On Fate/stay night’s faith, especially in the Heaven’s Feel route
a Superheroes vs God Almighty piece by The Overlord Bear/Jem De Ocampo
With the Heaven’s Feel route, Fate/stay night is quite a shining jewel in a franchise that makes a big mess out of Christianity and develops pieces like, say, that bizarre Prisma spin-off.
For all of its overtly perverted and insultingly ignorant weirdness, the Fate series arguably has some semblance of profound writing. In particular, stay night and Zero are top contenders within the series in that aspect. At first glance, Zero seems a lot deeper, but I’d say that stay night is the actually deeper one, especially with Zero being its best as a Greek tragedy prequel to stay night.
For those who don’t know, TYPE-MOON started the Fate series with Fate/stay night, which was originally a PC gal game visual novel that also happened to be classified as one of the erotic sort because of some tacked-on sex scenes. The visual novel also has the less explicit Realta Nua version (first for the PS2, and then for the PS Vita), which added big-name voice acting and took out those tacked-on sex scenes. Its three routes also have anime adaptations, with Fate (Saber’s route) adapted by Studio DEEN (which is now more famed for KonoSuba), Unlimited Blade Works (Rin Tohsaka’s route) adapted by Studio DEEN as a movie and then ufotable as a TV series, and Heaven’s Feel (Sakura Matou’s route), adapted by ufotable as a movie trilogy.
As for Fate/Zero, written by Gen Urobuchi, it was a four-volume light novel series that served as a prequel to stay night. Along with its 2007-2009 anime film series adaptation of Kara no Kyoukai (which also got an original video animation in 2011 and a final film in 2013), which was a 1998-1999 light novel series and another work originally written by TYPE-MOON (or Notes) scenario director Kinoko Nasu (thus the “Nasuverse,” which consists of that and Fate and Tsukihime and more), ufotable’s Fate/Zero’s 2011 TV anime adaptation also helped said animation studio break out with the Fate series, leading to their re-adaptation of Unlimited Blade Works and their movie trilogy of adaptation of Heaven’s Feel later on (and now ufotable is also known for adapting into anime a certain series called Kimetsu no Yaiba). And while the original stay night was a technically “Adults Only” work about foolish teenagers, Zero seemed more like a work about adults acting more foolishly than teenagers, for better or worse.
And speaking of adults acting more foolishly than teenagers, the dark and gritty edge Zero was written with makes a certain character look a lot worse with stay night in the context. That character is Zero protagonist Kiritsugu Emiya, whose cynical view of heroism caused him to become a very bad father who can probably rival Tokiomi Tohsaka and maybe even Zouken Matou. I’m sure that Kiritsugu wouldn’t go as far as selling out his own child to a sexually abusive neighbor, but he possesses immaturity so painful and prevalent that whatever sadness I have for him now is mostly because of him wasting what second chances he managed to get. It certainly makes sense with the continuity involving his adoptive son Shirou and his biological daughter Illya, but it doesn’t make Kiritsugu look any better as a father.
Meanwhile, in stay night, Shirou and Illya can actually grow out of that immaturity, especially in the Heaven’s Feel route, the visual novel’s darkest, longest, and most complex third and final route, which unlocks after clearing the Fate route and then the Unlimited Blade Works route in sequence. The best of that growth can be seen when Illya finally reveals herself as Shirou’s older sister during her sacrifice for him in the Heaven’s Feel True Ending. It seems out of left field at first, but looking back on what led up to it, even without Zero in the context, this sheds light on the mystery of why she interacted with him the way she did in the beginning of the stay night story. But unfortunately, with or without the context of Zero, Kiritsugu still looks like a horrible father, having been so obsessed with trying to be a hero that he ended up going win-lose with his children, using Shirou for his ego while giving up on Illya. What makes it really sad, though, is how he was shown doing all that after regretting how he trashed Fuyuki City, which was also preceded by him trying to kill his emotional connections to his loyal wife Irisviel von Einzbern, who had been consumed by the thing he had been seeking the whole time, a thing which was also revealed to have been corrupted during the previous Holy Grail War by the family he had been working for.
