I asked for someone to punch Archer in the face, and the heavens heard my call and sent us Cu.
All geared up from the heartfelt lull that was last episode, the series flings us straight into the thick of things with three simultaneous magical smack-downs: outside the Church Archer and Lancer are facing off with a beautiful bevy of flashing blue and red lights and satisfying clanks of metal on metal, and below Shirou and Rin are preparing to take on Souichirou and Medea, respectively. There’s plenty of bantering back and forth between all parties except for Shirou and Souichirou, who quite frankly seem like the sensible ones here. If Rin was trying to annoy Medea into slipping up by girlishly insulting her magecraft and her outfit, I’m not sure it entirely worked.
Souichirou is not a man perturbed by much, though, we learn in a pre-battle dialogue between him and his Servant, which is the closest we’ve seen to a heart-to-heart and any inkling into where he came from and who the hell he is. He reiterates that he has no wish for the Grail to grant, and in fact no human desires of his own. It’s not entirely clear how or why, but he explains that he was raised to think of himself as inhuman, and after killing someone, of no ill will and at the orders of someone else, he pushed the idea of his humanity out of his mind. It was simply more efficient to carry on blank-minded and emotionless.
How he got from being an apparent hired killer practicing martial arts in the snow to a high school teacher is still somewhat of a mystery, but we do come to understand what exactly he’s fighting for: no, Souichirou has no goal of his own, no vengeance or desire, but he does, it seems, feel a sympathetic connection to Medea. He’s found something to fight for, and it’s her. He wants to “return something to its rightful place” and help her get home.
The Fate-verse seems awfully fond of this ‘badass who doesn’t think of themselves as human because it was trained out of them so they could be a badass, but their one redeeming feature is their undying devotion to a more important character’ thing (in fact, by the very shallow looks of it, Souichirou could very well be a genderbent Hisau Maiya, except that Maiya also gets some female-specific tragedy thrown in to humanise her, but oh boy that’s a discussion I shall leave for my Fate/Zero reviews). It’s an interesting concept to play with, and the idea of someone rediscovering their humanity and autonomy by feeling love for someone else is genuinely heartwarming… but it can also feel like a hell of a shortcut. It’s awfully convenient that Souichirou has no motivations of his own except for helping Medea, if you ask me, and any opportunity to explore underlying characterisation is cut short. But we shall get to that in a minute. There are two buff men in full-body tights fighting upstairs.
Ah, the old Red and Blue dynamic. What fun. Though as a reverse of its usual incarnation, Blue Cu seems to be the more hot-headed one (complete with a very fiery spear) in the face of Archer’s cool smarm. Cu gets particularly prickly when Archer slips in a dog-based insult regarding Rin, and there is lots of anime antagonist “tch!”-ing and explaining their motivations and attacks out loud and calling each other foolhardy. It’s beautiful and ridiculous, and the contrast of their fighting styles (now they’re allowed to go all out, as opposed to their first fight where Cu was under orders to not kill anyone by this still-mysterious Master) is mesmerising, though short-lived, to watch. Cu’s acrobatics are a wonderful divergence from Archer’s stiff, precise swordplay (and bow-play, as it were. He is an archer, supposedly). I couldn’t help but notice a very familiar kick that manages to send Archer flying, looking very disgruntled, across the yard… in a very similar manner to what happened to Shirou back at the start of this adventure. Hmm. Visual parallels, and Archer getting beaten up for being a dick? I’m riveted.
The biggest difference, Cu affirms, is Archer’s lack of warrior’s pride. The man does not care about valour or glory or even, apparently, his own self-esteem; he’s just in it to win. Clearly annoyed but not too keen to get into an ethical debate about heroism (and mercifully not seeming like the white to Archer’s black morality and being the Pure Just Knight), Cu decides to speak with his lance and gears the sucker up for a battle-ending Noble Phantasm attack. Archer, while musing on the javelin’s mighty powers—it has a curse that reverses cause and effect, i.e., when activated it doesn’t pierce your heart because he threw it, he threw it because it pierced your heart, and thus can never miss—summons a neat little trick of his own.
