[Anime] Fate/Zero: Grail Dialogue (S1E11)


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So, after last week’s detour, we find ourselves back in the thick of proper war related things. When we last saw our characters, we were moving firmly away from the set-up part of the story and strongly towards the meaty, moving parts. Kirei’s overall irritation and dissatisfaction with Tokiomi’s way of doing things has been building up and he looks like he could make move at any moment while Kiritsugu had set off to settle things once and for all with Kayneth. Kayneth, it should be noted, once again proved that age old story telling truism – if something seems OP in act 1, prepare to see  it get its ass kicked in act 2. That little saying definitely holds true in the larger Fate-universe – FSN Caster and Berserker are good examples but so is Gilgamesh if you think about it. Kayneth for all his talk of nine generations of magic, isn’t doing so good and his life is in the hands of a wife who doesn’t particularly care and a Servant who lacks proper leadership. Elsewhere, the hunt for Caster, despite being initiated several episodes ago, has yet to be concluded; it feels like whatever urgency the characters felt in capturing Caster has died down pretty sharply over the course of the last couple of episodes; it used to be priority number one but now it feels like it’s more of a ‘nice-to-have’ than a must.

The opening scene shows Rider charging right towards the Einzbern mansion. When we last saw him, he and Waver had torched Caster’s hideout but hadn’t really formed any sort of plan for what to do next. If you thought he was here for serious business however, you just don’t know Rider – he basically turned up to ask Saber (and presumably Irisviel as well) if she wanted to grab a drink with him and Waver; a double date of sorts, if you will. He’s wearing the most casual kind of attire imaginable so I’m just going to go ahead and assume that he’s just there to suss out what Team Saber is up to. He’s trying to talk Saber down from fighting again, but this time from a different angle – previously, he asked both Saber and Lancer to join his army but both Servants obviously refused him. This time, he comes at it from a more rational, pacifist perspective; the War is, at its core, a mechanism to decide who gets the Grail and so, Rider reckons, there is no real need to fight if they can just decide who gets the Grail. I’m assuming then, that Rider isn’t really aware of the Grail’s true nature? That he doesn’t realize that the Servants have to die in order for the Grail to even materialize? That little caveat makes any negotiation between the factions inherently unreliable because while the Servants may have incentive to collude in the short run, they have absolutely no incentive to keep their respective sides of the bargain in the long run. Regardless though, Rider’s plan to do determine who between him and Saber is more ‘kingly’, though how exactly he plans to measure such a thing is up in the air. Surely, neither of them will willingly admit to being less kingly than the other?

Of course, any discussion of rulers and their rights is incomplete without Gilgamesh there to provide scathing remarks and wanton condescension – the blond Servant strolls in late and immediately insults everyone present. Pretty much everything Gilgamesh says and does in this part of this scene is literally dripping with condescension – he comments on what a dump the Einzbern mansion is (to be fair, there was a battle fought there not too long ago), how plain the vintage of the wine (to be fair, Rider got it at the supermarket) is and how unrefined it all is (to be fair, Gilgamesh is kind of a tool). Not wanting to be the kind of guest who doesn’t bring anything to the party (I’m sure Kirei must have made some comment about it), Gilgamesh proceeds to provide some top-shelf, creation-myth level booze – now the party can really get started. If you thought it was hard convincing either Saber or Rider that they were less kingly than the other, can you imagine that conversation with Gilgamesh in the mix?

With that, the conversation begins to shift into what this episode is really about – the Grail Dialogue. It’s sort of like the Holy Grail War except it’s a war of words, not swords. Gilgamesh opens with his claim to the Grail; by virtue of being the oldest and having the greatest treasury, Gilgamesh claims the Grail as his own because by definition, all treasures are his. It’s not exactly the best argument I’ve heard but Gilgamesh sounds so sure of himself and his position so absurd that it’s really difficult to figure where to begin rebuking him. Of course, anyone who points out how deeply flawed his logic is just dismissed as a mongrel (he really loves the word, doesn’t he?). Gilgamesh, not being a man for half measures, doesn’t just claim the Grail but goes on to state that anyone else who claims the Grail is just a thief stealing from Gil’s vast treasury. If you read in between Gilgamesh’s braggadocio, he is basically portraying himself as a sort of benevolent, omnipotent god-king. He says that he is happy to share his treasures (by which he means literally every treasure ever conceived) with his people and subjects but with no one else. It’s like saying all that is good and just flows from the King but anyone else who does the same is a phoney and a thief. It’s not a bad ruling principle, really; certainly, it’s one that historically had a good run before fading away. Let’s see what Saber and Rider have to offer to counter it.

