Fate/Extra Last Encore – 03

Shinji’s attempt to destroy Hakuno and Saber fails when Toosaka Rin shows up, hacks Shinji’s systems, and lends Hakuno and Saber a ride out of the tower on her flying motorcycle—all good stuff. We don’t learn anything more about Hakuno’s “Dead Face”, only that it drew Rin to their location.

Rin takes them to a run-down but still very stylish safe house, and explains why she interceded on their behalf: while she is only a former Master, she is the only one in the city (other than Hakuno) to have not fully surrendered to the stagnation of Mayor Matou’s grand plan.

She’s a resistance of one, and now that Hakuno, a fully-active Master, and his Servant Saber have appeared, that resistance grows to three. The only means of reaching the upper level is to defeat the “king” of the one they’re on: Shinji—who also happens to be an active Master. Hakuno and Saber met his Servant in the bar.

The morning of their assault on Central Tower, Hakuno glimpses Saber resplendent on the rooftop’s morning light, surrounded by birds. This show is nothing if not pretty and sometimes drop-dead gorgeous in its staging of people and places.

Rin assists in Hakuno and Saber’s infiltration of the tower, which necessitates her remaining behind to fight Shinji’s Berserkers, leaving the other two free to ride the elevators to the non-projection Shinji’s location.

Once they reach that location—which appears in the form of a standard Japanese school rooftop, Shinji recalls the victory that got him to where he is today. In light of that victory, he is game for a duel against Hakuno and Saber.

With that, massive walls begin to rise above the cityscape, great hatches open, and the entire level is quickly flooded with water, turning the city into an ocean. I love how intricately rendered this city has been the last two episodes, only for the show to completely destroy it here.

The reason for the transformation is that Shinji’s Servant Rider has a naval theme: she is Francis(ca?) Drake, and leads an armada of flying sailing ships to face Saber and her…saber.

Rider’s Noble Phantasm is the “Golden Wild Hunt” / Temesoro el Draque, and Saber is seemingly overwhelmed and sinks into the deluge, too low on mana to mount a counterattack.

That is, until Hakuno dives to her location on the “sea floor” and transfer his plentiful stores of mana through a kiss, which I don’t believe I’ve seen before in a Fate series.

It works a treat, and Saber rises out of the water and rams Rider’s flagship with a ship of her own, revealing her Noble Phantasm one of her skills is “Imperial Privilege”, which enables her to copy her opponent’s ability. Rider and Saber face off in a decisive dual, but Rider’s flintlocks appear to jam at a crucial moment, while Saber’s sword does not miss Rider.

Shinji gets to have an uncharacteristically noble end when he decides to ascend with his Servant rather than break his contract at the last moment to continue living.

And that’s pretty much Mission Accomplished for Hakuno and Saber. With Shinji gone, the level is restored to its true state: that of a vast, eerie, deserted ruin. That majestic city was only ever an illusion in which cowards could stagnate for all time. While that state wasn’t ideal, there is still a measure of sadness in what was lost…even if I won’t miss Shinji, as usual.

With that, a lift descends for Hakuno and Saber, which will bear them to the next level up. Rin, who obviously did not drown in the deluge, trails right behind them on her flying motorcycle. What visual wonders, challenges, Masters and Servants await them on the second level? I can’t wait to find out.

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Fate/Extra Last Encore – 02

Our introduction to this new Fate world and story continues with a classic Shaft-type episode that is dense in conversation and exposition, but festooned with lavish trappings that befit a story of this scope. F/ELE (as I’ll be calling it for brevity’s sake) has a lot that is familiar to fans of Fate, fans of Shaft, and fans of both such as myself.

Indeed, the manner in which Kishinami Hakuno summons Saber when he is on death’s door is essentially a reversal of Araragi Koyomi’s first meeting and rescue of Kiss-Shot, another blonde of legendary status, in Kizumonogatari. And while Hakuno is so far a walking bag of virtues, this new-look Saber, voiced by all-star seiyu Tange Sakura, is a lot of fun to watch.

We also get a Nisemonogatari-esque bath scene, not just in any bath, but a sprawling, elaborate Roman-style mixed bath strewn with rose petals. It’s hardly a Shinbo production without such a bath, where a young man and a young woman talk business utterly unfazed by the fact they’re both stark nakked.

