Fate / Zero – 25 (Fin)

Did the Holy Grail know Kiritsugu would reject it? Who can say? But even if it initially chose him to be its bearer, his order to Saber to destroy it flipped the script. It also flipped the cup, as the Grail’s destruction means the black ooze it contained falls upon Fuyuki, destroying everything in sight, to Kiritsugu’s great despair. Even trying to do the right thing at the right time would seem to have backfired on this exceedingly unlucky and tortured soul.

Speaking of tortured souls, Kariya is still barely alive when he returns to the Matou basement, but while his senses tell him he is reuniting Sakura with Rin and Aoi, in reality Sakura is abandoning him to the Crest Worms and accepting the fate he tried in vain to keep her from.

Perhaps it was the contents of the Grail, not the Grail itself, that mattered most, as those contents fell on Archer, but rather than destroy him along with everything else, it gave him physical form (though not clothes). And because Gilgamesh still had a pact with Kirei, it resurrected him, albeit with no heartbeat.

That literal lack of a beating heart is indicative of his departure from humanity, as is his apparently Grail-fulfilled wish for death and destruction around him, and a hunger to “learn more” and explore the depths of his inhumanity. But as I said, the Grail will never fully satiate; at best it can only lock people—Servants and Masters alike—in a perpetual state of searching.

As for Kiritsugu, he’s done searching. Indeed, he seems to be just about done with everything, owing to the curse bestowed on him by a scorned Grail and his entire life’s work burning before him. The last thing he searches for—a single survivor among the scorched rubble—is something he ironically finds immediately.

By saving that single life—a young Shirou—Kiritsugu himself is saved. It’s a concept a sneering Kirei can’t possibly comprehend enough even to envy.

With that, the clock on the Fourth Holy Grail War reaches…Zero and comes to an end, with the official winner in doubt, though more-or-less claimed by Kirei, since the Grail seemingly brought him back.

Back at his “grandparents”, Waver announces he’s going to set aside his magical studies for a bit, get a part-time job, live with them, and save up enough to travel the world his king once conquered a good chunk of.

Kirei has upheld his promise to his master to look after Rin after he’s gone, likely so that he can observe and absorb all of the grief, pain and suffering Rin is likely to experience on the long, hard road all heads of great families must walk.

Rin maintains a stoicsm beyond her years at her father’s futural, even as she wheels her brain-damaged, delusional mom around. What gets her to crack and shed tears is the Azoth dagger; Kiritsugu twisting the blade like the piece of work he is.

And Saber, poor Saber, is back in Britain, on a battlefield strewn with corpses, having led everyone nowhere but to their own deaths. She remembers Lancelot’s last words to her, about how he only ever sought her righteous judgment for betraying her and falling in love win Guinevere.

Arturia considers herself a failed king who never understood anyone, and considering her surroundings it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

As for Saber’s former Master, he is banned from Einzbern Castle forever, having failed to secure the Grail for them, and never sees his daughter Ilya again. So he adopts Shirou, fixes up the old safe house, and spends the next five years raising his adoptive son and living a quiet but happy life.

One night he tells Shirou how he once wanted and tried to be a hero, but ultimately failed. Shirou confidently promises his dad he’ll become a hero in his place. A heavenly light suddenly shines above Saber; a ray of hope.

Clearly contented by his son’s words, Kiritsugu starts to peacefully pass away, with an answer for his friend Shirley’s question about what he wanted to be when he grew up: he wanted, and still wants, to be a hero.

* * * * *

And that’s it for Fate/Zero! Boy, what a ride it’s been these past five weeks. That was a far better show than I could have imagined…which is why it took so long after UBW to watch it. Burned by previous prequels to beloved works, I was worried knowing pretty much how everything would end would make it difficult for the stakes to matter.

Yeah…I was dead wrong about that. Not only was I far more emotionally invested in Zero, it was a lot more approachable, had a lot more heart, and took a lot more risks than the smoother, shinier UBW. It’s not that UBW is bad, it’s simply a matter of Zero kicking ass in virtually every aspect of the game. It wasn’t just a great anime, it was great television; great storytelling, full stop. So thanks to everyone out there who recommended it to me. It was well worth a look back.

