As we open, our heroes still have difficulty with Caster’s monster, while Berzerker and Gil continue their dogfight. Rider and Saber retreat, and Rider offers to trap the monster in his Ionioi Heitairoi while the others strategize. Oh man, all the armies of Macedon vs a giant squid kaiju? This is gonna be so awesome – wait, what do you mean I don’t get to see it happen?
No ticket, no show, bub
Meanwhile, the young underdog Matou Kariya fights the master mage Tohsaka Tokiomi. Yeah, Kariya…you’re like a skinny-ass kid who ran away from home and only knows ad-hoc magecraft. You have all the physique of the kid that bully victims pick on to make themselves feel better. Your magecraft is so fail that your own grandfather pretty much said you had to summon a Berzerker in hopes that his Mad Enhancement skill would compensate for your weaksauce. Tokiomi, meanwhile, has spent his entire life training magic and is the head of his very prominent magical family. This…is not going to end well for you.
“Not impressive. Hey Gil, am I doing it right?”
Rider goes off to engage Caster’s monster again. He can’t see outside while he’s inside his Reality Marble, so he’ll send a scout when he’s about to be unable to hold out, and hopefully Iri, Waver, Saber, and Lancer will have come up with something then. Meanwhile, Berzerker and Archer duel while Kariya continues to fail at magic-fighting. While Kariya sends waves and waves of bugs that crash ineffectively against Tokiomi’s shields, the effort of which is literally making the kid bleed out of his skin, Tokiomi just kind of stands there, bored out of his mind, before casting a single fireball that incinerates Kariya’s bugs and sets him aflame. Kariya staggers about blindly in pain before falling over a railing.
Swift as a coursing river, with the force of the great typhoon, I strike at thee!
You forgot strength of the raging fire.
Strength of the whaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh…
Iri gets a call from Kiri (man, it sounds like I’m naming Dwarves from The Hobbit), although she fails at tech and Waver has to actually take the call for her. Kiritsugu confirms that Rider has limited choice over where he materializes after coming out of the Ionioi Hetairoi and says he will shoot up a flare that will signal where to dump Caster. And then he asks to speak to Lancer.
I’m sorry, I am not acquainted with this “Seymour Butz” gentleman.
Kiritsugu drops the rhetoric bomb – Saber has a Noble Phantasm that’ll gank Caster like a blackthorn shillelagh on a red-headed stepchild, but she can’t use it while her left hand is shot. Lancer blinks, then understands what he must do. Saber protests, saying that a wound she suffered in an honorable chivalrous duel is a point of pride, and that surely they can find some other way to defeat Caster, but Lancer reminds her that their number one vow is to defend the weak. What is important, he asks Saber – their pride as warriors? Or stopping evil?
Breaking the curse..literally.
Lancer, you are a true hero, every bit deserving of the title. Gil may claim to be the King of Heroes, but you have acted as one in a manner above and beyond the rest of the cast.
I know that later on, because tvtropes has spoiled me somewhat, Kiritsugu will have an outburst monologue, at which point I will say “SHUT THE FUCK UP KIRITSUGU YOU ARE FUCKING WRONG YOU FUCKING FUCKTARD BECAUSE DIARMUID UA FUCKING DUIBHNE.”
More on this later, but as the Golden Spear is snapped, energy releases, and the full might of Arturia Pendragon, First of Her Name, Queen of the Britons, Lord of the British Isles, and Protector of the Realm is unleashed.
By the power of Camelot!
Unfortunately, this now draws the attention of Berzerker, who turns right around and begins shooting at her, much to Gil’s fury – although he’s more angry that Berzerker’s turning his back on him, mind.
Dammit Berzerker, she has NOT lost that loving feeling! Now come back and fight me before your ego writes a check your ass can’t cash!
Meanwhile, Kirei comes across the comatose Kariya, after a brief hesitation, does not kill him. Instead, he casts a healing spell, then takes the unconscious young man home with him.
Meanwhile, one of Rider’s hoplites appear, awaiting orders. Waver asks him to wait just a bit longer, since Berzerker is now keeping Saber busy. But now Lancer steps in, and he teleports (wait, this guy can teleport!?) up to the F-15 and stabs it full of holes, forcing Berzerker down. Kariya’s Servant is not out, though. Guy rips the Vulcan gun right out of the aircraft, and his “make anything my Noble Phantasm” ability allows him to continue shooting even as he falls. Still, he’s at a disadvantage, and Archer swoops in and gives Saber a clear shot.
Too close for missiles. Switching to guns.
Kiri’s flare goes up. Rider’s hoplite disappears. Caster’s monster gets dumped into the river. Saber lines up her shot, and then, with a single cleave, unleashes her Noble Phantasm: EXCALIBUR.
[Shonen WWWOOOOOAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH goes here]
Caster is obliterated, and in his last moments, sees a vision of his beloved Jeanne.
