Cop Craft – 03 – Tilting at Windmills

We soon find out where Tirana went—to O’Neill in order to get her into the Pioneer Club run by Elbaji. O’Neill makes sure she looks the part with a skimpy cocktail dress, hose and heels, and attempts to walk like an Earth Girl are unsuccessful. But it doesn’t take long for her to find Elbaji, because he comes right up to her at the bar to make a pass.

Once they’re alone in Elbaji’s office (with two of his guards) and he learns who she is and what she’s after, the chatting is replaced with fighting. Tirana pulls a sword out of her purse and relieves the guards of their hands in the blink of an eye, but Elbaji has a sword too, and soon overpowers her (she left her good sword with Kei, after all).

As Kei learns though Wikipedia (natch), a Knight of Mirvor leaves their sword behind when they are taking a temporary step away from their chivalric code, be it temporary or permanent. But it isn’t long before Kei is on Tirana’s trail as she’s captured and brought to some abandoned temple ruins in an undeveloped district of the island.

Chief Roth tells him to hold his position and wait, but things down at the temple are moving very fast. After Elbaji gives Tirana to Zelada for questioning, Zelada, a supposedly otherwise venerable wizard, leaves her alone with disposible guards, which she quickly dispatches and follows Zelada to his horrifying workshop, where she finds thousands of jars containing fairies in various stages of dismemberment.

Elbaji confronts her there, and as before, he shows off some of the noble background he shed in order to find his own fortune in America: the Land of Opportunity where Money is God. Tirana looks like she’s in trouble again with nothing but a stick to fight with, but Kei arrives in the nick and tosses her her knightly sword.

In a wonderfully-drawn fight full of bold flourishes, Tirana shows what a Knight of Mirvor can do, particularly one who was taught swordsmanship from Lord Verada Vreideni. And just like that, a bad guy I thought she and Kei would have to deal with for some time dies right there on the ground in a pool of his blood.

Unfortunately, the “psychic bomb” Elbaji had on him is a dummy; the “fairy” inside is just a doll. Now reunited, Kei and Tirana find a passage out of the temple and track down Zelada, but the arrest is interrupted by the arrival of Chief Roth, which is very confusing for Kei, considering Zelada sure looks like the guy who killed his whole unit in The War.

Roth shoots Tirana and orders Kei to let Zelada go. Turns out he’s a hardcore xenophobe who wants to use the threat of the psychic bomb to re-separate the two worlds, politically and culturally. Never mind if many humans have adapted; he doesn’t want coexistence, period.

But like Elbaji, Chief Roth doesn’t last long, as Tirana’s sword caught the bullet, and her getting back up is enough distraction for Kei to pull a second gun from his ankle holster to kill Roth, who up until tonight had been like a father to him. Roth’s grand plot also seemed a bit too sprawling and ambitious for a man of his relatively humble station. We’ll see if anyone else in his unit or the department harbors similar positions and goals.

The chase for Zelada continues, leading to the tallest building in the city, Forest Tower. The results would be disastrous if a psychic bomb were detonated there. While on their way to the roof, Tirana notices that Kei’s sidearm has a faint hint of latena, created from feelings put into an object or weapon. Thus, he might not be entirely useless in the impending fight with the red wizard.

This was another strong entry from the great-looking and sounding Cop Craft, which really gets its world-building, little details, and combat right. It’s villains have a tendency to drop pretty quick, but its not like Elbaji or Roth were particularly compelling (though Elbaji’s forsaken noble past wasn’t nothing). More than anything, it’s fleet, fast-paced, and fun, and the central partnership is starting to gel nicely.

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 06

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 6 follows last week’s trend of Emiya making poor decisions, introduces another servant and, in the least surprising surprise of all, reveals Shinji is the third Mage at school.

Through all of it, episode 6 had a distinct slice-of-life vibe, which was a good thing. Archer’s flamboyant red costume aside, the casual way people have to talk to Emiya and the matter-of-fact way he responds to all information, went a long way to make the exposition and infodumping feel grounded.

