Two years after the events of the finale, Shirou is living in a beautifully-rendered London with a collection of masterfully projected swords, a more angular jawline, a hipster cardigan, and perhaps most shocking of all, Rin.
Should I be surprised by this development that they run off to the Clock Tower (clearly the university that Hogwarts graduates attend) and into the sunset hand in hand? Perhaps not, since their not-quite-a-couple-but-totally-dig-each-other status has pretty much been a staple of the entire series, and really their domestic interactions in the epilogue (Shirou making breakfast, of course, them running to class and hanging out in the library) were quite sweet. They look like a functional young couple, following their dreams and coexisting happily. I just feel like I missed the part where we actually earned that and got there.
Unfortunately… my gripe still stands that the Rin we see in this episode is very much still the Rin we met in the prologue, except perhaps with the ‘confident and inspiring honour student’ side of her brought more permanently to the forefront. I can’t even say that she’s more mature and less reckless, because one of the first full scenes we’re treated to is her body-slamming a fellow student for getting flirty with Shirou. And then they put on skimpy workout gear and have a full on magic-enhanced wrestling match, which is apparently a thing that students of this institution do frequently. Look at these powerful and liberated young women!
While I’m glad that Rin’s sorcery-strengthened martial arts skills weren’t totally forgotten about, I feel like there was a better way to bring them back up than an effectively pointless fan servicey battle in what was meant to be a resolution episode. And it’s fan service two ways, not just because of the classmate’s heaving spandex-clad bosom, but because of her appearance in the first place. Everyone who’s played Fate/Hollow Ataraxia is likely cheering that a side character showed up, and everyone else is likely scratching their heads wondering who this random blonde is and why she’s so magnetised to Shirou.
I have a general rule that you shouldn’t introduce new characters until your current ones are properly fleshed out, and you probably also shouldn’t toss them in in the last portion of the story. Luvia’s cameo didn’t really achieve anything except to raise a whole new barrage of questions, as did the appearance of another Clock Tower resident, a mysterious tall man who some will recognise as a grown-up Waver Velvet (man, puberty hit that kid like a tonne of bricks). Again, though, if you haven’t played Hollow Ataraxia you probably won’t get that he’s Lord El-Melloi II, and the significance of that and his conversation with Shirou won’t necessarily resonate unless you’ve seen Fate/Zero. Basically, if you’re trying to put this story together from scratch, welcome to Hell.
It was wonderful to see ufotable’s beautiful version of London and the English countryside, but really I felt like the introduction of the Clock Tower was a huge leap in worldbuilding to drop on the audience and then run. Like, whoa—there are other mages, and they have a society. They have a school and a bureaucracy and probably magic taxes or something. Suddenly, that all-encompassing Grail War that kind of nearly destroyed the world seems very small, a tiny rivet in a bigger machine that clearly spreads worldwide. Is there an international council of mages? Are there African mages and South American and Australian ones? Do different societies around the world treat magic differently even if it adheres to the same physics? If something as bloody and terrible as the Grail War is confined to a small Japanese city, who knows what shenanigans other mages are getting up to around the big wide world? The mind boggles.
As fascinating as this sudden universe expansion is, it’s essentially backdrop and little else since this epilogue is about Shirou and Rin. And Saber, too, who gets some final closure when they travel to Glastonbury to visit the supposed tomb of King Arthur, where Shirou gets to say a final thank you and goodbye. Complete with a picnic lunch somehow reminiscent of their three-way-date all that time ago, sandwiches and all, but of course, with someone missing (I shed a single tear).
Not to mention all their classmates and friends who they’ve left behind, but apart from a convenient flashback on the bus ride home, Shirou doesn’t seem to be dwelling on them too much. Well, he might be, but we get no indication of it—only a neat little montage in the school that reassures the viewer that everybody basically turned out okay, even Issei and Ayako, who are arguing at full strength despite the fact we last saw them unconscious and/or traumatised from being attacked by Servants. Even the track team make an appearance, as does Taiga of course, whose main role alongside reassuring us she’s fine is to tut over the fact that Mr. Kuzuki still hasn’t come to work. Presumably his body is still at the bottom of the ruined Church, unless someone’s tidied that up, but Shirou’s certainly not going to mention it.
