I’ve been on a Fate kick recently. I originally thought the franchise to be contained to a few anime adaptations and visuals novels.
Boy, was I wrong.
Weeks later, I’m still wading through light novels, manga, and video games and starting to realize that the anime is a (very budget-backed) drop in the proverbial bucket in terms of Fate’s lore and universe.
But I digress.
Snatching up the manga adaptation for the original route, Fate/Stay Night, I quickly discovered the title to be a misnomer, as it actually threw in several elements of route #2, Unlimited Blade Works, as well. In theory, this created a route capable of merging the best of both narratives into one massive epic. In practice, it succeeded to some extent; but just as often it resulted in a strange hybrid featuring unusual character developments and gaping plot holes due to the incomplete storytelling. That, and the manga never received localization past volume 11. (Hear that? That’s the sound of completionism crying.)
But, again, I digress.
Understandably, with all that mixing and merging going on, entirely original scenes and developments take place. Kuzuki gets a mini-arc dedicated to his shrouded backstory, Kirei spends a bit more time in the pulpit misconstruing Scripture, Saber details the prophesies and conspiracies involving her rise as She-Arthur, and Archer displays a touching amount of concern for Rin. But Shinji surprised me most.
I think I’m safe in saying: Shinji is that character nobody likes. Regardless of the route taken, he exists as little more than a glorified plot element with three roles: (1) be the utterly unlikable jerk, (2) create a substantial mini-arc of conflict for the protagonist, and (3) make the rest of the cast look really heroic by contrast. Shinji’s not dangerous enough to be a real threat in-and-of-himself, and more likely to break down in whining and temper tantrums than anything else when he’s powerless. At worst, he’s irredeemably bad—so bad that I wish a more qualified villain with actual aspirations would fill his shoes. At best, he makes a rather therapeutic gif.
But in the manga, there’s a bit more sympathy involved. Suddenly Shinji is less of a self-entitled brat and more of a wayward child in need of some serious TLC. It’s implied that Shinji was even a kind person at one point, before he allowed fear of incompetence to corrode him. Protagonist Shirou recognizes his childhood friend’s deteriorating, abusive behavior and decides to do something about it. Even while they face each other as enemies in the Holy Grail War, Shirou—in true shonen fashion—refuses to call Shinji a lost cause and does all in his power to bring him back to the light.
A few bloody battles and multiple rejections later, Shirou finally manages to subdue Shinji by defeating his Servant and exhausting his mana supply. Isolated atop a skyscraper, Shirou offers his hand once more—a hand that Shinji has metaphorically spat on multiple times already. Predictably, Shinji scorns the gesture, but before Shirou can pursue him further, the edge of the building gives way and Shinji falls to his apparent death.
Well, that was certainly cleaner than his original death scene, I remember thinking, wryly. It felt a bit too idealistic, solving the problem through convenience without forcing Shirou or anyone else to dirty their hands in the process. By the time I’d concluded the chapter, though, I had a newfound respect for the manga’s retelling.
Shirou has a breakdown, there, on the edge of the skyscraper. In the end, regardless of his countless attempts—his blood, sweat, and tears—he was unable to save Shinji. Despite assurances from Saber that he had done all he could, Shirou decides to shoulder the weight alone. Ultimately, what he did was not enough, he concludes, and he could have done more (despite the fact that he realistically couldn’t have).
Excusing the fact that this manner of thinking eventually leads to major problems for Shirou (see: Unlimited Blade Works), I found myself empathizing with his feelings, especially from a Christian standpoint. Throughout my life, I have watched close friends and family walk away—rejecting the faith they once held to, burning bridges, and turning their backs on people they once considered irreplaceable. On the other side of the spectrum, I have found myself making numerous acquaintances (through Facebook, Cons, college, and elsewhere) who are either dabbling in dangerous situations/ideals or completely in the dark spiritually.
As a Christian, I often put pressure–perhaps a little too much pressure–on myself to reach these people and bring them to the light. It’s hard to say. There’s a fine line there. I should care enough about those around me to warn them when I see them treading into dangerous territory and making poor life decisions. The Bible even says that I am accountable for others’ wickedness when I do nothing to deter them from it (Ezekiel 3:18). On the other hand, I must acknowledge that there is nothing I can personally do to change someone—certainly not spiritually save someone. All I can do is direct others to Christ and trust that He will work in their hearts.
It’s no coincidence that Shirou goes on to have a severe case of Messianic complex—sacrificing his body, soul, and life, over and over again for a world that ultimately rejects and refutes his ideals. That reality breaks him. He has no higher authority to entrust others to, and so holds himself ultimately accountable for failing to save even the vilest of individuals.
