[Anime] Fate/Zero: Distant Memories (S2E5)


Lonely At The Top

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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5 thoughts on “[Anime] Fate/Zero: Distant Memories (S2E5)

  1. I will admit that this episode and the next are in my view the weakest of F/Z or at least the second half of it.

    Pretty much for as you said, it feels very emotional baiting in how kiristugu’ backstory is just misery after misery. It’s the tragic past that anti heroes are too often to give just to make them sympathetic since some writers think that suffering equals depth. Deus angst machina it’s called and urobuchi is very guilty of over relying on this trope for his series.

    Puella Magi Madoka Magica especially is the prime example of the exaggerated misery after misery piled on by him. Which I found so boring to go through in the twelve episodes of the series. Despite some of the great writing in it.

    To me kiritsugu’s felt lazily done by urobuchi, too reminiscent of his usual ways of writing. Namely in the inability to get the audience emotionally invested into suff without putting proper time and development into them. I will agree in I felt desensitised to the events in this episode after what I have seen in the series as a whole up to now. Putting characters through traumatic events is not a a bad thing. But done too often and it loses it impact, especially if it feels like it’s done for shock value, laziness or just because the writer is so cynical in their views.

    Game of thrones (tv series not the book series for me) is quite guilty of this practise, which by season five has made the show boring, predictable in trying not to be predictable and left me desensitised to the plot and events in it.

    Rant done, looking forward to seeing what you make of the next episode.

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    • I can’t comment on most of what you said since I haven’t seen those series but speaking of Game of Thrones, I think that if you never let the good guys even get a small win, the audience is going to realize that the heroes have no shot of accomplishing anything and as a result, it’s not going to be a surprise when bad things happen.

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      • I think in that regard it helps that Fate/Zero is a prequel. Because you already know how it is going to end you know rooting for the participants is going to be pointless. Rather you wonder how the participants are going to meet their demise instead.

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  2. The Emiya Magic Crest is carved on Kiritsugu’s back, but he was unable to inherit it properly from his father as a normal magus. Due to the Sealing Designation, Noritaka’s body was retained by the Association, and all the important parts of the Crest were confiscated. Through Natalia’s negotiations, Kiritsugu was allowed to inherit part of the Crest, but it was only a “fragment” that contained less than half of the original amount. It was enough that he was able to use his abilities as a magus, but he had little interest in continuing the research in the first place. His only interest was whether it would prove practical as a tool in combat situations.

    Dead Apostles are relevant in another Type Moon franchise, Tsukihime.

    P.S. Did you spot this cameo from Kara no Kyoukai? https://i.imgur.com/iKESS.jpg

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