Apart from being in hospital under unspecific circumstances, Shinji is also fine. Finer than I’d expect, really, given the horrifying amount his body was mutated during his time as Grail food, and apart from seeming a touch humbler, really back to being his snide sneering old self. And who is visiting him every day and clearly doting on him with perfect and angelic sisterly devotion? The long-absent Sakura, who does absolutely nothing except dutifully feed him apple slices, albeit with a slightly devious expression. So, the impression we’re left with is either ‘yandere nurse’ or ‘sweet little helper who will simply move her sweet helpfulness to Shinji now that Shirou is in the U.K. with his babe Rin, who has not mentioned any connection with Sakura for eons despite it being implied she had some significance’.
I swear Sakura was more than one-dimensional for a moment there, guys. I swear. In any case, it all looks fine and dandy at home, and Shirou clearly feels he has little to leave behind by accepting Rin’s offer of coming with her to train at this magic academy overseas. And looking at the montage of reassurance, you’d believe it. I feel like something about that isn’t quite right, but I’m not necessarily here to tear my hair out over underdeveloped Stepford-Smiling side characters.
Despite coming all this way, Shirou turns down Mr. Cryptic (a.k.a. Waver) and his offer to join the Mage’s Association, and Rin shrugs it off and basically tells him to follow his dreams. They have each other, after all, perfect little cute magic power couple that they are. Rin wants to travel and see the world, to experience life to the full whether she clings to the family goal or not. Wait, don’t move… that might have been a bit of character development! I mean, she’s wearing her hair differently, so obviously she’s a new woman, right?
As for Shirou? He’s come a long way, and, as we see after the credits, has a way to go yet. We see Archer, as we knew him as our rogue and our antagonist, sitting in the middle of his field of swords with a broody hunch. He changes before our eyes into his Guardian costume, then dissipates altogether as we see, instead, a scarf-clad Shirou walking through the desert. No, this seems to tell us, “Archer” as we knew him will no longer exist in this timeline. But Shirou is still going to walk that heroic road, because (echoing Saber’s words) his dream is not wrong, and as long as he stays true to his ideals he can never have any regrets.
And snap to black, with a gaping hole in my heart where closure should be.
In terms of wrapping things up, this episode did us the disservice of raising more questions than it deigns to answer, and rushed over the characters we already knew with essentially an ‘everyone’s fine’ montage while turning our attention unexpectedly to new ones. How did the city deal with the destruction caused by the Grail War? Is there some sort of magical Men In Black organisation that appears to wipe memories and tidy up messes? Was the Grail itself truly destroyed for good or did it just swallow Gilgamesh and flee to another plane of existence? Are the Einzberns going to give up on their homunculi factory given that Ilya failed, or keep pressing to try and get their ultimate prize? And what the hell was wrong with the Grail in the first place?
The last question will surely be answered at length in Heaven’s Feel (again, if you’re trying to get the full story, you’re basically shackled to this franchise now) but otherwise I feel like there’s still a lot to be talked about here. Obviously to cover every single detail of the aftermath would have been banal, but some things were definitely breezed over more than they should have been. Again, they basically gave us a montage of characters conveniently showing up to assert the status quo from before the War. Even Rin hasn’t moved an inch character wise, except she seems to have gotten comfortable enough with her feelings for Shirou to, you know, actually be openly dating him (and she didn’t call him an idiot or hit him with a household object once!) but I feel like that’s a personal resolution she/they came to offscreen.
Rin is still perfect and wonderful, everything’s going on as normal back home, and the greatest kick is that Shirou is still staring at his hands trying to figure out what to do with himself, and still going to wander off down his hero’s path. Whether or not the desert is metaphorical and he ends up bringing Rin along, and they become some sort of superhero duo, the point is that he’s still dressed as a young Archer. The cycle will continue. It will spin a different way, but it will go on. In the end, did he really save himself in any way other than emotionally? There’s still a definite possibility that our Shirou is going to end up bitter and defeated and betrayed on some cosmic battlefield somewhere.
But, maybe that’s the point. A totally happy ending would have been false, and even if his decision to continue Archer-wards (or at least, Heroic Spirit Emiya-wards) lands him in trouble, it’s a choice he’s made himself with real-world experience. I mean he fought Gilgamesh for God’s sake. After that, I think I’d find university life a little bit dull as well. Shirou’s ideals are borrowed, but they are not bad, and he’s going to pursue that beautiful dream no matter where it leads him. It’s a melancholy ending (and again, not really an ending so much as a new beginning, as the best ones often are) but it shows us what we need to see. Call it stupid or reckless or whatever if you will, but it’s what he wants, and he finally understands that.
