Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 05 – A Rousing Royal Road Trip

King Gilgamesh comes to Ritsuka and Mash’s dwelling in person because he intends for them to serve as his escorts on a journey to the Persian Gulf to inspect the quality of the water keeping his people alive. Watching Gilgamesh, er, mesh with ordinary citizens on the streets of Uruk softens the pompous bastard a bit.

I also found the streamlining of both the cast and plot effective. Aside from occasional check-ins from Romani and Leo, it’s just Ritsuka, Mash, and Gilgamesh on a road trip with a simple objective. I just wish we could have heard (or seen) some of the adventures with which Ritsuka and Mash regale Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh has enough personality for the three of them, which is good, because aside from being generally kind, agreeable, and brave, there’s simply not much to Mash, and even less to Ritsuka (which is, of course, by design). The scenes in which Mash voices her doubts and Ritsuka reassures her have become a bit repetitive.

At least this time we actually catch a glimpse of one Francis Drake from the Okeanos Singularity mission, while the gulf coast makes for a very picturesque setting for their little break. It’s a break rudely interrupted by Enkidu screaming in low and hot like a cruise missile from the ocean horizon.

Annoyed that Ritsuka and Mash are taking it so easy, he unleashes a very Gilgamesh-esque attack upon them, with dozens of mini-dimensional portals opening and launching a torrent of blade-tipped chains. Mash is able to block and dodge a few, but eventually ends up a sitting duck, and Ritsuka just manages to shove her away from a killing blow.

Things look grim for a duo, but thankfully they’re not alone, and Gilgamesh has concluded whatever additional business of which they weren’t aware. He’s able to match Enkidu’s frighteningly powerful attacks with some of his own, opening up his treasury to produce a weapon for each of his opponent’s chain-blades.

The two put on quite a show, but ultimately Enkidu misses and hesitates before retreating, as if some of the old Enkidu were still within him. Gilgamesh warns Ritsuka and Mash that if that fake Enkidu truly wanted him dead, he’d be so. Later, Enkidu has to convince himself compulsively that yes, he can indeed kill Gilgamesh…he just couldn’t do it today.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 04 – What the World Makes of You

“You are what the world makes of you,” not the other way around, is a bit of advice Amadeus (Mozart I assume) once gave Mash, which she shares with Ritsuka during a little pep talk in which she assures him she has faith in the choices he’s made and will always be by his side come what may.

I like the sentiment, and Mash and Ritsuka are cute together, but it’s one of those scenes between the two that would have more emotional impact if a.) we’d seen any of the adventures they’d had to this point and b.) Rituska wasn’t just a cipher, which is all he’s ever supposed to be.

In any case, their month of menial labor pays off, as Gilgamesh summons them back to court with a real mission: investigate the city of Ur. He holds his Holy Grail in his left hand, but both Ritsuka and Merlin notice something odd about it, and conclude that it’s not the grail keeping the seventh singularity open. That grail lies…elsewhere.

The journey to Ur requires traversing lands filled with demonic beasts, which Ana disposes of without any issue. But once they hit the dense, sweltering jungle Merlin even equates to a Reality Marble, the beasts are nowhere to be found.

Instead, they encounter what seems at first like a character in another show: a lively woman in a bulky cat mascot costume and sneakers calling herself Jaguarman, whom Ana isn’t fast enough to catch. She vanishes as soon as she appears, but it’s clear it won’t be their only encounter.

Once they reach Ur, the people seem to be safe, but the jungle is encroaching the city blocks, and once all the townfolk are gathered in the central plaza, Merlin notices the dearth of men and deduces that they’ve made a deal with a goddess to sacrifice a man a day in exchange for safety.

It’s a raw deal, one that is particularly offensive to Ritsuka, but it’s a deal they can’t break when Jaguarman arrives, because despite her goofy appearance and demeanor is a legit Divine Spirit neither Ana nor Mash have a hope of defeating without divine help of their own. The only upside is that she hasn’t killed Ur’s men; but she is using them for hard labor.

