Fate / Zero – 25 (Fin)

Did the Holy Grail know Kiritsugu would reject it? Who can say? But even if it initially chose him to be its bearer, his order to Saber to destroy it flipped the script. It also flipped the cup, as the Grail’s destruction means the black ooze it contained falls upon Fuyuki, destroying everything in sight, to Kiritsugu’s great despair. Even trying to do the right thing at the right time would seem to have backfired on this exceedingly unlucky and tortured soul.

Speaking of tortured souls, Kariya is still barely alive when he returns to the Matou basement, but while his senses tell him he is reuniting Sakura with Rin and Aoi, in reality Sakura is abandoning him to the Crest Worms and accepting the fate he tried in vain to keep her from.

Perhaps it was the contents of the Grail, not the Grail itself, that mattered most, as those contents fell on Archer, but rather than destroy him along with everything else, it gave him physical form (though not clothes). And because Gilgamesh still had a pact with Kirei, it resurrected him, albeit with no heartbeat.

That literal lack of a beating heart is indicative of his departure from humanity, as is his apparently Grail-fulfilled wish for death and destruction around him, and a hunger to “learn more” and explore the depths of his inhumanity. But as I said, the Grail will never fully satiate; at best it can only lock people—Servants and Masters alike—in a perpetual state of searching.

As for Kiritsugu, he’s done searching. Indeed, he seems to be just about done with everything, owing to the curse bestowed on him by a scorned Grail and his entire life’s work burning before him. The last thing he searches for—a single survivor among the scorched rubble—is something he ironically finds immediately.

By saving that single life—a young Shirou—Kiritsugu himself is saved. It’s a concept a sneering Kirei can’t possibly comprehend enough even to envy.

With that, the clock on the Fourth Holy Grail War reaches…Zero and comes to an end, with the official winner in doubt, though more-or-less claimed by Kirei, since the Grail seemingly brought him back.

Back at his “grandparents”, Waver announces he’s going to set aside his magical studies for a bit, get a part-time job, live with them, and save up enough to travel the world his king once conquered a good chunk of.

Kirei has upheld his promise to his master to look after Rin after he’s gone, likely so that he can observe and absorb all of the grief, pain and suffering Rin is likely to experience on the long, hard road all heads of great families must walk.

Rin maintains a stoicsm beyond her years at her father’s futural, even as she wheels her brain-damaged, delusional mom around. What gets her to crack and shed tears is the Azoth dagger; Kiritsugu twisting the blade like the piece of work he is.

And Saber, poor Saber, is back in Britain, on a battlefield strewn with corpses, having led everyone nowhere but to their own deaths. She remembers Lancelot’s last words to her, about how he only ever sought her righteous judgment for betraying her and falling in love win Guinevere.

Arturia considers herself a failed king who never understood anyone, and considering her surroundings it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

As for Saber’s former Master, he is banned from Einzbern Castle forever, having failed to secure the Grail for them, and never sees his daughter Ilya again. So he adopts Shirou, fixes up the old safe house, and spends the next five years raising his adoptive son and living a quiet but happy life.

One night he tells Shirou how he once wanted and tried to be a hero, but ultimately failed. Shirou confidently promises his dad he’ll become a hero in his place. A heavenly light suddenly shines above Saber; a ray of hope.

Clearly contented by his son’s words, Kiritsugu starts to peacefully pass away, with an answer for his friend Shirley’s question about what he wanted to be when he grew up: he wanted, and still wants, to be a hero.

* * * * *

And that’s it for Fate/Zero! Boy, what a ride it’s been these past five weeks. That was a far better show than I could have imagined…which is why it took so long after UBW to watch it. Burned by previous prequels to beloved works, I was worried knowing pretty much how everything would end would make it difficult for the stakes to matter.

Yeah…I was dead wrong about that. Not only was I far more emotionally invested in Zero, it was a lot more approachable, had a lot more heart, and took a lot more risks than the smoother, shinier UBW. It’s not that UBW is bad, it’s simply a matter of Zero kicking ass in virtually every aspect of the game. It wasn’t just a great anime, it was great television; great storytelling, full stop. So thanks to everyone out there who recommended it to me. It was well worth a look back.

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Fate / Zero – 24

Ever since the childhood trauma that set him on his path, Emiya Kiritsugu has striven to be a level-headed, efficient, logical man. It’s partly why he kept Saber at arm’s length: an emotional connection with his Servant isn’t necessary and exposure to her illogical honor can only create inefficiencies in his plans.

So as Saber finds herself struggling with the insane anger and hatred of her former most trusted knight, essentially making her the logical one in her fight, and Iri’s body transforms into the Holy Grail, Kiritsugu never would have imagined it would not only toy with his emotions, but use his beloved logic against him.

But first, by god was I not wrong when I said the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei would be something. It’s quite different and more minimalist than any previous battle in the show, with both participants sizing up their opponents, approaching them with a certain strategy, and switching up tactics on the fly as conditions rapidly change.

Kirei would have surely killed Kiritsugu relatively quickly were it not for Avalon imbuing Kiritsugu with a virtual “Auto-Life” status. In the slight sliver of a moment Kirei’s guard is down, Kiritsugu takes Kirei’s right arm away with Contender, and the odds are evened.

