Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 04 –Lightning Round

Gray eavesdrops on Lord El-Melloi talking to a scrap of Iskander’s cloak, longing to be in the Holy War again. To do so, he must bow his head before the late Sola-Ui Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri’s brother Bram, incoming head of the Spiritual Evocation department.

In the meantime, El-Melloi has a fresh case, involving a fellow lecturer in Wills Pelham Codrington and Marburry Workshop he inherited from his father Trevor, who was among many recently killed by increasing amounts of lightning at the site believed to be the result of an unbalanced leyline.

It is Reines who meets clandestinely with Bram, who agrees in principle to help El-Melloi get one of the coveted spots for the next Holy Grail War. Not only does Reines demonstrate a Machiavellian shrewdness far beyond her meager years, but also shows off a very cool trick involving blue stones that create a magic wall of privacy for her and Bram.

Sophia-Ri is offering the slot in exchange for El-Melloi investigating the Codrington affair, which is basically a matter of inheritance between a main and branch family, on behalf of a Spiritual Evocation department that doesn’t want to sully its reputation by getting involved. Immediately upon arriving, Reines’ “Mystic Eyes” turn red and start to hurt.

They reach the mansion to find they are not the first to arrive: a member of Policies, Adashino Hishiri, is already on the scene with Waletta, a member of the head Codrington family who is also a childhood friend he rejected for marriage…so there’s clearly bad blood.

Adashino is ready to arrest and charge Wills with his own father’s murder, since the lightning only appears when Wills is at the workshop. Despite El-Melloi also having some kind of unpleasant past with Adashino, he manages to convince her to give him a chance to determine the truth, and whether Wills really is responsible.

As Wills shows El-Melloi a fairy rooted to the Marburry lands who has appeared and warned him every time before someone dies, Reines is also feeling a little adventurous, and she and Gray explore an underground catacombs, and meet a man in sunglasses who wards off hostile spirits with a magical shotgun.

The man is Shishigou Kairi, necromancer, mercenary, and a friend of the late Trevor’s, apparently there to pay his respects, but also among the suspects in Trevor’s murder.

With the hour late and Reines taxed by her Mystic Eyes, El-Melloi is ready to retire for the night, but is vexed by the lack of a connecting factor between the thunder, Mystic Eyes, and graveyard. After the credits, the pattern of someone dying after the fairy appears before Wills repeats, as Gray reports to El-Melloi that Waletta is the latest to be struck by lightning.

Despite both the whodunit and howdunit remaining up in the air, what we have is the first part of an incomplete investigation that is nevertheless compelling enough to make me eager for part two. This is also the first case that is explicitly not just about paying debts, but getting Waver another shot at the Holy Grail, in which he presumably intends to repay the greatest debt of all.

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Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 03 – What Modern Times Entail

Lord El-Melloi II is pissed, and he doesn’t hesitate to take it out on one of his more talented but insolent students, Flat, with a head-grabbing move that another student, who looks like a magical girl, has patented it. Meanwhile, a new student, Luviagelita Edelfelt, is not amused, and asks Gray what, exactly, is the lord’s deal.

In continuing with the domestic comedy that surrounds him, the source of Waver’s foul mood is the unplanned closing of his favorite coffee shop due to an electrical fault. As a loyal and enthusiastic regular, he offers his services to track the cause. Turns out one of the exterminators the owners hired went missing into the labyrinths beneath the shop.

El-Melloi’s investigation leads to an encounter with some kind of lightning-aligned beast, and when he fails to return to the coffee shop, Gray is called, and Gray calls Flat, who along with his classmate Svin meet Gray in the tunnels to search for their professor.

They locate him, a bit beaten up but otherwise fine. Svin takes him above for medical attention, while Gray and Flat follow the illuminated tracks of the monster that attacked the lord. They eventually encounter that beast—a kind of giant demented electrical rabbit—and Flat shows he’s no slouch when it comes to magical barriers, making a good team with Gray.