Instead, Jaguarman thrashes both of the Servants without breaking a sweat in a scintillatingly fast-paced battle, and Ritsuka must reluctantly call for Merlin to transport them back to the outskirts of Uruk to make their report to the king. Ana asks Ritsuka why he’s not accustomed to such sacrifice by now when he’s sacrificed plenty already (including Olga-Marie Animusphere) to the cause of saving human history.

Ritsuka says simply that he’s never gotten accustomed to it, nor will he ever be, matter how necessary it is. It’s the kind of attitude a hero needs if he’s going to accomplish his ultimate goals. Upon returning to their modest headquarters, the party is shocked when Gilgamesh appears at their doorstep, making a typically unheard-of house call—more of the world trying to make something of the ragtag group of heroes.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 03 – Getting Situated

It doesn’t take long for Gilgamesh to determine that Mash, Ana are a waste of his time, as he easily deflects their attacks. He also reveals that the Holy Grail is already among his treasures, which is why the Three Goddess Alliance is attacking Uruk. But as it’s one of his treasures, Gil is unwilling to give it to anyone; not the goddesses (including Ishtar, who makes a brief appearance) and not to Chaldea.

Merlin suggests they stop asking for now; Gil is a moody man, and leaving him alone could bear fruit later. Gil’s attendant Siduri suggests Mash and Ritsuka gain his favor through achievements not in battle, but simply in soaking up the capital and its people, rhythms, and work. If they play ball and show due deference to the king and his city, maye he’ll be more receptive.

To that end, Siduri shows them their modest but adequate new base of operations, where three additional Servants in Benkei, Ushiwakamaru, and Leonidas come to visit, eat, drink, and be merry with Mash, Ritsuka, Merlin and Ana as part of the larger “Uruk Experience.” Siduri also confirms that Enkidu is indeed dead and has been replaced by a fake who answers to the Alliance; but Gilgamesth has yet to meet him in person.

From there Mash, Ritsuka and Ana make themselves useful performing all manner of tasks that while generally menial and perhaps “above” time travelling warriors, are nevertheless tasks that are crucial to Uruk’s survival.

That means not just making mud bricks, harvesting wheat, shearing sheep, and tending to the children and the sick, but also joining Ana in the caverns below Uruk to dispose of evil spirits she believes are contributing to a wasting epidemic among the populace.

Ana doesn’t initially get why Ritsuka and Mash are interacting so closely with that populace, but Ritsuka very logically explains that getting to actually know the human beings he seeks to save helps to motivate him, as well as to more fully empathize with their fate should they fail. And Fake Enkidu and his goddess mother very much want them to fail.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 02 – He’s Not That Bad?

With the placid Enkidu as their guide, Ritsuka and Mash would seem to be on easy street, but even after several previous excursions to singularities across time, the duo isn’t above someone getting one over on them. Fortunately for them, you can’t kid a kidder—in this case, Grand Caster Merlin, whom they meet in a forest.

Merlin tells Ritsuka and Mash that King Gilgamesh just returned from a quest to attain the herb of immortality—a quest he didn’t begin until after Enkidu died. Exposed as an impostor working against Chaldea, “Enkidu” attacks Ritsuka and Mash, but Merlin’s companion Ana protects them while Merlin creates an illusion to force him to withdraw for the time being.

Like last week’s tilt with the demonic beasts, Ana and Mash’s fight with Enkidu provides the action highlight of an otherwise talky episode, with the dense forest providing a new venue for the lightning-fast kinetic combat.

While back at Chaldea Romani is perplexed to find Merlin in Mesopotamia considering he’s supposed to still be alive in Avalon, the fact that the current time period precedes his birth meant he could be summoned there.

Merlin also sports almost zero offensive power, so even Fou—who apparently hates his guts—can fight him on even footing. Merlin claims to have a Master, while Ana is a rogue Servant. They’re there to assist Chaldea in saving humanity.