So even is the duel, in fact, that the Grail itself, runnething over with some kind of dark, blood-like ooze directly above the fighters, essentially calls a “timeout” by covering both in that ooze.

That indicates the War is finally at an end, and the Grail has chosen the victor. At the same time, Saber runs Berserker through, killing him, as Kariya also expires; claiming she cannot atone to him without winning the Holy Grail.

In an illusory world created by the Grail, an avatar of Iri representing the will of the Grail names Kiritsugu as the winner, and he need only officially pray for his wish to become reality. The only problem is, the Grail, or at least this Grail, cannot give him the miracle he wants. At least, not in a manner that is acceptable.

The Grail then sets to work taking Kiritsugu’s philosophy to its logical conclusion: killing the smaller percentage of people to save a larger one, thought-experiment style; sacrificing the few to save the many.

But if, like his time-altering battle ability, Kiritsugu would continue to whittle down some humanity in order to save another proportion, before long there will be no one left in the world but him and those he cares about the most, presented to him as Maiya, Iri and Ilya.

To save them, he’ll have to kill everyone else. In other words, “saving the world” means destroying humanity. This is the sum total of Kiritsugu’s wish, according to the Grail.

And the Grail stands ready to grant that wish, even though it is not at all what Kiritsugu wants. He rejects the Grail, unwilling to sacrifice the world for his own few loved ones, symbolically murdering both Iri and Ilya in a thoroughly upsetting scene in an attempt to subvert of the nightmare scenario the Grail put forward. The Grail curses him and he is cast out.

Back in reality, such as it is, Kiritsugu has the advantage over Kirei, who rages and fumes at him for refusing and wasting the Grail’s wish. But in killing him it seems Kiritsugu is almost doing Kirei a favor.

This Grail is not omnipotent, and thus would be no more able to reveal the nature and meaning of Kirei’s existence than it could grant Kiritsugu a miracle that would end all conflict in the world. In both cases, the one making the wish does not know what it is they seek.

That being said, the Grail is still immensely powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands, and Kiritsugu decides that no one, including him, has the right hands.

So as Saber and Archer descend on the physical Grail, poised to fight the final duel in the War, and Saber rejects Archer’s offer of marriage and servitude, Kiritsugu forsakes Saber once more, hitting her where it hurts most: he uses his two remaining Command Seals to order her to destroy the Grail with Excalibur…and she cannot disobey.

But perhaps Kiritsugu is right that Saber, like Kirei and he himself before, is merely deluding herself into believing the Grail will grant her wish, only offer shallow illusions in exchange for being possessed by someone worthy. The Grail is not an answer.

Fate / Zero – 23

Before their epic duel, Rider and Archer have a drink together and exchange words of respect. Waver quips that they’re friends, and Rider doesn’t argue with the label: how can he be unfriendly with the one who could be the last person he’ll ever see?

Rider doesn’t mess around with anything other than the best he’s got, and whips out Ionian Hetairoi. Archer looks pleased to be facing such a strong and worthy foe, but he also doesn’t look worried in the least.

While the ancient kings’ battle takes place on the vast expanse of sand, Saber ends up fighting Berserker in a relatively cramped underground parking lot. Berserker seems to feed off of Kariya’s suffering and regret, as Sakura shows up in his head, and while reassuring her they’ll all be together again, Sakura inadvertently reminds Kariya that “they” no longer includes her mom.

Berserker’s penchant for ‘turning’ weapons for his use continues when he makes use of some automatic weapons; Saber can barely get near him, and when she does, her sword bounces off his armor, or the blade merely caught in mid-strike by Berserker’s palms.

Once he does that, Saber gets into her head that he reminds her of some knight she once knew, and on cue Berserker’s Pigpen-like cloud of miasma dissipates and he removes his helm to reveal he IS someone she knew…or rather he WAS. That someone is none other than Sir Lancelot, the greatest of the Knights of the Round Table.

That Saber has no idea it was him until now, and has no idea how he came to be this way after they parted ways, gets to the heart of that seed of doubt planted by Rider about her reckless self-destructive path to kingship, which he didn’t see as kingship at all. Lance would seem to be proof of that, and I can’t imagine Saber wants to fight him, except perhaps to put him out of his misery.

Back in the desert, Gilgamesh reveals the reason he’s so calm with a massive legendary army descending on him: his own, thus-far-unused Noble Phantasm, Ea. As soon as he unlocks and activates Enuma Elish (an extremely strange and cool sequence, as befits Gilgamesh), the dunes begin to collapse, the legions plummet to their demise, and the very sky shatters along with the Reality Marble.

His trump card utterly defeated, Rider has no course but to charge Archer on his own. Even after his horse goes down, he runs at him on foot, getting impaled several times, before being restrained by great chains, his blade inches from Gil’s face. Before he fades away, Iskandar wonders if the lapping waves of Oceanus, the Ocean at the End of the World, was actually merely the dancing of his own heart.

