Shirou and Rin run across Illyasviel and Berserker, leading to a pitched battle between both Masters and Servants.
This episode marks the first real divergence between the Fate route and the Unlimited Blade Works route, having Saber actually put up a fight against Berserker with some assistance from Archer. In the Fate route and summarily the 2006 DEEEEEEEN anime, Berserker very nearly kills Saber outright, leading Shirou down the ever-tiresome path of “girls I like shouldn’t fight, it’s too dangerous”, a mindset that is thankfully less apparent in UBW. Here, while Shirou is still striving to be an actual hero of justice instead of a helpless bystander, it’s more about about fighting alongside Saber than fighting in her stead. She can take care of herself, and UFOtable makes this exceptionally clear by amping up the fight’s intensity a few notches from the original and letting Saber land a killing blow on Berserker with Excalibur, for all the good it does.
In a surprising and extremely welcome divergence from the source, UFOtable also includes a short tussle between Rin and Illya, finally depicting one of the mage battles the universe insists are totally happening you guys but are never seen onscreen. It’s mildly tedious for fans to see Rin continue to spam her gandr curse, but Illya’s alchemical birds are a nice call-back to Fate/Zero, where her mother used essentially the same trick. Illya was always built up to be the most powerful Master involved in the war, but Type-Moon never really delivered on such statements. Here, she defeats Rin (declared to be a truly exceptional magus in Episode 0) with hardly any effort or change in expression. If nothing else, her lack of reaction is unnerving, and the entire sequence serves well to bill her as a threat.
Overall, I’m quite pleased with how the new adaptation is turning out. The amount of money being thrown around is baffling, and the massive gap between this version and DEEEEEN’s film has reached hilarious levels. While the story is going to be lapsing into F/SN‘s usual cavalcade of cooking, cleaning, and communicating exposition, I look forward to seeing how UFOtable is going to keep things interesting.
After a few episodes of meandering exposition, this was exactly what Fate needed – a good hearty kick of action. The best thing though is that the action doesn’t come at the expense of deepening and widening the magical world in which our story is developing. It’s a strong introductory episode for Ilya, who’s made to look a real threat on both a persona and Servant level. The happy/cute/crazy shtick is a little played out in anime in general, but fortunately they don’t lean too heavily on that personality trope, making her genuinely more creepy than goofy or annoying. Berserker meanwhile is the perfect opponent to show off what our heroes are really capable of. Big, dumb, silent, but nearly unstoppable, he’s a fantastic fixture for Saber and Archer to throw huge flashy attacks against.
There’s even some decent character stuff in here, what with Rin showing off her fearlessness and action chops while Ilya gets to demonstrate her power and command over really cool looking CGI. The twisty-turny interplay between battling the Servants and assassinating the Masters was one of my favourite parts of Fate/Zero so I’m glad to see that that idea is still about, albeit perhaps in a less intricately planned form. Shirou’s decision to go back to the battle even though he’s a helpless liability is perhaps the most predictably anime thing ever, but it does do the job of establishing his motivation and temperament and his ‘rescue’ of Saber remains fluky enough to be believable, so I’ll let it slide.
It’s also worth pointing out that even by UFOtable’s high standards this was an exceptional looking episode, full of gorgeous backgrounds, super fluid fights and awesome battle effects. The movement is never less than slick and smooth and the integration of CGI elements is excellent, really making the whole show jump out of the screen. If we can have more of this and less walking in circles, I’ll be a confirmed fan.