This post has spoilers for Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero (up to episode 18). If you do not wish for certain information regarding plot points from this series or other related series to be revealed to you, you might want to consider not reading any further.
I’ve asked this question several times in previous episode discussions but I never thought I’d get an answer in the series itself – just what happened to Kiritsugu that made him become what he is? This week’s episode, ‘Distant Memories’ focuses on Kiritsugu’s early childhood and on the absurdly traumatic events that begun moulding him into the ruthless, borderline psychotic man that he is today. This week’s write-up will be a fairly short one because while most of the events of the episode are interesting in their own right, there isn’t a lot to say about the episode on a broader level. Mostly, I’ll be focusing on Kiritsugu’s characterization and the few common threads that run through both the adorably innocent boy Kerry and the heartless man Kiritsugu. There is a fair bit of new information introduced regarding these things called ‘Dead Apostles’ but while I’ll shelf that information away in my head, I’m not sure if it’s really going to be directly relevant to the series.
We’ll start this week’s discussion with a look at the episode as a whole. Now, I know that this might not be a popular opinion, but honestly, I have some really mixed feelings about this episode. On one hand, this incident is clearly enough to scar a child for life – in the course of a single day, Kiritsugu had to personally stab everyone he was closest to after watching either turn into or be revealed as monsters. The incident very obviously ended whatever innocence that Kiritsugu had and for no fault of his own; he was clearly swept away into something much bigger by the actions of others, particularly his jerk of a father. Not to take a long detour, but Kiritsugu’s father seemed like the very definition of the stereotypical Fate universe Mage – he was selfish, self-absorbed and single-mindedly focused on his research and reaching the Root; Tohsaka Tokiomi would have approved. In fact, it reminds me of something Rin tells us fairly early in Fate/Stay Night, possibly even in the prologue, about how Mages aren’t really ‘human’ in the conventional sense. Their entire purpose in life is to further their family’s magical pursuits to reach the root and to that end, they will undertake courses of action that would be unthinkable to normal people, like selling their daughter off to a twisted family or turning a whole village into vampires. Yet, for all the sadness and suffering in the episode, at some point, I started to feel like I was being blatantly emotionally manipulated. The series was shoving this heaping pile of misery into my face – it isn’t just this episode, it’s been the series as a whole, really – and trying to force me to care about characters that I barely know. For example, in this episode, the only character we really know is Kiritsugu. This makes it difficult to really care when he knifes Shirley or shoots his dad because while he does seem to love them, they haven’t had time to grow on us as viewers. So, yes, it is really sad that Kerry had to experience something so traumatic but I feel like having a single, life-changingly painful moment involving character relationships that we’ve seen develop would have trumped this sadistic murder parade. They say that ‘show, don’t tell’ is the golden rule of storytelling but in this episode it felt almost like too much showing – I don’t know if anyone else felt themselves get a little desensitized by it. If only bad things happen to the characters, after a while, you already know that things are going to go to shit – a loss only hurts if there was ever a chance of winning.
Having said all that, let’s try to connect this particular episode back to the series itself. Even though this episode featured a totally new setting and an almost entirely new cast of characters, there are still a good number of tiebacks to the main story of the series. Primarily, I suspect that the two primary takeaways from this episode are the foundations of Kiritsugu’s magic and the ideals that he will later go on to fight so hard to protect. I’m actually genuinely curious about Kiritsugu’s magic. We saw in his fight against Kayneth that he has the ability to sort of stop his own time, or speed it up – we see him use this to devastating effect in dodging Kayneth’s mercury creature’s tentacles – and this episode establishes that Kiritsugu’s father had worked on similar magic in the past though he hadn’t figured out quite how to make it work on humans. The thing that’s puzzling me, however, is just how Kiritsugu actually inherited this magic since, as far as I could see, there was no transfer of a Magic Crest from father to son and the episode made it a point to show Kiritsugu’s dad burn his notes and research. As for Kiritsugu’s dream of a better world, I think that was best captured in one of the episode’s more sincere moments. The silver haired mercenary asks Kiritsugu whether he would like to bring anything with him off the island and Kiritsugu, with a thousand yard stare in his eyes says ‘Nothing at all’, but clearly, the only thing he brings with him off that island was his precious dream of one day becoming a hero of justice. This wasn’t the first time in the episode that he shied away from saying it out loud – when Shirley asked him about what he wanted to be, he hesitated to tell her too. I find it interesting, in a sad sort of way, that it was only as Kiritsugu hardened and became less human that he was able to actually give voice to his ideal. Apart from that, there are also tiebacks to the Mage’s Association and the Church Executors – the latter of which foreshadow Kirei’s re-entry into the Holy Grail War. Last but certainly not least, we meet the silver haired mercenary but we’ve actually seen her before, when we were given the background to Kiritsugu’s magic bullets. Clearly, she will have a greater part to play in the unfolding story.
I don’t get the feeling that we’re done with flashbacks just yet, though. This episode gave us a lot of background on Kiritsugu’s early childhood but there are plenty of pieces missing. Kiritsugu is hurt and traumatized but the process of truly breaking Kiritsugu’s spirit seems only to have just begun. The Kiritsugu that leaves the island with the mercenary is damaged but not nearly as broken as the man that we are familiar with. There is definitely more misery in store for him and if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s how very creative this series can be with the kinds of suffering it inflicts on its characters.
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