It’s a legendary ending for a truly legendary Servant with whom there was never a dull moment. He was simply outmatched here. And to his credit, Archer is not cruel in his treatment of Waver. On the contrary, when he asks if as his sworn retainer, Waver should not avenge his fallen king, and Waver replies that he was ordered to survive, Gilgamesh salutes his “splendid loyalty” and spares his life, urging him to never let that loyalty tarnish.

Time for Waver to go home; he got far further in the Holy Grail War than most would expect a mage from a “lesser” family to get. While this fight is over and Rider is gone, the stage is set—literally, Iri’s body is on a stage—for the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei. Will their fight be as bold and flashy as Archer and Rider’s, or Saber and Berserker’s below them? Perhaps not, but it should still be…theatrical.

Fate / Zero – 22

For an episode preceded by such disturbing spectacle as a broken man murdering his best friend and making Rin an orphan, and followed by the casual malice of a born-again nihilist discarding his hostage before setting a foreboding trap, this episode has the most charming, heartwarming opening: an exhausted Waver finally arrives back home just before daybreak.

We know it’s not really his home, and he hypnotized its occupants into thinking he’s their grandson. But when his “grandpa” beckons for him to join him on the roof for a truly spectacular sunrise, something else dawned on me: Waver is Me. He’s the most normal, decent, well-adjusted participant in a war stocked with utter weirdos on all sides.

He seeks only simple glory and acknowledgement; the underdog raised high; his doubters and haters silenced. Sure, hypnotizing the couple was wrong, but how can I judge when even after the hypnosis wears off, the grandpa is not only forgiving, but wants Waver to stay. He’s a better grandson than they ever had.

On to the weirdos. While I more easily related to him early as a young kid having fun before all hell broke loose, and continue to recognize the emotions in his heart, support his goals (as laid out by Iri) and feel for his many losses, I simply haven’t lived a life as intense as Kiritsugu, so while I’m rooting for him, I’m on the outside looking in with Kiritsugu.

And Kiritsugu is alone again. It’s not ideal, but he’s not going to slow down or stop, even though he’s gone forty hours without sleep. He says “alone again” because, like Natalia, Maiya has left him. He doesn’t seem to count Saber as a person he can work with or trust, let alone a person at all; instead, she’s a tool to win the war, and he treats her as coldly as ever as she makes her report.

Kiritsugu probably also feels alone because Iri has been taken by the enemy, and he no doubt fears he won’t see her alive again. But a defiant Iri makes use of her captivity by Kirei to get in a number of barbs that cut the priest to the quick. Notably, that Kiritsugu isn’t an “empty man” like him; he seeks nothing less than the salvation of the world through the elimination of all violence and conflict.

Unsurprisingly, Kirei hears nothing but the naive utterings of a child in these words, but Iri does manage to give him something he didn’t have before he kidnapped her: Kiritsugu’s dream, which he will now proceed to destroy, along with the Holy Grail itself, which he can think of no use for. And since he gets all he needs out of Iri, he snaps her neck, seemingly killing her.

That I’m a bit fuzzy on how this whole Einzbern homonculus system works—and thus unclear whether Iri is dead dead or even ever alive—is irrelevant; it’s still absolutely gutting to see such a gentle, loving person treated with such contempt. Kirei is one hell of a villain, and his frustration and resentment for lacking something fundamental Kiritsugu seems to possess is palpable; he’s an almost pitiable wretch.

After that unpleasantness, what sure feels like the final day of the War transitions into the final night, and Waver awakes to find Rider in no particular hurry. Mage signals in the sky indicate that someone wishes to challenge them—Kirei arrranges for Archer to fight Rider while Berserker will keep Saber company—and Rider summons a horse, the backup to his chariot.

Waver has no intention of going along. As Rider said, only the strong remain, and Waver doesn’t consider himself strong. He’s Just A Guy, after all, the Everyman of Fate/Zero, with no business in the final battles. He even expends all of his Command Seals at once so he can say with certitude he is no longer Rider’s Master.

And yet Rider still picks him up by the scruff and dumps him in front of him on his horse. He wants Waver to accompany him as he has on all of their great battles thus far, not because he’s his Master, but because they’re friends and equals.

Having gone from gut-punch to heartwarm, the episode closes with a bit of a mindblower, as Iri, apparently not quite dead (or…whatever) after all, goes Beyond the Infinite.

In a surreal, bizarre and thoroughly unsettling sequence that calls to mind Akira, Evangelion, and Dalí, Iri sees hundreds of naked doll bodies piled up before her, one of which cracks a way-too-wide evil grin; then she has a touching scene with her daughter Ilya before an oozing black darkness encroaches upon them, and dozens of tiny arms grab at her and pull her down into the goo.

When she emerges, she realizes what’s happening: she’s in the Holy Grail. What exactly that means, and whether and how she can aid her beloved from there, remains to be seen. But I have to say I’m digging the extra metaphysical layer the show has revealed.

Fate / Zero – 21

I can only admire Fate/Zero for its willingness to include a little bit of everything for everyone in its Holy Grail War, and as it had already featured a dogfight between Archer and Berserker, it was only a matter of time before Saber got into a chase with Rider, she on her motorcycle and he and Waver on his giant chariot.

