The Stories Behind Fate/Apocrypha's Servants of Redby Gabriella Ekens,
This is the second half of our Fate Fridays feature on the stories behind the heroic spirits of Fate/Apocrypha, but you can read all about the Servants of Black in the first half here! After detailing the legends behind Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night, Fate/Apocrypha presented me with a double-stuffed Grail War that features sixteen different servants. So for the sake of convenience (as well as my sanity) we've split the whole thing up into two pieces, just like the two factions of the Great Holy Grail War. This second article covers Team Red as well as Shirou Kotomine, whose role on the Red team turns out to be much more complicated than just acting as peacekeeper from the church. (But when are Fate's priests not wolves in sheep's clothing?) Of course, this editorial will be filled with SPOILERS for Fate/Apocrypha's first twelve episodes.
Okay, so if Fate/Apocrypha is your first exposure to the Fate franchise and you aren't familiar with Mordred's (lady) daddy, go ahead and read the Saber entry in my previous Fate/stay night editorial. King Arthur is kind of a big deal in this franchise, and the show presumes you know that - Mordred's first flashback reveals Saber's true identity. Now that we've got that sorted, just who is Mordred?
Mordred is King Arthur's illegitimate son with his half-sister, the sorceress Morgan Le Fey. The circumstances behind this incestuous union are complicated, especially since King Arthur is a lady in the Fate universe. We'll get into how that particular reproductive act worked in a minute, but first, let's find out how Mordred came off in his (her?) original legend.
Like the rest of the Arthurian saga, there are around four or five different accounts of Mordred's story dated to various points over the past 2000 years. The figure we know today is probably a composite of several older characters, but his name first appeared (as “Medraut”) in the 10th century. While the details of his story vary across different accounts, I've managed to pare his history down to three primary events that influenced the red n' rowdy murder gremlin we meet in Fate: first, the Battle of Camlann, second, his usurpation of the throne, and third, his illegitimacy.
Mordred's earliest recorded appearance states that he died at Camlann alongside Arthur. The fact that he specifically murdered Arthur (or vice versa, depending on the story) wasn't added until later. (Eventually, this ambiguity regarding who-killed-who seems to have evened out into the mutual killing we see depicted in Fate.) Mordred's status as an usurper appeared around the 12th century. While Mordred's name acts as a synonym for “unscrupulous traitor” today, there were some positive accounts of his reign around this time. Finally, the incest/illegitimacy thing seems to have been added around the 15th century, linked to the character of Mordred's mother, Morgause. Morgause is Arthur's half-sister, the wife of King Lot, and the mother of the Round Table knights Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, and Gareth. (It's worth noting that this relationship between Mordred and these "Orkney siblings" doesn't seem to exist in the Nasuverse.) While previous stories assumed that Mordred was the son of King Lot, Thomas Malory's Le Morted'Arthur attributes his conception to a brief fling between the two siblings. To be fair, they didn't know about their relationship at the time because Arthur's parentage had been kept secret. Over time, this version of the story became the one that stuck, probably because of the ironic echo it adds to Arthur's demise as a man both made and unmade by illegitimacy. Morgause's character is now frequently conflated with that of her witchy half-sister, Morgan le Fey, so Type-Moon went with the version where Mordred was intentionally conceived by that sorceress as a bid for power.
This brings us to Merlin. Perhaps the most famous wizard of all time, he's known as a master of magic, Arthur's staunch ally, and Britain's great kingmaker. He was also a total pervert. This factors into Type-Moon's portrayal of the character, where he magically gave Saber male genitalia so that Le Fey could harvest the resulting sperm and grow a baby. Yes, the incest somehow manages to be the least bizarre part of that sentence. Altria was presumably unconscious for this process, seeing as she's quite surprised to learn of Mordred's existence. The specifics of this situation were cut from the anime, so you're just left to assume that Le Fey stole her sister's DNA to grow a clone of her in some more clinical sort of way. But even if the anime skirts over this detail, I assure you that the "magical pseudo-phallus" is absolutely 100% canon. I guess it does help explain why Altria gave Mordred the cold shoulder so hard.
