This is a another 50 minute long episode, taking place in roughly the same time frame as episode 0. This time, we focus on Shirou Emiya, Kiritsugu’s adopted son, whose presence was minimal in the first episode.
At first glance there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot to say about this episode. Most of it is fairly similar to the first episode- in fact, it has almost exactly the same goals. We see Emiya’s school days play out as he talks to classmates and reminisce on the past. We actually get a lot more of this episode, because unlike Tohsaka, he doesn’t summon his servant Saber until the end of the episode. As a result, hardly any time is dedicated to building up their relationship. This seems fairly fitting, as Saber also had a fairly distant relationship from Kiritsugu when he was her master. In fact, they seemed to be pretty opposed to each other. In theory, she should get along with Shirou much more easily, but unfortunately he may be too naive, ignorant to his situation, and bad at magic for them to truly be on the same wave length right now.
But lets get to talking about Emiya himself. When I said that this episode and episode 0 had the same goals, I meant that they both want to present their characters to us in much the same way. We see their days go by, and we get a firm grip on their character and back story. We learnt plenty about Rin last episode from how she lived, and how she interacted with others, and how she has changed and grown since Fate/Zero. Here, we are presented to Emiya in much the same way. Not only that, but since these episodes take place in the same time frame, the two episodes are connected. Unanswered questions in episode 0 are answered here, key shots, lines, and scenes are repeated from a different perspective, giving us a sense of character and perspective. It subtly makes the world feel more alive, in constant motion.
So, what do we learn about Emiya this episode? Well, we know that he’s basically a contrast to Kiritsugu’s firmly established philosophy as presented to us in Fate/Zero. The episodes devoted to his past were some of the best in the series, and the climax largely seemed dedicated to smashing his worldview to smithereens. Kiritsugu is a failed hero who decided that when in doubt, he should always sacrifice the few for the needs of the many. He was cynical and broken, and realised that he couldn’t save anyone. His adopted son, despite hearing a lot of this from his father in the form of life lessons, never quite accepted Kiritsugu’s philosophy. He believes in saving everyone, no one should be excluded from salvation. Even as a teenager, he still wants to be “A hero of justice”, and he still wants to succeed where Kiritsugu failed. Unfortunately, Emiya is a pretty bad at magic, and his age isn’t much of an excuse when Tohsaka seems to be much more adept. While by normal measures this wouldn’t make Emiya all that different from any other shonen protagonist, by placing him directly adjacent to Kiritsugu a stronger character emerges. We know Kiritsugu, and thus both we and the show know that Emiya wont be able to achieve his dreams without hardship, that saving absolutely everyone isn’t easy. This world is already richly textured, so Emiya’s beliefs carry more weight.
This carries over to his attitude towards his classmates as well. He’s generally a very helpful person, doing odd jobs and trying to help wherever he can. His friend Issei even seems worried for him, trying to warn Emiya that he might burn out if he doesn’t say no to some of the people asking for favours. Emiya also goes out of his way to help people, too. He’s friends with Sakura, who seems to be suffering abuse from her brother, (she had a brother?) Shinji, who we met in the first episode as some random guy being shot down by Tohsaka. The worst part is, her current abuse is actually a step up from when she would be stuck for days inside insect infested pits for days on end as a child. She still seems to be a perfectly normal moe blob, but her eyes are soulless. You just know that Sakura probably suffers from some serious psychological and possibly even lasting physical damage. How is she able to function so naturally?
In any case, the interesting thing about Emiya’s relationship with Sakura is that he goes out of his way to question Shinji about the obvious abuse she’s been inflicting upon her, even though Sakura claims otherwise. While Shinji just seemed a bit hopeless and dumb last episode, we see here that he’s pretty much your typical highschool asshole, an extremely arrogant and easily angered individual who thinks he’s oh-so-smooth with the girls. He dodges the questions and angrily tries to get Emiya to back off the subject. While it seems obvious that he’s treating his sister very poorly, the scene isn’t framed in such a way as to show us Emiya’s restrained anger- it doesn’t show anything, in fact, indicating that Emiya is feeling any sort of anger at all, restrained or otherwise. No clenched fists, no biting of lips, no raised voices. Emiya is even happy enough to clean up the dojo at Shinji’s behest, no complaints whatsoever.
This isn’t because Emiya is some kind of doormat, let me be clear, it’s because Emiya is genuinely a good guy. Not a hero reaping rewards, but a good guy who only does good for the sake of helping others. His only reward is their happiness, making him a true altruist. This is because to Emiya, weather or not he realises it yet, his version of justice has nothing to do with retribution, which is the case with most heroes. Watched any SAO or Attack on Titan recently? Or any Hollywood action film? No, Emiya’s view of justice is happiness for all people, as many people as possible. It could be argued, of course, that Kiritsugu also had this line of thinking. Kiritsugu was an assassin of course, but he carried out his bloody job with close to no passion. Kiritsugu just wasn’t convinced that there was a way to bring happiness to everyone, and that sacrifices were necessary. The Emiya family sense of justice is brought further to the forefront with Shirou, and in the context of this universe, Emiya feels like a fully realised version of the typical shonen hero, no strings attached.
But does that make him more compelling than Tohsaka? Maybe not. It’s too early to say right now, at least when it comes to someone of my perspective, meeting these characters for the first time. Tohsaka feels like the more unique character, and the character who has built the better relationship. After all, with the exception of Sakura and a brief moment with Saber, Emiya didn’t interact with any lasting character this episode, whereas we got to know Rin and Archer pretty well last episode. Tohsaka also seems more sympathetic, and more proactive as well. She’s less ignorant and better with magic, for one, and of course she’s living under the thumb of the character who murdered her father. In general, she seems to convey a more likable persona, she appears to carry more depth and individuality in her character. I can’t deny, however, the smart choices they decided to take with Emiya’s character, serving as a logical continuation of Kiritsugu’s struggles with morality from Fate/Zero, and the character who appears to burden more of the shows themes.
While Urobuchi isn’t working on this season, I nonetheless feel the need to proclaim Emiya as Fate’s Madoka Kaname, as Fate’s Akane Tsunemori, now all we need is a more appropriate enemy to struggle against, yes? A Sibyl system or a Kyubey? Well, maybe this could work well without giving the utilitarian philosophy a face. Such scary ideas are made less scary when given a face. But maybe Kiritsugu is the Kyubey of this show? And he isn’t a direct enemy, the other servants and masters are. This easily makes Kiritsugu the most human interpretation of such a system ever written by Urobuchi- one of flesh and blood rather than of aliens and machines, of generational and personal rather than grand and conspiratorial. The real villain here isn’t one you can beat, it’s one whose line of thought you can only try your best to avoid.
This is a very good sign of things to come.