They eventually reach the source of the monster: the workshop of a Clock Tower zoology mage, Gurdoa Davenant, who sees the death of the exterminator and others to be a small price to pay if he can reach the Root. He summons several more rabbit beasts that surround the students, suggesting an excellent battle is about to take place.

Unfortunately, Lord El-Melloi returns with Svin (in his own form of beast mode) and a bunch of documents tying Gurdoa to a number of crimes for which the Clock Tower has frozen his assets and declared a warrant for his arrest. It would seem the modern world cannot bear mages like Gurdoa, willing to break the rules of magecraft to pursue his own lofty designs.

He later admits to his students he was partially bluffing and probably would not have been much help if Gurdoa didn’t go peacefully (which he does), but I imagine if he’d let Gray, Flat, and Svin let their collective hair (and hoods) down, they could have put on quite a show. Instead, it’s a much more subdued (and thus boring) resolution.

This episode’s case file was okay, but nothing to knock one’s socks off, especially after the spectacle of Gray unleashing her power (and as-of-yet unspecified connection to Saber). However, the post-credits scene bodes well for some future excitement: according to Luvia, two positions for Association participants in the Holy Grail War have closed—not something El-Melloi wants to hear.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 02 – Nothing is Eternal

One of Lord El-Melloi II’s basic lessons in his class is “nothing is eternal; everything changes,” and he should know, having once been the master of a heroic spirit of whose vast empire nearly nothing remains. And it is a former student, Mary Lil Fargo (subfamily of the Aminuspheres) who summons him to her mansion, which is the site of her father Ernest’s murder and dismemberment.

The seven parts of the body that were separated and arranged throughout the house indicate the same kind of planetary magic the Fargo family specializes in, but the arrangement is all wrong. Of the four people in the mansion when Ernest died, all have a motive to kill him, be it revenge for abuse (Claire the maid), jealousy over his research (Fernando Li), money to pay debts (his nephew Alec), and of course, his heir, Mary herself.

While this seems at first like a classic whodunit with El-Melloi picking the least likely suspect as the culprit, the murder mystery takes an entirely different and unexpected turn: no one murdered Ernest; he murdered and dismembered himself, all in the service of setting up an experimental spell that would grant him immortality.

El-Melloi confirms this when a hidden section of the rotunda’s floor reveals the part of a human associated with the planet Earth: the soul, not of the body. Once revealed, it contacts the other seven parts and reconstructs Ernest, but it is far from perfect, being his first and only attempt: he’s a grotesque monster, seeking Mary’s life force to complete his immortality.

El-Melloi doesn’t do anything to protect Mary, but he doesn’t have to: his apprentice Gray is on the job. After an incantation, her lantern-dwelling sidekick Add transforms into a mighty scythe, and its power blows her up to then ever-present hood off her head, revealing she bears an uncanny resemblance to Saber, AKA Artoria Pendragon.

While the reasons for this have yet to be revealed, knowing a little more about Gray certainly makes things more interesting. It also explains why she’s such a skilled fighter, such that El-Melloi only needs to step back with Mary and let her do her thing.

Once she dispatches the demented undead Ernest (creepily reciting words that rhyme with “Gray” in the process), she smiles in self-satisfaction before realizing her hood is down, and promptly pulls it back up. El-Melloi—Waver—apparently can’t look at a face that brings up such terrible memories of the Holy Grail War.

Before parting, El-Melloi deduces that Mary is a talented enough mage to know what her father was up to…and that it wouldn’t work and result in his death. El-Melloi won’t be able to prove it, but still wants to know why she did nothing to stop him.

Mary’s answer is rooted in the lessons she learned from El-Melloi himself: nothing is eternal. Letting her father go through with a doomed, incomplete immortality experiment was her way of relaying that lesson to him. Mages shouldn’t seek immortality, except in the indirect way they pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

If Ernest had succeeded, he’d have rendered that generation—made Mary, and her future and that of her children—redundant. Not only that, if I’m interpreting Mary holding hands with Claire at the end, letting Ernest essentially kill himself freed the maid from his abuse.

