Hoo man. “Unlimited Blade Works” was intense, and that’s considering my prior knowledge of the massive twist toward the end. I got the impression that ol’ Nasu was toying around with the absolute worst-case scenario he could think of — so much so that the protagonists’ methods of victory started to feel like deus ex machinae in light of their horrible circumstances. But I didn’t really mind. I was too busy gaping in awe as Rin pulled out some kung fu moves.
This arc makes a great deal out of human capability. In many cases, we see humans challenge servants and, miraculously, not end up as molten piles of meat. Kuzuki beats Saber into submission; Rin survives a brief magic duel with Caster, then closes the distance and punches the hell out of her; Shirou defeats both a weakened Archer and a not-so-weakened Gilgamesh. It often comes down to situational advantages, but Shirou, at least, gets most of his tricks from within himself. As the theme develops, it reminds me of Gurren Lagann’s idea of creating a favorable future in the face of ridiculous odds, and its assurance that we can do such a thing not in spite of our humanity, but because of it. Do the impossible, see the invisible, and so on.
Isn’t that the only thing we can do? Perhaps the ability to invent meaning is a defense mechanism, a safeguard against insanity. I prefer to see it as our greatest strength, once we get it under control. Being able to decide for ourselves the meaning of life, the universe, and everything isn’t something we should take lightly.
This more or less answers my question from before. Namely:
If Excalibur is more well-known than Ea at the time of this particular Holy Grail War — and it no doubt is, as Ea doesn’t even have a “true” name — why does Ea overwhelm it so reliably? Perhaps the rule applies to servants but not noble phantasms individually, which function as extensions of the servants…
Popularity doesn’t seem to play as large a role as I thought, leaving more room for the effect of the myth’s age and influence. We also find out that noble phantasms are essentially extensions of their wielders. The game actually makes Shirou’s advantage over Gilgamesh make sense here; Gilgamesh’s strength lies in his ability to exploit any given servant’s weakness, but Shirou isn’t a servant, and his one ability is similar enough to Gilgamesh’s standard attack to counter it well enough.
Well, that sucks. Basically, these guardians promote happiness and peace by doing away with people who are unhappy. Efficient, I guess, but it doesn’t actually change anything — you’re not doing much good unless you have a way of making unhappy people happier, as there will always be unhappy people — and that seems to be Archer’s qualm with the whole thing.
There is some merit in pursuing an unattainable goal. You’ll get somewhere if you keep moving forward, and why not set your sights as high as possible? It’s certainly better than doing nothing at all, and you may accomplish more through idealism than you would if you settled for less. But this is turning into Fate/motivational speech, so let’s move on.
So it’s not that Assassin has no connection to history; he just has less than the servants summoned properly. We could probably say that all stories begin with reality, though. How could a writer write without human experience?
Again, giving form to the formless is just what we do. My major qualm with postmodernism is that branch thereof which pushes the meaninglessness of the universe and advocates embracing chaos. To do so is to deny our most uniquely human quality; the universe has meaning as long as we live in it, I say. And it’s true that our individual, everyday meaning-production doesn’t call into being pocket dimensions full of swords, but that doesn’t mean our constructs are impotent. Look at religion, or capitalism, or fandom.
“Everything is here, and nothing is here” — that describes well how the mind works, and Shirou learns to use it to his advantage. Once Gilgamesh fell within the jurisdiction of Shirou’s conception, he had already lost.
Some may take this sort of thing as wishful thinking, but this is ultimately the kind of story I most enjoy, one in which people succeed or fail or otherwise move in one direction or another out of their own power. “Unlimited Blade Works” gets that across in a more direct way than “Fate,” and so it presents an interesting thematic parallel thereof.