Fate/stay night – Unlimited Blade Works Ep. 13: The big payoff

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In the first twelve episodes, the series teased at Archer’s dark and troubled past. To call it teasing might even be too generous. We got vague dreamlike glimpses at best. And as I’m watching these high school kids run around, boring me to sleep with their riveting conversations about the Holy Grail War, I couldn’t help but wonder why I couldn’t just see Archer’s troubled past for myself. What makes him tick? Why is he so jaded? And look, it’s not really a secret anymore. Even if you are like me, and don’t really know jack shit about the Fate/stay night universe, it’s pretty damn obvious that Archer is supposed to be some version of Shirou. If the series was trying to hide it, they did a piss poor job of it… but that’s not really our primary concern at the moment. In any case, maybe Archer’s Shirou from the future, maybe he’s from a different timeline altogether (here’s where all the Fate/stay night experts chime in with their encyclopedic knowledge of the story even though I’m not going to read it), so on and so forth. The point is that Archer went from the idealistic hero to one of the more nuanced characters in the entire story. Isn’t that something worth seeing?

The answer is no, I guess. Rin simply tells us some rather crucial details about Archer’s past. Called to save humanity? Uh-huh. But he had to clean up humanity’s mess? Great. And eventually, he grew to hate humanity? Literally “betrayed by his ideals, even after death?” Wow, that’s heavy. Too heavy, in fact. It’s a good thing I’m merely hearing about it. At this point, I’m going to go on a tangent. Because Bloodborne recently came out, I’ve started to replay both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Why? Because I don’t own a PS4, so I can’t just play Bloodborne instead. In order to get my fix, I gotta play a pair of games that I’ve already poured tons of hours into. But it’s okay. I really enjoy those two games, especially their story. It’s quite funny, though, because both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls feel as though they have the opposite problem to Fate/stay night in that, well, they tell you relatively nothing. Sure, both games have opening cutscenes, and they give you a general sense of what you’re trying to accomplish. The rest of the lore, however, must be pieced together. It’s scattered across the game’s item descriptions and cryptic NPC dialogue. If you simply storm through both games, you would never realize the true richness and depth of their stories. But that’s okay. Because if you don’t care, the story remains unobtrusive.

praise the sun

Some people weren’t impressed, though. It’s quite alright. We don’t all have to agree, and I can see how Dark Souls’ narrative might be annoying to someone who just wants to sit down to a good story. After all, it puts the onus on you. You have to play the detective. If you want to understand what Solaire was all about, and not just some goofy, sun-worshipping fuck, you had to dig for clues that might reveal a thing or two about him. And here’s the kicker: even once you’ve exhausted all your efforts to sift through the entire game for every single morsel of lore regarding Solaire’s character, you still won’t arrive at a concrete answer. Who is Solaire really? If you put in the effort, you’ll reach a better understanding of the enigmatic character, but you’ll never really know. You’ll just have to come to your own conclusions. In a sense, the player then authors his own story. No, Dark Souls is still From Software’s baby. That won’t change. And perhaps Miyazaki and/or some writer(s) within the company truly knows who or what Solaire is supposed to be. But for all intents and purposes, that doesn’t matter. That’s not information that will likely ever be privy to us. All we can do is make do with what we’ve got. Don’t worry, this is still a post about Fate/stay night. I’m just about to get to my point.

Someone was like… if you have to spend all this time thinking and talking and debating what Dark Souls’ story was even about, can you even say that it is a good story anymore? In my book, yes. Absolutely. Dark Souls’ story engages me. And the opposite of that is Fate/stay night. It asks nothing of me other than that I lend an open ear. We can enjoy what we want. At the end of the day, I’m not trying to convince you to my side. I’m merely offering a perspective — my perspective. And a lot of times, when disagreements come about, the problem is that we come from two completely different places. People think I write a review blog. In other words, a lot of people think I’m trying to say whether or not a show is worth watching, and that my words should somehow sway people to one side or the other. Truth is, I don’t give a shit whether or not you watch any given show. At the end of the day, all I’m trying to do is to offer my perspective. When you read this blog, my hope is that you see why I like or dislike a show. Whether you agree or not is not important. Really, it isn’t. We’re not talking about global warming. We’re not talking about human rights. So you know what? It’s okay if we don’t come to a consensus. So what am I getting at?

