Fate / Zero – 15

I hope you’ll forgive me if this review doesn’t hold up to my usual vigorous editorial standards, as I must admit I am rather stunned—gobsmacked, you might say—by what I just witnessed, and whenever that happens, I tend to get a bit too florid in my language. Consider yourself warned.

That happens, at this magnitude, very rarely indeed. Of the episodes I consider almost perfect, I must count this among them. At this point in my viewing of Fate/Zero, if there was one and only one episode I had to show someone, it would be this one.

It’s a perfect encapsulation; an epic full-length motion picture, compressed into a scant third of an hour; the crystallization of the ultimate potential embedded in its run thus far. I shudder to think it could ever get better than this, but having seen this, I shouldn’t underestimate this show’s capacity for ever-expanding spectacle. And I won’t.

In case you forgot the events of this episode: Rider decides to trap Caster and his monster in his Reality Marble to buy the rest of the team time to figure out a way to defeat it. Righteousness ensues.

As Berserker and Archer continue dogfighting in their respective badass aircraft, Kariya’s swarm of bugs are harmlessly absorbed by Tokiomi’s magical barrier. As Kariya’s body breaks down, Tokiomi delivers “mercy” by setting him ablaze. The animation used to portray the burning Kariya looked like nothing else in the show so far and was hauntingly novel and chilling in its style and execution.

Once Rider transports the monster to his Reality Marble, Iri gets a call from Kiritsugu, but has Waver answer the phone. Kiritsugu tells Waver to tell Rider to drop the monster at a specific point of his choosing once the Marble prison fails. He also tells Lancer that Saber has the only weapon that can defeat the monster, but can’t use it due the wound made by Gáe Buidhe.

Possessed of that new information, Lancer’s next move is pure Chivalry: That monster cannot be allowed to terrorize innocent people. His spear is preventing the only weapon that can defeat it from being used. Ergo, Gáe Buidhe must be destroyed.

Saber’s claim that she bears the wound as a mark of pride, not as a burden, but Lancer knows she’s being way too nice, and does what a true Knight such as himself would do: snap the spear in half. Once he does, Saber immediately prepares her Noble Phantasm.

As Berserker destroys Archer’s aircraft, Kotomine Kirei approaches the barely-alive Kariya…and starts to heal him, cracking a smile as he does. It would seem the Kirei Rebellion against his father and Tokiomi has officially begun in earnest.

Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber and her newly-released weapon. It then falls to Lancer to transport onto Berserker’s jet and disable it, and even with just one spear, he gets the job done.

That leaves the area secure for Kiritsugu to launch a flare at the spot where Rider is to release the monster. After the sheer awesome lunacy of Rider’s chariot and Berserker and Archer’s aircraft, it is quite amusing indeed to see Kiritsugu in his unassuming little raft, likely fitted with the most efficient and durable engine that provides sufficient and not excessive power to get him into position.

Once Rider has the signal, the monster is released, and the other end of the grand stage given over to the King of Knights so she can shine.

Saber’s attack is singularly gorgeous in an episode of visually arresting imagery, but its beauty is only enhanced by the reactions of those watching it unfold, and the poetic words of Iri describing what the weapon is, and in doing so, describing who Arturia Pendragon truly is:

That sword is the embodiment of the sad, yet noble, dream of all soldiers, past, present, and future, who lie dying on the field of battle, clutched to their hearts with their last breath. She carries their will as her pride, bidding them to remain steadfast in their loyalty. Now, the undefeated king sings aloud, the name of the miracle she holds in her hand. It’s name is…Excalibur.

This is the unique, nigh divine power bestowed upon Saber in exchange for the tremendous burden she bears. And while Archer laughed at her devotion and Rider doubted her kingship, for all their power amassed across space and time, neither of them could do anything like what Saber does to this monster. This isn’t just Saber saving the city and the day; this is Saber dunking on her doubters. Suddenly they are the ones who look small, puny, and cowed.

As for poor crazy Caster, I daresay I almost feel sorry for the evil son of a bitch when he meets his all-too-beautiful end, which includes a vision of his beloved Jeanne (who does look a lot like Saber). Almost.

While Uryuu went out experiencing something he was looking for all his life and finally found, Caster too experiences a kind of quasi-redemptive epiphany at the very end. Both men end up essentially forsaking everything they had ever done in their miserable lives, condemning it as wasted time and effort in the face of the truths they face at the end.

As the monster Excalibur effortlessly cleaved clean in half dissipates into the night, Archer asks Rider if he’s still not convinced of Saber’s kingship. Rider acknowledges the power, but still feels its too much for one young woman; not so much a legend as a great tragedy. Rider and Archer also agree to duel one another soon…but not quite yet, as they want to recover from this battle and fight at full strength.

Finally, while Saber lost an unwanted admirer in Caster, she gained a new one tonight through her actions: Archer. Where Rider sees tragedy, Archer sees vivid beauty; something to which nothing in his vast treasury can compare. I’ll tell you what’s damn near beyond compare: this episode.

The last episode, in its efficient, businesslike way, laid out all of the various facets of the battle and set the conditions for victory, while also keeping expectations…reasonable. This episode took those facets and resolved them into a gorgeous jewel that shined with golden radiance, blasting through all expectations like Excalibur through a fortress-sized demon. The remaining ten episodes have their work cut out for them.