Merlin and Ana escort Ritsuka and Mash to Uruk without further incident. Ana has a cute human moment with one of the sentries, and they pass through the gates with ease and head to the massive central ziggurat. The size and grandeur of the city surprise the pair from Chaldea, which is saying something considering all the places they’ve seen.

Once in Gilgamesh’s throne room, Ritsuka is equally impressed by how level-headed, detail-oriented, and downright on top of things the king seems to be; far cry from the arrogant tyrant of legend. However, when Merlin interrupts normal business to introduce Ritsuka and Mash, Gilgamesh is done talking, and immediately challenges them to a duel.

It’s just as well. If the two are going to easily fall to the king right then and there, they weren’t going to be of any use to him in the first place—nor could they ever be the true saviors of humanity.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 01 – Humanity’s Last Hope

Six times Master Fujimaru Ritsuka and Demi-Servant Mash Kyrielight have Rayshifted to humanity-threatening singularities throughout history and corrected them. In light of their accomplishments, they have every right to be confident, but it’s clear this isn’t just another day at the office.

The seventh and final singularity is all the way back in 2600 BC, the time of the first king, Gilgamesh, and the beginning of the end of the Gods’ rule over humanity. It’s only fitting that in order to secure the future of civilization, Ritsuka and Mash must return to its cradle.

Employing no small amount of of clinical wizardry, Dr. Romani and da Vinci Rayshift the Ritsuka and Mash to the distant past, but the pair are unexpectedly diverted from their geographic target of the city of Uruk by a bounded field, and instead materialize several thousand feet in mid-air.

Fortunately, Mash has the powers of Sir Galahad at her disposal, and uses a shield to cushion their fall near some ruins. Ritsuka ends up on top of Mash, and lingers there clinging to her just a little longer than she expected, demonstrating at least a modicum of sexual tension between the two.

It’s not long before their presence is detected by numerous demonic beasts in the form of saber-toothed lions, just like a random encounter during a JRPG overworld stroll. Again Mash proves her worth as a Demi-Servant, dispatching the beasts with ease and panache.

But beasts aren’t all the pair attract: a scantily clad woman falls from the sky right on top of Ritsuka, then admonishes him for touching her without her leave. This woman looks a lot like Tohsaka Rin (surely no accident) but when she demonstrates her combat ability, it’s clear that here she plays the role of Archer, though she doesn’t reveal her name to them.

The Archer-esque servant withdraws, quite rightly arguing that if the pair can’t handle a few beasts, they have no chance of saving humanity. The beasts surround Ritsuka and Mash, but they are saved once again, this time by Enkidu, historically Gilgamesh’s BFF and apparently Lancer in this particular scenario.

Enkidu has also been expecting Ritsuka and Mash, and gives them the skinny: the civilization of Mesopotamia is currently on the brink thanks to the Three Goddess Alliance. But he takes the two up a mountain to show them humanity’s hope: the titular Absolute Demonic Front, Babylonia.

Was the Rin-like Archer one of the three goddesses plotting humanity’s destruction? Can Enkidu be trusted? Will Ritsuka and Mash be able to get the job done and get home? All good questions I’ll ponder as I eagerly await the next episode.

Until then, this was a very steady, solid introduction that established most of the main players, and set some very high stakes while remaining grounded and keeping the heroes honest. Cloverworks’ work here is no ufotable, but it’s nonetheless very good.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 00 – Wishing for the Sky

Looks like I got in just under the deadline in time for episode 1 of Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia, which I will review soon. I wanted to make sure to catch Episode 0 for the same reason I watched El-Melloi II Case File’s Episode 0: to gain some context so I wouldn’t be too confused when the main show commenced.

Episode 0, also titled Initium Iter or Beginning of the Journey, starts simply, with a demi-servant experiment seemingly going wrong, as the servant is only awakened within the human subject for a short time. In that time, the subject is suddenly transformed to a Shielder-type servant, and tries her best to break through the multiple bounded fields that protect the researchers.