The resulting chase does not disappoint, as Saber squids fearlessly through traffic, pushing her steed to its mechanical limits before deciding Screw it, I’m bosozokuing this motherfucker. While I prefer the more classic look of her bike, it’s still hella cool she can soup it up the same was she can soup up her armor.

With only five episodes left (my how time flies) I wasn’t ruling out the possibility this would be it for Rider, but Saber is content to withdraw after destroying his chariot with Excalibur, after which Waver and Rider lament that they have to walk home; a not inconsiderable distance considering the speed and length of the chase.

And that’s pretty much the last of the levity in this episode, as things go visually and thematically super-dark from there. Turns out Rider didn’t kidnap Iri (didn’t seem very in-character); it was Kariya’s doing, using two command seals to A.) control Berserker and B.) disguise him as Rider. Kiritsugu tortures Kariya’s brother Byakuya but doesn’t get much out of him.

Kirei has been busy since killing Tokiomi; further exploring his capacity for “entertainment” by manipulating Kariya, using new Command Seals and his bloodlust for Tokiomi as bait. While this all makes sense, I wish we’d have been able to witness Kirei initially approach Kariya after healing him and his stint with Zouken. Instead, the plan came together entirely in the background and has to be swiftly explained after the fact.

Once Kariya is off to the church to duel with Tokiomi (by now very dead), Zouken reveals himself to Kirei. If there is one remaining bit of levity in this episode, it’s here, as Zouken, truly a top-class Master of Evil, seems to take a shine to Kirei. Kirei is understandably disgusted by the mere suggestion of being compared to scum like him.

But for once, Zouken is right: I have no doubt that after a few more decades of this kind of stuff, Kirei will be standing in the exact same place as Zouken, King of Shitbags – so shitty, he’s not sure what he wants more: to win the Grail War, or watch his son continue to suffer.

And does Kariya ever suffer. After entering the church and yelling at a corpse, he discovers Tokiomi is already dead, just when the deceased’s widow Aoi arrives, no doubt summoned by Kirei. It’s not what it looks like (that Kariya just killed Tokiomi) but it sure looks bad, and Aoi doesn’t go easy on Kariya, rejecting his excuses and condeming him for never having loved anyone, despite the fact he always secretly loved her.

Kariya is clearly not in a stable place mentally here, and that instability and the resulting breakdown is chillingly depicted with a series of blackout shots, tinged with flashes of him attacking Aoi (the dark church appearing bright beside the blackness), before returning to full vision of him slowly strangling her to death.

After that all Kariya can do is get up and stumble out, screaming and wailing incoherently; becoming more like his unhinged Servant all the time. And who enjoyed a prime vantage point for this macabre entire “play” up in the church balcony? Kirei, who along with Archer were watching and sipping wine the whole time. Kirei notes the wine tastes different; better. He wants to sample more.

Fate / Zero – 20

This week is 95% talk and 5% action, resulting in an episode that’s 75% “8” and 25% “9.” Kiritsugu’s backstory duology was fantastic, as well as instrumental in helping us understand him more. One could also argue that positioning it after the Mion River Battle made sense, as all the Servants and Masters who survived the battle would require resting-up.

But the fact the two episodes are wholly self-contained, with no ‘bookends’ to tether the story to the present-day rest period, is a double-edged sword. The bad edge being that we simply time-traveled to Kiritsugu’s past; no one in the present was reminiscing. That meant a hard stop to the present-day story, which is a little jarring from a momentum and pacing standpoint.

It also means we barely skipped through the rest-and-recovery period for the Servants and Masters post-battle, so we’re presented with them now. Of course, Tokiomi getting killed and replaced as Archer’s Master was huge, but much of the episode that preceded that event felt like time-marking.

Fate/Zero’s long talks in dark rooms are always tolerable at worst and momentous masterpieces of the spoken word at best, but setting aside Kiritsugu’s past episodes, the proportion of present, legitimate Holy Grail War action set pieces and those of static dialogue has felt imbalanced.

That imbalance is amplified by the similar orientations of so many of the participants in those talking scenes, which are so simple in their execution one wonders if the studio was being more conservative with its budget post-Mion, post-Arimago, and post-Natalia. But they weren’t all bad. There were just a lot of them.

Iri is on her back, her body continuing to weaken as the War’s end draws closer, giving Kiritsugu Avalon since he’ll be needing it from now on. Their exchange is sad but also comforting; a kind of love has indeed taken shape in their nine years together, and there are no regrets, only the hope that Ilya will be able to avoid fighting in the next War, because there will be no next War. (Never mind that we know ful well there will be, of course…only adding to the tragedy).

Waver is on his back, in a full-length sleeping bag in the woods, trying to do all he can to restore Rider’s physical form and mana after having to use Ionian Hetairoi a second time (and saying there won’t be a fourth). They may have started out as comic relief, but they can pull off their share of dramatic scenes too; they’ve come a long way.

In the weakest scene, Kariya, while not supine, is strung up crucifixion-style, back under the tender care of Zouken, Evil Dad, who implants in him a crest worm that “first tasted Sakura’s purity”, and thus contains a lot of her life force, which Zouken then blames him for stealing, which is kind of like a bully using his victim’s own hand to hit him in the fact while saying “stop hitting yourself.” Such a creepy dick.

