Sword Art Online: Alicization – 24 (Fin) – Bigger Fish to Fry

It’s all down to Kirito vs. Administrator now, and their climactic swordfight doesn’t disappoint. Despite having really long hair and only one arm, Administrator is no slouch in the swordsmanship department. She knows all the Aincrad-style moves Kirito showed Eugeo, plus a few that even Kirito doesn’t know about, and seems to revel in the opportunity to teach an insolent cur from the outside world an abject lesson in submitting to his betters.

Kirito looks like he’s just barely hanging on while Administrator is content to draw out his suffering, but Eugeo, barely hanging onto life, reaches out to Kirito, and they have a little tête-à-tête in which Kirito finally recalls the memories he lost of growing up in Rulid Village with Eugeo and Alice. Eugeo tanks Kirito for his friendship, brotherhood, and love these past few years, then bestows upon him the Blue Rose Sword, which becomes the Red Rose Sword in Kirito’s hand.

Now dual-wielding against a one-armed opponent, Kirito would seem to have the upper hand, but it ends up yet another draw, as in exchange for the increasingly crazed Administrator’s last remaining arm, Kirito loses his right one, while Admin reveals her hair is prehensile and can be used to restrain and strangle Kirito, which she does.

Administrator can’t get over how much insolence she has to contend with in this fight, but as Eugeo says, Kirito is going to keep standing up and dusting himself up as many times as it takes. He manages to cut through Admin’s hair, then delivers a strike to her core that does irreparable damage, forcing her to access a console and beam herself out of there.

Before she gets away, promising she’ll be seeing Kirito again in the real world, a naked, burning Chudelkin jumps onto her, seeking her loving embrace, resulting in a huge fiery explosion. Quite the ignominious end for the ruler of the Underworld…though it’s probably not a true end.

With Admin out of Kirito’s hair, he tries to tend to Eugeo, but it’s way too late for anything other than a tearful goodbye, with Eugeo relaying what he now understands about love being something you give, not something you seek. Both a younger Eugeo and a younger Alice appear in Kirito’s head to announce that while their paths may soon separate, their memories of one another will remain forever.

Just after Eugeo passes away, Kirito gets an “external observer call” from Rath: it’s Colonel Kikuoka and Higa. The control room is under assault, either from the military or some other power that wants their hands on the STL tech. They give Kirito instructions to deliver Alice to some place called the “World’s End Altar”, presumably to complete the process of bringing Kirito back to the real world with his brain in one piece. Asuna is also mentioned. But Kikuoka’s foes have other plans.

They seek to sever the main power line, which will cause a surge that could fry Kirito’s fluctlight, killing him before he can be safely extracted from the Underworld. The line is severed, the surge occurs, and Kirito experiences something akin to a lightning strike, inside of which a blurry image of Asuna from above, fitted out in her SAO regalia. Whether it’s Kirito’s memory or Asuna entering the “game” for the first time, I’ll have to wait until October to find out, when the Alicization saga continues with War of Underworld.

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Juuni Taisen – 05

Juuni Taisen has so far worked best when it’s focused—say on one character or one battle. This week gets off to an uninspiring start involving a big meeting room full of literally faceless VIPs and a unsolicited speech by Duo-whasisface.

He says the Zodiac War is a proxy for far costlier global conflict, but I’m not buying it; there’s clearly plenty of war in this world, both that which Monkey cannot prevent through negotiation and in which all of the other warriors fight when they’re not in a battle royale.

The “no betting until half the field is gone” rule made no sense to me either. In a a horse race, every horse is bet on, not just the half of the field that pulls ahead halfway in. This was just needless babbling that took me away from the actual battle, involving nobody I cared about.

Next up is the start of the much-anticipated duel between Usagi and Sharyu, which turns out to be a bit of a stalemate, as every blow or zombi bird Usagi sends Sharyu’s way is parried or otherwise countered, as Sharyu continues to ask Usagi to reconsider her offer of cooperation. I know she’s Monkey, but I fear she’s barking up the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, her fight with Usagi not only comes to any kind of resolution, but what we do see of it comes in fits and spurts, constantly interrupted by the episode’s A-plot involving Sheep, his backstory, and his plan for victory involving partnering with mid-level warriors (unaware of who has died besides Snake).

Bouncing between his admittedly impressive tale of his life as a warrior (including fighting a previous Juuni Taisen aboard a space station—why couldn’t we watch that?) and the Sharyu-Usagi duel serves neither storyline. I fail to see why they had to be intertwined in this way rather than have one flow into the other.

