I knew this was going to happen. Despite the fact that I so often bring up Sakura she is hardly the most controversial character in Fate/Stay Night. It is not Shinji, Saber, or Kotomine that engenders the most vigorous debates. They all have volatile arguments attached to them and their mere mention in any group of Type-Moon fans (or people who have just experienced Fate/Stay Night) can ignite a flame war as easily as a spirited discussion. But the character that actually gets people the most incensed is probably Shiro. He is seen a naive white knight, a boorish chauvinist, or a flimsy self insert character (with those three criticisms often intersecting.) He reminds me of Touma Kamijou in that way. I always like that sort of hero despite the fact that I admit they can be distinctly problematic. Your mileage may vary.
The thing is that a vocal group of people have always loudly complained that they feel that Fate/Stay Night would be all the better without Shiro as the protagonist. This always leads to people making grand statements about how Nasu should have kept Rin as the sole heroine, how all the rest of the characters a dragged down by this clown, or how Tsukihime and Shiki Tohno are far superior. So I knew this backlash was coming. The fact that the Answer was three episodes long only exasperated this dissent. Up until this point the mixed focus on Rin and the rest of the cast was able to hold off a majority of the complaining. But after last three weeks it has become crystal clear Shiro is the main character and this is his story. The Shiro backlash was coming. It was only a mater of time. But the levy really broke last week.
Overall I think people have a right to dislike the show at this point. It is a shame but it is still a valid opinion. My only criticism is to say that the show was always about Shiro with the rest of the cast being supporting members. Each of them has been there to play a role of reinforcing the themes of Shiro growth. While they have their own stories and themes the structure of the plot makes it so they all have to fall away as the story slowly centers more and more around Shiro. It is one of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Fate/Stay Night. The main problem is if you really dislike Shiro then the strengths of continually reinforcing his growth becomes a fatal flaw.
And so if you thought the show was more of an ensemble work then the veil was fully lifted from your eyes. That is the problem of going into a show and expecting one thing but discovering it is another animal entirely. It can easily make a viewer turn 180 on a show. It is not always the show’s fault. It can often times just be accidental misinterpretation, wishful thinking, or a willful self-deception but when the illusion is broken the results are not pretty.
The fight between Archer and Shiro comes to an end. One philosophy must fall and it seems that Archer’ cynicism is the one that cannot stand. But just as the confrontation seem to come to a peaceful conclusion Gilgamesh enters the arena with his standard lethal entrance. Only the interruption of the burning castle saves Shiro and Rin. But Gilgamesh’s plan to summon the foul and corrupted Holy Grail has not even hit a speed bump as he still has a perfect substitute for Rin as a vessel.
Before I go into talking about the episode proper I wanted to point out another Fate/Extra reference. When we get a new set of Archer’s memories we see him in some very unusual garb. Anyone who played Fate/Extra CCC will instantly recognize the outfit from his ending in the game. It is interesting to see them pulling from, what up until now, has been a very separate cul-de-sac in the Fate Universe. While I doubt the Moon Cell is going to get referenced any time soon it is a fairly good sign that even though Imageepoch is dead that the Fate/Extra characters are going away.
I was really running behind last week so I forgot to point out one of the more subtle points of allusion last week. When I saw JohnDCP posting about the Shiro and Saber connection I was totally kicking myself for not bringing it up. This week the show brought it to the forefront as to give me a second chance. But overall as I said above it should be increasingly clear that these stories are here to enforce Shiro’s bildungsroman. In many ways Saber’s journey is the same as Archer’s. She is participating in the Holy Grail War to undo what she sees as grand mistake that irrevocably damaged England for all time. (I’m guessing how much you dislike the current conservative government of England under David Cameron speaks to how much you agree with that statement.) As she realizes more and more how useless her need to cry over spilt milk has been the more her connection to Shiro grows. At the same time you see Archer coming to that same revelation as well. It is a nice parallel if considerably less subtle than it was last week.
I could talk a lot about the battle but the philosophical debate basically spells itself out pretty well. Archer sees that the Shiro before him is not destined to be the Archer he has become. With the increased self-awareness of the flaws in his Hero of Justice philosophy Shiro may make many of the same mistakes but he won’t have the same disillusionment at the end.
Instead I’m going to tell you a story that this part of the Fate/Stay Night always reminds me of.