Well, now I see how you got confused, anyway.
Rider is impressed that Saber can wield so much power despite being just a little girl, while Archer replies that the power of Exaclibur is the combined power of the hopes and dreams of everyone who believed in King Arthur and the ideals she represented. So while eventually she was betrayed and her kingdom fell, that mattered much less than what she eventually came to stand for. Rider notes that Saber has so much power, yet her life was so sad and tragic. He then turns and says that taking out Caster spent a lot of his power, and if Gil was to come at him now, he’d have a good shot of winning, but Gilgamesh turns it down – when they have their Clash of Kings, Gil says, he wants to enjoy taking Alexander down at full strength and prove once and for all that Gilgamesh’s way is superior.
Meanwhile, he will continue to watch Saber creepily.
Ah, little lioness. Your mouth says no no no but your eyes say yes yes yes…
So here the battle winds down, and we see just what the difference between a Saber with a shot wrist and a Saber at full health who’s not holding back is. Holy crap. That Noble Phantasm sure is…a cut above the rest.
Anyway, I voluntarily spoiled myself for who Berzerker is. But now is the part where you start noticing that both times he’s showed up, he’s gone for Saber and no one else. Related to that team, I find it somewhat unfortunate that Kariya seems to have gone somewhat off the deep end, and there’s very little to no effort done to remind you that he was originally in it for Sakura. When you see him try and fail at fighting Tokiomi, all you’re seeing is a “mad dog” to borrow Gil’s favorite phrase trying to lunge at the snazzily-dressed master mage. You’re not seeing an uncle who all but destroyed his body to save his niece from a fate worse than death. You’re not seeing . I guess they’re trying to go for a “becoming the monster” thing with Kariya, but that really doesn’t work when the guy he’s fighting is actually a monster whether out of malice (as initially assumed) or stupidity (as when we found out he apparently gave Sakura up for her own good, but out of every single magic family out there, he just had to choose the one whose magic is based on body horror and rapeworms), and when his goal was both good (save the little girl) and just (beat the crap out of the jerkface). I dunno, maybe it’s some kind of cultural moral dissonance or something, where Japanese people just no longer believe that violence can ever be right, like how stupid Zero Tolerance policies punish both bully and victim by the logic “it takes two to fight!” (never mind it takes only one to take an ass-kicking)?
But all this is small potatoes compared to what is, to me, the real RIGHT IN THE FEELS moment for this episode.
No one will know your name. No one will know what you did. Yet, you made a difference. Despite that, you made a difference.
It is a word with many definitions as there are cultures. But interestingly, all cultures attempt to write down and codify rules regarding what it means to be a hero.
In the Western tradition, this is chivalry. In the Japanese tradition, this is bushido.
In the Chinese tradition, this is xia.
Xia means many things. But the best and most concise meaning comes from the pen of the master wuxia novelist Jin Yong, specifically from the second novel of the Condor Trilogy, Return of the Condor Heroes, more specifically the phrase 为国为民，侠之大者 – or “To serve the nation and the people with all of one’s being, such is the Hero among heroes.” This phrase is said by the established kung fu master Guo Jing as he leads the martial arts community and the Song Dynasty garrison to defend the border city of Xiangyang (and by extension the rest of China, as Xiangyang is THE chokepoint separating the Mongol Empire between China proper) against Mongol invasion. It is this phrase that set the main character on the path of hero, and it is by this phrase that Guo and his entire family eventually died when Xiangyang was finally overrun, presumably surrounded by a mountain of Mongol corpses.
What is the purpose of kung fu? To Guo Jing, it isn’t just acquiring fame for defeating so-and-so in a duel. It isn’t just “spiritual enlightenment”. It isn’t just so you can avenge your family who was killed by ninjas. It is, simply, the fact that you have great power, and thus you have the responsibility to use it for good (and thus, against those who would abuse their power). Yes, fame is good, and sometimes it helps you rally others to your cause. Yes, spiritual enlightenment is nice, and it gives you peace of mind. But they are merely byproducts – the real goal should always be to serve the people.
And that is what Lancer did.
Diarmuid Ua Duibhne’s life was, honestly, shit. He was a Knight of the Fianna, joining the band of merry men of the epic hero Fionn Mac Cumhail as a young lad, and he would have had a fulfilling life full of quests and adventures and wenches like all the other happy young knights, but for one single misadventure wherein he banged a fae who gave him his Love Spot. From then on, his life became less “hero’s journey” and more bad fanfiction of the “so beautiful it’s a curse” variety. His king’s own wife fell in love with him. When he rejected her advances, she put a geas on him and made him elope with her. He didn’t want to betray his king, liege lord, and friend, but he was forced to (otherwise the geas wouldn’t have been necessary). And only upon his death did he realize that while a peace was made, Fionn in fact never forgave him for this. Lancelot at least had his early glories and got to participate in the quest for the Grail in his last days. Diarmuid’s legend consisted of never being able to become the hero he dreamed of being since youth, instead always fleeing the men he formerly called brother and dying knowing he was never able to make things right.
