I do wonder if the writers had a general concept of Kiritsugu down when F/NS was being made, or if he's entirely a product of Urobuchi, and written specifically to showcase how the path of a "hero of justice" is filled with all kinds of atrocities.

    On a slightly unrelated note, I decided to rewatch F/Z in the past few weeks and also read your reviews after each episode (since I wasn't a reader of yours back then and I was curious to see what you thought of it). It was really interesting to read and dare I say your posts made the entire show even more interesting and enjoyable. So this is a little late, but thank you for blogging that show. I'm glad I found this site.

  2. Thank you, Del – that's very kind of you to say. As for F/Z I must say I ultimately found it disappointing – as usually with Urobuchi shows – but it certainly had some fantastic peaks.

  3. N

    Nope, Kiritsugu wasn't a product of Urobuchi Gen, although he fit that writer perfectly. the story that established Kiritsugu's character was the Heaven's Feel route where Shirou has to choose between following in his footsteps (and in one Bad End he becomes just like him) or taking another dark path.

  4. D

    @Enzo Agreed. The journey was definitely more interesting than the destination.

    @Nayrael Ah, I see. HF is the only route I never finished, and so I wasn't aware of that. I should probably play through it before the movie comes out.

  5. S

    Lol people seem to not understand how little relevance Gen Urobuchi has on the Fate series as a whole Fate Zero already practically existed as backstory to Fate Stay Night all that Gen did was execute a story that was already set up for him and fill in the blanks, though an amazing job at that he did.

  6. C

    Up until now the anime is a pretty good and respectable effort from ufotable, but it doesn't make me feel anything like I did when I read the route. By leaving out the monologues and all the small observations Shiro makes, they've left a huge void in this adaptation. The fact they've chosen to emphasize the frivolous, comedic and waifu elements of F/SN over Shiro's moral maturation is just… disappointing. In hindsight, Fate/Zero really spoiled us.

  7. N

    Unfortunately, monologues are hard to execute, especially when 80% of the game are Shirou's monologues. For example, you can't just suddenly have Shirou start speaking in himself for ten straight minutes. VN fans might be happy, but others would get tired of it quickly. I am baffled that so many people think there would have been many monologues: unlike textual mediums, screens are not as friendly.

    For most part, I think ufotable did a good job: most important parts of Shirou's psyche have been made clear to everyone and even non-VN readers can understand what is going on with him. Most of what was actually lost is something that only hardcore fans would care about.

  8. C

    No offense, but people who say monologues don't work on TV need to watch more anime. See: Oregairu. Imagine that adaptation without Hachiman's infamous "I hate nice girls" monologue.

  9. G

    Its been a while since we have seen the little girl and her Berzerker servant. Wonder what they have been up to these past few episodes?

  10. Kudos to ufotable. If I never see her again it'd be too soon.

  11. R

    I also find that as soon as Archer walked in, the episode changed to a more engaging scene and conversation, so I guess I could have skipped the first half. Saber's reaction to Shirou's description of Kiritsugu is also interesting, knowing the impression that she had on him.

  12. m

    I don't know if Shirou and Kiritsugu are necessarily polar moral/ethical opposites. The undeniably have very different ways of putting their beliefs into practical application, but at their core they have the same notion of sacrificing their own happiness for what they believe is right. Shirou in a more literal sacrifice his body way, and Kiritsugu in a more emotional sacrifice the things he cares about/any semblance of being a good person. Even if you go back to the F/Z (and I think originally F S/N) line about how Kiritsugu was saved when he found Shirou alive (as absurd of an idea as it that is) it comes down to Kiritsugu finally directly saving a life instead of "saving" lives by taking lives. It feels like Shirou is more of the next step continuation of his adoptive father's ideals. Whether or not you agree with it, and for better or worse, F/Z went out of the way to emphasize the fact that Kiritsugu at his core was a man who believed in his ideals more than most, and was willing to sacrifice anything for those beliefs, and even though it was illogical and misguided (and frankly just flat out absurd) he at least had the (somewhat) redeeming quality of actually holding true to his beliefs where most ppl falter when the chips are down. These are exactly the same qualities that Shirou posses and that make the foundation of his ideals. While they differ wildly in terms of willingness to harm others, it is more of a progression from one to the next. You start with killing the few to save the many, doing whatever it takes to save innocent people from bad people, or whatever sophism you want to use to explain F/Z Kiritsufu's beliefs that all end up at the expense of his soul/happiness/sense of goodness. Then he learns the ridiculousness of that type of "logic" (which side note was prob the least thought out part of F/Z. The argument used to show his way of thinking was incorrect. there were countless better and more obvious ways, but that's irrelevant) so the next progression becomes Shirou's equally obsessive and naïve notion of self sacrifice in the name of what he believes is right. I think that is what makes the story so great. There's this sense of interconnection between father and son, and while Shirou's beliefs have aspects that are so opposite they feel like an overcorrection they still feel like they have the same basic flaws in their reasoning and the exact same redeeming dedication to their beliefs. The more the story focuses on the idea of Shirou becoming a hero because his father couldn't, and the more he struggles with the same problems, the better I think the Fate story is as a whole. For all of it's flaws (which there are many) they do a great job of tying things together nicely, and when you look at the details things seem to become stronger rather than falling apart like most stories.

  13. m

    To elaborate just a little on the last point, you can see how the differences in their beliefs stem from the tragedies of their childhood. For Kiritsugu it seemed to teach him that he can never be a hero, and that all he can do is whatever it takes to save however many people he can, no matter the cost. Shirou's tragedy however ended up in him being saved. So not only is there the survivors guilt, but you also have him grasping at the notion that there are heroes out there, and that you can save people by only sacrificing yourself. Even if you don't like either belief (and I don't think either are necessarily supposed to be viewed as right or wrong), you can't deny that they are real beliefs that many people in the world hold. The difference is the people who think it's ok to kill "evil" people, sacrifice the few for the many, never kill anyone and always protect others, or sacrifice themselves for others don't actually believe in it enough to go out and practice it in dangerous situations (thankfully). At least the vast majority don't.

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