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After seven episodes, my biggest disappointment with F/sn is its choice to make Emiya the protagonist, instead of Rin. Rin certainly presents other storytelling challenges, being a hot tempered know-it-all, but I get the sense that whatever she is up to when Emiya can’t see her, is probably a more interesting story to see.

Perhaps I’m most frustrated because Emiya’s surprise does not often match my surprise? Likewise, Emiya’s total lack of introspection, narration, planning or strategy of any kind makes me wonder what Rin is up to and leads my eye to probe the backgrounds for what he must be missing.

If this is intentional, it’s annoying but a clever trick. Think of it this way: because we occasionally see Rin planning and up to interesting things, and because we see her Servant Archer around more than her, we must assume, as viewers, that Archer is an intentional distraction and that Rin is up to something very interesting, without the writers and animators having to spend effort on showing us.

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Why do I describe this episode as feeling like a slice-of-life?

The episode starts with Archer and Emiya talking on the street as they walk home from school. Sure, Emiya’s arm is covered in blood and they are talking about magic, but there’s nothing magical about the conversation or setting. Emiya even has his school bag, casually in hand. If they weren’t talking about servants, it could just be two dudes beefing about school on the way home.

Emiya’s following day at school plays out the same way. Ignoring the magical implications of his confrontation with Shinji and the Sigil removal with Rin, we really just watched a guy walk around a school building with a girl and accuse another guy of beating up another student. Heck, he accuses Shinji of something every other day and that ‘Emiya Casual Swagger’ makes it feel like any other day.

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This is where the lack of Rin’s point of view makes Emiya seem more stupid than he probably is. From his perspective, Rin just pops in and out of his life and appears to skulk around the school, largely unnoticed.

However, for all we know, Rin goes to class in the same casual way. Perhaps more understated than Emiya does, as I doubt she’s accusing suspicious classmates in public. We just don’t know.

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If we saw Rin in class, laughing it off with her friends and seeing her day-to-day, Emiya wouldn’t seem so clueless. It’s an interesting choice to not show that, and I’m curious to know what advantages the story will carve out by making its protagonist look stupid — with structure no less.

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In one scene, Saber tries to make Emiya understand that as soon as they deal with the third master at the school that his alliance with Rin will end. Then Saber agrees to train Emiya in swordfighting and we see how much everyone is putting into his survival and how ineffective all of it is.

Emiya is crushed by her blows almost immediately and only resents her for it afterwards. Likewise, while Emiya claims otherwise, it’s clear that the temporary nature of his alliance went in one ear and out the other.

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However, this scene is quickly followed by a delightfully opposite one where Emiya is working on his magic and Saber comes to watch him.

The mirroring of the scenes is obvious but thought provoking. Where Saber’s scene is warm and bright, his is cold and dark. Where hers has them stand far apart, his has them crouched close together. Where hers is quick, wordless, and fierce, his is instructive and patient.

I don’t know the writer’s intention — if Emiya’s world is more personal and small and Saber’s is more violent and to the point — but it was interesting to see that comparison.

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Overall, this week was thoughtful and well-constructed. We learned that Archer has no desire for the Grail, that Shinji is not only a monster but a mage, that Caster has an alliance with Assassin and that the Servant I thought was Assassin was most likely Thief. We learned a lot and none of it felt like an instructor yelling facts at us.

Coupled with my salivating need to see what happens next week, even if it’s only jaw-snapping action, that smacks of something great. Thoughts? Counterpoints? Hit me up in the comments below!

9_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 05

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 05 has all the pieces of a fantastic thirty minutes of anime, but never quite comes together as a fantastic piece of anime.

Ultimately, it falls down because all these pieces, as understandable and dare-I-say believable as they are, do not fit together. At any given moment, the story lurches from breath-taking action, to relationship dialog, to Scooby-Doo style mystery.

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Emiya starts off his day by ignoring Sabre’s recommendation and going to school. Alone. Then he runs into Rin, who is completely besides herself at how stupid he is, and how he’s totally ignored her warning that she would kill him next time too.