Much of Sheep’s time is spent looking at and sorting toy versions of the animals that represent the other warriors. Considering the thrust of the duel happening concurrently, it almost feels like stalling, especially when he’s working with less info than we have regarding the remaining players.

As if the episode weren’t packed enough, we have the subplots of Nezumi being chased by Zombie Snake (great band name, BTW) and Ox resuming his battle with Horse, which he presumably left temporarily to kill Niwatori, and can saunter right back and continue wailing on Horse because Ox is just badass like that.

It’s just another case of staggering the storylines for little to no narrative gain.

We’ve now gone two episodes without anyone else being killed, adding to a sense of stagnation throughout the episode. Nezumi and Sharyu may as well be running/fighting in circles. When Ox suddenly comes after Sheep, Sheep withdraws, and the first warrior he encounters turns out to be Tiger, ranked the weakest (and likely tied for the most scantily-clad with Usagi).

The way this episode ended—with everything just kind of pausing in the middle—was more frustrating than satisfying. I look forward to learning more about the next warrior next week, and I’m really not opposed to the show mixing things up or jumping from warrior to warrior within an episode…just not for its own sake.

There’s a right and wrong way to doing these things, and it wasn’t done quite right this week.

Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 15

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Shirou and Rin really have the worst timing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 13

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When UBW’s first season wrapped three months ago, things were in a very bad way, and they only get worse this week, although from one perspective, perhaps it’s best that what happened happened for the sake of moving forward.

That may not quite explain why Saber is in such a suggestive position with the back of her gown hiked up, but that’s a small detail; suffice it to say she’s trying to fight Caster. She’s not yet a full thrall, but she has to fight her own body to resist.

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With Shirou no longer Saber’s Master, and still recovering from his severe wounds, this first episode back is full of doubt and dread, with the feeling that everything is high up in the air…and extremely breakable, so when it all comes down it will shatter. But that hopelessness only goes so far. We know Shirou will make a comeback in some form or another, it’s only a question of where and when.

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That where and when is decidedly not here and now, but Shirou still can’t keep his nose out of Holy Grail business. Which is just as well, as we find out later.

The moment Rin mentioned part of why she was going after Caster now was so that she could restore Saber to Shirou and thus restore their alliance, I knew Archer would have some misgivings about such a plan. What I didn’t expect is that those misgivings would be strong enough for him to straight-up betray Rin and join Caster.

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To be fair, Archer is a super-pragmatic guy who follows strength and goes with the odds, not ideals or hope or emotion. Rin’s motivations stunk of all three. He also warned her several times whether she really wanted to visit Caster, perhaps knowing what he’d do when they did. The fact he’s pieced together the fact she’s the famed, peerless Princess Medea made that choice all the easier.

Still, Archer’s still a billowing billowing dickweed for turning his cloak on Rin, especially in the middle of their battle. Yet, rather than allow Caster to finish Rin and Shirou (who leapt out from the shadows to save her), he makes their survival a condition of him joining her.

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Why the sentimentality all of a sudden? Aren’t the weak useless? Perhaps part of him hopes Rin will come back stronger than ever to wrest him from Caster’s grip…even if he knows she’ll never forgive him for this. Rin, for her part, promises she’ll do just that.

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Now that Rin and Shirou are in the same boat. It looks as if the two could be walking home as if they’d simply stayed at school late doing club activities, rather than walking away from their captive servants; one taken against her will, one who went over willingly. They lost the big game, having come up a bit short, but they’re still alive, and not out of it yet. Shirou insists the best thing to do is to go home, rest, and formulate their next move.

When Rin asks Shirou why he went into that church with that injury, he tells her how her raw emotional wounds must hurt far more than his shoulder, and promises she can whine and gripe about it all she wants when they get home, and he’ll listen gladly; a gesture that moves her to tears.

 

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Later, atop a starlit hill, Shirou confesses why he really saved her life: because he has feelings for her; feelings he’s no longer afraid to report. Having just witnessed such unbridled honesty, Rin dispenses some of her own, thanking him for coming to her rescue, admitting how happy it made her that he saved her.

I for one was delighted that this season wasted no time addressing this couple. Saying such things took a lot of guts for both of them, but considering how much those guts have been punched of late, the time was nigh for the walls to come down and for the truth to come out in the open. It was also a welcome glimmer of hope in a dark sea of doom and gloom.

If they had the strength to be honest about their feelings, it bodes well for them working together to come up with some way to get their servants back.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 12 (Fin)

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Everyone seeks purpose and relevance in life, and everyone has a code; boundaries they won’t cross to attain those things. Drrr! is largely about what happens when the interests and the methods of a great number of people clash, which is almost always immensely entertaining, especially when some of those people can carry sportbikes on their shoulders.

