Chihayafuru 3 – 11 – Be the Master, Beat the Master

Back at school, Chihaya’s game still has momentum from the Yoshino Tournament, while Mashina has slid a bit since losing in the qualifiers, as evidenced by how badly Chihaya beats him. But Chihaya is going all out because she thinks Mashima will quit altogether if she goes easy on him.

Meanwhile, Chihaya finally manages to call Arata to congratulate him, but she’s so stiff she ends up blasting his ear off. In any case, one hopes the two will get to spend a little more time together in the next cour, because I felt seriously short-changed in this first one where Chirata shippin’ is concerned.

 

Chihaya also makes it clear to Arata that he’s going to LOSE to Dr. Harada and the Shiranami society, as Harada has recruited all classes of players to help prepare him for his playoff with Arata. Indeed, the whole reason he started the society was to one day become Master.

To that end, he has Mashima serve as a “Virtual Arata”, making him memorize Arata’s layout so he can play against him as if he were playing Arata. Chihaya volunteers to serve as “Virtual Suo”, intensely studying the Master’s play and even starting to talk very softly and offer candy to people, leading to a misunderstanding from her tutoring cousin Shinji.

Watching Chihaya emulate Suo—and hearing Mashima trying to talk in Arata’s dialect—is jolly good fun, while we get a couple of tear-jerking moments with Inokuma Haruka, who at 34 sees both her challenger and reigning Queen and wonders if she’s simply done. She also worries she’s putting karuta before her children.

When Haruka has a nursing emergency just before her match, Mama Oe is there to calm her, and show her that kimonos are open on the side so that you can nurse a child without undoing or wrinkling it, which is some choice Traditional Clothing Mama advice. Having fed her lil’ Jin, Inokuma regains her composure and is ready to go.

When Chihaya arrives at the playoff as a spectator, she’s seriously regretting not being one of the players. That said, one would hope a show as long and sprawling as this isn’t about build her up as a future Queen for years, only for her to not attain that title. For now, the playoff is still a valuable resource. Now is the time to watch and learn from all four finalists.

Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 07

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Franklin is unavailable to review F/sn today, so I’m filling in for him, which is why I let Zane review Gundam. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

Emiya Shirou has been defined so far by many qualities common in shounen heroes: empathy for one’s fellow man; a penchant for rushing into things half-cocked; a propensity for bleeding a lot, and, of course, game-changing luck. I seem to share that last quality with Shirou, as I got an episode containing two battles for the price of one, plus a third that wasn’t a surprise in that it happened, just that it happened so soon after all the other craziness.

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The episode starts fast as Assassin dances with Saber. I particularly like how they’re so different despite bearing the same general weapon, and how each is bemused by what they perceive to be disadvantages. Assassin is impressed the flashy but bulky knight in shining plate has such good moves, and Saber is impressed this man of slight build is so tough. His trickery is also enough to stand against all her higher levels, be they strength, speed, or agility.

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While the battle on the temple steps is turning into one of mutual warrior respect, there’s plenty of mutual contempt distributed among the three fighters gathered in the main courtyard. Archer ostensibly came to rescue Shirou, but he’s not there to defeat Caster, even though she’s a loose cannon who’s killing innocent people. If Shirou had Archer’s power here and now, he’d probably use it to rid the world of Caster once and for all. But he’s just not looking at the big picture.

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Caster’s in a sporting mood, and lets Archer give her his best shot — and he fells her in an instant in a move of stunning quickness and precision. But Caster won’t actually fall that easily. Her ‘corpse’ vanishes and she coalesces up in the sky and starts raining mana beams upon Archer. Test failed, laments Caster; he’s worse than Assassin and of no use to her.

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Shirou’s problem with Archer is that he’s willing to let Caster go and keep killing people because she’ll eventually grow strong enough to defeat Berserker, at which point they’ll deal with Caster then. They’re not disagreeing that Caster needs to go; it’s a matter of timing and details. Even if Archer’s position is logically sound, Shirou won’t accept it; he doesn’t want to sacrifice even a few to save many.

In this latest spot of his, he’s forgotten the words of his father: You cannot save someone without not saving another, and that other can only be yourself once, and then you’re dead and can’t save anyone.