Despite his recent encounter with Berserker, and nearly being killed by Lancer before that, Emiya’s character fails to grasp how dangerous his situation is. More accurately, his attitude comes off as ‘Whatev’s! I know best’

Thank goodness he doesn’t whine when Rin tries to kill him later.

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In some ways, I could see Emiya as a proxy for the viewer. (at least, young male viewers) He’s bold, knows enough to follow along, and isn’t totally useless . He’s like any starting JRPG character and we’re right there with him.

So, naturally, if he were our RPG character, we’d probably throw him stupidly into every fight and expect the level balance to make it beatable too.

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However, this is an anime and we have to watch Emiya ignore everyone and rush in stupidly. We don’t have any control to make the decision for his character, and there’s clearly no level balance to save his skin, which makes his decisions feel all the stupider.

Honestly, who here isn’t wondering why he isn’t trying to learn more magic, grind up some n00bs for XP, or locate a secret magic weapon? \I’d never invite this thick head on a raid and that’s the truth!

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At school, Emiya has lunch with the student council president, learns about mysterious bad goings on (the archery captain-chan never came home from school and Shinji the douche-hole was the last person seen with her)

So naturally, Emiya decides to put on his investigation hat and look around the school after everyone has gone home.

You know, completely ignoring the fact that mages don’t fight in public because PEOPLE are around. SMERT!

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Then Rin tries to kill him or, more likely, beat sense into him over how stupid he’s being OR, since he’s already been warned, remove his command seals so that she can have control of Saber or, just because he’s incredibly annoying.

Rin’s conflict (that she likes Emiya or feels responsible for him) is obvious and accounts for why she doesn’t put all her effort into actually killing him but I’m sure this is an area many viewers will find annoying. Very very very well animated but tsundere’ly annoying.

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Then a girl screams, clearly being destroyed by Shinji and the fight is broken off. Until Emiya prevents Rin from being killed with his arm and runs off to fight against Assassin all alone.

Again, showing that he’s profoundly ignorant or just plain stupid.

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After a fight that can only be described as putting even Bahamut’s animation to shame, Rin saves Emiya AGAIN, considers herself frustratingly semi-in-his-debt AGAIN, and they go to her house to talk about.

Ultimately, they talk about family and info-dump us a bit, drink tea, and form a truce that Emiya will no doubt take for granted and make Rin want to kill him again.

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From morning exposition to aimlessly screwing around at school, to mystery investigation, to angry relationship fight (with magic) to compassionately helping a civilian, to another magic fight, to info dump and happy relationship moments, the constant shifting of gears gave me whiplash.

Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold.

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That said, while it didn’t hit last week’s balance of exposition with action, this week was in no way as eye-rolling as our first major info dump at the church. If anything, the erratic focus captures how life must feel for Emiya.

However, I get the feeling that Emiya is kind of stupid and his erratic world would flow a whole lot smoother if he was smarter about living in it.

9_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 04

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 04 is a fantastic little sequence of exposition, interwoven through a pleasant day in the life of Emiya Shirou and bookended by the harsher realities of Rin and Einzbern.

Like All F/sn, this week was beautifully rendered and calmly paced. However, the story was told with such a casual speed, and told through so many cheerful people (often walking slowly or listening to each other with a warm and obvious intent), that watching it felt like taking an evening stroll in the Fall.

FSN4_3…always question scenes where a character disappears from your view conspicuously close to the end of her sentence…

This week’s arc is all about timing and the threat of failure due to a mage tipping his or her hand.

For Emiya, he must hide Saber’s identity (and truthfully, his tortured memories of hell fire) from his friends for their own safety and he must even allow Saber to hide her true identity from him, or risk being defeated by the more experienced mages who may be able to read his mind. It’s a clever way to keep us guessing and in the dark, but it also shows Emiya’s trust in other people, and his trust in other people to trust him.

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For Rin, the risk is that she’s already revealed too much in the last fight to anyone who could have seen it and that, by saving Saber for last, she risks too much by leaving taking on too strong opponents too quickly. Worse, she risks having to face and kill Emiya because he’s likely not going to stay away for her.

