It’s a tough racket, this Holy Grail War thing. Just when you think you’ve bonded with your classmates, they attack you; you have to worry that your fellow students have been embroiled; strange women threaten your life in the most acrobatic of ways… and you’re most likely up to your ears in daddy issues. Such is the life of a teenaged magic user.
So, we’ve seen how this show can do action, but this episode we actually get a look of how it does suspense. There’s clearly something ominous in the air, whether it’s in large plot points like archery captain Ayako being announced missing, last seen arguing with our oily friend Matou Shinji; or smaller details like the recurring images of students slumped over their desks seeming very worn out. Almost as if the life force is being sucked from them. I’m sure there’s a joke about how that’s just the high school experience in there somewhere.
This episode takes place almost entirely on the school grounds, a perfect backdrop to demonstrate that the borders between the magical world and the common one are blurring—a corridor and classroom may not immediately strike you as an epic setting for a battle, but lo and behold. Rin follows through on her promise to treat Shirou as an enemy, and when he rocks up at school as if nothing’s wrong, he is swiftly reminded that something in fact is. The veil between magic and the ordinary has been breached and there’s no going back.
For all his strategic blindness, the kid doesn’t come off as completely gormless, though he does warble out a bit of “Why can’t we be friends, why can’t weee be friends?” before he’s cut off and dives towards pragmatism. This sequence did well to add to the growing log of parallels between the two, showing them both verbally powering up their attacks and defences from either side of the door: Rin’s magic is professional, precise and aided by her Magic Crest, and Shirou’s is haphazard and springs entirely from self-defence and the objects around him, like his powered-up poster from episode one.
Magic Crests are an elusive but interesting concept, so it was neat to see one visualised—I kind of felt it could have been designed to differ more wildly from Shirou’s “trace on” lines, just to heighten the contrast. Shirou’s magic is something much more mechanical and associated with the modern, Rin’s is from the arcane days of magecraft with generations of knowledge stored in it—thus it makes more sense for Shirou’s to look like a microchip than Rin’s. Shapes are important to design! It was very cool to see it in action, though, and once again, to see Rin-the-person vs Rin-the-mage when their fight (read: Rin chasing Shirou down a hallway with magic bullets) is interrupted by the sound of someone else in danger.
Another wonderful little bit of suspense and tension as we see a faceless student looking on from the sidelines, suddenly accompanied by the glow of a Servant… who we come into sudden and very close contact with when she springs from nowhere and lands Shirou, to mangle an expression, up a tree without a Servant. (Saber is at home, presumably napping with her Master’s blessing. And bonding with Sakura, apparently! Well, that was nice to hear about over breakfast, but it would have been even nicer to see it rather than have them suddenly be friends in a few sentences)
Just who is this creepy new addition to the chessboard? We don’t know, and certainly not who her Master is, though she claims they’re a coward and seems to respect Shirou for not being as such (admirable, but Shirou, son, kiddo, do not egg on the overpowered supernatural being). Another mystery is added to the pile, which is quite fun. Fate/Zero was a very different creature in terms of being a straight-up ensemble piece, with every character and alliance mapped out at the beginning, so the tension then came from seeing how they were going to interact. Fate/Stay Night, with its more limited perspective, has much more of a mystery and suspense element in that you don’t know what the heck is going on or who is who, and I’m really glad they’re running with that for all it’s worth.
As opposed to being entirely exposition or character development or action, this episode was a blend of all three. We got a couple of fight scenes, some build of intrigue, and some discussion of Magic Crests, which led nicely into discussion of mage family structure (enter the dad issues). Where Rin was born and bred with the specific purpose of being the Tohsaka mage and continuing the family’s work, Shirou bumbled through with a father who not only didn’t pass on his Crest but advised Shirou away from any involvement with magic in the first place. In Rin’s own saddened words, he acted more like a dad than a mage. Again with the parallels, two sides of the same warped, Grail-seeking coin, both chasing the dreams left in their care by men they idolised but lost early in life.
Oh yes, and we get a flashback of such a moment in the cold open. Thanks, ufotable. Stabbing me in the gut with Kiritsugu-related emotions and then running off into the sunset as usual. Keep up the good work.
- Characteristic stubble-shots strike again. At least we see that Kiritsugu was smiling in his last moments, which we didn’t get in the Fate/Zero version
- Still waiting for concrete Saber characterisation. I’m absolutely loving how expressive everyone else is, though
- Sakura was slightly relevant in this episode
- Archer was not though, despite his Master being in danger. Get your broody ass off the roof and help, please.