Saber has been quiet so far but Rider’s carefree attitude gets to her and she finally speaks up. Why does Rider want the Cup so badly? His answer is very much in line with his whole character, or whatever we’ve seen of it so far; he wants to be reborn, to live life again. Like Pinocchio, Rider wants to be a real boy and get another shot at conquering the world. It makes sense if you think about Alexander the Great’s life – he was on track to conquer literally everything until dying all of a sudden at 31. It makes sense that he would want to be reborn so he give it another shot. Gilgamesh and Saber both find this notion to be ridiculous; Gilgamesh is indignant that Rider would be willing to fight him for such a ‘small thing’. Is reincarnation really that trifling a detail though? It seems like a pretty big deal, if you ask me. Saber, as righteous and noble as always, finds both men to be selfish and self-centred. She declares her wish to save Britain (I seem to recall her precise wish was for her to never have become King so that someone more worthy could have done a better job, but maybe I’m remembering it wrong).

Meanwhile, Kirei and Tokiomi just watched from a distance as this idle conversation goes on. It seems that Tokiomi will use this little gathering of Masters to deploy Assassin and test Rider’s mettle. Honestly, it sounds like an exceptionally idiotic plan – with Rider and Saber present, the odds of Assassin being able to accomplish anything is practically zero. If Tokiomi really wanted to test Rider, he could just unleash Gilgamesh and see what happens, though technically, that could be a little risky. Back at the Banquet of Kings (which really should have been the episode’s title instead of ‘Grail Dialogue’), both Gilgamesh and Rider are bemused by Saber’s attitude. Basically, if I had to summarize it, it’d be as follows:

  • Saber: The good, noble, chivalric king. She believes in servant leadership, that it is a privilege and a responsibility to serve your country and that the King’s life and happiness belongs to the people and welfare of the nation. It’s a very conventional interpretation of heroism, one that no one can really question in theory. However, the reality turns out to be very different – when you live that perfect life, you become an ideal. We see this fairly often in science fiction or fantasy – how often does the usual messianic figure end up cutting himself off from his loved ones and old friends because he cannot be both a casual friend and the saviour of the world? Saber says it herself – when she became the King, she stopped being a person. Rider, like Shirou after him, finds this deeply unsatisfactory and Saber herself deals with this a lot in Fate/Stay Night. I love that it’s so easy to just agree with Saber but only if you treat the question in the most superficial manner possible. Should a leader be just and selfless? Why, of course! Should a leader also be charismatic and inspirational? Certainly! These notions
  • Rider: The charismatic leader. He dreams bigger dreams than anyone else and in the process he inspires his people to make those dreams a reality. Rider is under no delusions – he knows that the process of achieving those dreams might not necessarily be in the best interests of the people. He is selfish, in that sense, but aware of that selfishness. Above all, he doesn’t believe in having regrets – you get one life to accomplish your dreams, and in his mind, you can’t spend that one precious life worrying about the greater good and things like that. One of the things he said really resonated with me: “I shall grieve. And I shall weep. But I shall never regret.” At each point in his life, he made what he thought was the best decision and part of being an adult human being is just accepting that you’ll mistakes but moving on and not dwelling on them.
  • Gilgamesh: He pretty much shut up when Rider and Saber went at it but he clearly shares more of his perspective with Rider than Saber. His style of leadership seems basically be ‘Might makes right’. He will enforce his own laws and justice, and basically call himself King until someone forces him to stop. He’s sort of a benevolent dictator – he will be nice to those who accept his absolute authority but ruthless with those who don’t. He doesn’t rely on inspiration or nobility – he relies on overwhelming force to put down any opposition. To be honest, his perspective is probably the least developed of the three and thus, it also feels the flimsiest.

Some comments on the above: Rider pretty much tears Saber a new one. He hits her right where it hurts – her insecurities. By the end of it, she has no retort whatsoever because each point that Rider, who doesn’t know Saber’s story, raises not only directly corresponds to a painful event in Saber’s life but is also a point that she could never counter. Saber’s response to all the failures she experienced in her life is essentially to ask for a do-over instead of accepting both the good and bad that came with them.

