Fittingly, the season finale of Unlimited Blade Works is a microcosm of everything the series is as a whole. Irritating, pandering, visually stunning, gripping, and too long. I really wonder if this adaptation would have been better served to be a single cour, given all the dross layered through it that could have been filtered out. The odd thing is that all of the Fate adaptations have been too long, even the basically anime-original Fate/Zero – which suffered considerably over it’s last run of episodes.
In any event, this double-episode mirrored last week’s in that the first fifteen minutes were a complete waste of time. The difference is that at least here we had a good episode-plus worth of material left over once things actually groaned into action. And just as with last week, it was when the servants took center-stage that things really turned the corner. In this instance it was Caster, who – while certainly qualifying as the villain of the piece based on the first cour – is quite a bit more nuanced than Urobuchi’s take on the character.
Taking Fujimura as a hostage, though… I was literally yelling “Please, for the love of God – kill her!” at the screen, but I suppose to persuade a kid like Shirou is was a sensible ploy. That was an interesting confrontation, with Shirou remaining true to himself for better or for worse. He could never agree to serve Caster because of her “methods” – which is a quintessentially Shirou thing to say – but in the end, his purity gets him nowhere as Caster manages to make Saber her puppet. And after doing so ordering her new servant to kill Rin – though it’s Shirou who takes the blow for her.
The whole Master-Servant thing gets pretty complicated in UBW, arguably too much so in my opinion – and in no figure is this more plainly illustrated than with Caster. She may nominally be Kozuki-sensei’s servant, but in her own mind at least she’s pulling all the strings – her master’s, her servant Assassin’s (what sweet agony to have have Miki-san as Koujiro’s appearances in this series be as brief as they are), now Saber’s, the other masters. She declares that she can summon the Grail without following the normal rules – she reveals her Noble Phantasm to be “Rule Breaker”, fittingly – and goes to the church to confront Kirei and talks of the “Lesser Grail” she wants to summon before turning her nasties against the Priest. Kirei can take care of himself, so he gets no sympathy from me.
One thing I quite liked about Urobuchi’s take on the Grail War is that he managed to get pretty much everyone involved, and in the F/s n variations there tends to be an extreme focus on a few characters and very little on everyone else for long stretches. This first cour was all preamble, of course, and many of those almost non-existent characters who showed up in the last five minutes of this episode will have their role to play in the second – but their lack of development makes it harder for someone who’s not a rabid follower of the franchise to really care what happens to them later. That was another difference between F/Z and the other anime incarnations, I suppose – that Gen was not only free to write for the medium more or less from scratch, but that in doing so he was essentially writing a series that was inherently friendlier to general audiences.