As first cases go (not counting episode 00) this wasn’t too bad at all; it introduced El-Melloi’s investigative process, showed off his knowledge of magecraft and deductive facilities, had an interesting twist, and of course, revealed Gray’s “Silver Saber” mode. A good week’s work. On to the next case!

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 01 – Not Even Close to a Hero

First of all, I wouldn’t bother watching EM2CF unless you’ve at least seen Fate/Zero in its entirety; aside from the fact that series is a masterpiece (and is available on Netflix, at least in the U.S.) you won’t have any context to who this Waver Velvet kid is unless you do. It would be like watching Avengers:Endgame without watching any previous MCU films.

Though to me that immediately hamstrings this sequel/spin-off: it has some huge shoes to fill, and from the outset it doesn’t seem interested in even bothering to do so. This is not a Holy Grail War arc, but a totally different, smaller-scale story about how one combatant in the fourth war has managed to honor his heroic spirit’s wish that he go on surviving.

Even with a good working knowledge of Velvet and his role the fourth Holy Grail war, this first episode of a series focused on him makes a lot of jumps backwards and forwards through time—probably more than should be necessary.

That being said, the story moves along well, from one final parting shot of Fuyuki Bridge ten years ago, to hanging upside down in the Archisorte Mansion seven years ago. There, he regails Lord El-Melloi’s blood niece and (sister-by-succession) Reines with an adventure he had while visiting the ancient ruins of Babylon some months after the war.

After being captured by a fellow ex-Clock Tower student Barzan, Waver meets another former classmate in Melvin. They break out of their cell and blow up the archaeological site believed to be where Iskandar is buried, which Barzan has been using as a workshop for illicit magecraft.

Once they’re both free, Waver asks Melvin to forgive him for being unable to pay back the money he borrowed to travel to Japan for the Holy Grail war he then went on to lose. But Melvin was impressed both by the fact Waver even did survive, and with his display of no-nonsense practical magecraft to get them out of a tough spot, so he decides to lend him more money; this time to buy the late Lord El-Melloi’s class.

Three years later, Waver has steadily managed the class, and now finds himself before Reines, who simply wants to know why he did so. Waver simply feels responsible for El-Melloi’s death, and thus feels carrying on the class is his duty. Reines, still too young to be a proper lord, decides to make Waver’s role in El-Melloi’s legacy official by naming him Lord El-Melloi until she comes of age.

In accepting the title, Waver agrees to help the nearly insolvent El-Melloi family repay their debts (through those titular Case Files) and try to restore the family’s heirloom magical crest that was heavily damaged in the war, and without which the family will surely fall. All he asks in return is to have “the second” added to his title, so that he need not bear the exact same title as his mentor; something he feels he doesn’t deserve.

And that’s how Waver Velvet became Lord El-Melloi II seven years ago. Flash forward to the present, and an older, more stately former-Mr. Waver meets his apprentice Gray (introduced in the preview episode) in the hallway, then sits down with a similarly older Reines and Melvin to discuss…the next case.

While this episode had no shortage of F/Z references, if the show keeps doing that it’s going to feel like a crutch. I for one think this show can stand on its own as a supernatural mystery-of-the-week kind of deal. It’s all about managing expectations, something Waver certainly knows a lot about, having always operated on shoestring resources and third-rate magic.

Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files – 00 – A Dead Cat and a Myriad of Facts

When we (or at least I) last saw Waver Velvet, he’d lost the Holy Grail War, but was ordered by Rider to survive. He told his hypnotized “grandparents” that he’d continue living with them and save up enough to travel the world Rider once conquered.