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Fate / Zero – 24

Ever since the childhood trauma that set him on his path, Emiya Kiritsugu has striven to be a level-headed, efficient, logical man. It’s partly why he kept Saber at arm’s length: an emotional connection with his Servant isn’t necessary and exposure to her illogical honor can only create inefficiencies in his plans.

So as Saber finds herself struggling with the insane anger and hatred of her former most trusted knight, essentially making her the logical one in her fight, and Iri’s body transforms into the Holy Grail, Kiritsugu never would have imagined it would not only toy with his emotions, but use his beloved logic against him.

But first, by god was I not wrong when I said the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei would be something. It’s quite different and more minimalist than any previous battle in the show, with both participants sizing up their opponents, approaching them with a certain strategy, and switching up tactics on the fly as conditions rapidly change.

Kirei would have surely killed Kiritsugu relatively quickly were it not for Avalon imbuing Kiritsugu with a virtual “Auto-Life” status. In the slight sliver of a moment Kirei’s guard is down, Kiritsugu takes Kirei’s right arm away with Contender, and the odds are evened.

So even is the duel, in fact, that the Grail itself, runnething over with some kind of dark, blood-like ooze directly above the fighters, essentially calls a “timeout” by covering both in that ooze.

That indicates the War is finally at an end, and the Grail has chosen the victor. At the same time, Saber runs Berserker through, killing him, as Kariya also expires; claiming she cannot atone to him without winning the Holy Grail.

In an illusory world created by the Grail, an avatar of Iri representing the will of the Grail names Kiritsugu as the winner, and he need only officially pray for his wish to become reality. The only problem is, the Grail, or at least this Grail, cannot give him the miracle he wants. At least, not in a manner that is acceptable.

The Grail then sets to work taking Kiritsugu’s philosophy to its logical conclusion: killing the smaller percentage of people to save a larger one, thought-experiment style; sacrificing the few to save the many.

But if, like his time-altering battle ability, Kiritsugu would continue to whittle down some humanity in order to save another proportion, before long there will be no one left in the world but him and those he cares about the most, presented to him as Maiya, Iri and Ilya.

To save them, he’ll have to kill everyone else. In other words, “saving the world” means destroying humanity. This is the sum total of Kiritsugu’s wish, according to the Grail.

And the Grail stands ready to grant that wish, even though it is not at all what Kiritsugu wants. He rejects the Grail, unwilling to sacrifice the world for his own few loved ones, symbolically murdering both Iri and Ilya in a thoroughly upsetting scene in an attempt to subvert of the nightmare scenario the Grail put forward. The Grail curses him and he is cast out.

Back in reality, such as it is, Kiritsugu has the advantage over Kirei, who rages and fumes at him for refusing and wasting the Grail’s wish. But in killing him it seems Kiritsugu is almost doing Kirei a favor.

This Grail is not omnipotent, and thus would be no more able to reveal the nature and meaning of Kirei’s existence than it could grant Kiritsugu a miracle that would end all conflict in the world. In both cases, the one making the wish does not know what it is they seek.

That being said, the Grail is still immensely powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands, and Kiritsugu decides that no one, including him, has the right hands.

So as Saber and Archer descend on the physical Grail, poised to fight the final duel in the War, and Saber rejects Archer’s offer of marriage and servitude, Kiritsugu forsakes Saber once more, hitting her where it hurts most: he uses his two remaining Command Seals to order her to destroy the Grail with Excalibur…and she cannot disobey.

But perhaps Kiritsugu is right that Saber, like Kirei and he himself before, is merely deluding herself into believing the Grail will grant her wish, only offer shallow illusions in exchange for being possessed by someone worthy. The Grail is not an answer.

Fate / Zero – 23

Before their epic duel, Rider and Archer have a drink together and exchange words of respect. Waver quips that they’re friends, and Rider doesn’t argue with the label: how can he be unfriendly with the one who could be the last person he’ll ever see?