She risks tipping her hand, even to herself, that she actually likes him, which will no doubt be her undoing.

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Einzbern risks the least and the most, depending on how things unfold. Her adherence to a predator’s nature — to torment her prey until it can scream no more — will most likely come back to bite her.

Yes! Berserker is unimaginably powerful but it’s arrogant to think he can not be defeated. Especially after revealing what his Nobel Phantasm is to her opponents. Giving them time to consider the best solution to defeating him (which Rin and Archer are most likely doing) is an obvious mistake. For her sake, she better hope his power is as unbreakable as she treats is.

FSN4_5the teacher is threatening because this angle makes him look larger than our hero and not seeing his face means we can’t read his emotions…

As for the actual events of episode 4? Emiya recovers from his wounds (he appears to have self-healing magic) and goes to school on an off day. Saber follows him and is a distraction for many girls who like him or worry about how rarely he truly smiles.

Saber explores the school and encounters a teacher who seems like dangerous news but that avenue remains unexplored, or just a red herring.

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Rin investigates the ‘gas leaks’ more directly and, with Archer’s help, identifies the culprit as the Caster Class servant. They seem powerful and, given the spell seems to be a love-crushing spell, presumably female. Archer is concerned by their chances of success of defeating this opponent.

This scene includes a short but dramatic fight against skeleton dogs in an office building hallway. Skeletons are hard to render by any standard and F/sn does not disappoint: not even Bahamut’s recent zombie/sea monster battle looked this good!

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Then the women in Emiya’s life decide to move in with him — and who can blame them? Saber’s sudden appearance, lack of spoken words and the fact that she is living with him would make any friends nervous, if not a little jealous.

Fujimura-Sensei practically lives there anyway and, given how obvious Sakura’s affections for Emiya are, it’s no surprise Fujimura-Sensei helps rope her in too.

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For all these happenings, ep 4 explains a lot about Servant Classes, vaguely how and why the grail summons them, and the intrinsic tactical advantages gained by knowing exactly which servant you are fighting. This is exposition to be sure, and delivered by Saber-monologging, but it’s all lovingly rendered in ghostly CGI — which is implied to be inside of Saber’s tea cup.

The implication is that she is imagining these roles and we (and Emiya) are getting to see. It’s rather clever and very effective at making the info dump engaging and grounded within the scene.

If etherial imagery can be grounded?

FSN4_4…Sakura is alone. Small and literally spot lighted in the darkness…

What’s left to say? F/sn’s slowness — its deliberate nature — is artful in a way that transcends what is already visually beautiful to become something totally beautiful.

In short, F/sn is masterfully constructed Art, in all senses and disciplinary applications of that word.

10_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 03

fsn4_1Atmosphere and sense of scale? Yeah, this show’s got that covered!

Fate/stay night: UBW episode 03 picks the pace right the heck up with a jaw-dropping battle that both spans vast miles AND stays uncomfortably close quarters in a wooded graveyard. This is the best non-movie quality magical fighting I’ve ever seen.

On top of that, F/sn manages to deliver equal parts information-bump and mystery without breaking its stride or ever feeling talky or expositional. As with episodes 00 and 01, you owe it to yourself to watch this in HD with a good set of speakers turned way up. This spectacle looks and sounds awesome!

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Illyasviel von Einzbern is her name and Berserker, her massive orc-looking servant, is her game. And her game is good, shrugging off an onslaught of full-power attacks from both Saber and Archer, and sometimes both at the same time.

It’s a great fight (or fights, if you consider the short chase Berserker gives to Saber as she relocates to the cemetery, where his advantage will be reduced) and it teases us with as many reveals as it actually gives us more information.

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What’s the deal with Archer’s sword-like arrow? What’s the deal with Saber’s sword, for the short moment it’s visible and firing what looks like a death star blast through Berserker?

Who knows? Obviously not Shirou, who’s the only one close enough to clearly see both of these things. Einzbern and Rin probably have an idea — and Einzbern in particular pulls a 180 after seeing Archer in true action. Must be some high-level stuff if the early favorite of the first four masters we’ve seen is going to take notice!