Oppositely, I am given assurance in God’s perfect will. I can forewarn and direct others to Christ, and then allow Him to use my influence for His glory. Should I be burdened to reach out to others, to the point where I seek them out with a relentless, Christ-like love? Absolutely. But if I do all I can, only to see my efforts met with rejection, I am not to blame myself for “failing.” We Christians like to throw around the trite-but-true metaphor of “sewing seeds”—that sometimes our role in another person’s life is to do nothing more than plant an idea, an idea that others will continue to nurture and that God will ultimately allow to flourish (1 Corinthians 3:7-9).
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
Sometimes it’s tempting to shoulder the guilt of failure. I find myself thinking “what if” and “if only” at times, especially when I consider the many lost opportunities I’ve had to witness or minister to another person. Cowardice has ground me to an embarrassing halt on more than one occasion. Other times, I’ve turned a blind eye, hoping another would take up the role I could have easily filled in someone’s life. But more than anything, I find myself unnecessarily burdening myself with the mission to “save” others. When people leave my life—taken by career or educational opportunities in another state, separating after spending a semester of college together, or even passing away—I incessantly ask myself: did I do enough to “reach” them?
Sometimes the self-reflection is necessary. Sometimes I find that I ignored many key opportunities to do or say something. Other times, I simply feel that I did not try hard enough, no matter my efforts—that for some reason I had to see that person mentally, physically, or spiritually transform before my eyes and in my lifetime in order to feel that I did my part. I have to remind myself to give people to God, to continue praying for them and be a part of their life when the opportunity arises, to learn to ask for spiritual wisdom and recognize key opportunities to speak out. I also have to remind myself that it is not my job to “save” anybody. I merely plant seeds, allow others to water them, and trust God to ultimately use the influence for His will.
So it is with Shinji. Shirou feels that he has failed to redeem his friend, not knowing that he has planted an integral seed in Shinji’s heart. In a canon-breaking plot-twist, Shinji survives the fall, saved by the love of his foster-sister, and spends a long week in the local hospital recovering. There, through the kindness of others, the ideal that Shirou planted in Shinji’s heart begins to flourish, until he recognizes his wrongs and brokenly asks forgiveness from his adopted sister and a classmate whom he nearly killed in his anger.
It’s not until several days later that Shirou learns of Shinji’s survival. To say he’s overjoyed is an understatement. Whether he’d received that confirmation or not, though, it would not have changed the fact that Shirou’s only responsibility was to reach out—to let Shinji know that he was willing to accept him as a friend and put the past behind them, and that Shinji had the ability to change.
Real life isn’t always so idealistic. It’s possible that I’ll never know what happens to the “seeds” I plant in others’ lives. But I’m not accountable for that: God is. And really, that’s the beauty of the Christian faith—that God empowers us to bring others to Him, even though He realistically doesn’t need our “help.” We aren’t passive observers, but active participants. I don’t know what roles I’ll fulfill in the lives of others, but I trust that God has some important part for me to play, as long as I’m faithful and willing.
2 thoughts on “Between the Panels: Sewing Seeds, Saving Shinji”
This article makes me want to pick up the Fate/Stay Night manga, which sounds much more interesting than the original anime–the only part of the franchise I’ve seen. I also look at my overt role in converting others as simply explaining Christian ideas to them, planting the seeds that God can bring to fruition. After all, God not only gives people knowledge of the truth, but enables them to know it. And, one can’t forget the importance of prayer, fasting, and self-denial in seeking the conversion of sinners.
Thank you for your additional thoughts. Humility and self-denial are certainly important. I think in the “mission to save” we can (even unintentionally) usurp the place of God, thinking it is wholly our actions and words, rather than God’s working through us, that saves and changes others. We must be mindful of our role as a two-way mirror–reflecting God to His Creation and Creation back to God. The moment we see ourselves as the ultimate means to an end is when, I think, God is no longer able to work through us.
As for the Fate/Stay Night manga… If you’re looking for a better way to enjoy the original Fate/Stay Night anime route, you can’t do any better than the manga. While I consider myself a fan (read: student) of the Fate-verse, I severely disliked the original F/SN anime and oppositely enjoyed Unlimited Blade Works and Fate/Zero tremendously. The manga does combine F/SN and UBW to an extent, so you end up getting a hybrid that sort-of-kind-of-works, surpassing the original F/SN portions but falling short of the original UBW portions. At the very least, it’s a collection I plan to purchase, un-localized though it is. It provides some interesting, non-canon approaches to certain characters and scenes that offers a wider picture of the goings-on.