by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 24 of
How would you rate episode 25 of
This is also the part of the series which least stands independently of the greater Nasuverse, as during their run the writing tosses out several references that anime-only viewers will not understand. Among them:
- Angra Mainyu is the effective equivalent of the Devil in Zoroastrianism, but in this case refers to a Servant in the Third Grail War whose death corrupted the Grail into the form seen in episode 24. It still lingers in the Grail and is what takes Irisviel's form in episode 24 and claims to be the “will of the Grail.”
- Justeaze is a reference to Justeaze Lizrich von Einzbern, who was the head of the Einzbern family during the founding of the Holy Grail War. All Einzbern homunculi are physically based on her, so Irisviel and Illyasviel both resemble her.
- Third Magic was briefly mentioned back at the very beginning, but it is a prophetic magic once acquired but lost by the Einzbern family, so its recovery has long been the Einzbern's goal. It is also known – quite significantly for events in the F/SN movies – as Heaven's Feel.
- Jubstacheit is the leader of the Einzbern family. He is the old man who appeared briefly before Irisviel and Kiritsugu in episode 1 and is responsible for creating Irisviel, hence effectively making him Illyasviel's grandfather.
Knowing these arcane references is not necessary for appreciating the drama and action components of these episodes, but why certain things happen makes more sense with these tidbits factored in.
And speaking of those components, episode 24 kicks off the long-fated direct battle between Kiritsugu and Kirei, while at the same time Saber contends with Berserker. The former is a spectacular battle with shifting perspectives, The Matrix-style slowdowns, and ranged and melee components, all of which push both men to limits no other opposition has approached. With Berserker's eventual defeat by a sorrowful but determined Saber, the Kiritsugu/Kirei battle is effectively the deciding fight of the war, even though Archer – who is now fully intent on taking Saber as his wife – still remains.
The problem is that the Grail is not what it was made out to be. It does, indeed, manifest from Irisviel's body (other sources explain that she weakened because the defeat of other Servants brought her closer to returning to her Grail form) but it is a dark thing which Kiritsugu determines, based on his conversations within the Grail, is an all-encompassing evil that will kill off mankind to achieve the peace that he wants. One of the many sad moments in these final two episodes is that he does not have a chance to explain this to Saber before forcing her to destroy it at the end of episode 24 and beginning of episode 25.
But you don't destroy a Grail without consequences, and that unintended consequence is the wide swath of destruction in Fuyuki City, which is the foundational event for F/SN. Episode 25 goes on to explain how Kirei and Gilgamesh survive to reappear in F/SN and how Kiritsugu finds Shirou, the protagonist of F/SN, as a young survivor. There is a bit of revisionist history going on here, as early scenes in the anime version of F/SN suggested that the disaster happened at least in part as a result of a fierce exchange between Saber and Gilgamesh, and Kirei definitely puts his own spin on what happened when he later explains it to a grown-up Shirou. The series ends by showing how Kiritsugu unwittingly sets Shirou up for his path in F/SN by putting the idea in Shirou's mind about being a “hero of justice,” which is, ironically, what Kiritsugu strove and failed to be himself.
In fact, the story as a whole is, in effect, a story of failure: Kariya failed to save Sakura from Zouken (the scene where Kariya imagines Rin, Sakura, and Aoi all together is almost painful to watch), Kiritsugu fails to save anyone but one boy, he never gets to see Illyasviel again, and the curse that the dying fake-Irisviel spits out at him costs him his life. (Without F/SN context, that the scene where Kiritsugu closes his eyes while viewing the moon with Shirou indicates his death is not clear.) On Saber's front, she is left with deep and painful regrets, including Lancelot's admonition that he went crazy because “Arthur” never punished him over the matter with Guinivere; his final comment that all of the Knights of the Round Table still loved her is no salve. These regrets will haunt throughout F/SN.
Among other details, Kirei also proves himself to be a sick bastard by giving the Azoth dagger he got from Tokiomi – the very weapon he used to kill Tokiomi – to the unwitting Rin. Surprisingly, Aoi's mother survived Kariya's choke effort but was left both mentally and physically damaged by it. And oh, yes, let's not forget that Illyasviel (or at least someone looking like her) gets choked to a neck-snapping death for a third time. Nope, that means nothing at all. . . Also watch for Taiga, the teacher in F/SN who is Shirou's guardian, to pop up as a teenager in the background of the scene where Kiritsugu is having the house renovated, and for Waver to set plans that will eventually lead to his activities in episode 1's flashbacks in Lord El-Melloi II's Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace note.
This brings the franchise's melancholic and devastating prologue to an end. In all, Fate/Zero is a potent story well worth checking out even if you are not deeply entrenched in the franchise.
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