If you thought Shinji was a self-entitled little bag of trash when he had Rider as a Servant, you should see him with Servant Number Eight—who he reveals, shrugging away the usual code of secrecy surrounding Servant identity in his gleeful desire to show off, is Gilgamesh. Fortunately Rin and Shirou both know who he is and can ponder with worry that he’s one of the most ancient legendary heroes known to humankind, thus making him strong as a spirit even without taking into account that he’s half god and half human.
So was Heracles, though, and he got curb-stomped, so what makes Gilgamesh special? Shirou speculates that it’s his weapons more than anything else, since they’re all Noble Phantasms. Not only that, but he suspects that since Gilgamesh is so damned old, his treasury may be filled with the archetypal originals for the weapons of other, later Heroic Spirits. Which is actually a really cool idea, a concept the series hasn’t played with as much as I might have liked: the Servants, after all, are all given strength and brought to life by the power of people’s belief in them. There’s a very interesting thing to toy with here, this idea of the power of stories not only rooting themselves in culture but taking physical form. Even when the stories change in the telling, cross-pollenate with other ones from other lands and re-mutate into something every generation can still relate to, as legends tend to do, they still hold power because people hold them to their hearts and keep the characters ‘alive’.
Gilgamesh is rendered the most powerful because he was one of the first heroes of this nature that we know of, and the fact that a lot of stories have been inspired by his exploits gives him these metaphorical rivers of power flowing back to him. The fact that all that power is in the hands of a guy who rips the hearts out of little girls is… a worrying element to this interesting dynamic. Even Shinji seems a little freaked out, when he’s not gloating and trying to coax Rin into an alliance. There’s no time for that silliness, everyone seems to agree, and Gilgamesh saunters casually out the door saying that the heart, which does not look quite right even with my low understanding of medicinal science, will spoil, and they need to find another vessel.
Does the Grail grow better if it’s in a human body, like some kind of parasite? If so, why did Gilgamesh kill Ilya? Is he planning on doing impromptu heart surgery on another unsuspecting victim so they can, er, carry it to term? Would Ilya have turned into a muddy ghost like her mother if she’d kept it? Is the heart what Caster was looking for in the Church? There are so many questions and the potential answers to them are enough to make you squirm. Call me old-fashioned, but this Holy Grail is looking less and less holy by the episode.
The Grail itself is still of no consequence to Shirou, we are reminded as he and Rin lay the finishing touches to the grave they made for Ilya. Rin demands to know why he ran in and screamed bloody murder at Gilgamesh when he was obviously so dangerous. Shirou didn’t really think about it, he just wanted to save Ilya. That’s his Thing—he was saved, and now he feels he has a debt to repay the world, saving everyone he can to make up for and make use of the fact that he survived when so many other people died. His semi-catatonic survivor’s guilt face from earlier in the series returns as Rin tells him how screwed up he is (Rin is not the delicate type, it becomes clear again) for living with that kind of mentality. If you live totally for others and not for yourself, you’re no better than a machine, and you’ll never know happiness.
The two philosophies headbutt —Rin is all about a selfish, self-preserving lifestyle, locking people out at a necessary distance, pursuing only things that will be worth her time in the end. In her lonesome adolescence, it’s clearly what’s kept her alive, whether or not it’s made her the perfect cold mage that she wanted to be. Shirou is almost the polar opposite, putting others before himself to the point where you could question how much he values his life.
But then we see him flash back to Taiga and Sakura, Issei, and good old porch-dwelling Kiritsugu, and he declares with a smile that living your life for others can’t be all bad. He’s selfless, yes, but Rin is forced to realise that this existence isn’t total self-destructive martyrdom; it also makes him happy. The question is, is she really happy with her self-centred philosophy? In any case, it’s pretty obvious that impractical as it is, she’s had a big soft spot for Shirou all this time, and it’s blazing on show now. As much as she rags on his attitude, it’s clear they’re both as messed up as each other in different ways. Maybe between them they create balance? Broken pieces can fit together nicely, after all, even if they do chip and cut at each other along the way.
As they move away from the villa into some of the most lushly drawn and beautiful scenery we’ve seen yet, Rin and Shirou even treat us to another lover’s tiff where they aggressively try to protect each other by sending the other to safety, while neither of them budges. It’s almost slapstick, and Lancer, who has materialised on a roof to eavesdrop, is practically choking with laughter at the whole thing.
That’s right, Lancer—our mysterious Celtic friend who started this whole Rin-and-Shirou business when he speared him and left Rin to pick up the pieces. Understandably, they’re both pretty wary when he shows up and offers, of all things, an alliance. This Hound of Chullain fellow seems to be a fun guy, and clearly has an appreciation for both of them, especially Rin, which leads to Shirou getting defensive. Of all the things to lay terms about (Lancer even offered to reveal who his Master was, a mystery that’s been plaguing us since day one), Shirou demands that Lancer doesn’t get too chummy with Rin. Rin dissolves into a blushy mess since Shirou pretty much just professed that she’s his girlfriend, and Lancer watches the whole display with good humour. “You two have practically been a couple for ages,” he shrugs, and Rin begs for the earth to swallow her.
While Rin’s still steaming, we swing over to the Church to visit Archer and Souichirou, who are lying in wait for the next battle to begin. There’s no sign of our villainess Medea this time around, but we do get a tiny insight into her, complete with child-sized flashback—she wishes to go home. Souichirou, admitting that he doesn’t have any human desires of his own, thinks that’s a perfectly reasonable wish that he’s cool with helping with. He doesn’t have any sense of morality and considers good and evil on equal grounds, part of his mechanical makeup, the origins of which have still not been explained, though it was probably part of the same training that allowed him to punt Saber across the countryside with his bare hands.
This kind of ‘human machine’ character can be very interesting or very boring, and there’s rarely a middle ground. His lack of sense of self or personal motivations could be a cop-out so he could sign up to help Medea when the plot demanded it, but I think I’ll wait and see before I make any calls about that. He certainly makes Archer look like a kaleidoscope of ethics in comparison. We’re still not entirely sure what’s going on with that guy, but if the amount of focus the opening and ending themes are giving him is any indication, we’re going to soon find out. The clock is ticking down, and the climax of the show really can’t be that far away—some bombs, I feel, are about to be dropped.
The first of which is Rin telling Shirou, before they go into battle at the Church, that there should only be one of those red gems. Archer gave one back to her after Shirou got stabbed, but she also received one from Shirou a couple of episodes ago. Two of a unique crystal in the same place, in the hands of two characters who have nothing to do with each other?
When Lancer, poised on the brink of a second square-off against Archer, tuts that this is all becoming a mess, I’m inclined to agree with him.
- Is that… the cottage where the awkward threesome in the Fate route took place??
- “If I had a female Master…” Oh, Lancer, you sly, sad dog.
- Lancer, though, is truly a ray of sunshine. Vaguely suspicious as it is that he’s allied with them out of the blue when it was most convenient, I’m really excited to see more of him. Even with his weird character design. Though I couldn’t help but feel that Shirou seemed strangely unmoved that he was talking to the guy who had stabbed him before…
- Thank heavens, I can start calling Gil by his actual name now
- Where is Sakura? Is she alright?