When they arrive at the first level, which Saber believes will be the first battlefield of the next Holy Grail War, she is surprised to find a bustling metropolis that, far from being ravaged by war, is united in celebration. At first Saber doesn’t mind this twist at all, and soaks it all in, and we learn that while Tange’s Cardcaptor Sakura says “ho’e,” her Saber says “umu.”

They visit an empty bar occupied by only one, somewhat suspicious woman with pink hair dressed as a bartender. When Saber presents herself as a foe and bids her chosen opponent defend herself, the lady scoffs; surely Saber jests. There is no Holy Grail War here, she says; the Masters have sold off their Servants to live in eternal happiness and peace; that’s what’s being celebrated.

Both Saber and Hakuno seem a bit disappointed by this news, but also somewhat skeptical. When seven splendidly uniformed policewomen arrive, surround the pair, and ask them to accompany them to the Mayor’s office, Saber may gush about how pretty they look, but just as with her outwardly carefree soaking in of the city, Saber is likely staying on her guard and gathering information as if there were a war in progress, which is as it should be.

As they’re escorted to the Central Tower and ride its super-fancy elevator to the top, Hakuno starts to remember some of what happened before he arrived here. Saber said his memory would start to return upon becoming a Master, and his vision of a pile of dead classmates serve to remind him of what had to be done to get this far.

However, the mayor—who turns out to be Matou Shinji, appearing before the pair as a hologram—would prefer if they go no farther. After waxing poetic about the benefits of the AI and NPC-rich Utopia he’s helped build (and performing the Shaft Head Tilt), he finally brings up the price of all this happiness. Citizenship requires all Masters to sell off their Servants.

Naturally, Hakuno refuses, and Shinji stops playing nice, reveally he had physically isolated Saber some time ago with his suite of high-tech digital smoke and mirrors, and sics not one or two but three nasty-looking Berserkers upon Saber. She seems to relish a fight at last, as I did, but at the same time she doesn’t seem that impressed by her foes.

Meanwhile, Shinji’s sexy police all stab Hakuno with their swords. For defying the order of things, the plan is to use Saber as a power source as other Servants have been used, and for Hakuno to simply die.

Only Hakuno didn’t get the right script, and refuses to let a few impalings bring him down. To his attackers’ shock, he pulls out their swords one by one and then seemingly powers-up/transforms, a phenomenon Toosaka Rin senses from the top of a building elsewhere in the city.

Rin calls it “Dead Face.” Whatever that is, it’s clear Hakuno isn’t there to celebrate, or live comfortably, or die. He is there to fight.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 01 (First Impressions)

After an appropriately intense prologue in which a red Saber is magnificently defeated by what looks like some kind of golden deity. She starts falling and her eyes meet those of a dying girl—perhaps the female version of our protagonist (in a different life). Like Bakemonogatari or Madoka Magica, Shinjo starts things out loud and brash.

Things tone down a bit (or possibly reset), as we settle into a more-or-less ordinary high school class. There, familiar faces abound as our protagonist, Kishinami Hakuno, has interactions with Matou Shinji, Toosaka Rin, Matou Sakura in short order.

These faces are familiar, but the setting is strange, and there are constant flashes to a darker, more sinister reality lurking beneath the bright top layer. Kishinami can sense the death, and he questions what anyone is doing in this place, or why it even exists.

When he goes against a teacher’s warnings and approaches “Limbo”, the incinerator in the bowels of the school, he gets a fresh lecture from a bespectacled teacher. This is indeed an artificial paradise; a “digital hell” made in the image of heaven. He calls it a “Moon Cage”, where those with Master compatibility are sent.

Once the number of potentials reaches 100, there is a purge, and only the strongest selectees survive. An already disoriented Kishinami is quickly stabbed in the back by Matou Shinji (I guess he’s a jackass in any reality!) and as he starts to bleed out, an army of terminators starts mopping up the losers.

But Kishinami refuses to die, not without “vengeance” or “bliss, ” and presumably, not without more answers. As he’s chased by some kind of stone golem, he makes it to Limbo and falls in.

When he’s at the bottom, he finds a red sword waiting to be plucked…some version of Excalibur? His would-be destroyer is breathing down is neck, but Kishinami reaches and grasps the sword in time, summoning the servant Saber, who cleaves the foe in two in a sumptuous display.

