Posted by: panzer magier | July 28, 2016

Unlimited Blade Works: Elegy of an Unsung Hero [Part 1]

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When I came across Fate/Stay Night 10 years ago (yes it’s been that long), the show was cool, Archer was cool, UBW was cool, and I had no fucking idea what I just watched, but it was cool, and I was content with just that. Now that I am a little older and (arguably) wiser, I want to rewind life a little and clear up one of the biggest mindfucks in the NASUverse: the engrish chant of UBW.

I wanted to cover all versions of UBW in this post, then I realized that this post is getting too.fucking.long. So it is going to be a trilogy, because you can never go wrong with a trilogy, except maybe when part 2 and/or 3 of said trilogy never get released… See part 1 below!

[Insert Obvious Spoiler Tags Here]

Before I get into tl;dr, I have to confess that I did not read the original VN because [reasons], and only watched the first season of the UBW TV adaption because I am still baiting my breath for that BD release from UTW. BAITING. BREATH. Hence, this analysis is based largely on my experience with studio DEEN’s F/SN and UBW adaption, Fate/Zero, what little bit of Archer’s route that I covered in Fate/EXTRA, and general fandom on the web. A lot of quotes will be drawn from the Typemoon Wikia. Here we go!

Archer UBW

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Before we proceed further, we need some background information to make sense of this mess. !Spoiler Alert! Archer is future Shirou, from a different dimension. To fulfill his wish of being a hero, he made a contract with the world to give him the power to save, but the contract doomed him to be summoned time and time again to save humanity. Save he did, but to save thousands he had to kill hundreds, to save millions he had to kill thousands, and humanity never thanked him for it.

 I am the bone of my sword
Steel is my body and fire is my blood
I have created over a thousand blades
Unknown to Death, Nor known to Life
Have withstood pain to create many weapons
Yet, those hands will never hold anything
So as I pray, unlimited blade works.

Archer is everything that was not meant to be, and yet here he is. He dreamed of being a hero, saving lives, protecting smiles. To that end, he sacrificed everything to attain that strength, and the world answered his wish. But to what end? Let’s take this in small strides.

 I am the bone of my sword
Steel is my body and fire is my blood

Archer’s chant largely serves two purposes: a description of his ability, and his sentiment towards his past. The weapons he creates are drawn from his well of knowledge and mana, making the weapons very much a part of his being. But it also represents the affirmation to his belief; Archer fights with his conviction, the strength of his beliefs channeling directly into his veins. Interestingly, the Japanese text gives a different spin:

血潮は鉄で心は硝子。

“His blood is of iron and his heart of glass”

The contrast of steel and glass is telling of his fragility in that, despite his incredible outer strength, he is very much sentimental and possesses a wavering conviction. Not only does he have to make a conscious choice to sacrifice the few to save many, those who he save often do not even treat him as their savior. He fights on, because that is his contract with the world, but with no solace to be found anywhere. At this point, all fangirls go wild. But we barely even covered two lines, so trudge on we must.

I have created over a thousand blades
Unknown to Death, Nor known to Life

Not going to lie, this quote makes absolutely no sense out of context. It is much more digestible when read with its Japanese text:

幾たびの戦場を越えて不敗。
ただの一度も敗走はなく、
ただの一度も理解されない。

“He survived through countless battles
Not even once retreating
Not even once being understood”

Again, the lines make reference to his ability to create seemingly unlimited swords. More importantly though, the lines attest to his empty struggles through time. Every blade he creates is a part of his endeavor, and every victory he attains gives him no satisfaction. He does not know death, because he has never lost a battle, nor does he know life, because he continues to be empty inside.

Have withstood pain to create many weapons
Yet, those hands will never hold anything

Almost makes me want to stick a video of Kojima’s Death Stranding. You know what scene I am talking about. Again though, this line makes more sense along its Japanese counterpart.

彼の者は常に独り
剣の丘で勝利に酔う。
故に、生涯に意味はなく

“He was always alone
Intoxicated with victory in a hill of swords
Thus, his life has no meaning”

Interestingly enough, the lines appear to have little commonalities on the surface, but is rather voicing a deeper aspect of Archer’s mentality. If you have watched the anime adaptions, you have surely  seen portrayals of Archer standing atop a hill with swords lined all over it. While such portrayal speaks much about Archer’s lonely struggle, and defines much of the reason behind UBW’s scenery, the most important notion is  probably “intoxicated with victory”. I personally quite like the choice of word “intoxicated”, as if victory is somehow harmful to Archer’s being. It quite well is.  He fights, he bleeds, he kills, and he saves lives… and then what? He became a heroic spirit to fight for his justice, but the result never lines up with his belief. His good intention is paved upon an endless path of carnage, an inconsistency that forever pricks his heart. Perhaps, if his heart had been made of steel as well, he would not be so affected by the contradiction, but he is kinder than anyone, his heart made of glass, and he is torn apart by the reality that he is forced to bask in… forever. And thus, his life has no meaning, because the purpose of his existence is a living hypocrisy to the very reason he became a hero. A hero he became, but not of justice, at least not Emiya’s justice.

So as I pray, unlimited blade works.

その体は、きっと剣で出来ていた。

“That body was certainly made out of swords”

And now we come to, what I personally believe to be, the most interesting line in Archer’s entire chant. The Japanese text here is, oddly enough, the most bland and straight forward thus far… or so we might be lead to believe. The key word here is “pray”. Why is Archer offering a prayer? Possibly, because he just recited a magical incantation, which is like a prayer of sorts. But what I am gunning for is, per Oxford Dictionary, “Wish or hope strongly for a particular outcome or situation”. Archer wishes to remain resolute to his belief, in spite of the denial the world has set against him. He wants to hang onto his ideal of justice, with all of its hypocrisy, and fight onward the endless battle. He wishes to become his blade of justice, never retreating and firm as iron. UBW is not an elegy to his suffering – it is a testament to his trial of becoming the hero of justice.

… Then again, he eventually decides to go back in time to kill his past self in a futile attempt to end his suffering once and for all, which is why Archer is such a delicious character. Marry me Archer <3.

Next part in the UBW trilogy: Shiro, Coming Soon(TM)

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