Fate/Zero – 20
「暗殺者の帰還」 (Ansatsusha no Kikan)
“Return of the Assassin”
If I weren’t dead inside, I would have shed many a manly tear watching this episode. Saying goodbye is never easy to do, especially when it’s two of my favorite female heroines.
Some people have voiced their discontent with the placement of Kiritsugu’s backstory within the greater narrative of Fate/Zero’s second season, but after watching this episode, I now think that it was actually perfect timing, more or less. With the Holy Grail War shifting into its final gear, the inclusion of the assassin’s tortured past was essential in shedding light on the two markedly different emotional reactions Kiritsugu showed upon seeing yet another person close to him lying on their deathbed. He is the main character of this series, and I believe that knowing what drives him will be of paramount importance in understanding the conclusion of the series.
I don’t know if Irisviel and Kiritsugu’s conversation in the beginning of the episode amounted to a final farewell, but it definitely felt like one. Her words to him were laced with pureness of love, and heart that reflects a yamato nadeshiko ideal that was shaped during World War II by war-time propaganda: a woman who is not only expected endure pain and suffering, but to also be ready to die for the sake of her husband and her country. The return of Avalon to Kiritsugu was a powerful symbol of Iri’s acceptance of her fate, as she gives away the last thing that is keeping her human functions intact. And ironically, even though she gives up the legendary Arthurian artifact, she remains a container for another one, the most legendary artifact of them all, the Holy Grail. For me, Iri is a wonderful, yet sad example of the yamato nadeshiko archetype, and I think her personality, especially her love for Kiritsugu and everything he stands for, was the main reason that she was able to shine so brightly in her waning moments, making a melancholy scene somewhat easier to bear. She may not have the independence of spirit or the power to form her own opinions about the world, but the strength of her dedication and love to Kiritsugu is something to admire, even to the very end.
All things considered, I, like Kiritsugu, could not bring myself to cry for Iri – and some of our reasons for this are similar. From the outset, both of us knew that she would not be surviving this war; her death was not a matter of if, but when. Also, both of us had steeled ourselves for the time when Iri would have to serve out her purpose of being a container for the Holy Grail, a fate which would not allow her to stay human. While I had mentally prepared for her death as the simple result of knowing the outcome, Kiritsugu had prepared for this eventuality in order to stay focused on the pursuit of his true goal of mankind’s salvation.
There is one reason that explains his lack of tears, an explanation that he does not share with me. From watching his backstory, we know he has already lost many a loved one in pursuit of his ideals, experiences which have taught him the unfortunate lesson of how to deal Iri’s inevitable sacrifice. So even though he loves her dearly, so much so that he later uses up a command seal to presumably protect her, the only emotion he allows himself to shows was one that was unknowingly etched on his face, an expression that Maiya found to be like those of his old self. Ultimately, this is still a face I cannot empathize with, as it looked too much like the face of an emotionless machine, and not of person who knows how to love.
However, the face Kiritsugu wore and the moisture that welled up in his eyes as he watched Maiya leave the land of the living were human emotions that were sadly all too real. Without the benefit of knowing his backstory in the previous two episodes, his tears would not carry such an emotional weight. This is a man who after killing his father did not cry even once, and was so emotionless that Natalia even warned him about becoming too much of a machine. When a man like that cries, you know that he can no longer bottle up his emotions. Why did Maiya’s passing affect him so much? I think it’s because he didn’t see it coming. He knows that the life of an assassin is fraught with danger, but even still, there was always a chance she would escape the conflict unscathed. In contrast to Iri, Maiya’s death was never a question of when, but if – and that is why I believe Kiritsugu took it so hard. It’s also why I don’t think he is as machine-like as some have made him out to be, and why I am holding out hope that these are not the last tears we will see him shed.
In any case, none of these observations about Kiritsugu’s emotional responses would have been possible had we not seen his back story, and I feel that much of the emotional impact in this episode would have been very different as well, if not even blunted altogether. I am confident that going forward, the value of Kiritsugu’s arc in the greater narrative will reveal itself even more as we trek towards the resolution of the Fourth Holy Grail War.
More thoughts (no spoilers within, just hiding them so the wall of text looks a bit smaller, and sorry for the late post, had a term paper to write):
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It’s a great dichotomy – a doll masquerading as a human being, and a human being that calls itself a machine. It’s a hard dose of reality for everyone in Fate/Zero this week, as each character comes face-to-face with what they really are, and the role they must play in the Fourth Holy Grail War.
To me, without a doubt, the most tragic character has always been Iri. There’s something subtle about her situation, something so underplayed that the audience might find it easy to forget that she cannot survive the War. It’s just a fact that’s always been there, resting right beneath the surface and never played up with much fanfare and tears. She will die.
Created for one sole purpose, it’s been implied that Iri wasn’t always the cheerful, strong woman she is now – yet the character presented to the audience now is every bit as human as some of the other characters in the show, and Iri perhaps possesses some of the most unwavering devotion and loyalty that most of the other participants in the Grail War just don’t have. Her conversation with Kiritsugu was easily my favorite scene of the episode, and it was also the most emotional. Having never seen the world, there was no way Iri could have fully understood Kiritsugu’s ideals and what he fought so hard for – but she understands him and that’s what separates her from being a cardboard cut-out. It’s not that she has blindly followed him “just because”. It’s a choice she made because she understands Emiya Kiritsugu, the human being.
The farewell was rather understated and very to-the-point, but a delivery like that is the best way to bring the reality of the situation in perspective. To Iri, not only is sacrificing her life for the Grail what she was created for, it’s a role she must fulfill; if she doesn’t succeed, the next Einzbern homonculus that must perpetuate the cycle is Ilya, her daughter. A mother’s love for a child is a bond anyone can understand as unbreakable, and it’s an aspect of Irisviel von Einzbern that truly makes her an admirable character. It’s a motivation separate from her love for her husband, and the peaceful way she accepted her fate – no tears, no dramatics – just gutted me. It will truly be a sad moment for me when she dies, not only because she’s one of my favorite, but because as a character, she’s really something else.
Iri’s bond with Kiritsugu shows a lot of complexities this episode as well, because before they are husband and wife, they are master and tool. It’s something they both understand, which is why their goodbyes are centered away from the two of them – again, it’s a subtle but important point. Kiritsugu looks cold and uncaring, but he knows he cannot save his wife, and as difficult as it might be, he has already accepted that fact as something set in stone. From this point on all Kiritsugu can do is simply view Iri as the Grail vessel and nothing more – anything else will hinder his chances of winning and damage his chances of salvaging something that can be saved: his daughter.
Ilya can be considered Kiritsugu’s “absolution” of sorts, a salvation from the guilt and sin of killing his own wife in exchange for the good of humanity. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense for Iri to ground her words to their daughter, a hope for her husband after all the bloodshed ends and he’s left with nothing but the weight of all his crimes. In a way she’s encouraging him until the very end, telling him it’s okay to sacrifice her for his goals since it would ensure Ilya’s safety.
With her kidnapped by “Rider” (sneak attack is so not his style), I’m interested in what will happen to Iri from now on, aside from the obvious confrontation this will breed for Saber and Rider.
- Full-length images: 04.