By choosing to fight rather than simply run or survive, Kishinami seems to have earned the favor of the most powerful of Heroic Spirits, and a chance at an “encore” to attain vengeance for his plight and the bliss of victory—and Kotomine Kirei seems to be rooting for the kid, in his way.

Hmm…I found this a fresh an interesting twist on the Fate formula, going virtual and combining advanced Matrix-esque technology with the more low-tech history of the various servants. The Holy Grail would seem to be, at least in part, release from all of the layers of virtual prisons; a “true freedom”.

Akiyuki Shinbo directs this much like Bakemonogatari and Madoka, juxtaposing epic spectacles with mundane daily life and not afraid to let things get a bit trippy. While I would like to see a little more humor infused in the proceedings, I understand the need to establish this world with a straight face. Let’s see where this leads.

Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 21

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Yes. The long, long battle between Shirou and his alternate future self continues this week, though thankfully comes to an end around the halfway point. I say thankfully, because as cool as the animation is and as beautiful a setting their fighting in and as poignant the points both combatants are making are, I’ve kinda seen and heard enough, and I was really ready to move on.

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While standing around bearing witness to the Shirous, Saber sees a little of herself in the duality, remembering her days as a farm girl before she drew the Excalibur from the stone. “Even if nothing but regrets remained, if I was able to achieve many of my ideals in the process, then…” Saber trails off, but I believe she means to say it was worth making the choice she made, though both possibilities were correct.

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Shirou, too, doesn’t care about the regrets that have burden Archer and brought on his suicidal rage. His dream to help others so they can be happy is beautiful, and he won’t abandon it. His dream isn’t wrong. The universe around him would tend to agree, because no matter what Archer throws at him, he’s able to slash it away. He’s got almost no mana left, but his spirit is unbreakable.

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The Unlimited Blade Works setting suddenly vanishes, and we’re back in the mansion, with Shirou scoring a fatal blow to Archer. And all because the split second before Shirou stabs him, Archer recalls the memory of sitting on the porch, taking Kuritsugu to step back and let him carry on that wish.

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Oddly enough, it’s Shirou, the victor, who collapses in a pile, as Archer stands his ground, defeated but dignified. He accepts defeat and seems ready to depart, but then he’s stabbed by swords from Gilgamesh.

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Gil, the “genuine article”, means to destroy both of the “fakes” that stand before him, ruining his day, but in his last moment of life, Archer plays the hero once more, shoving Shirou aside and taking the full attack head on, vaporizing him. Rin, abandoning all common sense, shoots a little magic bolt at Gil, shifting his gaze to her, but fortunately, Saber is there to protect her.

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Gil, who was Archer in the previous war, delays killing everyone in order to initiate a enlightenment/gloating session, in which he tells Saber, Rin, and Shirou that the Holy Grail itself is a weapon; a gateway to Hell itself, capable of killing billions of humans. His goal is to do just that, and anyone who survives what pours forth from the grail will be “worthy of his rule.”

Then pieces around the mansion start to fall, and he halts his attack once more, worried about getting soot on him. This was an odd choice, because you’d think if he could effortlessly do so, he’d eliminate anyone who was even the slightest bit of a threat against his plans. Instead, he’s almost challenging them to foil those plans, despite saying their lives are worth less than soot to him.

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So Gil just struts off, finding the wounded Shinji in the forest, and decides to turn him into the vessel for the grail, and Shinji undergoes an Akira-style transformation that is none too pleasant. Then again, this show has been extremely clear about how huge of a piece of crap Shinji is, so this kind of an improvement.

This episode was an improvement over last week’s more open-ended affair, but still suffered a bit from repeating itself too often. There’s also the problem that Gilgamesh is a two-dimensional demigod with lofty but obvious goals of world destruction and domination. In other words, he’s not as interesting a foe as Archer was; not yet, anyway. Prove me wrong, F/sn.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 20

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Remember, I don’t know anything about stats or paths or ends or zeros or kaleids, nor do I have any plans to branch out and learn. I judged this episode the only way I could; the same way I’ve judged every episode of UBW: on its own merits. And I judged it to be another mostly thrilling important event and important revelation-packed powerhouse.

But it wasn’t perfect. In fact, there were a couple times when Archer’s lengthy, repetitive monologues threatened to drown the central battle’s momentum.