That subject is Mash Kyrielight (Takahashi Rie), a designer baby with a shortened lifespan, and her primary physician at the Chaldea facility is Dr. Romani Archaman. Initium Iter focuses on the start of their relationship, as Romani is one of her only connections to humanity.

The rowdy servant that still dwells deep within her could make Mash a time bomb in the wrong hands, but Romani is committed not just to maintaining her physical and emotional health, but teaching her what it is to be, well, a person, not just a vessel.

When some kind of singularity is detected which will cause “the history of all humanity” to cease to exist by 2016, the Rayshift experiment is proposed and approved by the UN, and Mash leads a group of “spiritrons” whose mission is to travel to various points in history and “intervene in matters” with the overarching goal of making sure humanity has a future.

This prologue doesn’t really go into great detail about the mechanics behind this mission, and we only see various glimpses into the adventures Mash goes on, which presumably comprise the content of the main series to come. Suffice it to say a lot happens (or will happen), there’s a lot of characters involved, wearing a lot of elaborate outfits.

Romani makes Mash aware from the start that she may only last eighteen years at most, but Mash is accepting of that span, and like him, hopes to make the most of it. Eventually she is able to leave the clean room that was her world for years and walk about the Chaldea facility as a fellow researcher.

At some point, some kind of calamity befalls Chaldea, and seemingly only two people survive the devastation: Mash, and a young lad with black hair whom we see interacting with Mash as a comrade in arms, companion, and perhaps more. With that, the beginning ends, and their journey begins in earnest.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 13 (Fin) – Mankind’s Journey Continues

Twice H. Pieceman is done with humans, and he has been for a long time. On Earth, in life, he was surrounded by the death and suffering of the Vietnam War. After death, he was “reproduced” as an NPC within SE.RA.PH, but that NPC status meant the Holy Grail would always be out of reach, so he sought a successor who also felt the future was wrong.

When none came, and humanity grew stagnant, Pieceman stopped seeing the point of letting it all continue. That’s pretty much where we’re at when Hakuno, Saber, Rin, and Leo arrive at the doorstep of Angelica Cage and the Moon Cell Core, still shielded and guarded by Chakravaratin, the Noble Phantasm of Pieceman’s no-longer-around Servant.

Oh, and Pieceman is also a Dead Face; a remnant of his digital body that was destroyed when he sealed off SE.RA.PH. Killing a final boss that’s already dead will be impossible…but they don’t have to kill him; they simply need to get past him.

When a frontal assault on Twice and Chakravaratin by Rin and Saber fails (Leo is initially neutral and takes no action), Pieceman informs them even if they wish to save humanity, it’s too late; showing them images of what has become of Earth. Yet Hakuno is sure there are survivors he wasn’t able to eliminate—even after a millennium of trying—who will one day make their way to SE.RA.PH to continue civilization.

Having heard both sides, Leo abandons his neutral position and uses a barrier to shield the others from Chakravaratin’s lasers. He also summons Gawain and uses his final Command Seal to order him to use Excalibur Galatine on the wheel, damaging it and giving the others time to finish what he’s started.

Leo goes out as a proud leader fighting for the future of humanity, and Gawain goes out with a majestic bang, reforming Excalibur with the light of the sun.

Damaged but not stopped, it falls to Saber to fly up to the wheel and cease its turning so the shield over Moon Cell core will drop. Emperor Nero Claudius proceeds to prove her worth by achieving what is “no mean task”—stopping Chakravaratin as she promised. While she expected Hakuno to race to the Moon Cell core, he sends Rin instead, as the only true Holy Grail War Master still “in the game” (he’s not an official participant).

That allows Hakuno to come to Nero’s side near her end, which was the one simple wish she told the female Hakuno, since dying alone the first time was “harsh.” She gives Hakuno her sword and sends him off to Moon Cell.

Believing he’ll be able to manipulate a fellow Dead Face’s body and use it as a vessel, Twice is surprised to find his attempts are utterly ineffective as Hakuno bull-rushes Moon Cell, passing right through Pieceman. Despite being a Dead Face, Hakuno was able to go against his kind’s nature by expressing no hatred and not considering Pieceman a foe.