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A huge boon to the fight comes in the form of space. Not only is Archer incorporeal for the beginning of the fight, he spends most of it fighting from miles away. This would feel cheep normally…except none of his attacks are effective. Pretty as hell, but not effective.

Unfortunately, even his super sword/arrow attack comes up short and F/sn really drives home how absurdly powerful Berserker is. He’s not just nigh-unscratchable, nor just good at regeneration: it’s like he can roll back time itself and undo all the damage as if it never happened in the first place.

Crap!

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And then there’s Rin’s fight with Einzbern, which is equally spectacular but totally different than the Servant battle. Where the servants rip into each other with a pounding fury, the Masters prod, taunt and look for each other’s weakness.

The stillness of their battle was masterful and brilliantly kept the tempo fresh, keeping what was basically twenty minutes of action from wearing us out.

And Man, her hair-birds are freaky!

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Lastly, Shirou gets a small spotlight. He’s the fish out of water but he wants to help…but HE HAS NO IDEA HOW? How the heck do you get in on this without getting yourself killed and helping no one in the process? His frustration over being useless — especially considering he just shook Saber’s hand and agreed to give it his all last week — comes through nicely.

Nicer? F/sn doesn’t harp on it. Shirou is around but we get as much if not more of Rin’s point of view and much more fighting than either mage’s POV and that is a good thing. I hear, and can guess from what little I’ve seen of ‘old stinky F/sn that an excessively-whiny Shirou would be bothersome.

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Oh! Kotomine Kirei and a new bad guy/important character were also introduced. We have no idea what their agendas are but it almost sounds like Kirei would be just as happy if the world ended. His little dialogue had a true-believer vibe to it — that Judgment Day is a good thing. Nice!

Or…problematic, since there’s no way our characters are going to agree with that point of view, if they ever hear it.

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Who is this guy?

F/sn is masterful and there isn’t much else to say. You’ll hear it over and over from me, as long they do it, but my biggest joys from it are how close it keeps its secrets to its chest (we know so little) and how much space it gives all the rest.

The world is a big place and Fate respects that, which sells the experience in a unique way. Freaking Huzzah!

10_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 02

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Fate/stay nigh episode two unexpectedly breaks from the mold established by the previous episodes. It’s shorter, running only 25 minutes, and that shortness doesn’t leave much breathing room for very thoughtful setting shots that I found so lovely in episodes zero and one.

However, most shows only get a half hour slot to keep us entertained. Sadly, Fate/Stay uses that time to runs its mouth and cover a lot of exposition. I hope you’re ready for some revetting talking!

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The sum total of the episode’s activity: Rin explains the holy grail war to Shirou over tea. Then they go to Kotomine Kirei’s fake church in New Fuyuki and Kirei explains the holy grail again, with a few more details. Then Rin and Shirou leave and encounter their first true opponent.

Sure, the details matter and explanation has to happen sometime but OUCH! That’s really all that happened this week.

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As we learned last week, Shirou doesn’t want to fight because he hates the artificial’ness of good guys killing bad guys to save the day. That said, Kirei’s point is simple: a bad person won the grail ten years ago and New Fuyuki was burned to the ground and lot’s of people were killed. Even Shirou himself was seriously injured.

While there was too much of it, the exposition wasn’t dreadful. Unfortunately, Shirou hails from the “repeat what was just said back as a rhetorical question” school of anime, which lengthens and adds nothing to an already drawn out scene of talking.

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At least we get a nice moment where Sabre and Shirou get some bonding and renew their vows and establish their determination to win. Cliché? Sure. But touching.

Still, the exposition is unfortunate. It’s wasteful and that would be better spent on what fate/stay does best: establishing mood and showing us — not telling us — what people are thinking and doing. Having both Rin and the priest explain the war was over kill.

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tl;dr? This was a talk heavy episode where we learn a lot at the cost of action and mood. Also, Shirou is… kinda bland, actually.

