Swords and Saucepans: Domesticity, Masculinity, and Emiya Shirou

Emiya Menu

Fate truly is one of the most widespread and versatile franchises of our time. So which varied spinoff am I keeping up with? The even-higher-stakes supernatural battles of Fate/Apocrypha? The surreal and psychological sci-fi drama of Fate/Extra? The alternate-history-hopping adventure that is Fate/Grand Order?

No, I’m watching the cooking show. That’s where I’m at in my life.

Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family (affectionately nicknamed Fate/Stay for Dinner by some) is a series of shorts which involve the characters we know and love from Fate/Stay Night going about their daily business, in a setting where magic exists but any semblance of a Grail War seems to have been put on hold. Lancer is alive and well and works at the local markets, Caster is eagerly leaning into the domestic bliss she never got when she was married to Jason of the Argonauts, and the various sibling pairs who were once pitted against each other in a supernatural battle to the death are now awkwardly sharing lunch. At the heart of it all is our protagonist Shirou, and each episode is framed around a meal that he cooks for (and/or with) another character.

It might sound a little silly, especially as it exists in direct juxtaposition to many other dark and action-packed franchise entries coming out at the same time, including the very dark Heaven’s Feel movies which star the same core cast. But Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is not meant to be laughed at, least of all mean-spiritedly—we can even safely say it doesn’t feel like a parody series, because yes, Fate already has a parody series we can compare it to. It’s just nice, I think meant to offer some respite from the onslaught of drama and bloodshed in the rest of the franchise; a sort of officially sanctioned Domestic AU for fans to rest their weary heads on. And at the heart of this calming, healing series is, as I said, Shirou and his trusty apron. And we’re not supposed to laugh at this, either.

Emiya Menu (45)

Of course, the main reason this series works—and no doubt the main inspiration behind it—is because, despite his day job as a Fantasy Shonen Action Protagonist, Shirou is perfectly at home in a household kitchen. Whether you found it endearing or boring, from the get-go a key feature of Fate/Stay Night has always been the balance of supernatural action and domestic delights. Shirou is super good at cooking and loves making food for other people; this is as much a core element of his character as his goal to be a hero. Obviously his household skills are partly practical, since the poor kid has been fending for himself for a long time and if he didn’t learn to cook and clean he would perish of starvation in a gross disaster zone. But it’s still a little, simple but effective detail that I adore, the fact that this character is equal parts Heroic Fighter and Nurturing Home Cook, and neither facet could be removed from his characterisation while keeping it intact.

And again, this is something we’re meant to embrace rather than mock. There are a few jokes peppered throughout Fate/Stay Night about Shirou being a “housewife”, but from memory he doesn’t take offence, and anyone who makes those kinds of remarks either makes them playfully or eases up once they taste something delicious that he’s cooked for them. Overall, Shirou’s cooking is the heart and soul of many of the positive character interactions in the series, whether on a momentary level (like the many family dinners that allow both cast and audience to catch their breath between fight scenes) or a deeper, more meaningful level (such as Sakura finding respite from her abusive home life in her daily routine of cooking with Shirou).

So, again, Shirou’s traditionally “masculine” skills, like his ability to yell and fight with swords, are shown to be balanced with and equally important to his traditionally “feminine” skills, like his ability to make a really good curry. You need both to have a true Shirou, and you need both to have the plot, too. Caring about meal preparation does not diminish his ability to save the day, nor the other way around.

Emiya Menu (13)

Going right back to the start, I can’t say for sure whether or not this was deliberate from that perspective. Early Fate/Stay Night is pretty fraught with gendered insensitivities, most notably those coming from the mouth of Shirou himself: that whole “you can’t do that, you’re a girl!” spiel that Saber is subjected to, despite her obvious proficiency in the exact things he’s telling her not to do. Of course, you can dig a little and read this as a knee-jerk reaction because he can’t articulate his actual problem, which is that he can’t stand the idea of anyone getting hurt on his behalf, and have it become a symptom of self-loathing rather than ingrained sexism. It doesn’t alleviate the obnoxiousness of that repeated rhetoric, of course, but thankfully the phrasing drops off as the route progresses anyway, as he comes to understand Saber as more of an individual person and they learn to work in tandem.

And hey, once this nonsense is over, across the whole story Shirou stacks up quite a successful track record of collaborating with girls and women. It’s deep trust and teamwork with Saber that lets the two of them beat the two-man squad that is Kirei and Gilgamesh (who are, between them, responsible for an awful lot of violence and disrespect against women in the greater series), and a teamup with Rin (and later Ilya) that helps sway the final battle in the other two routes. Discarding the boundaries between “what boys should do” and “what girls should do” has won the War as well as cooked up some delicious homemade breakfasts, is the connection I’m drawing here.

And look, whether all this was intended as a statement against the divide in gendered traits or against toxic masculinity, I can’t say for sure. But it’s absolutely a reading you can draw from this character, and one that becomes increasingly viable as each new adaptation and reimagining of him and his story comes out, and the series continues to grow from its initial clunkiness in the early Fate route.

