Oh my. Bring on the epic.
This Lancer seems to fancy himself quite the ladies’ man. After some pleasantries, and Lancer being glad that both his opponents weren’t so smitten that they couldn’t fight him properly, they get right to it. There is a good use of division of labor on both teams’ part. Saber fights, Irisviel heals, Kiritsugu and Maiya finds the enemy Master and kills them, while Lancer’s Master hides while his Servant probes the enemy.
Hello ladies. Look at your man, now back to me.
Saber and Lancer test each other out, neither really gaining an advantage for a while. The fight is well-animated, with slow motion where it needs to be slow to show off technical expertise and fast motion when it needs to be fast to show off attack speed and power. Footwork is emphasized, and someone did their research on broadsword fighting, as I am recognizing a lot of what Saber is doing from the Liechtenauer manual from my local library and the wikipedia page on the German School of Broadsword Fencing. Granted, it’s German and not English, but the English school is rapier focused and the German school is pretty much the best source we have on how broadsword fighting rolls.
Vom Tag (left)
Throughout the bout, they are nothing but polite and respectful to each other, and you really gain a sense of equal measures of honor and chivalry as well as a thirst of victory in their duel as they compliment each other’s technique while making repeated guesses at each other’s identity and cut each other’s hair. Saber gets first blood in, as she uses wind magic to make her sword invisible, thus making it difficult for Lancer to control distance, although the fact that she is using magic to hide her sword leads Lancer to narrow down her possible identity as belonging to the subset of heroes with a famous sword.
I once met a person who claimed she could guess a lot about someone by the contents of their wallet. So I handed her mine, which pretty much only had cash, student ID, and driver’s license. Her response? “You are a technocratic man of simple tastes and pleasures.” And I was like, “Well played, woman. Well played.” Sometimes you can tell a lot about someone based on what they hide or don’t show.
Yay smart people fighting smart!
Here I will take a detour to explain the Grail War and general strategy.
One Grail, seven mages, seven Servants. The Grail will only grant a wish once six Servants have been killed. To avoid your Servant being killed, it is also important to hide their identity so that they can’t be killed by whichever means they were killed in their own lifetime. Specifically, let’s say you summoned Sigurd the dragonslayer from Norse Mythology (you might know him better as Siefgried from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, from which the wonderfully epic “Ride of the Valkyries” song originates. You know, that song that goes dun da-na duuun duuuun dun da-na DUUUN DUUUUUN) as your Servant. Sigurd bathed in the blood of the dragon Fanfir, which made his body invulnerable, save for a spot on his shoulder that a stray leaf fell on and prevented the blood from covering it. Thus, if you know your enemy Servant is Sigurd because you recognized his sword to be Glamdring, you’d aim for that spot all the time. At best, you’ll kill him, and at worst, you’ll force him on the defensive. Thus Masters always refer to Servants by their class (Archer, Saber, Caster, etc) rather than their names, and Masters generally tend to avoid using their Servants’ Noble Phantasms – special powers/attacks/weapons that are intricately linked to a hero’s identity, such as Iskander’s Chariot of King Gordias, Arthur’s Excalibur, or Chu Chulainn’s Gae Bolg – unless either absolutely necessary or to end fights.
Servants are usually a lot stronger than mages, such that most mage attacks just annoy Servants at best (reasonable, as at least half of all myth heroes beat up evil magicians for a living, and when they are incarnated as Servants, they also a permabuff to magic resistance). Since Servants are so tough, the usual way of eliminating opponents is to catch the Master off guard and kill them with your own Servant (since presumably they can give you a good magic-fight, being a skilled mage themselves and all). This did not happen in F/SN because Shirou was an idealistic high school student who was raised under conventional human morals and so didn’t want to kill any humans (or at least, any people that were “supposed” to exist since it’s somewhat hard to argue that Servants who were historical figures like Iskander aren’t humans who just happen to have powers and that Servants who were mythological shouldn’t be treated as humans because they are still sentient…yeah Shirou’s morals aren’t exactly the most airtight). But Fate Zero is a different show.
Kiritsugu wants to end the battles as fast as possible, so he’s gunning (literally) for the Masters using his nice snazzy sniper rifle which has a magic-detecting scope in addition to the normal one. He’s looking around, but instead discover an Assassin here, watching the battle and confirming that the first battle was indeed a work. The two of them hold off on action, Kiritsugu noting that they are not equipped to fight Servants at this time.
Bringing a gun to a sword fight.
Hold on a second.
This line about not being prepared to fight Servants “at this time” indicates to me that he is at times prepared to actually fight Servants, which most mages don’t do because mages fighting Servants is generally an invitation to suicide.
And now I can’t wait to see what amounts of dakka is considered enough to fight Servants. Maybe a couple of B2 bombers, eh Rider?