At least the cliff hanger was a giant ass monster servant, apparently easy to identify as ‘Berserker’ and obvious that next week will drop right into a fight.

8_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 01

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The second most difficult story to tell, is the story we’ve already heard, that we already known*. What’s there to add, really? Embellishment? Extraneous details? That sounds so dull.

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works ‘first’ episode does just that. It’s starts the same day as episode zero. It features the same characters and the same events. Only our point of view has changed from Rin to Emiya Shirou.

My God, it’s wondrous!

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As before, we begin with a quiet day where Rin is early to school and Emiya is repairing broken classroom heaters. We see he’s doing this partially with magic, which was not stated before, but may not have been important enough for Rin to tell to the audience.

Unlike Rin, Emiya is more interactive with his class mates. He spends a lot of time doing work for (and listening to) the class president, Sakura prepares some of his meals, and Fujimura-sensei is both his landlord and a constant mooch at meal time.

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Still, like Rin, Emiya appears a little detached. He’s recently been chased out of the archery dojo by school ass-hat Matou Shinji and he doesn’t even know who these girls are.

To be fair, I don’t know who they are or what their significance to the plot the have yet either…

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From Emiya’s perspective, we learn that Fujimura-sensei is quite a bit more competent than we may have suspected from her always on the edge of late demeanor. We also see, though do not know for sure, that Sakura is being abused, presumably by Shinji.

Ultimately, Emiya’s point of view is a great companion to Rin’s. Where she gave us magical world context and a taste of the non-magical people in the world, he gives us low-stakes magic use and a greater understanding of the non-magic human network. Same world, same people, opposite sides of the coin.

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The only completely new content is Emiya’s past, which shows his adoption by a mage named Kiritsugu. It also shows Emiya surviving a fiery tragedy 10 years in the past and establishes his motives and frustrations with heroism.

These scenes are superb. They carry a great sense of heat mixed with the stillness of giving up. Magically fueled or not, there is a grand magic to presenting so much chaos, yet capturing the isolation of being alone in the chaos, powerless.

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Emiya looks back on the disaster with frustration and sadness. Not everyone was saved — not everyone could be saved — and that conflicts him. As a hero, he doesn’t want to be limited by choice. Who lives or dies shouldn’t be a blessing to those he cares for more than others. It should be a blessing for everyone.

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As with Rin’s story, Emiya’s introduces several side mysteries that go unexplained — unexplored even within this admittedly long format episode. A murder is on the lose. Possible gas leaks are making people sick. Sakura’s injuries and, very briefly show, her mysterious acquaintance.

Each one of these mysteries is handled with care and, for the most part, given very little consideration in dialog. As always, Fate/Stay is playing its cards close to its chest.

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As it must, Emiya’s story catches up to the initial tragedy told in Rin’s: Emiya witnesses Lancer and Archer fighting at the school and is killed in the hallway. Even Lancer is annoyed that it must go down this way. If only has master wasn’t such a cruel and cowardly one.

Later, following a resurrection that we really only understand because of episode zero, Emiya returns home, Only to fight Lancer again. Fortunately, this time Emiya is ready. Sort of.

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Magically increasing the durability of a poster to fight a spear at close range makes for a exciting little fight. From the beginning, we know it’s a losing battle and, given the peeks here and there at Emiya’s pentagram, we also assumed that he would be revealed to be Saber’s summoner.

Even so! That was a satisfying fight and it’s immediate escalation into a servant vs servant fight put a satisfying cap on our retread. Well timed because the episode comes to a tight close face to face with Rin, who actually knows and is willing to give Emiya some answers.

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My favorite details this week came from Emiya’s television, which displayed a mixture of japanese programs. Some news. Some dancing mascots harrassing anchors. None of it was relvant to the story. They were just there, for your eye to catch and ponder instead of just staring at talking characters.

That’s some effective world building. Effectively lived-in world building.

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The locket remains a bit of a mystery, since it isn’t quite in the same place in the two episodes…

Episode One is a little more chatty, though actually has less exposition and more character interaction, which nicely rounds out the experience.

