Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 16

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And off we go into the minefield one more time…

One might be forgiven for thinking that blogging Fate is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition.  On the one hand, if those at both extremes think you’re wrong maybe you’re doing something right.  But one unassailable fact I’ve seen is that when I write glowing reviews of a Fate episode (which I’ve done on several occasions) I get almost no feedback.  When I do what I did last week, I get the Rains of Castamere. 

So why keep doing it?  Well, because I don’t like to be bullied off of blogging a show by purists who think only those as devout as they are should be allowed to talk about it, for one.  But mostly because I think it’s a show worth talking about.  I’m not indifferent to Fate – if I was, I certainly wouldn’t still be watching it, never mind blogging it – but I do have mixed feelings.  And those are completely different things, which is something a lot of folks don’t seem to want to accept or understand.  Mixed feelings are still feelings, and I started this blog to talk about anime that I have feelings about, whether they be positive or not.  It is more fun to talk about the ones I love unreservedly, but they don’t come around too often.

I think Fate is interesting because as a phenomenon, its breadth and reach is truly impressive.  This is not SAO or Nisio Isin we’re talking about here – there’s a germ of something truly complicated and difficult at the heart of this mythology, and it still manages to be incredibly popular.  I won’t deny that I think it was only in Urobuchi Gen’s hands that the anime side managed to really be special – much more so in the first cour of Fate/Zero than the second – but there are moments in UBW that stand out, too.  I just wish there were more of them, but I’m not going to pretend to be swept off my feet when I’m vexed and conflicted.

If you take this episode, I think we see what makes Fate – especially when it tries to be faithful to the VNs, which are a very different medium – a vexing anime.  The entire first half of the episode seems completely targeted at the guys who wait in line for three hours in 100-degree heat at Comiket to buy whatever new revenue generator TYPE-MOON has come up with for the current half-year.  It’s not essential or even important to the grail mythology – it’s just a pretense to trot TsundeRin out in all her pandering glory.  Yet buried underneath all that pancake makeup is a pretty on-point bit (which seems to try and set the record for most eye close-ups in a single scene) about the merits (and practicality) of Shirou’s personal philosophy (for the record, I mostly agree with Rin here) – which can be argued to be the central conflict of this entire series.  But if a girl wears three inches of makeup, can you really see the face underneath?  Fate makes you squint pretty hard to – and I really wish that wasn’t the case.

As usual with UBW, it’s when the servants (apart from Saber) take center-stage that it seems as if the writing says “OK – we’ve sold the Dakimakura, now let’s squeeze a few minutes of story in.”  True, Lancer (oh how I miss F/Z’s Lancer) is used mostly in the Rin sideshow here, but he and Archer have a very interesting showdown on several different levels.  It’s also rather interesting to try and get inside Lancer and Archer’s heads as they talk about the other servants, each other and the general state of affairs – and to try and parse the lies from the facts.  There’s also a rather intriguing chat between Archer and Kuzuki (who’s by far the most compelling human character in this route, and criminally underused) which continues to flesh out the deceptively complicated Caster story that’s one of the most interesting elements of this cour.

While Fate/Zero started out strongly and sputtered as it neared the finish line, I think that was more of a function of Urobuchi’s usual M.O. than anything else.  My hope is that the opposite will happen here, and as the series by necessity trims back the fluff and focuses on the grit and gristle of the story, it will offer up its best material.  But either way, I have no intention of ceding the field to those who want only like-minded viewers as part of the conversation.  If a series is strong enough and one’s affection for it strong enough, they can certainly hold up to a little objective criticism.

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17 comments

  1. A

    As much as I'd like to deny it and claim that this episode was about Shirou's traumatic past and lack of self-interest, I'm afraid all I could think about was "man, what choice he's gonna pick, what choice he's gonna pick– oh god he picked the third choice! hahaha!"

    Yeah, don't ask me why, but Lancer and Shirou making fun of Rin was probably the most memorable choice selection screen of the game for me. Of course, it would've been much more effective if she hadn't already been acting so overtly tsundere throughout this whole adaptation, but you take what you can get.