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What saved this episode was the awesome wrap-up of Rin’s predicament, which didn’t take up nearly as much time, but packed plenty of punch. When we left her, Lancer was apparently dead and Kirei was preparing to rip her heart out.

To my delight, Lancer wasn’t quite dead yet, and he not only kills Kirei (we hardly knew ye…at least on the show…so ‘bye bye Kirei, but scares Shinji off with a little prick to the shoulder after yanking him off of Rin once more.

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I never quite understood why he wanted to rape Rin so badly, but it wasn’t in the cards thanks to a particularly chivalrous Lancer, who refuses Rin’s thanks, as things merely “worked out.” But from there it’s clear Lancer won’t be getting back up again, and Rin tells reiterates her dispassionate view of Archer, thinking his regrets are justified, but at the same time knowing she’s not the one to judge or save him.

All she can focus on is herself and moving forward. Lancer sets himself and Kirei on fire as Rin departs. His fitting final rhetorical wish before he vanishes: that Rin look him up when she’s got a few more years on her. I’ll miss you Lancer, you magnificent bastard.

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My take is if Shirou survives his fight with Archer and continues on a path with her and Saber, that would be peachy. But again and again he projects his twin daggers and again and again Archer shatters them, telling him he’s no match for him.

Still, every time Shioru crosses blades he learns a bit more and his skills get a bit better, and even though he’s taking a lot of hits and losing a lot of blood, he keeps fighting even when Archer transports them back to the UBW.

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He literally fights until his body stops working, and his mind enters “hell”, both the hells his future self created and participated in, and the hell-fire from which Kuritsugu saved him. In this psychic limbo, he remembers something Archer forgot: how happy Kuritsugu looked when he saved him; a feeling Shirou wanted to experience for himself.

Unbeknownst to Shirou, Kuritsugu saved his life by somehow infusing him with Saber’s scabbard. That same scabbard heals him in his present UBW fight, and he gets back on his feet.

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Thus the fight will spill at least partway into next week, with Shirou proclaiming he doesn’t mind being beaten by someone else, but he’ll be damned if he’ll let himself be beaten…by himself. That’s only the last of several great shonen moments Shirou gets this week.

With his body, spirit, and resolve all in good repair for the first time, here’s hoping the “sham” beats the “original”, regardless of whether he can change his mind, proving the borrowed wish of becoming a hero of justice is still a wish, and a powerful one at that.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 19

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For that rare cohort of viewers of whom I am a member, the realization that Archer was Bitter Future Shirou cam gradually, but even after watching the OP for the first time since learning it for certain, there were plenty of clues for a novice to follow, and naturally, it all holds up quite well. I also liked how relatively casually it’s finally revealed to our Shirou, because like us, spoilers or no, he kinda had an inkling at this point.

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Oh hey, here’s Matou Shinji, being about as awful as one can be, though I guess it isn’t really his fault, it’s just who he is: a wholly despicable, irredeemable punk with designs on making Rin his sex slave, or something. My skin was crawling like a house centipede, so I was relieved when my favorite bro Lancer marked his arrival with a vicious punch that, if I’m honest, I kinda wish had fractured Shinji’s skull.

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Lancer left Shirou to rescue Rin because his Master’s orders were to see to her safety, not fight beside Shirou. As for Saber, she’s only there to bear witness, promising not to interfere. But by being there, Archer is able to use her past as She-King Arthur (my guess for her true identity) to make his point about regrets, and the desire to right past wrongs, which was to become a heroic spirit in the first place, after becoming a Guardian after death.

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While Archer is largely standing around talking to Shirou and Saber, the sheer atmosphere of the scenes are enough to drag us in as we listen, rapt. His is a truly tragic tale, in which his seemingly good intentions and desire to be a “hero of justice” were twisted by the realities of the deal he made. Guardians are removed from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth—by time itself—to appartate into a human conflict and end it swiftly, without discriminating between good or evil.

Enough of that—and Shirou certainly seems to have done enough of that—will corrode even the best-intending souls. Being the “hero” he wanted to be meant there had to be people who needed heroes; which means there had to be suffering. He killed a few to save many, but those few added up over the years/decades/centuries.

