Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 04

FSN4_6

Fate/stay night: UBW episode 04 is a fantastic little sequence of exposition, interwoven through a pleasant day in the life of Emiya Shirou and bookended by the harsher realities of Rin and Einzbern.

Like All F/sn, this week was beautifully rendered and calmly paced. However, the story was told with such a casual speed, and told through so many cheerful people (often walking slowly or listening to each other with a warm and obvious intent), that watching it felt like taking an evening stroll in the Fall.

FSN4_3…always question scenes where a character disappears from your view conspicuously close to the end of her sentence…

This week’s arc is all about timing and the threat of failure due to a mage tipping his or her hand.

For Emiya, he must hide Saber’s identity (and truthfully, his tortured memories of hell fire) from his friends for their own safety and he must even allow Saber to hide her true identity from him, or risk being defeated by the more experienced mages who may be able to read his mind. It’s a clever way to keep us guessing and in the dark, but it also shows Emiya’s trust in other people, and his trust in other people to trust him.

fsn4_9

For Rin, the risk is that she’s already revealed too much in the last fight to anyone who could have seen it and that, by saving Saber for last, she risks too much by leaving taking on too strong opponents too quickly. Worse, she risks having to face and kill Emiya because he’s likely not going to stay away for her.

She risks tipping her hand, even to herself, that she actually likes him, which will no doubt be her undoing.

FSN4_0

Einzbern risks the least and the most, depending on how things unfold. Her adherence to a predator’s nature — to torment her prey until it can scream no more — will most likely come back to bite her.

Yes! Berserker is unimaginably powerful but it’s arrogant to think he can not be defeated. Especially after revealing what his Nobel Phantasm is to her opponents. Giving them time to consider the best solution to defeating him (which Rin and Archer are most likely doing) is an obvious mistake. For her sake, she better hope his power is as unbreakable as she treats is.

FSN4_5the teacher is threatening because this angle makes him look larger than our hero and not seeing his face means we can’t read his emotions…

As for the actual events of episode 4? Emiya recovers from his wounds (he appears to have self-healing magic) and goes to school on an off day. Saber follows him and is a distraction for many girls who like him or worry about how rarely he truly smiles.

Saber explores the school and encounters a teacher who seems like dangerous news but that avenue remains unexplored, or just a red herring.

fsn4_12

Rin investigates the ‘gas leaks’ more directly and, with Archer’s help, identifies the culprit as the Caster Class servant. They seem powerful and, given the spell seems to be a love-crushing spell, presumably female. Archer is concerned by their chances of success of defeating this opponent.

This scene includes a short but dramatic fight against skeleton dogs in an office building hallway. Skeletons are hard to render by any standard and F/sn does not disappoint: not even Bahamut’s recent zombie/sea monster battle looked this good!

FSN4_2

Then the women in Emiya’s life decide to move in with him — and who can blame them? Saber’s sudden appearance, lack of spoken words and the fact that she is living with him would make any friends nervous, if not a little jealous.

Fujimura-Sensei practically lives there anyway and, given how obvious Sakura’s affections for Emiya are, it’s no surprise Fujimura-Sensei helps rope her in too.

fsn4_8

For all these happenings, ep 4 explains a lot about Servant Classes, vaguely how and why the grail summons them, and the intrinsic tactical advantages gained by knowing exactly which servant you are fighting. This is exposition to be sure, and delivered by Saber-monologging, but it’s all lovingly rendered in ghostly CGI — which is implied to be inside of Saber’s tea cup.

The implication is that she is imagining these roles and we (and Emiya) are getting to see. It’s rather clever and very effective at making the info dump engaging and grounded within the scene.

If etherial imagery can be grounded?

FSN4_4…Sakura is alone. Small and literally spot lighted in the darkness…

What’s left to say? F/sn’s slowness — its deliberate nature — is artful in a way that transcends what is already visually beautiful to become something totally beautiful.

In short, F/sn is masterfully constructed Art, in all senses and disciplinary applications of that word.

10_ogk

Advertisements

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 03

fsn4_1Atmosphere and sense of scale? Yeah, this show’s got that covered!

