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.