We don’t see Tokiomi, but we can assume he’s supine in death (unless Kiritsugu chose a more creative way to dispose of his body). And then we’re back to Iri, being watched by Maiya. As Kiritsugu infiltrates the Toosaka mansion and discovers Tokiomi is dead, Maiya answers Iri’s question about why she’s stood  beside Kiritsugu all this time.

We learn that as Natalia did with him,  Kiritsugu delivered Maiya from child soldier hell and, by taking her under his wing, inserted her into a different kind of hell that was better simply because neither of them were alone anymore. Despite Maiya’s believe that should she survive the war she won’t have a purpose any longer, Iri implores her to live life perhaps to find out what her name was and if any of her family still live.

A non-main character being told she has her whole life ahead of her is usually a sign that character’s hours are numbered, and so it comes to pass when Rider suddenly busts in their hideout, kidnaps Iri, and mortally wounds Maiya when she tried to stop him. The suddenness of Rider’s vicious attack really awoke me to the fact that the time for parlays, truces, and mercy is quickly waning, if it isn’t already gone.

That brings us to the final—and best—scene of a character lying on her back, the dying Maiya. Saber arrived almost immediately when Kiritsugu blew a Command Seal, but Iri had already been taken, and there was no time to heal Maiya and go after Rider.

By the time Kiritsugu reaches Maiya, she’s too far gone, which means Kiritsugu has to endure watching yet another person he loves die before his eyes. But the world without fighting he wants to build isn’t meant for him or Iri or Maiya; they’re all merely tools. That world is for his daughter, for all the world’s sons and daughters. So he will press on.

Fate / Zero – 17

For Risei and Tokiomi, the greatest blunder they committed in the Holy Grail War was believing they knew and understood who Kirei was, when he seemingly didn’t even know until recently, after a few key conversations with Lady MacGilgabeth.

Risei, who Kirei was probably planning to kill, was murdered by Kayneth, but by the end of this episode, Tokiomi is dead too, by Kirei’s own hand, petty much forced by accelerating events.

Fate/Zero isn’t subtle about death flags, and it sure looked like even Tokiomi himself sensed his end was near when he visited Rin and Aoi one last time. The only thing that escaped him was the means of that end; surely he must’ve thought if he died, it would be fighting against his enemies, not his own student.

But back to forcing Kirei’s hand: with Risei dead, Tokiomi proposes a temporary alliance with Irisviel, who is flanked by Saber and Maiya in the church where they meet (odd choice of venue if you ask me, considering it couldn’t even protect the observer.)

Iri agrees with Tokiomi that they should save the battle between themselves for the end, once Rider and Berserker are dealt with … but only if he expels Kirei from Japan immediately.

It’s not an unreasonable demand, considering Kirei and the Einzberns have “bad blood” Tokiomi didn’t know about, but Kirei is also not a Master anymore, and thus should step away from the war altogether. Upon leaving the meeting, Iri collapses onto Maiya’s shoulder, confiding in her that she’s not just any homonculus, but the Holy Grail itself given human form.

When this Holy Grail War is over, she will die and the grail will take whatever new form the winner desires; only Avalon is keeping her going. Maiya promises she’ll stay by Iri’s side until the end.

With one more one-on-one chat between Tokiomi and Archer, Tokiomi has decided what he’s going to do, and has Archer’s support. Kirei will get to explore his “dark desires”, and Gilgamesh will gain a more entertaining Master.

Kirei helps Gil finalize his choice by saying the Holy Grail can only be activating by sacrificing all seven Servants, meaning Tokiomi was eventually going to use a command seal to force Gil to commit suicide.

So after thanking Kirei for being his loyal student and comrade, Tokiomi presents him with a will leaving his wealth to Rin and appointing Kirei as her guardian. Kirei then takes that newly-gifted dagger and kills Tokiomi with it.

The literal backstabbing, while extensively telegraphed, is still a powerful, disturbing moment. With this betrayal, Kirei becomes Archer’s new Master, and the dynamic of the War is irreparably changed. And I must say, I fear Kirei a hell of a lot more than Tokiomi as an adversary to Kiritsugu and Iri, because, well, Kirei himself fears the guy.

Fate / Zero – 16

It’s no rest for the weary or hungry in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of Caster and his monster. Sola-Ui is hoping her beloved Lancer’s contributions will net her a fresh command seal, but she ends up losing her two remaining seals when Maiya sneaks up and cuts her fucking arm off before calmly reporting to Kiritsugu.

Sola-Ui’s fiancee Kayneth seems to fare better, as he manages to convince Risei to bestow upon him a new seal as a reward, then shoots Risei before peaceing out of the church, though if I were him I’d have checked to see if the brakes weren’t stuck on; he seemed to have some trouble with the wheelchair.

When Lancer returns to report that Sola-Ui is alive but missing, a particularly revitalized Kayneth really lays into his Servant, even accusing him of seducing his fiancee, just like he seduced that of his commander of yore. Lancer has to break into the endless berating, because someone has arrived.

That someone is Saber, with Iri in tow. While everyone is exhausted from the battle, there is yet some time before the dawn, so she (probably wisely) suggests there will be no better time to get their chivalrous duel out of the way.

