I must say… this is the first episode where I’ve been truly, utterly disappointed in Ufotable. Everything about this Unlimited Blade Works episode was just a giant step down from how awesome it could have been.
Experiencing these scenes before, only done better, probably contributed to my disappointment. But it’s not like a lot of my expectations were impossible to pull off within the medium of animation. Ufotable blew my mind with almost everything before this, and to fall short when they’re just getting into the best parts of the route is kind of depressing.
Let’s start off with how much they rushed the scenes leading up to, and including, when Archer first deploys his Reality Marble, Unlimited Blade Works. They literally glossed over over a lot of story-related dialogue just to get these scenes over with. For example, in the visual novel, and (if I recall correctly) the DEEN movie, the scene where Rin forms a contract with Saber has Archer reacting to it, implying that he had always planned on letting Rin make a contract with Saber, but only after he took care of Shirou. Don’t know why, but instead of having Archer mumble that out offhand while being held off by Shirou, they just gloss over it entirely. We also had more exchanges between Archer and Saber (who tries to back off after Archer makes remarks, such as “Saber… I should have never become a hero”, that reveals his identity to her) in the visual novel, such as when Archer puts Kanshou and Bakuya away, which went something like this (removed dialogue in red):
Saber: Archer, does this mean you’ll give up now…?
Archer: Of course not. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m an Archer. I’m not someone who fights using swords to begin with.
[cue an echo: I am the bone of my sword]
Saber: Stop, Archer! I do not wish to…
Archer: Saber… Someday, someone will appear and save you. It doesn’t seem like it’s gonna be this time… and next time, I will probably have a connection with you again.
[Unknown to Death. Nor known to Life]
Archer: “But that is still a way’s away. My only objective right now is to kill Emiya Shirou. If you try to stop me… This world will not show mercy, even to you.” (Japanese line:「だが、それはあくまで次の話。今のオレの目的は、衛宮士郎を殺すことだけだ。それを阻むのならば―――この世界は、おまえが相手でも容赦はせん」—-> mirror moon‘s fan-translation of the VN mis-translated the last line as “If you’re trying to stop me, I won’t hold back against you, even in this world“, probably because the rest of the dialogue was Archer hint-hint-nudge-nudging that he knows Saber…”elsewhere”. I guess it’s not so bad if the reader reads “this world” as being UBW, but if the reader misinterprets “this world” as being “one Earth of many” because of the wording and context, it gives the reader an additional hint of Archer being from an alternate timeline)
[▅▅…Unlimited Blade Works]
This and a bunch of other tidbits of dialogue were either removed or compacted to make these events go by faster. Archer became a Counter Guardian… Saber, Arturia Pendragon, is on the road to becoming a Guardian as well if she fulfills her wish and obtains the Holy Grail. On top of that, Saber now realizes that the man who stands in front of her is someone she knows and cares about, who has become a Heroic Spirit similarly regretful about his fate. Because of this, there were really good exchanges between them that add particularly to Saber’s feelings towards this entire conflict and her feelings about her own wish/duty, which they skipped over because fuck character development, we need to get to epic therapy sessions as fast as we can.
Then during the actual Unlimited Blade Works scene… well, for starters, while I still think the Reality Marble looks cool, in terms of the anime, it looks way better when it was shown as a vision previously. The actual one looks very… well, it looks like a money saver, at least in comparison. Really goes to show you that despite the jokes, this anime really isn’t Unlimited Budget Works. Behind the over-processed blue auras and glitter, Ufotable’s just a very consistent animation company with talented people. But anyway… here are the problems.
1) Ufotable missed the entire point of Sexy Red Man’s inner world. Here, we see Archer projecting his rain of swords.
He projected them.
The whole point of Unlimited Blade Works is that the caster doesn’t need to do that! The swords are right there. Within Unlimited Blade Works, Archer (Emiya Shirou) no longer needs to expend much mental energy into tracing weapons, he just needs to use what he has already recorded right in front of him. Ideally, had Ufotable done this scene right, Archer would have raised his left arm and the swords near him would have floated up and become the rain of swords. Even the DEEN movie got it right.
