This post has spoilers for Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero (up to episode 21). 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.
Love brings out both the best and the worst of mankind, doesn’t it? Sometimes, it inspires men and women to overcome herculean obstacles but occasionally, it also drives people stark raving mad. Matou Kariya was never the most stable of characters to begin with but in this week’s episode ‘Knight on Two Wheels’, we see Kirei gleefully push him over the edge and past the point of no return. Elsewhere, Saber’s dedication to duty drives her in pursuit of Rider, only to discover that she, and the audience have been deceived – Irisviel is not with Rider and never was. Kiritsugu reaches a similar conclusion but the stakes are higher for him than for Saber; Irisviel isn’t just his wife, she is also the key to ensuring that all of Kiritsugu’s actions weren’t for nothing. This week’s episode was a thoroughly enjoyable one – the motorbike action sequences were a little dull but watching Kariya’s sanity collapse like a house of cards sort of made up for it, in a very sadistic sense.
Let’s start with Saber and Rider, specifically the surprising similarities in their relationships with their Masters. Now, I know that Irisviel isn’t really considered Saber’s Master, but for all intents and purposes, she is certainly more Saber’s Master than Kiritsugu ever was or will be. I never really thought about it until this episode – which is strange, because it has nothing to do with this episode – but Saber and Iri’s bond is a lot more symbiotic than I thought previously. Theirs is an archetypal relationship between knight and lady where Saber plays the role of an earnest knight dedicated to serving his lady’s interests and Iri plays the role of a worldly woman who offers her knight advice on matters beyond the battlefield. I know at first it sounds like it’s not a perfect match for the characters but think about the handful of times Iri has had to temper Saber’s honour and idealism with an injection of practicality. It’s not the kind of harsh, ruthless practicality that Kiritsugu would advocate but nevertheless, it is a type of practicality and one that Saber needs to be aware of. On the other hand, we have Rider and Waver whose relationship is much more obviously mutually beneficial, even though Waver doesn’t realize it. Waver has gained a lot from Rider’s hard won wisdom but he thinks that he’s holding Rider back by not being as good a Master as Rider deserves. Yet, can you imagine Rider with any other Master? Rider doesn’t seem like the kind of Servant to fight hard for just anyone – he seems like a man who fights for his friends, for his men, and Waver both a friend to Rider and a soldier in his army of two. Rider and Waver informal friendship sets their dynamic apart from Saber and Irisviel’s more formal arrangement and that makes their relationship stand out more to the audience, but I think we shouldn’t forget that Saber and Iri have a fairly strong bond too.
Where was I going with all that? I have absolutely no idea but it was something that crossed my mind and it was something that I hadn’t mentioned before. Unfortunately, strong bonds between Servant and Master don’t always translate to victory on the battlefield as Saber’s defeat of Rider illustrates in this episode. As strong as Rider’s Ionian Hetaroi is, I can’t help but think that he severely underestimated Saber in this episode. Excalibur is a big fucking deal and while Rider’s chariot is impressive and all, it seems a bit strange for him to expect to beat Saber with that little. In any case, whether or not he was justified in his decision, the outcome is unchanged. Rider loses his chariot and is left even weaker in the process. Team Rider didn’t have the best odds going in to this Holy Grail War and those odds just got longer. We knew from the get go that Rider was going out before the end but hopefully we get to see him pull out all stops and go out with a bang instead of a whimper. I wonder though; is Rider the only one affected by this quick battle? Saber had to use Excalibur again and while her bond with Kiritsugu is much, much better than what she will later share with Shirou, surely using Excalibur twice in two days would tax her greatly? I don’t know if this will have ramifications on either Saber’s battle with Berserker or Gilgamesh or on Kiritsugu’s fight with Kirei but it could be interesting to see. Lastly, before we move on to talk about Kirei, I wonder what this defeat means for Rider’s style of leadership over Saber’s. I don’t want to read too much into it but I don’t really think that Rider’s loss automatically means that all his previous criticisms of Saber no longer hold water.
