Fate/Stay Night #20: T’is But A Scratch

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It’s amusing to me that the (pseudo-mistranslated) line that made this franchise iconic is “people die when they are killed”, because half the time that’s very untrue. It seems like you need to kill most of these characters at least twice before they get the idea that they’re meant to stay dead.

This episode went by in the blink of an eye—I was almost tempted to watch it again, immediately, to fully digest everything that happened in this action-packed, colourful, emotional philosophical tear-down. It’s some straight up Battle at the Centre of Your Mind stuff with all those discussions of heroism and ideals coming to a head and literally sending sparks flying. But before we get to Archer and Shirou’s climactic fight, I feel we ought to address what the hell happened in Rin’s plotline.

The title shot pans down on her tied to a chair with a simpering Shinji and a menacing Kirei bearing down on her, and Cu flat on his back in the corner of the room. It is not a good place to be. Kirei bats off Shinji’s possessive whining and strides forward matter-of-factly intent on removing her heart, chuckling about how she’s remaining stubborn to the end. This, however, is not the end of Rin, we see as we snap to a very startled-looking Shinji who’s lost any scrap of dignity and bravado upon noticing that the dead man on the flagstones is very much not dead.

Cu gives Kirei the benefit of about half a second to look stunned, then skewers the corrupt judge and slams him across the room, declaring that he wouldn’t be much of a hero if a scratch like that could kill him. I think a jab through the ribcage from a cursed spear counts as more than a scratch, but hey, I’m not about to argue with someone who’s just murdered Kirei (and properly this time, it seems!). Declaring the whole situation ridiculous, Cu slides down the wall and dies. Shinji is ecstatic, doing a beautiful victory dance that involves stepping on Kirei’s face and knocking Rin over in her prison chair. Whether he’s intent on killing or sexually assaulting her is unclear, but mercifully we never get the chance to find out. Guess who’s still not dead?

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Servant Gilgamesh, when called for by Shinji, is of no help, leaving the lad sprinting shrieking out of the room clutching the pinprick spear wound to his shoulder looking, satisfyingly, like a complete tit. Cu frees Rin and they settle down to have a little conversation before she heads off to see what she can do about the Archer debacle—while admitting that she’s not the one to save him—and Cu grins and tells her to hit him up when she’s a little older. Flirting complete, he sets the place on fire with a rune, and disappears into stardust for real this time. May you and your magnificent shoulder pads rest in peace.

Rin’s quite right about one thing—she isn’t the one to save Archer, or Shirou. Her relationship with both of them has become a moot point. Right now, it’s all about Shirou’s relationship with himself, both literally in that he’s having a fight with his future incarnation and in that he’s got a lot of internal conflict. There’s no better way to visualise this than by throwing him into the Bladeworks and back through Archer’s memories, seeing again all the people he killed and the traitor’s end he received in return. Are you not sickened, taunts Archer, that this is what you’re doomed to become?

As they fight, Shirou gains more knowledge of how Archer makes his swords, thus improving his own projection skills along the way. Archer calls him a copycat for this, and points out as an extension that that’s Shirou’s whole thing—his weapons aren’t his, and neither are his ideals. He borrowed them from Kiritsugu and has been pursuing them blindly since that night he got rescued. Archer knows. His memory of his former life is patchy, but he remembers that. And we see it again, hellfire and tears and all.

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This could just be because I started with Fate/Zero, but it’s entirely weird to me how much of a non-character Kiritsugu is—we’ve seen barely any of him considering he was Shirou’s guardian, mentor and the one who gave him his moral mentality, and the heroic ideals that have propelled him through the story and eventually led to the creation of our current antagonist. He’s effectively a cipher, an idolised being who has no characterisation outside of the actions that fuelled Shirou and Archer’s development and decisions.

Our only hint that he’s anything but a pure blank superhero ideal in human form is what we see of him from Ilya’s point of view, thought that’s an equally two-dimensional portrait. Apart from a few snippets in the first episode, all we get are these same scenes: the rescue, and the conversation before his death. I admit that there’s not really much room to flesh him out more, but he feels weirdly flat for a character who’s so important.

Maybe that’s the point though. The biggest flaw in Archer and Shirou’s ideals is that they got them second-hand from a man they barely knew or understood, and their idea of what a hero is never got the chance to mature beyond a twelve-year-old’s idealised view of their cool dad. Kiritsugu died young and very ill, but this is barely even mentioned because the memories Shirou is clinging to and that we keep repeating are the ones of Kiritsugu as strong and kind and happy, infallible through his adoring childish lens. Bringing that into the real world, it’s no wonder Archer got hit so hard and became so disillusioned.

