Fate Apocrypha: Selflessness and Selfishness

Fate Apocrypha opens with the ambiguous words of an unidentified voice:

“This is not a tale of servants. Nor is this a tale of masters. And not a tale of saints, either. This is a tale…where a man grants his wish.” (1.1 “Apocrypha: The Great Holy Grail War”).

One of the series’ tasks is to eventually make clear who this victorious man is. My theory is that the man who “grants his wish” is the Saber of Black, Siegfried, but I’m not sure the series succeeds in making that abundantly “clear,” and perhaps even fails on purpose to make a larger point. If Spartacus’ behavior influences the character development of other servants in the series, Siegfried’s behavior influences even more. This may seem like a bold claim considering that Siegfried dies four episodes in and is (practically) absent for the remaining 80% of the series. But Siegfried’s behaviour becomes a template for many other heroic characters throughout the series; so that, even if he doesn’t appear to be the story’s obvious hero, he is the source of much of the story’s heroism. The best support for this comes in our continued study of character comparisons, this time between Siegfried and his character foil, the Caster of Black, Avicebron.

Here at Beneath the Tangles, I usually make it a point to avoid writing articles in the line of, “look at this super obvious Christ figure! Isn’t he, like, exactly like Jesus?!” But, in Siegfried’s case, it’s almost more of a hassle to step around the glaring comparisons, so I’ve decided to lean into the obvious and *ahem*:

Christologize all the things
Edited – Original credit to Shiina Shih of forum.gamer.com.tw

So then, let’s look at our obvious Christ figure, Siegfried.

Siegfried the mythological character was less than Christ-like in his actions, but the series plays to some of his nobler moments. They focus on the self-sacrifice in his death, and then extrapolate from there that all of his previous actions were just as selfless, however misguided they might have been. In fact, the majority of the Christ comparisons which can be made regard the parts of Siegfried’s story entirely original to Fate Apocrypha:

Siegfried gained immortality by slaying a dragon. He lived his life to the benefit of people who wanted their needs and desires met by his great power, but who never wanted him. Because of this, Siegfried desired to meet a need by giving all of himself, both heart and spirit, on behalf of a person in need. During the Holy Grail War, he places his heart and spirit in the chest of a dead homunculus who had never known him so that the homunculus might live. Not only did his actions bring the homunculus to life, meeting the homunculus’ wish and subsequently his own, but it also conferred upon the homunculus a human status, and earned him the favor of Jeanne d’Arc, the judge and law keeper of the war. The once homunculus, now human boy, takes for himself the diminutive name Sieg, in honor of his savior, and vows to live in imitation of that savior, even unto death.

So, yes, Siegfried does largely resemble Christ Jesus in several points of his character. And, yes, I highly recommend spamming a paragraph with hyperlinks if the opportunity ever presents itself to you. But if Siegfried really does have all of these allusions to Christ baked into his character, in what ways can we say that he compares to a villain like Avicebron? If Siegfried is the Christ figure of Fate Apocrypha, Avicebron is the antichrist figure.

AvicebronAvicebron (AKA Solomon ibn Gabirol), despite being a poetic savant — or perhaps for that very reason — was practically unbearable to be around. Those familiar with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Underground Man” will have already encountered Avicebron’s historic character. He reportedly suffered a painful chronic disease; possessed a self-critical outlook exceeded only by his hyper-critical views of everyone else; alienated his readership and patrons; never married (understandably), and spent the rest of his life as a wanderer. In some of Fate Apocrypha’s English subtitle translations, Avicebron actually refers to himself as a “misanthrope” which is more than fair.

The Avicebron of Fate Apocrypha is summoned as a Caster who specializes in creating golems, meaning that the series didn’t play on the historical fact of his being a poet but on an odd and unsubstantiated story that, during his life, he created a golem servant with magecraft. But the misanthropic, “I hate people” vibe is definitely preserved in the anime:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 11.57.22 PMAvicebron alienated himself from society during his life and, therefore, isn’t looking for ways to give himself to humanity during the Holy Grail War. Rather, he purposes to use humanity for his own ends, even his own young master, Roche, who shows him nothing but affection as a devoted pupil of golem magecraft. Though he is aware of Roche’s devotion, he sacrifices Roche to be the heart of his primordial golem. Avicebron treats his master as less than human, considering him to be worth no more than the countless homunculi he uses as disposable batteries. His goal does not include giving up his life for another, but taking the life of another for the sake of his goal.

So, yes, Siegfried and Avicebron are similar in that neither of them required the grail to accomplish their wish, but, as you can also see, they are nearly 1:1 opposites of each other in every other respect. Still, the most important distinction Fate Apocrypha makes between these two characters is that, even though Avicebron’s wish succeeds as far as his creation of the golem Adam is concerned, his wish for what the golem would accomplish is thwarted. Avicebron does not succeed; he doesn’t leave any kind of lasting effect, and he kills Roche, the one person who cared about him and stood to be his legacy after the war. So we actually can’t say that Avicebron meets the qualifications of the man alluded to at the start of the series. However, Siegfried does.

