When Your Dreams Dissolve into a Barren Wasteland [OWLS Blog Tour]

Hello everyone! Today’s a special day at Archi-Anime, as it’s my March tour stop on the OWLS blog tour. Just a friendly reminded that OWLS: Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect, is a group that hope to spread the important message of respect and kindness to every human being. Our monthly blog tours that reflect this message of tolerance and self-acceptance, through various analysis of the anime medium; although it is not limited to anime.

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This month’s topic is Sanctuary:

A sanctuary is a place of safety and stability. In anime, there are several different places and environments that characters call “home.” For this topic, we will be discussing various locations and settings within certain anime series.

At first, I didn’t think I was going to participate in this month’s tour, I was kind of fresh out of ideas. Until a member asked if it had to be a physical place; that triggered my memory of this anime.

As our prompts suggest a “sanctuary” represents a home, a safe haven of sorts.  A place you can return to when things get rough. A place to come to sort yourself out. It’s original meaning is a sacred place, like a shrine, for example.

But what if your “sanctuary” represented something more than something ‘safe’. What if your sanctuary served as a place to remind yourself of your ideals and dreams; not just dreams, but your failed attempts at following your ideals and dreams. A shrine dedicated to a constant reminder of your dreams dissolving to dust. You’re probably asking me how in the world is that a sanctuary? How does that help an individual grow?

For this month’s tour I’m looking at Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. Now, this is probably going to be a huge spoiler to those who have not seen it. So, if you care or don’t, that’s up to you to decide.

The focus on this analysis will be on Archer and Shirou Emiya. In UBW Archer is shown to be the antagonist halfway through the second season; betraying Rin Tohsaka, his master. Archer is summoned as a servant/heroic spirit by Rin to go to battle in the Holy Grail War. However, Archer is not really a heroic spirit like most of the other servants, and shows up with particular circumstances. I want to look at Archer and the world he’s created and why I consider it to be his “sanctuary,” and how this affects Shirou Emiya.

How Archer Came to Be

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Archer followed the path of wanting to become a “Hero of Justice”, where instead of fighting for others, or for oneself, a hero of justice fights for a concept like: benevolence, justice, loyalty, and love in which they believe. Archer’s wish was to save everyone in the world, similar to what his adoptive Father had believed. At some point, he realizes that he can’t accomplish his goals. He’s put into a position in which he has to kill. “The world” offers him a chance to save them all by entering a contract in which the world will give him powers to produce miracles as well as make him a “heroic spirit.”

While he was able to save those people and save even more, he was branded as the master mind behind the entire war and was executed by whom he thought was allies. Even after all this, he didn’t have it in him to hate mankind. Ironically, “the world” assigns him the role of “counter guardian” in which he appears at world events where he must kill humanity when in humanity is on the threshold of complete self-destruction. After seeing human self-destruction and forced to oppose his own ideals countless times, he began to deny himself and his ideal. Coming to the conclusion that the best way for him to be released from this vicious cycle would be to be summoned to the time and place in which his past self existed and kill his past self before he could make the pact, in hopes that this paradox would essentially erase his existence as a counter guardian.

It’s revealed that Archer and Shirou Emiya are one in the same. Archer is what Shirou will become if he continues to follow his ideals to a tee. Throughout the series, Shirou and Archer are always at odds against one another because Archer will always tell Shirou that his ideals are flawed and full of hypocrisy.

Archer’s Sanctuary

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Archer doesn’t have a “Noble Phantasm” as most heroic spirits do. For instance, Saber is King Arthur, who is associated with Excalibur.  Archer/Shirou was first and foremost a mage. He’s able to project any weapon almost perfectly once he’s laid his eyes upon it.

A reality marble as defined by Rin on the show is, “a forbidden spell that manifests the caster’s inner world and encroaches on reality.” Whenever Archer recites an incantation the reality marble is brought forth and he can bring whomever he wants inside it. Archer’s reality marble is called “Unlimited Blade Works,” it reproduces and stores any weapon that he looks at. It is also his ‘sanctuary’.

I mentioned earlier that after he died, he became a “counter guardian” having to obey whatever ‘the world’ told him to. Voluntarily sacrificing his afterlife, he would go on to save more people because that’s what his ideal as a hero. But he ended up killing one for the sake of many. Then it became a continuous cycle because even though he killed to save, there would always be more to kill and more to save. He realized that his ideals as Shirou Emiya were just shallow idealism, because it’s impossible to save everyone.