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Fate/stay night asks nothing of me, and so I’m bored. That’s simply it. That’s simply why I find it so difficult to enjoy the show. I don’t have to think; the narrative does the thinking for me. The story never showed me Archer’s past, then asks me to come to my own conclusions about the guy’s character. It simply has Rin tell me what happened to Archer. The story never showed me that Shirou had serious feelings for Rin. He simply confesses to her, and I’m supposed to believe that this is some major moment in the story. I mean, yeah, on paper, it seems like a serious development. An anime character confesses his feelings to another anime character midway through the series! That’s huge. But it doesn’t feel huge. It doesn’t feel like some emotional breakthrough. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been rooting for Shirou the entire way, and as he finally summons the courage to reveal his true feelings, we all let out a little cheer as we beam from ear to ear. No, that didn’t happen. I mean, yes, I knew he cared for Rin, but Fate/stay night didn’t nourish this. It didn’t take this plot point, and turn it into something that could engage my feelings. It just felt like when it came time for Shirou to confess, he did, and I’m just like, “Oh.” And I’m actually a huge romantic. Oh sure, I sound all bitter and pessimistic most of the time, but I love love stories. Fate/stay night just didn’t do it for me.

I never once sat there and thought about the potential romantic relationship that might grow between these two characters, but it’s not like I didn’t know it was going to happen. I knew that Rin was the chosen girl going into the series. Unlimited Blade Works… the Rin path. Literally the Rin path. When the dust settles, Shirou and Rin are supposed to get together. And yet, for the first twelve episodes, I didn’t even think about it. It’s not that the confession in this week’s episode came as a shock, but the romance was so underdeveloped that it simply slipped my mind. So when Shirou finally said how he felt, I’m like… really? When did the story show that? But that’s the thing: Fate/stay night never really shows anything. It just tells you right off the bat… or whenever it’s the right time to tell you. Like right off the bat, you just knew Archer would eventually betray Rin. You just knew it. The story isn’t even coy about it. So when it finally came time for Archer to double cross his master, the moment has no emotional weight behind it. Betrayals are supposed to be a big deal. There’s a reason why traitors are condemned to the deepest circle of hell. Nonetheless, Archer betrays Rin, and I’m just like, “Finally.” But here’s the best part: the show hides nothing, so you even know that Archer isn’t really betraying Rin. He’s just doing what he thinks would best achieve victory… even if it has to look like he’s betraying Rin.

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It’s hard to tell a completely original story… but you can still build tension. You can still build suspense. You can still subvert expectations. Fate/stay night, however, is very direct. There’s no mystery in the mystery. You don’t have to be the detective. You don’t have to gather any clues. Just sit back, and have the narrative poured right down your gullet. It’s one of the least engaging stories I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Rin is seething with rage at Archer’s actions, but I just can’t feel it. It’s actually funny, really. The two of them just had a talk about regret and regretting one’s actions… not episodes ago. Not even one episode ago. They literally had this talk in the same episode. Then just a few scenes later, Rin swears that she’ll make Archer pay. In any other series, the important regret conversation might have taken place early in the story, so when the actual betrayal occurs, and Rin’s swearing to make Archer pay, the viewer could be like, “Oh man, this is a callback to that one moment…!” But no such thing here. Nope. We talk about regret, then bam… a potentially regretful moment occurs. There’s no payoff whatsoever. It’s hilarious. Ah well.