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Nobunaga the Fool – 02

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In this day and age, the word “epic” is exceptionally overused (there’s even a nondenominational Epic Church in our neighborhood), and we’re just as guilty as the rest of society, but in the case of the story rapidly unfolding in Nobunaga the Fool, we feel the term is apt. After a somewhat breathless introduction, things are allowed to settle down a bit, but the fact remains a grand adventure is afoot, one that will shape the future of the Eastern and Western Stars.

Once Nobu has successfully translated his not insignificant combat skills in operating da Vinci’s newest war armor, he and Jane formally meet, and while things get off to a somewhat bellicose start, things simmer down with da Vinci as affable moderator laying out the scenario. He believes Nobu to be the “savior-king” of the East, and lends him the use of his masterpiece (which Nobu christens “The Fool” or “Za Fuuru”) that he may show him the “truth of the universe.”

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Da Vinci has already risked quite a bit to get to where he is, but he strikes us as a man of singular conviction; he has faith that the universe will show him what he wants to see, thanks to the equally extraordinary individuals he chooses to consort with. He’s regarded as perhaps the finest mind of his world, and that world believes he’s defected, so it’s good that he’s met powerful, charismatic new friends.

Nobunaga comes off as a bit of a cocky show-off at times, but never annoyingly, Naruto-ingly so. He doesn’t appear to be that much of a chauvinist, either; that trait is reserved for Toyotomi “Saru” Hideyoshi, who seems to think ogling Jeanne’s bust and grabbing her golden locks is appropriate behavior for an adult (Akechi Mitsuhide is more refined, while Nobu falls between the two in personality). Nobunaga simply warns Jeanne as he’d warn any man, not to draw a blade again unless she intends to take a life with it. We only see him interact with his sister Ichihime for a moment, but it looks like he holds her esteem; such that he insists Jeanne hide herself lest Ichi get the wrong idea.

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There’s a rooted logic and equity to the alliance of da Vinci, Nobu, and Jeanne that forms this week. One seeks answers he can’t get anywhere else; one seeks the power to defeat his foes; and one seeks her destiny, a venture Nobu scoffs at, because ‘why trust your fate to strangers?’ His skepticism aside, the fact da Vinci draws the same cards the episodes are named after indicates that even Nobu isn’t entirely free from destiny’s embrace.

Jeanne’s quest may intrigue us the most, since its true nature is as inscrutable to her as it is to us. She only knows Nobu just might be the right person to help her find it, coarse and bloodthirsty a fellow as he may initially seem. She may not come to love the guy, but mutual respect and cooperation are in order.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • While pulling a dagger on Nobu in such an awkward position probably wasn’t prudent, Jeanne can clearly take care of herself, as evidenced by the punitive blow she delivers to Saru.
  • There’s an Eastern girl with two-tone hair voiced by Touyama Nao who’s looking forward to meeting Nobu. Wonder what that’s about.
  • In addition to the Armor, da Vinci also gifts Nobu with an intricate clock of his own design…which Nobu immediately re-gifts for his brother’s coming-of-age ceremony.
  • Historical figures gathered round the, er, Round Table include Gupta, Hannibal, Alexander, and Julius Caesar. It’s like Civilization: The Animation!

Onimonogatari – 02

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Shinobu tells Koyomi the tale of her first visit to Japan more than 400 years ago. She literally “jumped” from Antarctica – where she had been residing previously – into a lake in Japan, which destroyed the lake but brought rain to an arid region, whose inhabitants revered her as a god. It was then that she met the “original apparition killer”, who wielded the demon-killing “Kokoro-watari” and the shorter “Yume-watari”, which restored them.

Trouble arose when as a result of her presence, which drew apparitions and negative energy to the region, which humans eventually deserted. Shortly thereafter, the “darkness” arrived, consuming three quarters of Shinobu’s body and nearly all of the apparition killer. She escaped to Antarctica with his hand and wrist, and drank its blood to restore him as her minion. Furious she had made him a vampire, he disavowed her and committed suicide by burning up in the sunlight. She swore never to make another minion.

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In the last episode we remarked that Oshino Shinobu is unlike any other entity inhabiting the Monogatari Series, due to her sheer longevity, scale of experience, and moral complexity. Thus, we knew that when we delved deeper into her past, it would be something to behold; and so it was. A bold, indulgent, tantalizingly unique approach is utilized in visualizing Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade’s epic tale. It unfolds as one continuous right-to-left scroll of stunningly gorgeous illustrations, interrupted only by the occasional cut to Shinobu and Koyomi in the present, and accompanied by a stirring, austere ambient score.

The feats she performs therein – from jumping from Antarctica and becoming a god in Japan to creating her minion out of a desire not to be alone only to be rejected – transcend anything anyone else has done in the series. Not bad for a character who didn’t say a single word in all of Bakemonogatari. Just as Shinobu is an unprecedented entity in the series, this episode was unprecedented in its audacity and elegance. Essentially, this episode was one of the most engrossing, transcendent infodumps we’ve ever seen. We found it to be a work of profound creativity, skill, and workmanship, and an instant classic – hence earning our highest rating. Call us crazy if you must.

Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

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