So Le Fey raises clone baby Mordred to believe that she's the true heir to Britain's throne. While Mordred's existence was kept secret, Le Fay managed to sneak her into the Round Table under the condition that she always wear her helmet. (Seems sketchy to me, but maybe knightly recruitment standards were lower in the latter days of Camelot.) Over the course of all this, Mordred developed a pretty serious complex over Altria. She idealized her as the perfect knight and – upon learning that Altria was her father – became desperate for her validation. Soon, her self-worth would start to vacillate between pride over her relationship with the king and intense shame over the details of her birth. So when Altria ultimately rejected Mordred, it basically broke her spirit. Mordred's love turned into hatred, and she vowed to destroy her father from that day forward. So while Altria was out one day, Mordred rallied all the forces of discontent within the kingdom and seized power. She rifled through her dad's shit, stole one of his backup swords (Clarent, which she wields in-show), and began setting fire to things (maybe by accident?). Altria came back, saw this mess, and decided to lay down the law. Unfortunately, her own reign was pretty solidly screwed at that point, so the two didn't have much left to do other than stab each other and leave the crown to someone else.
And that's Mordred's story, a tragedy that runs parallel to Altria's, where both were forced into an antagonistic relationship with the other through their fated circumstances, as well as the suppression of their true desires in service of roles that they were born to play. This is a notable example where Fate's version of a character is infinitely more nuanced than their inspiration, whose reasons for usurping the throne in Arthur's absence basically boil down to him being a mustache-twirling villain.
With this in mind, it's honestly heartwarming to see Mordred find a decent father figure in her master, Kairi Sisigou. Unlike anyone else in her life, he immediately accepts her for who she is without reservations. In another more nuanced twist on Mordred's legend, the avarice and fury of Fate's version can also be explained by her stunted age. As a homunculus, her growth was accelerated so that she could catch up with daddy as soon as possible. She is quite literally a kid in many ways. Mordred's relationship to Apocrypha's overarching theme of “fakes” is also obvious – she's a fake King Arthur desperate to live up to her predecessor's legacy. Still, Britain's most infamous traitor comes off pretty well in this series, all things considered, just a boisterous kid forced into villainy by circumstances outside her control. In life, she died too soon to realize how badly she'd been manipulated, but at least the Grail allowed her to find someone who understands her in the end.
Just like last week's Romanian blood-sucker, this Lancer has a long complicated backstory that will take me a while to tell. Karna is one of Hindu mythology's most famous heroes, on par with a figure like Herakles in our Western imagination. Like Herakles, Karna is a demigod (the son of a mortal woman and the sun god Surya) who endured a lot of bullshit in his life. But unlike Herakles, he managed to be overwhelmingly righteous (and pretty) while doing it.
However, in spite of his heroic reputation, Karna was not the central character of the work he appears in. That would be his younger brother Arjuna, with whom he had a turbulent relationship to say the least. Their story, the Mahābhārata, is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India. Perhaps the longest poem ever written, it's as important as the works of Homer to world literature while also being around four times as long. Obviously that makes it difficult to summarize, but it's basically about two families, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, who are fighting over the throne of a kingdom. Arjuna is one of the Pandavas, while Karna is on the Kaurava side. The two become bitter rivals, with their ultimate confrontation serving as the story's climax.
So once upon a time there was a lady named Kunti who'd been given the power to summon and have a baby with any god she wanted. A sage gave her this power when she was pretty young, but she didn't believe him at first, so she decided to test it out. She recited the mantras, and lo and behold, the god Surya showed up to give her a baby – Karna. This was actually a problem, since Kunti was unmarried, and she'd be in hot water if anyone were to find out that she'd gotten pregnant. (Or had a baby handed to her by the sun.) So she decided to get rid of the baby by sending it down the river Moses-style. The baby was eventually found and adopted by an impoverished charioteer, while Kunti went on to marry a king named Pandu. Pandu was cursed to die if he ever had sex, which made it difficult for him to produce heirs. He got around this by letting Kunti make babies with gods while passing them off as his own kids, and Arjuna was the product of one such union between her and the thunder-god Indra. Say what you want about this situation, it's still better than what Merlin came up with.