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An an episode full of phenomenally quick, smooth, impressive action, one centerpiece is Archer loosing Caladbolg at Caster, which looks very much like a crippling blow, but unlike a more stylized show with a smaller budget like Kill la Kill, F/sn avoids cartoonishness and can really geek out with the gravity and particle physics of the attack. The attention to detail in mere moments of combat or action do not go unnoticed, or unappreciated.

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It also distinguishes itself with juicy lines like the above, which is precisely how I’d imagine Assassin would say “Well, shit.” Bottom line: his “master” Caster is in a bad way, so he’s through playing with Saber and chooses whip out his hidden ability, “Concealed Sword.”

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I tell ya, you really gotta watch out for those dimensional-refraction phenomena. Saber probably comes closer than usual to losing her life in the stealthy but devastaing blow, which is really three simultaneous blows in one breath (shades of Katanagatari), a seeming impossibility his no-longer-human status affords him. But she survives it, falling back on those superior stats of hers (they’re good for something), impressing Assassin even more.

Meanwhile, Archer’s Caladbolg changed Caster’s mind about him: maybe he can be useful to her, and invites him and Shirou to join her. Both obviously refuse, but for different reasons: Shirou doesn’t want anything to do with an indiscriminate killer like her; Archer is more pragmatic: she’s not powerful enough to justify joining. The overarching irony of this negotiation, of course, is that Archer is the one who aims to use Caster to defeat Berserker, in the unsavory manner Shirou so objects to.

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Still, when Archer lets Caster withdraw, and further explains his plans to end the war, Shirou cannot abide it, and throws a Shounen Punch, which Archer catches easily. But as small an ineffective as that blow may have been, to Archer it was something of a last straw, the end of the extension of Shirou’s truce with Rin he had been honoring to that point, and the beginning of the third battle I mentioned earlier.

To Archer, Shirou is a child and a fool who, if left unchecked, will not only ruin the proper path to victory, but getting more people kill in the process than if he’d done nothing. For that reason, Archer decides to kill him right then and there, an action he takes with the same precision and conviction as everything else he’s done and said.

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Yet, interestingly, he does not cut deep enough to kill Shirou instantly…either that, or Shirou is so Goddamn lucky Archer couldn’t kill him in one blow even though he intended to. Either way, Shirou is able to crawl to the temple stairs, where Saber spots him, breaks off her fight with Assassin, and catches him in her arms.

It’s in that moment that I realize just how damned close these two pairs had been fighting; how close the courtyard was to the stairs. And yet the editing of the episodes made them feel like they were worlds away, because in a way, they were: Saber wasn’t getting past Assassin without his leave, and now she finally has it.

It’s also great how Assassin, who as I said embraced his non-humanity to perfect his Concealed Sword, falls victim to the humanity he still possesses. Watching Saber, whom he already regards as both a worthy and attractive opponent, retreat and rush to Shirou’s aid proves a more effective in momentarily throwing him off his game than any of her sword strikes to that point.

With Caster no longer in danger and the desire to fight her when she’s at full strength, Assassin lets her go. When Archer jumps in to try to kill her and finish Shirou, Assassin comes between them; he said they could go, and he makes sure they do.

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After all that, one would hope Shirou’s mindset would change a bit, and he’d realize even with his impressive stores of luck he’s going to end up dead if he keeps going the way he has.

If, after all, Archer wasn’t 100% serious about killing him, than one could argue his intention was to scare Shirou straight; showing him how useless his ideals are without the strength to back them up. For his part, it looks like Shirou is taking the experience as a lesson. Heck, he doesn’t even consider what Archer did a betrayal, since it was Rin he forged the alliance with.

(By the way, what Shirou was up to this week was far more interesting than Rin, who was just asleep in bed the whole time! That being said, the dreamlike sequence that wakes her up was hauntingly beautiful.)

Shirou needs to become stronger before he can even think about sacrificing himself to save others, or at least minimizing the casualties Caster and Archer don’t care about. To that end, he asks Saber to teach him how to fight properly, making Saber very happy in the process.

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