I’m back and excited to start a four-part series on the newest installment of one of my favorites. The key to understanding the significance of the Fate series or even just a basic understanding of what is going on requires you to first understand its characters. Fate’s characters are developed sometimes through subtle comparison, contrast, or often both. So, whenever I analyze Fate, I am usually thinking within these terms of comparison and I hope this first post will be a good introduction to how you can do the same.
The Fate franchise has a knack for dancing back and forth along the border of “despair, for these are the vanities and cruelties of human existence!” and “love conquers all!” I enjoy this dance as I’ve learned I can to trust the story’s message will be a realistic stance incorporating both of those statements. Fate Apocrypha certainly kept my trust in this regard with the many good things it accomplished. Which is not to say there weren’t some disagreeable things about the series, only that the things I found disagreeable seem to be common complaints of most other viewers in the Netflix ratings and reviews section (and elsewhere). So rather than reheat leftover complaints, I want to focus on the things I liked about the story and the characters in it.
One theme spanning Fate Zero, Stay Night, and Apocrypha is a juxtaposition of love and law. It will show up again over these four weeks, but this week its instance is between the Saber of Red, Mordred, and the Assassin of Black, Jack the Ripper. They may seem very different from one another, but the thing which makes them similar (apart from the gender bending) is their common past of broken parental situations. There is a necessary union of love and law in the parent-child relationship; in the case of these two characters, it’d be closer to say there’s a tension between lawlessness and lovelessness.
Take first the character Mordred. When Sisigou’s memories begin to collide with his servant Mordred’s, he sees in a dream that she was once enamored with her king, Artoria (King Arthur). Artoria’s reign, for those of you not familiar with her story, suffered bouts of rebellion but not because she was a terrible king. Rebellions arose because, while she was a technically proficient king, she was not a king of the people: leading in such stoic adherence to the ideal of what a king should be that she showed no heart. Mordred idolized Artoria’s perfection and set herself up as punisher of those rebels who claimed the king was unrelateably perfect. But when Mordred discovered that she was the king’s daughter, the impersonal perfection she admired became the motive for her hatred.
Instead of experiencing the embrace of the ideal she had so long admired and defended from a distance, Mordred was rejected when Artoria refused to recognize her as a daughter or an heir to the throne. Mordred concluded that Artoria hated her for being the illegitimate daughter of a witch and, in her anger, swore “to destroy everything [Artoria] worked for” in a rebellion of her own (1.6 “The Knight of Rebellion”). During the rebellion, Artoria struck Mordred down, telling her that she had not refused to relinquish the throne in hatred, but because Mordred did not “have the capacity to be king” (1.6 “The Knight of Rebellion”). It was a perfectly calculated response devoid of love, since a perfectly lawful king must eliminate rebellion and disobedience. So when Mordred is summoned for the Great Holy Grail War, she still wears a defiant attitude, refuses to be referred to as a woman, believing that statement of fact to be an invalidating judgement, and conducts herself with a masculine swagger.
Mordred pins this behavior on her desire for vengeance and to prove that she is capable of being an even better king than Artoria, but it quickly becomes apparent that isn’t her true motive. This affected masculine swagger is frequently diluted with childish behavior whenever she is around Sisigou, her master. At one point, Mordred forgets her wish to be king entirely during a particularly filial interaction, only remembering her wish after Sisigou refers to her by a royal title (1.3 “The First Steps of Fate”). There are several other moments scattered throughout the first season where Mordred is obviously seeking Sisigou’s recognition and approval, like a small child her father’s, even while trying to maintain that mask-ulinity (I can’t claim credit for that one, but you may use it).
It becomes progressively clearer that the false masculine aggression Mordred put on at the beginning of the series was never about being denied the throne but from being rejected as a daughter. Mordred lashed out against the loving father she never had. The series develops Mordred and Sisigou’s relationship so that by the end they both find in each other what it is they most desired: Sisigou a daughter and Mordred a father.
