Fate/Zero – 24
「最後の令呪」 (Saigo no Reijyuu)
“The Last Command Seal”
The Grail is a lie… but it makes for the perfect twist to showcase exactly what makes Fate/Zero such a special show. This episode in particular encapsulates the formula which the second half of this series has executed so well; start with arguably some of the best action sequences of the year, and then follow it up with some of the most cerebral and thought-provoking dialogue to finish. Reverse the order if desired, and rinse and repeat.
From watching the previous battles between the Grail War participants, my expectations for the highly anticipated final duel between the assassin-for-hire and the assassin-for-faith were rather lofty, maybe even unrealistically so. When two of the most talented killers in the world are pitted against one another in a fight to determine the winner of the Grail, it’s almost a crime to not ask for the very best action scene. Yet somehow ufotable managed to not only deliver on my expectations, but surpass them as well.
The change in scenery to a bright, empty, and sterile basement level, reminiscent of the Batcave from the 2008 film The Dark Knight, was a little jarring at first. It was far cry from the dark urban venues of past battles, but this also made it the perfect backdrop for what I thought was the most creative choreography of the series, if not the best. At long last, Kiritsugu and Kirei’s full arsenal of abilities were no longer confined to the shadows, and we could finally see their deadly talents in all their glory. With neither man holding back, there was nary a moment for me to catch my breath. I couldn’t even blink between sequences of Kirei deflecting bullets with his forearms and Kiritsugu pushing his Time Alter ability to its limit. Even if their duel hadn’t prematurely ended due to the ceiling’s collapse from the weight of the Grail’s wine (?), I still believe that Kiritsugu still would have emerged victorious. His regeneration abilities from having Avalon embedded inside of him would have mostly likely negated any advantage Kirei had in close quarters, and Kiritsugu’s Origin Bullets would have put him over the top. Nevertheless, Kiritsugu and Kirei’s superbly animated showdown is one which I’ll definitely have to watch again and again.
The conclusion to Saber and Berserker’s duel was a bit more brutal in comparison, and a little underwhelming as well. Then again, it no longer had to fulfill the action portion of Fate/Zero’s formula; instead, their fight served as a bridge to the heavy dialogue that followed by focusing on Saber’s internal monologue. She had finally realized the fallacies of her philosophy as King Arturia and had come to terms with the consequences of her actions, namely Lancelot’s hatred, madness, and thirst for revenge. Seeing the rivulets of tears coursing down her anguished face really drove home how firm her resolve was to win the Holy Grail to atone for all her misdeeds, and helped to explain a little more why she was so against Kiritsugu’s last order.
Compared to Kirei and Kiritsugu’s battle, I did not have any expectations for the dialogue in this episode because I thought all the heavy stuff was being saved for the finale instead of the penultimate episode. Yet what transpired inside the Grail between Kiritsugu and the evil entity inside it was important as any verbal exchange in the series thus far, and most likely even more so; it is what has set the stage for the final episode.
The Holy Grail of legend may have once been a pure and holy wish-fulfilling chalice, but it seems that the one found in this Fourth War is a corrupt one, with an evil entity inside calling itself Angra Mainyu whose influence has extended far and wide. Originally, the inside of the materialized grail most likely took the form of a favorite place of the person inside it: in Kiritsugu’s case, this was the nighttime shores of Alimango Island under a brilliant starry sky; and for Irisviel, it was at home in Einzbern Castle with her daughter Ilya. However, both of these once beautiful places had been tainted by a black rain and snow falling everywhere, signs that something was amiss. The Grail’s corruption most likely doesn’t merely end at influencing the place which materializes inside, but also extends to its will, and maybe even to what it can achieve. Its explanation that it is only able to perform “miracles” that Kiritsugu’s mind can comprehend and think of, but on a larger scale than humanly possible, makes me wonder if the holy chalice has always granted its wishes this way, or if this is the result of its corruption.
The dilemma of the two ships presented by the Grail also reminded me a bit of the one that the Joker presented Batman in The Dark Knight, but with some changes to make it more appropriate for Kiritsugu’s personality. The Caped Crusader is a hero who always tries to save everyone, even villains, while the Magus Killer is an anti-hero who supposedly follows a creed of killing one to save many, and thus the thought experiment was changed to reflect this. However, I really don’t believe that Kiritsugu would have made the choice to kill all two hundred people because that would mean that in total he would have only saved one hundred lives. By all counts, he comes off as a very logical person, a consequentialist who would have never made the decision that the Grail says he would have taken, simply because it’s not the best possible outcome. The thought experiment was in fact not about consequentialism, but about Kiritsugu’s method of sacrificing the minority to save the majority. It’s probably true that in most, if not all of the past situations Kiritsugu has found himself in, the best outcome was the one where he had to do exactly that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that he believes this is the solution every time. He’s too much of a consequentialist, and much too logical to follow this ideology so blindly. It’s more likely that the Grail’s corruption has affected the solutions it thinks Kiritsugu would have chosen. It cruelly tries to make him believe that his method was always going about sacrificing the minority to save the majority, rather than focusing on the consequences. Like the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Grail repeatedly reminded Kiritsugu of all the moments in his life where he had to do exactly that, culminating with a scenario where he has to choose between the lives his wife and child, and the entire population of humanity.
I think that in this heartbreaking scene and the one that follows, we find out exactly who Kiritsugu is. First, when confronted that the ideal which had been pursuing all this time was not what he believed it to be, he realized that the consequences had changed, so therefore he had to change his actions. This meant rejecting the Grail, but in order to do so, both his daughter and his wife had to die by his hand, all while they stared directly at him. Although Kiritsugu knew that they weren’t really his family, this was still the first time I can recall that he had tears in his eyes while killing them, not after. Just goes to show how sad and deep his resolve is for his ideals, no matter what shape or form it comes in. Second, he doesn’t stop at merely rejecting the Grail, he knows that he must destroy it too – using up his last two command seals to order Saber to use her Noble Phantasm to destroy it. I don’t know if many others would have done what he did; they probably would have saved their seals to protect their own lives. Finally, when compared to the depraved man that Kirei is, a man who cares nothing for consequences, I see Kiritsugu as an admirable person who has a heart; a person who is a human, not a machine; and a person who is truly the main protagonist of Fate/Zero.