Alternatively, it could be explained that he just called upon other swords that were further away in the desolate world, but that’s just pretty damn unnecessary. I was also hoping that the staff of Ufotable would use their talents to make each sword from the Sword Rain have varied appearances, which would have been a huge improvement from the source and other adaptations where Archer does his sword thing.
2) Voice acting should have made up for the lack of monologue. At this point, it’s clear to Shirou that Rin knew Archer’s true identity all along. Rin is not surprised by Archer being a magus and by his inner world. However, since those inner monologues are missing, visual and vocal cues in the anime should make up for it by staying consistent to canon. But nope, for some reason, as opposed to how disinterested she managed to make Rin sound in the voiced visual novel as described in Shirou’s first-person POV, Ueda Kana made Rin sound the opposite in the anime’s version of this scene. I adore Ueda Kana’s voice acting, but that little bit just further took away in-story context.
3) The god damned pacing. The transition from the Reality Marble to reality is too abrupt and ended too quickly. When Shirou counters Archer’s rain of swords, fans are divided on whether or not Shirou made his own rain of swords or blocked hundred of swords with two hands with shounen willpower like in the DEEN movie, because the text in the visual novel is ambiguous whether or not he succeeded at creating a rain of swords (I subscribe to the former belief that he did, in fact, create a rain of swords, at least on a smaller scale). Regardless, the scene is supposed to last until the Reality Marble shattered. The anime just goes from Shirou about to deflect the swords in slo-mo and then suddenly we’re back into reality again. It’s just so rushed.
4) The lack of music pissed me off. Silence has its place in setting atmosphere in animation, but in Fate/stay night, music really helps set its own mood in various situations. In the visual novel, once Archer revealed his inner world – a desolate world that is the closest thing he has to a Noble Phantasm – Whirlpool of Fate kicks in and not only did it fit the desolute surroundings of the Reality Marble, but it added a dramatic flare. Archer just fucking revealed the true nature of his powers.
Hell, this edit that adds the BGM to DEEN’s version of the scene made theirs a crapton times better than it actually was (which originally was not that great):
The inclusion of EMIYA is starting to look like a false hope now.
In retrospect, I actually still think Ufotable’s version of the scene is leagues ahead of DEEN’s, but at the same time, it fell short. It’s just terribly disappointing that one of my favorite scenes in Unlimited Blade Works turned out way worse than it should have been.
I wonder who Archer really is?
Can’t be this guy!
Other than that, I thought the rest of the episode was moderately satisfying. In Rin’s flashback dream concerning Archer’s (Shirou’s) life, I loved how Ufotable added silhouettes of his friends, such as Sakura. Also, the gallows at the end (I’m still not sure if he was hanged or – spoiler in the link – skewered by swords).
At the same time, I don’t like how some important information was left out. With what happened earlier in the episode, I expected Ufotable to remove one or two lines, but I certainly thought Rin’s explanation about how Heroic Spirits worked would have been left in. Basically, the Heroic Spirits summoned for the Holy Grail Wars are basically copies of the ones that exist in the Throne of Heroes or wherever else they can come from. Once they disappear, they return to their main bodies, but the main bodies don’t retain the memory of their summoned doubles. Instead, the memories are stored in records, comparable to a personal library of each of their individual summoning. Saber being an exception. The novel explains it better, and I don’t mind Nasu infodumps being cut down in animation. But here, they don’t try to mention it at all.
Also, there was a pretty good line in the VN that Rin said in her monologue, which summed up Archer’s life perfectly: “The boy who said he didn’t want to see anybody cry… could only see humans crying forever.” I wished they slipped that in there during the visions of Archer breaking down doing his Counter Guardian work.
Still crossing my fingers for some Red Scarf Shirou flashbacks from Archer.
I hated what they did to the scenes where Lancer decides to tag along with Shirou for just a while longer. While I don’t mind the placement being changed (in the VN, it was right after Shirou and Saber left the Church), I didn’t like how they completely got their… emotions wrong. In the anime, Saber looks and sounds fucking pissed and Lancer’s look and tone are way too calm.
Truthfully, Lancer should be fucking pissed at Archer for kidnapping Rin, enough to surprise Saber. “Well I say… What kind of magic did you and Rin use to get him on your side?”
I hope they don’t remove the bits of Lancer teasing Saber like he did with Tohsaka…