Another post-battle lull episode—one has to wonder if anyone’s getting tired of these forays back into the domestic life of the Emiya household and the various eccentric women that crash there, but this instalment felt, to me at least, very far from filler. No, so far Fate/Stay Night has not had the same sense of suspense and urgency as its prequel, but it also takes the time to focus in and develop character much more slowly, with those lovely ominous undertones all the while. Which is exactly what we get this time around, as we pick Shirou’s brain and begin to really get a proper sense of what a messy little place it is.
Like any good cold open, the start of the episode sets up wonderfully for the feel and focus of its heart: Saber telling Shirou “If you are in pain, do not hesitate to speak up”, Shirou agreeing and fondly wishing her goodnight, then a slow cut to him curled up under his bedcovers gritting his teeth in agony. Shirou plays into the idea that heroic selflessness equals a certain ‘noble’ lack of self-preservation: he abhors the thought of causing anyone worry, even when something clearly serious that he needs help with is going on. Even when he wakes up to find his entire left arm numb, he’s determined to go about his day and only begrudgingly lets Saber help clean up the crockery he’s dropped with his nerveless fingers because he doesn’t want to cause a fuss.
Picture it as an infomercial: has this ever happened to you? Roll a black-and-white montage of plates and bowls dropping from Shirou’s hands and smashing on the kitchen floor, while he makes faces of disgruntled shock. Looks like you need new Stone Wave crack-proof dinnerware! Or maybe, to not suddenly rip swords out of thin air and break every natural law that immediately comes to mind!
I would have kind of liked some deeper explanation of what exactly projection magic is and why Shirou can do it, but I suppose at this point it’s largely self-explanatory: the user projects objects into three dimensions, and suddenly there they are. Archer has a similar power, it seems, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, the household has an impromptu lunch and dinner guest in the form of a very disgruntled Rin, who fortunately loves teasing Shirou more than she hates being left hanging at school. The trio discuss what on earth to do with Caster, having had their asses so marvellously kicked the evening before, and Shirou has to watch in awe as Saber and Rin work so well together.
He also has to make dinner, and contend with the ever-effervescent Taiga making an entrance and freaking out that there’s another teenaged girl in the house. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d sensed the sexual tension/budding crush in the air between them among the steam from the hot pot, since it’s definitely there. Shirou and Rin even share a starlit, snow-sprinkled heartfelt conversation on the porch, their eyes full of youthful endearment.
I have to give props to the animators for, once again, making these characters very expressive, whether it’s subtly or wildly, like Rin’s fantastic grimace earlier. It makes them more believable, and I really do appreciate Rin’s fantastic grimaces in that this team has a character that’s obviously meant to be desirable, and still let her face not only move but move in ridiculous, characteristic and wonderfully unattractive ways.
It’s comical, but it’s also an extra layer of tragedy and emotion, which is what the night takes a turn for—the garden hosts what I feel is a very important developmental conversation, since once again it plays on those parallels between Shirou and Rin, and between their families. The same but different: Rin comments that Shirou’s house, and the bounded field set up to guard it, feels much more natural and free than the one at her manor, which is stark and constrictive and doesn’t let people out once they’re in. This could reveal her sense of feeling trapped by her heirly duties, but she admits that she’s never found magic difficult because it was always something she wanted to do. The same way she’s detouring and going to ordinary school, she continued it because she liked learning new things, and duty or otherwise, what kept her at her training was that she found it fun.
To her surprise (and shock, budding into beautifully expressive anger), Shirou’s mindset on this is very different. Did he ever find magic practice fun? He can’t really say. He did it simply to get better at it, a means to the vague and selfless ends of using it to help people one day. Making others happy makes him happy, but that is not enough of an answer to satisfy Rin, who can’t believe he has no personal passion in something that’s repeatedly strained and hurt him. And she doesn’t even know about the numb arm! The emotional significance of the conversation is inverted to what we thought it would be at the start: despite the symbolism in their respective houses, it’s not Rin that’s constricted by her attitude to magic, it’s Shirou.
Archer has to agree when he materialises in the shed and offers some strangely specific help to Shirou’s ailments. If you live purely to help others, do you really have a sense of self? Have you really done any good if the concept of doing good is all that you’re trying to achieve? Can something like that even be pinned down? As he said before, trying to save everyone is impossible, and a rush for that will most likely result in nobody being saved at all, least of all yourself. And if you lose or maim yourself in an act of selfless martyrdom, that’s the end of you helping people full stop, despite the supposed nobility of it.
It’s enough, again, to bring some beautifully tormented expression to Shirou’s face, and enough to make Saber narrow her eyes at Archer for relaying such cryptic and specific life advice. Shirou’s magic circuits have been fixed up, and when he fully heals, apparently he’ll be a better mage than ever before. All the better to get him on his way to his selfless, wonderful, heroic goal of saving people. And that’s great… right?
- Ew, Archer, stop touching yourself. Saber’s in the room.
- If we’re talking about expressions, Taiga’s many cat faces must be noted. Somehow, she exists in the same world as everything else that’s going on, and ufotable have made it seamless. How baffling
- “I never realised you were this identical,” says Rin to Shirou upon hearing about his outlook on life. But who is this throwaway line referencing? I’m willing to put non-physical internet money on the idea that it’s Kirei, which is a very interesting thing to bring up and play with, whether or not the vast majority of viewers might understand it at that point
- Also Rin, thank you for pointing out how ridiculous it must seem to outsiders that Shirou’s teacher, family friend or not, constantly freeloads at his house
- Sakura was mentioned in this episode, but not relevant. Considering Gilgamesh is apparently hanging out in her house, I am somewhat afeared