I should preface this particular entry by saying that theory crafting isn’t something I consider a personal strength. I have been known, on plenty of occasions, to miss something that is blatantly obvious to 99.99% of people in favour of something that’s much more unlikely and often, ludicrous. I really hope that the handful of theories that I’ll be bringing up today don’t fall into that category, especially since I’ve actually spent a little bit of time thinking them through. That said, I strongly suspect that I’m going to end up with copious amounts of egg on my face in the next couple of weeks when the series actually does reveal Archer’s identity and it’s something that I’ve missed all along. Alternatively, it’ll reveal that I was spot on and I can enjoy a nice long shoulder patting session as I congratulate myself on my keen insight and attention to peculiar detail. Given the odds though, it’s most probably going to be the former.
In case the title didn’t make it clear enough, this particular post will not be covering any particular episode, but instead will just be discussing the burning question of just who Archer, from the anime adaptation of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, is. In the interest of keeping this post organized and vaguely read-able, here’s how I’ve structured it:
- Introduction (which you’re currently reading)
- What we know so far
- About Archer
- About the 4th Holy Grail War
- The Sins of the Father Theory ™
- What it explains
- What it doesn’t
- Alternative hypotheses
- The Chosen Bloodline theory
- The Terminator theory
Despite what the outline above indicates, this won’t be a crazy long post (I don’t actually have a whole lot of good ideas, as it turns out) and unfortunately, I can’t hyperlink to sections within posts, but I’ve bolded the headlines so if you want to jump to any particular section, feel free.
By way of introduction, let me explain why this post is even a thing. The anime, so far at least, has a whole host of unanswered questioned, and if some of them are more pressing than the question of who Archer is, it doesn’t feel that way. The reason that the red cloaked, armour bowman is so fascinating is because he is such an anti-villain; there have been a handful of occasions on which it has seemed clear that he is not an evil or cruel character but he is also clearly an antagonist in this story. The series has dropped a fair number of hints about his past and some of the things he says is enough to make anyone’s plot prediction sense tingle but despite that, it’s not 100% clear who he is. I’ll save anyone wondering a lot of worry right here: by the end of this post, we will be no closer to figuring it out. However, if, like me, you enjoy the tinfoil laden journey as more than the predetermined destination, then let’s see just how deep this rabbit hole really goes.
What We Know So Far: Archer
Hints regarding Archer’s past have been numerous but scattered. In trying to keep this organized, I’ve tried my best to start from the top and then work my way down to the more recent episodes but feel free to let me know what I’ve missed. The most solid clue that we’ve been given so far comes from a dream Rin had in episode 10:
The series of images in that flashback implies that Archer was alive in a vaguely medieval time period. The image above would indicate that he was killed at the hands of a king and didn’t die in battle but rather, was betrayed and killed unexpectedly. Admittedly, that’s a lot to read into a single set of images but it would certainly go some way in explaining Archer’s general cynicism and bitterness. Depending on how accurate the flashback is, Archer could be from any era from the 400s to the 1400s – the armour and the attire doesn’t really seem like it belongs to any specific time period. There are also images of people being hung, presumably Archer’s comrades, based on his reaction which would imply that Archer lived long enough to see his friends killed before him. Funnily enough, this puts a question mark over his insistence in episode 6 that he died a fulfilled and satisfied with his life. Apart from his brief history, we also know that he has an intimate knowledge of weaponry but that doesn’t really help us narrow the field in any meaningful way.
Our next major development comes in episode 12 when Rin reveals that she knows that Archer knows Saber. Furthermore, it’s clear that it isn’t just Saber that Archer remembers but also Fujimura, Shirou’s eccentric teacher and adoptive sister (sort of). Knowing a young female knight (who might be Joan of Arc) and another totally unrelated young girl a few hundred years later is bizarre. Why should Archer, who is clearly a goal-oriented individual, to say the least, care about this particular bystander? More than just his knowledge of these characters existence, there’s also his relationship with them – Archer knows Saber well enough to get a rise out of her when they meet after Rider’s death and defeat and he is mention of Fujimura seems a lot like, dare I say it, concern. It isn’t just these two women that Archer is familiar with; there’s strong evidence that he knows a lot about Shirou too – he knows his magic style and more tellingly, he knows his philosophy and state of mind. Really, it would be weird to say that Archer doesn’t know him, especially since Archer has it in for him in a way that a simple difference of opinion cannot explain. Lastly, we know that Saber sensed a ‘purity’ in him.