But back to Karna. Nobody liked him as a kid since he was born a freak, with golden armor and earrings embedded into his skin (proof of his divine lineage). Despite being a poor nobody, he really wanted to study warfare and approached a number of gurus about this. When they wouldn't teach him because he was part of the wrong caste, he masqueraded as a member of the proper caste in order to attend lessons. Pretty soon, he became the absolute best at fighting, since he was supernaturally gifted at it. When his teacher found out that he'd been lying about his status, however, he cursed Karna to lose his martial prowess whenever he most needed it. This would come back to bite him in the ass hard, along with another curse that prophesized he would die helpless some day.
Sometime after all this, Karna crashed a tournament that was meant to show off his half-brothers, the Pandava princes. When they wouldn't let him fight because he was low caste, Karna got pissed off enough to spark an eternal rivalry between them. That event is also where the Kuarava prince, Duryodhana, realized that Karna's mad skills would be useful in the event of an inheritance war between him and the Pandavas. Duryodhana adopted Karna into his family, letting him participate in the tournament and earning the Pandavas a formidable enemy.
Afterwards, a bunch of stuff happened to intensify the conflict between Karna and the Pandavas, especially with the youngest of their number, Arjuna. Arjuna was almost as good at fighting as Karna, so that “your skills will abandon you when you really need them” curse kept acting up whenever they clashed. Still, Karna was an absolute monster on the battlefield, doing all sorts of crazy shit like conquering the world for his Kuarava friends. Eventually, folks on Arjuna's side of things started to worry about his chances and looked into ways to take down Karna by cheating. In one instance, Arjuna's dad Indra disguised himself as a beggar in order to beg for Karna's magic armor as alms. Since Karna had previously promised to fulfill anything requested of him, this plan might have actually worked. However, Karna surprises Indra by seeing through his disguise and giving his armor away anyway. This act of charity is so stupefying that the heavens literally explode to shower him with flowers, while Indra just stands there red-faced with shame. Indra ends up giving Karna his spear, Vasavi Shakti – his signature weapon as a Lancer in the Fate universe. (He can also qualify as an Archer by using his divine bow, or as a Rider by using his dad's crazy sun chariot.)
That's the most relevant story to his powers in-show. In the end, Karna's mom Kunti reveals her identity in an attempt to emotionally blackmail him into sparing her other sons. Karna accedes to some of her demands by making the fight between him and Arjuna more equal. And so, with the loss of his invincibility armor, the limitations on his arsenal imposed by Kunti, and the prophesied curse coming to fruition, Arjuna is able to triumph over Karna. Even then, Arjuna mostly wins through a series of dick moves, so the poem's hero ends up looking bad compared to his rival in his own epic. That's gotta sting.
Believe it or not, that's the shortest synopsis I can give of this mythological melodrama. Karna is a fascinating character and Type-Moon has a neat take on him. He falls into the archetype of “characters who try to be inhumanly good and are driven to bad ends because that isn't actually possible to sustain”, alongside the likes of Siegfried and Fate/stay night's Archer. Of this bunch, Karna seems to be the most content with his fate due to his ridiculously nice personality. He doesn't seem to harbor any resentment unlike his peers in this category, because Karna's tragic fall is portrayed as the culmination of transcendent and sublime beauty. On the other hand, this divinity makes him easily the most inhuman of Apocrypha's Servants, hardly ever expressing any emotion and showing up everywhere looking like a blinged-out stick-bug. He hasn't featured in Apocrypha's story much beyond fighting a lot in the first half, so it's unknown how his reputation as “the hero of charity” will factor into the story. Judging by his encounter with Siegfried, he seems to be a stickler for rules and expresses concern about the status of his original master, who he's never met.