Comparative FruitsPart of the proof that Avicebron fails is the absence of fruit from his efforts, his hatred, and his bitterness. His primordial golem has the power to produce trees, flowers, and all other sorts of vegetation, which Avicebron interprets as vindication for sacrificing Roche. But when the golem is destroyed, his wish ends with it. Part of the proof that Siegfried is the man who “grants his wish” is the fact that his sacrifice bears fruit. As you’d expect from a Christ figure. Even though his wish leads to his death, his wish is carried on in Sieg who, in turn, inspires many others through his imitative self sacrifice:

Achilles gives his life to bring Atalanta back from her madness (2.22 “Reunion and Separation”). Mordred learns that her wish was never to become king but to, “save [her] father from his isolation” (2.23 “Far Beyond”). Sisigou gives his life for Mordred’s goal of stopping Semiramis (2.23 “Far Beyond”). Gilles de Rais gives his life to help Jeanne oppose Shirou (2.24 “The Holy Grail”). Jeanne gives her life to protect humanity: “For humanity’s future and your future, I can risk my life as many times as it takes” (2.24 “The Holy Grail”). Fran’s sacrifice of her body revives Sieg and grants him her power to fight Amakusa Shirou (2.24 “The Holy Grail”).

Selfishness is evident in characters like Spartacus, Jack, Avicebron, and Amakusa Shirou, but none of those characters encouraged the others’ selfishness. Selfishness was not a communal activity that brought them all together. Their selfishness is devastating but unproductive, their deaths lonely and without legacy. But Siegfried’s death, even though it occurred almost before the war had begun, for that reason, set an example of selflessness for the remainder of the war. The man who, in life, gave pieces of himself to satisfy humanity to no avail, by giving all of himself to make a dead boy live, saved humanity through his death. So, yeah, Fate Apocrypha uses Siegfried as a flashing neon Christ figure, but it does so to highlight selflessness and its undying quirk.


If you have any thoughts or reflections on the subject of selflessness and selfishness in Fate Apocrypha, or anything else for that matter, please share them in the comments below. Fate Apocrypha can be streamed on both Netflix and Hulu.

8 thoughts on “Fate Apocrypha: Selflessness and Selfishness

  1. Luminas here! This one’s going to be short, but…there’s kind of a comment here that only I’m in a position to make. Granted like most Luminas comments, it’s about something completely tangential to the point of the post. Although I might make a more direct comment on the post later. It’s also gonna have to go off of not having seen too much Fate (I’ve only seen 2/3 of Unlimited Blade Works) or this show, so if I’m wrong…I’m definitely wrong. XD;

    “Avicebron does not succeed; he doesn’t leave any kind of lasting effect, and he kills Roche, the one person who cared about him and stood to be his legacy after the war.”

    So…I’m sure that the show doesn’t *intend* for you to view things from Roche’s perspective too often, although if it did I’d be pleasantly surprised, and ignore everything I say here. But Looking at his character design, he seems to be somewhat similar to Prushka from Made in Abyss: a “moe”-esque character with a very pure heart who has fallen in with absolutely the wrong person, and ultimately pays dearly for his “mistake.” You rarely ever see this kind of person as the specific protagonist of the series. Instead, you stay in their head for just long enough to feel like crap when they die.

    But see, if you *did* view the show from that angle, there’s an argument that Roche *should have been aware of* what Avicebron was really like. He was by Avicebron’s side the entire time before this happened- There was no better person to judge his character. And so to a certain extent Roche should be held responsible for the apparent result of his actions- him becoming a golem. This is a cruel thing to say, morally, but it’s something I can say because it’s the policy I live by. In a spiritual sense, I kind of am this kid, and I’m willing to face the music for being so devoted to a gifted and manipulative liar, when and if it comes to that.

    At a certain point, in the law of negligence, there’s a point where *you should have known* what would happen, and need to be willing to take the punishment. Prushka’s ironically a case I love precisely because it’s very clear from the translated dialogue that she *walked into it* knowing what would occur; She’d been around Bondrewd quite long enough to know what he was like. But she was a kid, so that devotion’s implications are horrible and tragic.

    I’d be interested to find out where this kid falls on that spectrum, in other words, and where this went.

    1. Hey, Luminas. Good to hear from you. I think you’re right that there is a degree of negligence at which I think we can say someone should have known better. And actually, to neglect something on purpose and not from ignorance would mean that, not only should the person have known better, they did know better.

      That being said, and to address your curiosity over Roche, I don’t think he falls into the “should have known better category.” (SPOILERS) Avicebron actually tries to blame Roche in a way similar to what you’re describing,

      “But I hate humans, and am a pessimist. I wear this mask because I can’t even stand to look them in the eye. So, what made you believe I would never abandon ‘you’?”

      I tend to think that Roche has an excuse being that he was deceived. In fact, the moment of his betrayal is shocking because, presumably, the viewer didn’t expect it any more than Roche did. It is portrayed several times throughout season one that Avicebron cares about Roche’s safety, when the unspoken truth is that he only wants to keep Roche alive long enough to be the heart of his golem. Avicebron even admits that Roche’s affections were “pleasant” beyond just their pragmatic benefit of keeping Roche within easy reach. But of course, Roche only perceived the outward signs that his filial affections were being positively recognized.

      The other thing is that Roche does not have a “pure” heart: “Master was supposed to be like me, hating the world and its irritating humans.” Roche was perfectly fine with the abuses that Avicebron was performing against homunculi, heroic spirits, and humans alike, and (I think reasonably) thought that his advocacy and interest in Avicebron’s dream made him a friend and beloved pupil. It’s even implied that the item Roche brings to the betrayal scene is the heart of a homunculus which Roche, himself, forcibly extracted from its owner for use in Avicebron’s Primordial Golem. And, again, I think its reasonable for Roche to have looked at all of the effort and planning that went into creating an host of homunculi as a power source for Avicebron’s golems without ever considering that he himself was to become a golem’s heart.

      I can see how “he should have known better” could still be said of Roche: however, the impact of the betrayal scene actually banks on the viewer’s inability to know better, so I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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