This latest Fate spin-off, which is set to air this Summer, takes place ten years later, when Waver has apparently had his fill of world travel. Not only does he now lead the Modern Magecraft Theories Department at the Clock Tower, but he has taken on the title of Lord El-Malloi II at the request of Kayneth’s sister Reines, until she comes of age.

The presence of “Case Files” in the title seems to imply this show will be a series of magical mysteries which El-Malloi II must solve, with the help of his dutiful apprentice Gray and his students. This first case involves a curse on a cat that his passed to him; they must find and capture the perpetrator before he’s killed.

I have to say, lingering shots of a dying, suffering cat is a curious way of trying to lure people to watch, especially when El-Malloi lacks the magical skill to heal the poor thing. The mystery is also solved and resolved so easily it’s kind of robbed of its urgency and stakes and obviously El-Malloi isn’t going to die in a preview special. But plot aside, Case Files is a gorgeous show.

Suffice it to say, the attack on El-Malloi was ordered by someone who wants him out of the way. It’s painfully obvious his position as Lord is tenuous at best, and there’s a lot of scheming going on behind his back. But at least for now he is obeying Iskander, and surviving. I suspect I’ll be back in July to see how he manages to keep surviving while battling the magical establishment.—Braverade

Fate / Zero – 25 (Fin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Fate / Zero – 15

I hope you’ll forgive me if this review doesn’t hold up to my usual vigorous editorial standards, as I must admit I am rather stunned—gobsmacked, you might say—by what I just witnessed, and whenever that happens, I tend to get a bit too florid in my language. Consider yourself warned.

That happens, at this magnitude, very rarely indeed. Of the episodes I consider almost perfect, I must count this among them. At this point in my viewing of Fate/Zero, if there was one and only one episode I had to show someone, it would be this one.

It’s a perfect encapsulation; an epic full-length motion picture, compressed into a scant third of an hour; the crystallization of the ultimate potential embedded in its run thus far. I shudder to think it could ever get better than this, but having seen this, I shouldn’t underestimate this show’s capacity for ever-expanding spectacle. And I won’t.

In case you forgot the events of this episode: Rider decides to trap Caster and his monster in his Reality Marble to buy the rest of the team time to figure out a way to defeat it. Righteousness ensues.

As Berserker and Archer continue dogfighting in their respective badass aircraft, Kariya’s swarm of bugs are harmlessly absorbed by Tokiomi’s magical barrier. As Kariya’s body breaks down, Tokiomi delivers “mercy” by setting him ablaze. The animation used to portray the burning Kariya looked like nothing else in the show so far and was hauntingly novel and chilling in its style and execution.

Once Rider transports the monster to his Reality Marble, Iri gets a call from Kiritsugu, but has Waver answer the phone. Kiritsugu tells Waver to tell Rider to drop the monster at a specific point of his choosing once the Marble prison fails. He also tells Lancer that Saber has the only weapon that can defeat the monster, but can’t use it due the wound made by Gáe Buidhe.

Possessed of that new information, Lancer’s next move is pure Chivalry: That monster cannot be allowed to terrorize innocent people. His spear is preventing the only weapon that can defeat it from being used. Ergo, Gáe Buidhe must be destroyed.

Saber’s claim that she bears the wound as a mark of pride, not as a burden, but Lancer knows she’s being way too nice, and does what a true Knight such as himself would do: snap the spear in half. Once he does, Saber immediately prepares her Noble Phantasm.

As Berserker destroys Archer’s aircraft, Kotomine Kirei approaches the barely-alive Kariya…and starts to heal him, cracking a smile as he does. It would seem the Kirei Rebellion against his father and Tokiomi has officially begun in earnest.

Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber and her newly-released weapon. It then falls to Lancer to transport onto Berserker’s jet and disable it, and even with just one spear, he gets the job done.

That leaves the area secure for Kiritsugu to launch a flare at the spot where Rider is to release the monster. After the sheer awesome lunacy of Rider’s chariot and Berserker and Archer’s aircraft, it is quite amusing indeed to see Kiritsugu in his unassuming little raft, likely fitted with the most efficient and durable engine that provides sufficient and not excessive power to get him into position.