Hakuno shatters the shield and joins a somewhat flustered Rin right by the core. Touching returns Moon Cell to normal, but results in his disappearance. It’s something he does willingly, with a smile on his face: a being shrouded in death believing in life; and not shrinking from his duty, which led to his end, despite yearning for that life.

Down below at the ruins of Chakravaratin, Nero offers her congratulations to her Master and disperses in a cloud of rose petals, and Moon Cell is restored to normal, whatever “normal” is. The only person who appears to remain there is Rin, sporting a new dirty-blonde hair color, looking ready, willing, and eager to welcome the survivors of Earth, that they may begin rebuilding civilization.

And there you have it…FELE is at an end. Sure, at times things were a bit hard to follow and the jargon was a bit too dense for my tastes, but through it all Hakuno never ceased his dull optimism while Saber and Rin never ceased being awesome and fun to watch. Even Leo had a nice redemption here.

The setting of the final battle was appropriately sprawling, with intricate structures sticking out in a vast, austere void. The soundtrack delivered at every turn, just as it had throughout the show’s run. Shaft’s trademark closeups were on full display but not overused. It took a few months, but FELE came to a powerful and satisfying conclusion.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 12 – Doing What You Can

Shortly after Hakuno and Saber are expelled from the Seventh Level, Twice Pieceman paying Leo a visit from the Angelica Cage in an apparent flashback. Their unaligned positions are laid bare: Twice believes there is nothing left of humanity but its past; Leo still believes he can restore it if only he has the grail. As a Harwey, Leo has long been groomed to be the ultimate leader, but while he can “control” humanity, but he can no longer save them, or even live among them.

Kishinami Hakuno may not even be a real human, but he still wants save them and continue to live as one. The previous act’s ending suggested he and Saber had a long climb ahead of him, but while FELE faithfully replicated the old-school video game cruelty of having to start back at the beginning, Hakuno had in his pocket the bookmark of hope Alice gave him, which serves as a handheld save point.

Once he and Saber finish falling, he uses the bookmark like a phone flashlight to lead them through Limbo, where they first met. Rin gives a report; she’s still on the Seventh Floor just barely staying alive against Leo and Gawain as SE.RA.PH begins to crumble around them. Leo doesn’t have a concrete plan for defeating Leo, but a simple realigning of his thinking will serve him immensely in Round Two.

In Round One, he and Saber were separated, having to fight their counterparts one-on-one and being so overwhelmed they had no time to regroup. This time, they’ll arrive side-by-side and fight as one unit. Neither Hakuno nor Leo believe a mass of anger and hatred—much of it collected from those who failed to defeat Leo—will ever be sufficient. As such, when Hakuno and Saber arrive to spell an exhausted Rin, Leo is more bemused than anything else; the Dead Face has a death wish.

But Hakuno doesn’t wish do die, nor is he not dying because he’s pursuing a concrete goal. He wants to keep living so he can find a goal. The warmth of Saber helps him to focus just the anger within him, not the hatred. She believes she can break Gawain’s Excalibur, and only needs Hakuno’s best for an instant to do so.

It’s the ideology of hoping the best they can do will suffice against Leo’s bored arrogance and certitude. Indeed, Gawain and Excalibur put on a bigger, brighter show than the tiny red glowing dot that is the Dead Face-turbocharged Saber, while Hakuno’s face starts to crack and bleed like he could come apart at any moment.

But again, a moment is all Saber needs, and it’s what she gets, smiling when the light comes, knowing she’s got it. She shatters Excalibur Galatine in two and then activates her Golden Theater for One Final Play, Fax Caelistis; the Closing Rose that Fames Stars.

Excalibur is broken. Gawain is disarmed. Leo concedes defeat, and the battle is over without him dying, as is the rule of the Holy Grail War…though his still-smug look still amusingly pisses Rin off.

