「運命ゼロ」 (Unmei zero)
I don’t think I could have asked for a better conclusion to a series as special as this one. The final episode may not have been epic and emotional as the ones immediately preceding it, but it beautifully accomplished what all finales should: wrap up everything in both an emotionally and intellectually satisfying manner. Even though this task was made all the more difficult given the show’s ensemble cast and its propensity for piling on tragedies upon tragedies, Fate/Zero’s twenty-fifth and final episode gave each and every character, no matter how major or minor, the fitting conclusion that they deserved.
Everyone probably knows by now how I feel about Kiritsugu, so it should come as no real surprise that I am completely satisfied with the conclusion to his story. Although it’s not exactly the happy ending that I would have written for him, I think it’s one which he deserves because in my book, no person is beyond salvation, no matter how heinous their crimes may be. Isn’t it better for someone to be saved and begin to atone for their sins than to be eternally damned for them? That’s why regardless of what people may think about Kiritsugu’s ideology and even if they consider him the most dangerous and evil character in all of Fate/Zero, I still believe he is not beyond saving. The way I see it, he’s already been punished for his actions many times over: he’s seen things no man should ever see, done things no man should ever do, and lost things no man should ever lose.
Most importantly, Kiritsugu knew what he did was wrong and I felt that he worked hard to atone for them. He knew that the miracle he hope for and paid for with his sins was not only a farce but also dangerous to humanity, which gave him a new goal to work toward: saving the world from the tainted chalice itself. However, after failing to destroy the Grail and witnessing the destruction it wrought on the city, he probably thought Angra Mainyu had been unleashed upon the world, and all of his actions were for naught – but like Ilya says, Kiritsugu always works hard, no matter what. He did what any decent human being would do in his situation: he looked for survivors. This was more than a simple act of humanity though, because if Kiritsugu could save even one person, it would mean that he had saved someone from the Grail and from Angra Mainyu, and therefore, he could have some measure of atonement and in essence, save himself. To me, the mere fact that he tried to atone was enough to make him deserving of salvation and deserving of the conclusion which was written for him. His was a tragic life that was far too long defined by loss, and I wanted him to finally find peace and happiness – and what greater happiness could you give Kiritsugu than for his childhood dream to live on in his son?
The conclusion to Kirei’s story was satisfying in that it was basically what you expected if you had already watched Fate/Stay Night. It explained how he became the person he was in the Fifth Holy Grail War, and put the final touches on the dichotomy which defined the latter half of this season. Kirei remained, as always, the ultimate antithesis to Kiritsugu. Perhaps what was most indicative of the gulf between the two was that while Kirei reveled in his newfound evil and cruelty and relished at the thought of Kiritsugu challenging him, the only thing the Magus Killer was interested in was saving lives. Even after Kirei was confronted with the truth of the Grail and the idea that the wake of destruction it left was the wish his heart desired, both things that even the King of Heroes himself was troubled over, did Kirei realize the error of his ways like Kiritsugu and begin to search for atonement? No… he merely laughed as he finally had the answers he was looking for, and vowed to spend the rest of his life continuing to searching for the solution, the formula which led to the twisted and corrupt answer. In the end, I don’t think there’s any answer that would ever satisfy Kirei while leaving the book open for Fate/Stay Night, and so this is probably the most fitting ending possible for such a dark and twisted character.
Poor Kariya, powerless to the very end – he didn’t even have enough strength left to tell the one he was fighting for why he fought for her sake. His is a deeply tragic character, and my only consolation, the only reason why I found his conclusion remotely satisfying, is that in his death, his dreams were as ideal as they come. Truthfully, he deserved a better ending – if only to show that there is a silver lining in fighting for your loved ones.
Out of all the characters in Fate/Zero, Waver is the one whose personality had changed the most throughout the Holy Grail War, and his ending here was also the one which made me smile the most. He’s begun to adopt some of the same interests that Rider had, and appears to be turning into a fine young man whom his grandparents love and adore. Undoubtedly, seeing all the items Rider left behind is a hard sight for him to take in, but I think that his reaction of playing Rider’s video game is a significant symbol of his maturity because before, I think he would have just began to sob. Waver basically lost his best friend to become the person he is today, but I take solace in knowing that it hopefully wasn’t in vain as Rider’s ideals will live on inside him.