There is a stain on his honor. So what does Lancer do? He comes back to the Grail War, intending to do things correctly this time. He gets summoned. He swears to obtain the Grail for Kayneth. He promises to himself that this time, he will act as a true knight, he will serve faithfully, he will keep his vows.
Knights, Samurai, Kung Fu masters, they are all similar in many respects. They are all trained in methods of war, ways of killing, and they make their name upon their skill. And many of them never become, in the grand scheme of things, anything more than a glorified attack dog. It is incredibly easy, when making a name for oneself as a warrior, to get caught up in the duels, the wenches, the drink, and sink into the quagmire of mediocrity. It is incredibly easy, after too many brutal battles, to say screw it and pack up to live as some kind of hermit in the mountains. It is incredibly easy, when people are lining up to wipe your arse just because you are good at fighting, to start feeling entitled to such treatment over the plebs. The hardest thing for an up and coming warrior to do is to see past their name, see past their desires, see past their life, and live up to the ideal that Guo Jing described.
And that is what Lancer did.
His previous actions can be merely chalked up to pride. Oh hey, Saber. You know they say you’re the strongest Servant…so let’s test that. Oh hey, you’re a woman, well I’m so awesome and chivalrous so I’ll take your side against everyone else when I can. Oh hey, Caster’s here again? Well my Master hasn’t said anything, so sure I’ll help you take him down. Even his initial motivations can be interpreted as such – gah, I’ll prove that I can serve someone faithfully! Master, I swear to you that I will win the Grail!
Pride, power, possessions. So many aspiring heroes do not pass these tests. Here, Lancer faced the test – lift the curse on Saber, and not only strengthen an enemy, but lose one of his own Noble Phantasms in the process, placing him at a great disadvantage and possibly (well, possibly to him; we know from F/SN that he doesn’t make it to the end) causing him to lose the Grail War and fail to fulfill his promise to Kayneth. Yet he weighed his own pride and the desires of a single pair of mages for glory against the lives of everyone in Fuyuki city and unflinchingly chose the latter, even managing to get in a mini-lecture on the true meaning of chivalry to the King of Knights while he’s at it. Keep in mind that he comes from an era when you could literally build your name atop a pile of corpses and people will sing your praises for it (as Rider noted a couple episodes prior), and when armies routinely never gave two shits about civilians except in terms of taking they wanted from them, and his choice becomes all the more meaningful.
So after the bloody battle at the Mion River, who is Diarmuid Ua Duibhne?
Merely a knight who, in the end, did not forget his vows.
And that makes him morally superior to all the conquerors who left rivers of blood in his wake to fulfill some flight of fancy**, and all the despots who lived in luxury while his population broke their backs and was so despotic the gods themselves created a man specifically to put him in place, and all the warrior kings who could not bend and instead broke because they personally found the hard choice offensive, to say nothing of the child-murderers and the hired killers and the mad dogs.
Lancer’s life was a tragedy. And from what we know of Fate Stay Night, we know his second chance at life will also end in tragedy. But if nothing else, he saved thousands of innocent people (at the least; keep in mind Japan has extremely high population density) and their families, none of whom will ever know his name, at cost to himself. To my recollection, he is the FIRST out of anyone in the main cast* to do so.
For country and countrymen.
Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, you are a true hero.
Guo Jing would approve.
Until next ep.
*I can only really remember Rin going out of their way to purposefully save someone hurt by the Grail Wars, but she doesn’t count because she is not a main cast, and her one episode was more filler than anything. Waver and Rider did go after Caster in his lair, but they are active combatants and it was par for the course – they would have had to go after a Servant at some point, and they weren’t exposing themselves to any more risk than already present by simply being a participant in the first place. What Lancer did actively hurt his own chances at winning – it was a true sacrifice for a noble cause, and that makes it admirable.
**I cannot stress this enough, Iskander is all kinds of awesome, but by modern standards he is NOT a hero. Guy launched how many wars of conquest? And in this show, it all just so he could take a vacation to the beach? That’s hundreds of thousands dead and countless more widows and orphans, all because a charismatic leader whipped them up into a nationalistic fervor and wait…But seriously. Godwin aside, there’s a reason why in real life his conquests never reached past the outer borders of India, even though he lived a few years after he paused his wars to consolidate his rule. And really, all the “good” stuff we remember Alexander for, such as his preservation of knowledge and construction of libraries, took place *after* he stopped conquering. In short, Alexander is awesome in the sense that, say, Azula is awesome. They do impressive things, but you sure as heck do not want to share the same world as them.