The First Steps of Fate.
Joy of joys, stuff actually happens in this episode! A moderate amount of stuff, at the very least, which is more than can be said for the first two episodes. Having been almost ready to start considering dropping this series altogether, actually having action and plot progression and conflict was a welcome relief.
Picking up some time after the second episode, this episode sees the Black Faction thrown into crisis when one of Avicebron's homunculi uses magic to escape his tank, being taken in by Astolfo and Chiron, who realise the homunculi only has three years to live at the very most. Meanwhile, Jeanne, the Ruler servant tasked with overseeing the war, arrives in Trifas, only to immediately be attacked by Lancer of Red, acting on Shirou's orders, resulting in a battle between Lancer of Red and Siegfried, the Saber of Black. Meanwhile, the Black Faction Masters discuss with their Servants what it is they want to wish for.
So, interestingly, despite the first episode (arguably the first two) setting the Black Faction up as our antagonists, with much of the action following Sisigou and Mordred, and with the Black Faction being shown as excessive, decadent, and full of disregard for human life, this episode firmly shunts them into being the story's protagonists.
Because three episodes in, we don't really know the Red Faction at all. We know Sisigou and Mordred, and we know Shirou, but we've not encountered any of the other Masters, really, and we've barely encountered the Servants -- and since Shirou is clearly evil, that leaves Sisigou and Mordred as our only Red Faction good guys, while in the Black Faction we have Fiore, Caule, Astolfo, Frankenstein, Chiron, Siegfried, and now the unnamed homunculus. This episode puts a lot of work into trying to humanise the Black Faction, or at least some of the Black Faction -- Darnic, Vlad, and Avicebron remain out and out villains, and Gorges, Celenike, and Roche are borderline cases at best.
This episode's two main plot threads are Jeanne and the homunculus -- and in Jeanne's plotline, most of the time is devoted to her being attacked by Lancer of Red (identified as Karna, one of the central characters in the Mahabharata), the subsequent duel between Lancer of Red and Saber of Black, and crucially, her position of neutrality, something that seems to rankle Gordes more than a little bit. It seems likely that before long the Black Faction is going to join the Red Faction in wanting her out of the way.
|Jeanne, and her nice m-shaped helmet.|
That storyline also gives us one of our first real action scenes, a short duel between Siegfried and Karna, and it's -- okay, I suppose? It's clear throughout that, rather than pushing their own style, A-1 Pictures is trying to mimic Ufotable with half the budget and probably half the animators, and the result is something that doesn't really look like either studio, and is just a bit messy. Throughout the not-quite-minute-long fight, it's difficult to tell what's meant to be happening, who's meant to have the upper hand, or even what the abilities of the combatants are, and that means it lacks any kind of impact or weight.
The second big plotline for this episode is the unnamed homunculus breaking out of its tank and eventually being taken in by Astolfo. It's a slower, more sedate storyline than Jeanne's, but it introduces us to a character who's clearly going to be important (he is, after all, on the poster), and it provides some major humanising moments for Astolfo, as he sees the homunculus to safety and enlists Chiron's help in looking after him, seemingly entirely out of the goodness of his heart.
We also get a nice moment with Sisigou and Mordred, with the two of them bonding and Sisigou even going so far as calling Mordred 'my king.' So, that was nice. Those two and their partnership really are shaping up to be the highlight of this show. That scene also has the two of them discovering that Berserker of Red is advancing on Trifas, and since all the characters now seem to be in Romania (when did that happen?), chances are that Sisigou and Mordred are going to try to stop him, while it looks like Avicebron, Vlad, and Darnic are planning to try to capture and enslave him.
That's potentially a pretty good set-up for the next episode, but we'll see if the show manages to follow through on that. Needless to say, it has not, thus far, been all that impressive, and it needs to kick into gear pretty soon. While this was certainly the strongest episode so far, I remain distinctly underwhelmed with this show, and it is decidedly not showing the rest of the Type-Moon franchise in a strong light.
Still, roll on next week, I suppose.