Once Rider has the signal, the monster is released, and the other end of the grand stage given over to the King of Knights so she can shine.

Saber’s attack is singularly gorgeous in an episode of visually arresting imagery, but its beauty is only enhanced by the reactions of those watching it unfold, and the poetic words of Iri describing what the weapon is, and in doing so, describing who Arturia Pendragon truly is:

That sword is the embodiment of the sad, yet noble, dream of all soldiers, past, present, and future, who lie dying on the field of battle, clutched to their hearts with their last breath. She carries their will as her pride, bidding them to remain steadfast in their loyalty. Now, the undefeated king sings aloud, the name of the miracle she holds in her hand. It’s name is…Excalibur.

This is the unique, nigh divine power bestowed upon Saber in exchange for the tremendous burden she bears. And while Archer laughed at her devotion and Rider doubted her kingship, for all their power amassed across space and time, neither of them could do anything like what Saber does to this monster. This isn’t just Saber saving the city and the day; this is Saber dunking on her doubters. Suddenly they are the ones who look small, puny, and cowed.

As for poor crazy Caster, I daresay I almost feel sorry for the evil son of a bitch when he meets his all-too-beautiful end, which includes a vision of his beloved Jeanne (who does look a lot like Saber). Almost.

While Uryuu went out experiencing something he was looking for all his life and finally found, Caster too experiences a kind of quasi-redemptive epiphany at the very end. Both men end up essentially forsaking everything they had ever done in their miserable lives, condemning it as wasted time and effort in the face of the truths they face at the end.

As the monster Excalibur effortlessly cleaved clean in half dissipates into the night, Archer asks Rider if he’s still not convinced of Saber’s kingship. Rider acknowledges the power, but still feels its too much for one young woman; not so much a legend as a great tragedy. Rider and Archer also agree to duel one another soon…but not quite yet, as they want to recover from this battle and fight at full strength.

Finally, while Saber lost an unwanted admirer in Caster, she gained a new one tonight through her actions: Archer. Where Rider sees tragedy, Archer sees vivid beauty; something to which nothing in his vast treasury can compare. I’ll tell you what’s damn near beyond compare: this episode.

The last episode, in its efficient, businesslike way, laid out all of the various facets of the battle and set the conditions for victory, while also keeping expectations…reasonable. This episode took those facets and resolved them into a gorgeous jewel that shined with golden radiance, blasting through all expectations like Excalibur through a fortress-sized demon. The remaining ten episodes have their work cut out for them.

Fate / Zero – 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fate / Zero – 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fate / Zero – 11

Iris detects the massive mana of Rider heading towards the castle, and Saber suits up for a battle…only for Rider to show up in his t-shirt and pants with a giant barrel of wine. He’s not there to fight, he’s there to drink and talk. A Holy Grail “dialogue”, as he puts it.

Saber has no objection, and drinks from the barrel with Rider. Soon, Archer also arrives, on Rider’s invitation, and after rejecting Rider’s “swill” opens a portal to his treasury to draw out…a golden jug and three golden cups.

This would be absurd if it wasn’t also frikking brilliant, for Iskandar and Gilgamesh share one thing in common: they are hedonistic tyrants of yore.

Gilgamesh is such a tyrant he considers all treasures in the world to be his, since they all sprang from his treasury—a treasury so vast he isn’t even aware of all it contained.

Iskandar wants to be reincarnated as a flesh-and-blood man to take up his world conquest anew. Saber…wants to save Britain, in part by erasing all of the perceived mistakes she made in life as king. She wants a redo.

Archer laughs in her face at the fact she harbors regret for the deeds in her life, and Rider can’t help but agree. As far as they’re concerned, it’s the duty of the nation and its people to serve and sacrifice for their ruler, not the other way ’round as Saber would have it.

