One thing Fate/Zero is very good at doing is creating character foils, and doing so in a way that deepens the viewer’s understanding of both characters rather than propping up a shallow, stock character to play the straight-man for the character the series wants to shine. In fact, the series has layers of foilage (not to be confused with “foliage,” no matter how badly auto-correct wants to correct me) and interconnectedness in which characters play off of each other. The last post was a good example of that interplay and this post will try to touch again upon one of the series’ pet topics, madness and the way it can be reached. Major SPOILER WARNING here at the beginning. There is no way for me to make my point without getting detailed, so you’ll have to deal with spoilers galore.
The relationship between Saber and Kiritsugu can be boiled down to an exercise in the ways a person can fail to be a good hero/leader/king. For those of us of the Christian persuasion, the question becomes a lot easier because we can sum it up in relation to one person: the ways that Kiritsugu and Saber fail to imitate Christ in the pursuit of their ideals. This will be interesting for me personally as my pastor spoke this morning about the fact that to follow after any will other than the will of the infinite God who created the heavens, the earth, and the faculties we use to experience them, is to be creeping or sprinting (the speed really ceases to matter given the direction) toward madness. Ultimately, each instance of sin in a life unsubmitted to God is a moment of madness in the literal sense of the word, and we could see that if we reflected upon the person whom we sin against.
And so it is that Kiritsugu and Saber are both moving toward madness in their own ways. As mentioned before, masters and servants of the Holy Grail War are paired based upon a likeness in their character, ideals, and goals. Kiritsugu and Saber are paired as a team (perhaps by that titular Fate) because they do have similar goals, but also because they both fail to meet those goals even if the failures are in opposite directions. But to understand their relationship, we need to start with Kiritsugu’s backstory and the motivations of Berserker’s master, Kariya Matou.
Kariya Matou hates Tokiomi Tohsaka, Archer’s master, because Tokiomi was the one who sent his daughter Sakura to the Matou family to be their representative in the Holy Grail War even though he knew the terrible methods the Matous would use to condition her. Sakura’s suffering at the hand of Kariya’s family and his long-standing love for Sakura’s mother (Tokiomi’s wife, Aoi) was the reason he volunteered for the Grail War in her place, but he could not forgive her own father for being the reason she ended up in the situation to begin with. So, when Kariya is presented the opportunity of avenging Sakura on Tokiomi, he jumps at the chance without question. Unfortunately, the moment Kariya believes that he is about to have his vengeance, he discovers that Tokiomi is already dead. At the moment of this discovery, Aoi finds Kariya standing over Tokiomi’s body and naturally doesn’t take it so well. She declares her hatred for Kariya without recognition of his many and extreme sacrifices for her and her children, and Kariya unhinges. In a fit of jealous/desperate/love-stricken madness, Kariya decides that if he is no longer sacrificing his life for any purpose, he might as well take the love of his life with him and kills Aoi. As expected, he immediately regrets it, but the action of the moment is key.
Kariya chose to enter the Grail War because he was devoted to people at the cost of his ideals. He told himself that he would do whatever it took to win the Grail War because Sakura’s safety depended upon his success. That is why he took on the excruciating treatment that the Matous had prepared for Sakura’s conditioning for the Grail War. In this way he seems like Christ, right? Except, Kariya abandons all principle. This is one of the reasons why he is paired with Berserker, because he is willing to abandon himself to madness or do whatever else it takes to accomplish his ends. But being one-sided like this, with love for people but no ideals, has its problems. Because he has subjective ideals and not solid values from which to base his actions, but simply devotion to persons, there are no ideals to govern his rage and keep that rage from spilling over to the people he loves. Madness taints even more admirable attributes like devotion and faithful love to turn them into mad obsession and selfish love. Madness makes a good idea of destroying the thing you love most, and it can do so in the absence of governing ideals.
