The 15th episode of Unlimited Blade Works had quite the impact on me, so I figured I should make a short post. Do note that there will be some minor F/Z spoilers in here, so if you haven’t seen it then don’t read on (but in all honesty, the spoilers are very minor).
I had really hyped myself up for this episode because of the fight. HERACLES, the Greek Demigod vs GILGAMESH, the KING OF HEROES. It was staked up to be the fight of the anime up till now. We had had impressive fights before, but in theory, nothing should have matched the scale of this one. Visually, the fight lived up to the hype, but I ended up a tad bit disappointed because of how one sided it was.
I always knew Gilgamesh would win the fight. It makes no sense to bring him in only to have him lose right away. He is also the strongest servant, so of course he’d win. But, I had hoped he would get hurt. I had hoped he would struggle, at least a little. Berserker is not a weakling. Even without his “die 12 times” ability, he was insanely strong. His swordsmanship alone was seemingly on par with Saber. The name of Heracles was not just for show.
That is why, it is a bit of a shame Gilgamesh won so easily. I like the guy, but I am starting to think that perhaps his rather overpowered combat prowess hurts the story as a whole.I will admit though that setting Gilgamesh up like this made for a very powerful ending to the fight. Irrespective of the fight itself though, the Illya background story totally made this episode.
Oh god, them feels. Forgive me for using dumb internet slang here, but this was an emotionally destructive episode. I loved it so much. When I first saw Illya in F/SN (after having seen Zero), I noted how crazy she was compared to her childhood. I even watched the first couple of episodes of Zero recently and Illya was so cute and innocent. How could she have changed so much? Well, the anime made it pretty obvious that it was because her mother died and her father left, seemingly abandoning her for another family. Up until this episode, I had accepted that background, but I considered it weak because it felt like all of Illya’s yandere personality was based on a slight misunderstanding (she might not have known that Kiritsugu could not come back no matter how much he wished to).
This episode made it clear that while Illya ‘s descent into slight madness was in part because of that misunderstanding, the descent was understandable and the misunderstanding was not the only reason either. If the ghost of my mom came and haunted me with words of my dad’s betrayal, if my “family” operated on me frequently and kept modifying me, if I saw how other beings like me were treated as tools and nothing more, if I saw the uselessness of the war I was forced to fight, then I would go fucking crazy as well.
I am actually impressed with Illya. She didn’t become as crazy as say Kariya and instead changed her conviction to try and be more independent of the Einzberns. She gained a dangerous yandere side to her, but I don’t think she ever truly lost sight of herself.
It was when Illya was trying to be truly independent and not rely or come to like anyone, that Berserker showed up and asked (not literally) for her to open up to him. He showed up and proved that he would fight for her of his own will and that she need not take the burden of winning this war on her own. That she need not let her past distrust of others stop her from trusting him.
Goddamit, Berserker. I thought Berserker was just a beast or a doll. I figured that the affection Illya had shown for him up until now was akin to the affection a crazy character shows for their lifeless dolls. I had assumed it was nothing more than a manifestation of her loneliness, but I was so wrong. Heracles did not fight for Illya because he was her servant or because they chained him or because he wanted the grail. He fought for her because he was kind. Heck, Gilgamesh even taunted Heracles by telling him to abandon Illya and fight without restraint. Heracles might have stood a chance had he done so, but he didn’t. He didn’t because he wasn’t fighting for the sake of fighting (as you’d expect from the Berserker class). He was fighting for Illya.
I think I have alluded to this before, but I find myself really attached to some of these mythical heroes due to the roles they played in my childhood. I loved the King Arthur bits at the end of Fate Zero because as a child, I loved Sword in the Stone. It was one of the defining Disney movies of my childhood. Another movie that defined my childhood just as much if not more was Disney’s Hercules. That is why, it made me really happy to see that even when summoned into a bloody war by a crazy family and consumed by madness, my childhood Hero could still be kind.
It was this very emotional relationship built up this episode combined with Gilgamesh’es overpowered nature, that made the ending of the fight oh so very satisfying. Illya lays dying on the ground. Berserker has already gone past his death quota. He stands there, dead and chained. Gilgamesh is about to finish Illya off when Berserker comes back to life and makes one last dash for Gilgamesh.
Heracles made Gilgamesh sweat and almost reached him. That is a big deal. And the best bit? Just as he did with Rider in F/Zero, Gilgamesh was forced to acknowledge Heracles. It was even better because all along, Gilgamesh was complaining that by prioritizing Illya, Heracles had not lived up to his legend. In the end though, Gilgamesh was forced to acknowledge that Heracles had not only lived up to it, but had surpassed the myth of Heracles.
And man, the ending to the episode. Seeing Illya and Berserker walking hand in hand in that snow with that sad music in the background really got to me and still gets to me every time I rewatch it. The changed ending song with the empty desolate snow region was perfect as well.
Is it perhaps ironic that the craziest master with the craziest servant shared the strongest bond out of any master servant relationship in F/SN? Even more so because Illya grew up in a “use servants/people as tools” household and was also the child of someone who embodied that philosophy during his tenure as Master?
I don’t really know, but I liked how Illya compared Kiritsugu to Berserker. Kiritsugu tried to use everything as a tool right up to the end when he realized that he was wrong in doing so and that he should be kind and caring instead. Berserker, right from the get go, embodied that kindness and in that respect, he acted how Kiritsugu would have had he been allowed back.
It was a very sweet relationship and I am going to join the hordes of people who are upset we don’t have an Illya route. Though I don’t want an Illya route (don’t want Emiya falling in love with her…) as much as I want a route with Illya as the focus.