After this, shit gets very real very fast, but I’ll try to keep up. Gilgamesh gets a little creepy towards Saber but it seems that the Banquet of Kings is at an impasse – words have failed and swords were drawn. Just then, Assassin, who clearly can’t read the mood, turns up. I can’t imagine why Assassin, even with Kirei’s Command Seal boost, thought it was a good idea to turn up at that exact moment when tempers of all three powerful spirits were flaring. Assassin also seemed hilariously proud of its many-in-one characteristic, as if that makes any difference to the three Servants it was confronting. Rider first invites Assassin to join, but Assassin, once again failing to read the mood, rejects his offer with a snigger and with that the meeting ends. Rider asks a final question: ‘Must a King be alone in his superiority’. Before I talk about the awesomeness that is Ionian Hetaroi, let’s think about that question. Saber clearly believes that the King must stand alone and above his subjects; Rider’s greatest criticism of her was that she saved her people but never led them. Saber is the kind of leader who found that it gets lonely at the top but Gilgamesh, who also clearly believes that the King must stand far above his people, seems to be immune to that loneliness (though that’s not true). Gilgamesh takes great pleasure in the solitude of a King but Rider’s Noble Phantasm will surely make even him stop and think. Rider’s Ionian Hetaroi is a magnificent Reality Marble that recreates Alexander’s Companions – each of the soldiers summoned in the Marble are Servants and at their head rides the one and only Alexander the Great. Assassin’s death is a foregone conclusion, of course but you get the sense that this great show of power wasn’t meant to swat Assassin but rather as a demonstration to both Gilgamesh and Saber. It is Alexander’s answer to his own final question.

With Assassin gone, Rider departs on a sour note. He no longer recognizes Saber as a King and the implication there is that he’s lost his respect for her. There doesn’t seem to be any particular ill feeling but it’s obvious that Rider is greatly disappointed by Saber. His parting remark to Saber about the nature of her idea of kingship ties in very well to the issues that Saber deals with in the Fate route and Saber too reflects on how even in her own time, her comrades would leave because she couldn’t understand them and their perspective. Both Gil and Rider recognized that Saber is living in the past, full of regrets and what-ifs despite leaving a legacy as great as either of theirs. The episode ends with Saber probably feeling even worse about her past than before; not only did she fail to save her country, she also failed to be a good leader to her men. This episode is easily one of my favourites – this meeting between three legendary figures really dove deep into their respective philosophies when it comes to leadership. If I myself had to pick one, I think the society, and the world, is better served by people like Saber but I can’t deny that I’d rather be like Rider than Saber. It’s the difference between doing what you know to be right and doing what you know will make you happy. If there is no conflict between the two, great; otherwise, your choice really just depends on what you value at the end of the day.

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8 thoughts on “[Anime] Fate/Zero: Grail Dialogue (S1E11)

  1. (I seem to recall her precise wish was for her to never have become King so that someone more worthy could have done a better job, but maybe I’m remembering it wrong)

    It’s a good catch-this isn’t an oversight but an actual difference between SN and Zero, and the reasons for the change become apparent along the course of Zero (with the root of it perhaps already taking place in this episode, with how Rider and Gilgamesh, to a lesser extent harshly criticize her methods and point out how its flawed.)

    I can’t really tell with Gilgamesh, but I think it’s because he looks down on pretty much everyone that he doesn’t consider *their* reincarnation, specifically, to be a big deal, in a very Gilgamesh sort of way.

    As for his method of rule it’s pretty much a standard sort of “divine right to rule” kind of thing-the king is always right, he has the right to rule, and all that.

    I’m not super aware about these things, but there was quite an expansive analysis on Gilgamesh as a monarch embodying Platonian principles.
    http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1675-The-Type-Moon-Miscellaneous-Thoughts-Thread?p=1826748&viewfull=1#post1826748

    There are no major spoilers but it does quote a lot of the as of yet not fully translated CCC.

    I think the rest of the summary of Sabers viewpoint and examining it after “these notions” got cut off.

    It’s a interesting thing-what Rider brings up here is explored in Gilgamesh’s past in CCC, about the loneliness of a King, with exploring other aspects of his legend-notably Enkidu, who was, surprisingly enough, Gilgamesh’s friend, both in the legend, and in TM’s interpretation of it. Most unfortunately, there *was* such a moment in Zero where this was explored, but it was cut out, leaving him lacking some depth outside his interactions with certain people he could’ve otherwise gained from it.