Rin’s appearance in this finale was a little unexpected, but understandable since the Tohsaka family deserved an ending as well. To me, what really stood out about her was how stoic and mature she has been forced to become after her father’s death and her mother’s crippling brain damage from being strangled by Kariya. Gone was the childlike exuberance and innocence of yesteryear, replaced with the heavy burden of her family’s magic represented by the Azoth Dagger. This whole conclusion, like Kirei’s, only really served to bridge her story into Fate/Stay Night’s.
As for Lancelot, I’m very glad that at least some of his backstory was revealed, even if it wasn’t to the extent I would have liked. For a character whose history is so deeply intertwined with Saber’s, more character development on his part would have benefited hers as well. I would even go as far as to say that an additional episode centering on the backstories of the Arturia and her Knight of the Round Table would be a very welcome addition to the Fate/Zero saga. I think that for all knights, there are only two people they seeks to be judged by: God, and their King, and his quest for judgment and atonement at Saber’s hands would have made for an episode as strong as any of the series. In any case, I am just satisfied his story didn’t end abruptly in the last episode and was allowed to conclude by showing how loyal of a knight he was, even at the very end.
Last but not least, perhaps no character deserved a satisfying closure more than the King of Knights herself, whom I consider to probably be the most tragic character in all of Fate/Zero. With the story in the latter half of this season revolving around Kiritsugu and his nemesis Kirei, Saber’s role may have diminished compared to before, but ending her story in the previous episode would have been almost an unforgivable disservice to such an important character, one whose philosophy as a king was at the forefront for much of the series. As I alluded to in a previous post, there is something admirable, something brilliant in watching the tragic heroine chase her lofty ideals. Yet when the failures of those ideals are revealed and the bright and innocent face she once had is replaced with a pained and anguished one stained by tears, in a way, it felt like my own ideals had crumbled along with hers. I realize most of Saber’s tearful words rang true and clear: her ideology may not be the best one to lead a kingdom; she was unable to understand the hearts of those beside her; and her lack of anger caused Lancelot to turn to madness in search of atonement. However, for all her faults, her righteousness still inspires me the same way it once inspired Lancelot and all who served her. Saber, in my heart, you will always be the greatest of all kings.
Not only did this finale give all the characters the conclusions they deserved, it also gave us a conclusion that this fantastic show deserved. A series as wonderfully written as this one should not leave us wondering about anything – except the next time we’ll be graced with a series as special as this. I think that if I had three wishes from the Holy Grail, after going through the usual wishes like mankind’s salvation and a kiss from Saber, my final wish would be that the wait for another series of Fate/Zero’s caliber to be measured in months, not years.
I… think I need to marathon Teletubbies for the rest of the week or something because wow that was such an amazing yet depressing finale. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say no one gets a happy ending, maybe save for Kirei. Even Waver, the sole survivor of the Fourth Holy Grail War, only really manages a bittersweet ending – he grew into an adult, and there’s less of that naive enthusiasm he had at the beginning of the series. While that was inevitable, I wanted someone to be happy by the end of all the suffering that it brought tears to my eyes as he began playing that video game Rider had bought, but never got to open. Waver is learning to open his mind and branch out due to Iskander’s influence on him, but it puts a melancholy spin on things when you realize the price of his maturity.
But dear God, compared to the rest of the other cast, Waver definitely got off easy. Ilya’s “conversation” with Irisviel is just utterly heartbreaking, juxtaposed with scenes of the conflagration and Kiritsugu as he desperately searches for somebody to be alive. I would probably place her as one of the most tragic figures in the Fate universe, alongside Sakura and several others. Really, both her parents were able to make the sacrifices they made because at the end of it all, they had hoped to free Ilya from the grisly fate of the Einzbern Homunculi. I can’t even begin to describe in words just how sad that scene was – a little girl waiting for parents that will never come home. Oof.
Of course, Fate/Zero wasn’t done wringing the tears out of me because karma’s favorite punching bag Kariya had to have his moment of tragedy. The girl he’ll never save. The love that will never be fulfilled. The title he’ll never be called by. It’s doubly cruel that Sakura is so far gone she doesn’t even recognize his efforts and on top of that, he dies in the most pitiful manner possible. That is the reward he receives for trying to save a little girl from her father’s ignorant decision. Frankly I’m not sure what the take-home message is – that karma sucks? Urobuchi loves torturing his characters? Don’t help people? All I know is that Matou Kariya was simply a tragic figure from the beginning to the end, to a point where it simply became unbearable to watch any scene he was in because I knew how it was going to go.
