Fate/Zero #20: Grail Girl and the Amazing Human Gun

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[TW: this post contains discussion of sexual assault]

Back in the present, Kiritsugu emerges from his hidey-hole to pay his wife and mistress a visit. Iri’s back in her homunculus charging port, but seems entirely unfazed by her impending demise, so much so that she materialises Avalon, Saber’s magic sheath that she called the only thing holding her together, and gives it to her hubby, since he’ll need it more than her. He’s the hero, after all, and she was literally made to be a disposable woman.

Kiritsugu doesn’t bat an eyelid at this apart from minimal shock, and neither does he balk when she talks about their daughter and bringing her to this place to have a lovely happy cute fun time that Iri will never see because she is dying. He ends the exchange with something akin to “I’d better be off” like he’s going to miss a train or something. Having seen the last two episodes, and knowing that Iri’s wasting away to nothingness (which will be sped up now that she doesn’t have the healing sheath), we can kind of put together that he’s probably crying inside because he’s forced to choose between the people he loves and his cause again, and in order to keep working towards it he can’t crack and needs to soldier on. Maybe it’s even meant to come across as frustratingly callous. I certainly know I shout “Kiss her or something!!” every time I see this scene.

We can understand it, though, both the stoic wall he puts between himself and Iri and Iri’s calm acceptance of it all. While you’re forced to realise in parts like this how little we actually know about their relationship, you can at least get some sense of emotional subtext with the information that you’ve gathered about both characters and their histories over the course of the show. Maiya has less luck. She’s waiting for Kiritsugu outside, her usual stone-faced self, until… she calls him back, maybe a little shyly, and smiles looking nothing short of cute, and says “You look like your old self.” He turns his back and goes to assassinate Tokiomi because he doesn’t have time to deal with these women and their feelings (otherwise he’ll probably burst into tears).

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The question is though, what is “his old self”? What do these two characters know about each other? What’s their relationship? How did they meet? Why did they kiss that one time?? That kiss haunts me. There are few things more infuriating in this show’s use of detail than the fact that that smooch was dropped in and never explained or brought up again. You could go as far to say it was entirely unnecessary as it ended up adding no plot drama an effectively nothing to either of their characters, except intrigue that never became relevant. You only skim the absolute surface of their relationship even though there’s obviously a world of potentially interesting stuff going on, and it… oh. It’s Iceberg Theory. God damn it.

I’ll continue the grand tradition of dissecting everything stupid about a character’s construction in their last episode in a moment, but I should probably mention that while this is going on, Waver is asleep in a forest and Kariya is chained to a wall (these are not connected incidents). Iskander is wiped out after his awesome display at the river battle (which was, we’re forced to remember, only the night before) so he’s soaking up mana from Waver. To help him, Waver’s boosting his own energy by pigging out on convenience meals and taking a nap in a sleeping bag that makes it look as though he’s going to emerge as a beautiful butterfly. Iskander admits that he’s actually in much direr need than he admitted initially, but didn’t want to burden Waver, and Waver is once again shocked that someone cares about his wellbeing.

Kariya, meanwhile, is having a Freaky Naked Nightmare™ where Berserker grabs him by the throat and monologues at him amidst fire and brimstone. It’s the first time we’ve heard the mad knight’s voice, and it’s something quite scary, really—while it doesn’t give any hints to their identity, it certainly indicates a fair amount of self-loathing. When Kariya wakes up, he’s not in a much better position, in fact he’s hanging from a wall in the basement full of bugs with Zouken giggling about what bad shape he’s in. Don’t worry though, he fed him “the first worm to feed on Sakura’s purity” to give him a mana burst and help heal him, so Kariya can get better and keep fighting while feeling even more disgusted with himself! Fun!

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Iskander is great, the Matou family is awful. With these things firmly re-established, it’s time to return to the shed, where Iri and Maiya are bonding over how they have no motivations outside of helping Kiritsugu. No, really. Iri admits that she doesn’t understand his dream to save the world, or his methods, but he’s so dedicated to it that she’s going along with it because it’s something akin to a sense of purpose. Considering she was going to die to summon the Grail anyway, it’s a step up, but it still feels a little lazy as writing, especially when Maiya says she’s in the exact same position.

She was a child soldier, she explains, honed and abused into an empty shell of a human being, to the point where she retains no memories about her life or sense of self. She is “emotionally dead inside” and has no desires of her own, which is… incredibly convenient, really, as well as actually contradictory. If she has no emotions, what were those moments of expressive tenderness like the kiss scene and “you look like your old self”? Not to mention her protective rage against Kirei and her slow bonding with Iri and Saber.

A person who’s been beaten down so much she literally thinks of herself as a machine, but slowly learns to trust and get back in touch with her humanity through the power of love, is a hell of an interesting story, but as with Kuzuki (who she is basically a gender-swapped photocopy of, I may as well point out) it’s not delved into any more than is bare-minimum required. They’re a badass who feels nothing and is dedicated to this more important character! What more do you need to know?