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The book on Chapter one of three of Drrr!x2 comes to a close with “Adversity Makes a Man Wise.” Shizuo is the force that ceases the brawl between the Rogue Dollars and Saitama, as well as Anri and Varona. Non’s kidnapper is punished, and both sides are satisfied and withdraw.

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Also, Walker opens his eyes. I would too if I saw Anri handling Saika.

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But that’s far from the end of the adversity. Mikado watched firsthand (while his vision wasn’t wreck from that flash grenade, that is) what the gang he founded has become. He doesn’t like it, and wants to do something about it; no more hanging back.

But first, Varona meets the unstoppable, nigh invincible Shizuo, who unlike Celty or Anri, is a full-blown human being, which both astounds and frightens her, because nothing she throws at him seems to work, nor can she get away with Sloan and Akane.

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Shizuo sets his mind to rescuing Akane, so after some car soccer, instant automatic weapon disintegration (IAWD), and box truck punching, he succeeds. Akane is confounded he’d save his would-be assassin, but he’s just glad she wasn’t hurt, and a new, unlikely friendship is forged, with a helmet-scratching Celty as witness. This was Varona’s first defeat this week, but by no means her last.

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Mikado, meanwhile, tracks down Chitage and Non to formally take responsibility as founder of the Dollars. Chitage doesn’t think he’s lying, but isn’t entirely impressed either, and believes the few moments of time he has to look over Mikado is sufficient to conclude Mikado has no business running the Dollars, and advises him to give it up at his earliest convenience and settle into “the ordinary life” he seems better suited to.

Little does he know that ordinary life is the very thing Mikado escaped his hometown and founded the Dollars to avoid. If he were to quit on them now, it would “negate his being.” He may be better suited for ordinary life, but he doesn’t want to live that way. He wants to be in the thick of it.

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Mikado isn’t the only one patronized and not taken entirely seriously. Varona is too, after her quiet meal with Sloan is suddenly interrupted by Aozaki and Akabayashi. Like her, I thought she was tougher than these guys due to her military training, but they bring her and Sloan down with grim efficiency, only to reveal that Varona’s dad has struck a deal with their organization to secure her safety and retrieve her.

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Dennis, Simon, and Egor arrive to pick her up, and point out that, after all, she’s “still a little girl” who hasn’t “hardened” yet, remarking that kids liker her can still “change in all kinds of ways.” She may have become an assassin at a very young age, but she’s not necessarily destined to be one forevermore. And the yakuza ambush really put her skills into perspective; up to that point, she’d depended heavily on firepower, stealth, and surprise. Not to mention her youthful exuberance over Ikebukuro dulled her senses.

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Speaking of hardening, that’s what Mikado aims to do, and furthermore, what he has to do to preserve the Dollars as he envisioned them. All the adversity he’s faced really has made him wise to the truth of his situation: to be able to take control of a group with no rules, he needs power, so he accepts Aoba’s offer to become the leader of Blue Square along with the Dollars, even forming a blood contract by uncharacteristically stabbing Aoba through the hand with a pen. Then again, Mikado is pissed Anri was put in harm’s way, so he’s mad.

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But once that contract is signed, he snaps back to his usual chipper self, even offering to dress the wound he just gave Aoba. In a way, he owes Aoba one for opening his eyes to the fact that he shouldn’t fear being left behind by all the strange and exciting things in the city, because he hasn’t caught up to it yet. His journey is incomplete, and this was never a static situation. He’s going to fix the Dollars and stay in the mix.

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We close with one more person being one-upped at his own game, as Varona was: Izaya, who had been slipperier than teflon throughout the show. Like Mikado, even he didn’t realize the full scope of his actions, and ended up stepping on the toes of one Yodogiri Jinnai, who didn’t want Shizuo and the Azuki group getting mixed up. For that, Jinnai literally takes Izaya out, leaving him lying in a pool of blood in a crosswalk. A provocative and enticing teaser for Chapter 2, to air in July.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 11

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This episode’s title references the fact there’s no use crying over spilled milk, which is, in Mikado’s case, the perversion of his Utopian Dollars gang into a regular old gang. His free-wheeling philosophy for the group lent itself to attracting scoundrels, and scoundrels are precisely what he has to deal with this week, fellow Dollars or no.

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Even though there’s no rule against Dollars taking hostages, it’s something Mikado won’t accept. Realizing the milk has been spilled, he grabs some proverbial paper towels and starts sopping that milk up. Even he can’t avoid action rather than talk; things have progressed too far for that.

