Tue 24 Apr 2012
I will unabashedly say that Fate/Zero 16 is my favorite episode this season. To put it simply, it is sums up every reason I find the show so good. The slick action scenes, cool magical powers, and moreover the convincing characters and their conflicts — they all come together in these 22 minutes of pure entertainment.
I have a knack for antiheroes. From Batman to Vegeta, I find them to be incredibly fun characters to analyse, and Fate/Zero is full of them. They are likable because they have a closer similarity to the every-man. Whereas the traditional hero is faster, stronger, and more attractive than us lowly mongrels and follow a sacred and higher calling of justice, the antihero is more spartan, often resorting to lowly means to accomplish their goals. They can posses fear, even cowardice. But deep down inside, they are doing what is right. Fate/Zero spoilers up to episode 16 after the break.
This episode demonstrates to us just how far Emiya Kiritsugu will go to win the holy grail. Sure, the anime has mentioned his ruthlessness before, but this is by far the most direct and gory demonstration we’ve been given. What’s stunning is how calculated, how orchestrated his plan is to destroy Kayneth and Sola-Ui. He orders Maiya to shred off Sola-Ui’s arm to cut her off from Lancer. Then he blackmails Kayneth while Saber distracts Lancer in a chivalrous duel, to the ignorance of both the Heroic Spirits. Moreover, he knows that Kayneth will take the bait, because he understands the weakness of Kayneth’s character. There is no sense of doubt in Kiritsugu’s eyes ,even as he points a gun at the unconcious Sola-Ui’s head, that Kayneth will agree to the contract. It’s like robbing a blind person — you know you’ll be able get away with it.
Notice too how the writers put Kayneth in a wheelchair, to further reinforce how vulnerable he is. Sure he’s supposed to be a talented mage and master of the great Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, but he’s an absolute joke right now and he knows it. His every action this episode is based off desperation, and he sacrifices any hope of the holy grail for a woman who doesn’t even love him.
What follows is the most gut-wrenching scene in the whole series so far. To see Lancer, one of the coolest bro-characters in the show, kill himself because of the mental weakness of a complete wuss like Kayneth was like putting my heart in a blender. Kiritsugu’s coercion is a complete desecration of the noble and honorable duel Saber and Lancer were fighting, and the juxtaposition of the two scenes is cruelly ironic.
What stuck out to me is Lancer referring to the other characters in the scene as “monsters who disregard a knight’s honor for personal gain.” Of course both Kayneth and Kiritsugu would do anything to get the Holy Grail, but would their servants? It’s a theme that Fate/Zero goes back to over and over again. You see it to a lesser extent with Tokiyomi and Archer, or Waver and Rider. Of course I feel bad for Saber. She was kept completely out of the loop, yet Lancer stares right at her as he curses everyone out. She was used just as much as Kayneth in this grand orchestrated scheme to remove Kayneth from the Holy Grail War.
Saber’s confrontation with Kiritsugu after the execution of Kayneth and Sola-Ui ties everything up. A key point is that Kiritsugu actually looks down on Saber for taking pride in her killing; to Kiritsugu, chivalry is a mere excuse to justify taking life. Kiritsugu is pragmatic about his killing — he doesn’t hesitate to murder for his goals, but he hesitates to do it. His job has turned him into a sullen man, and he takes offense to how “glorious” Saber acts towards killing. It’s the hero vs. antihero contrast I talked about at the start of the episode!
I love Fate/Zero because of how smartly it explores its characters. In this one scene we learn far more about Kiritsugu than we learn about his son in the entirety of Fate/Stay night. It’s real, convincing character development. It takes the symmetry of the Holy Grail War, the simple premise of pairing heroic spirits with mortal humans, and applies thematic conflicts to them. And like great anime, it’s open to interpretation. Is Kiritsugu actually the protagonist in this anime? I agree with his worldview, but is what he’s doing truly right? Well, I guess we just have to wait and see.