~*~MAJOR SPOILER ALERT~*~
And so it is revealed at the end of the series that the Holy Grail War is little more than a farce. This war in which countless have been killed for centuries, is a bait and switch. The Holy Grail is not a wish granting device that can produce miracles but a created tool with a mind of its own that wishes to acquire an accompanying body for that mind. The whole series was predicated on false advertising. So what’s the point and why would you want to view this series?
Youtube creator, Digibro, would like for you to believe that the conclusion intended by the author, Gen Urobuchi, is to realize that “nothing really matters.” The Wikipedia page for Gen Urobuchi characterizes his writing as having, “dark themes, nihilistic themes, and tragic plot twists.” Having watched his series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, it would be very easy for me to think with everyone else that the same nihilistic themes are bleeding through here as well. However, I believe it is everyone else who is mischaracterizing Fate/Zero. I believe that this series centered around the theme of the Holy Grail actually, and appropriately, has quite a bit to say about the problem of human evil, the possibility of its solution through atonement, and, of course, the idea of sacraments like communion.
Notice that this narrative world seems to be completely devoid of a God. There is evidence of right and a whole lot of wrong, and there is even the existence of a grail directly linked to the existence of Jesus Christ, but it would be difficult to imagine a world Anno Domini where the grail Jesus drank from at the last supper is suddenly a wish granting vessel with powers seemingly outside the direction or allowance of God. So let’s assume that the author is most likely telling an a-theistic story which adopts Christian themes to build its world. Hence the claims of Nihilism, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The real point here is that, like all atheistic narratives, the story fails to accomplish the author’s intentions by betraying those intentions in the places they matter most. Instead, it actually does a pretty good job of showing why a story, such as this one is, would end up turning into a tragedy and for reasons that are entirely consistent with a world in which Christ is King.
Despite its ability to “grant wishes” to some degree, in the most important ways, the Grail is just a grail. That may not seem to make a lot of sense as a statement, but it nevertheless
directly informs the capabilities of the Grail. The series is claiming a world in which a version of salvation could come from, not Jesus Christ, but a created object that already exists in the fallen world. Emphasis being on “fallen world.” Romans 5:12 states that, “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death was passed on to all men, because all sinned.” Additionally, because of a little thing called federal headship, all of creation under the headship of Adam at the time of the Fall was “made subject to vanity,” where it waits “for the manifestation of the sons of God” so that “it will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). The irony of Fate/ Zero and the Fate series as a whole is that the Grail, just like every other active agent in the Grail War, cannot grant its own wish nor does it, despite its existence as a wish-granting device, seem to be entirely capable of granting man’s wish to the extent desired.
As in the real world, without the sacrifice of Christ, the grail is just a grail. Communion, the very sacrament taken from the Grail, is just the world’s most unfulfilling hors d’oeuvre. And just like every other thing in existence, the grail desires to be released “from the bondage of corruption.” The grail is not alive and does not have within itself the ability to make itself alive. It cannot perform miracles in the sense that it can do whatever you ask, but can only accomplish what you want by means you are already familiar with. Just as a smartphone is actually only as smart as its user, the Grail is only as capable as its possessor.
Kiritsugu cannot gain the miracle of peace on earth and among humanity by way of the Grail because the Grail can only utilize methods of solution that man is aware of and Kiritsugu has long known that man does not know how to ideally save himself. He knew that it would require a miracle beyond man’s ability, which is why he pursued the Grail in the first place. This is also in agreement with the Bible. No one has ever read the Gospel, seen the acts of Jesus, and said, “that’s just what I thought you would do, God, and I’m glad you and I were on the same page about what the best solution was.” No. Mankind not only could not save itself, it had no idea of how to go about it, evidenced by the fact that a law created to point Israel toward God’s grace became the idol they thought would bring them salvation (Galatians 3:19-29) There was a law code, but that code brought death and man had the good sense to try and use a code of death to save his life (which makes sense, if you don’t think about it too much).
The genius of Fate/Zero is that, at the center of its plot, it shows exactly why idolatry doesn’t work. Man cannot look to a created object for salvation because the created object is wanting to be brought to newness of life just as much as the idolater. C. S. Lewis, in his essay entitled “Transposition,” outlines the descending relationship between the soul and the body, emotion and sensation, while explaining that a “kick or flutter in the diaphragm” that accompanies moments of severe joy is “exactly the same sensation which…accompanies great and sudden anguish” because the feeling in a widely varied, high plane of emotion (the soul) is being transposed to a less varied, low plane of sensation (the body) (The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis, pg. 97, Harper Collins edition). When later expanding this idea of transposition, Lewis clarifies that,
“it is a sign, but also something more than a sign, and only a sign because it is also more than a sign, because in it the thing signified is really in a certain mode present. If I had to name the relation I should have to call it not symbolical but sacramental.”(pg 102)
This last sentence is the key image and relevant to Fate/Zero. The fruitfulness of the Lord’s Supper in a church gathering is not due merely to the meal’s signification of a truth. Lewis reminds us that it is only successful as a sign at all because “the thing signified is in a certain mode present.” We are only able to hold the Lord’s Supper in a significant way because Christ actually died in a way that was sufficient to cleanse us of our sins, rose so that we might rise also, and ascended to the Father’s right hand from which we believe he will return to gather his people to himself. Our partaking is not a memory device only, as though we were fulfilling the last wishes of the deceased, but a faithful engagement with the commands of Christ who is alive and well (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
So, what we see is that, even if Urobuchi created the series to be some kind of tragedy taking place in a world without God, he actually manages to give a good picture of a tragedy in a world in which Christ reigns. Why would an idol fail to satisfy unless there is something that actually can. If it could truly satisfy, it wouldn’t deserve the title of “idol.” Fate/Zer0 even gives a good picture of tragedy in this nonfictional world in which Christ reigns: where men go chasing after every solution but God, making idols of those potential saviors, only to discover that the thing they are pursuing is as broken as they are and that the grand desires they have cannot be fulfilled by things on earth. So, what exactly is it that makes me continue to disagree with other critics that this show is just another trot through the nihilistic wasteland? Well, because I’ve seen Fate/ Stay Night and know where we’re headed. That’s not all that helpful for you as a reader because I’m not going to finish the explanation here, but I will explain some of it in the next post. In it we will discuss the recurring theme of subverted expectations, particularly those of Saber and Shirou Emiya and how their narrative arc contributes to the fact that Grail’s can’t save you but an interpersonal relationship might.