Jack the Ripper’s situation is similar to Mordred’s but on the other extreme: she has found a motherly figure in her master, Reika, but has never known justice or a lawful ideal. Jack was an orphan of White Chapel, London who grew up to become a feared, gruesome, serial killer of prostitutes, having possibly been the abandoned child of a prostitute. Once summoned as a servant in the Holy Grail War, Jack meets her needs for magical energy by brutally murdering and eating the hearts of mages. Not a lot to pity there. But later on we learn that Jack is acting out not only on account of absent parents, but in response toward society’s cruelty and injustice toward she and her fellow orphans in London. Jack chose to respond to lovelessness with lawlessness, much like Mordred.
But, the difference is that the mother-figure she finds in Reiko does not provide a sense of law. Reiko is a prostitute who was abducted to be a sacrifice to Jack at her summoning. However, perhaps because Reiko showed motherly sentiments upon discovering that the infamous murderer was a child, Jack kills the master who summoned her and forms a pact with Reiko. But Reiko, having experienced sexual abuse and social stigma, ends up being the same kind of lawlessly vengeful crazy that Jack is. While they do become something like a loving family — of psychopaths — Reiko enables Jack’s lawlessness with a morally-subjective love and a sympathetic hatred for society’s cruelty.
This is different than Sisigo and Mordred’s father-daughter relationship, where Sisigo is pushing Mordred to be the “good king,” that lawful ideal, she wants to be. And the only reason he succeeds in getting through to her is because Mordred, “the Knight of Treachery,” was actually trying to bring justice to what she perceives as an injustice: no good king would disown their own daughter, therefore the king who would do such must be deposed. A person like Mordred who is truly pursuing justice can, with prodding, be led to see whether their means of pursuit are actually just. That’s because in order to oppose injustice, there must be a defined standard of justice to which you appeal. So, even though it looks as though Mordred is a rebel knight throwing off all authority, which to a point she is, she has actually placed herself beneath the authority of ideal justice. She merely needs to acquire a functioning definition of justice.
Not so with Jack whose response to the injustice committed against her and the orphans like her was to commit further injustice. Reiko lays out the view that she and Jack have of the world in episode 18, “From Hell”:
“If you have ten people in the world, two of them will be disposed of. By sacrificing those two, the other eight will enjoy happiness. That’s how this world works. Those two were born for this reason. […] No one can prevail against such an ingrained system. If you wanted to save them, you’d need a miracle.”
This is the philosophy of a person who has given up on the reality of justice all together; the kind of person who has embraced injustice despite their hatred for it. Such a person does not submit themselves to a just ideal, but puts themselves at odds with a justice they believe will never come — spitefully daring it to exist. But because justice does exist, and because Reiko and Jack’s view of the world is wrong, they are both ultimately subjected to the administration of justice and defeated.
So, what can we say about law and love? That they are not necessarily two distinct things. In fact, they are necessary to one another in a world affected by sin (1 Cor. 13:1-3). However, the governing principle I’d like you to keep in mind when watching the Fate series is that everyone involved is wrong at some level. The series can sometimes do such a good job of making sympathetic characters that we overlook facts like, though it seemed Reiko loved Jack with a truly maternal love, it was really a tragic and distorted version since she believed the same lie about the nonexistence of justice that Jack did and drove her “daughter” toward injustice rather than turning her from it. Similarly, Mordred realizes that she acted wrongly and that Artoria’s decision to keep her away from the throne was the righteous judgement of a good king. However, the need to keep Mordred away from the throne was only made necessary because Artoria herself failed to be a loving parent and leader in the first place.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t believe these character faults and failures are reason for despair but admiration at Fate‘s complexity and humanity. And if you’re still not quite buying that there’s room for hope in this series, the second rule of Fate club (← which you also may use) is that there is always a higher and more-or-less Christian ideal being appealed to. I hope that will become clearer as we continue this dive into Fate Apocrypha next week. Until then, let me know what you thought about the series, its characters, and my analysis in the comment section below. See you then!