Karna ties into the “fake” theme in being an antihero (or perhaps anti-villain?) relative to the epic's proper hero, Arjuna. Karna is a weird underdog who manages to constantly show up a prince who was given every advantage in life that he never had. He's a weirdly subversive hero who reveals the artificiality of concepts like “illegitimacy” and “social status” in the face of true virtue. (Okay, he's still a demi-god and prince by birth, so it's not too subversive.) In Fate, he's become a svelte anime boy who dresses like Gackt, while Arjuna is made to look like Lelouch Lamperouge. You can probably guess who fans seem to prefer.
Alright, so we've gotten the really difficult ones out of the way – on to the cozy and familiar Greeks. Atalante (usually called Atalanta in English) was a disciple of the goddess Artemis and the lone female Argonaut to join in Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. Abandoned by her father at birth for being a girl (dick move), she was raised by a bear who taught her all sorts of important things, like growling, the value of honey, and mauling your enemies. She became the ultimate huntress, one of the few Greek heroines whose martial prowess is described as on par with the boys. From there, she went on to participate in a few adventures – most prominently the aforementioned Fleece quest and the Trojan War. This is how she knows Achilles, who was a comrade on such journeys. Otherwise, no specific relationship between them is really outlined in myth.
As a devotee of Artemis, Atalante was a master archer and also a sworn eternal virgin. That detail comes into play in a few of her legends, which are largely based on dudes hitting on her. In one, she shows up to help a bunch of guys hunt down the Calydonian Boar, which was sent by a slighted Artemis to ravage the land. While his fellow bros are all having tantrums over needing to cooperate with a vagina-haver, the hero Meleager is cool with it – mostly because he wants to bump uglies with her. Unfortunately, he's also married, which makes it a scandal when he gives Atalante the boar's valuable hide. (This was actually hers by right, since she was the first to wound the creature. My impression is that the others were trying to screw her out of this right on the grounds of being a lady, while Meleager chose to act justly, albeit for selfish reasons.) He's killed in the ensuing family conflict, so his gamble doesn't pay off, which I guess was meant to demonstrate why ladies shouldn't get involved in man things. (This is absolutely wrong, of course. Every business can be ladybusiness.)
In her second legend, Atalante is being pressured into marriage by her shitty dad (he found her again), so she swears that she'll only marry the man who can beat her in a footrace. She's super fast and anyone who loses gets killed, so not many dudes take her up on the offer. However, one guy named Hippomenes has a foolproof plan for victory: cheating. He begs the goddess Aphrodite to help him take down the uppity virgin, and Aphrodite gives him three golden apples that no woman can resist to distract Atalante during the race. The plan works, Atalante marries Hippomenes, and her feelings on this union are not articulated. Ultimately, Aphrodite (or Zeus in some versions) double-screws Atalante by turning her and Hippomenes into lions for doing the nasty in a sacred temple. That's why she's a catgirl in Fate – she actually turned into a cat.
Her myths can come off as a pretty complex negotiation over what women should be allowed to do in Greek society. Her fate is torn between two goddesses – the virgin Artemis who is antagonistic towards men, and the love freak Aphrodite who insists on the union between men and women. While there's a great nobility to the part of her life lived in devotion to Artemis, she is ultimately destroyed by Aphrodite's demands. This part of the story doesn't factor into Fate's portrayal of the character much, but it's fascinating all the same. Honestly, Fate/Apocrypha's take on Atalante's desires is kind of random, since her wish seems to be a general sort of goodwill toward children thing. Apparently that's related to angst over her abandonment? I don't know, it's a stretch.
Her Noble Phantasm, Phoebus Catastrophe, is a letter of complaint (perhaps over her lame motivations) to her patron gods, Apollo and Artemis. This message is attached to an arrow shot into the sky, which is followed by a barrage of shots from her celestial friends. While Atalante doesn't seem to be that central to the action in Fate/Apocrypha, I'd say that her backstory ties into the theme of “fakes” in a “woman living in a man's world” sort of way. It's not much, but then again neither is she so far.