Fate/stay night: UBW episode 03 picks the pace right the heck up with a jaw-dropping battle that both spans vast miles AND stays uncomfortably close quarters in a wooded graveyard. This is the best non-movie quality magical fighting I’ve ever seen.

On top of that, F/sn manages to deliver equal parts information-bump and mystery without breaking its stride or ever feeling talky or expositional. As with episodes 00 and 01, you owe it to yourself to watch this in HD with a good set of speakers turned way up. This spectacle looks and sounds awesome!

fsn4_2

Illyasviel von Einzbern is her name and Berserker, her massive orc-looking servant, is her game. And her game is good, shrugging off an onslaught of full-power attacks from both Saber and Archer, and sometimes both at the same time.

It’s a great fight (or fights, if you consider the short chase Berserker gives to Saber as she relocates to the cemetery, where his advantage will be reduced) and it teases us with as many reveals as it actually gives us more information.

fsn4_00

What’s the deal with Archer’s sword-like arrow? What’s the deal with Saber’s sword, for the short moment it’s visible and firing what looks like a death star blast through Berserker?

Who knows? Obviously not Shirou, who’s the only one close enough to clearly see both of these things. Einzbern and Rin probably have an idea — and Einzbern in particular pulls a 180 after seeing Archer in true action. Must be some high-level stuff if the early favorite of the first four masters we’ve seen is going to take notice!

fsn4_5

A huge boon to the fight comes in the form of space. Not only is Archer incorporeal for the beginning of the fight, he spends most of it fighting from miles away. This would feel cheep normally…except none of his attacks are effective. Pretty as hell, but not effective.

Unfortunately, even his super sword/arrow attack comes up short and F/sn really drives home how absurdly powerful Berserker is. He’s not just nigh-unscratchable, nor just good at regeneration: it’s like he can roll back time itself and undo all the damage as if it never happened in the first place.

Crap!

fsn4_3

And then there’s Rin’s fight with Einzbern, which is equally spectacular but totally different than the Servant battle. Where the servants rip into each other with a pounding fury, the Masters prod, taunt and look for each other’s weakness.

The stillness of their battle was masterful and brilliantly kept the tempo fresh, keeping what was basically twenty minutes of action from wearing us out.

And Man, her hair-birds are freaky!

fsn4_8
fsn4_4

Lastly, Shirou gets a small spotlight. He’s the fish out of water but he wants to help…but HE HAS NO IDEA HOW? How the heck do you get in on this without getting yourself killed and helping no one in the process? His frustration over being useless — especially considering he just shook Saber’s hand and agreed to give it his all last week — comes through nicely.

Nicer? F/sn doesn’t harp on it. Shirou is around but we get as much if not more of Rin’s point of view and much more fighting than either mage’s POV and that is a good thing. I hear, and can guess from what little I’ve seen of ‘old stinky F/sn that an excessively-whiny Shirou would be bothersome.

fsn4_6

Oh! Kotomine Kirei and a new bad guy/important character were also introduced. We have no idea what their agendas are but it almost sounds like Kirei would be just as happy if the world ended. His little dialogue had a true-believer vibe to it — that Judgment Day is a good thing. Nice!

Or…problematic, since there’s no way our characters are going to agree with that point of view, if they ever hear it.

fsn4_7
Who is this guy?

F/sn is masterful and there isn’t much else to say. You’ll hear it over and over from me, as long they do it, but my biggest joys from it are how close it keeps its secrets to its chest (we know so little) and how much space it gives all the rest.

The world is a big place and Fate respects that, which sells the experience in a unique way. Freaking Huzzah!

10_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 02

fs3_2

Fate/stay nigh episode two unexpectedly breaks from the mold established by the previous episodes. It’s shorter, running only 25 minutes, and that shortness doesn’t leave much breathing room for very thoughtful setting shots that I found so lovely in episodes zero and one.

However, most shows only get a half hour slot to keep us entertained. Sadly, Fate/Stay uses that time to runs its mouth and cover a lot of exposition. I hope you’re ready for some revetting talking!

fs3_6This is a neckless is a thing reminder! You’ve been reminded!