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Meanwhile, in that schoolyard, Kodata and Chitage start brawling in the school yard,  but even though Chitage is still battered from his encounter with Shizuo, the two are almost exactly evenly matched, even throwing the occasional identical punch, kick, or headbutt. They do plenty of damage, but no one seems to have the advantage.

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Mikado can’t do much against small-fry Dollar punks who kidnap Chitage’s girlfriend Non and her three friends (one of them Mikado’s classmate), other than stand in their way until they knock him down and pummel him. But the fact he stood up to them and for his ideals of what the Dollars should and shouldn’t be, means a lot.

Also, we knew Anri wasn’t far behind him, and lucky for Mikado, she’s tough enough for both of them. Mikado shows his own resolve by vowing he’ll keep pursuing the kidnappers, before even seeking medical treatment. Anri decides to accompany him, assuring him she can be “somewhat useful” (understatement of the year).

It’s a nice moment for these two, with Anri in the role as protector, but Mikado not digging to deep into why she’s so good at protecting, because it’s a sore subject.

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Masaomi is getting more and more restless in self-exile, and Saki picks up on it. She reminds him while she’s his girlfriend, they’re not friend friends in the same way he is with Mikado and Anri. She also assures him no matter what he does, Mikado will never hate him. He’s essentially crying over spilled milk too—worried about the ramifications of his running away—but he has Saki’s full support to return to Ikebukuro and help Mikado out. And right now, Mikado needs all the help he can get.

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Kodata manages to finally beat Chitage, but both men are about to keel over. Kodata asks Chitage to call off his boys, and in exchange, Kodata will make sure his comrades get justice. But when some of those comrades appear, the arrogant leader of whom wants to take Kodata down a few pegs, Kodata and Chitage join forces to teach them a lesson.

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Then the hostages come out, and all of a sudden superior strength is no longer the order of the day. Mikado and Anri have arrived, but before they can do anything Anri is jumped by Varona, who is as curious about Anri as she is disappointed Mikado is just a human.

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Varona sets off a flash-bang, and in the ensuing disorientation and chaos, Dollars brought by Walker and Erika rescue the hostages, while Walker decides to  lay some Tsukuyomi Komoe-style justice of his own.

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Then Shizuo shows up, holding Varona’s motorcycle like someone rolling in a keg about to join the pah-tay. This episode aptly illustrate’s Drrr!’s knack for snowballing events nearly out of control, as well as plucking numerous characters from every corner of Ikebukuro and dropping them in the same schoolyard.

But with Mikado on the scene and Masaomi on the way, all that spilled milk is on its way to being cleaned up.

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 11

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Both the Ghouls and CCG take heavy losses this week—starting with Shinohara in the first two minutes—as the show perpetuates the idea that even those who desire peace are caught up in the tide of war, and be it honor, obligation, revenge, or simply love for one’s family (whatever form it may take) and home, there will never be a shortage of reasons to fight and keep fighting.

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CCG can’t rest on its laurels after defeating Anteiku, as Aogiri Tree descends upon them in force. Ken is among them, but he’d rather Kotarou simply let him pass so he can get to Anteiku. Nothing doing.

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Both remember their first encounter, in which they each blamed the other’s side for continuing the war. Ken spared Koutarou’s life and even saves some CCG grunts from falling debris right in front of him, but such small gestures, while appreciated, cannot make up for all of the death and destruction the Ghouls have caused to those Kotarou knows and loves.

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This unending urge to fight with one’s last breath, in order to pay the enemy back for a wrong, is illustrated by Juuzou’s attempts to fight Eto, who killed his adoptive father Shinohara and laughed about it. Eto flicks Juuzou away dozens of times, and breaks his leg, but Juuzou keeps getting up, until he’s laying hapless punches on Eto. No matter how little effect they have, Juuzou won’t stop fighting until his tank is empty.

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Under less drastic circumstances and with hands less tied by bad blood, Kotarou and Ken could simply sit down and have a nice long chat. But they can’t do anything here and now but fight and try to kill each other.

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And they come very damn close, fighting to a stalemate in which both of them fall. Ken falls last, however, and wanders around later, while Koutarou doesn’t get back up.

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Juuzou, and possibly the rest of the ravaged CCG, are saved by their version of Eto: Arima, a dude who doesn’t wear an Arata but has two ridiculously bad-ass quinques that allow him to calmly and methodically fight on the same level as Eto; perhaps above it, considering Eto is angry about Yoshimura being defeated, while Arima doesn’t seem to express any emotion whatsoever.