Back to the battle. Suddenly, Lancer’s Master appears – or at least, his silhouette and voice does. He gives Lancer permission to use his Noble Phantasm, a bold move this early in the game and an indication that he has something up his sleeve.
Since Servants generally have one Noble Phantasm, Saber is curious as to which of Lancer’s two spears is it. Lancer drops his shorter yellow spear and blitzes at Saber, and upon the first blade clash, some kind of magical aura occurs, and Saber’s expression reveals that something went awry. More gorgeous fluid fight scene occurs, and now Saber is being pushed back. Moreover, her sword is now glowing gold upon every clash. After a few bouts, however, Saber believes she has Lancer’s measure, and goes into an exaggerated vom tag, deciding to take a hit on her magical armor which will put her in position to launch a kill blow.
Stabbed through the side, and you’re to blame/you give dueling a bad name
Someone’s cunning plan was not thought all the way through. Lancer, being the chivalrous sort, explains that his Noble Phantasm ignores magic. Since Servants are all made of magic, including their armor and non-muggle clothing, and Saber has armor, presumably Lancer judged that she would try to tank it and thus attacked accordingly.
Yay smart people fighting smart!
In reaction, Saber immediately dispels her armor to save mana.
Oh, are we playing this game? I’m up for that.
As Lancer backs away to regain distance and Irisviel heals, Saber gathers her energy and blitzes, dispelling the wind magic on her sword to give her a speed boost, intent on giving it her all this time. Lancer’s smug grin, however, indicates that things aren’t going to go in her favor, and sure enough, right as she reaches him, he kicks up the other spear that he dropped earlier and thrusts, inflicting a wound on Saber’s left wrist right as she inflicts the same wound on him. Another round of healing occurs…except Irisviel’s heal isn’t working? Turns out both spears are Lancer’s Noble Phantasms, and the second spear inflicts a cursed wound that will not heal. Apparently the first strike was to get her to dispel her magic armor so the second strike would launch a more debilitating injury.
Yay smart people fighting smart!
The two spears and their powers, however, is enough for Saber to recognize the weapons as Gae Buidhe and Gae Dearg, and this coupled with the love mark by his eye which makes her heart to go aflutter allows her to deduce Lancer’s identity as Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, first of the Fianna in the Fenian cycle of Irish myth. Meanwhile, having dispelled the wind magic around Saber’s sword, Lancer recognizes it to be Excalibur and thus Saber to be Arthur/Arturia, and is rather amused that the King of Knights is actually a girl.
Oh Ireland. Always a thorn in England’s side.
It must be said, though, that the genderflip is highly beneficial to Saber, just because every know that its King Arthur, not Queen Arturia. Anyway, Saber’s left tendon is shot, but she insists on continuing the duel, and the two square off, when suddenly there is the sound of thunder, and…a wild Rider appears! He rides between them on his chariot, and the very first thing he does?
“BEHOLD! I AM ISKANDER, KING OF CONQUERORS! GAZE UPON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR!”
Seriously. He literally interrupts a duel between two servants by getting between them (with Waver riding beside him, no less) and announcing to everyone in the immediate vicinity who his real identity is. Because that’s how he rolls. Rider don’t care, Rider don’t give a shit. And he’s just so…happy about it.
I JUST HAD SEEEEEEEEX, AND IT FEEEEEEEL SO GOOOOOOOOOD
Thoughts for this episode:
YAY SMART PEOPLE FIGHTING SMART.
Here you see that both Lancer and his Master have high stats in INT and WIS, detectable from the way they’ve been controlling the flow of battle. First Lancer tests Saber out, probing for weaknesses and generally not finding any, as Saber has the highest overall stats while Lancer simply has the highest speed stat and low Noble Phantasm mana cost. However, knowing that Servants are by nature made of magic and that Lancer’s Gae Dearg ignores magic, Lancer’s master orders him to use “his Noble Phantasm” (also effective use of ambiguous phrasing to mislead both the audience and the characters as to what’s coming next), and Lancer is either smart enough to only use Gae Dearg and have Gae Buidhe in reserve, or his Master explicitly instructed him to do that at some point offscreen. Either way, it demonstrates a solid understanding of economy of force (use the smallest amount of force possible to win, that way you can keep all your cool toys in reserve in case the enemy catches a second wind), and it’s used to to great effect – twice Saber thinks she has Lancer’s measure, and twice it opens her up to a surprise counterattack by Lancer.
Saber, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have that good a head for all this misdirection strategery. Maybe she’s just not that good at it, and in the Fate-verse, that’s why her kingdom ultimately fell? Perhaps this will be a plot point later? At least Team Saber has a decent build, with Saber as the tank to draw aggro, Irisviel as the healer to keep Saber in the game, and Kiritsugu and Maiya as the two rogues to backstab and be smart. Clearly teamwork between all four of them will be key in future battles here.
Here’s to more smart fighting.
Until next ep.