    I agree with how you looked at Riders reasoning behind IH-there was no reason to use it against Assassin, of all people, multiple bodies or no-any one of the three servants there could’ve handled him without going all out (which makes this strategy even more dubious) so his cause for it must then be directed towards Gilgamesh and Saber.

    Same for the ruling philosophies-Gilgamesh’s, of course, is not even a question here with how far removed it is from the other two-but when you get right down to it, Rider does basically espouse tyranny while Saber wants to help her people at whatever cost, but where Rider can understand and lead his army, Saber could not understand her own subjects, and let herself become her ideals too much without ever being more of a person. So a middle ground between those two would be the better method of rule from three presented here.

    This was indeed one of the best episodes, though I’m also quite fond of the second half of the next episode. And almost to the end of the first season already.

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    • Oh, and

      >I’m assuming then, that Rider isn’t really aware of the Grail’s true nature? That he doesn’t realize that the Servants have to die in order for the Grail to even materialize?

      No servant is actually aware of this, even most masters don’t really know the full details about it-if the servants knew, they wouldn’t fight at all, since they wouldnt gain anything by doing so.

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  2. I’ve been waiting to see what you would make of this episode for some time now, as well of what Rider says to Saber in this episode. I think your thoughts and analysis were very well done and did the episode justice.

    I think each of the three king’s positions reflect the time that they ruled in to some extent and how society, culture and views that people held. So by our standards Gilgamesh comes off more as just a tyrant than anything else. Even though in his time his strength is probably what kept him in power for as long as he was. As Gilgamesh is that good, which he knows far too well and is the major flaw that did him in in F/SN.

    I imagine his blunt confidence in dealing with people kept people in line as well. Gilgamesh as he shows throughout F/Z has a decent insight into human behaviour, which he shows really pretty much to Kirei in their talks. Not so much here.

    Same for Rider, Rider as Alexander was one of the greatest conquerors to have lived, he conquered most of the known world before 30, but died young and never had to actually rule his territory, or deal with the fallout of his conquests, which his sons did.

    Which is one of the reasons I feel he is similar to Robert Baratheon with his attitude, charisma, care free view of life. I think rider would have found ruling like Robert did, dull boring and unfulfilling.

    Rider is the sort of king people would follow into battle anytime, but not put up with in peacetime so much I think overall.

    I think one of Saber’s overall conflicts is the fact that her values and views fare better as a knight than they do as a king. Which deep down she has struggled to deal with throughout her arc in both F/N and F/SN. With F/N dealing with a lot more of her knight side I would say when she gets to be Irisviel’s knight (when she isn’t dealing with Kiri). With her she can be the dutiful, honourable and be true to her code of conduct and moral compass. It’s in those bits of F/N where I think you can see Saber at her happiness, or least sadness.

    But when you are a king, that simplicity can’t be applied without consequences, where here Saber tried to be on paper the just, perfect and above human want and concerns. However her subjects didn’t see her that way, they saw a inhuman, cold and aloof ruler whom didn’t meet their needs, desire or expectations. Which as Rider said led to Saber saving them, but never really leading them.

    Saber in F/N isn’t at the point where she feels she should never have been king, she mostly feeling she should have done better. You can tell while she came on the verse of breaking down, she didn’t thanks somewhat to Irisviel words that were longer in the novel I believe, in hindsight while Irisviel meant well, it was actually not the best of things to say to Saber. But I think it reflected on how Irisviel’s view is still limited, which she is quite aware of.

    I have always personally wanted to discuss some things to Saber about her whole desire to rewrite her own history. About how her whole plan would actually do disservice to famous people of British history who came after her like Admiral Nelson, Elizabeth I, Thomas Cromwell and countless others who actually used tales of her legacy to inspire themselves etc. and how she actually helped to shape Britain where I lived in more ways than one to this day. That and see what she would think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail spoofing her legacy and time. I imagine her reaction would be not amusing in her view that’s for sure.

    Quick question, did you noticed a certain someone in Riders army in his Ionian Hetaroi power?

    Not sure if it has been seen before, but its always interesting to see it when I rewatch the series.

