「神話の対決」 (Shinwa no Taiketsu)
“A Battle of Legend”
There’s only one thing to talk about this week: Illya. I knew what was coming and it still got me. Damn.
Illya’s story, and subsequent death, were to me some of the most powerful scenes in the entirety of the original Fate/stay night. To this day, no single image from the visual novel—not swords on hills, not Excaliburs—haunts me quite as much as the simple composition of Illya and Berserker, having a quiet moment in a beautiful white forest stained with blood. It is appropriate that, in a tale of tragic heroes like Fate/stay night, Illya’s story is, too, a tragedy. For a good deal of Unlimited Blade Works and Fate she had nominally been a villain, and a whimsically cruel one at that, but she had the advantage of being a cute child and retained a measure of her innocence. So the reader was always invited to look for excuses for her rather than vilify her, especially since (minor spoiler alert) she turned out relatively well in the Fate route and one had a hope that she and Berserker would join the party in UBW. Not only does she not, but she’s also brutally murdered, all set to some rather touching flashbacks. It’s altogether an unhappy story, and one of the undercurrents of UBW, the wish granting Holy Grail, and Shirou’s philosophy is wanting to save everybody, make them all happy. Illya represents the girl that Shirou could not save.
Although we do get longer to know Illya in the visual novel, and she did have more opportunities for character development, one advantage that they’ve offered her in the anime is an expanded back-story. We see more of the Einzberns (yet another terrible magus family), this old coot, failed homunculi, the painful contract with Heracles, and whatever the hell this is (it’s from Carnival Phantasm. Seriously). One issue I’ve always had with the Fate franchise, though, is that it tends to get overly technical. I don’t feel that there’s much need to know exactly what Illya is and how she got to be a bleeding martyr. All of Nasu’s jargon, all the finicky details about recreating the Third Magic, etc etc, are secondary. The essence of Illya’s story is that of a neglected child who misses her absentee father. What I valued were subtle things, like brief glimpses of lucidity from Berserker, because it kept things layered but simple. Simple stories are elegant, and elegance is beautiful.
There are many reasons to revile Gilgamesh as a villain, but killing Illya probably clinches it. Although I already knew that Gil could not be defeated here, I still relished his look of shock, and rooting for Berserker to get there. But alas, like last week with Shinji, so close, yet so far. What a shame. There’s nobody left but our protagonists to deliver justice and retribution and all that cathartic stuff. As I mentioned before, Illya’s death, and Shirou’s inability to do anything but stand and watch, is a defining moment for him. Again, note the difference between Rin and Shirou. Rin is ultimately practical about their powerlessness, while Shirou still could not help himself. Honour before reason, perhaps, but it could also be that he simply has a different value system.
Rin’s pragmatism may mean little, though, as even if they bided they time, what are they to do? Their last saving throw, an alliance with Illya, is now obviously untenable, and they have no means to even challenge Caster, let alone Gilgamesh who has fast emerged as an even Bigger Bad. Shirou, certainly, has nothing but sticks and harsh language, while Gil has, apparently, everything. Thrilling as betting on the underdog is, at some point Team Rin (let’s not confuse who leads this operation) is going to need some more cards in their hand or else their misery won’t even be interesting anymore. Thankfully, next week it seems we’re turning the camera back to Caster, which I’m sad to say is the relatively more hopeful match-up for our protagonists. Who needed Berserker, anyway? A single magus and a chump will have to be enough.
Full-length images: 08.
I almost forgot: regular warning on spoilers. Please mark all your spoilers in the comments in spoiler tags. Thanks in advance.
ED3: 「ring your bell (in the silence)」 by Kalafina