Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 18

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I’ll confess: while doing a little research on Archer, I accidentally found out who he really was, so I somewhat spoiled myself for this landmark episode which starts to put all the pieces together. Even so, the weight of its revelations and sheer beauty and spectacle made this the best and most engrossing episode of UBW’s second season.

While it wasn’t explicitly stated, it’s certainly looking like Archer isn’t a servant summoned from the past like the other heroic spirits, but from the distant future. Specifically, he’s a future version of Emiya Shirou, the tortured manifestation of the endgame of his ideals…and he’s looking to put his past self out of his misery.

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The newly-freed Saber takes exception to that goal, but without a current Master she’s no match for the more independent Archer. Shirou summons twin swords very similar to Archer’s and tries to fight him back, but that only puts him in a more convenient position for Archer to kill him.

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That’s when Rin, Badass Extraordinaire, forms a pact with Saber right then and there, and just like that Saber is back in business, and in a matter of moments, has Rin freed and Archer at her mercy. Despite not having any contract with Shirou, Saber is still very much devoted to protecting him, even if she wasn’t Rin’s Servant now.

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Archer then plays his trump card, the titular “Unlimited Blade Works” we’ve caught glimpses of throughout the show’s run. Like Gilgamesh’s treasury, it is a reality marble housing every weapon he has ever seen or used. But it’s only a facsimile of the treasury, and the weapons only magical projections. It’s also very pretty, if a bit morose.

Here, he tries to finish Saber off with a copy of her own holy sword, the contact with which would result in a wide swath of destruction that will blow any humans in the vicinity (i.e. Shirou and Rin) away. Before he can, Shirou, recognizing how the UBW works, is able to match blades with Archer long enough to break free of the reality marble.

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From there, Archer snatches up Rin and flees to Ilya’s castle. While she’s out cold, Rin narrates the sad tale of Archer, who wanted to save and grant peace to everyone so badly he sold the peace he would have gotten in death. He is, in a way, the very model of a servant: one who lives only to serve others, without the slightest regard for himself.

As we can see, this has twisted him into a regret and angst-ridden wreck of a fellow, and he knows it, to the point I’m sure he considers it a mercy and a favor to put Shirou out of his misery. Archer is the embodiment of what happens if Shirou continues on his path, and it pisses Rin off to know she can’t save either of them.

And yet, she still finds Shirou’s reckless heroic side sweet. And back home, Shirou is planning to bring Archer down himself, while Saber (with help from Lancer!) rescue Rin. Has Shirou’s course already set, or can he change it ever so slightly so as not to end up the way Archer did?

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Owari no Seraph – 06

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Last week was all bickering and buildup, but this week was the payoff, with Yuu, Yoichi and Shihou battling both the demons of the cursed gear and their own demons within. Thankfully, this week was a lot better, even if the show seems determined to drill the same lessons into Yuu & Co.’s heads every week. One hopes it sinks in more now that they’ve been through this initiation.

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That lesson is that it’s not enough to life for revenge. Demons will take your lust and warp it to their own purposes, or just take over your body outright and make you a full-fledged monster. The key to subjugating a demon, or at least coming to an understanding with one, as Yuu kinda does, is balancing lust and love; the desire to protect one’s new family, not avenge the old ones they failed to save.

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And wouldn’t you know it, Yuu’s new blade and partner in vamp-hunting has a name (Ashuramaru) and a loli/elf character design. She also carries a healthy distrust of humans, and warns Yuu they can be worse than either demons or vampires simply because they’re so goshdarn conflicted and unpredictable.

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Yoichi has a different problem. It’s not that he doesn’t trust his friends, but like Yuu, having seen his family die right in front of him infused him with a deep-seated survivor’s guilt. The feeling that he doesn’t deserve to live while his sister died holds him back. She told him not to come out from under that bed no matter what, but he has to if he’s to subjugate his demon and gain his cursed gear.

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Yuu and Shiho come out of their ordeals easily enough, but Yoichi ends up turning into a demon, which Guren orders them to exterminate with their newly-contracted weapons. Already, Yuu’s heart is tested, and neither he nor Shiho can kill their comrade.