We find Kotomine Kirei in his natural habitat this week; he is in the thick of things, manipulating every side for no greater purpose than to ruin lives. Kirei has both the most absurd and the simplest of motivations of the whole cast of characters. He’s almost the Joker in that he doesn’t really ‘want’ anything, beyond the suffering of those around him. In many ways, his actions this episode were really ‘pointless’ and I don’t mean that in the sense that they make no difference to the story, because clearly, they do. What I mean is that his whole plan involving Kariya’s breakdown serves no real purpose beyond just the thrills or, if you prefer, the ‘evulz’. Kirei himself doesn’t really benefit from that breakdown but he doesn’t seem to care – it seems that he’s just trying to figure out whether others’ suffering really does make him happy. As far as I could tell, there were two big signs that Kirei isn’t really interested in this Holy Grail War anymore – the first was when Kirei gives Kariya back two of his Command Seals. Those Command Seals are clearly precious given how everyone scrambling over just one earlier in the season and here Kirei is, just handing out two to a Master he knows will probably not last very long. Next, Kirei’s comment on the wine tasting better tells me that he has found his passion in life; it seems that others’ misery invigorates Kirei, just compare his savouring the wine to his response in previous episodes where he would either not drink the wine at all or have no reaction whatsoever. On one hand, it’s a little strange having an antagonist with no long term motivations but on the other hand, having such a wildcard in the mix always keeps things unpredictable. Regardless of how Kirei chooses to play his cards from this point out, it seems that Gilgamesh’s little pet project has turned out better than even he expected.
As terrible a human being as Kirei is however, even he is repulsed by Zouken. Zouken’s nastiness needs no introduction to anyone who’s played through the ‘Heaven’s Feel’ route of Fate/Stay Night but even without the context of his horrific acts in that story, you can just tell that he’s a messed up man from this scene alone. It’s not so much about what he says or does actually – in this series, admitting you want to see your kin suffer is pretty much par for the course – but rather, the fact that Kirei, implacable, stoic Kirei, was moved to anger by him. Zouken’s motivations here are a little difficult for me to fully understand. Kariya’s fall, as it happens in this episode, would pretty much mean the end of the Matou faction in this War and it seems to me that even though Kariya never stood much of a chance right from the get go, it seems a little bit of a waste to just abandon that miniscule chance just for the sake of vindictive anger. However, if you factor in the possibility that Zouken realizes that he has a much better shot at the Grail through Sakura, then his actions here become much easier to make sense of. However, that assumes that he knew that this War would not reach a satisfactory conclusion and I’m not sure how he could have known that. Even if Zouken is able to make the most of a bad situation by feasting on his son’s anguish, this episode was not a good one for the Matou family. Kariya’s tragic incident aside – which we will get to in a moment – we also see Shinji’s dad, who is just the kind of pathetic mess you would expect to spawn a character like Shinji.
So, last but not least, we get to the weekly segment of the latest state of affairs of the Urobuchi fetish, suffering. Kariya started this series out as a sympathetic character; in a series filled with Masters and Servants trying to serve their own ends by any means necessary, Kariya stood out a little by being one of the few people acting in the best interests of another. Now, you can make the argument, and I have, that he too was acting out of his own desire for Tohsaka Aoi and a family of his own but I think we can cut him some slack. Somewhere along the line though, what started off as a mission to protect and rescue Sakura turned into a mission to punish Tokiomi for giving away his own daughter, and possibly for taking Aoi away from Kariya. Whether or not we can blame the extreme strain placed on Kariya’s body and mind for this change is beside the point because by the beginning of this episode, the Kariya we see working with Kirei bears only a passing similarity to the Kariya we saw in the first episode. Kirei’s manipulation of the whole situation was undoubtedly cruel but in the end, I’m of the opinion that Kariya himself is to blame for much of how the situation turned out. By the time Aoi walked into the church and saw her husband dead by her childhood friend’s hand, Kariya’s dream of a peaceful life with Aoi and her daughters had already become impossible. The problem however, was that throughout the series, Kariya has always had the misguided belief that Aoi was being coerced into doing the things she did and that Kariya thus was the one acting in a just way to rescue her from her plight. At no point did he stop to consider that what he wanted for her might not be what she wanted for herself but when she brings that point up in this episode, everything has already gone to hell and he has destroyed the love of his life. It’s a sobering tragedy, really, and only partially spoiled by Kirei’s sniggering from the balcony above.
So, by the end of the episode, it’s important to note just how many cards are in Kirei’s hand. Not only does he have the surprise element of Gilgamesh, the most powerful Servant in play, at his disposal but he also holds the Grail vessel, Irisviel. That means that Kiritsugu, who only just realized what has happened, will be forced to come to Kirei rather than the other way around, giving the latter yet another advantage of fighting on home ground. Indeed, all of this sets up the first – and last – major fight between Kirei and Kiritsugu who thus far have managed to avoid facing off against each other directly. Of course, that is not to completely rule out other characters like Rider and Berserker, both of whom are down but far from out. Neither faction is going to win this messy affair but they both have enough power left to tilt the scales one way or another.
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