Additionally, episode 1’s magical battles are slightly less spectacular, as Emiya is less magical and can’t participate in the same way in the same way as Rin. However, his personal fight against Lancer with a reinforced magical poster was delightfully unique (even to Lancer) that it more than made up for its reduced after-effects budget.

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Really, what is the difference between a 9 and a 10? Certainly, Fate/Stay is superior in every regard to every anime we’ve rated 9 so far this season, but when you’re faced with a second week where you consider giving it a 10, you can’t help but second guess yourself. Really? Is Fate/Stay really as good as every single episode of FLCL, one of the only perfect-score-every-episode anime I can think of?

Yes. At least, so far. And yet, Fate/Stay accomplishes it’s perfect ten so brilliantly in the opposite direction of the FLCLs and Kill La Kills. Where they are masterfully orchestrated spectacles of brilliant action, style and re-watchable overload, Fate/Stay is serene, patiently dolling out story and character development and subtle with their mystery.

Goodness, if there ever was a season for a show to say definitively that it was the best, it’s now. It’s fall 2014’s killer season. Well done Fate/Stay. Well done!

10_ogk

*The most difficult story to tell is a prequel.

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 00

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is quietly beautiful. Regal even. The first episode gives us peaceful landscapes and well paced introductions for all of protagonist Tohsaka Rin acquaintances and daily routines before introducing us to her other life. Her magic life.

If I had not been told that UBW was part of a larger, multi-series franchise, I would never have known. The world is shown to us without info-dump or talking head exposition characters and it is all very absorb-able.

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This 47-minute slow burn method is most definitely for the best, given how many characters UBW appears to be throwing at us. We’ve met nine of Rin’s fellow students and one teacher, with Rin’s relationship to each being implied through interaction as often as it is strictly spelled out.

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We’ve also met 3 ‘Servants,’ which are essentially familiars that help their mage-masters compete in a battle for the Holy Grail, which will grant its winner any wish, and through all of this we’ve learned about the world’s magic. Runes, gems, classes of Servant, the importance of timing, rings of binding and command, what fuels servants — a ton of stuff!

Yet I never felt blabbered at nor disconnected.

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UBW opens with a dream or a memory of young Rin saying goodbye to her father. Her isolation in the world, the magical-ness of that world, and her stranding in her family mansion are all clear through the setting, the filters and vibe.

Then teenage Rin wakes up and goes to school. She remarks on how empty it is — how no one seems around — and we know something is afoot. Something magical.

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Then Rin learns her clocks are all an hour ahead and that a perfectly reasonable explanation for the emptiness is around, but the mood stays and we know, as Rin knows, the world is still off without being told directly.

Though hinted at strongly in school, we don’t see Rin dabble in magic nor learn what that magic is until later. At home, she is warned that her time is up and only two Servants remain: Saber and Archer. Saber is the only one Rin wants.

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Rin performs a ritual, we learn a little bit about magic and can guess the meaning of other parts of it, and her Servant is brought forth. Upstairs. And he’s made a bit of a mess.

Unfortunately, Rin has forgotten her clocks being ahead and has mistimed the height of her magics (mana) and her new Servant has come in a bit off. While he doesn’t let this on immediately, he is not only testy but not entirely sure who he is.

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However, he is certain Rin is the only Master for him. Albeit, after Rin expends an unnecessary amount of magic and wastes a valuable resource she should have saved for later.

After some bonding, some probing of each other’s bounds, we become comfortable with Archer, Rin’s servant as much as she does and, for his benefit and our own, Rin skips school and shows Archer around her town.

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The following day we learn a little bit more about magic and the world we will be viewing. This time in the form of an evil barrier being built around Rin’s school, most likely by a novice but dangerous regardless. When activated, it will liquefy all the humans inside and allow their souls to be eaten by a Servant.

Later that night, while attempting to destroy the barrier, Rin and Archer meet their first enemy. Battle ensues and it is lovely.

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The battle ends quickly, but not before displaying animation skill saved for the best sword fighting anime sequences you will ever see, and an innocent is killed. Rin drains her pendant to revive the student (who we must wonder how and why he was there in the first place) but realizes later that the student will remain a target.