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11 thoughts on “Fate/stay night – Unlimited Blade Works Ep. 13: The big payoff”

  1. But…but… this episode was so good! We had Saber having an orgasm while using a bride dress in a deep allegory to Caster sadism, totally not gradating fanservice. If you don’t like UBW it just means you are a baka!!!!!!! I will not notice you anymore senpai. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-ezzw1qkSDl4/VSHUr6yTaqI/AAAAAAAAybg/K0idR3dZJDQ/s1600/Fate%2BStay%2BNight%2B-%2BUnlimited%2BBlade%2BWorks%2B-%2B13.mkv_snapshot_05.38_%5B2015.04.05_19.00.48%5D.png

  2. So glad you mentioned the Souls series. Narrative-wise, it truly is the opposite of the hand-holding of Fate/Stay Night that ham-fistedly shoves exposition down the viewer’s throat.

    I care much more about characters like Solaire, Laurentius and Siegmeyer than I do about any of the Fate universe characters, even though each of them barely have 10-20 lines worth of dialogue. Hell, I find Frampt and Kaathe to be more intriguing “villains” than Caster and Kuzuki, even though there aren’t any real clear answers as to the motivations of these two serpents.

    Anyway, have you perhaps tried PS4 rental centers? I don’t know if they have those kinds of businesses in the United States, but where I live, they do. That’s how I played Bloodborne. There is no fucking way I am paying $450 just to play one game.

  3. Also, it’s kind of hard to take seriously Fate/Stay Night’s attempt at being philosophical and series when they interject it with shots of Rin’s ass.

    I really hope you continue to cover the F/SN show. It may be shit, but you’re always at your best when you rip apart shows like this. Please don’t go hollow on us.

  4. Sometimes I wonder if I’d enjoy the visual novel so much if I played it for the first time today. The last two anime have done a good job of killing my interest in the franchise. Years ago, I wanted to read the VN after watching the first anime and enjoyed seeing how the characters took different routes than in the anime, and seeing things fleshed out. I loved the pure escapism of the fights back then.

    I hate to say it, but maybe this anime would have worked better with 12 episodes so they’d be forced to speed up the narrative.

  5. “here’s where all the Fate/stay night experts chime in with their encyclopedic knowledge of the story even though I’m not going to read it”
    HAhaha You dick.

    But really, very good post, mate. It’s a bit strange to compare Dark Souls (I vastly prefer Demon’s Souls myself but I can dig Dark Souls) to F/SN considering you’re actually comparing two extremes in terms of storytelling. One hardly says anything while the other tells you everything. It was, however, a very good point to make regarding the verbose and clumsy writing of F/SN.

    When writing a story the hardest thing to do isn’t to develop characters outside of tropes or make an interesting world (those can be difficult at first, but not the hardest). The most difficult thing to do as a writer is to know when to pull back. How much do I explain? How much detail should I give?
    Or rather “How much should/can I leave up to the reader?”

    Because see, it’s not a matter of leaving things a mystery but leaving some things unsaid. That is the key to engaging your audience, and the reason why you find F/SN so boring. It’s the reason why people find a quit scene of a character looking over another character’s belongings more memorable and enthralling than a hero defeating the xth villain of the hour.

    If F/SN took its time to be quiet and human instead of “anime” then you’d have been gripped by it. In fact, one might be surprised to realize that it’s only those serious anime that have done such a thing that you (and most of us) have enjoyed.

    tl;dr I genuinely understand where you’re coming from, and once again I feel a decent confidence to my understanding of my craft by reading your reaction to something like this. Thanks, mate.

    1. Completely agree with you. Many incredibly powerful moments in stories do not require many words or even last a long time. They don’t even need to have complex ideas. They just let the event play out and leave it up to the reader/watcher to interpret it. In a sense F/SN has a joke but explains every part of it as it tells its joke, completely ruining the effect.

    1. Bravo, my good friend! You understand the point of this not-review well! Oh, if only there were more people like you…

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