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Yuu tries the classic “Snap out of it!” routine, but ultimately, it’s casting his weapon aside and trusts in the Yoichi still inside, against Ashuramaru’s recent warning.Because Yuu can’t kill a comrade, he surmises that Yoichi can’t either. Guren, who’d been holding back to that point, finally pipes up, telling Yoichi to come out from under the bed. The arrow the demon knocked misses to Yuu’s right, causing Yuu to smile.

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As Yoichi’s tearful embrace of Yuu that follows illustrates, Yuu, Yoichi, Shinoa, and Shiho are their new family. Protecting each other takes precedence over avenging their old families. Guren tells Yuu to forget his old family, and while Yuu isn’t going to be doing that, he now has his priorities stright. Maybe. Ashuramaru will surely try to challenge them!

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O hai Mika! Considering how early in the run of the show it was revealed he was still alive and a vampire (by “early” I mean “immediately”, in the OP) I’ve been waiting for him and Yuu to meet face-to-face. It looks like that’s going to happen with the two descending on Shinjuku. Here’s hoping it’s not a tease.

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Oregairu 2 – 06

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Hikky, Yukino and Yui are again in a situation where they can sit in the same room together, stand each other, and even enjoy each other’s company somewhat without threatening to walk out or run for president. But the big question this week is: Now What? The Service Club may still exist…but why?

Shizuka originally paired Hikky and Yukino together to learn from one another, but have they finally reached an impasse? And has the club’s purpose of late only been to maintain the delicate balance of their love triangle with Yui?

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Yui never really feels like one of the “it crowd” despite their acceptance of her, so when Hikky stares at that crowd too long, Yui notices and points it out to him. Of course, after gaining perspective from Komachi, Hikky is a little more aware of how his methods repel others, and seems to be trying not to oppress others as much, even if he’s still quick to judge them in his head.

Walking to club together with Hikky makes Yui both excited and nervous, because it does upset that status quo she seems so intent on maintaining, even as the other two are wondering what comes next.

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When newly elected President Isshiki rolls in in a panic, it’s almost like the universe trying to throw the club a bone: Another job! Validation for existing! But Hikky doesn’t see her latest problem as something for the Service Club, and instead takes it on as a “personal” project. He’s taking responsibility for the situation he himself facilitated: Iroha is president even though she didn’t really want to be at first.

Hikky and Iroha’s conversation in the hall is very interesting, because this is something new for him: rather than two-on-one, he’s dealing with a single girl, who he’s starting to understand the more he interacts with her.

He notices the “sneaky” side of her, but it’s clear she’s being sneaky with herself as well: She gives the excuse that she didn’t go to her beloved Hayama with her problem because she didn’t want to bother him; but in reality, she doubts his competence, especially compared to Hikky, who has already proven himself capable of making things happen for her. Her agreement to work personally with him on this new problem is a ringing endorsement.

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Of course, by going it alone with Iroha, Hikky is further muddling or undermining the club’s reason for being…or maybe he’s clarifying it: the Service Club isn’t a “jack of all trades” operation, as he puts it: meaning he doesn’t want to include “regular student council consultation” in the clubs repertoire.

But the result of keeping these two things separate is that Yukino continues to maintain a “fine, whatever” attitude, even remarking that perhaps it’s better if the club doesn’t take on any more requests. She’s still dug into her “doing nothing” position, something her sister mocked her for. Is she content with this limbo of an outwardly-functioning but internally rotting club, even though on its present course it will surely die?

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Hikky is certainly invested enough in Iroha that he has a pretty wide berth in which to compartmentalize the existential issues of the club in favor of helping the prez on his own. And while Iroha strongly rejects him again without a hint of nuance, even in her rejection spiel she admits her heart “fluttered for a moment”. When Hikky is with Iroha, he’s focused on Iroha, and the larger problems in his social life fade away. They’re dancing a delicate dance.

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As for Iroha’s problem: partnering with another high school for a Christmas Event? It’s a vehicle for hilarious comedy, as the other school fancies themselves a corporate board, whose discussion sounds good and thoughtful on the surface, but is mostly…no, entirely meaningless double-talk, accompanied by overly zealous hand gestures. Never has so much been said without anything beind said! SO many absurd quotes. What’s scary is that this is how people actually talk in the corporate world.