What We Know So Far: 4th Holy Grail War
Our information regarding this prior war is considerably more patchy compared even to what little we know about Archer. The War concluded when Shirou was around five years old, which would mean is took place about a decade prior to the current timeline. We are almost certainly sure that Emiya Kiritsugu, Shirou’s adoptive father, took part in that War and moreover, we can reasonably sure that he did something that put the War in a state of limbo. Kotomine Kirei, who also took part in the previous War, is still incensed that Kiritsugu didn’t claim the Grail as he was supposed to and seems to still hold a grudge. We can safely theorize that Kiritsugu’s act of rejecting the Grail led to the sequence of events that caused the great fire in the middle of the city, the very same fire that Kiritsugu then rescued Shirou from. We know that Kiritsugu had some sort of intimate connection with the Einzberns – Ilya (RIP) didn’t just remember him, she very clearly knew him personally. In fact, it’s heavily implied that Kiritsugu is Ilya’s father and that his rejection of the Grail represented a betrayal of not only the Einzbern clan (which he doesn’t seem to be a part of) but Ilya too and hence her resentment towards him and, indirectly, Shirou. Finally, we know that Rin’s father, a Tohsaka of some kind, was also a participant but most likely, an unsuccessful one.
In terms of Servants, we know that Saber was involved – she says so directly – though she don’t know who she fought for. We also know that the Saber class has reached the ‘finals’ of the War in previous iterations which means that she should at least know of Kiritsugu, or even know him personally. However, she doesn’t seem to ever indicate that she remembers him though she is careful about avoid Kirei’s church in episode 2. That’s enough for us to suspect that Saber was possibly Kirei’s Servant and is now avoiding him because he wasn’t exactly a good man the last time. Still, it’s strange that she hasn’t filled the others in on what she knows of these people; after all, some intel is better than no intel.
The Sins of the Father Theory
Alright, so, let’s start piecing this together and let’s go backwards. Saber, as a finalist, is avoiding one contestant (Kirei) but doesn’t know anything about the other (Kiritsugu) so I think it’s safe to assume that Saber was Kirei’s Servant. Who was Kiritsugu’s Servant? We don’t know but let’s take a look at Archer (from the 5th War). So, the way this particular theory goes is as follows:
- Archer is summoned as Kiritsugu’s Servant. Kiritsugu’s saint-like attitude clashes with Archer’s ruthlessness but despite that the two works things out between them and somehow make it to the finals.
- During this time, Archer becomes very familiar with Kiritsugu’s philosophy and moral compass.
- Fujimura, who was probably just a kid at the time, hung around Kiritsugu a lot and Archer developed a fatherly affection for her.
- Archer faces Saber in the ‘final’ battle
- Archer wins or Kiritsugu somehow gets to the Grail but tries to destroy it, for whatever reason. Archer, who might have wanted the Grail, is horrified and feels betrayed and swears vengeance.
- At some point, Archer faces Rin’s father in battle at some point and maybe kills him, maybe doesn’t
Crazy stuff, right? It definitely is, but let me try to explain why it works.
What It Explains
The one thing this theory easily explains is why Archer knows Saber, Fujimura and Shirou. Of course, Shirou was ‘adopted’ only after the War, but Archer, knowing Kiritsugu well, could have extrapolated and figured out more about Shirou than we suspected. The clash between Servant and Master was inevitable given the differences between Archer and Kiritsugu’s personalities. It could be that Kiritsugu was horrified at causing the fire that killed so many people and that Archer’s last sight before he died in the last War was an emotionally distraught Kiritsugu and as a result, he now wants Shirou out of the War to keep the same from happening to him.
Where does Rin’s father come into it? Well, we haven’t talked about a certain pendant. Rin’s father gave that pendant to her but we don’t know when exactly that happened. It could have happened at the very beginning of the war, or at the very end. If Archer saw the pendant, which was supposed to powerful enough to let Rin heal Shirou back from the dead (effectively) he could have known enough to piece together the pendant he found on Shirou was something important to Rin. Of course, that doesn’t really why Shirou has a second copy.