Now that he’s told Shirou what his ideals have led to, Archer tosses him a sword and asks him to end it. Saber submits that because of Archer’s Guardian status, he won’t disappear even if he kills Shirou, but he’s going to kill him mind, body, and soul, and pray for the best.

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As Shirou stares death in the face, Rin suddenly finds her savior Lancer cowed by his two-faced traitor of a Master, who is finally revealed as Kirei Kotomine…which, well, I wasn’t expecting that, but then again it’s not like there are a lot of characters left that we know, and if it was someone I didn’t know, there wouldn’t have been as much impact.

That being said, Kirei is a bit overly campy-villainous and cruel in telling Rin just how much he’s betrayed her and for how long, having raised her up to be a  pawn (hence those chess pieces in the previews) after killing her Dad in the previous war. Rin is pissed and flies off the handle with a very Tousaka Rin-esque screed about how neither heaven, hell, or purgatory will have his slimy ass.

Things get more serious when Kirei orders Lancer to kill Rin, and he disobeys. Rather than use a command seal (one of what looks like far more than three) to force him, he uses one to order him to kill himself, which he d oes in short order, causing my heart to drop to the floor with a clang. Now Rin is really in deep shit, and her thoughts of “leaving the game” before Shirou really hit hard. Surely this isn’t the end for her…or for them? (Don’t answer that.)

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As for Shirou, he’s not going to accept this future Him who regrets everything he ever did and wants to negate it all by disappearing his past self. Shirou is determined never to have any regrets, come what may. And there seems to be a lot coming, with blades tickling everyone’s throats.

Will Shirou’s positive outlook prevail over his older, more experienced, but more beaten-down-by-life-and-the-world counterpart? Will he get to be the hero of justice he wanted to be, but not the one he became, delivering the justice Kirei and Shinji deserve? Boy, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? Trace on.

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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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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 17

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The charming romantic comedy is wisely tabled this week as Rin, Shirou, and Lancer get right down to business facing off against Caster, Kuzuki, and Archer, respectively. And like the Clippers-Spurs first round finale, despite one side’s shortcomings it looks like anyone’s game.

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Of course, before the battle begins, Caster makes sure to get in plenty of trash talk directed at the “little girl” AKA Rin, while Archer makes a point to try to anger Lancer into slipping up by insulting his temporary ally.

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Lancer is pissed off enough to launch his special attack, Gae Bolg, straight at Archer, who tries and fails to block it with the multilayer Rho Aias. The resulting explosion seems to do Archer in, though he actually survives, he mentions the ever-watching eye of Caster is no longer upon them. Lancer withdraws, leaving Archer alone do do what he will.

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Caster is busy with Rin, who puts up a surprisingly good fight with magic before having to pull out her trump card – hand-to-hand combat using her magically-fortified arms and legs. Along with Shirou getting tossed back again and again by Kuzuki, and Kuzuki quickly intervening when Rin starts beating the crap out of Caster, our lovebirds definitely seem to be in over their heads, especially when Caster still has Saber in the chamber.

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Then we hear “Trace on,” not from Shirou. but from Archer, and numerous summoned swords are driven into Caster’s chest, defeating her once and for all. Kuzuki embraces her at the end, whereupon she tells him her wish was being fulfilled all along, likely by having such a great and loyal Master. True to his word, he keeps fighting Archer even after his Servant has gone, but doesn’t last long.

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So yeah, Go Archer, saving the day at the last minute with his “Trojan Horse” act. But hold on; Archer still hates Shirou and wants to kill him, and Rin no longer has any control over him. No one has any control over him, making him essentially the New Caster. One wonders how he can operate this way without any Master, but the fact he said “trace on” is certainly a hint.

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Unlike Ilya and Berserker’s epic struggle and defeat, Caster and Kuzuki fall with comparatively little fuss, and their roles as impediments to Shirou and Rin are over, giving way to Rouge Archer. This was one of those two-part eps where I enjoyed the quieter “rest” episode more than the action-packed “release.”

Of course, Saber is now free of Caster, and from all appearances seems as devoted to Shirou’s protection as ever, so unless she has a debilitating weakness of some kind, Archer should have his work cut out for him.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 16

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Four things I was pretty certain of, going into episode sixteen: 1.) Shirou and Rin weren’t going to be killed by Blonde Guy here; 2.) Shirou wasn’t going to beg Shinji for his life, nor was Rin going to join him; 3.) We were finally going to learn Blonde Guy’s name, so I don’t have to call him Blonde Guy.