Lancer assents, and the two have at it with a kind of infectious glee, finally able to fight nobly one-on-one after such a distasteful monster battle. If ever there was a ‘heromance’ on Fate/Zero (not a one-sided one like Caster), it’s these two. Which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see their noble duel cruelly cut short by the implementation of Kiritsugu’s underhanded but ruinously effective gambit to take Lancer and Kayneth off the board for good.

The dueling Saber and Lancer are essentially distracting themselves from the fact their masters are in the shadows, “negotiating.” I use quotes because Kiritsugu has all the leverage and Kayneth has none. Kiritsugu has Sola-Ui, and makes Kay sign a contract of geis in which Kiritsugu will be unable to kill or even harm him or Sola-Ui. In exchange, Kay has to use his final command seal to force Lancer to run himself through with his own single remaining lance.

Kay takes the deal, and the impaled Lancer is disgusted and enraged, cursing everyone—including Saber, whom he assumes is in on it—as he slowly dies and evaporates into the either. Then Kiritsugu holds up his end of the bargain: he can’t kill Kayneth or Sola-Ui…so he has Maiya do it for him, and when Kayneth is begging for death, Kiritsugu must decline due to the contract. Ice. Cold.

It falls to Saber to put Kayneth out of his misery, but no one is more disgusted with Kiritsugu than she, as she openly questions his true motives for winning the HGW, considering the underhanded, dishonorable depths to which he is willing to stoop.

Even Iri, who Kiritsugu points out hadn’t seen “the way he kills” until now, is clearly angry at him and demands he speak to Saber directly and not through her. And Kiritsugu finally explains why he’s been so loath to interact with Saber and so unwilling to heed her council: because she is a knight, imbued with heroic honor and chivalry. And he doesn’t believe a knight can save the world.

Throughout history, knights and other heroes have inspired men to set out, fight, and die. It’s a deadly wheel that Kiritsugu intends to break. If he is victorious, he will see to it the blood shed in the HGW will be the “last blood shed by humanity,” and he doesn’t care what he has to do or how his actions make him look, as long as he gets the job done. It’s the ultimate ends-justify-the-means argument, and it’s hard to argue with it.

Saber’s reaction to Kiritsugu’s passionate rant is to deduce that for someone to speak the way he does, he must have at some point in he past fought nobly and justly, only for something to go horribly wrong to lead to his fall from chivalry. Saber is of the mind that his methods not only won’t break the wheel, but strengthen it by stoking resentment, hatred, and further conflict unbound by any decency.

I can appreciate both viewpoints (a testament to the quality writing and characterization) and while I can’t endorse Kiritsugu’s methods, I can’t argue with their utility and effectiveness thus far: only Rider, Berserker, and Archer remain in the war, and he has all of his command seals.

But I take the collapse of the downright exhausted Iri after Kiritsugu departs as a bad omen; things have been going too smoothly so far. I sense rougher seas ahead.

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.

Fate / Zero – 14

The Alliance to Destroy Caster’s Monster (ADCM) doesn’t net great results: Neither Saber, Rider or Lancer can cause any damage to Caster’s monster, as it possesses extraordinary regenerative abilities, like a flan that can reassemble itself faster than you can cut it up.

Archer watches the battle imperiously from above in his extremely cool aircraft, and expresses his disgust at the “mongrels” futile flailing below. Tokiomi uses all the fancy submissive language he knows to try to get Archer to intervene and bring the monster down, but after four of his swords do no more than the other attacks (and are contaminated in the process), Archer declines to sacrifice any more.

As the monster nears the shore, more and more innocent bystanders bear witness, making this an unmitigated disaster for the Holy Grail War and its backers. A pair of JASDF F-15s join the battle, but have no idea what they’re in for.

One gets plucked out of the air by the monster’s tentacles, then eaten; the second is “commandeered” by the newly-arrived Berserker, who engages in a fantastically wild yet balletic dogfight with Archer—as if possessing a fighter jet wasn’t cool enough.

Berserker’s movements are extremely chaotic and unpredictable (as are his missiles), but Archer is able to counter every attack and stay a little bit ahead, glad that someone is entertaining him.

With their Servants fighting each other instead of the monster, Tokiomi and Kariya decide to have a duel of their own, which had to happen some time.

Kariya asks how Tokiomi can call himself a father for giving Sakura away to the Matous, but Tokiomi not only carries a clear conscience, he’s delighted, for the sake of his illustrious noble family, that both of his daughters have the opportunity to become great mages who find “The Root”; never mind that only one of them can. 

Kariya is sick and tired of future generations suffering due to the cruelty and brutality of mages, so he’ll kill them all. It’s Toosaka magic vs. Matou…bugs.

Finally we have Uryuu Ryuunosuke. Good-looking, cheerful kid; would make a fine protagonist if he wasn’t also a child serial killer. As he laughs and celebrates what her Servant is serving up for God, he leaves himself wide open for Kiritsugu’s sniper round.

But wouldn’t you know it, he’s not upset about being shot in the stomach, he’s delighted as well, lamenting that “what he was always looking for” was right under his nose this whole time, in his own guts. Alas, he had to die to find “it”, and only got to enjoy the realization for a few moments before Kiritsugu takes the headshot.