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But, as we see after Shirou gets stabbed through (to Saber’s loud distress—there’s not much room to talk about her this time, but I must mention how much I love the way she’s become increasingly expressive over the series), there was something Archer was missing from that memory. Yes, they picked up their ideals to follow Kiritsugu, because they wanted to be like him. And to quell their raging survivor’s guilt too, obviously, but also just… because they genuinely liked the feeling of saving someone.

Shirou reiterates that Kiritsugu was saved that night too (perhaps more than he knows) and finding each other in that hellish disaster was a miracle. And he looked so happy, Shirou got the sense that he been given the chance to do something good. He wasn’t just pursuing his dream to be a hero blindly to copy his idol, out of principle, or even so much out of a moral code though that certainly exists in him—he just wants people to be happy.

Perhaps that’s oversimplifying it, but the importance of the journey through Shirou’s past and future conscience, complete with a tiny Shirou, teenaged Shirou and Archer-esque Shirou all warning each other off walking into Hell, is that he came out of it with hope. And that is something Archer doesn’t have, which makes them immediately different, and in some ways it makes Shirou stronger.

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He also has Saber’s scabbard, apparently, which Kiritsugu is seen utilising to heal small Shirou in part of that memory they’d both seemed to have forgotten. In a beautiful but understated parallel to Saber’s flashback in the previous episode, Shirou fights through the mental smog to get to a sword on a hill, questioned by his future self all the way: are you still going to pursue this, knowing what end you could meet, what a colossal meanie you could become? Oh, yes. Even if it’s hypocritical, even if it leads him to ruin, even if it’s selfless and dumb. Shirou is going to do good, damn it, and with that he takes up the sword.

And thus the sheath, which seems to have healing powers (oh! So that’s what that was! Finally!) activates and lets the boy stand up and raise a perfectly projected sword and proverbial middle finger to the angry, incredulous alternate self glaring at him from across the field of swords. Shirou’s spirit was broken, but is no longer, not now that he’s remembered what it’s all about. He’d accept defeat from someone else, but not himself. He’s killed off the part of him that will become Archer, and now it’s time to kill the physical thing.

And we’re going to have to wait until next time to find out how it all ends. Hold onto something!

Additional notes:

  • How does it feel, Kirei? How does it feel?!
  • The soundtrack was particularly incredible this episode, and I liked the inclusion of another song by the band who produced the opening theme. I also may have cried during that scene. I think it was the little smile after future-Shirou says “Hey, that’s Hell you’re walking into” that really set me off.
  • Not that I expected him to show up, but Gilgamesh’s absence is decidedly ominous. What is he up to? I expect he and Shinji are about to have a good chat.
  • There’s going to be a Heaven’s Feel promo at the end of the series and it’s just going to be Sakura jumping out of a box going “Haha! You all thought I was irrelevant!”
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6 Comments

Filed under Alex Watches

6 responses to “Fate/Stay Night #20: T’is But A Scratch

  1. takashid

    Well, i think you’re forgetting that Kiritsugu is NOT held up as a perfect hero; he openly tells Shirou he failed in his goals, and Archer mentions how Kiritsugu failed to live up to his ideals. He’s a failed hero.

    but yeah, Kiritsugu does actually receive more characterization–in Heaven’s Feel. Perhaps fitting for the route in which Shirou’s ideals are most tested, its also that route in which he finds out about Kiritsugu’s darker history.

    • That’s true–Shirou DID take up his dream because Kiritsugu admitted he failed it, didn’t he? :L That hasn’t so much been the aspect that’s been focussed on, though, however it was nice that it came back up in this episode.

      I swear, so much of these discussions are “but in Heaven’s Feel…” the HF adaptation is going to have a lot to answer, certainly!

      • It’s really difficult to talk about only the first half of a mystery novel that’s why. You’ll notice that’s how UBW is structured as well with lots of hints about the grail and Archer’s identity, then a big reveal literally called “the answer” and a final chase scene after the villain has been unmasked. HF is that to all the previous routes.

  2. Pingback: Fate/Stay Night #21: Dream A Little Bigger, Darling | The Afictionado

  3. Pingback: Fate/Stay Night #23: On Va Voir | The Afictionado

  4. Pingback: Fate/Zero #25: Nice Job Breaking It, Hero | The Afictionado

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