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4.) The rhythm of UBW has typically dictated an episode of relative rest and regrouping after a big battle, and even though Shirou and Rin weren’t directly involved, they were also pretty damn lucky Gilgamesh had to get going with the still-beating heart of Ilya, nor was he that interested in killing them anyway. So they get a rest.

Whether they spend this rest episode depends on how much you’re enjoying the Shioru/Rin Show, which I am very much. At this point in the run, the show can put these two in front of the “camera” as much as it wants; I know we’re going to get great fireworks out of them.

Rin tries to come to grips with Shirou’s “others first” philosophy by dismissing it as a twisted flaw in his personality, or the result of losing something in exchange for being saved ten years ago. But neither is the case. Shirou is certain living one’s life for others “can’t possibly be bad”, because he’s seen others do it for him, including Rin.

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Having bickered quite a bit to a stalemate, they come afoul of Lancer, and fearing an attack, start bickering all over again about who’s going to run and who’s going to fight. By Rin’s logic, I guess that would make them both twisted individuals, huh? This rare but successful attempt at romantic comedy was a lot of fun, especially when Lancer reveals he’s not there to fight.

Sure, that means peril is lessened, but the moment I saw Lancer, I knew he was going to propose an alliance the moment I saw him, so had any more peril built up it would have rang false. Shirou refusal to repeat Rin’s lie about them being “just allies”, on the other hand, rang true, both to me and Lancer, who ends up respecting the “softy” Shirou for being possessive of Rin (even if that’s the last thing she wants, though that’s not certain either).

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Now that the lovebirds have a legit Servant again, they’re officially back in the fight, but it’s still going to be an uphill battle. Caster has a veritable army of badasses at her command, and even if their hearts aren’t necessarily in the game, guys like Archer are at least content to continue serving the side he believes has the best chance of winning.

Even if it meant more talking and less fighting, I still really enjoyed Archer’s chat with the enigmatic Kuzuki, who turns out not to be that enigmatic after all: he holds good and evil in equal standing, as both are legitimate and necessary sides of his own humanity. Lacking specific ambitions himself, upon meeting Caster, he devoted himself to helping her achieve her wish, revealing the Grail is only a means, not an end.

Like so many warriors on so many distant battlefields throughout history—be they defeated or victorious—she simply wants to go home. It’s a good wish. Selfish, perhaps, and costly to others…but undeniably human. So is Kuzuki’s resolve never to regret the choice he’s made, whether or not it’s “wrong.”

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Rin has a plan, and both Shirou and Lancer are on board, so they arrive at Caster’s HQ with a degree of confidence and calmness. There was a time and place for lovers quarrels, and this is not that place, with Archer staring them down. He probably wouldn’t hesitate to skewer Shirou again were it not for Lancer, who thinks Archer is a cold bastard for betraying such a “dazzling” Master as Rin just because the odds were against her. We won’t get to see them fight till next week, but this episode improved my opinion of Lancer a great deal.

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I must confess I’m not quite sure why it was so important that Rin show Shirou the pendant before going to face Caster, and tell him there’s only one of them. But I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. I also have no idea how Shirou and Rin will be able to face Caster period; even if she doesn’t have Assassin by her side and chooses not to sic Saber on her former Master. Regardless of how it will go, I can’t wait to see how everything shakes out.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 15

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Shirou and Rin really have the worst timing…

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What I thought would be a thrilling battle between an unstoppable force and an unmovable object turned out to be something a bit more…one-sided: the slow, methodical slaughter of Berserker by Blonde Guy, broken down into twelve trials, just like Berserker’s true identity, the demigod Heracles, had to overcome. Heracles may never give up, but Blonde guy will never run out of weapons to throw at him.

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Ilya doesn’t fret, however, for it has been ingrained in her for years that she is the ultimate master, the product of a thousand years of research and countless sacrifices, while Berserker is the undisputed strongest servant. But Ilya didn’t always have Berserker. In fact, when she first met him, she ran away in disgust.

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Out in the woods, a pack of wolves caught her scent, but just when it looks like they’ll tear her to pieces, Berserker comes out of nowhere to save her, but not because it’s in his contract or because it’s part of his programming as a servant. He chose to protect her of his own free will. And among the people in Ilya’s life, he’s the only one to do that.

