Dynamics, dynamics, dynamics! That’s what this little slice of badass fantasy (I’m sure that’s a genre) is all about, and we see four and a half of them played with and explored over this episode. You could argue that there’s not much real action apart from the end and Caster’s grand entrance, but how can you claim to be bored when you’re watching Alexander the Great kick through a metal door to steal books?
Dear little Waver got more than he bargained for when he ran away to Japan to be a wizard. Namely, he’s landed himself as the caretaker of a very large, unruly and frighteningly happy-go-lucky chunk of Heroic Spirit that calls itself Iskander King of Conquerors. There’s no mystery with the identity of the Servants here, just bickering. That’s a story decision, but also one on Iskander’s part—he’s an open and honest type, confidently announcing that no war can be waged without maps (hence breaking in and out of the bookstore) and laughing with the decibel power of a thunderclap when he sees how tiny the land he conquered in his lifetime was. No matter, though—once he wins the Grail War, he’ll give it another go.
Waver can’t believe what he’s hearing, but Iskander is even less impressed when he learns that his Master is just in it for the recognition. He flicks Waver across the screen leading to what is probably one of the most entertaining frame-by-frame moments in the show, and suggests that if he wants to be treated like a true Badass Anime Protagonist Waver should just use the Grail to grow another thirty centimetres. This, Waver is not impressed by, despite the sound logic that you probably shouldn’t get embroiled in high magic and risk your life just to get people’s attention.
Waver really doesn’t help his case when he almost uses a Command Spell (a parallel to Rin, interestingly enough, except that he schools himself out of it), a powerful piece of binding magical contract, just to get the big oaf to listen to him. At least through his self-coaching to find his happy place instead, we learn exactly what these are and what they do. And then we get to see the flying chariot that qualifies Iskander for the Rider class. We have learned things and been entertained!
Meanwhile, there are yet more bonding moments happening across the world: back in Germany, we’re treated to one of the most heartbreaking-in-hindsight-ly adorable scenes in the franchise (and yes, it was written that way, because these suckers know how to play their audience like a keytar): Kiritsugu in full on Dad Mode playing the forest with Ilya. Saber can barely believe what she’s seeing since as far as she knows this guy is an international assassin, but Iri assures her there’s more to him than meets the eye. Even if he was a bit brash and everyone was a bit shocked when they discovered a tiny cute girl on the platform when they’d summoned King Arthur (which is really not explained as much as it should be, but again, there is some unfortunately assumed prior knowledge, and also, why shouldn’t King Arthur have been a girl all along?) he’s a sweetie, really. And they have more in common than they think.
It would have been kind of nice to see Kiritsugu and Saber’s initial headbutting since according to the dialogue it’s already happened, and according to Iri he’s not angry at her but at the people of her time who forced a young girl into a strenuous position. We only see the aftermath and since he’s a smiley ball of scruff bundling around with his daughter, we don’t even get any indication of what Kiritsugu feels towards Saber at all. Iri shakes her head that they will never get along, despite essentially wanting the same thing (Saber to save her kingdom, which she feels she failed at the first time around, Kiritsugu to end all conflict and wish for world peace like a pageant contestant), so I suppose in the absence of demonstration we’ll simply have to take her word for it. Which is not the worst case of ‘telling not showing’ I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly not winning any awards for characteristic demonstration.
While Iri’s stirring her meticulously animated tea, yet another Servant-Master pair is hanging out, this one immediately much more successful than the previous two. Interestingly enough, this Master is also a ginger-haired everyman who summons a Heroic Spirit by accident, though any similarities to other protagonists kind of skid to a halt the instant you realise he’s a serial killer. Oh, you had to have one, Urobochi. It’s interesting reading the novels and seeing all the media philosophy on violence and true art that circles Ryuunosuke, and wondering if he’s the writer’s chosen vessel for personal musings on his craft. At least he doesn’t have his characters discuss his own bibliography of inspiration a la Psycho Pass, but again, we’re not here to talk about Psycho Pass, are we? We’re here to talk about Mister Googly Eyes.
Apart from a few wayward elements like Kiritsugu’s fluffy hair (and Gilgamesh being white?), most of these characters actually adhere to a vaguely realistic design basis. The only ones that are excessively colourful are the ones struck by magic, and even then, the Servants aren’t too ridiculous and I dare say almost believable. When I dare say this, I always forget about Caster. Though his bizarre appearance serves to be just the right mix of comical and creepy to make his murderous behaviour all the scarier. He and Ryuunosuke forge fast friends when they discover the shared interest of terrifying and ripping the life from small children, and whether or not Ryuunosuke knows or cares about this Grail War thing, I think the other contestants would do well to be worried.
At least, if they had time to be worried in between stabbing each other in the back, which is evidently what Kirei is doing when he sends Assassin down to disable the boundary on the Tohsaka mansion and kill his teacher Tokiomi. It’s all “too easy” according to our masked Servant friend, until his plans go somewhat sour when swords begin raining from the sky. Well, that’s certainly a game changer, isn’t it? We’re off to a roaring start.
Well, a bit of a slow one, actually, but again, fleshing out these interactions and relationships is so very important, as they’re what we’re predominantly interested in. We’re starting to understand these people (yes, I suppose at a stretch Caster counts as one) and are, ideally, wiggling in our seats waiting for these very different teams to start to clash.