It's time for another one of those really famous guys, so let's just get it out of the way that Rider of Red doesn't have much in common with the Achilles of the Iliad. Unlike Mordred or Atalante, the specifics of Achilles' personality were pretty well recorded, and it wasn't like this guy at all. The Achilles of the Iliad was a moody prima donna who coolly annihilated his way through an entire battlefield's worth of mooks, while Rider of Red is a big excitable bro who comes across like a less memorable version of Fate/stay night's Lancer. He's probably my least favorite interpretation of a legendary figure in Fate/Apocrypha, mostly because he wastes the potential of a very fertile legend.
So way before Achilles was born, his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, was prophesied to produce sons that would be greater than their fathers. This power could seriously upset the Olympian order should she get with a strong enough god, so she was shunted off in marriage to some mortal named Peleus. The child they produced together, Achilles, lived up to the prophecy in his potential, and Thetis also tried to make him invulnerable (either by burning away his mortality or dipping him in the river Sytx depending on the version). Unfortunately, she infamously missed a spot – his heel – which would eventually serve as his undoing. Later on, Peleus sent Achilles off to be raised by Chiron, which is where he became the crazy awesome super soldier he's known as today. Another prophecy about the kid appeared around this time – that he would either live a long boring life, or die young and be remembered forever. Much of his subsequent myth concerns the tension in values between these two drastic possibilities.
This takes us to the main action of the Iliad itself. After some shenanigans, Achilles was recruited into the war against Troy. (Funny enough, the war happened because a Trojan prince named Paris used a boon he received from Aphrodite to steal Helen, the wife of a Greek king. He got that boon for helping her win a beauty contest, which was instigated during Achilles' parents' marriage. So the entire war kind of comes back to Achilles in a weird way.) By this point, Achilles is known as maybe the toughest guy in the world, an absolutely unstoppable force of violent destruction. However, ten years into the siege, he takes a break to sulk over being denied a woman as a prize he thought he deserved. So he wastes time moping in his tent for a while, which allows Troy to accrue an advantage. However, when Achilles' boyfriend Patroclus is slain in battle by the Trojan prince Hector, our boy decides that it's time to exact bloody vengeance on the folks who stole his beau. He wrecks shit, slaughters Hector, and then desecrates the prince's corpse. While the Iliad ends here, later legends explain that this action pissed off the god Apollo, who goes on to help an archer named Paris snipe Achilles in the heel, killing him. In the end, the Greek hero lived fast and died hard enough to remain a household name nearly three thousand years after his death. That's a prophecy fulfilled well, I'd say.
Thematically, this poem is about forceful powers – large-scale catastrophes like wars or natural disasters – invalidating the more humane values enforced by environments of peaceful domesticity. Hector was an unimpeachable husband, father, brother, son, and general member of the Trojan community, but he got humiliatingly eradicated by a powerful pissbaby who gave up the possibility of that kind of life for the sake of a very different legacy after death. Rather than condemning one or the other, the poem finds beauty in both of these figures and the sacrifices they make for their incompatible value systems. In the end, Achilles' victory is accompanied by a sense of melancholy and the high cost of his chosen way of life.
This melancholy is just not present in Fate Achilles at all. He just seems like kind of a bro who has a mildly relevant rivalry with the Archer of Black, Chiron. The main links to his legend are his Noble Phantasms, his chariot Troias Tragōidia, his spear Diatrekhōn Astēr Lonkhē, and his shield Akhilleus Kosmos. While the first two of these are gifts that the gods gave to Peleus at his wedding, the latter was forged for Achilles by Hepheastus in the middle of the Iliad. I won't spoil what it does, but it contains a depiction of the world at "peace" (just not the kind of world peace you might be thinking of).
