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Thoth's Thoughts: Unlimited Blade Works.
Sat Aug 11, 2018 8:41pm

An, uncertain, shadowy fight, with countless lives hanging the balance. In a world of grey morals, an idealist faces against both reality and hardened cynicism from those that surround him, joining his heroic ally in a battle that may well decise the fate of the world while the story asks us to ponder what it really means to be a hero.

I am, of course, talking about DC Comics' classic series, Watchmen.

...What's that you say, that summary also neatly describes Fate Stay/Night: Unlimited Blade Works, a third of the well-known visual novel (adapted into an excellent anime by ufotable) which I recently finished reading and is also in the title of this post? Well shpx. Guess I better talk about that, too.

Yes, it's a double header. These series have some similarities, and I want to talk about it. Starting with Unlimited Blade Works, the brighter and happier of the two series. Which tells you a lot about Watchmen.

Unlimited Blade Works is one of the approximate one million and five installations in the popular Fate franchise and also one path through the visual novel that started it all. They're both the same story, don't worry.

For those of you unfamiliar with Fate, it's about 7-way Battle Royale between mages for the Holy Grail, a magical item that can grant one wish. Each mage is assisted by one "servant," a legendary hero from the past. Except it's actually way more complicated than that, but eh, close enough.

We follow Shirou Emiya, a shiny-eyed idealist who one day dreams of becoming a hero as he accidentally winds up a member of the fight with a servant of his own. He has basic combat skills, so little magical talent that I legally can't call him a mage, and his only major ability for the majority of the story is a stubborn refusal to die, no matter how much he really should have. Did I mention he's also registering 0.9 Chagnys on the Hero Stupidity Scale?

So yeah. Aside from the unique, interesting world and decently developed characters, one of Fate's main tricks is throwing a shiny-eyed Shonen protagonist into a shadowy world of grey morality and beating the crap out of him. Shirou has a childlike perspective on heroism, and his dream is to save everyone, no matter how impossible that might be. He also has a cripplingly low self-worth as a result of childhood trauma and is thus entirely willing to throw aside his life to save another. The arc of Unlimited Blade Works is all about throwing those childish ideals into question, and forcing Shirou to really examine himself, and ask if his ideals are really the right ones.

...Which brings us to Watchmen.

Watchmen's Shirou analogue in terms of idealism is a half-mad (if not full-mad) hyper-reactionary who goes by the name of Rorschach. He thinks of sex as inherently filthy and amoral and has absolutely no qualms about killing people to deliver justice. He also serves double-duty as a mockery of Steve Ditko's philosophically objectivist heroes, and while some of his suspicions are right and he serves as a viewpoint character for much of the comic, he's never shown as something to aspire to.

Dang. Well that's a different tone.

As a sidenote, it's worth noting that despite being a very negative portrayal of the far right, Rorschach is Ted Cruz's favorite superhero. Because art is dead, the world is a bleak comedy, and Ted Cruz is somehow always the punchline.

But I digress. The point of this is that Watchmen goes to some dark places. Like, off the bat. The first superhero in this world is a gay BDSM klansman or something. Sadly, that's not a joke. Although it feels a lot more tastful and less for the shock value in the actual comic.

I mean, if I had to guess how this cast came to be, I'd say that Alan Moore asked himself what kind of people would dress themselves up in brightly colored spandex and beat up and/or shoot up criminals, and the answer he came up with was "really twisted ones." So it seems like almost every single character in Watchmen is at least somewhat disturbed. At least a little.

But if nothing else, Watchmen definitely had a lot to say. And... dangit, I can't TALK about how it questions the concepts of superheroes or looks at the same sort of idealism Fate does, or how much just interesting stuff there is because I don't want to spoil it.

I don't want to spoil either of these. They're definitely worth reading. Or in the case of Blade Works, watching. Don't watch Watchmen, though. It's not as good.

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