「栄誉の果て」 (Eiyo no Hate)
“The End of Honor”
One of the most emotional episodes up to date, this sixteenth episode was also one of the most thought-provoking as well. Week after week, Fate/Zero not only delivers exceptionally animated fight sequences but also wonderful and intellectually-stimulating dialogue, and that’s what makes this series so special. In most other shows, Lancer and Saber’s epic final duel would be the main attraction that gets everyone talking, but here, the conversation that followed it can lead to just as much discussion, if not more.
Saber and Kiritsugu’s verbal exchange at the end of the episode brought up many valid points that are ripe for analysis, but it would be wise to focus on the recurring theme of honor. On the battlefield that is the Holy Grail War, there is a dichotomy of combatants that has become clear. There are those who believe strongly in honor and glory in battle, while there are others who hold no such ideals and are willing to attain victory by any means possible. Nowhere is this gulf between philosophies more evident than in their discussion – one which spawns more questions than it answers.
Much of their disparate philosophies can be simplified to how they determine the morality of their action’s consequence – or in other words, whether or not the ends justify the means. Consequentialists believe that if the end outcome is morally good, then the actions that led to it are considered morally right, while deontologicalists believe that the morality of an outcome is based on how well the actions that led to it adhere to rules of morality.
Saber falls into the latter camp as one who argues that bloodshed, fighting, and the taking of a life can be considered good and honorable if the actions and methods that led to them adhered to rules and ideals like honor and chivalry. For her, one who does evil in order to stop it will only bring about its continuation; the cycle never ends because a new conflict arises from the still smoldering ashes of rage and hate. Saber believes the morality of the eventual goal, such as the usage of the Holy Grail and the end of evil, can only be considered good and just if the path taken was good and just also. This is why Saber is a legendary Heroic Spirit who acts with such honor and chivalry in everything that she does, even if it means that it hampers her chances of attaining the Grail. Before witnessing Kiritsugu’s methods, she relied on her faith in Irisviel’s words that his character was a good one who shared her wish to use the Grail to save the world – but now that she has seen his lack of honor and chivalry, it is hard for her to see that any outcome from his actions can be considered morally good and right.
In contrast, although Kiritsugu might not be a strict consequentialist, he does believe that the morality of his own actions’ consequences isn’t dependent on what he does in order to achieve that outcome. He makes no distinction between methods of fighting being considered good or not, because to him, all battlefields are hell on earth, no matter how much it may adhere to rules like honor and chivalry – the true mindset of an assassin. Yet at the same time, Kiritsugu considers certain forms of victory to be a crime because they were paid for by the pain and loss of those who were defeated – an example of the means affecting the moral judgment of the ends. For him, knights cannot save the world because they are too bound to ideals of honor, chivalry, and righteousness that limited their possible actions and may even hinder their chances of success, like Saber does when she chooses to not use her left arm in her fight against Lancer. In the end, Kiritsugu wishes to use the Grail for the world’s salvation just as Saber does, but to him, it doesn’t matter how many evil deeds he commits or how much blood he spills in getting there, as it does not tarnish the morality of his eventual goal – and more importantly, he believes no new conflict will arise because of the finality of his actions.
Like many questions of this nature, there is no right answer – for each person has their own sense of morality that they adhere to which affects their judgment. Some may side with Kiritsugu. They believe that honor is merely an illusion, woven from the idealism of noble knights who believed there are methods of fighting that are honorable, and methods that are evil. The morality of the end result, such as the salvation of the world, does not depend on the morality of the methods used in achieving it. Others will find themselves agreeing with Saber, and feel that in order to prevent chaos and hell on earth, there is a need for ideals like honor, valor, and glory in both bloodshed and the human act of taking a life. That these ideals are what elevates humans from animals when it comes to violence, and that one of the things that makes us human is lost without them. They believe the morality of the Grail’s usage depends on whether or not moral rules and ideals were adhered to when attaining the Grail.
In this extremely specific case, Kiritsugu’s views match my own. I believe that this is a situation where the ends do justify the means, but only because the outcome, the usage of the Holy Grail to save the world, is such a special and unique case. It is one that is almost universally accepted to be good and right, and therefore, I believe it allows for greater leeway with the means used to attain it. We’re talking about saving the world here – why limit yourself if the end result guarantees that the cycle of bloodshed and evil will finally end? On the other point of contention, I also agree with Kiritsugu’s belief that when it comes to the taking of lives as the means to an end, ideals like honor are an illusion. No matter how you slice it, when a life is lost, it is lost. That said, I do understand Saber’s views, and I do believe there is a value in the ideals of honor, glory, and valor; after all, it can be argued that it is what separates us from mere animals when it comes to violence. However, on the battlefield, I think these ideals only serve to assuage the guilt of the victorious. With every victory comes a price, paid for in blood and tears. If we can minimize the blood spilled and lives lost by leaving behind our ideals on the battlefield, isn’t that path worth pursuing?
Despite their differences in philosophies, the Master and Servant are also more alike than they realize. Both individuals have taken on a heavy burden for the cause of a greater good and both remain committed to the same honorable goal: saving the world. I don’t think I can guarantee whatever happens henceforth in Fate/Zero will provide an answer to whose philosophy is the more correct one, but I do think that whatever transpires between Saber and Kiritsugu from now on will be just as thought-provoking as whatever transpires between the Masters. And this is one of the many reasons I love this series – behind the “brawn” of superbly animated and choreographed action scenes exists a “brain” of complex characters and intellectually-stimulating dialogue. So in the case of Fate/Zero, the consistently high quality episodes we’ve seen so far have made the three month break worth every second and every penny. Or in other words, the ends justify the means.
TL;DR – @verdantRC: Three episodes in, three Masters down. Who do you side with: Saber’s heroic idealism or Kiritsugu’s assassin mentality? #fatezero