Achilles is a fake because I'm 99% sure he's not the real Achilles. I think that the Grail got his data mixed up with a frat boy named Chad (normally of the Quarterback class) and didn't bother to fix this mistake. I realize the actual intent probably has to do with him being a "fake immortal", but that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Piss off, Chad.
CASTER: William Shakespeare
Back on the subject of folks who need no introduction, it's time for ol' Billy Shakes himself. While I feel like I barely need to say anything about this guy beyond the specifics of how he's portrayed in the Fate universe, I'll provide a quick rundown of his life for anyone who just woke up from a 500-year coma. William Shakespeare is the English language's most well-known (and possibly greatest) playwright. He was born in England in 1564, died in 1616, and wrote several dozen plays in the intervening span of time. If you attended an English-language high school, you were probably obligated to at least pretend to read one of them. (Most likely Hamlet, MacBeth, Othello, King Lear, or Romeo and Juliet. My school did those first three.)
Since this is the first time we've seen a person who's exclusively known as an artist appear as a servant, I'll explain how this sort of thing usually goes down in the Nasuverse. Artist-type servants are usually placed in the Caster class and have insanely low stats (on par with regular humans) in exchange for one world-bending super ability. While I personally wouldn't want this type of servant in a regular Grail War, they can serve more purpose in these sorts of team matches. They're good at enhancing folks who have greater potential, like one Spoiler McSpoilerface. Shakespeare has the ability to turn regular objects into Noble Phantasms if he just describes their use in a florid, poetic style. That's why he was talking through his boss's fight with Frankenstein – he was powering up that katana.
As an added bonus, Shakespeare can thrust enemies with low mental resistance into illusions that play on their neuroses in order to incapacitate them. He uses this power on Frannie, who's rather weak to this type of thing, poor baby. Shakespeare writes the scenario of these illusions and then acts them out with magical puppets. Even though it involved some relatively minor characters, this sequence was one of the most thrilling in the show, so I'd like to see him use this power again. So where does he stand among the show's coterie of fakes? I'd say his role aligns with Caster of Black's as a fellow "maker of forgeries", but instead of constructing fake people, he tells such realistic lies (aka writes fiction) that they gain the character of reality. Fate's Shakespeare has a pretty sociopathic attitude toward the world proper, treating people and their emotions as puppets in a possibly world-ending drama.
Otherwise Bill just hangs around, annoying everyone on the Black side with his mugging while occasionally making a nuisance of himself. For example, he releases a rabid Spartacus into the wild just to see what would happen right at the start of the story. Fortunately, none of his allies seem to care very much, even when their Berserker is requisitioned as a weapon by the enemy. He doesn't even seem to be holding out for the Grail, because his desire to witness a great bloody story was already guaranteed the moment he was summoned into this debacle. Basically, he's that “Michael Jackson eating popcorn” gif.
Semiramis is one of the more patchwork servants in this lineup. To my knowledge, she's probably based on a historical figure, Shammuramat of Assyria, who reigned for a few years in the 9th century BC. The character we see in-show, however, seems largely informed by subsequent fictionalized portrayals of the queen, specifically those concerning her reputation as a gold digger and a poisoner. These aspects dominate her depiction in the show, as a sneaky sultry figure who's constantly trying to get with her master, Shirou.
The most consistent parts of Semiramis's legend report that she's the child of a the mermaid goddess Derketo and a mortal man. Abandoned at birth, she was raised by doves, which explains why she's frequently accompanied by them in Fate/Apocrypha. Early in her life, she caught the eye of a warlord named Ninus, who'd just finished founding the so-called Neo-Assyrian Empire. (The Assyrian Empire has been rebooted as many times as those Spiderman movies.) Ninus decided that he wanted Semiramis for himself, even though she was already married, so he took her by force. After this, Semiramis's first husband killed himself out of despair at losing her, while she became Assyria's queen. Ninus didn't get out of this wife-theft unscathed however – he later died under mysterious circumstances (in some accounts it was combat, in others it was poison), leaving the entire kingdom to Semiramis. So basically, our girl won the jackpot. According to this account, she went on to have a long and successful reign full of military conquest.