For all of the flash and impressiveness of the Servants’ and their Masters’ abilities, all it took to grab control of the situation was some stealth, a rifle, and a couple bullets…if only it were that easy. Caster and the monster don’t vanish immediately following Uryuu’s death; and as they’ll reach shore long before they do, there’s a real possibility they’ll be able to “feed” on the gathering crowds, sustaining physical form from the absorbed mana.

Uryuu may be gone, but to get rid of Caster’s monster, Kiritsugu knows they’ll need something only Saber has—an Anti-Fortress Noble Phantasm. The only problem is, she can’t use it with the wound Lancer gave her. In order to defeat the monster, it would seem she and Lancer must duel, and Lancer has to lose.

Fate / Zero – 13

Caster and Uryuu finally return to their lair (where did they go?) to find all their “artwork” has been burned by Rider, an proceed to have a long conversation about the ephemeral nature of their work and Uryuu’s belief in a god who is eagerly watching and cheering humans on as they find new depths of depravity in witch to toil.

Of all the dialogue between Servants and Masters, it should come as no surprise I find Caster and Uryuu’s the most tiresome and least compelling. I mean, both are sociopaths and homicidal maniacs with incredibly twisted views of the world, and have never once demonstrated any hope of redemption.

As far as I’m concerned, they can’t be knocked off soon enough, because they are guilty of the worst sin of all: boring me. Rider and Waver are far more interesting to watch, both because neither are crazy monsters and they’re not basically the same person.

But after his demonstration of power in the Reality Marble, Waver’s confidence has hit a new low. Waver doesn’t believe himself worthy of being Rider’s Master, and while it’s hard for Rider’s attempts to console him to not sound patronizing, he perseveres, telling Waver to have more faith in his ability. After all, stolen relic or not, he would not have been chosen by the grail if he wasn’t worthy.

As Caster, encouraged by Uryuu to do something big and flashy for God, strides out into the river to perform some big, flashy spell, Sola-Ui and Lancer, Iri and Saber, and Waver and Rider all sense it, and head to Caster’s location.

Sola-Ui wants to stand by the Servant she’s fallen for, but Lancer urges her to keep her distance in this case, while it remains to be seen if Iri recovered from her weakness sufficiently to participate in the imminent battle.

And what a battle it should turn out to be: Caster ends up summoning a colossal eldritch creature from the deep to ravage Fuyuki. It’s the kind of foe no single Servant will be able to handle, so Rider, Saber, and Lancer agree to a truce and temporary alliance to take out Caster once and for all.

The absence of Kariya/Berserker and Tokiomi/Kirei/Archer at the outset of this battle leads me to believed one or all of them will get involved or otherwise take advantage of the fact three of their opposing pairs are busy fighting Caster and his monster off. It will also be interesting to see if, when, and which Master Kirei will attempt to steal in order to fulfill the Grail’s desire to make him a Servant anew.

Fate / Zero – 09

“Go fírinneach, mo chroí, ní féidir liom diabhal a thabhairt.”

I’m far more familiar with Gilgamesh, Alexander, and King Arthur than, say, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne. Heck, I can barely pronounce it. So it’s good to see a few glimpses of his life before he became a heroic spirit, in which his king’s daughter Grainne was betrothed to a the leader of his order, Fionn, but fell for him due to his love spot. Suffice it to say it didn’t work out so swell. Interestingly enough, the one dreaming of Lancer’s life is Kayneth.

“Oh BTW I DIDN’T sign the prenup.”

Kayneth…is in a bad way. His beloved fiancee Sola-Ui informs him that he’ll never use magic again, which means his time as Master of Lancer has ended. She wants to take over the “burden” of commanding Lancer so she can win the Holy Grail War for Kayneth and use it to grant the miracle of restoring him to the way he was.

Sola is threatening enough looming over the restrained Kayneth in a dark, dank, and not particularly sterile-looking makeshift hospital room. But when Kayneth bristles at her proposal, soon she’s breaking one of his fingers and threatening to amputate his command seal-bearing hand. Yikes.

“I won’t be passed around like a bottle of…Jameson?”

Dare I say, I kinda don’t hate this Sola-Ui? You’ve gotta respect her raw ambition. She was perhaps initially content to let Kayneth command Lancer while she simply provided the mana for his physical form. Now she wants Lancer…all of him. But she has to appeal to his indomitable sense of honor, and get him to overcome, or at least ignore, the regret he feels for how things went down in his life.

She does this by swearing to him that she is only seeking Lancer’s services, and the Holy Grail, for Kayneth’s sake. He grudgingly agrees, but something tells me he’s not entirely convinced she can be trusted. All I know is, Kayneth continues to have just the worst luck. I mean, sure, he’s an arrogant dick, and Sola-Ui is, shall we say, ethically flexible…but when people like Uryuu and Caster are skulking around, it tends to put things in perspective.

“Look, Kiritsugu loves ILYA very much. The rest of the kids in the world? Ehh…”

Kiritsugu is trying to win the War as quickly and efficiently as possible. That apparently means not wasting any time talking to his Servant or being anywhere near her, and it certainly means not stopping to save a few, or even a few dozen, children’s lives. The game is already stacked against him and he knows it.

