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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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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