Even without a servant battle, these episodes do a damn fine job building up tension with a story that’s been told before. Sorry for the delay, but I feel like taking my time with this one.
When you break it down to its roots, this isn’t a drastic change from what happened between Berserker and Caster’s reveal. We still get Shirou’s recovery after battle, Saber’s introduction to Taiga and Sakura, Rin’s violent assault against a careless Shirou, Rider’s reveal as a common enemy, Archer’s antagonistic stance against Shirou’s beliefs, and Caster’s kidnapping attempt that’s foiled by him a day later. But it’s all thanks to how they present these highlights, brought attention to what connected them, and what they put in between these events that made them shine like if they were part of a whole new experience. Context is always key when it comes to action, and this adaptation continues to prove that even set-up stories require this principle to be enjoyable.
Part of this is thanks to the seamless world building. The slice-of-life sections really sell the idea that Fuyuki City is home to hundreds living out regular lives, further emphasizing how unnatural magic is in this universe. At the same time, the amount of terminology and demonstrations make it clear that it’s deeply ingrained in it. Knowing that these two greatly contrast, they either explain it in a simple, focused manner or show you the difference through visuals. And while the former certainly works when setting up the two as separate worlds, the latter works wonders when it comes to blending the two. Hearing about Magic Crests or day-to-day life at school is one thing. It’s quite another to see it used to decimate a classroom in seconds.
Another reason is because they dedicate so much time on the foreshadowing. Not a single plot point or character moment goes by without some form of gradual progression to back it up or some opportunity to expand upon. Everything feels like a natural result that’s slowly building up to something greater, from every shake of the hand to every clash of the sword. Without spoiling too much, they manage to hint at every character’s role in the story before it actually happens. And much like the previous episodes, they still make a strong connection between this and Fate Zero as they live out their parent’s legacy. Which leads to the biggest reason why these events work: clearly defining its characters. None of the actions in the story would make sense if we didn’t know these characters well, and that’s the saving grace for this adaptation so far.
The highlight of this improvement is the budding relationship between Shirou and Rin. Previously this relationship was described as nothing more than a rival-turned-tsundere gimmick, having Shirou as the naive child and Rin act like a cranky mother. But the clarification I pointed out shows that despite different upbringings and priorities, what brings them together is a shared belief fueled by growing trust. Rin had to struggle with the loss of her parents alone by training herself in their teachings and acting distant towards others, while Shirou dealt with his loss by keeping those still close to him dear and promising to fulfill a failed dream of saving everyone. This explains why Rin would be mad when Shirou lets his guard down in a lethal situation, and why Shirou would continue trusting Rin despite her clear intent to kill. Yet they both end their conflict once an innocent is in harms way and ultimately learn to respect each other’s beliefs by risking their lives against common foes. It also helps that we get to see what Rin does when not in Shirou’s presence, and I can only imagine how painful Rider’s chain would feel in Shirou’s wrists considering my dog bit me on the wrist while i’m typing this.
And don’t worry if you think these two were hogging the spotlight, because so many characters get a memorable moment that it’s hard for me to choose just two. Rider, Caster and Fake Assassin may not be given enough time to elaborate on their characters, but they use their precious minutes showing us how their personalities are and how threatening they can be. Fujimura and Sakura serve the role of a makeshift family for Shirou, and extra personalities in his school keep the classrooms from feeling empty. Shinji is obviously one of the enemy masters and possibly responsible for innocent casualties, but I like how he hides his malice under the pretense of friendship rather than act like a condescending dick (also like the setting change from Dojo to Hallway). Archer manages to find a good balance between smug ally and bitter foe, all while bringing an interesting comparison between the grail wars summons and military drafts. Ilya gets a scene that explains Berserker’s multiple lives and her motivations for joining the war.
And Saber fans should be pleased to hear that her and Shirou get some intimate moments together without having to depend on romance. She may share some of Rin’s worries and be a little protective, but that’s part of her duty as a servant and she genuinely takes comfort in his trusting nature. But the one character that stuck out for me was Mitsuzuri Ayako. I remember always liking her character in the VN despite her short presence, and her disappearance here made a much bigger impact to me. The chemistry she shares with Shirou really sells the idea that these two are close friends, so it makes sense she would work as a mirror to his flaws and dreams. They could be having a casual conversation about archery club one second, then have her reveal the fact Shirou rarely smiles despite acting so nice to others. It’s this connection that makes for an indirect victim of the war you care for. Even without the graphic details of her assault, one look at those eyes is enough to understand why Shirou would stay behind searching and eventually meet Rin at the stairs later.
It strikes down the details with more clarity, and makes the highlights shine brighter than ever before. Aside from the fact that I know this story already, both by its original format and botched adaptation, I have no issues with this show thus far. It feels like a genuine update on the story, taking into consideration what fits in its original medium and what doesn’t. And judging from how it’s been received by the public, it seems like it’ll continue that excellent road till the end. Happy New Year!