Leo rings the bell signalling Hakuno’s victory, and the floating chunk of rock upon which they stand begins to rise, taking them up to Angelica Cage AKA the Tree of Possibilities (without a bath, to Saber’s disappointment). Rin is upset that Leo still looks like he won something even though he just lost…but maybe he did win something by losing.

Unlike Pieceman, Leo hasn’t given up on humanity, only he lacked the ability to save it. By conceding to someone who can, a part of his goal could yet be achieved. The best Hakuno could do was enough to get to Pieceman. Will it be enough to defeat him? And barring defeat or victory, can humanity be saved another way before SE.RA.PH perishes?

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 11 – Status Quo Equals Decline

When last we saw Hakuno and Saber, he had just saved Rin and Rani from an eternal stalemate (though only Rin survived); we now rejoin them as they ascent to the seventh and highest floor, where master Leonardo Bistario Harwey dwells. Even though Rin and the female Hakuno managed to defeat Leo and his servant a thousand years ago, it was only because Leo “gave up the win” of his own volition.

They arrive at a painfully gorgeous yet empty place, and are met by the Saber-class servant Gawain, who has neither the will or reason to raise his sword against them. Turns out Leo was saved by Twice Pieceman (the one who holds the grail and from which whom no servant has ever taken it) and subscribed to the ideology of Twice, maintaining the status quo on the floor.

Since humans can only survive through change, he became humanity’s enemy. After about a century, he determined no challengers would come forth, and settled into a slumber, where he remains…until now. Gawain leads the new challengers to the place where Leo sleeps—though not before Saber pays respects to her former master, whose tomb is situated on a picturesque cliff overlooking a waterfall.

As much as Saber liked that Hakuno, Rin opines that perhaps if Leo and not Hakuno had won and made it past the Seventh Floor, perhaps SE.RA.PH and humanity might not be in such a bind, because Leo wouldn’t have lost to Twice as Hakuno did. Even so, it’s likely civilization would have still fallen for other reasons related to the kind of person Leo is.

Regardless, the present Hakuno must do what neither Leo (devoted to preserving the present) nor Twice (obsessed with the past) ever could: look to the future; the only way forward for mankind. To do so, he must do what his predecessor did and win against Leo…only this time when he awakens, Leo is prepared to fight back rather than conveniently resign.

As soon as he’s up and about, Leo sics Gawain on Saber and starts attacking Hakuno, who can barely deflect his attacks with Dead Face. Saber is similarly overwhelmed by Gawain’s power, and notably neither are able to properly support one another or compensate for their shortcomings. It’s a relatively quick but still extremely epic and badass battle.

Leo orders a coup-de-grace in the form of Excalibur Galatine, Gawain’s Noble Phantasm that basically creates a facsimile of the sun itself to incinerate his opponent. While Saber and Hakuno survive the onslaught, the ground beneath them does not, and they fall, perhaps all the way back to the lowest level. Speaking of levels, it’s as if they approached a boss in an RPG without sufficiently leveling up, and simply got schooled.

Unfortunately, there’s no time to gather more power; nor is there time to ascend all the way back to the Seventh Floor: Chakravartin will be complete in a matter of hours. Just when Hakuno was his most resolved, he’s swatted down…and even if he manages to reset Moon Cell, it will most likely mean deleting the last thousand years of history.

Since that history contains the defeats and amassed negativity that led to his creation, restoring Moon Cell will presumably claim Hakuno as well, meaning history could easily repeat itself with no more hero to correct it again. Still, I’m sure he, Saber, and Rin can figure something out.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 10 (Fin) – Hakuno Picks a Third Way

FELE’s last episode for a while elaborates on the plan devised by Rin and Rani to bring a Master to the Sixth Floor, and they relay those plans to Hakuno on the roof of a high school down on what I assume to be the level where he started.

Waking up in the ladder with Saber, Hakuno explores his code casting powers, which apparently contain all of the weapons and skills of the masters who died before him. That combination of abilities adds credence to Saber’s insistence that he is himself and no one else, and must proceed as such.