Rider doesn’t mess around with anything other than the best he’s got, and whips out Ionian Hetairoi. Archer looks pleased to be facing such a strong and worthy foe, but he also doesn’t look worried in the least.

While the ancient kings’ battle takes place on the vast expanse of sand, Saber ends up fighting Berserker in a relatively cramped underground parking lot. Berserker seems to feed off of Kariya’s suffering and regret, as Sakura shows up in his head, and while reassuring her they’ll all be together again, Sakura inadvertently reminds Kariya that “they” no longer includes her mom.

Berserker’s penchant for ‘turning’ weapons for his use continues when he makes use of some automatic weapons; Saber can barely get near him, and when she does, her sword bounces off his armor, or the blade merely caught in mid-strike by Berserker’s palms.

Once he does that, Saber gets into her head that he reminds her of some knight she once knew, and on cue Berserker’s Pigpen-like cloud of miasma dissipates and he removes his helm to reveal he IS someone she knew…or rather he WAS. That someone is none other than Sir Lancelot, the greatest of the Knights of the Round Table.

That Saber has no idea it was him until now, and has no idea how he came to be this way after they parted ways, gets to the heart of that seed of doubt planted by Rider about her reckless self-destructive path to kingship, which he didn’t see as kingship at all. Lance would seem to be proof of that, and I can’t imagine Saber wants to fight him, except perhaps to put him out of his misery.

Back in the desert, Gilgamesh reveals the reason he’s so calm with a massive legendary army descending on him: his own, thus-far-unused Noble Phantasm, Ea. As soon as he unlocks and activates Enuma Elish (an extremely strange and cool sequence, as befits Gilgamesh), the dunes begin to collapse, the legions plummet to their demise, and the very sky shatters along with the Reality Marble.

His trump card utterly defeated, Rider has no course but to charge Archer on his own. Even after his horse goes down, he runs at him on foot, getting impaled several times, before being restrained by great chains, his blade inches from Gil’s face. Before he fades away, Iskandar wonders if the lapping waves of Oceanus, the Ocean at the End of the World, was actually merely the dancing of his own heart.

It’s a legendary ending for a truly legendary Servant with whom there was never a dull moment. He was simply outmatched here. And to his credit, Archer is not cruel in his treatment of Waver. On the contrary, when he asks if as his sworn retainer, Waver should not avenge his fallen king, and Waver replies that he was ordered to survive, Gilgamesh salutes his “splendid loyalty” and spares his life, urging him to never let that loyalty tarnish.

Time for Waver to go home; he got far further in the Holy Grail War than most would expect a mage from a “lesser” family to get. While this fight is over and Rider is gone, the stage is set—literally, Iri’s body is on a stage—for the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei. Will their fight be as bold and flashy as Archer and Rider’s, or Saber and Berserker’s below them? Perhaps not, but it should still be…theatrical.

Fate / Zero – 12

“Why do I always sit on my smokes?”

After the Rumble in the Marble, most Servants take a step back and assess the situation. Kiritsugu sits in a dark hotel room and pores over intel as he chats with Maiya on the phone…and that’s about it, really.

“I like the way your tent your fingers. Why don’t you work for me?”

Reports and conversation are the name of the game again, but instead of interacting with Saber and Rider, Archer is stuck with Kirei, trying to connect the dots as part of his larger plan to make him one of his men. Kirei delivers his report on the motivations of the other Masters to Archer, who points out that the one that seems to interest Kirei the most is Matou Kiriya, who also seems to be enduring the most pain and suffering.

“I mean, this isn’t how I would drive, but this is fine too, I guess…”

Pain doesn’t seem to be an issue for Iri, while Saber doesn’t seem to be feeling the lasting effects from her throughout putting-down she endured at the hands of Rider and Archer. But Saber does find it odd that Iri has her drive and perform every other task that requires the use of her hands. When she asks Iri about it, she reveals she’s become extremely physically weak as a result of shutting down her sense of touch (a homonculus ability, apparently).

