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.
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.
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.
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.