This post has spoilers for Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero (up to episode 19). 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.
Welcome back to the shit show that is the life of Mr. Kiritsugu Emiya! This week on Fate/Zero, we continue our flashbacks – this time into Kiritsugu’s adolescence. This episode makes an exceedingly strong case that, contrary to what Kiritsugu’s adoptive, mercenary mother Natalia tells us, Kiritsugu’s true Origin is misery. He not only draws it to himself, but he is also frighteningly good at producing it. The idea of these past two flashbacks seems to have been to contextualize Kiritsugu and his life – we know that in a few episode’s time, Kiritsugu will give the fateful command to Saber to destroy the Holy Grail and it seems that the series is preparing us for that moment. This episode, while much better executed, in my opinion, than the last, still hasn’t fully sold me on Kiritsugu’s traumatic past. While I certainly did feel for him in this episode, I still find my connection to the character lacking. In today’s discussion, I’ll go a little deeper into just why I don’t feel as invested in Kiritsugu’s fate as I did in Shirou’s, as well as whole bunch of other points about the parallels between certain characters in the series. This episode brought up quite a few of the recurring ideas that fans would be quite familiar with – particularly, the trade-offs between personal happiness and personal ideals.
The first topic we’ll look at today is, appropriate enough, execution. Now, I had some complaints about last week’s episode because I felt that the episode – specifically, the writing and the pacing – were baiting me into feeling sorry for Kiritsugu and his circumstances. This week’s episode had similar issues but not to the same extent; we got to see Kiritsugu and Natalia, got some sense of their relationship and dynamic, even though it was still far too brief, and that in turn gave us some opportunity to get invested in the character and feel something at her unfortunate demise. Yet, even though it was an improvement from last week’s episode, I still didn’t feel nearly the kind of emotion I would have had this entire backstory idea been better carried out. For instance, we didn’t need to cram all of Kiritsugu’s backstory into two episodes – instead, we could have had slices of it throughout the series but without giving a full explanation (a little like Kara No Kyoukai, now that I think about it, though that series was a little confusing). That would have given the audience a chance to really get emotionally and intellectually invested in the story since we would not just be presented with a complete story, along with instructions on how to respond to said story, but instead would have had to piece it all together, which would have made reaching the story’s tragic conclusion all the more impactful. Now, naturally that idea wouldn’t work quite so well in an ensemble piece like Fate/Zero but the more I think about it, the more I wonder just how much of an ensemble piece Fate/Zero really is – when was the last time we saw secondary characters like Rider, or Waver? When did we last see Kariya? Yes, Fate/Zero has a broader scope than Fate/Stay Night but if you’re going to end up narrowing the focus on a small handful of characters then the story might as well have been told with that focus from the beginning – you can still cut away to others’ point of views occasionally without wasting the audience’s time with Team Rider’s slice of life.
My last gripe with these two flashback episodes is that they showed us all of Kiritsugu’s angst and suffering but they didn’t bother showing him falling in love with Iri or what little happiness that brought him? We know that Iri is going to be a critical part of the story given what she is the Grail, in a sense. We know that Kiritsugu will end up ‘betraying’ her, as he has feared since the beginning – wouldn’t showing their story be a much better way of getting the audience to really feel the pain of that betrayal? I personally think that would have been much more effective though I can see why this episode was necessary as well and why three flashbacks would have been way too much. I guess in the end, the flashbacks were always doomed to have limited effectiveness because their outcome was already known from the get go. In fact, one of the reasons I enjoyed this episode more than the previous one was because I didn’t see the end coming. My curiosity about what solution Kiritsugu had found made me think, despite myself, that there would be a relatively happy ending but I didn’t predict that he would blow his own mother figure up; that, if nothing else, really drove home how utterly broken this kid is.
The act of killing the few to save the many, I believe, more than any other, defines Kiritsugu’s character. If you think about it, Kiritsugu’s entire personal philosophy hinges on that single belief – he will do whatever it takes in the present, sink to ever deeper lows for now if it will enable to save humanity in the future. Make no mistake, that’s exactly what he thinks he’s doing; he will throw inconvenient burdens like honour and decency aside and dirty his own soul, like he tells Saber, if it means that he can get his hands on the Grail and make sure that he can save the many. Now, there is a logical question here of just how many the few need to number before that argument stops making sense. To most of us, even if we don’t really want to admit it to ourselves, the logic of sacrificing a small handful in order to benefit the vast, overwhelming majority, does make sense on some level. It’s not a way of thinking that we pride ourselves on, surely, but at the same time, utilitarianism is such a well-known concept for a reason. Yet, how many will Kiritsugu have to kill before that logic begins to break out? From a purely mathematical perspective, as long as you save more people than you kill, the argument technically holds up, but I don’t think that’s how matters of morality work. I am reminded, in all of this, of the long posts following the Unlimited Blade Works episodes last year (fuck, has it already been that long?!) – specifically, I’m reminded of Archer. Like Kiritsugu, Archer too had to take lives to save lives – as a Counter Guardian he saved ‘mankind’, as an abstract concept, without ever getting to save actual people. I get the sense that Kiritsugu and Archer, despite their pretty vividly different backgrounds, ended up breaking in similar ways.
I will end this week’s discussion with a final idea of note from the episode. It comes from a line from Natalia, paraphrased, where she tells Kiritsugu that a human who only does he is supposed to, instead of what he wants to, is no better than a machine. This is something which will obviously return to the forefront of the series in Fate/Stay Night but it is also something that affects a character right on hand: Saber. The idea that a person cannot, and should not, live his or her life as an ideal is something that is tackled in the ‘Fate’ route of FSN. It is something that even now, Saber is struggling with; Rider pointed it out to her and Gilgamesh has noticed it as well. Think just how much misery could have been avoided if characters like Saber and Kiritsugu had done what they wanted occasionally instead of just what was ‘right’ – Kiritsugu might not have killed both his parental figures, might not have become this shell of a man and Saber might never have lost her country to betrayal (I’ll admit that I’m not very familiar with Saber’s backstory beyond the vague details). It seems like the series has a very strong point to make against doing what is ‘right’ at the expense of what makes you happy.
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