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Touka remained out of the fight, which was probably for the best, but while I was hoping she’d find Ken bleeding to death in the alley, the episode ends without them crossing paths. Frankly, I wonder if they’ll ever meet again, considering we only have one more episode to work with.

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No, it turns out to be Hideyoshi who carries Ken to Anteiku, which is ironically a pretty safe place to be now that the battle is pretty much over. It occurs to me I may have been all wrong about Koutarou being the human representative to entreat with Ken to hammer out some kind of peace or at least cease-fire. Hide is human, after all, and by all appearances he continues to consider Ken a friend, if not his best friend.

So after an episode of pointless fighting, death, and despair and futility, we end with an ever-so-slight glimmer of hope, with two old friends reuniting for the first time in a while.

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Even that glimmer is threatened by the post-credits scene, where Eto spits out Yoshimura, who breathes still, and returns to her human form (a pretty awesome sequence to behold, I might add). Another reunion is achieved, though at this point I’m not sure what Eto intends to do with Yoshimura, or if she’d have the slightest interest in peace with humans.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 12 (Fin)

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Wisely choosing to go with a near hour-long format for its final episode until April 2015, F/sn also finds the magic of its first two episodes, which were responsible for immersing us in this show to begin with. There’s a heroic, almost intimidating scope to the narrative and the emotions that accompany it, that makes this feel like a short but very meaty film rather than a mere episode of television. In short, F/sn outdid itself yet again.

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The adorable but unfazed Morning Rin brazenly asks Shirou out on a date, and while Saber tags along, she tells them to pretend she’s not there. They have coffee; they eat sweets; they try on glasses; they have a spirited go at the batting cages.

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They even have a picnic. It’s F/sn at its most domesticated and on its best behavior. But whether it’s Saber constantly eating or getting excited about eating or getting really into the baseball, or never really knowing 100% whether Rin is messing around with Shirou or sees him as a legitimate love interest (most likely both, I’d wager), this kind of Fate is also eminently charming and fun, even if there’s a foreboding feeling lurking just outside the frame.

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But these fun times only comprise a third of the sprawling episode. The idyllic bright sunny day darkens as we check in on Fuji-nee visiting Kiritsugu’s grave, and see that she’s being shadowed by a chick with familiar hair and lip color. Fuji-nee has shown that she’s got combat skills, so she should be fine…right?

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Shirou, Rin, and Saber’s lovely tripartite date comes to a violently rude close so suddenly, it comes as a gut punch, the first of many to come. Their bus is blasted into a bounded field…

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…and Caster appears, with her magic thread wound tightly round a freshly-caught Fuji-nee’s throat. Caster, never one to play by the rules of the Holy Grail War, seeks to end it quickly, and is intrigued by Shirou. If he swears fealty to her, she’ll free Fuji-nee. He refuses, so she makes a counter-offer: take his arm with its command seals.

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With the choice now his arm for Fuji-nee’s life, there is no choice to Shirou. Saber is less sure, and charges Caster. That’s when Shirou, in a panic and worried about Fuji-nee’s safety, inadvertently uses his final command seal to freeze Saber in her tracks. Caster takes full advantage, running her “Rule Breaker” dagger through her, which has the effect of transferring Saber from Shioru to Caster.

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This was…well, what can I say? It was a shock. A huge shock. Here were Shirou and the girls, having a harmless fun time on the town, and it ends with Shirou losing his servant and friend. This is Fate taking the gloves off, and showing no mercy to someone who has someone to lose (Fuji-nee) and who also has no idea what they’re doing.

Caster spares Shirou on a whim and sics Saber on Rin, but Shirou comes between them and takes the strike in his shoulder. Now Shirou is down a servant and bleeding out. Fortunately Archer breaks through and rescues him and Rin, but it’s tough to watch Saber being left behind.

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A surprisingly upbeat (perhaps putting up a strong front?) Rin patches Shirou up at her place, then showers and has a chat with her own servant Archer, a scene which hearkens back to their first encounter at her house in the first episode. Here, they discuss Archer’s past (and his possible tie to Saber), their priority (defeating Caster), and the status of her pact with Shirou, which she intends to honor, even though he’s no longer a Master, until he decides to leave the war for good.

Up in her room, Shirou stirs and finds the pendant Rin used to heal him from mortal wounds once before. The sight of it reminds him just how much he owes Rin, and his still-fresh wounds (no longer being quickly healed by Saber’s mana) remind him how powerless he presently is to repay his debts.

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As the good guys lick their wounds, Caster wastes no time, posting Assassin at the temple gate to protect her Master (opening his chest and rearranging his ribs as motivation), then sets her eyes on the church where Kirei hangs out.