By insisting upon being a “slave to what’s right”, Saber might be able to save Britain, but she can never lead it, and so Rider ceases to see Saber as a real king.

Kingship, to him, has always been a wondrous gift, and throughout his rule he lived and fought as grandly and greedily as possible, living life to the extremes of both good and bad, that he might inspire men to fight and die for him. When Assassins surround them (a test by Kirei and Tokiomi), Rider transports everyone into a Reality Marble.

There, in the vast desert sands, Iskandar’s endless armies march, and when he mounts his trusty horse and orders them to advance, the Assassins are quickly routed. Saber, Iri and Waver can only sit and watch in stunned awe, while Archer does his best to look unimpressed. It’s the biggest spectacle since the port battle, and it is well and truly momentous.

When the battle is over and everyone’s back in the courtyard, Rider takes one more drink, then takes his leave, which is just as well, as I don’t think anyone’s ideals could have been shat on as thoroughly and mercilessly as Saber’s (If I didn’t know better, I’d say Rider was a cruel drunk). Archer remains to mock Saber, urging her to go ahead and continue believing in her ‘backwards’ philosophy so he can laugh at her some more.

Their words cut as deeply as any blade, as Saber remembers one of her Knights of the Round Table stepping down because he didn’t think Arthur understood his people…and Rider and Archer’s words only served to reinforce her growing crisis of confidence.

But while it doesn’t end well for Saber, like at all, it was fantastic to see three Servant Kings simply sitting in a courtyard, drinking wine, and shooting the breeze…and for Rider to show that he can back up all his big talk, and then some.

Fate / Zero – 09

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

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

“Oh BTW I DIDN’T sign the prenup.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tá mé ag suí i rud éigin fliuch.”

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

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

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

Fate / Zero – 05

This episode just wouldn’t quit. It shouldn’t work as well as it does: piling character after character into what was, at least on the battlefield, a one-on-one duel between Saber and Caster, but because of the build-up in the previous episodes, each and every time someone new takes the stage, it adds a new glorious layer to the conflict.

And even if this battle only turns out to be a big tease, now six of the seven Servants have met one another, and have at least a cursory idea of what to expect form each other. We also learn that if there’s one Servant who’s going to keep a kind of noble order and balance in this War, it’s Rider.

When Lancer declines out of obligation to his Master and Saber is insulted by Rider’s offer to make them his retainers, the Master who originally meant to command Rider appears, at least in voice-form; Archibald is tickled that Velvet would actually become a combatant in the Holy Grail War, and intends to teach him a lesson.

\Rider isn’t having that. Whoever this Archie guy is, he won’t let him torment his Master (that’s his job), who is at least by his side. He calls out Archibald for hiding like a coward, and calls out any other Servants who were drawn to Saber and Lancer’s excellent duel (though if he found it so excellent, why not let it unfold rather than interrupt?)

And so two more Servants appear in quick succession: first Gilgamesh / Archer, then Berserker (true identity unknown). Gil, as is his wont, deems all other kings in his presence to be pretenders (and he has a point, he is the first of them, historically speaking). But Matou decides that now is the time to test Berserker—as well as his own tolerance as a Master.

Archer takes Matou’s bait and exposes his Noble Phantasm for all the other Servants and Masters to see, but ends up with nothing to show for it, since Berserker is not only crazy, but an extremely tough customer, turning every blade Gil sends his way into his own NP. Ultimately Tokiomi has to spend a Command Seal to reign Gil in.

I love how powerful, frightening, and unpredictable Berserker is depicted; he’s a very cool design that seems to shudder in and out of solidity, as if he’s just barely being kept together.

But what I loved even more was Gil’s attempt to save face by basically saying “You’re all beneath me; kill each other off until there’s one left and then come at me.” He’s an arrogant prick as always, but he’s surprisingly likable in this version—perhaps because he was thrown off his game so effortlessly by Berserker.