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And I feel like at one point I wouldn’t have needed to know more, because on face value she’s such an uninteresting prop of a character, but over a two-year period I’ve become weirdly attached to Maiya, pursuing my interest in her one-note character until the strange and profound realisation that I actually relate to her in a few ways, some abstract and some less so. So I’m biased, but either way the utter laziness with which this character was created (even from a design standpoint—she was literally commissioned as “a fighting woman who isn’t Bazett” and ended up with the same palette and haircut as Waver) has to be dealt with. And again, I weep, because two women who don’t think of themselves as human rediscovering their humanity in their bond with each other would have been a beautiful story, but the fact is that it’s mainly used for exposition and humanising Kiritsugu, and is blown to bits just as it’s flowering.

Because yes, Maiya dies in this episode. Which is why all that backstory and vaguely humanising detail was stuffed in, because now the audience will feel feelings for her, yes! But no writer will have to deal with any consequences of it or develop her any further! Least of all answer that petty question about why she and the main character are apparently having an affair. And there’s a huge steaming problem with that no matter how you slice it—I don’t usually like doing this, because I like to judge the show objectively for what it’s doing as a show, but let’s veer away to her extended backstory, from the novels (or in my case her Wiki page because I unfortunately never finished them, oops).

As if being kidnapped as a child and forced into army work wasn’t enough, Maiya was reportedly also the victim of repeated sexual abuse until she became pregnant, to then become “separated from her unnamed child”. Maybe this being cut from the show means it’s been retconned out of its horrible existence, and I have to hope so, because you do not ever just jam a tragic rape story into a character’s history without treating it with proper weight and respect. If you’re using it for shock value and bonus tragedy, don’t. And if you jump to tragic loss of babies as a shortcut for humanising female characters, you’re not just gross, you’re lazy.

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And if you’re going to then throw that character into “a sexual relationship that contains no real emotions” for the sake of the partner’s emotional steadiness and sad bad tragic development (“Kiritsugu sees it mainly as a rehearsal before he betrays Irisveil by allowing her to sacrifice herself and complete the Grail”, which is the weirdest excuse to write in an affair I’ve ever heard of), don’t you dare coast over the horrible and heartbreaking implications that she’s offering her body up for his benefit when she’s been sexually abused before without calling it out as a negative thing. One reading could even be that Kiritsugu’s totally okay with using Maiya for sad self-berating sex knowing that she only sees herself as a tool that belongs to him, and it’s just one more thing she can help with. Because that’s disgusting and while they push the moral ambiguity angle pretty heavily with Kiritsugu, I’m pretty sure they didn’t want him to be that awful.

But we can read it any way we want because nothing is concrete. Maiya’s character and her relationship with Kiritsugu became one of the most fascinating things about the series to me, because it’s tossed in with such lack of care that it’s actually a little baffling. Look, does it matter, though? She’s just a side character. You can’t develop everyone to perfection with such a large cast and such a short timeframe, and there are more important ones out there. Oh, I agree that all of that is true. But I’m still one rewatch away from pulling a Jean Rhys.

Ugh. Anyway. Despite how the last we knew of it he was chilling in a forest, Iskander of all people kicks down the door to the shed, destroys the place, and kidnaps Iri. Saber rushes back from her scouting mission and takes off after the chariot, and Kiritsugu runs back just in time to hold the dying Maiya (who got mortally injured somewhere offscreen, of course) in his arms in the silver moonlight. She’s smiling again. We do not understand why because we do not understand anything about their relationship.

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But it’s still moving (and important to me, and debunks at least some of the skeevy scenario above) because Kiritsugu shows feeling and implies that yes, there is something deeper between these two than owner and possession or assassin and assistant or man and inexplicable mistress. He sheds tears, and she wipes them away, telling him to save them for his wife. Who is also a prop character with a haphazardly-inserted sad backstory and no motivation of her own, but let’s not dwell on that just yet.

Let’s give Maiya her moment. She tells Kiritsugu that he can’t break down just yet, he needs to keep fighting, and he tells her that she’s fulfilled her purpose. With this assurance, she dies with a smile, and it would be truly beautiful if, for example, she’d had some sort of character arc about becoming more expressive and human and didn’t just spontaneously become cute at random moments despite being reportedly dead inside. To really drive in that this is about Kiritsugu and not her, the most heartbreaking part of the scene is when it cuts to black and he says her name, voice breaking and filled with emotion.

Not to say it’s not a tender moment. It’s just surrounded by neon arrows that flash “feel bad for Kiritsugu!” rather than acknowledging Maiya as anything other than the cute/badass/seductive/supportive/??? prop she’s been all show. Alas, another interesting lady derailed for the Manpain Train. Full steam ahead!

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5 Comments

Filed under Alex Watches

5 responses to “Fate/Zero #20: Grail Girl and the Amazing Human Gun

  1. Roarke

    Manpain is so delicious though. Like, imagine Kiritsugu standing there over Maiya’s corpse, and he’s so anguished over it that he punches the wall in a screaming rage, breaking his hand. He has a tense moment of “oh crap, how can I fight like this,” when Avalon heals him. Kiritsugu is so relieved that he punches the wall again even harder, breaking his hand over and over until he’s physically exhausted.

    Kiritsugu’s manpain tastes like chocolate.

    On a more serious note though, this series has had what, four fridged women in the span of three episodes? Is that some kind of record? I kind of want to look it up but I also kind of don’t.

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