The cup overfloweth.
I apologize for getting this up late; I am away from home, and having trouble with streaming capabilities/the internet, period. Oops. Luckily, Lily wrote a LOT this week, and said a lot that was worth reading, so hopefully that’ll make up for the delay! I’ll let her lead the way:
The fire draws near.
How amazing the past two episodes have been, and how enlightening they were. We have witnessed the fall of one of the greatest kings, we have learned the truth about the mad knight and we have, at last, looked inside the Grail. The last two weeks were important to the world of Fate, because we’ve seen not just the characters’ physical strength but their very essences, and we know not only what the Holy Grail can do, but what it is.
First things first – let’s talk about the warriors.
In the first season, the three kings sat together for a discussion about the fate of the Grail. According to the arrogance of King Iskander, the kingship status gave them greatness, superiority, and as such they could decide who was truly worthy of the Grail, through ranks instead of war. Together, they discussed their triumphs, their very legends, dissecting what made a “King”. And as kings, what would they wish from the Grail? What did they expect from it? What would be the new chapter in their legends?
Iskander desired to live again and continue his conquest. He wouldn’t wish to conquer the world, since there would be no merit if he didn’t do it himself. So his wish was resurrection, in order to make a new legend in a new time, in a new land.
Gilgamesh simply wished to own the Grail because, according to him, all treasures of the world were once his, so he had the right to the Grail from the very beginning. He needed to own it again, because he possessed only the best things – no, more than that, all the best was already his. And anyone who tried to take it was a thief, and he would spare no thieves.
And then came the moment for Saber to speak, and they couldn’t believe her.
She wanted to go back and change history.
To Iskander and Gilgamesh, pride lied in what they did in life. The shape of their legends was in history, and in history it would stay. They came, they saw, they conquered. They would never regret their actions, because their actions were part of their character. They were great kings, they left their marks and nothing would change that. But Saber couldn’t accept it. Saber didn’t care about the course of time, the stories that were told about her, or what she had achieved because, to her, it hadn’t been enough. She needed to do more – she needed to be the salvation of her people. Just rising wasn’t enough, for once she was up there, as the dependable King, she couldn’t fall. She wouldn’t accept her fall, or the consequences it brought her people.
So, to one side, we had Iskander and Gilgamesh – arrogant kings who believed themselves to be superior among men. They proved their omnipotence through their power, their voices or their wealth, but mostly through what they conquered (treasures for Gilgamesh, lands for Iskander). The two men are notorious examples of human greed. They are strong as humanly possible, they possess flaws that are turned into the strength that moves them forward. As Iskander lectures Saber on her failure as a king, he means that it is their humanity (the sins, the greed) that inspires the hearts of their people, who envy them, who aspire to be like them, becoming sentiments that burn in their hearts and motivates them. When Iskander or Gilgamesh would fall, a new Iskander or Gilgamesh would rise, wanting to be the same things, or perhaps even greater things, as the ones before them.
Saber, on the other hand, was a different kind of king. Her only greed lied in the prevalence of Britain over all other lands. Hers was a land where people would not suffer; a land for the bravest knights, who would never succumb. Disaster would befall no one. Saber, Arturia, who took the best interest of her people into consideration, who believed in everything just and fair, was a martyr. She was more symbol than human, threading through thorny paths of idealism, whose life was secondary to what she believed in. According to Iskander, how could she a fitting king if she had no legacy? If she was so exceptional that no one else could accept the burden of that crown? She was transcendental, the Once and Future King. She was one to be admired, but from a distance. She was more than human, more than history – a myth.
Arturia’s wish, the miracle she is searching for, is to not let her kingdom fall; she forfeits history in order not to fail. She will bear the hurt and pain and suffering of her people, but she is fighting so blindly that fails to perceive them as people. They are knights, not saints. She herself is but human, and she cannot accept her own mortality or the course of time. She deemed herself righteous, and righteous she was, and for righteousness she fought, but that might have kept her from reaching to her soldiers. Rewriting history, she would not even allow them to perish in honorable combat, fighting and dying for what they believed in. It was their mark on history. By failing to take in account the possibility of defeat, she wasn’t ready for death, for she had so many things yet to do. But what would happen to her men when they were left to fend for themselves? When she wasn’t around to save them, had she taught them how to save themselves? What is the legacy she provided?