If there’s one part in this finale that was so heartbreaking, yet so engrossing to watch, it was probably Saber’s soliloquy on the hill of swords. It’s a pretty significant scenery in a lot of ways, but most prominently since it features Saber by herself, lamenting her deeds. It’s the way she’s always been, never able to look forward because she considers her inability as a king to be too great a sin. It’s driven home even more here and Kawasumi Ayako has to be commended for her stellar acting here – she conveys Saber’s emotions perfectly, and that crying was just so. Gut. Wrenching. This was the scene that just gutted me because I’ve always been able to empathize with Saber and understood her views better than most characters. She may not be right and characters like Rider have called her foolish, but at the end of it all, what she wanted was a brighter future for her people, which no one can rebuke her for. It’s just saddening she takes no pride in what she’s done and would rather give it all up if it meant someone else can take her spot and be the better king – that’s some immense self-loathing right there, compounded by a tremendous responsibility for someone so young. Saber’s problem lies not in the fact she couldn’t understand her people, but the fact she understands them too much; it’s evident in Lancelot’s words she never once blamed him, and that sort of forgiveness does not come from one who cannot sympathize with nor understand others. Ironically, her love for her subjects is what drove their destruction – sometimes the light simply becomes too unbearable, and it’s easier to turn to the shadows for comfort. I suspect that’s not just Lancelot’s case; in trying to become the perfect king, Saber became a light too strong for her people, creating an irreparable rift and the misunderstanding that she could not understand them.
I thought Saber would be the bottom of the barrel when it came to the utter despair that comprised most of the finale, but apparently I’d forgotten all about Kiritsugu! I… don’t think his situation needs much explaining; irony is pretty much the expected result whenever the Magus Killer does something, and watching him try to save people from the disaster he’d created (in hopes of saving the world, mind you) was both cringe-worthy and well, sad. To make a comparison, Kiritsugu is all too similar to the magical girls in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica – the concept of the girls’ wishes betraying them in the end runs parallel to Kiritsugu and his ideals betraying him. In both cases, the cruelest thing is the fact they don’t have anyone but themselves to blame for all their misfortune.
Kiritsugu’s ideals have always been built on a fragile foundation, driven by guilt and self-loathing; everything has been compounded on those emotions alone and the house of cards have always been bound to fall, and fall spectacularly. The simple desire to become a hero became convoluted and twisted, and although he committed all sorts of atrocious deeds in order to search for its meaning, he never did find it. But what else was to be expected from such a bitter and blood-stained path Kiritsugu chose to walk? It’s pretty clear after watching this finale where the core concept of Madoka came from – your ideals will only betray you in the end, and you will have no one else to blame for it but yourself. Of course, there’s no Godoka to right the wrongs in this series, so there’s no hope to be found here.
On the whole, the finale – and the series – was dense and while amazing, very difficult to watch. Especially in the second half, Fate/Zero has never failed to inspire despair whenever I watched it, because the characters never seemed to catch a break (see: everyone except Gil and Kirei). The only guy that really “wins” in the end is the sadist, and I’m not sure what to make of the message the show is trying to send. Abandon all hope? There’s no doubt in my mind Fate/Zero is an amazing series, but it’s definitely one that thoroughly exhausts the viewer’s psyche in terms of the balance between tragedy and happy resolution. Each situation is dark and gritty, and nothing gets sugarcoated – the brutality of the Holy Grail War is depicted in all its bloody glory and the irony of a Holy Grail housing all the evils of the world definitely doesn’t get missed here. I would even argue that each character gets almost triple the retribution of whatever sin they committed; I have no idea what on Earth Kariya did to the universe, but it obviously hates his guts since even the smallest of actions on his part result in a lifetime’s worth of grief and tragedy. His story never failed to stir sympathy in me, but damn it if it didn’t leave me wondering why he was going through all this on many occasions. It was almost like he was being tortured for the sake of filling a quota, to really make the viewer abandon any hope for a decent ending for the prodigal Matou Magus. I’d say the producers succeeded because I gave up wishing for a happy ending for him ages ago – by the finale, I was mostly hoping they’d let him go in peace. Request denied.
