Despite the name, this is actually the SECOND episode of this series. Please check out Moeronpan’s First Impression review of Episode 0 if you have not done so already
In this episode, the focus shifts from Rin and Archer to Shirou Emiya, a classmate of Rin’s. He is a self-taught magus as well as an orphan who lives alone – though he’s looked after by his kindly underclassman, Sakura Matou, and his absent-minded teacher, Taiga Fujimura. While Shirou is a magus like Rin, unlike her, he lacks formal training and has zero knowledge regarding the Holy Grail War currently occurring.
Shirou enjoys an ordinary school life, fixing the school’s appliances for no pay, keeping secret the fact that he uses magic for this job, being pranked by the childlike Fujimura-sensei, and totally not crushing on Rin (yeah, right). He also enjoys hating on the class creep, Shinji Matou – as does pretty much everyone else in the school.
However, Shirou’s life soon changes forever. On the way home, he encounters a sinister blonde girl who warns him of his upcoming death. The next day, he learns that a family who lived near the school has been brutally murdered, and the student body is being sent home early. This causes Shirou to reminisce about his past – his family was killed in a fire and he was adopted by a mysterious man, Kiritsugu Emiya. It is Kiritsugu who taught Shirou to use magic and encouraged him to be “a hero of justice”.
Forced to stay late at school to clean, Shirou accidentally witnesses the battle between Archer and Lancer from the previous episode. Lancer chases after Shirou and stabs him through the chest. Luckily, Rin finds him and heals him using the magical energy stored in her pendant (though he doesn’t see the face of his rescuer).
Lancer finds Shirou’s home and tries to kill him a second time. Shirou stumbles into his storehouse, where his wish to live triggers a summoning circle in the floor. He inadvertently summons the Servant Saber, becoming the seventh Master of the Holy Grail War – and the enemy of Archer and Rin.
I feel like there isn’t much to say about this episode that Moeronpan didn’t already say in her First Impression review. This was another double-length episode, structured very similarly to Episode 0 – establishing Shirou’s daily life and detailing his entry into the Holy Grail War. Because Shirou is a low-level magus who was unaware of the War until his accidental summoning, this episode is arguably even slower-paced than the first, with lots of comedic scenes revolving around Shirou’s home life with the quiet Sakura and lazy, prank-loving Taiga.
However, thankfully, we do get a fair amount of action – I was worried they would end the episode with the famous “Are you my Master” line directly following Saber’s summoning. Luckily, because this was a double-length episode, we get to see the subsequent battle with Lancer as well as the first encounter between Teams Saber and Archer. More Saber is always a good thing in my book.
While I’m glad the prologue got animated as it covers the details of Rin’s summoning and focuses heavily on the Rin/Archer relationship, which I love, it was slightly frustrating having Episode 0 end with the appearance of Saber and then having to wait another 35 minutes composed mostly of daily life scenes until we finally got to Saber’s proper summoning scene. I think Episode 0 was important to have, and I’m glad they aren’t rushing through things, as the Fate/ world is a very detailed one which functions best when the viewer is fully immersed. However, the result was two very slow-building episodes leading to roughly the same climax, with both episodes ending at practically the same moment.
Despite some pacing issues, I’m loving pretty much everything else about this show. The animation is stunning – Moeronpan already gushed about ufotable’s stellar animation skills in her last review, but it deserves to be said again. I like the details and smaller, less plot-focused scenes that are included to draw the viewer further into this complex and compelling world. It’s also great to see more minor characters like Taiga, Issei and Shirou/Rin’s school friends get a bit of focus, even though they’ll likely fade away as the Grail War takes front and center.
Unlimited Blade Works has also so far avoided the massive dumps of information that was one of the biggest problems with early episodes of predecessor Fate/zero. However, the next episode is the one where Shirou finally learns about the Grail War, so that might change.
This is already a great series that is off to a really strong start. I hope that the next few episodes can pick up the pace a little without rushing through this very complex and engaging story. I’ll be reviewing the next couple episodes while Moeronpan is away, and I absolutely cannot wait.
For now, this episode receives a score of: