「魔獣母神」 (Majuu Bojin)
“The Mother of Demonic Beasts”
To continue our Hobbit analogy from a few episodes back, Merlin is the Gandalf character. Obviously. He’s the wizard who advises our hero. He manipulates events to nudge the plot along. He has the staff/sword dual-wield combo. But Merlin is not going to slay a balrog. Could he win a purple laser duel against a monster god? Eh, maybe not (though in the game, totally. Mechanics, yo). Whether he can or not, though, there’s no way they’re going to allow Merlin to be useful two episodes in a row. It’s never good to over-rely on the Gandalf character. There’s a reason why Gandalf was expressly forbidden from intervening too directly in Middle Earth; from a metafictional perspective, a magical person can trivialise the plot. Those who’ve only watched the Hobbit movies will not know this, but in the novel the ‘Necromancer’ that Gandalf had to split from the party to deal with was not originally intended to be Sauron. He readily admitted it was just a plot device to get Gandalf out of the way, so that the adventure will have actual obstacles instead of it all being solved by a literal wizard.
This problem is compounded in Fate/Grand Order because its rosters of characters are all heroes from history and mythology who are all supposed to all be capable of impressive feats. Even if you only know of heroes like Ushiwakamaru and Leonidas by reputation, it’s easy to appreciate that they are protagonists of their own tales and their presence looms large in F/GO. But they aren’t the protagonist, so their looming presence is actually a hindrance to storytelling, upstaging the main characters. What do you even do with a bunch of superpowered badasses just hanging around in the supporting cast? Often, they become overly convenient plot resolvers as the deus ex machina (again, wizards). Or, the story leans in the other direction and they become the Worf.
Even casual fans of Star Trek should know Worf. He’s the Klingon crew member of the Enterprise, and the resident expert in violence. The problem with having a violence expert in the cast is that for every plot obstacle that arises, the implicit question is, why not solve it with violence? Violence is very simple for an audience to understand and even simpler to apply, but it’s not going to make for very engaging television to have the tough guy punch the plot into submission week after week. And so the obstacle has to be tougher than the Worf, and to demonstrate that, Worf has to get beaten up. That’s basically the purpose of Ushiwakamaru and Leonidas in this episode. Sure, they get some pretty impressive action scenes (did Ushiwakamaru dancing around amidst all the chopped up Gorgon bits remind anybody else of a Shaft fight? And Gorgon has Laputa-robot lasers). But they’re there to be defeated. We know Ushiwakamaru and Leonidas are historical badasses who live up to their hype. But this Gorgon!Tiamat thrashes them both! Back to back! This must be a very impressive antagonist indeed!
Crushing our resident violence experts also demonstrates that this antagonist isn’t one that can be defeated via conventional means. It justifies the existence and worth of our protagonist, who may not be a violence expert at all (if, say, he was a bald British thespian). There’d be no incentive to think outside the box otherwise. Problem is, Ritsuka is of incredibly little worth in general. Other than indirectly inspiring Ushiwakamaru and throwing the most pathetic punch in the history of anime he does nothing this episode but stand and gawk. In fact, I’d say there is a bit too much standing and gawking in Babylonia as a whole. Didn’t Merlin use a rather effective buff last episode? Couldn’t it have helped here? But, no, we’re all just going to stand around and let our champions be defeated one at a time. Shape up, peoples. You can’t always rely on being saved by arbitrary villain deadlines.