On the other side of the spectrum there is a young Kiritsugu. The Fate series takes a multi-episode look into Kiritsugu’s backstory as a kid whose scientist father created a plague that wiped out the island town they lived in by turning the citizens into vampire/zombie-like creatures (did I mention this is a fantasy series?). When one of Kiritsugu’s best friends is turned into a creature, he fails to work up the courage to kill her and that is why the virus succeeds in spreading throughout the island. When Kiritsugu finds that his father allowed the island’s infection as a test and plans to continue his experiments on another island, Kiritsugu kills his father to prevent the virus from possibly being used again in lieu of having failed to kill his friend and prevent the spread of the virus when he first had the chance. He does not feel bad about killing his father because he truly believes that he is justified and that it is the right thing to do.
After this, he joins a mercenary named Natalia Kaminski (pictured above) who helped to end the virus on the island and becomes a trained killer under her tutelage. Natalia becomes more of a mother to him than his actual father was a father. But when the virus that destroyed his island reappears many years later, Kiritsugu must make a choice. Natalia is a trapped in an airplane descending to land, on which she is the only person who is not infected by the virus. Kiritsugu (in an incredibly sad and beautiful and infuriating scene) shoots down the plane that Natalia is flying, believing that the risk of infection spreading is too great for Natalia to be allowed to land the plane. He shoots down the plane because of the promise he made with himself that he would never again be unable to do what was necessary to prevent large-scale loss of life, like when he failed to kill his friend on the island years before.
Kiritsugu’s issue is that he chose his ideals at the expense of his love for people. At least, that’s what he thinks he’s doing. He imitates Christ if only in his effectiveness and the severity of his accomplishment. Except, Kiritsugu abandons love in the process. This idealism at the expense of love is one of the reasons Kiritsugu is paired with Saber, because she has the same problem. Saber is the legendary King Arthur or, more accurately, Arturia Pendragon. In this version of the tale, Saber ruled Britain with the ideal of protecting her people from the Saxons and maintaining a code of knightly chivalry, but did so at the exclusion of being a sympathetic ruler of the people. This lack of sympathy and connection to the people she led is what caused disunity among her knights of the Round Table and the eventual failure of her ideal, the protection of her people. But while Saber’s failure does not lead her to madness, it is clear that Kiritsugu is on the fast-track.
This may be somewhat of a rabbit-trail, but the way that the viewer can know Kiritsugu is moving toward madness is the way in which the medium depicts it. After shooting down Natalia’s plane, he has the same moment of extreme regret that Kariya displayed after killing Aoi. Kiritsugu tries to convince himself that he did the right thing and is vindicated by that fact, but it is clear that this situation is different from the time he killed his father because he actually loved Natalia like a mother while he did not have that affection toward his father. No amount of rationalizations will hold up under the weight of the fact that he killed his mother, even if it was to save countless lives. So when Kiritsugu’s reasoning breaks down, he’s depicted in his grief (near the 21 minute mark of “Where Justice if Found”) with the same kind of bulging eyes that Caster maintained throughout the majority of the series.
When Caster was depicted with bulging eyes, it was a visual cue used to emphasize the depravity of what he was saying or doing and the general madness of the situation. Here, it is similarly used to show how not only is there something wrong with Kiritsugu’s approach to saving people, but that it is working within him to drive him to madness.The art-style in this moment shows that even though Kiritsugu thinks he is pursuing an ideal at the expense of a person he loves, he is actually abandoning ideals in (misguided) memorial devotion to people he loves.
This fact becomes obvious when Saber’s version of “ideals over love” finally collides with Kiritsugu’s:
Saber: “I can no longer believe that your desire for the grail has anything to do with salvation. […] What is the true reason you desire the grail?”
Kiritsugu: “No. Honor, glory, there’s no point in speaking to a killer who extols the virtue of such things.”
S: “Even now, you would even insult chivalry to my face?!”
K: “Knights cannot save the world. Knights call certain methods of fighting good and others evil, acting as if there were some nobility to the battlefield. Such illusions, created by heroes throughout history, have led countless young men to their bloody deaths, all for the sake of this glory and honor.”
S: “They are not illusions! Even the taking of a life, as a human act, must have laws and ideals. Otherwise, every war would bring hell to this world!”