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Back to the present battle, Ilya cannot fathom losing to Blonde Guy, but when the battle moves into the confines of the castle, the symbolic walls begin to close in on the allegedly most-powerful master-servant duo. Berserker is being worn down, but isn’t able to lay a single scratch on Blonde Guy.

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Shirou and Rin can only watch in horror from the shadows as the duo they had hoped to team up with has their asses handed to them, to put it indelicately. Berserker never gives up, but Blonde Guy eventually immobilizes him with the Chains of Heaven and impales him with a giant spear.

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With her servant and weapon slain, Ilya is a sitting duck, and it’s all Rin can do to keep Shirou from yelling out and running to her aid as Blonde Guy pulls a simple sword from his treasury, slashes out Ilya’s eyes, then runs her through the heart.

After the baroque spectacle of felling Berserker, Ilya’s death is chilling in its austerity, and having learned all the trials she herself went through, and the realization she was living for herself and Berserker and not her family, caused my heart to sink into my feet. It’s a quiet yet utterly crushing moment.

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Berserker is able to break the Chains of Heaven (“surpassing his own myth to the end”, as Blonde Guy poetically puts it) and make one more futile lunge at him, but while Blonde Guy’s face betrays momentary surprise, his weapons are quick enough to finish Berserker well before he can touch him.

From there, Shirou and Rin should just wait for Blonde Guy to depart before leaving themselves and regrouping…but Shioru just can’t keep his damn mouth shut, earning him a sword in his geneal vicinity for his trouble, which destroys a part of the balcony he’s standing on.

While Blonde Guy could clearly kill the lovebirds in the blink of an eye, obviously they’re not going to die next week. So what happens next? Do they form an alliance with him against Caster? Their options are fast dwindling.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 14

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There’s no time for Rin and Shirou to lick their wounds and sulk. They’re clear about what they think of each other (Shirou has fallen for Rin, while Rin “doesn’t exactly hate” Shirou) Now that they’re back at square one, there’s nothing for it but cooking dinner and coming up with a plan. They come up with the same thing I was expecting, which also makes the most sense: try to ally themselves with Illya and Berserker. They won’t get anywhere against Caster and her expanding entourage without a Servant.

Oh, and I liked how Rin and Shirou’s tea cups were sitting on that table.

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From there we cut to Caster at the church, making me worry that she’s going to have these repetitive Queen Beryl-style scenes all season, but then we dive into her backstory, and her previous Master, who was a shit-stain-and-a-half.

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Even Caster seems a bit put off with him using little kids as human sacrifices in his hi-tech mana mill…but she plays it more as being put out, stating its far too wasteful of life. She doesn’t go so far as to suggest she feels any sympathy for her master’s chattel, but orders the workshop shut down, and order her Master ignores, because he’s her Master. Furthermore, he uses a command seal to ensure she’ll never betray him with Noble Phantasm, as she has a bit of a reputation in this regard.

He also smacks her around, just to burnish that fresh, clean, asshole sheen of his.

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However, Caster’s a very old and very crafty Servant, and this guy seems a few grails short of a chalice, so she’s able to defeat him without too much trouble by using Rule Breaker on herself, releasing her from his control so she can engulf him in flames.

She…ahem…also freed the fifty-or-so children her ex-Master was planning to sacrifice.There’s still quite a bit of righteous Princess Medea in Caster, and it’s implied that her reputation as a treacherous witch isn’t entirely deserved…though her body of work last season obviously didn’t endear her to us, it’s nice to know she’s been twisted into what she is today because of her past.

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Before she killed him, Caster’s ex-Master put a hit out on her, which is answered by Lancer (sorry, not trying to rhyme there.) Master-less, bloodied, and left for dead, she’s eventually found by Kuzuki Souichirou, who takes her in and agrees to become her new Master, because it’s kind of her only hope. She showed compassion for those kids, and was showed compassion by the universe in return by being saved by Kuzuki. You give a little, you get a little.

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Of course, we can’t quite canonize the good princess quite yet…she’s still the primary enemy of our heroes, who are on their way to meet the enemy of their enemy Illya, who has a little fun with Rin and the shock barrier. Illya has a vague memory involving Shirou or Shirou’s dad (I have no idea what, mind you) which is enough to entice her to allow them an audience. Her chambermaid Sella doesn’t think this is a good idea, but Illya sends her and Leysritt out to capture them nevertheless.