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Even the stoic Kirei shows a bit of shock when Caster presents Saber from beneath her cloak (and gets all touchy, adding to Saber’s clear discomfort). Here, we first learn about a ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ grail. The latter is summoned when one servant remains, but the former is something she believes can be acquired before that, and aims to beat Kirei into submission.

Kirei calls Caster by her former title, Princess of Colchis, intimates that her ‘soft heart’ is the reason she’s so keen to bring the war to a quick end. He gets pretty banged up in the ensuing battle, as Lancer hangs back, promising someone (his master) not to allow anyone to interfere.

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Speaking of interfering, Shirou goes after Rin, despite the fact he’s no longer a master and can do absolutely nothing except get in her way at this point. He finds her on a rooftop, where she tells him as much without mincing words. So much has happened, their date feels like ancient history. She leaps off the roof, knowing Archer will appear to catch her in midair, and before bounding off into the dense city lights, gives Shirou these parting words: “Stay out of this from now on, or you’re dead.”

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As much as Rin may be trying to cast (no pun intended) aside her emotions so she can focus on the pressing matter of winning the war, those words sound and feel just as much like Rin looking out for him than they are a threat. She can’t afford to have a Fuji-nee-like Achilles’ Heel, after all. But let’s get real: Shirou may be out of it now, but he obviously won’t be staying out of this. We’ll just have to wait three months to learn how he’ll claw his way back in. Three…long…months.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 11

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Fate / stay night gave us another breather between battles this week. Nothing major was revealed, nor did the Emiya/Rin alliance determine what, if any strategy they would pursue in hunting down Caster.

In fact, while Archer gives us a sliver more info on Emiya’s new secondary projection magic ability, I would argue the explanation is so vague and obviously loaded with unsaid implications about Archer’s own back story, that this episode raises more questions than answers.

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To sum up: Behind his casual smile, Emiya is on the ropes. Using his new ability has put the left half of his body into shock and upset his balance. Physical pain aside, he’s become clumsy and weak, breaking dishes and even struggling to hold an eraser.

However, it’s not until late in the episode that Saber and Rin start to catch on, and then, only Archer’s sudden arrival offers a solution. See, Archer claims this happened to him, during his own life, and he quickly sets Emiya on the mend. Cold as ever, he doesn’t explain any more than that but, on the up side, he says Emiya will most likely be a significantly stronger mage after a few days of recovery.

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In non-Emiya news, we got a lot more RIn this week and, despite some tsundere flame-ups over Emiya’s emotional density, we even got a lot more emotional range from her too. Her chat with Emiya about the differences between the houses they live in, and how that mood translates into the types of people they are was quite pleasant.

Otherwise? Ninja-sensei is dodging school, as expected. Sensei-chan is nagging, pesky, and easily defeated by Rin. Sakura, Shinji, and everyone else of note remain unseen…

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The Good: if you ignore Rin’s tsundere moment at the end of her conversation with Emiya, her scenes were very good this week. It was especially nice to see more of her and Saber getting along. The girls are really in sync and, in their own way, so are Archer and Emiya.

This is an interesting direction for the show to go in and I’m curious to see if we ever learn that Rin really should have summoned Saber and Emiya Archer, but some outside force prevented this. Despite their conflicts, Emiya is constantly emulating Archer and, after Archer helps Emiya at the end of this episode, and after Archer yells at him about his ideals, it really seems like Archer sees a lot of himself — his mistakes — in Emiya.

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The not so good: Sensei-chan is a dull anime trope. While it was fun to see Rin take her apart in verbal sparing, Sensei is so unimportant to the story, and so immature, Rin’s victory doesn’t hold much meaning.

Furthermore, if we have time to waste on fluff like Sensei-chan, the complete lack of Lancer/Berserker/Shinji or anyone who would scoot the broader story along is frustrating.

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The Verdict: I can’t help but think that I’m stuck watching the ‘dumb teenagers,’ who don’t know what they are doing or what is going on, while a much more interesting anime is going on around them. Obviously, these dumb kids will become the most successful and/or ‘win’ the day, and seeing their development into winners is the point but… I do feel like the show has spread out the opponents’ appearances too much.

I mean, we haven’t seen Lancer in 8-9 episodes!

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As many have mentioned in the comments, this show suffers from trying to capture all of the unrelatable threads of an interactive fiction into an ordered fiction. It does a very good job under those constraints, it’s visually stunning, and Emiya is finally developing as a character.

