As our perspective swings away from Rin and Shirou again and we learn yet more about the other characters and the world they inhabit, the question must be asked: are there any adults in the mage world who aren’t awful?
Ilya, we learn as we flash back in the midst of Berserker’s fight with Servant Number Eight, has a troubled home life to say the least. We see an even smaller version of her sprint happily to the front doors of an even bigger and more ornate castle somewhere in the snow, anticipating Kiritsugu (yes, that guy!) coming home… only to find the entrance empty but for a depressing swish of snow. And, of course, the ghostly figure that rises from a seam of bloody goop that snakes across the floor, whom she calls mother. Well, this already isn’t a nuclear family scene.
“Why are you here, mama?” Ilya asks. “I thought you were going to turn into the Holy Grail.” As if it wasn’t enough of a bizarre revelation that people can turn into the Grail and that this little girl thinks of it as matter-of-fact, we see Kiritsugu’s shadow in an image the dark woman conjures up… explaining pleasantly that the man the audience knows best as Shirou’s loving, heroic father has destroyed her, the person he was meant to protect, and left Ilya for dead. We even see a gun up against her throat for a second, an image Ilya is too horrified to believe (but one that may be eerily familiar to people who know the franchise, though let’s not get into that lest I start flinging spoilers around the proverbial room).
The silent bearded man who appears in the hall in genuine wizard robes doesn’t so much as help her off the floor where she’s crying. The next thing we see is Ilya shuddering on her own in a barren white room, until unholy blood-mud starts dripping from the ceiling again and “mother” reappears to happily tell her that “the traitor” we must assume is this contradictory vision of Kiritsugu has died. And you should care, Ilya, because he had a child! He not only abandoned but replaced you with a better model! And now, when the Grail War ignites again in a few years, you can go kill each other! Isn’t that darling?
Well, as well as this being an intriguing little parallel, now we understand Ilya’s vendetta against the Emiya family. Though the revelation that Kiritsugu not only had, but supposedly murdered and abandoned, a wife and daughter before he found Shirou, hits you in the side of the head whether you predicted it or not. Everything about Ilya’s flashback is so wonderfully off-kilter and creepy, from the blanched colour scheme to the soft high piano music to the actual content, you know, the demonic mother figure who shows up encouraging murder in a lilting lovely voice.
Not to speak of the pool full of dying homunculi who blankly tell Ilya that she is the end result of the Einzbern family’s research, a perfect specimen—what the rest of them have been created trying to achieve. Their identical, tool-like lives have meaning now. If Ilya fails, the family is going to pack in their efforts towards a miracle. Talk about pressure to put on a pair of constantly tiny shoulders.
It isn’t clear how old Ilya actually is, but if we remember that Kiritsugu took Shirou in a decade ago, it’s definitely older than she looks. A physical manifestation of how her lack of human contact has stunted her in a childlike state—while she’s been simultaneously forced to grow up very fast. When Berserker is summoned for the Grail War, she’s all business, determined to endure even the worst of magic-induced pain because she is the strongest, gosh darn it. If she can’t get out there and win this thing, what’s the point?
As if we needed any further proof of how isolated and messed up her upbringing has been, Ilya wakes up underdressed in the middle of an ice-locked, wolf-infested forest, accepting as she shivers through the snow that this is simply her final test: if she can survive this and make her way home, she’ll be deemed good enough to go fight in Fuyuki. Just when you’re screaming for somebody to help this child, wonder of wonders, somebody actually does… and it’s Berserker, bounding in out of nowhere to prevent her from becoming wild dogfood.
He doesn’t fight back, though, and Ilya realises that he knows his movements hurt her through their Master-Servant connection (it doesn’t help that Ilya’s apparently 70% magic circuits via some sort of routine body modification, what), and has a small out-of-body experience as she reflects that someone’s actually been genuinely looking out for her welfare of their own free will. She gives him permission to attack and he lays waste to the predators, and they walk home together hand in hand, Ilya with some sort of supportive, protective caring figure with no Graily ulterior motives in her life for the first time in too many years. Who’d have thought the magically maddened giant demigod who communicates by roaring would be her answer to a father figure?
Knowing all this, we the audience are suitably convinced to be horrified as Servant Number Eight ruthlessly murders Berserker not once but twelve times—Heracles’ Noble Phantasm, you see, is immortality, representing his Twelve Trials. Neat as it is, it’s a trick that runs out, and Ilya’s forced to watch in horror as the only family she has left is chained up and skewered. And it’s just about the last thing she ever sees, it turns out, because that’s when our gold-plated amigo steps up and slashes out her eyes with a sword.
He then proceeds to slide the sword through her middle as if she’s nothing but butter and leave her in a puddle on the floor trying to drag herself to Berserker, looking completely unbothered the entire time. Whoever this guy is, this display has definitely served the purpose of debunking Ilya and Berserkules as villains and shooting Servant Number Eight to the pedestal position. He’s not only crazily overpowered enough to kill demigods (apparently with a literally limitless amount of weapons), he will murder a child in cold blood without batting an eyelid.
It’s certainly enough to set Shirou screaming in his direction, despite Rin trying to pin him down and keep him out of sight. The pair gets a sword flung towards them for their efforts, again, without so much as a perturbed look from Blondie. What does shock him is Berserker coming back to life again seemingly by the power of rage alone, and actually nearly smashing the guy in half before he cuts him off quick-smart with more spears. The Power of Love exists as a legitimate trump card in the Fate-verse? Incredible.
Though it’s not enough to save or even avenge Ilya in the end… but she does go out with a smile, happy and unafraid now that she has Berserker beside her. Even if by that point she’s definitely bleeding to death, and Berserker has dissipated into the sparkles that signify a dead Servant. Team Berserker has been wrecked spectacularly, and there was no glamour or adventure about it. I smell a Despair Event Horizon, my friends—this was a gut punch to say the least, but I can’t help but feel it’s only setting things up to get worse.
R.I.P., Ilya, first main character casualty of the War, even though we barely knew you and you were a one-arc villain humanised in a single shot backstory before you died before our eyes. Maybe you’ll get a chance to reconcile your parental issues when you come back in the Heaven’s Feel movie, but for now, if anyone needs me, I’m going to be screaming into a pillow about the whole state of affairs.
- Did any of these mage children actually have childhoods oh my God
- So, Ilya was alerted by the boundary around the castle being tripped, right? I assume that’s what it meant when we saw that flare of colour in the forest, and she was so certain Kiritsugu had come back. At the end of Fate/Zero Kiritsugu narrates that the Einzberns lock him out of the bounded field, which means at that moment he was probably there trying to get back in. He was probably less than a mile away fighting to break through the magic boundary to free Ilya as her mother was explaining how he betrayed and didn’t love them
- I admit it, I knew this was going to happen… but I was not prepared for Iri showing up. Refer to my above statement about screaming into a cushion
- It’s good to see we’re gradually learning more and more about what the Holy Grail actually is, though, even if it’s only in droplets of information… we now know that people, or at least homunculi, can turn into it, and that it may or may not be connected with evil goo… which frankly does not bode well whichever way you slice it
- They’re going to taunt us with that happy shot of Ilya in the opening theme for the rest of the season, aren’t they
- Sakura was not relevant in this episode and I hope to heavens it’s because she’s hiding in a bunker somewhere avoiding her brother and the monstrosity he’s brought into their house