Before their duel can properly begin Saber picks up on a passive ability of Lancer’s which infatuates any woman who chances to look upon it, his Mystic Face taking the form of the mole on his cheek. However due to the Saber classes high Magical Resistance and Irisviel’s own skill as a Magus, it has no effect, and so the clash of sword and spear begins.
Yet as they strike both of them are still quite reluctant to go out on the offensive, Saber because she doesn’t know which one of his spears is his Noble Phantasm or even what it can do, and Lancer because of Saber’s sword being hidden by one of her Noble Phantasms, Invisible Air. Unable to properly gauge Saber’s reach as she meets him blow for blow. At this point Kiritsugu and Maiya have also taken action by searching for Lancer’s Master, however while Kiritsugu is able to locate Kayneth due to his earlier suspicion about Assassin’s demise proving true, he’s unable to go in for the kill without revealing his location.
Aside from that, by seeing through the Assassin he had observing the duel Kirei reports the details to Tokiomi, who tells him to keep a cafeful eye on Irisviel. By now however Saber and Lancer’s duel has reached a standpoint with them both honouring the chance to meet such an opponent, until at least Kayneth orders Lancer to use his Noble Phantasm, releasing the seal upon his long red spear, Gae Dearg as he drops his short golden spear in favour of wielding it with both hands. And this time when they clash, even just for a fraction of a second, Gae Dearg dispels her Invisible Air, and as she foresees her chance to cut it down Saber finds herself cut instead, the spear having slipped through her Prana infused armour. Realising all too late that Gae Dearg dispels Prana.
Leaving her with no other choice but to discard her armour with the intention of using the Prana that would have been spent on for a boost in power while utilising Invisible Air to propel herself forward, allowing her to close the gap and cut him down, however in doing this she’s played into Lancer’s hands. Having entirely forgotten about his second golden short spear, she leaves herself completely open to a strike from Gae Buidhe. Leaving Saber with a particularly nasty cut along her left arm, and while Irisviel was able to heal her past injuries with ease, she finds herself unable to heal those dealt by Gae Buidhe. On the bridge at this point Rider prepares to make his move, other than fitting in with his ways as the King of Conquerors he wants to have a match with every Heroic Spirit this Holy Grail War has offered, wanting the duel to carry out until the other’s are drawn in as well.
Yet it’s from this cut that Saber is able to figure out Lancer’s true identity, with his Mystic Face and his two Noble Phantasms revealed she recognises him as a warrior of the Fianna, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne or Diarmuid of the Love Spot, and while he doesn’t announce it for everyone to hear he figures out her true identity as well, considering himself honoured to be able to keep up with her. However as the two exchange words of praise with one another in preparation for the chance to finally duel honourably, Rider smashes in on the Gordius Wheel, declaring his class, and identity as the almighty Alexander the Great, King of Conquerors. Much to Waver’s dismay.
After three episodes of preparation and exposition it’s just great to finally start to move forward and into the actual war itself, and for the point to do this nothing could have been more befitting than the duel between Saber and Lancer. With the fast paced, high tension match between them serving as the perfect curtain raiser.
Or at least of the beginning of it anyway. Regardless though, the action in this episode was great, truly being an aspect where Ufotable proved their worth as the studio producing it and shined. Sure there may have been some complaints about the lack of movement in the first few episodes, but right from the start the animation for the fight between Saber and Lancer was fast yet fluid. Working to make the duel itself between them fast paced when it needed to be and incredibly tense, as the two clashed there was a feeling of life and death, a stalemate where even one wrong move could spell disaster and instant defeat.
Of course however it goes without saying that when Lancer activated even one of his Noble Phantasms this stalemate broke, as a Servant’s trump card it’s the simplest thing they’re capable of doing, once he activated Gae Dearg he clearly had the advantage. Making use of its abilities to not only properly gauge Excalibur’s range but also coerce Saber right to where he needed her, leaving her open to his second spear Gae Buidhe. However while you could call the tactics that he used dirty, when you think about it they were actually fairly smart, in order to land one crucial blow he dropped Gae Buidhe and amongst all of the fast paced clashes, he still managed to carefully manoeuver himself back over there without Saber even having a clue as to what he was up to. However as skilled as this made him out to be, in going all out he may have revealed too much, as obscure as Diarmuid is his identity is still pretty much out in the open now, exposing both his strengths and his weaknesses to everyone who knows it. Aside from that I’m slightly disappointed we didn’t get to hear a rendition of Lancer’s theme play.
In contrast to Lancer’s eagerness to use his Noble Phantasms as Kayneth gave him permission to, Saber on the other hand was quite reluctant, refusing to yield even the smallest detail of her own Noble Phantasm(s) so early into the war unless she absolutely had to. Yet while she may have given up the upper hand in doing this, considering how high profile and easy to figure out her true identity is, it was probably a wise move even if it did put her at risk of being defeated before she could even have a chance to use her Noble Phantasm. That said it was great to see and get an idea of how she fought without it, utilising both skill and pure instinct to foresee and defend against what ever attacks Lancer threw at her. However if there was one thing that I was disappointed about, it was that we didn’t get a rendition by Yuki Kajiura of Sword of Promised Victory as well, as Saber’s theme music it would have been perfect at the moment she decided to gamble everything on one strike. That said though, if she does end up doing a rendition of it perhaps it’s being saved for a more opportune moment. Like when she actually uses Excalibur for the first time.