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More importantly, Rin got much needed screen time and it wasn’t all one note. All together, it was a great episode, certainly miles above average for a chapter bridge. Still, I can’t help but feel Rin doesn’t get enough screen time, or isn’t written well enough to get more…

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rin is dispatched even quicker than Saber…Yowch…

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

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

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

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

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

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 08

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This week gave us some interesting moments, great action, creepy Halloween-like golem design, and kept the exposition not-too-talky. It also shows us why High Schoolers and their total lack of judgement and common sense make terrible death sport contestants.

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The Summing Up: Emiya spars with Saber and is quickly improving. Unfortunately, he’s improving using techniques he’s learned from Archer, which does not exactly fly with Saber.

Then Emiya and Rin work out some issues over lunch at school, which is interrupted by Shinji re-starting his life-draining runes. Emiya summons Saber to grind all the small fry and he and Rin charge off to face Shinji. Meanwhile, Shinji is defeated by an unseen master, Rider is killed, and the field collapses before anyone in the school can be totally killed.

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The Good: Shirou’s sparring practice with Saber was not only fun to watch, but interesting as a plot development. I greatly appreciated that he went back to practicing (with a very Archer double-sword technique) after Saber left.

Rin’s mom/tsundere/frustrated girlfriend presentation may be painful for some, but it actually came off as believable to me. She’s clearly torn over liking Emiya, slowly gaining respect for his quickly improving skills, and deeply annoyed that Archer nearly ended him on Archer’s terms and not her own. Its a complicated emotional scenario, even from an adult perspective. So kudos for keeping it remotely together as a teenager.

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Killing Rider was also a good move. Sure, she was the blandest, least coherent of the stooges, but all the pretty combat in the world was going to wear out its welcome in an episode if the death-game didn’t truly get under way.

Bonus points awarded for how completely brutal her neck snap was — and that we only see the extent after the fight — since the fight itself was off-camera.

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The Not-So-Good: It was obvious that Shinji was pure, chaotic evil from the very beginning. From his ‘I’m so crazy I can’t contain my emotions’ Face, which I find especially annoying as an anime convention, to the fact that he beats his sister and antagonizes everyone around him. He’s clearly a worthless d-bag and the fact that Rin and Emiya both wrote him off as harmless makes no sense at all.

Not unless we had a scene where they’d both beat him to a pulp easily, to be lulled into a false sense of security.

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Furthermore, even if Shinji doesn’t have a familiar anymore, letting him run off scot-free makes no sense either. He’s a strategic liability, in addition to still being an attempted mass-murderer. In this context, Rin or Emiya would be within their emotional range to have killed him.

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The Verdict: it was a decent episode with a good balance of action and plot development. Letting Shinji go feels like padding and not revealing Caster’s master feels like padding but that’s a season long issue more than a fault of the individual episode.

I’m guessing Sakura is the other mage at school and Caster’s master. That would explain Shinji freaked the heck out when he was confronted in the chemistry lab. It would also explain why Caster’s played a little less-directly-vicious than she could have been with Emiya but maybe not.

Just Remember: I have not seen any of this franchise before, so no spoilers in the comments below, please!

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 07

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Franklin is unavailable to review F/sn today, so I’m filling in for him, which is why I let Zane review Gundam. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

Emiya Shirou has been defined so far by many qualities common in shounen heroes: empathy for one’s fellow man; a penchant for rushing into things half-cocked; a propensity for bleeding a lot, and, of course, game-changing luck. I seem to share that last quality with Shirou, as I got an episode containing two battles for the price of one, plus a third that wasn’t a surprise in that it happened, just that it happened so soon after all the other craziness.

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The episode starts fast as Assassin dances with Saber. I particularly like how they’re so different despite bearing the same general weapon, and how each is bemused by what they perceive to be disadvantages. Assassin is impressed the flashy but bulky knight in shining plate has such good moves, and Saber is impressed this man of slight build is so tough. His trickery is also enough to stand against all her higher levels, be they strength, speed, or agility.

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While the battle on the temple steps is turning into one of mutual warrior respect, there’s plenty of mutual contempt distributed among the three fighters gathered in the main courtyard. Archer ostensibly came to rescue Shirou, but he’s not there to defeat Caster, even though she’s a loose cannon who’s killing innocent people. If Shirou had Archer’s power here and now, he’d probably use it to rid the world of Caster once and for all. But he’s just not looking at the big picture.

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Caster’s in a sporting mood, and lets Archer give her his best shot — and he fells her in an instant in a move of stunning quickness and precision. But Caster won’t actually fall that easily. Her ‘corpse’ vanishes and she coalesces up in the sky and starts raining mana beams upon Archer. Test failed, laments Caster; he’s worse than Assassin and of no use to her.

