I don’t usually review things episodically, but as this is something I’m actually going to try and watch week by week as it comes out (shocker, right?), I figured I’d give it a try. This week, in the 50-minute long prologue, we follow the high-school-student-by-day-mage-by-night Tohsaka Rin, meeting various colourful characters along the way including mysterious faceless redheads, effervescent teachers, smarmy archery club members, and the hunk of tanned muscle and magic that she inadvertently sends crashing through her living room.
As this is Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, and we know it’s going to be following the second route of the game, my speculation post is rendered somewhat moot. However, it’s still going to be interesting to watch how events unfold. This episode adapts the prologue of the visual novel almost directly, except for naturally enough streamlining a few parts and adding details that actually make some things make more sense. There’s not too much leaning on the fact that this is a sequel series just yet, though there have already been a few little additions to enhance the continuity (little things, you know, like acknowledging that Rin’s mother exists). Mostly, we’re just thrown gently into the world and nudged to gormlessly observe.
Short of being the info-dump prologue people have bemoaned Fate/Zero for, this serves less as a set-up of the entire cast and world but a set-up of the character of Rin, who’s immediately an interesting bundle of contrasting facets—mature and sophisticated enough to be looked up to by her peers, and advanced for her age in her magic abilities, yet she reverts to a childlike state of snappy anger and/or flush-faced uncertainty when faced with failure. She can recite a summoning ritual to the letter, but simultaneously forget that all the clocks in her house are wrong by an hour. She has all the pragmatic chill of an ideal mage, and participant in this Grail War thing, but a compassionate streak shines through. She’s a girl with many masks, and behaves quite differently depending on who she’s with.
Thus, we get the sense that Rin, as a protagonist, is competent enough to be cheered on by the audience, but also fallible and human enough to relate to, and the amount of information we glean from following her progress is the right amount to make us confused just enough to be curious. There is, though, some exposition necessary since this is a first glance into a convoluted world, and even brings on some As You Know Bob-ing from Archer, who, once he’s been fished smug pose and all from the wreckage of Rin’s lounge suite, feels the need to explain things she should already know. Then again, the pair so far are keenly fashioning themselves into a pain in the other party’s ass, so some condescending comments come part and parcel.
If you stumbled across this episode with no prior knowledge of Fate, I think you could satisfactorily gather that magic exists, but not in plain sight; there’s something going on called the Holy Grail War which requires a person named a Heroic Spirit to be summoned via magic circle, who is then named something like Archer or Saber depending on the weapon they use; the summoner has a symbol on their hand called a Command Seal that allows them to order that spirit around, and is quite convenient for getting them to stop sass-talking you and clean up their damn mess.
When these spirits, the Servants, fight, there’s a definite sense of otherworldly, next-level power, and ordinary humans do not want to get caught up in it unless they know what they’re doing. If you’re an innocent bystander, like that faceless ginger, you may well end up getting lanced into status as a silent witness.
Until, of course, Rin comes along and saves you, with some cryptic reasoning that she could never look ‘her’ in the eye again if she let you die. Well golly gee. I wonder if that kid’s going to become important?
What does the future of the Holy Grail War hold, now that the first battle has been fought? Will Rin make that shadowy memory of her father proud, and continue to annoy that mysterious deep voice on the phone? Aside from being the perfect stand-in butler, what is Archer’s true identity? What’s the connection between Rin and that younger student, Sakura, that she seems so keen to keep quiet about? And who is that radiant armoured blonde that appears sword blazing at the cliffhanger??
Tune in next week to find out! The wait is already agonising. Watching things not in marathon format is weird.
Less coherent notes:
- Superficially, I am in love. The animation is gorgeous so far, and the soundtrack is atmospheric and pretty. It’s also nice (and/or heartbreaking) to see locations we got to know in Zero ten years older and still relevant, even if only fleetingly.
- I have already spotted a bunch of parallels and I am upset. They’re even using a similar format to Zero’s in the episode previews
- “I’m afraid I have no sword”. Really, Archer? Really? You literally have the opposite of no sword
- Who knew a guy could make a ponytail and skintight blue armour work so well?