An icy chill crept through my spine. A pit formed in my stomach, and I felt my heart beat just a bit harder against my chest. It was an emotion I never thought I’d feel through any kind of TV, let alone an anime. But this scene was different. It was such a dark moment, and it’s a rare time where I actually take a moment to reflect on what just happened. I mean, I’ve torn through Game of Thrones without even flinching. Sure, moments have happened in GoT where I might analyze with a nice, “Well, that sure sucks.” It wasn’t until F/SN where I actually sat a bit silent and just wondered how I felt about everything.
I’m talking about Unlimited Blade Works, the TV show here. That’s important because the movie version apparently sucks a lot.
Take all of this with a grain of salt. I’m not an otaku or anything, but I’ve seen my fair share to know what I appreciate in a show. Fate/ Stay Night had an intriguing storyline, interesting characters, great twists, insanely well-done action, and just enough romance to keep you wondering. For me, this was exactly what I dreamed a great anime should be. For those who don’t know, let me cover the basics as briefly as I can.
Fate/ Stay Night is a show about mages who are fighting over the Holy Grail. Every 10(?) years, the Grail appears, and the mages each summon a Servant to fight for them. The servants are all glorious warriors from their own times, past, present, or future, and it’s one of the big mysteries of the show as to who each servant really is. Instead of having names, the servants go by the archetype that they represent, e.g. Archer, Lancer, Rider, Assassin, etc. More or less, whichever mage survives the battle gets a wish from the Holy Grail. There are plenty of nuances to all of this, but that’s the gist of it.
If you haven’t seen the show, and you enjoy any kind of action anime, like (sorry to every big anime fan) Naruto, DBZ, one of the Gundams, etc., you should definitely look into this one. It’s on Netflix in its entirety, and it’s a mere 24 episodes long. The action is the best I’ve ever seen, and the sheer spectacle is fantastic. It’s clearly new, as the art is just wonderful, and the fights are insane. Now, let’s get down to the true crux of this.
SPOILERS DEFINITELY FOLLOW. BIG ONES.
If you’ve seen the show, then you probably know the exact moment to which I’m referring. Though plenty of characters die in the show, only one was brutal enough to elicit big reactions. I’m talking about Illyasviel von Einzbern.
The first time you meat Illy (let’s be honest, her name is ridiculous), she’s blatantly portrayed as the stereotypical crazy child prodigy. She shows a thirst for blood, she’s got more magic than the protagonists, and she takes them on 2v1 with little struggle. You’re made to think that she’s obviously the last boss for the heroes, and that this is just the introduction before she goes stomping through the rest of the competing feel. However, this show does a great job of keeping you in the dark until the very end.
Through Storyline, suddenly the heroes need to recruit Illy to their side so that they can take down the true evil entity, Gilgamesh. However, on their arrival to Illy’s mansion, they realize that Gilgamesh beat them to the punch. That’s when things get REAL. A fight obviously breaks out between Gilgamesh and Illy’s servant, Heracles, the Beserker. And what a fight it is! Heracles has the power of Nine Lives, while Gilgamesh wields the Gate of Babylon. It ends up being far more one-sided than you were led to believe at the first encounter with Heracles, and it becomes readily apparent that Berserker has no chance of winning. Nearing the end, Gilgamesh ties Heracles in chains and holds him in the middle of the room. At this time, he sets his sights on Illy.
See, in all of this, Illyasviel von Einzbern still looks like a young girl. In truth, she’s a homunculus, created to be the perfect mage for a dying family line. But you really can’t separate her appearance from that of a child. She’s potentially 12 or 13 here, and that’s the line that the show crosses.
As Illy watches, hopelessly, her only guardian, Heracles standing trapped among the Chains of Heaven, Gilgamesh saunters across the room. He slowly pulls a sword from the Gate of Babylon, raises his hand, and cuts straight across Illy’s eyes. The only thing the girl wants at this point is to save Heracles so that he can save her. As she calls out for Berserker multiple times to no avail, Gilgamesh, cold to any emotion, pierces her through. She crumples to the ground, and yet the only thing she wants is to be with Heracles as she lay dying.
She slowly moves across the floor, searching the ground for just the touch of Heracles, so that she’ll know she’s still safe with him. She finally reaches his leg, and a depressing smile stretches across her mouth. That’s her sanctuary. Heracles was her only solace as she lay dying. In that brief moment, she feels content.
In a cruel punctuation to the end of the battle, Gilgamesh needs to rip out her heart for the catalyst necessary to build the Holy Grail. Just as he raises his hand, Heracles stirs one last time and gets dangerously close to smashing Gilgamesh into the dirt before being destroyed in an explosion of dust. Illy is oblivious to the whole thing as she grasps at a rock, thinking it to be Heracles. That one comfort she had now gone, she still finds some peace in the false belief that he’s still there with her.
In the end, you find that Heracles felt like a second father to her. He was there to protect her, and she had always hoped that he loved her as her father did. Just once, she wanted to be held. It was heartbreaking. It was this cruel moment in a show I thought was all about sweet battles and crazy twists. This moment, though, just broke my heart. I’m not even sure why it resonated so much, but it’s the one piece of media that’s stuck with me so vividly. It’s just this little girl putting full faith in her guardian. She absolutely knows that nothing can hurt her as long as he’s there, and yet she lay, bleeding out, clutching a rock thinking it’s her sanctuary.
If you read all of this and you haven’t seen the show, you still should, as this didn’t spoil all the best twists! There’s still plenty of greatness in Unlimited Blade Works, but this was just what hit me the hardest. At the same time, this was a sign that I had stumbled onto a wonderful anime that I wanted to share with anyone who hasn’t seen it. Find it now! Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works! It’s worth every gut-wrenching moment!