And so Iskander and Gilgamesh mocked her. The two of them inspired the hearts of men, and Waver is proof of that. Iskander is strong and he believes in himself and in his goals. He knows how to scheme, he knows when it’s time to have a talk with the enemy and when it’s time to strike. He knows he will die, and he knows it will be by the hands of a great man, because he was a great man. That is the life he chose as a king – to live in greatness, and for that greatness to be grow inside his people. Waver, who couldn’t believe in himself and who wanted to prove himself despite his limitations, admired him. Iskander made him believe he was great, and in believing, he was. Iskander was a true king, and maybe so was Gilgamesh, with his almost unbeatable armory.
However, if Saber was so distant and out of this world, with no one to fill her role, what about the circle of the most noble and brave men, who fought because they believed in her and what she fought for? Excalibur shines with the hopes of knights, and it is that hope that she wields in the battlefield. Can the two kings who belittled her affirm that such light didn’t inspire the heart of her people? By questioning her kingship they played with her defeat, her fears and regrets, but Arthur, his sword and his men are icons up to this day, in our world and in the world of Fate. Her name is an example of what is just. King Arthur. Iskander and Gilgamesh are legends, but she is a myth. She is an inspiration, she became an ideal herself. And although people cannot live as ideals, they can aspire to be like the ones who fight for them.
She was transcendental. In the end, living as a myth, King Arthur never dies.
But let us go back to Saber. Back to the doubts that started to grow inside her because of Iskander. Before, Saber regretted not being able to lead her army to victory. But upon the discovery that she may have led her people astray when she died, there were even further points that made her a failure of a king.
And then there was Lancelot.
Lancelot, driven mad and summoned as a Berserker, could not explain to Arturia the origin of his sorrow and rage. They exchanged only a couple of words, but an already troubled Saber could see only one reason for Lancelot to be consumed in vile sentiments – her reign. It never would have occurred to her that Lancelot was driven mad for more personal reasons, because Saber didn’t have a personal life. She lived and breathed for her people. Could she ever compensate for the mistakes she made? Could she make everything right?
Everything culminates in a desire for the Grail, motivating her. She needed it. This is the characterization we needed. This is the circle that leads us to Fate/Stay Night, expanding her motivations and bringing us the core of her character.
When she draws her sword to destroy the Grail – her only hope – at Kiritsugu’s command, we watch as she breaks. It’s beautiful and devastating. And we mourn for her, even if the Grail is born out of the blood of knights and innocents, out of wars and destruction that shapes heroes, out of broken dreams and hopes.
May Fuyuki City burn.
And next we have Katherine lending her voice:
Many Madoka Magica viewers will remember how we felt like we had been (wonderfully) trolled by Urobuchi Gen claiming that Madoka Magica would be a “healing” series. Now I’m not sure that he was trolling. Next to Fate/Zero, Madoka does feel like a healing series.
Saber quickly kills Lancelot, only taking comfort in the hope that she can correct what went wrong in the past by winning the Grail. Which, as we know, blows up in her face when Kiritsugu commands her to destroy it. Those who have watched Fate/stay night (ugh) will know that in the next Holy Grail War, Saber very much remembers Kiritsugu’s actions- to the point that she’s half-ready to stab her next Master when he asks her about the command seals’ function.
The bulk of this episode was composed of the Grail playing with Kiritsugu like a cat dangling a mouse from its paws. In my version of the boat scene, Kiritsugu would have been a smart ass and told the Grail that he could fix the hole on the two hundred person ship and then move on to the next ship in less time than it would have taken him to gun down all of those people. But I know, Kiritusugu was probably distracted by trying to figure out wtf was happening and it was just a thought exercise meant to shake Kiritsugu’s worldview. One of those theoretical scenarios that would never actually play out in the way needed to prove the point they are making, but are persuasive to a lot of people anyway, like the ticking time bomb scenario.
As in Urobuchi Gen’s Madoka, “Be careful what you wish for,” has emerged as one of the major themes of Fate/Zero. As with the magical girl contracts in Madoka, Kiritsugu’s wish comes at a horrible price. The Grail would rather he wish to let it become a human being in the real world, a la Rider’s wish, and it’s willing to sweeten the deal by bringing back Irisviel. But the Grail has clearly highjacked Irisviel’s personality and memories, so the Irisviel who comes back would really be the Grail as Irisviel. I’m assuming.
The scene in which Kiritsugu murders fake-Irisviel and fake-Illya was raw and hard to watch, but it was a little mitigated by his knowing they weren’t really Irisviel and Illya. Still disturbing that he was able able to do it without much hesitation, though. It reminded me of Hughes’ death in Fullmetal Alchemist– how even though Hughes knew it wasn’t his wife in front of him, he couldn’t bring himself to kill someone who looked and sounded just like her. But it’s consistent with what we’ve seen of Kiritsugu and reinforces how far he is willing to go for his ideals.