The sum total of the episode’s activity: Rin explains the holy grail war to Shirou over tea. Then they go to Kotomine Kirei’s fake church in New Fuyuki and Kirei explains the holy grail again, with a few more details. Then Rin and Shirou leave and encounter their first true opponent.

Sure, the details matter and explanation has to happen sometime but OUCH! That’s really all that happened this week.

fs3_1

As we learned last week, Shirou doesn’t want to fight because he hates the artificial’ness of good guys killing bad guys to save the day. That said, Kirei’s point is simple: a bad person won the grail ten years ago and New Fuyuki was burned to the ground and lot’s of people were killed. Even Shirou himself was seriously injured.

While there was too much of it, the exposition wasn’t dreadful. Unfortunately, Shirou hails from the “repeat what was just said back as a rhetorical question” school of anime, which lengthens and adds nothing to an already drawn out scene of talking.

fs3_4

At least we get a nice moment where Sabre and Shirou get some bonding and renew their vows and establish their determination to win. Cliché? Sure. But touching.

Still, the exposition is unfortunate. It’s wasteful and that would be better spent on what fate/stay does best: establishing mood and showing us — not telling us — what people are thinking and doing. Having both Rin and the priest explain the war was over kill.

fs3_5

tl;dr? This was a talk heavy episode where we learn a lot at the cost of action and mood. Also, Shirou is… kinda bland, actually.

At least the cliff hanger was a giant ass monster servant, apparently easy to identify as ‘Berserker’ and obvious that next week will drop right into a fight.

8_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 01

fsn2_0

The second most difficult story to tell, is the story we’ve already heard, that we already known*. What’s there to add, really? Embellishment? Extraneous details? That sounds so dull.

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works ‘first’ episode does just that. It’s starts the same day as episode zero. It features the same characters and the same events. Only our point of view has changed from Rin to Emiya Shirou.

My God, it’s wondrous!

fsn2_1

As before, we begin with a quiet day where Rin is early to school and Emiya is repairing broken classroom heaters. We see he’s doing this partially with magic, which was not stated before, but may not have been important enough for Rin to tell to the audience.

Unlike Rin, Emiya is more interactive with his class mates. He spends a lot of time doing work for (and listening to) the class president, Sakura prepares some of his meals, and Fujimura-sensei is both his landlord and a constant mooch at meal time.

fsn2_8b

Still, like Rin, Emiya appears a little detached. He’s recently been chased out of the archery dojo by school ass-hat Matou Shinji and he doesn’t even know who these girls are.

To be fair, I don’t know who they are or what their significance to the plot the have yet either…

fsn2_14

From Emiya’s perspective, we learn that Fujimura-sensei is quite a bit more competent than we may have suspected from her always on the edge of late demeanor. We also see, though do not know for sure, that Sakura is being abused, presumably by Shinji.

Ultimately, Emiya’s point of view is a great companion to Rin’s. Where she gave us magical world context and a taste of the non-magical people in the world, he gives us low-stakes magic use and a greater understanding of the non-magic human network. Same world, same people, opposite sides of the coin.

fsn2_5

The only completely new content is Emiya’s past, which shows his adoption by a mage named Kiritsugu. It also shows Emiya surviving a fiery tragedy 10 years in the past and establishes his motives and frustrations with heroism.

These scenes are superb. They carry a great sense of heat mixed with the stillness of giving up. Magically fueled or not, there is a grand magic to presenting so much chaos, yet capturing the isolation of being alone in the chaos, powerless.

fsn2_13

Emiya looks back on the disaster with frustration and sadness. Not everyone was saved — not everyone could be saved — and that conflicts him. As a hero, he doesn’t want to be limited by choice. Who lives or dies shouldn’t be a blessing to those he cares for more than others. It should be a blessing for everyone.

fsn2_12

As with Rin’s story, Emiya’s introduces several side mysteries that go unexplained — unexplored even within this admittedly long format episode. A murder is on the lose. Possible gas leaks are making people sick. Sakura’s injuries and, very briefly show, her mysterious acquaintance.