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Shirou’s problem with Archer is that he’s willing to let Caster go and keep killing people because she’ll eventually grow strong enough to defeat Berserker, at which point they’ll deal with Caster then. They’re not disagreeing that Caster needs to go; it’s a matter of timing and details. Even if Archer’s position is logically sound, Shirou won’t accept it; he doesn’t want to sacrifice even a few to save many.

In this latest spot of his, he’s forgotten the words of his father: You cannot save someone without not saving another, and that other can only be yourself once, and then you’re dead and can’t save anyone.

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An an episode full of phenomenally quick, smooth, impressive action, one centerpiece is Archer loosing Caladbolg at Caster, which looks very much like a crippling blow, but unlike a more stylized show with a smaller budget like Kill la Kill, F/sn avoids cartoonishness and can really geek out with the gravity and particle physics of the attack. The attention to detail in mere moments of combat or action do not go unnoticed, or unappreciated.

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It also distinguishes itself with juicy lines like the above, which is precisely how I’d imagine Assassin would say “Well, shit.” Bottom line: his “master” Caster is in a bad way, so he’s through playing with Saber and chooses whip out his hidden ability, “Concealed Sword.”

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I tell ya, you really gotta watch out for those dimensional-refraction phenomena. Saber probably comes closer than usual to losing her life in the stealthy but devastaing blow, which is really three simultaneous blows in one breath (shades of Katanagatari), a seeming impossibility his no-longer-human status affords him. But she survives it, falling back on those superior stats of hers (they’re good for something), impressing Assassin even more.

Meanwhile, Archer’s Caladbolg changed Caster’s mind about him: maybe he can be useful to her, and invites him and Shirou to join her. Both obviously refuse, but for different reasons: Shirou doesn’t want anything to do with an indiscriminate killer like her; Archer is more pragmatic: she’s not powerful enough to justify joining. The overarching irony of this negotiation, of course, is that Archer is the one who aims to use Caster to defeat Berserker, in the unsavory manner Shirou so objects to.

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Still, when Archer lets Caster withdraw, and further explains his plans to end the war, Shirou cannot abide it, and throws a Shounen Punch, which Archer catches easily. But as small an ineffective as that blow may have been, to Archer it was something of a last straw, the end of the extension of Shirou’s truce with Rin he had been honoring to that point, and the beginning of the third battle I mentioned earlier.

To Archer, Shirou is a child and a fool who, if left unchecked, will not only ruin the proper path to victory, but getting more people kill in the process than if he’d done nothing. For that reason, Archer decides to kill him right then and there, an action he takes with the same precision and conviction as everything else he’s done and said.

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Yet, interestingly, he does not cut deep enough to kill Shirou instantly…either that, or Shirou is so Goddamn lucky Archer couldn’t kill him in one blow even though he intended to. Either way, Shirou is able to crawl to the temple stairs, where Saber spots him, breaks off her fight with Assassin, and catches him in her arms.

It’s in that moment that I realize just how damned close these two pairs had been fighting; how close the courtyard was to the stairs. And yet the editing of the episodes made them feel like they were worlds away, because in a way, they were: Saber wasn’t getting past Assassin without his leave, and now she finally has it.

It’s also great how Assassin, who as I said embraced his non-humanity to perfect his Concealed Sword, falls victim to the humanity he still possesses. Watching Saber, whom he already regards as both a worthy and attractive opponent, retreat and rush to Shirou’s aid proves a more effective in momentarily throwing him off his game than any of her sword strikes to that point.

With Caster no longer in danger and the desire to fight her when she’s at full strength, Assassin lets her go. When Archer jumps in to try to kill her and finish Shirou, Assassin comes between them; he said they could go, and he makes sure they do.

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After all that, one would hope Shirou’s mindset would change a bit, and he’d realize even with his impressive stores of luck he’s going to end up dead if he keeps going the way he has.

If, after all, Archer wasn’t 100% serious about killing him, than one could argue his intention was to scare Shirou straight; showing him how useless his ideals are without the strength to back them up. For his part, it looks like Shirou is taking the experience as a lesson. Heck, he doesn’t even consider what Archer did a betrayal, since it was Rin he forged the alliance with.

(By the way, what Shirou was up to this week was far more interesting than Rin, who was just asleep in bed the whole time! That being said, the dreamlike sequence that wakes her up was hauntingly beautiful.)

Shirou needs to become stronger before he can even think about sacrificing himself to save others, or at least minimizing the casualties Caster and Archer don’t care about. To that end, he asks Saber to teach him how to fight properly, making Saber very happy in the process.

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