His reality marble becomes his sanctuary, a wasteland that reminds him of the countless weapons he’s laid his eyes upon as he’s gone through this afterlife killing people and other heroic spirits. The hill is his world, and essentially what his life has amounted to. Has he achieved his goals? Did he succeed in what he sought? He never once saw his ideal come to fruition, as he ended up killing those that he had promised to save at one point. This sanctuary becomes a reflection of Archer’s regrets throughout life, and a painful reminder of how his ideals has led him to a bleak desolate life of violence.

Archer’s wasteland becomes Shirou’s strength

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After Archer exposes his true identity as Shirou’s future self, he shows Shirou what’s to become of him by dragging him into Unlimited Blade Works. He let’s him see the wasteland that awaits him if he doesn’t abandon his ideals. Archer reminds him that his ideals are borrowed from his Father, not something he himself has always believed. He only believed in the beauty of what his father believed.

Shirou makes up his mind that despite that he’s being shown his future. Seeing the barren wasteland doesn’t deter Shirou’s path. Shirou acknowledges that this ideals are flawed, but realizes that Archer has forgotten something really important about their ideal. That even though his ideals were built on admiration of his Father’s dreams, Archer had forgotten that it was his Father’s unfulfilled wish that created the dream; his own dream to undo the hell that had been created from the grail wars.

He tells Archer that he will become a “true hero of justice” even if his life will be full of hypocrisy, he will never regret the decision he’s made, and that is what will make him different than Archer. He has resolved that this choice in life will not be a mistake, and will fight the part of him that Archer will represent.

Now that Shirou has realized he has access to Unlimited Blade Works, Shirou uses it in future battle as his asset. It had become something that Archer came to loathe because of what it served as a reminder of. While Shirou also sees it as Archer’s reminders of failed ideals; he continues to use it as a reminder to not stray from his ideals.

Final Thoughts

It’s interesting to study Archer and Shirou as they’re essentially looking at a part of themselves that has existed and will come to exist; but there’s no way to save either of them.

Archer is representative of that part of ourselves in which we could go back in time to tell the younger part of ourselves that we’ve made a mistake. Shirou is actually given that chance; but he insists that he will still continue on the path he’s already set. Sure Shirou is being stubborn about the whole thing, but to put it in another perspective, it’s like when our parents try to prevent us from making our own mistakes by giving us advice of what they did in certain situations, but most of the time we won’t listen because in order to learn we have to learn it for ourselves.

Although Shirou doesn’t accept Archer’s regrets and beliefs, he does acknowledge that Archer is responsible for showing him how his ideals are indeed flawed, and helps him to remember and to realize what he wants to fight for, and what kind of “hero of justice” he should be. So in a sense Shirou’s beliefs are re-adjusted to fit more what he wants to believe rather than to believe in the belief that his Father had once carried.

My interpretation of Unlimited Blade Works is that, although, this reality marble was something created to house magical projections of swords, it also served as a sanctuary of Archer’s failures. It was a place of reflection and a place of mourning for his ideals. The objects are physical manifestations that would adorn an actual shrine.

In the end, finding sanctuary in your failures isn’t a bad thing. It’s good to reflect on your past and learn from your mistakes. Shirou was able to accept his flaws of his ideals that were representative of Unlimited Blade Works. He saw Unlimited Blade Works as something to help strengthen his ideal since it gave him the tools he needed to fight. We can always find something in our past that will allow us to become a stronger person the way that Archer did it for Shirou.


That wraps up my March blog tour and my interpretation of ‘Sanctuary’. I hope I was able to get my ideas across with Shirou and Archer. Their sanctuary served two different purposes for them even though their end game ended differently.

There are quite a few more posts coming up left from the rest of the OWLS members. Please be on the lookout for Nick’s post over at Chasing Japan.

And check out these previous posts from other OWLS members this past week:
A Figure Skater’s Sanctuary
LynLyn : Amamizukan, The Sanctuary in Princess Jellyfish
VENUS: A HOME AWAY FROM HOME – WHAT SANCTUARY MEANT FOR A ZOLDYCK

Also, if you haven’t don’t forget to follow us on facebook as well as our twitter @OWLSbloggers and our official blog.  And if you’re interested in becoming an OWLS member, you can contact us here.