Each one of these mysteries is handled with care and, for the most part, given very little consideration in dialog. As always, Fate/Stay is playing its cards close to its chest.

fsn2_10

As it must, Emiya’s story catches up to the initial tragedy told in Rin’s: Emiya witnesses Lancer and Archer fighting at the school and is killed in the hallway. Even Lancer is annoyed that it must go down this way. If only has master wasn’t such a cruel and cowardly one.

Later, following a resurrection that we really only understand because of episode zero, Emiya returns home, Only to fight Lancer again. Fortunately, this time Emiya is ready. Sort of.

fsn2_9b

Magically increasing the durability of a poster to fight a spear at close range makes for a exciting little fight. From the beginning, we know it’s a losing battle and, given the peeks here and there at Emiya’s pentagram, we also assumed that he would be revealed to be Saber’s summoner.

Even so! That was a satisfying fight and it’s immediate escalation into a servant vs servant fight put a satisfying cap on our retread. Well timed because the episode comes to a tight close face to face with Rin, who actually knows and is willing to give Emiya some answers.

fsn2_6

My favorite details this week came from Emiya’s television, which displayed a mixture of japanese programs. Some news. Some dancing mascots harrassing anchors. None of it was relvant to the story. They were just there, for your eye to catch and ponder instead of just staring at talking characters.

That’s some effective world building. Effectively lived-in world building.

fsn2_11
The locket remains a bit of a mystery, since it isn’t quite in the same place in the two episodes…

Episode One is a little more chatty, though actually has less exposition and more character interaction, which nicely rounds out the experience.

Additionally, episode 1’s magical battles are slightly less spectacular, as Emiya is less magical and can’t participate in the same way in the same way as Rin. However, his personal fight against Lancer with a reinforced magical poster was delightfully unique (even to Lancer) that it more than made up for its reduced after-effects budget.

fsn2_4

Really, what is the difference between a 9 and a 10? Certainly, Fate/Stay is superior in every regard to every anime we’ve rated 9 so far this season, but when you’re faced with a second week where you consider giving it a 10, you can’t help but second guess yourself. Really? Is Fate/Stay really as good as every single episode of FLCL, one of the only perfect-score-every-episode anime I can think of?

Yes. At least, so far. And yet, Fate/Stay accomplishes it’s perfect ten so brilliantly in the opposite direction of the FLCLs and Kill La Kills. Where they are masterfully orchestrated spectacles of brilliant action, style and re-watchable overload, Fate/Stay is serene, patiently dolling out story and character development and subtle with their mystery.

Goodness, if there ever was a season for a show to say definitively that it was the best, it’s now. It’s fall 2014’s killer season. Well done Fate/Stay. Well done!

10_ogk

*The most difficult story to tell is a prequel.

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 00

fsn_9

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is quietly beautiful. Regal even. The first episode gives us peaceful landscapes and well paced introductions for all of protagonist Tohsaka Rin acquaintances and daily routines before introducing us to her other life. Her magic life.

If I had not been told that UBW was part of a larger, multi-series franchise, I would never have known. The world is shown to us without info-dump or talking head exposition characters and it is all very absorb-able.

fsn_2

This 47-minute slow burn method is most definitely for the best, given how many characters UBW appears to be throwing at us. We’ve met nine of Rin’s fellow students and one teacher, with Rin’s relationship to each being implied through interaction as often as it is strictly spelled out.

fsn_8

We’ve also met 3 ‘Servants,’ which are essentially familiars that help their mage-masters compete in a battle for the Holy Grail, which will grant its winner any wish, and through all of this we’ve learned about the world’s magic. Runes, gems, classes of Servant, the importance of timing, rings of binding and command, what fuels servants — a ton of stuff!

Yet I never felt blabbered at nor disconnected.

fsn_3

UBW opens with a dream or a memory of young Rin saying goodbye to her father. Her isolation in the world, the magical-ness of that world, and her stranding in her family mansion are all clear through the setting, the filters and vibe.

Then teenage Rin wakes up and goes to school. She remarks on how empty it is — how no one seems around — and we know something is afoot. Something magical.

fsn_4

Then Rin learns her clocks are all an hour ahead and that a perfectly reasonable explanation for the emptiness is around, but the mood stays and we know, as Rin knows, the world is still off without being told directly.