K: “And there you go. […] Our Heroic Spirit considers a battlefield to be something better than Hell. What a joke. It’s Hell itself. There’s no hope to be had on a battlefield. There is nothing but unspeakable despair. Just a crime we call victory, paid for by the pain of the defeated. But humanity has never recognized this truth. And the reason is that, in every era, dazzling heroes have blinded the people with their legends, and kept them from seeing the evil of bloodshed. True human nature has not advanced a step beyond the Stone Age.”
“I will win the Holy Grail and save the world. And I will wage that war with the most appropriate weapons at my disposal. Justice and Righteousness cannot save the world. I care nothing for such things.”
S: “Kiritsugu, don’t you understand? If you do evil out of hatred for evil, that rage and hatred will simply give rise to new conflict. I do not know who has betrayed you, or what caused you to lose all hope, but your rage and sorrow are only found in those who once sought justice. In your youth, your truest self wished to be a hero, did it not? A hero to save the world. You believed in that. You desired it more than anyone. Or am I wrong?”
K: [Beat] “I will break this endless cycle. The Grail will make that possible. I’ll ensure that the blood I spill in Fuyuki is the last blood that humanity will ever shed. If that means I must stain my hands with every evil in the world, I don’t care. If that will save the world, I do it gladly.”
There are a lot of things going on here, so we’ll start with the ways in which Saber and Kiritsugu are close to ideological resonance with each other even if it’s really dissonance with the Christ they are imitating. Kiritsugu does use very Christ-like language, talking about taking on himself every evil in the world in order to save the world, but Saber is obviously right to point out that Kiritsugu’s version is to commit every evil in the pursuit of sinlessness. I hope I don’t have to tell you that is where Kiri departs from the standard of Jesus. And there really must be a standard. That is Saber’s point. Kiritsugu looks at humanity and sees that it is incapable of doing right, so he will do wrong to whatever extent it takes in order to achieve the right he desires. Saber sees humanity’s inability to do right but knows that doesn’t require right and wrong to be thrown out the window. She knows that right can be done but that it requires a standard for humanity to do anything remotely good: “Even the taking of a life, as a human act, must have laws and ideals.” Christianity holds that a moral standard is not enough and requires a saving grace through Jesus Christ. Though she doesn’t learn that the person she’s striving to imitate is Christ, Saber eventually learns that her standard of ideals can only be perfected through a person, but that doesn’t come until Fate/ Stay Night. So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The discrepancy between the views held by master and servant shows that Kiritsugu is moving toward madness since his resolve mirror’s Kariya’s, to do whatever it takes, no matter what it takes, to win and accomplish his goals. The interplay between Kiritsugu and Kariya can be difficult to see in the course of the show because there is an episode between episodes 18 & 19 where Kiritsugu’s backstory is given and Kariya’s unfolding tragedy in episode 21. However, that is why I appreciate the series so much, because it doesn’t beat you over the head with, “HEY, DOESN’T KIRITSUGU LOOK A LOT LIKE KARIYA HERE? THINK THAT’S INTENTIONAL?” Fate/Zero trusts its own literariness (for lack of a more exact word) and that the viewers will pick up on the complexity. I keep rabbit-trailing off, so let me finish here.
Coming back to Kiritsugu’s failure, pointing it out is not to say that Saber is holding the faultless philosophy high above Kiritsugu’s misinformed view. We’ve already mentioned how that’s not true, with her failure to save and lead Britain. But that’s the great thing about Fate/Zero, these two characters are, in a way, the main protagonists, the good guys, of this series and, not only do they disagree, but they’re both wrong. Not that their failures are a good thing in themselves, but that they establish and make clear by contrast what heroism is. Another way of looking at the difference between Saber and Kiritsugu is that one pursues love without justice and the other pursues justice without love and both routes fail to impersonate a God who is both love and justice. A reviewer I have followed for a while categorized this series as a tragedy, holistically and not just in its obviously tragic moments only. I would have to agree, but only in so far as the Old Testament would be a tragedy if there were no New Testament. But, as a wise man once said, “the book don’t end in Malachi.” I will unpack how this statement rings true for the Fate series in a later post, but know that Fate/Stay Night provides a glorious solution to the problem that no one in the series really embodies a reliably Christ-like character.