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And yet, Hikky not only sticks with Iroha, but comes back for another round the next day. Each time, he takes the grocery bags Iroha is carrying; a classic gesture of easy chivalry that both he and Iroha acknowledge…and yet she still seems moved by it, and with Hikky’s devotion to her in general. He probably isn’t the guy she saw herself someday falling for, but she can’t argue that he’s coming through for her. He’s just as “sneaky” as she is to him.

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Hikky can’t help but be drawn in and try to play by their rules. He ends up impressing the other school officials with his word salad, but confusing both Iroha—and himself! Meanwhile, Iroha’s Veep and underlings seem to have a problem with Iroha, but it’s not being communicated, so the council’s rot festers as the other school fizzes and pops with vapid enthusiasm.

In an interesting move, his old crush Kaori just happens to have tagged along with the council as he did with Iroha, being a student at the school they’ve partnered with. Kaori’s interactions are always eye-opening and a little uncomfortable, but they’re also unique, like Hikky’s interactions with Iroha, Komachi, Haruno, and Yui. And unique is always good!

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It’s refreshing and not even that surprising that someone like Kaori let the unpleasantness of their last encounter slide off so easily and she’s back to interacting cordially with him like nothing happened, because nothing that did happen really affected her or her friend that much.

It’s also interesting that as teflon-y as Kaori is, she’s still perceptive enough to see what’s going on with Hikky and Iroha, even if they don’t quite see it yet: she assumed he’d moved on from Yukino or Yui and is now going after Iroha. And you know what? Maybe he has! And when he mentions he’s in the “Service Club”, Kaori LOLs at the wishy-washy absurdity of such an organization, even breaking out her first “seriously!” of the day.

Hikky understands Kaori’s reaction, and can’t blame her for it…but for him it’s no laughing matter—It’s his life.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 06

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Souma’s sixth episode is notable for having no big cooking challenge, an omission that was felt in terms of keeping up the momentum and tension the previous five episodes had built up. But while there were no Wars, there was plenty of delectable Food, starting with a tour of Polar Star’s impressive vegetable garden and other on-side ingredient facilities. Also, Isshiki has no qualms about gardening in a loincloth.

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I liked the camaraderie of the Polar Star tenants all working together to ensure the dorm has the best ingredients possible. Megumi also gets to shine for once by providing a lunch of delicious-sounding onigiri. Megumi is interesting because while she’s a great chef she’s prone to stage fright and is terrible in high-pressure situations…like Shokugeki. Here’s hoping being around Souma will help her confidence on the big stage. She already adopted his honey-tenderizing method.

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There’s more exposition explaining how the school works, in that there are “research socieities” rather than conventional clubs that focus on particular kinds of cuisine. As a self-professed proud “diner brat”, Souma gravitates toward the Donmono Research Society, or “Don RS,” which seeks to discover innovate ways of elevating the versatile, quick, affordable meals served in bowls. And Megumi, caught in his orbit, tags along.

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This kind of cooking is right up Souma’s alley. Unfortunately, the Don RS is down to just one member, who is surrounded by an aura of doom and gloom, thanks to it being the latest target in Nakiri Erina’s quest to consolidate power by eliminating what she deems to be societies undeserving of existence.

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Mind you, she’s not going to be the Don RS’s opponent. That role falls to her eager and fiercely loyal henchwoman, Mito Ikumi, whose pun-filled name and bodacious bod clues you into her specialty: MEAT. Souma doesn’t like how quick the snobbish “Nikumi” is to call the most expensive meat the best, and decides he’ll be the one to face her as the representative of the Don RS in the Shokugeki.

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With three days to prepare and not much money, Souma gets cooking, scouring the shelves of Don RS recipes and dishing out bowl after bowl of deliciousness. Every dish has its strength—I certainly wouldn’t mind tucking into one or all of them—but lack the punch that will be needed to have a chance against Nikumi and the vaunted A5 beef her family corporation is famed for.

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In an otherwise evenly matched culinary battle, it’s ingredients, resourcefulness, and creativity that determine the victor. Nikumi has the ingredients, so Souma will go after her in the other areas. Reminded by Megumi of his honey breakthrough, he decides he’ll make a don with Chaliapin steak, a unique, some would say obscure Japanese technique using onions and butter that makes even cheap meat melt in your mouth. Budget A5!

Will it be enough? Well, yes, it most certainly will. How do I know? Simple: I just don’t see Souma getting expelled seven episodes into the series, just when he’s settled into a nice living situation with some great peers.

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