When they reach the Sixth floor, it is a white wasteland piled with long-unused lances. Suddenly, Rin appears in her Lancer garb and attacks Saber, and a giant Rani sneaks up on Hakuno. Then Rin and Rani fight each other, more Rins show up, more Ranis show up, and Hakuno and Saber basically get a very efficient course in what’s been happening for about a millennium.

They realize the lands and waters are littered not just with weapons, but corpses of endless Rin and Rani copies. But there is one place where there are no corpses, and Hakuno determines that’s where they should go.

While pondering what the heck is up with all the Rin copies, the “real” Rin arrives, but like her “soldier” versions, she’s only a digital copy, and a fragile one at that. She’s just able to lead them to the central dome when she starts to disperse, a process she tells them actually hurts quite a bit.

Within the halls of the dome, recorded video of Rin and Rani is projected on cross-shaped supports. They once fought as rival Masters on this floor, but Moon Cell deemed their fight a draw just before the Holy Grail War was suspended, leaving them in a horrifying limbo of fighting and killing each others’ endless digital copies as the “originals” lay dormant.

It’s a stalemate, but it’s also a bug in the system that’s gotten way out of control, so they both sent avatars of themselves to guide Hakuno here, so he could end the cycle and choose a winner and a loser, something Moon Cell couldn’t do.

However, Hakuno doesn’t choose to kill either Rin or Rani. Instead, he tries to revive both of them. Only Rin survives, while Rani passes on due to the “peculiar” nature of her digital body. But she’s grateful for the attempt, and Rin is grateful he succeeded in bringing her back. Once Rani is laid to rest, she commits herself to continuing to aid Hakuno until the end.

“Fate Spin-off By Shaft” was met with mixed and polarizing emotions, but I for one enjoyed it immensely. It took the parts of Fates I’d seen before and liked and placed them in a gorgeously-rendered distant and unsettling future where a tiny glimmer of hope still remains thanks to a walking talking manifestation of death itself and his trusty, adorable, formidable Roman Emperor of a Servant. I’m looking forward to Part Two.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 08

The fourth level was apparently so uneventful the series skips it altogether, and we end up on the very rainy and somber fifth level, which takes the form of a enormous jumbled mass of skyscrapers. While the ladder to Level Six is in sight (and just an ordinary physical ladder) and there’s no Floor Master, there is a “homicidal maniac” lurking the floor; Julius Harwey, whom Rin remarks was defeated by Saber and her former master.

All of the hope Hakuno seemed to carry with him from the third floor seems to have faded away, and the more Saber discusses her former master (who was a girl), the harder Hakuno is on himself.

Saber, in another one of her warm, caring monologues, tells Hakuno not to worry about doing anything other than what he’s capable of.

True genius, Saber believes, lies not in one’s talents, but by their ability to bear the cruel truth that not everyone is equal; that everyone has their roles and weaknesses. Basically, she wants Hakuno to buck up and keep doing his best.

But once Julius shows up (with either a Berserker or Assassin Servant), Hakuno and Saber are quickly separated, and Saber needs an emergency save by Lancer-Rin. Saber leaves the Servant to Rin so she can return to Hakuno’s side.

Hakuno, meanwhile, is goaded into summoning his Dead Face, but learns that Julius is also a Dead Face…”unable to save anything or save anyone,” beings whose purposes were torn away long ago.

While taking what would be a fatal blow to the midsection were he actually a living human named Kishitani Hakuno, Hakuno enters a dreamlike state where he’s told exactly what he is: an amalgamation of the massive number of  dead, defeated, and failed souls bearing grudges…a mass of hatred brought about by SE.RA.PH.’s long decline.

He is told he ascends “only to kill”, and was born “only to die.” If Hakuno were to take these words at face value and do as Saber recommended, dying would seem to be the only thing he is capable of doing, so he should do that, no?