No matter how much Saber may talk about the sacred rules of the Holy Grail War which are being stamped on, she’s not dealing with a knight. It’s not his job to serve any lord or abide by a code of chivalry, it’s to win and save the world…all of the world. And at the end of the day, Iri feels the same way. Even so, I could never imagine a Servant-Master relationship as dysfunctional as this one, to the point I worry it might come back to bite both in the future.

I must say I wasn’t expecting Rider to get his pants so soon, but this show is full of surprises. Rider also gets along smoothly and splendidly with Waver’s hypnotized fake grandparents. Even better, Waver impresses Rider by flexing his alchemical muscles in locating Caster’s lair, a neat little glimpse of the more science-y side of magic Waver is clearly more comfortable with.

Unfortunately, there is nothing comfortable or pleasant in the slightest about Waver and Rider’s trip to Caster’s underground base. Rider quickly ratchets down his jolliness at the first sight of the piles of maimed and bloody child corpses, and his warnings for Waver not to look go unheeded, resulting in Waver losing his lunch and probably a good deal of faith in humanity along with it.

“Tá mé ag suí i rud éigin fliuch.”

Waver and Rider also meet some of Kirei’s Assassins, something that was apparently not planned, because Kirei is very upset about Assassin not only being exposed as being still around (if not in the game) and having numerous separate forms.

Upon reporting this, Tokiomi tells Kirei to continue to stay calm, keep a low profile, and keep his Assassins’ eyes on Waver and Rider; no good can come of letting his emotions get the best of him. But I saw the beast that was unleashed when Iri and Maiya challenged him. This guy looks like a volcano waiting to burst, and Archer’s words about Tokiomi being a bore are still ringing in his head.

Everyone who fixed this War so the Toosakas would win are operating under the assumption that Kotomine Kirei can be trusted to play his part without any problems. But what if there was a problem with him? I’ll tell you what: it would make for more great drama. No one should have it easy in this war.

Fate / Zero – 08

Maiya has orders to escort Iri away from the castle, but the orders aren’t so precise that Iri can’t countermand them when she senses Kotomine Kirei approaching. She doesn’t want that guy anywhere near her Kiritsugu, and Maiya feels the same way, so the decide they’ll do what they can to keep him away.

Neither of them are any match for Kirei’s considerable mage-executing skills, so all they can do take up as much of his time as they can. The bravery, grit, and selflessness the women exhibit without Saber by their side is something to behold. There’s no doubt Kirei is a fearsome, superior foe, but it doesn’t matter: he’s not getting to Kiritsugu, period.

Meanwhile, a bullet from Kirei’s pistol gets through Kayneth’s quicksilver defense, but he chalks it up to a fluke and a moment of poor focus to the disgust of fighting such an awful mage, and redoubles his defenses…which is exactly what Kiritsugu wants.

Saber and Lancer are having no luck, as there’s no end to Caster’s minions as long as he’s holding his noble phantasm, an old grimoire. Rather than keep hacking away, Saber clears a path with an Air Strike, through which Lancer dashes and slashes the book with Gae Dearg, and just like that Caster is defenseless and must withdraw.

Saber and Lancer’s ‘knightmance’ proceeds apace when Lancer senses his Master is in danger, Saber senses it’s because of her Master, and gives Lancer leave to tend to Kayneth, in accordance with the ideals of nobility and chivalry, while she rushes to help Iri and Maiya.

The next time Kiritsugu fires his pistol into Kayneth’s heightened magical defense, it scrambles the opponent’s magical circuits, causing him to cough up a good deal of blood and pass out. Kiritsugu remembers his mentor(?) explaining the bullets which contained his own ribs in powdered form; but he was only given 66 of them, and we see him use two on Kayneth.

And even that doesn’t kill Kayneth, only gravely wound him. Lancer arrives to rescue him and withdraw, and tells Kiritsugu that he’s only alive because of his Servant Saber’s devotion to the right-and-proper precepts of nobility; because she is the King of Knights. I’m sure Kiritsugu’s glad Lancer didn’t kill him, but less pleased Saber let Lancer get away so easily.

What’s so great about this situation is that everyone has a reasonable position here and nobody is outright right-or-wrong. In a way, Saber went rogue, but again…Lancer would have Kiritsugu him if not for her.

As he beats Maiya to a pulp and chokes then stabs Iri (who he thinks is a homonculus), Kirei can’t fathom why not one but two people challenged him, of their own accord for Kiritsugu’s sake. Kirei has been operating under the assumption that Kiritsugu is, like him, friendless, alone, and understood by no one. But he’s wrong…and I kind of pity him for being so.

One could say Kiritsugu using Iri as a kind of “decoy master” smacks of cowardice, but that position doesn’t take Iri’s (and Maiya’s) feelings into consideration. They do protect him of their own accord, as we witnessed here, and they will continue to do so.

Kiritsugu seems to know this, because when Saber finally comes and touches the injured Iri, she is immediately healed by the scabbard Avalon implanted within her according to her husband’s wishes—something only he and she knew about. Kiritsugu is not alone, because there are those who don’t want him to be.