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That’s when the chambermaids’ way is blocked by Matou Shinji, making his first appearance since teaming up with the Blonde Guy. Sella and Leysritt, homonculi both, are no match for his shitload-of-weapons-summoning ability, in a brutal smackdown full of striking images. Matou Shinji’s stomach turns a bit at the horrifying power of his new Servant.

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So what would have been a simple matter of Rin and Shirou visiting with Illya and negotiating an alliance is completely blown up by Blonde Guy, who for all we knew planned this attack knowing the two servant-less masters were en route. Between Shinji/Blonde Guy and Illya/Berserker, it’s not that hard for me to pick a side, but we should be in for a good fight bloodbath next week regardless.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 10

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That sky, that field, those swords…I must say, Rin has some pretty dreams.

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Archer continues to pout and be baffled by her choice to ally herself with Shirou, whom he considers the absolute worst choice, suggesting they team up with Caster instead. Rin tells him that’s not happening. Caster is a monster, and she can trust Shirou to never betray him. Archer still protests, and worries for his master, whom he believes Shirou is making soft.

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But she is his master, so what she says goes. The search for Caster’s Master continues and seemingly hits a breakthrough, as both Shirou and Rin witness Issei conferring with Rin’s homeroom teacher Kuzuki Souichirou, who is staying a Ryuudou Temple with his ‘fiancee’.

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That connection is enough for Rin to suspect Kuzuki, and she plans to test him that very night. Shirou, while dubious, won’t let his ally jump into potential danger alone.

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It becomes clearer and clearer that he’s not merely concerned with holding up his part of the alliance, but also with his dear friend’s safety.

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Rin fires a light magic burst at Kuzuki, ruining his umbrella, and Caster shows up shortly thereafter to protect him, proving Rin right. I can’t say I was surprised by this, but I guess it wouldn’t do for them to be wrong again. Caster must have a master; them’s the rules.

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But Kuzuki is an odd duck. When Shirou asks him if he’s somehow under Caster’s control, Kuzuki is bemused. Shirou calls him a good and decent man who would never turn a blind eye to Caster’s crimes…but he doesn’t know Kuzuki at all. Neither in Caster’s thrall nor totally controlling her, he prefers to stand on the sideline and see what happens, not involving himself unless absolutely necessary. Not a bad strategy, for a Master who claims not to be a mage at all.

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But then Rin, Shirou, and Saber force the issue, and he’s forced to involve himself. He comports himself far better than I imagines, as he’s able to block Saber’s strikes with his bare hands.

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Not only that, he’s able to strengthen those same bare hands in order to put Saber in a chokehold and toss her aside like a ragdoll.

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Rin is dispatched even quicker than Saber…Yowch…

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…And it doesn’t seem like Shriou will fare any better. In fact, it would appear that by hitting Kuzuki with that spell, she rattled a hornet’s nest and they now find themselves in way over their heads.

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Then, Shriou sees an injured, knocked-out, helpless Rin lying on the ground… and knows that he and only he has to do something, or she’s going to die. What he does looks more like instinct awakened from extreme conditions, i.e. Rin being in mortal danger. Shirou’s been thinking about Archer’s two swords for some time, and in this, the moment when he really needs a weapon that isn’t just a pipe or a stick, he is able to summon those swords using projection magic.

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With these, he’s able to not only keep up with Kuzuki, but keep him at bay until Saber recovers, forcing Kuzuki and Caster to withdraw. Rin is surprised and somewhat annoyed he didn’t mention how good he was at projection before, but he surprised himself was well. I also imagine from the pain we see him in that some kind of price will be exacted for using this power if and when he ends up using it again. And because he’s the hero, it’s likely he’ll bear that pain without telling anyone.

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That was a nice battle, and also a good new power awakening for Shirou, as well as another trial that brought him and Rin closer together. It seems like Archer would have been useful in the situation, but Rin left him home, afraid of Caster’s effect on him.

Meanwhile, Shinji is in a very green area talking with a bloke who I’m guessing is his new servant. Speaking of being in over one’s head; the naive, petulant Shinji definitely seems to be that.

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