I’m sick of writing about Kiritsugu. How about Archer? I have never loathed him more than in this episode, what with his repeatedly stabbing Saber to try to make her his wife. Eww. If this were a perfect world, he would have attacked Kiritsugu when he showed up, and Kiritsugu would have fought back and they would have killed each other. But not before Saber got hold of the Grail and made it give back the real Irisviel (screw Camelot), followed by the two of them running away together hand-in-hand, leaving Kiritsugu and Archer to duke it out. But now I’m straying into fanfic territory.
And, finally, myself… who is nearing burn-out on this series >_>
I was really loving this episode; really, I was. Sure, I laughed at the stupid facial expressions that Kirei and Kiritsugu were making at each other as they fought, but the trip into the Grail and the destruction of Kiritsugu’s ideal was entrancing. I’ve never liked Kiritsugu, and have made no bones about it, in part because I think he is dull… and, yet, the episode managed to make the time spent with him not a chore at all, this for the first time. And yet…
The strangle of Irisviel. Holy fuck, does this show have a hard-on for violence against women, or what? You may say, “But, Day, lots of men in the show have gotten filleted, too.” However, when men have been victims of violence, it has been typically the Servants coming to harm within battle, or been men clashing directly with each other. Kayneth stands out as an exception… but Sola-Ui was used against him as a bargaining chip – brutalizing her was meant to destroy him. She was a strong-willed woman broken down completely by the time she died. And for the other cases of women killed, we see strangulation as a repeated theme, a method that is very up close and personal. It’s a method that emphasizes the powerlessness of the victim, and carries a sexual element. We’ve also watched two men killed the women they love – yes, Kiritsugu was really strangling the Grail, but the form it took here does matter.
So, it was disappointing to have the episode screech into strangle-mode. I honestly probably would’ve objected less had Kiritsugu shot Grail-Irisviel, although I would still have had some misgivings about the violence against women. It also strikes me as bizarre that he would opt to strangle her, as it takes a lot more effort, and the Grail’s taken on the form of his wife, so it would seem much easier to shoot her and get it over with.
Given all that, though, I did enjoy the episode overall. As I said, watching the Grail twist Kiritsugu’s ideal was fascinating, albeit not terribly surprising. Was anyone expecting this to end well? Even if I had no knowledge of Fate/Stay night’s existence, and that its existence indicates that things did not end well in the prequel, I don’t think anyone has been expecting anything but tragedy out of this since about episode four or so.
So, Saber defeats Beserker, as we knew she would. It looked like Kariya may’ve been dead early on in the episode, but I suppose he didn’t actually expire until he’s shown flopping over, and then the scene cuts to Beserker stabbed through the heart. Who was Lancelot, ultimately, to Arturia? “My, my, my…” she says, but never finishes the statement. Your what? But we’ll never know, will we?
Good to see that, even mentally beaten down, Saber has no intent to surrender to Gilgamesh, who is a total dick, as usual. I also loved that she pretty much called him a moron, that he’d expect her to give up on the Grail in exchange for being Gilgamesh’s possession. I also took it as indictment of Gilgamesh thinking so little of the efforts of everyone toward getting the Grail. I’m spoiled on the eventual fate of Gilgamesh, although I don’t know how he gets there, exactly. Hoping he gets his ass kicked in the process either way, though.
Blah, blah, blah, stuff about the Holy Grail in mythology and the identification with Arthurian legend, etc. I think I’ll get into this next week, but I’m actually feeling a bit poorly at the moment and don’t feel like explicating about it. I will note that Angra Mainyu is a ‘being’(ish) from Zoroastrianism. I say that rather ambiguously, as its exact nature has changed throughout the history of Zoroastrianism (quick lesson: Zoroastrianism is the oldest monotheistic religion in the world, although it has a strong current of duotheism in later periods, and was founded in the Persian Empire by a man named Zoroaster; the name of the deity was ‘Ahura Mazda’). Basically, at its core, it is a thing of evil, which was variably attributed to creation by Ahura Mazda, was co-existent with Ahura Mazda, or was born from evil itself. Confusing, yes, and I would recommend the Wikipedia page for it, actually, if you want a better picture of it. It doesn’t make much sense, honestly, to have Kiritsugu called it, as the way it was utilized in this episode makes it sound like Angra Mainyu takes on the role of a divine punisher, who essentially commits acts of evil in order to better the world, and this isn’t what Angra Mainyu does at all. Oh well… they tried? Or something.
So, hey hey ho, let’s get to the conclusion.