What It Doesn’t Explain
There are some pretty big problems with this theory. First of all, there is the matter of Archer having exactly the same magic as Shirou. By all rights, Archer really shouldn’t know anything about Shirou beyond what he knows of Kiritsugu. There’s a limit to what ‘like father, like son’ explains in this context and Shirou’s projection magic is well beyond that limit. Now, we know that magic is generally passed through lineage which would mean Shirou didn’t inherit his from Kiritsugu, so there is really no way for Archer to know what Shirou is capable of, and especially no reason for him to know it that well. Also, if Archer knows Saber from facing off against her in the last War, how come she doesn’t recognize him back? Sure, it seems she doesn’t really seem to recognize anything but there is something fishy going on there too.
Alternative Theory: The Chosen Bloodline
This has already gotten a lot longer than I intended so I’ll wrap this up quickly. One other idea, which I’m personally not too fond of, is the idea of Shirou being a ‘chosen one’ of sorts. This answers two of the above flaws and isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive with my main theory. Essentially, Archer is an ancestor of Shirou’s, by pure coincidence. I hate coincidental things like this as much as anyone but it would definitely explain the identical magic that they both use. The reason I don’t like this is because it turns Shirou from a normal person to some sort of special character for no reason. Also, at this stage in the story it would be extremely random for Archer to reveal himself as Shirou’s distant ancestor. Furthermore, the inheritance of the spells doesn’t seem to be an automatic, natural process; the senior mage must presumably select an heir before passing away which would surely rule this theory out. I wouldn’t even have mentioned it except that there was an episode where it was stated that Shirou was a pretty good archer (he was in the Archery club until Shinji bullied him out or something). It could be a throwaway line or it could be foreshadowing but if it’s the latter then there isn’t nearly enough of it.
Alternative Theory: The ‘Kill the PTSD kid, save the world’ theory aka the Terminator Theory
This particular theory is again not necessarily mutually exclusive with the other two but as we will see, it’s a little ridiculous to expect them all to be true simultaneously. This theory focuses on something we haven’t talked about – Archer’s status as a Protector (Guardian?). As instructed, I spent some time returning to episode 13 (first episode of this season) and looking at Rin’s last Archer related dream in which she realizes that he is a Guardian, who is called to save mankind from themselves. It isn’t entirely clear if that is the extent of his backstory or whether his presence in this 5th Grail War (or his possible involvement in the 4th) is part of his duty as a Guardian. However, given how similar yet different his personal philosophy is to Shirou’s (you could argue that he thought very similarly to Shirou until it all went wrong), it would seem like Archer is fixated on Shirou as a way of preventing some kind of calamity. The trouble is, Shirou is pretty innocent here – not only is he not dangerous at the moment, he also doesn’t seem like the ‘take over the world’ types that Archer has been summoned to kill. It would be very Terminator-esque, if that were the case but also a bit of stretch to imagine how Shirou could end up so crazy powerful that he could be a threat to mankind. The only way that could be possible was if there was an insanely powerful artefact that grants its owner any wish…and if Shirou was mentally broken enough that he could actually think something extreme would actually be saving mankind instead of hurting…but neither is the case, so clearly, this theory isn’t on to anything. In all seriousness though, it would take some weird combo of the main theory and this one to explain all the various pieces of information.
Ok, so that was a lot longer than I intended it to be and I apologize. It was a fun ride though and now I’m really, really looking forward to see if I was right (however unlikely) but this is as good a time to say this: in the end, I’m not convinced if it matters who Archer is, so much as it does why he’s doing what he’s doing. You’ll realize that in all this theorizing, I haven’t once made any guesses about what Heroic Spirit Archer is because I don’t think it matters at all. I mean, say he’s a famous archer from some place and time in history – it’s still irrelevant until you add the context of why he’s after Shirou and how he knows what he knows about the other characters. Still, I don’t want to be accused to false advertising, so I’ll give it one, half-hearted attempt: Robin Hood. He’s medieval, his legend is extremely famous and I believe he was executed once the good king’s younger brother took the throne.