Regaining consciousness just as Saber and Rin arrive, the battle is lost almost as soon as it resumes, as Julius reveals his Servant kills with a single blow, and Saber received that blow. Hakuno crawls towards the apparently defeated Saber (Julius and the Servant only flee when a giant arm breaks up the battle that was). He’s sure that she’d have been able to win had he been a real Master…even if there aren’t any of those left.

He descends into darkness, accepting everything he was told in his dream about being born from hatred. He allows himself to think for a moment that he might have been Saber’s former Master reincarnated before dismissing it as folly. But he hears Saber’s encouraging voice once more, asking if he really wants to simply give up at this point.

A door appears, and Hakuno walks through it, into a classroom with projector running. Seated beside it is a girl wearing the same uniform as him, who asks him (in Ishikawa Yui’s voice) to take a seat…because “it’s starting.” Very intriguing.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 07

The fourth level’s part two starts with a flashback—I think—to an Alice wondering where Hakuno went, and in the process of absorbing various objects around her to replenish resources, transforms into a grotesque monster that forces the Masters to flee to lower floors, and killing and eating those that don’t. None of this seems to be anything Alice the Master intended.

Back in the “present”—whatever that even is—Hakuno, Saber, and Rin make their way back to the castle. The phenomenon that sent them back was only a “respawn”, not a time loop; and all parties involved retain their memories of the first attempt.

Rin (flashing an epic Shaft head-tilt) continues to drop hints to Hakuno about Dead Face without coming right out and saying that’s what he is, DFs being humans “rebooted by their grudges”, and Hakuno not knowing what beyond hatred propels him upward.

When Hakuno starts daydreaming of hanging out with Alice, reading to her and playing tag, Amari is also there in some form. When he comes back to reality, he, Saber and Rin face the monster they’re assuming is the Floor Master’s Servant.

Rin puts up a barrier, but the monster sends a hail of scissors at it, shattering it and her. Hakuno manages to spend another command seal, but before the monster is destroyed and the “game” reset, he ends up back in the dream.

There, Hakuno meets Alice in her true form, covered in bandages, lying in a bed, hooked up to all manner of IVs…and dead. The living, walking, talking Alice Hakuno has been interacting with is no more than a dream that dead Alice is watching, and is herself dreaming in Alice’s place, even able to take Amari’s form.

Back at the starting point, after Hakuno washes up and Rin apparently had a bath, they set out once more with Saber, for what Rin hopes will be the third and final time. As they walk through the forest, Hakuno ponders what and where he is: a man with no past and a place where the past has piled up to the point of near-madness.

Hakuno feels of a piece with the place because the hatred that drives him is essentially an obsession with the past; an inability to let something go. Saber tells Hakuno a story of a Master she once had “much like him”, with neither memories nor a wish, aiming to ascend only out of a desire to live on. At Angelica Cage, the highest level, the Master was defeated by “Twice Pieceman.”

Saber’s point, I believe, is that there are no guarantees. If you get to Angelica Cage, you have to beat Twice. If you beat Twice, Moon Cell has to decide to grant your wish. She wants to know if Hakuno will still ascend despite all that uncertainty.

In the dream (and a repeat of last week’s cold open), Hakuno has already won the third round, as Alice conceded the fight by not showing up. He leaves her with the promise he’ll be back once he’s won the Grail. And it certainly seems to be the case that he did return even after failing to win it.

Once back with Saber and Rin, Hakuno acknowledges that he’s no one special; just a fake who made it this far in someone else’s place. But even as a fake, he wants his feelings to be true. His time with Alice in his dreams have spurred him to want to ascend not just with hatred, but with hope.

In the present, however, the Servant still needs to be dealt with, and between Rin seemingly unleashing her trump card—transforming into Lancer, complete with Gae Bolg—and Saber’s coup-de-grace, it feels as much like putting a wretched creature (or ghost, as it were) out of its misery as defeating the floor boss.

It also carries on the Monogatari tradition of lots of discussion punctuated by short, intense bursts of decisive action. On to the fifth level.