With Archer gone, Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber, whose injured hand quickly puts her at a disadvantage, forcing Lancer to save her from a potentially vicious blow. He doesn’t do it because they’re friends, or allies, but because she’s his opponent. If Berserker wants to fight her, he’ll have to get past Lancer first.

That’s Lancer’s will, but unfortunately for him, Archie has Command Seals, and uses one to override that will, ordering him to team up with Berserker to eliminate Saber.  In the ensuing one-on-one (after Lancer apologizes to Saber), Kiritsugu and Maiya have their weapons trained on Archie and Assassin, respectively.

Their careful work is ruined, however, by Rider (again), jumping between Saber and Lancer and driving Berserker into the ground, forcing him to retreat, then telling Archie to order Lancer’s retreat as well. Rider has decided that no one is going to die tonight, and nobody challenges him.

I have no doubt that Saber would have gladly fought Berserker and Lancer at once, bad hand and all. But she’s clearly grateful to Rider for his intervention this time. The primary reason for that is Irisviel: if Saber falls here, she’ll be on her own, surrounded by enemies. Rider also decides to stay out of Saber and Lancer’s fight from now own; he’ll face whoever prevails.

That’s fine with Saber; she can’t fight anyone else at 100% until she defeats Lancer and lifts the curse on her hand. It’s just as well that Berserker withdrew when he did, as a longer confrontation might have killed Matou, who vomits blood and worms in a dark alley, but remains as committed as ever to protecting Sakura by winning the war.

What of Uryuu and Caster, the only Servant who wasn’t on the field? Bluebeard observed everything from a crystal ball, and has taken a particular—and worrying—interest in Saber.

Fate / Zero – 04

“You can’t see it, but trust me…it’s there.”

Here it is: the first Grail War battle in which neither side is trying to lose, and what do you know, it’s between Saber and Lancer. It feels like there’s been a lot of buildup to this, but I was still caught off guard by just how well-executed it was.

I didn’t even mind the frequent cuts away from the combatants to their various observers, because the weight of their interests and stakes in this fight felt just as significant as the thrill of the fight.

“Did I leave the oven on?”

Lancer, AKA Diarmuid of the Love Spot (best name, or bestest?), is a formidable opponent, able to surprise Saber and Iri on more than one occasion with his surprise tactics based on insufficient intelligence on his abilities.

But these aren’t two people who don’t like each other fighting to the death, it’s two people who through their interaction in battle only gain more and more Capital-R Respect for one another. They’re knights, but they’re also warriors who love a good opponent and they’re having a blast.

NOT THE BANGS

What also made the fight so engrossing was my complete lack of an idea how it would go. Early on, Saber is pushed back on her heels, so to speak, made to discard her armor only to play straight into Lancer’s Gáe Buidhe-and-Gáe Dearg dual-wielding hands.

But while he draws blood and seems to have the edge in the battle, even he knows one cannot simply underestimate a Saber-class Servant, especially one who has yet to really dig into her own bag of tricks.

(One thing I did not realize until this episode is how and why Saber’s sword is invisible: she conceals it with wind magic because it bears her true name. That…actually makes a lot of sense.)

YOU GUYS I BROUGHT BEER

But what truly makes the battle special is that it isn’t the only thing going on. Aside from Matou and Uryuu, virtually everyone is carefully watching this fight, from Toosaka through Kirei via Assassin (who still, for the moment, believe Iri is Saber’s Master) and Kiritsugu and Maiya, to Velvet and Rider.

Iskandar is increasingly worried he’ll lose the chance to have a good fight against the other heroes if he lets Lancer kill Saber too soon, so he crashes the party in grand fashion, landing between them in his chariot in a cloud of lightning. Quite the entrance, and one that promises a more complex and nuanced outcome than simply one Servant beating another.

And this is because these are three epic heroes we’re dealing with—not mindless obedient robots—whose actions are driven almost as much by their histories and charisma as by their Masters’ orders.