Said trick is, apparently, a magical Trojan shield. Now how did he get his hands on that? Either way, a spear that never misses shoots through the air towards a shield that can never be breached. Archer vs Cu is literally an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, though the lance wins in the end and seems to cause a small nuclear blast. Clearly we’ve all given up on keeping the War secret at this point because every Noble Phantasm seems to cause destruction and a fireworks display enough to wake up and/or level the entire neighbouring suburbs, but no citizens seem immediately disturbed (though if anyone arrives for the next Sunday mass at the Kotomine Church, they’re going to be quite surprised to find it blown in half).
Archer looks significantly beaten up, but he remarks to Cu with a suspicious amount of joy that Caster is too distracted to watch them anymore. Cu, still boggling over who the hell Archer is and how a “simple bowman” got his hands on a mythical almost-impenetrable shield, announces that he hates Archer’s guts and disappears into the ether, leaving the mystery man in the rubble.
Back underneath, Shirou and Rin are periodically getting their butts kicked, and Rin is forced to realise that throwing wealth and riches at all her problems might not make them go away. Medea has stopped and deflected all of her power-storing gems, and it looks like Rin’s in trouble… but then, learning nothing from Rin’s display before, Medea alights on ground level to gloat, and promptly gets punched so hard she spits blood. If throwing money at your problems doesn’t work, just use brute force.
At this point, those who are familiar with Kirei’s fighting style will be forced to remember, a little shocked, that he’s supposedly Rin’s guardian and mentor, and seems to have passed on his knowledge of deadly magic-enhanced martial arts to our little lady in red. Even if you’re not, it’s kind of horrifying seeing our usually dainty Rin beating a woman to near death with her lit-up arms and legs, but somehow that horror is gratifying. Mages are scary, remember? The only thing that stops her killing Medea with her bare hands is Souichirou (of course) punting her aside with his overpowered and unshakeably loyal fists.
But then… from on high comes a familiar deep velvety voice, and it says “Trace On”—which, before now, has exclusively been Shirou’s little magic activation battle cry. As everyone’s boggling over that, swords fling down from nowhere and Medea scrapes herself off the ground to fling herself straight into their path, shouting her Master’s name and losing her hood in the process. We come back from the climactic pause to see her clear-faced, surprisingly cute and resembling a fantasy RPG character, and full of swords. There has been, I would like to note, an unnerving tally of impaled women in this series so far.
Medea falls on Souichirou, still looking completely unmoved (a twitch of the eye would have at least been nice), glad that he’s alright. When he promises to try to fulfil her wish for her, she goes all misty-eyed and basically says “You were my new dream” before she dissolves into dead Servant confetti. In the end, she was just so happy that someone didn’t call her a witch, use or abuse or be a terrible person to her, that she found her sense of home with Souichirou. Aww…?
Souchirou, through the sparkling remnants of the woman he loved (?), steps out to fight the newly-arrived and traitorous (again) Archer, despite Shirou yelling that he no longer has a reason to fight. He’s going to see it through to the end though, and he does—a few sword slashes and Souichirou falls against a pillar with such force the roof crumbles, because even in death he’s ridiculously overpowered. And that is the end of Team Caster.
But definitely not the end of our troubles. Shirou gathers up the exhausted , unfortunately still gown-clad Saber just in time to avoid another airborne barrage of swords. Rin tells Archer to stop being such a little crap since his plan to defeat Caster from the inside worked, and now he can drop the act. Archer says the Heroic Spirit equivalent of “You’re not my real mom” and traps her in a cage of oversized swords, striding forwards still apparently fully intent on murdering Shirou with his own hands.
Out of the frying pan and into a very sword-and-identity-crisis-filled fire…
- And goodness knows, the wicked’s lives are lonely-y-y-y-y…
- I wanted to like Team Caster. I really did. But while I remain interested in Medea as a character, I can’t say I’ll miss them or their late-revealed dynamic very much.
- I really liked that thing where the spear zig-zagged through the air and zipped back to Cu’s hand, though. That was neat.
- I was absolutely not expecting Rin to slip into the same moves and positions Kirei employed to almost destroy Kiritsugu in the final climactic fight of the prequel (someone, quick, make a screencap comparison if you haven’t already! The camera angles might even be the same). Coming from the love interest of Kiritsugu’s son it’s especially horrifying, but I’m very glad their connection is at least being acknowledged, since Kirei and Rin’s relationship is something non-existent and it feels like it should be more important.
- When will my Sakura return from war