For an episode that featured the great triumvirate of Fate awfulness – TsundeRin, Loli and Shinji – this episode was remarkably good. Part of it was that we got the three of them in limited doses, part of it was that Ilyasviel did very little vamping and Shinji very little (though still too much) camping, but mostly it was because the really interesting members of this cast – namely, the Servants (though that term should be applied loosely here) were the real focus of the episode.
It was interesting that ufotable chose to do a backstory episode on Caster here, and I haven’t generally been crazy for the backstory detours in the Fate adaptations. But this one really worked, because it showed Medea in a considerably more nuanced light than we’ve seen her for most of the series. Like her disgust when she saw her old master Atram (Fuksuhima Jun – Naruko-kun, how could you?) needlessly killing scores of children in an inefficient alchemy operation she could easily obsolete without the need of an incantation. Or her irritation at the way everyone dismisses her as a witch and a traitor, a pantomime villain to be mocked and jeered at.
Dare I say it, this was a character turn that could have come from Gen Urobuchi (though it didn’t) and I damn well like Caster better as a proud and resourceful anti-hero than a ranting sociopath. And of course, any time you add Gilgamesh to the mix you know the spice level is going up several notches. He’s been a near-invisibility in UBW thus far, but the sheer absurdity of his mismatched “partnership” with Shinji is rife with comic possibilities – though it’s Ilya’s household that’s on the receiving end of his seemingly limitless destructive power here. To be fair, he did give the maids a chance to flee for their lives.
As that was happening we also had Shirou and Rin paying a visit to the von Einzbern villa – seeking potential allies of desperation with Caster’s ascendancy proceeding unchecked. Berserker being Medea’s arch-enemy Heracles makes this a natural avenue for the Shirou and Rin to pursue, though the inherent advantages for Ilya’s side are harder to see. Unfortunately I would assume at least the next episode is going to be heavily focused on her, and a little bit goes too far as far as I’m concerned. Normally what we saw this week is about as much as I can take.
It’s a function of the route that’s being adapted here, I suppose, but it’s striking to see a Fate adaptations that’s well into its second cour without the Grail War really being a war at all. I mean, it hasn’t even started yet – and while the war itself isn’t really the point with UBW, I think this is yet another area where ufotable has a tougher task here than they did with Fate/Zero. Not only was Gen free to devote himself to developing an interesting cast largely as he saw fit, but he got to write the really flashy part of the story. With more eps like this one UBW can certainly remain an engaging and interesting show, but it’s definitely playing the weaker hand in multiple respects.