Though hinted at strongly in school, we don’t see Rin dabble in magic nor learn what that magic is until later. At home, she is warned that her time is up and only two Servants remain: Saber and Archer. Saber is the only one Rin wants.

fsn_5

Rin performs a ritual, we learn a little bit about magic and can guess the meaning of other parts of it, and her Servant is brought forth. Upstairs. And he’s made a bit of a mess.

Unfortunately, Rin has forgotten her clocks being ahead and has mistimed the height of her magics (mana) and her new Servant has come in a bit off. While he doesn’t let this on immediately, he is not only testy but not entirely sure who he is.

fsn_1

However, he is certain Rin is the only Master for him. Albeit, after Rin expends an unnecessary amount of magic and wastes a valuable resource she should have saved for later.

After some bonding, some probing of each other’s bounds, we become comfortable with Archer, Rin’s servant as much as she does and, for his benefit and our own, Rin skips school and shows Archer around her town.

fsn_6

The following day we learn a little bit more about magic and the world we will be viewing. This time in the form of an evil barrier being built around Rin’s school, most likely by a novice but dangerous regardless. When activated, it will liquefy all the humans inside and allow their souls to be eaten by a Servant.

Later that night, while attempting to destroy the barrier, Rin and Archer meet their first enemy. Battle ensues and it is lovely.

fsn_10

The battle ends quickly, but not before displaying animation skill saved for the best sword fighting anime sequences you will ever see, and an innocent is killed. Rin drains her pendant to revive the student (who we must wonder how and why he was there in the first place) but realizes later that the student will remain a target.

With Archer at her side, Rin dashes off to rescue the student again, or thwart her enemy along the way, only to run into Saber the servant she wanted to summon.

Then the episode ends.

fsn_00

UBW is not very colorful in anime terms but it drips with detailed environments, depth of field focus, and a patience with everything that is enviable. That greatness aside, UBW’s magical fighting puts almost every anime to shame. It’s fluid, impactful, vibrant and the integration between the mage and her familiar is exciting.

The music, which is unobtrusive but masterful orchestral work, is good too.

fsn_7

If I were willing to nit pick, I might ding UBW for Archer’s amnesia. It’s a bit …trope-y… but, I get the sense that it, too, is something we’re not being told about. The very fact that ‘Archer’ wields 2 swords and has yet to pull out a bow, and how he occasionally responds to his enemy and his master leads me to suspect he knows more than we do. More than Rin.

In short, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is nothing short of fantastic and utterly mind blowing as an opener to a show. Have an hour? WHY AREN’T YOU WATCHING IT RIGHT NOW?

10_ogk top_ogk

Witch Craft Works – 07

wcw71

The elephant (or rather various assorted circus animals) in the room—Ayaka’s harboring of Medusa and her underlings—is dealt with this week…sort of. Because the six fugitives have knowledge about Honoka’s seals being broken, and her mother’s unhealthy passion for vigorous interrogations, Ayaka is certain moms’ll find out if she gets ahold of them, and so does everything in her power to stop that from happening.

To that end, she merges with Medusa through the sharing of an “Apple of Ignorance”, resulting in perhaps Ayaka’s coolest-looking battle mode getup yet (seriously, girl’s got more dresspheres than Yuna). But it doesn’t do any good, as Kazane breaks easily out of her petrification. Honoka draws upon his powers, but only succeeds in him and Ayaka switching bodies (and clothes, the full effect of which we don’t see). They’re both locked in a dungeon deep beneath the school, but soon escape when Ayaka does something intimate with Honoka again—specificially, clean out his ears with a Q-tip.

wcw72

While it’s nice to see the bond between the two so close, and we salute Honoka continuing to try to do what little part he can in protecting Ayaka as she protects him, this episode still had a couple problems. First of all, if Ayaka really didn’t want Medusa & Co. to be found, why the heck did she keep them in an unlocked room in Honoka’s house? When they got bored, they predictably broke out and got discovered by Kazane, who kept coming over (but brownie points for Mei and Kotetsu’s refreshing lack of modesty throughout the confrontation). Another problem: Kazane apparently releases Tanpopo and the others before interrogating Medusa, then has her snatched away by other witches.