  2. w

    Now that you mention it, I think that in this adaptation Rin is just simpler. The original Rin had an air of unsociability and peron who keeps out distances that here does not exist.

  3. w

    This episode had 5 minutes of cuts. I wonder if any of that was in the Kuzuki scene.

  4. D

    Shirou really is the best thing about Fate/stay night. He's an interesting character to break down as him wanting to be the generic shounen hero is quite tragic. I liked watching more of that come up, but as usual, I'm not satisfied with just mentioning it and not building further upon it. That's why I still consider UBW a waste of time, amongst other reasons.

  5. G

    Gilgamesh is also a great villian, I just wish he wasn't so OP.

  6. D

    What other quality would he have then? He didn't have any depth until falling for Saber in Zero, and we won't see any pay off for that here because all that was in the Fate route.

  7. Yes, Gil is definitely OP and that's really a fatal flaw as a character. But he's still entertaining at least, and not having to compete against the hyper-charismatic rivals in Gen's version like Rider, he really stands out here.

  8. C

    Ufo really needed to show us more "broken Shiro." That aspect of his really stands out and it makes him very interesting. Unfortunately, after such a good moment of characterization we go back to the usual romcom tsundere bullshit. Moments like that are so uncalled for, it makes you forget that we are in the middle of a violent conflict called the grail war.

  9. R

    Man, this show really has a bad tendency to kill its own dramatic moments. They already had an interesting dramatic conflict on Shirou's and Rin's clashing ideologies in the opening minutes. But no, they just have to cut it off and turn it into Rin going all waifu and Shirou doing the husbando routine. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of humor, but there are appropriate times to insert it.

    And we're what, episode 16 already and I can't even feel the fact that what the characters are fighting for is an object of immense power that can be used to rule the world. There is just no tension or human drama in this aspect and it feels more like kids with magical powers simply playing against each other (again, I already know what the Holy Grail is supposed to be). Even if the purists insist that UBW is more about Shirou than the Grail Wars, the latter IS part of Shirou's narrative, so it should really be given some weight, which this series really doesn't.

  10. w

    I think that is mainly a problem with UBW being the middle route, so is the route where the Grail is less relevant.

    And about the comedy scene, you had three choices there and they just went for the one they considered the funniest. I not really care, but some people were actually expecting ufotable to pick that one so that's probably why they did it.

  11. R

    I think that is mainly a problem with UBW being the middle route, so is the route where the Grail is less relevant.

    Again, this shows hows a weakness in writing for the anime series. like I already said before, the writer for the anime never really tried to elevate his material for the medium, with him just being content with recreating the VN, andf not trying to put the UBW storyline into a new perspective for the anime.

  12. w

    Well, they are probably going to use that specific plot point as setup for HF. They already added some stuff for UBW to make more sense as an anime series.

  13. E

    Director still needs to be fired. The way the Archer vs Lancer scene was handled was terribad. While we didn't get a fight this week because of poor pacing, there is still a way to make the buildup to a fight exciting through effective use of.cinematography, dialogue and soundtrack, as well as little things such as the opponents not standing there like statues.

    The Tsunderin moment was stupidly placed too. Really ruins what should be a landmark moment for Shirou.

  14. e

    But that's how a lancer fight. Their attacks are mostly intended to be one hit kill.
    They are not capoeira.

  15. D

    Despite Lancer having two decent fight scenes in the first two episodes.

  16. E

    A fight that lasts a single blow can be a fight with tremendous impact. In fact, in such a fight, the buildup to it is doubly important, with the foes sizing up each other, observing their stances and looking for openings, and the buildup usually emphasises the dfferences/similarities in the fighters' beliefs and character.

    Take for example Musashi vs Inshun or Guts vs Griffith in Vagabond and Berserk respectively. Those fights are 90% buildup and the actual fighting lasts a few pages/ a single blow, but that doesn't stop them from being incredible.

  17. Z

    Say what you want about Deen, they didn't dwell on this tsundere bullshit nearly as much as Ufotable do.

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