We come to the episode I’ve been waiting for all my life and I didn’t even realize it! Yes, it’s that episode: the one where Rin finally forges a pact with and becomes Saber’s master, as she should have been all along.
It’s also the one where Urobuchi Miura pulls off, yet again, the feat of making the franchise’s ugly gender politics as palatable as possible. If you know anything about the franchise and Nasuverse in general, you’ll know this is a feat for the ages.
The star of this episode? Magic powered by lesbian subtext. I don’t know about anyone else, but the imagery here reminds me a whole lot of Utena – something about a woman trapped in a cage of swords reaching out to her female knightly rescuer and their fingertips touching causing literal magic.
You believe I exaggerate?
As you can see: literal magic. Miura is carrying the Urobuchi Fate/zero torch by injecting shoujo-ai subtext where he can, even if in this case it’s fairly miniscule. Just gal pals.
(Besides, Saber is canonically bisexual.)
She’s got her mana back, and Saber is pissed. The image reminds me a bit of Utena: a woman trapped by swords being broken out by her knightly rescuer.
She proceeds to curbstomp Archer, showing that in close combat Saber is truly king. (Remember that she killed Berserker/Heracles during the first season? Or rather took one of his nine lives, but she did land a fatal blow.)
Now, to where Miura does his level best to make the heinous gender politics bearable.
That’s right! He lets Saber retain her dignity in that godawful white dress.
Yes Shinji, she heard but she doesn’t care. That’s Shinji outright promising he’ll rape her in the morning (yes, I know) and Rin just… ignoring him completely*, like he’s beneath her notice. Which he, well, is. She doesn’t even flinch.
*In theory, Rin has no real reason to be afraid, since she could just teleport Saber in to beat up then slice Shinji to ribbons (and Saber could certainly do so faster than Gilgamesh can yell ‘Gate of Babylon’): the franchise hasn’t established any precedent to suggest that being tied up would stop a master from using a command seal. Unfortunately, Rin doesn’t even threaten to do this because It Wasn’t in the Visual Novel Non-Logic. Nor does the white dress fanservice have to be in there, but as it is Miura probably runs the risk of having fanboys showing up at his house to throw tantrums on account of how dare he depict the Saber-versus-Berserker fight differently???
What is happening is that Miura has, throughout his UBW remake, done a lot to mitigate the grim sexual politics of the franchise: Saber successfully landing a fatal blow on Berserker wasn’t in the original, that’s Miura making her genuinely more dangerous and effective in combat, to the outcry of some of the fanbase protesting that it’s unfaithful to the visual novel as if that matters. Saber getting up and fighting while in that heinous white dress, and retaining her dignity even while she’s out of strength: likewise. Having Rin take center stage and giving her much more dimension than she’s ever got in all the anime adaptations? That too. Rin and Saber having the most lesbian-subtext moments that’s not skeevy? It’s Miura again, because that wasn’t in the visual novel or the 2010 movie. And so on. It’s still ultimately The Shirou Story (well, Shirou-and-Archer), but Miura makes it… less bad than all the other versions – he even makes Shirou palatable and respectable as a character (more when I write up episodes 19-20), which is again a real feat considering in every version of the franchise I’ve watched I have wanted nothing so much as to watch Shirou die in gory violence and extreme pain.
One more point is that Saber in Fate/zero was characterized – by Urobuchi – very little like how she’s been characterized in any other adaptation, or the visual novel for that matter. In this UBW remake, Miura has kept her characterization in line with Urobuchi’s version of Saber as chivalrous knight and remorseful monarch. I appreciate this consistency.
Some trivia: in the Fate franchise, servants have RPG-like stats. These stats are dependent on the power level/mana/whatever of the servant’s master. Saber has been contracted with a bunch of different masters, and here are her respective stats.
That’s right: under Rin, Saber is at her most powerful. Under Shirou, she’s… well… terrible. Look at all those Cs. This is incidental rather than a type-moon writer trying to make some kind of feminist statement (Rin just happens to be designated as innately strong, with higher raw power than Shirou or Kiritsugu – type-moon is anything but feminist, trust me), but it’s pretty amusing that the most powerful Saber has ever been is when she’s contracted to a female master. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