In college I knew a kid I’m only going to call Ben. When he started as a freshman he was about as conservative as you could get. He was a devout christian, super right-wing, and about as straight-laced as they come. He spent most of his childhood as a military brat in Texas and was even a member of the Young Republicans. He sounds more like a set up for a punchline than anything else. After a year of college the stereotypical mix of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in literal and equal measures turned him around about as much is philosophically possible. He went to being the Texan Alex P. Keaton to a super liberal, free loving, pot smoking, feminist, zen buddhist hippie. We skip ahead another year and a big breakup sort of throws that all into turmoil.
I remember him actually being more broken up about his loss of moral centering than anything else. We had a series of long discussions with him about the nature of benevolence. Do we actually do anything for others without reward or are all charitable works actually done for selfish reasons? It is hardly an unheard of discussion to have in college. In fact it probably is the most stereotypical place to have such a philosophical debate.
In the end Ben mainly got over his general loss of direction and self. He generally settled on a much more moderate world view with a distinct leftist bent but some of his old conservative views mixed in. The last time I heard about him he was married and has a very nice job in DC so you don’t have to worry about him at all.
Back then I gave him a simple piece of advice. It does not really matter why we do the good things we do be it for genuine and pure selfless reasons or if there are pieces of self-serving greed in that mixture. What really matters is the choice is made to help others. If it is done in an hypocritical manner than it is still better than the utterly self-serving alternative. In a prisoner’s dilemma it only matters that both sides choose to cooperate otherwise it easily leads to a vicious cycle of betrayal. See Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. Beyond that I always felt that most good deeds are done with a mixture of selfishness and selflessness. Any philosophy that ignores either side wants simple answers that the world just does not like to give.
In a way Archer and Shiro come to that same conclusion.
Is Gilgamesh really an Archer because he seems more like as Assassin here.
Just as it seems like Archer can rejoin the team Gilgamesh comes in with his standard spamming of bullet hell swords. They do a good job of really making it look like Archer is dead. You see the swords disappear in just the right way so that it is all too easy to interpret that as his body breaking up in the way Servants usually die. Heck, it fools all of the people in the room.
Overall while they lost Archer it is not the worst setup. Saber is fairly well rested and has a distinct bump in power thanks to Rin being her Master. She has higher stats than when she was Shiro’s Servant and she is comparable if not even more powerful than she was contracted to Kiritsugu. With Shiro and Rin backing her up they don’t have a guaranteed win but they also are not utterly doomed. When Gilgamesh leaves at the end it might be less becuase of his benevolence or fastidiousness and more to do with him deciding to even the odds a bit more since his element of surprise is gone.
Actually Gilgamesh might be more Basil Exposition than anything else now that I think about it.
Overall without the Fate path to lay out the true nature of the Grail and the war itself a little lesson on sinister nature of what is going on goes a long way. And now they can tie in more material from Fate/Zero since that whole period is much more fleshed out then it was when the visual novel was first written.
For Saber this might be the most life changing day outside of the day she pulled the sword from the stone or the Battle of Camlann. First of all her whole philosophy on her life was overturned by Archer and Shiro’s battle. That is no small change in mindset. Then she also has just learned that everything she knew about Kiritsugu was wrong. He actually had fairly high-minded goals even if his methods were ruthless. Also the true nature of the Grail and its corrupted wish grant powers makes his command to destroy it nothing short of heroic.
Mea Culpa, Mr. Emiya.
This is mostly just Shinji reaping the consequences of his action. Rin warned him that if he knew what was good for him he would run away when he had the chance. Gilgamesh on the other hand knew that Shinji would stick around because he feels like he deserves all the rewards on winning the Holy Grail War. Instead he merely gets what he actually deserves.
Previous Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works posts:
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #020 – A New Meme is Born
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #019 – I Didn’t See Aigis or Metis Anywhere
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #018 -I Endorse this Ship
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #017 – Boot to the Head
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #016 – Another Spin
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #015 – When You Dream
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #014 – All in Good Time
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #013 – Break Your Heart
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #012 – The Empire Strikes Back
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #011 – The Silly Faces of Taiga Fujimura
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #010 – The Bushwhackers
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #009 – The Issei Strip Mahjong Game
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #008 – There’s a Shortage of Perfect Breasts in this World
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #007 – Curse Your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal!
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #006 – Shiro the Puppet
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #005 – The Silly Faces of Rin Tohsaka
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #004 – A Good Neighborhood Tiger
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #003 – Spoilers: Archer Uses a Bow
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #002 – Emiya Visits the Rip-Off Church
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #001 – People Almost Forgot Shiro is the Hero
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works #000 – Archer the Combat Butler