Take your seats, class. Fate 101 is now in session.
The vast majority of UBW’s second and third episodes involve introducing the audience to the Holy Grail War, which is incredibly valuable information if you’re coming into this setting for the first time. But as someone who’s familiar with the world and its rules (although I know next to nothing about the story of Fate/stay night itself), a lot of this comes across as pretty redundant.
I understand that the franchise wants to make this version newbie friendly and I have zero problems with that, but it does mean that my reaction to these early episodes is a little lukewarm – barring, of course, a few couch-smacking moments related to the Fate/Zero prequel, moments I have Solemnly Sworn not to discuss so as to avoid spoiling anything for you, dear readers. Suffice to say I’m looking forward to the next episode when we’ll get out of the preamble and into the meat of the story.
Those of you new to the franchise now understand that the Grail War is complicated, brutal, and somewhat intentionally vague, less a battle of swords (although there is that) as it is a battle of ideals. There’s a kind of built-in moral conflict here, for while the Grail “chooses” the winner, this “worthiness” doesn’t seem to have anything to do with traditional notions of right and wrong; as Kirei tells Shirou, the Grail can just as easily be obtained by someone who intends to use it to harm others. In the Grail War, worthiness isn’t about black-and-white morality, but about strength, smarts, and a dedication to one’s ideals, whatever those might be. And it’s this potential threat to the world that ultimately goads Shirou into joining the Grail War.
While I don’t know that much about F/sn, I do know that Shirou tends to get a lot of grief from the fandom. So far, though, I think he’s a likable enough protagonist, albeit one who’s destined to have his belief system challenged (if not shattered altogether). He’s a good-hearted but naive kid, an underpowered dreamer with a traumatic past who longs for abstract notions of “heroes” and “justice.” For all his supposed reluctance, the Grail War really does seem like a dream come true for him, a chance to prove his mettle (and, of course, his ideals) against those who might use that power for “evil.” Shirou has the values of a traditional comic book hero, but given F/sn’s darkly epic tone, I don’t think it’s any spoiler to say this is not a traditional comic book universe. I suspect things are going to get morally grey in a hurry, and I’m curious to see how Shirou reacts to that.
While I’m warming up to Shirou, I must admit that Rin is working less for me now than she was in the premiere. I get that she’s trying to put on this aloof persona, but constantly having her flip her hair or turn up her nose is a really irritating way to portray that. So far I’ve found the strange symbiotic relationships between Masters and Servants a lot more compelling than the fairly rote awkward-love-interest interactions between the various high schoolers, so I hope we can see more Rin/Archer and Shirou/Saber conversations in the coming weeks.
Since the focus these past few weeks has been pretty much entirely on Shirou, there aren’t a ton of other characters to discuss here. While I haven’t had a chance to get a good enough handle on Saber’s or Kirei’s motivations, I think it’s fair to assume they’re both keeping secrets from the kids. Past that there’s not a whole lot I can say without slapping a bunch of “Fate/Zero spoiler alert!” warnings all over the page, and as I said earlier, I’m doing my very best to make this post as newbie friendly as UBW itself. So let’s just leave it at this: The premise is intriguing, the characters have potential to grow, and the production values are top-notch. If you’re not watching already, I recommend giving it a try. If nothing else, it’s going to be mighty entertaining.