On the subject of just how horny Semiramis is for Shirou, that comes from the Armenian version of her story, where she was portrayed as a floozy who lusts after the neighboring Armenian king and invades his territory when he rejects her. While Fate/Apocrypha's Semiramis doesn't seem quite that romantically psychotic, she also doesn't seem like the type of person who takes rejection well. Might be best to just keep on smiling and nodding, priest boy.
Her reputation as a poisoner (the first in recorded history) is the source of most of her Assassin powers. Honestly, she doesn't fit into the Assassin class that well – which the show acknowledges with her unusual class hybridity skill. In an exception to the usual class system, Semiramis counts as both an Assassin and a Caster, which seems pretty bullshit to me. I don't think this trick has been repeated for other Grail War stories, but it's especially weird that the Red Faction still gets a regular Caster on top of this. He's a pretty shitty Caster to be fair, but it's still cheating. Then again, why am I asking for Grail Wars to be fair? These things have been crazy free-for-alls of illegal interference since the beginning. If any mage starts yammering about etiquette, they're either about to die or trying to fuck you over.
Compounding the bullshit, Semiramis's Noble Phantasm doesn't make much sense. I mean, I get the poisoning part. As an Assassin, Semiramis's gimmick is mastery over poison, but that doesn't amount to much other than providing Shirou with whatever brand of kush he needs to turn the other masters into his mind slaves. Semiramis was really summoned for her Hanging Garden of Babylon Noble Phantasm, which reimagines that wonder of the world as a mobile sky fortress that grants Semiramis ridiculous magical powers while she's in its throne room.
And even with her weird dual-class status, it's strange that she can even access this thing. The Hanging Gardens – if they existed at all – were built some 200 years after her reign. Apparently there is a justification for this, and it's that her existence as a servant is such sheer bullshit anyway that she can weaponize her magic to create things that barely relate to her. How does this work? Well, while the Hanging Gardens would normally be the Noble Phantasm of whoever built it, Semiramis can create a false version of the Hanging Gardens through sheer force of spending her endless reserves of treasure. Seriously, her spell for creating stuff boils down to pouring billions of dollars into something until the magic takes. Does this mean that the Grail is now an actual gachapon machine?
THIS. IS. SPARTACUS! (Hey don't blame me, that line is in the show!)
So with that out of the way, Spartacus was an escaped slave who staged a major rebellion against the Roman Empire around 70 BC. He might have been a mercenary or soldier early in life, but whatever his origins, all we know is that he was enslaved and trained as a gladiator at some point. (Gladiators were Roman slaves forced to participate in death matches for the entertainment of the populace. It was a pretty shitty job that would probably get you killed horribly, so you can imagine why people wanted out.) One day, around 70 gladiators teamed up to break out of their “school” (prison). Seizing weapons and defeating Roman legions, they made their way out to the countryside, where they recruited a bunch of other slaves and built an enclave. Spartacus was chosen as one of their leaders at this point. Under his command, they accrued some unexpected victories and eventually gathered an army of 70,000 former slaves. By this point, they were a serious threat to the Roman capital, and the patricians were getting worried. Eventually, Rome had to pull up most of their army and two of their most famous generals (Marcus Licinius Crassus and Pompey the Great) to take him down. Spartacus died in battle, 6,000 of his remaining men were crucified, and slavery was slaved. Yay? (Not yay.) Now his story serves to terrify tyrants with the potential repercussions of their rule. There's also a pretty good classic movie about the guy, so that's something.