I just hope the kid’s alright. I have to give kudos to this series for skyrocketing Shirou from his position as ‘alright main character’ to someone I treasured watching and was genuinely attached to and proud of. I laughed and cried and cheered with that boy, and in the end it was quite sweet to see him a little bit more grown up. A few more years of jawline-honing and he’ll be even more recognisable as Archer (a subtle quirk of design and animation that was really quite believable and clever), though I can only imagine he’s keeping his heroic ginger locks, for thematic reasons or whatever.
In the end, this was nowhere near a perfect show nor a perfect adaptation, if any such thing can exist. The antagonists that weren’t Archer were lacklustre and underdeveloped, complete with Medea’s backstory being bungled and rewritten to the point where I was honestly confused about whether or not she was meant to be interesting or sympathetic, or simply play right into the witchy archetype she hated so much. Ilya’s tragic and twisted backstory appeared out of nowhere right before she died leaving the audience with emotional whiplash. Kirei all but cackled and Gil was boring. I still don’t have the foggiest idea what was up with Souichiro, and I forgot Assassin even existed for about 10 episodes.
Though as I said, as a story about Shirou it certainly succeeded. And overall the animation, soundtrack and overall atmosphere were handled well and put together to make a piece of work that was stunning to take in, even if the animators did tend to put a little too much focus on the girls when they were in compromised positions. The fight scenes were wonderful, and the emotional climax (where Archer was concerned anyway) was believable and given the right amount of weight. Overall the continuity was pretty tight (too tight, in some cases, like the spinoff tie-ins that appeared in this episode) though the fact that Shirou’s mediocre abilities occasionally include making objects out of thin air probably could have been touched on more. I feel like we needed more backstory, but in the end what we were given was enough to scrape by on (though, again, again, we still know precious little about Rin and what her life has been like apart from the bare basics).
A work like this will always suffer because it’s only one third of a story, and the middle third at that. To answer all your Graily questions, and shut me up about Sakura, there could just be the argument ‘why not just adapt the final and most definitive route in the first place?’ Well, the same reason, I suppose, why you wouldn’t only publish the end portion of a mystery novel. You need Unlimited Blade Works to get you familiar enough with the world and its characters to start asking these questions, otherwise their resolution—and reversal of the status quo that comes with it—would not be interesting or satisfying. Luckily ufotable seems to have a budget that could buy France, so this is not the last we’ll see of Shirou and the Grail War.
For now, though, it’s been a wild ride and I’ve been glad to share it with you all. Reviews of the War of the Dads will start up again after a break!
- Lord, give me a Jupiter Ascending-esque sequence of Shirou and Rin trying to file their magic taxes. I’d take that over the wrestling match any day
- I’m all for expanded continuity between the spinoffs (and I was quite hoping Waver would show up), but if we’re delving into Hollow Ataraxia, could we not have had at least an ominous shadow of Bazett? Especially since we know nothing of Lancer’s Master between Kirei smiling like a snake about it, and Cu apparently being his Servant. I don’t know quite how they would have gotten it in there, but if they can contort the plot to allow a catfight between Rin and Luvia I see no reason why a silhouette of a sideplot isn’t within their power
- Unanswered question #1 of many that I will probably think of as the weeks go on: what the hell happened after Cu and Medea crossed paths in her backstory episode? One minute they’re in a burning room, the next she’s on her own in the forest. The opening shows us a fight between them, but it seems to have been nothing but action sequence fodder. Which I don’t mind, apart from it being false advertising, except that there seems to be a potentially very interesting interaction and quite important chunk of the story missing.
- Their London apartment looks gorgeous and I want it
- Sakura was relevant in this episode for about twenty awful seconds. I can’t believe the only Matou sibling interaction we got was that smarmy hospital scene. In the entire show. I don’t know if I expected more foreshadowing or leadup to Heaven’s Feel, but I certainly wanted it seeing how much ominous weight they put on Sakura in the beginning, and how much the show seems to be extending its feelers to other parts of the franchise. However, it’s also perfectly within its rights to want to be a contained narrative that feels like a whole thing on its own. I just wish they’d done it without dumping the potential for foreshadowing and development of the Matou-Tohsaka sisters completely, because I am bitter and boring and like to have consistent character histories and relationships that remain relevant to the plot if they’re brought up