    Whelp at least you won’t have to deal with assassin anymore, makes sense they are proud of being one, since that’s kind of the purpose I believe with what their historical influence was. That they were one being and no individuals being in the shadows to strike.

    Great review for a great episode.

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    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one who compared Robert Baratheon to Rider hahah. You’re right that they’re very similar and had Rider lived on, his legacy would very likely have soured. He died young instead and so left a beautiful corpse and is thus remember as an undefeated general.

      About Saber – I think you hit the nail on the head when you talked about the whole saving vs leading. Rider is the exact opposite but he doesn’t get nearly as much shit because people don’t see potential downside just yet.

      Ok so this has bugged me for a while, but isn’t Waver British? Or is he Japanese guy living in Britain? I honestly can’t tell but he does know that Saber is the legendary King Arthur and that his country owes a lot to her. He could say something if he wanted, couldn’t he?

      Also, good riddance to Assassin. Worst Servant ever.

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      • Oh yes you are spot on Rider, he has his downsides and people by the end of the series will see it.

        Waver is British according to the fate wiki as shown here http://typemoon.wikia.com/wiki/Waver_Velvet.

        Which I found surprising since I always thought he was a Japanese student at the clock of tower. Since Waver isn’t exactly a name or at least not a name most British people would call their children. Nor does he look British at all to me personally, though I chalk that up to how he was designed.

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    • Actually, of note, since this differentiation is actually made in the Fateverse, with it being mentioned in one work she is fighting off invaders from the mainland (Europe)-King Arthur has been theorized to have predated Anglo Saxon Britain and maybe actually fought against the Saxon invaders into England, which makes modern Britain, a successor to Anglo Saxon England, the anti thesis of her goals, since her lands and Kingdom and people would have fallen to the Saxons,

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  3. Aaaand that’s it for Assassin. A really mediocre showing for those guys, all in all. Now, I guess not sending Gilgamesh blindly against Rider makes sense (the guy have an history of getting caught with his pants down when someone pulls off a new ability out of nowhere), and in a sense, Assassin did fulfill their missions by drawing out Ionian Hetaroi. But really, did they have to send them all? It only makes sense if Tokiomi is getting suspicious of Kirei, and feels safer with him out of the war, but there’s nothing pointing toward that reasoning.

    Anyway, I remember really enjoying this episode, even though I’d have liked having Gilgamesh side of things expanded a bit. I think you nailed it when you said that at its core, Gilgamesh argument is so outrageous I’m not sure where to start to analyse it. I mean, what can you answer to “everything belongs to me” besides a “uh, no?”. But in a way, it’s reminiscent of the Celestial Mandate from the chinese emperors : the whole world is supposed to belong to them, there’s just part of it they don’t bother with (but it’s theirs nonetheless). In Gil’ case, however, it’s not really a divine mandate – not any more, at least – since the man despises the gods.

    Iskander is basically the Tyrant in the Greek sense of the word. He gets away with it by virtue of being incredibly charismatic, but it’s clear you can’t really make any long-term planning with that style of leadership. Rider offers a call for adventure, which will rally to him many, but he literally can’t stop (and, in fact, he died the moment his conquest was halted). As a human being, his way of living seems to be the healthiest, however, and it’s no wonder so many are willing to follow him, even in death ; life with him is never boring, at least.

    Arturia is the one whose values are the closest to our modern way of thinking, but it seems her main failure was to believe she had to shoulder everything alone. She’s probably the best ruler to her people, but her steadfast belief that she has to be the one to endure it all means that it all comes tumbling down at her death, and it’s all to easy for Rider to hit where it hurts. Her wish seems quite irrational, especially – now that she has seen the future, can she really believe rewriting history is the best path? Britain might have gone through difficult times after her disappearance, but it’s just fine now, and the Arthurian legend is one of the most inspirational myth of humanity, even today.

    In the end, it’s quite interesting to see that while those three rulers had different styles, the effects were relatively the same : it worked quite well when they were alive, but it disintegrated at their death.

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    • This is a great comment (I wrote a small paragraph about how each of their kingdoms fell apart after they died, but deleted when I saw that you had already mentioned it).

      I guess in the end, Rider is basically selfish and that selfishness means that he always gets what he wants and is content but it comes at the price of his people. On the other hand, Saber is incapable of achieving personal happiness but she serves her people no matter what

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