So in the end, while she was in a perfect position to learn about Honoka’s secret (which Ayaka warned would mean the end of their normal high school life), but came up totally empty, which is kind of silly considering what a powerful badass she is (though apparently not enough of one to wrench the truth out of Chronoire. Then the episode started building up to this big epic duel between Ayaka and Kazane, only to fizzle out when Kazane refused to fight and sent her daughter home. That was kind of funny and unexpected, but in the end it was an annoyingly inconsequential episode in which no one looked particularly competent.


Rating: 5 (Average)

Guilty Crown – 22 (Fin)

Shu is moments too late to save Inori, and the newly awakened Mana’s dance begins the fourth apocalypse, as countless people around the world become consumed by crystal. Using his friends’ voids, Shu duels with Gai, but is disarmed and struck down. Just when all hope is lost, Inori calls to him from a crystal flower, and he draws her back out. Her song dissolves the crystal all over the world.

As GHQ headquarters collapses around them, Shu stabs Gai, and the two cross over to the Naath Utopia, which lies beyond the apocalypse. Gai tells him the only way for Mana to be put to rest is by letting her finish her role. Shu returns to the real world, where Inori is almost totally encased with crystal, and eventually disintigrates. Together, theyabsorb the last remnants of the apocalypse virus. Years later, the world is back to normal, Shu survived, and he still pines for his lost love.

Well, it was quite a ride, but all things must end, and end Guilty Crown did. It wasn’t the best ending ever but at least we pretty much knew what was going on, and no last-minute twists or contrivances came out of left field. There was naturally the final boss battle, where Gai who claimed Mana while Shu dug down deep and called upon the power of Inori. Gai was redeemed, as he says in the end he did what he did hoping Shu would come stop him, and he did.

We really dug the new music saved for this finale, including a pretty badass remix of the first ending theme. But we do feel ourselves hard-pressed to offer more than faint praise for this last episode. To be perfectly honest, the trio of sci-fi shows that came around in January (Aquarion, Moretsu and Lagrange) have caused our interest in Guilty Crown to wane. In that sense, it’s a good thing the series is over.


Rating: 3

Guilty Crown – 20

Shu’s father, Kurosu, as Keido, Gai’s father, reminices about his rivalry with Kurosu. With both Shu’s classmates and Funeral Parlor remnants aboard the Kuhouin yacht, Haruka reminices about meeting Kurosu, after his first wife Saeko died giving birth to Shu. Their first child Mana (Inori) discovered the apocalypse crystals after a meteor hit. Kurosu worked alone in a lab, while Keido ran a ‘nursery’ where children like Gai were experimented on. Gai escaped and ended up meeting Mana and Shu. When Keido finds that Kurosu has solved the mysteries he couldn’t, he kills him out of jealosy. Back in the present, Shu and Funeral Parlor disembark for a face-off with Gai, but not before Shu makes up with Souta.

Lots of past covered this week. Lots and lots of technobabble too, unfortunately. Genome intron resonance blah blah blah it all sounds the same to us. What did manage to rise above all the science speak was finally learning about Kurosu, and how much Shu is like him. But as “Shu” means “group”, Kurosu didn’t intend for his son to walk through life alone. Shu’s friends refuse to take their voids back from him, even if his losing to Gai means their deaths along with his. Their fates are tied together, and he won’t have to fight this battle alone.

As for Keido, well, we only learn that he’s a despicable monster who ran human experiments on children. The episode really underplays his evil though, as even his sister Haruka doesn’t stop associating with him and even asks him if it’s okay if she marries Kurosu. Surely she knows what he’s up to, being a budding scientist herself. Finally, we’re meant to believe Mana and either Shu or Gai will comprise the Adam and Eve of the world that will follow the fourth apocalypse. We’re still not crystal clear about the pertinent parties’ motivations for starting the world anew; all we can ask is what will keep them from getting bored with that world as well? How many apocalypses is enough for these freakshows?


Rating: 3