But Fate/Apocrypha's Spartacus is a joke character based on the idea “what if a person was so obsessed with the idea of rebellion that they became a slave to it?” Since his existence is based on the principle of immediately murdering anyone who tells him to do something, he is perhaps the least useful servant possible. (No wonder the Red Faction cared so little about losing him.) Aside from that, Spartacus's main “perk” is that he's absurdly difficult to take down, since he only gets stronger (and grows to Tetsuo-like proportions) the more punishment he takes. So not only did you summon a wad of muscle that will kill you at the drop of a hat, you've summoned an unstoppable one. In the end, Caster of Black only manages to take him down by trapping him within a big pile of golems. Y'know, with some folks getting Karna and Achilles while others are stuck with this thing, I think that this Grail War has some balance issues. Or maybe they've just installed too many mods at once. Hopefully Ruler will arrive with a patch soon.
RULER: Shirou Amakusa
But not this ruler! At long last we turn to the deceptively named Shirou Kotomine, aka Shirou Amakusa. Unfortunately, in order to discuss this shady character at all, I have to touch on spoilers that do extend beyond the first twelve episodes, so this is your only warning to stop reading here if you don't want to know this guy's backstory yet.
So it turns out this priest was secretly a servant based on an actual historical figure, and not the unholy lovechild of Shirou Emiya and Kotomine Kirei. (A reveal that came to the disappointment – or perhaps relief, if you're boring like that – of everyone watching.) So yeah, Darnic wasn't the only one setting up 100-year plans for this Grail War. As a Ruler-class servant summoned by the Einzbern family via the power of CHEATING during the WWII Grail War, Amakusa survived to Grail War once again in the same exact way that a certain somebody does at the end of the Fate/Zero – by getting coated in exploding grail muck and obtaining mortal flesh in the process. After that, he made it his mission to win the next War at any cost.
Since so much about this character is spoiler-tastic, I'll be skimping a bit on the details that don't involve his source legend directly. While there isn't much information about Amakusa on the English-language net, he seems to be a fairly big deal in Japan. Some movies have been made about him, and versions of him appear in several samurai-type or occultish otaku media. He was a Japanese Christian who led the Shimabara Rebellion against the Tokugawa shogunate in 1637. As a devout Roman Catholic at a time when the religion was still fairly new to Japan (Portuguese missionaries began proselytizing there in the 16th century), the uprising was over taxation and famine along with religious concerns. Forming a makeshift army of around 40,000 men, the rebels seized a local castle and holed up there. They survived for a while, but they were eventually overwhelmed by the shogunate's forces. The surviving rebels were all massacred and Amakusa himself was publicly executed. After this, the government clamped down on Christianity (which was already illegal) and Japanese Christians were forced to go further underground. So it's safe to say that our boy completely failed to achieve his goals.
Amakusa was only 17 when he died, so he must have been a shockingly charismatic figure in order to orchestrate all this. It helps that he was considered a miracle worker, called “heaven's messenger” by his followers. Nowadays he's considered a Japanese folk saint, but the Catholic Church proper has yet to acknowledge him. If you've been paying close attention, you may have noticed a few parallels between his life and that of the conflict's proper Ruler, Jeanne. Like her, Amakusa was a teenager on a divine mission to save his people through warfare. They were also both martyred due to an act of betrayal by one of their comrades. The main difference is that Amakusa's siege went poorly, while Jeanne's made her reputation and saved her nation. Now she's one of the most famous people in history, while Amakusa is just some obscure Japanese guy. I'd imagine that he may have a bit of a complex over this.
Again, we still don't know what Amakusa's goals are, but with the revelation of his true identity, Fate/Apocrypha has set us up for a potentially fascinating final conflict. Specifically, Amakusa is being set up as Jeanne's illegitimate counterpart. An apocryphal saint, if you will. As Fate/Apocrypha's true antagonist (as of its midpoint reversal), I'm sure his exact baggage will be revealed soon, although who knows what his powers are yet. Perhaps an EX-rank poker face Noble Phantasm?
And that's it for my explanation of the legends behind Fate/Apocrypha! Next week, I'll be closing out Fate Fridays on a lighter note, as I evaluate the many possible servants from each class to decide which characters you should summon if you ever find yourself in a Holy Grail War!
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