While she believes she can recover a bit of strength by sitting in the right kind of magical circle, the bottom line is that she’ll be relying on Saber more and more as this War progresses. Saber, obviously, is up to it. I must say I underestimated her mental toughness. That circle is drawn in a storeroom on a Japanese mansion that looks very much like the place where Emiya and Saber live and practice in UBW.

“Feel that sting? That’s pride, fuckin’ with you!”

From there it’s back to Archer gradually wrapping Kirei around his finger, Emporer Palpatine-style. He gets Kirei to pretty much admit that he is actually capable of joy, and even if he’s previously considered such feelings to be a sin, Gilgamesh isn’t a fan of this newfangled puritanical philosophy that generated people like Kirei and Saber. Joy is joy, and leads to happiness.

So Archer gets Kirei to ‘find his bliss’, and Command Seals suddenly reappear on his hand. Archer believes it’s proof the Holy Grail isn’t done with him; indeed it’s almost as if the Holy Grail rejected his previous role as Toosaka’s ally and spy and reinstates him as a full Master. Archer also suggests Kirei go out and steal a new Servant, and not-so-subtly picks up the Archer piece from the chessboard to indicate who he should pick.

While there were some nice character beats, you can really only portray two people sitting around talking for so long from so many angles before it gets a bit tedious. In other words, another cool-down episode on the heels of a solid 10. That leaves one episode left in the first cour.

Fate / Zero – 11

Iris detects the massive mana of Rider heading towards the castle, and Saber suits up for a battle…only for Rider to show up in his t-shirt and pants with a giant barrel of wine. He’s not there to fight, he’s there to drink and talk. A Holy Grail “dialogue”, as he puts it.

Saber has no objection, and drinks from the barrel with Rider. Soon, Archer also arrives, on Rider’s invitation, and after rejecting Rider’s “swill” opens a portal to his treasury to draw out…a golden jug and three golden cups.

This would be absurd if it wasn’t also frikking brilliant, for Iskandar and Gilgamesh share one thing in common: they are hedonistic tyrants of yore.

Gilgamesh is such a tyrant he considers all treasures in the world to be his, since they all sprang from his treasury—a treasury so vast he isn’t even aware of all it contained.

Iskandar wants to be reincarnated as a flesh-and-blood man to take up his world conquest anew. Saber…wants to save Britain, in part by erasing all of the perceived mistakes she made in life as king. She wants a redo.

Archer laughs in her face at the fact she harbors regret for the deeds in her life, and Rider can’t help but agree. As far as they’re concerned, it’s the duty of the nation and its people to serve and sacrifice for their ruler, not the other way ’round as Saber would have it.

By insisting upon being a “slave to what’s right”, Saber might be able to save Britain, but she can never lead it, and so Rider ceases to see Saber as a real king.

Kingship, to him, has always been a wondrous gift, and throughout his rule he lived and fought as grandly and greedily as possible, living life to the extremes of both good and bad, that he might inspire men to fight and die for him. When Assassins surround them (a test by Kirei and Tokiomi), Rider transports everyone into a Reality Marble.

There, in the vast desert sands, Iskandar’s endless armies march, and when he mounts his trusty horse and orders them to advance, the Assassins are quickly routed. Saber, Iri and Waver can only sit and watch in stunned awe, while Archer does his best to look unimpressed. It’s the biggest spectacle since the port battle, and it is well and truly momentous.

When the battle is over and everyone’s back in the courtyard, Rider takes one more drink, then takes his leave, which is just as well, as I don’t think anyone’s ideals could have been shat on as thoroughly and mercilessly as Saber’s (If I didn’t know better, I’d say Rider was a cruel drunk). Archer remains to mock Saber, urging her to go ahead and continue believing in her ‘backwards’ philosophy so he can laugh at her some more.

Their words cut as deeply as any blade, as Saber remembers one of her Knights of the Round Table stepping down because he didn’t think Arthur understood his people…and Rider and Archer’s words only served to reinforce her growing crisis of confidence.

But while it doesn’t end well for Saber, like at all, it was fantastic to see three Servant Kings simply sitting in a courtyard, drinking wine, and shooting the breeze…and for Rider to show that he can back up all his big talk, and then some.