Not even Kiritsugu’s backstory makes him look better. If anything, it just makes him look even more pathetically immature. Certainly, he has to be understood: Growing up while having to suffer through Morton’s Forks thanks to an abusive father, cunning monsters, and plain misfortune is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Still, he found true love in Irisviel, who would dare to be by his side and even try to help him fulfill his dream, even as she came off as naive, especially while her husband engaged in a troubling sexual relationship with his associate Maiya Hisau. Irisviel even went with him on the battlefield despite the risks posed by her being the Lesser Grail that collects the spirits of defeated Servants. True love had already been so close to him, yet he distanced himself from it over and over for the fulfillment of a very bad dream which only gave him more and more pain and encouraged him to make more and more lies. To think that breakdown inevitable is simply cynicism and faithlessness, for he could’ve avoided it had he more consistently believed and accepted that love. And I’m sure he can actually love, considering those little moments of care he had with his wife and their daughter.
Indeed, with how he lived and died, Kiritsugu becoming a catalyst for his children’s madness is practically an inevitability. Illya ended up tricked by the infuriated and cruel Einzberns into wanting to kill Shirou on top of hating her father, while Shirou became a confused extreme doormat as he vowed to carry the torch for his adoptive father’s foolish dreams. That sort of cynical development is to be expected from Gen Urobuchi, also nicknamed “Urobutcher,” but while harsh realities should be discussed, a lack of faith accompanying it doesn’t help anyone as much as we’d like to expect. Fortunately, Zero is a prequel, and it managed to make Kinoko Nasu shine brighter for how he wrote Kiritsugu’s children in stay night, especially in the Heaven’s Feel route.
Zero being a prequel also makes Saber’s rare mentions of Kiritsugu in the stay night visual novel’s exposition more welcome and understandable. She shares a similar madness with both Kiritsugu and Shirou, with her death in Unlimited Blade Works being her best development in the visual novel, especially in the context of Zero, thanks to her finally bothering with all her heart to destroy the thing she hated destroying during the Fourth Holy Grail War. Contrast that to Fate, the route with Saber herself as the love interest, which tries to have her accept her past, successes and failures and all, but then comes the story’s confusion regarding selfishness and self-love, enabling Shirou’s extreme doormat tendencies even further in the process (and making TYPE-MOON’s official pairing of her and Shirou look even more ridiculous) and making her old partnership with Kiritsugu more pitifully fitting. And Heaven’s Feel only keeps her stuck in the most open form of her sinfulness, which flattens her character but becomes more effective in reflecting how twisted Shirou’s extreme doormat tendencies are, something that pays off along with a lot of other developments in the end.
And on the topic of the Heaven’s Feel route, the whole thing is something I’d consider dark writing done right. Everyone we’d root for has some irritatingly perplexing flaw, everyone we’d root for goes through very painful wringers, and it seems like stay night made a decent resolution for its confusion regarding plain selfishness and loving oneself along with senseless selflessness and loving others. Archer drops his self-loathing and Rin breaks out of her mindless obedience for the magus life, while Sakura and Rider break free of the abuse they’ve been trapped in.
The Good Ending adds even more: Kirei stops trying to consider his wrongs right and accepts his death after fighting Shirou and succumbing to wounds caused by Sakura. Illya outdoes her father and does a more whole sacrifice for a loved one, inspiring even the twisted Zouken Matou into remembering how he started and accepting his fated end. And last but not least, our dear protagonist Shirou finally throws away the stupid ideals he inherited from his adoptive father (which can also be symbolized by how he struck down Saber Alter), still mourning for the fallen and raging against the twisted yet more accepting of love and dedicated towards ordinary life.
Again, in hindsight, Fate/Zero can be considered a good prequel in how it works like a Greek tragedy in discussing the darkness that can be expected from the characters who made the main characters of stay night who they are there. But I bet that those who are way more interested in being cynical wouldn’t be interested in stay night. Still, funnily enough, with the Heaven’s Feel route, Fate/stay night is quite a shining jewel in a franchise that makes a big mess out of Christianity and develops pieces like, say, that bizarre Prisma spin-off. I even found it hard to believe how stay night can help that much in my writing, which seems to be turning into something very characterized by gothic soil hiding Catholic gems. Then again, it’s easy to be prejudicial with ignorance, and I must confess that I’m still yet to go through the relevant source materials themselves completely…