Emiya Menu (47)

It’s everywhere if you look. Archer is Shirou’s natural enemy, and Archer is an alternate version of himself, one that has simmered in toxic and masculine-coded traits: cynicism and the denial of emotion, self-destructive tendencies, and a general dedication to violence as a way of solving problems (including being violent towards women). Archer is hyper-masculine in build and in personality, and he is portrayed as a villainous version of Shirou that he should aim to never become. It’s Shirou’s nurturing and gentleness that saves Sakura as much as—in fact even more so than—his physical strength. It’s his emotional vulnerability that eventually helps him bond and ally with Ilya. And to bring this up just one more time, his original vision of heroism is a man crying his eyes out.

It is so, so important to have male heroes who embrace traits usually classed as “feminine” and to have the story they’re in celebrate this rather than make it a quirk or a joke. This has always been an understated but crucial part of Shirou, and so in many ways Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is a very logical next step in the portrayal of his character. While it might seem like a jarring juxtaposition next to the frightening and gory Heaven’s Feel films, really it just makes sense: story-wise, the supernatural battlefield and the kitchen have always been places where Shirou is equally at home. That’s just who he is, and that’s fine. In fact, that’s consistently been a really positive thing.

Sometimes heroism means defeating a great evil, sometimes it means making something delicious to serve to the people you care about. To the world at large, sure, maybe the first one seems more important, but both have always been equally important to Shirou as a character, and it’s really great to see a whole spinoff shining a spotlight on this, whether for that important social commentary or just for the simple enjoyment of watching a refreshingly compassionate young man prepare tasty-looking food.

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8 Comments

Filed under Fun with Isms

8 responses to “Swords and Saucepans: Domesticity, Masculinity, and Emiya Shirou

  1. Roarke

    Still hoping against hope one of the last episodes will be Archer cooking a midnight snack or something. Even if he’s alone. One of the strongest parts of UBW’s ending was showing Archer slipping back into Shirou’s mannerisms as he began to make peace with himself, and I think there’s room for that here. I’d cry.

    Speaking of crying, on the subject of Kiritsugu as a role model, it is interesting that he bawls his eyes out, and that this isn’t ridiculed or downplayed. He also looks up to a female role model himself, which is another thing we rarely get to see guys do in fiction. The signs were there that he was much more nuanced than the bare facts of his portrayal.

    That said, Kiritsugu is very much Mr. Manly Mantastic for 90% of F/Z and this does go some way to doing him in. Specifically, where I’d really contrast Kiritsugu and Shirou is something you touched upon: Kerry showed a strong inability/unwillingness to cooperate on equal terms with women. His relationships and interactions with Iri, Maiya, and Saber were pretty much bastardized versions of Shirou’s own posse. It fits his whole role, I guess, in terms of being the failed previous generation who nevertheless inspired those who succeeded.

    Anyway, yeah, I totally like this analysis. It’s stuff like his domesticity and the cruel, brutal survivor’s guilt that save Shirou’s character from being… what too many people see him as.

    • We DO see Archer cooking something in the ending theme, so I would hope and assume that we’re going to see that in the show proper at some point (it is very funny to me that the first time we see him in this show is him crashing a volleyball game like some sort of comedic beach bully… and it would be nice to get a little more so that’s not his entire incarnation in this universe 😛 )

      I would love to disagree and say that Kiritsugu collaborates with women, buuuut alas they’re all very much subordinate to him in some way, whether that means being just less strong/skilled like Iri, or literally working under his command like Saber and Maiya. Which is a real shame, because not only are they some of the few female characters IN the show, but because it adds an implicit layer of crappiness to Kiritsugu’s character. There is a genuinely emotionally complex, compassionate, and caring character under the Edgy Dude In a Long Coat Who Smokes and Shoots and All the Girls Love Him thing, but a lot of the time that’s what gets remembered and favoured in terms of his characterisation (in both fandom and by the showrunners themselves). So you make a good point: Shirou COMPLETELY bucking this by working equally alongside ladies, being allowed to properly get in touch with his emotions, eventually choosing love over the utilitarian concept of heroism… with all that good stuff, it hammers home that Shirou does very much succeed where the past generation failed.

      (I really enjoy that whole motif of Fate/Stay Night… taking apart the bad system your parents left you with, and going hopefully forward into the future with your chosen family. It’s very resonant. I like to joke that “Millenials are killing the Grail War industry”)

      I’m glad that you liked the analysis! His character writing has its issues sometimes, but Shirou’s a good lad and an interesting character, and I’m glad to see a rising appreciation for him beyond “People die when they’re killed” memes ^^

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  5. name (reqj

    It’s funny, because Archer overshadows Shirou’s culinary talents by a mile and a mountain. In Fate/Hollow Ataraxia, the pesky guardian even shows up during a date with Saber to critique Shirou’s lunchboxes and in a drama CD event he boasts about having gone traveling during his life and befriending literally a hundred of the world’s top hotel chefs, and during which time he had a three-year period where he was undefeated in cooking.

    So once again, Emiya is the ideal which Shirou can only strive for.

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