It’s probably the only gripe I have with the series in general: it’s overly cruel. This is especially true in the second half and comparing it to the first half, it almost feels like a different series since the first season was so innocuous in all its set-up and long-winded dialogues about morals and the meaning of pleasure. That ominous atmosphere was always there, but in no way did I expect the amount of sheer unadulterated despair the second season dished out. Realism is great, but I wonder if Fate/Zero’s preoccupation with tragedy prevented it from becoming an even more amazing series that I could watch over and over again without fear of being overwhelmed. The last two episodes suffer this problem especially, and somewhere along the line, the show plummeted from my “Must Watch” list to “I’m Afraid to Watch this Episode” list. This is the sort of thing that keeps me from saying it’s my favorite. Events certainly move me, but it’s always in a negative direction and never the positive – whereas you have shows like Tsuritama, Sakamichi no Apollon, and even Kuroko no Basuke where there’s always, always emotional pay-off. You get angst, but then you right away get something back for that anxiety and anticipation you felt for the characters, in whatever form. They rip my heart out, but the shows always give it back before I can die from it. They strike a nice balance so that you’re never skewed too negative or too positive; I’m not sure Fate/Zero achieves this balance. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. To the bitter end. It’s managed to rip my heart out, stomp on it and blend it into juice before I can even register it’s been done.
So, when all is said and done, do I like Fate/Zero? I love it, and the series has some of my favorite characters to date. Do I think it’s an amazing series? Yes! Ufotable did a spectacular job with the series, and although I can’t vouch for its loyalty to the source material, I can say nothing felt half-assed. Lacking, maybe, but never half-assed. They really went the extra mile for this series and you can tell from the little details in the animation to that stellar OST. Is it something I’ll marathon over and over again though? Um, only when I’m feeling masochistic.
P.S.: I lied when I said the finale was zetsubou all around. There was one shining ray of light: naked Gil. Yay manservice. I think ufotable’s proven themselves a studio that caters to any and all fandom with class and finesse.
From the opening minutes of the very first episode, I knew this series was going to turn out to be something very special, and the twenty four episodes that followed borne out my prediction. The presentation itself was leaps and bounds better than most other shows I had seen, starting with the jaw-dropping, cinema quality animation and the simply stunning action sequences that ufotable somehow carried over to the small screen from its experience animating the Kara no Kyokai films. The musical score, written by famed composer Kajiura Yuki, was not only instantly memorable, but it also fit each and every scene perfectly, and most importantly, elevated the emotional impact of the series the way all the good soundtracks should. As magnificent the presentation was however, it was merely a tool to convey what truly elevates Fate/Zero into the realm of a masterpiece: Gen Urobuchi’s dark and tragic, yet hauntingly beautiful story.
Even though I, like many others, already knew the ending of the Fourth Holy Grail having seen Fate/Stay Night, the journey to get there was something I looked forward to week after week, thanks to his wonderfully well-written narrative and the many compelling characters. Fate/Zero’s greatest strength lies in the fact that it has an extremely well-developed ensemble cast of characters with no one character dominating the narrative too much compared to the rest. This allowed for each character’s ideology and ideals to be well-defined. With so many of the characters willing to sacrifice everything, even their own humanity, in pursuit of the Holy Grail, the complex dynamics and the captivating battles that ensued with both weapons and words, was one that Urobuchi and ufotable weaved into near perfection.
A myriad of themes with sacrifice, despair, and tragedy at their core pervades this entire work, making it one of the most complex, cerebral, and thought-provoking series in recent memory – and I loved every single minute of it. One episode I keep coming back to is the now famous “Holy Grail Dialogue” episode, and it’s hard to think of another episode of anime that is able to inspire the same level of intellectual discourse. However, for Fate/Zero this was actually only slightly above par for the course – it seemed like every other episode, especially in the latter half of the series, sparked thoughtful debates and discussion on a level that few other shows could ever hope to achieve. On a more personal level, I know that no other series has been able to make me question my own ideologies as much as Fate/Zero has, but I never tired of thinking about these deep and heavy ideas. Nor did I tire of the tragedy and despair it seemed like every character was destined for. They were neatly bookended by stunning action sequences that let my weary mind, if not my eyes and ears, relax and decompress before serving me once more with food for thought – a recipe not easily emulated, but one which makes Fate/Zero one of the best shows of the year, if not all time.
In the end, I feel both blessed and cursed to have taken part in the banquet of kings that is Fate/Zero: blessed to have watched and written about a series this special, but cursed in knowing that I will probably have wait a long time before experiencing another series like it. Yet I do not regret anything, for this is a series that comes so close to perfection it is worth every tear, every heartbreaking moment, and every curse.
- Full-length images: 04, 26.5.
- verdant’s note: Special thanks to BakaMochi for taking her time to share with us her wonderful thoughts and insights on this amazing show, and to you, our readers for making it through this epic, nearly 4000 word long post.
ED5: 「to the beginning」by Kalafina