With Archer at her side, Rin dashes off to rescue the student again, or thwart her enemy along the way, only to run into Saber the servant she wanted to summon.

Then the episode ends.

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UBW is not very colorful in anime terms but it drips with detailed environments, depth of field focus, and a patience with everything that is enviable. That greatness aside, UBW’s magical fighting puts almost every anime to shame. It’s fluid, impactful, vibrant and the integration between the mage and her familiar is exciting.

The music, which is unobtrusive but masterful orchestral work, is good too.

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If I were willing to nit pick, I might ding UBW for Archer’s amnesia. It’s a bit …trope-y… but, I get the sense that it, too, is something we’re not being told about. The very fact that ‘Archer’ wields 2 swords and has yet to pull out a bow, and how he occasionally responds to his enemy and his master leads me to suspect he knows more than we do. More than Rin.

In short, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is nothing short of fantastic and utterly mind blowing as an opener to a show. Have an hour? WHY AREN’T YOU WATCHING IT RIGHT NOW?

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – 10

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Seo and Waka go on a movie date but Waka is blissfully unaware of his own feelings of love for Seo. 

The movie is laughably terrible, of course, and Seo semi-tortures Waka all the way through by stealing his arm wrest and eating his popcorn and not actually having payed attention during the movie and thus has nothing sane to say about it afterwards.

Nozaki benefits greatly from Waka’s retelling of the date, but shuts down Chiyo, who doesn’t realize which people he’s drawing character stories from, suggests the dates should continue and get deeper.

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Meanwhile, Kashima freaks out because she can not sing and Hori wants to do a musical theatre piece. With great effort, she convinces Seo to take her own and teach her to at least be a terrible singer. (as opposed to her black and white film drama inducingly terrible level of singing now)

By the end, she’s still terrible but, through a misunderstanding, Waka believes Seo is the bad singer and feels sorry for her.

Tragic Waka!

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On stage, Kashima and Hori have a great sword-fight show down but the theatre club doesn’t think they are a good fit for the dueling roles. First Nozaki (who wrote the play) tries to help out but he’s a useless actor and ultimately decides to wear a bear suit during the fight scene.

However silly and useless Nozaki turns out to be, Kashima picks up on Chiyo’s admiration for the big oaf and we can see things unfolding for Chiyo in the near future…

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Deciding Nozaki is no good, Mikorin is enlisted and does very well in the role. (Even Kashima knows how to manipulate him easily) 

However, Kashima is less happy when she realizes Hori is cheering Mikorin on more than he is her. For an instant she fears the two may be a couple she didn’t know about but quickly realizes Hori isn’t even saying Mikorin’s name correctly and as quickly banishes the thought.

Meanwhile, Hori has figured out Mikorin is Nozaki’s female protagonist, which he thinks is awesomely funny and everyone is only a few steps away from figuring out what everyone else wants and thinks and who they actually like. Maybe.

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GSN-k 10 is all about people starting to figuring things out, even if the things they figure out are about other people’s relationships and not their own. Kashima knows Chiyo likes Nozaki and that Nozaki doesn’t know it; Chiyo and Nozaki known Kashima has a thing for Hori; Nozaki knows Waka likes Seo but doesn’t know it, and Hori joins Chiyo as the only people who know Nozaki’s characters are gender flopped versions of people around school.

None of this helps their immediate relationships, certainly. However, it will only take one slip up — one verbalized observation — and the pieces could start falling into place…

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That said, we still have no idea what Nozaki wants or thinks, truly. (Nor Hori, honestly) Since he and Chiyo are the central cast, that’s a bit perplexing if you consider how few episodes are left in this season.

Could there be another season in the works? Sure… but I’m not sure I’d be up for it no matter how funny and much I’ve enjoyed the characters this time around. Other good shows that went know where in a season only to be terrible and not funny in their second seasons have my guard up on that front! (I’m looking at you season 2 of Working!!)

For now? Fingers crossed!

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