In the first twelve episodes, the series teased at Archer’s dark and troubled past. To call it teasing might even be too generous. We got vague dreamlike glimpses at best. And as I’m watching these high school kids run around, boring me to sleep with their riveting conversations about the Holy Grail War, I couldn’t help but wonder why I couldn’t just see Archer’s troubled past for myself. What makes him tick? Why is he so jaded? And look, it’s not really a secret anymore. Even if you are like me, and don’t really know jack shit about the Fate/stay night universe, it’s pretty damn obvious that Archer is supposed to be some version of Shirou. If the series was trying to hide it, they did a piss poor job of it… but that’s not really our primary concern at the moment. In any case, maybe Archer’s Shirou from the future, maybe he’s from a different timeline altogether (here’s where all the Fate/stay night experts chime in with their encyclopedic knowledge of the story even though I’m not going to read it), so on and so forth. The point is that Archer went from the idealistic hero to one of the more nuanced characters in the entire story. Isn’t that something worth seeing?
The answer is no, I guess. Rin simply tells us some rather crucial details about Archer’s past. Called to save humanity? Uh-huh. But he had to clean up humanity’s mess? Great. And eventually, he grew to hate humanity? Literally “betrayed by his ideals, even after death?” Wow, that’s heavy. Too heavy, in fact. It’s a good thing I’m merely hearing about it. At this point, I’m going to go on a tangent. Because Bloodborne recently came out, I’ve started to replay both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Why? Because I don’t own a PS4, so I can’t just play Bloodborne instead. In order to get my fix, I gotta play a pair of games that I’ve already poured tons of hours into. But it’s okay. I really enjoy those two games, especially their story. It’s quite funny, though, because both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls feel as though they have the opposite problem to Fate/stay night in that, well, they tell you relatively nothing. Sure, both games have opening cutscenes, and they give you a general sense of what you’re trying to accomplish. The rest of the lore, however, must be pieced together. It’s scattered across the game’s item descriptions and cryptic NPC dialogue. If you simply storm through both games, you would never realize the true richness and depth of their stories. But that’s okay. Because if you don’t care, the story remains unobtrusive.
Some people weren’t impressed, though. It’s quite alright. We don’t all have to agree, and I can see how Dark Souls’ narrative might be annoying to someone who just wants to sit down to a good story. After all, it puts the onus on you. You have to play the detective. If you want to understand what Solaire was all about, and not just some goofy, sun-worshipping fuck, you had to dig for clues that might reveal a thing or two about him. And here’s the kicker: even once you’ve exhausted all your efforts to sift through the entire game for every single morsel of lore regarding Solaire’s character, you still won’t arrive at a concrete answer. Who is Solaire really? If you put in the effort, you’ll reach a better understanding of the enigmatic character, but you’ll never really know. You’ll just have to come to your own conclusions. In a sense, the player then authors his own story. No, Dark Souls is still From Software’s baby. That won’t change. And perhaps Miyazaki and/or some writer(s) within the company truly knows who or what Solaire is supposed to be. But for all intents and purposes, that doesn’t matter. That’s not information that will likely ever be privy to us. All we can do is make do with what we’ve got. Don’t worry, this is still a post about Fate/stay night. I’m just about to get to my point.
Someone was like… if you have to spend all this time thinking and talking and debating what Dark Souls’ story was even about, can you even say that it is a good story anymore? In my book, yes. Absolutely. Dark Souls’ story engages me. And the opposite of that is Fate/stay night. It asks nothing of me other than that I lend an open ear. We can enjoy what we want. At the end of the day, I’m not trying to convince you to my side. I’m merely offering a perspective — my perspective. And a lot of times, when disagreements come about, the problem is that we come from two completely different places. People think I write a review blog. In other words, a lot of people think I’m trying to say whether or not a show is worth watching, and that my words should somehow sway people to one side or the other. Truth is, I don’t give a shit whether or not you watch any given show. At the end of the day, all I’m trying to do is to offer my perspective. When you read this blog, my hope is that you see why I like or dislike a show. Whether you agree or not is not important. Really, it isn’t. We’re not talking about global warming. We’re not talking about human rights. So you know what? It’s okay if we don’t come to a consensus. So what am I getting at?
Fate/stay night asks nothing of me, and so I’m bored. That’s simply it. That’s simply why I find it so difficult to enjoy the show. I don’t have to think; the narrative does the thinking for me. The story never showed me Archer’s past, then asks me to come to my own conclusions about the guy’s character. It simply has Rin tell me what happened to Archer. The story never showed me that Shirou had serious feelings for Rin. He simply confesses to her, and I’m supposed to believe that this is some major moment in the story. I mean, yeah, on paper, it seems like a serious development. An anime character confesses his feelings to another anime character midway through the series! That’s huge. But it doesn’t feel huge. It doesn’t feel like some emotional breakthrough. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been rooting for Shirou the entire way, and as he finally summons the courage to reveal his true feelings, we all let out a little cheer as we beam from ear to ear. No, that didn’t happen. I mean, yes, I knew he cared for Rin, but Fate/stay night didn’t nourish this. It didn’t take this plot point, and turn it into something that could engage my feelings. It just felt like when it came time for Shirou to confess, he did, and I’m just like, “Oh.” And I’m actually a huge romantic. Oh sure, I sound all bitter and pessimistic most of the time, but I love love stories. Fate/stay night just didn’t do it for me.
I never once sat there and thought about the potential romantic relationship that might grow between these two characters, but it’s not like I didn’t know it was going to happen. I knew that Rin was the chosen girl going into the series. Unlimited Blade Works… the Rin path. Literally the Rin path. When the dust settles, Shirou and Rin are supposed to get together. And yet, for the first twelve episodes, I didn’t even think about it. It’s not that the confession in this week’s episode came as a shock, but the romance was so underdeveloped that it simply slipped my mind. So when Shirou finally said how he felt, I’m like… really? When did the story show that? But that’s the thing: Fate/stay night never really shows anything. It just tells you right off the bat… or whenever it’s the right time to tell you. Like right off the bat, you just knew Archer would eventually betray Rin. You just knew it. The story isn’t even coy about it. So when it finally came time for Archer to double cross his master, the moment has no emotional weight behind it. Betrayals are supposed to be a big deal. There’s a reason why traitors are condemned to the deepest circle of hell. Nonetheless, Archer betrays Rin, and I’m just like, “Finally.” But here’s the best part: the show hides nothing, so you even know that Archer isn’t really betraying Rin. He’s just doing what he thinks would best achieve victory… even if it has to look like he’s betraying Rin.
It’s hard to tell a completely original story… but you can still build tension. You can still build suspense. You can still subvert expectations. Fate/stay night, however, is very direct. There’s no mystery in the mystery. You don’t have to be the detective. You don’t have to gather any clues. Just sit back, and have the narrative poured right down your gullet. It’s one of the least engaging stories I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Rin is seething with rage at Archer’s actions, but I just can’t feel it. It’s actually funny, really. The two of them just had a talk about regret and regretting one’s actions… not episodes ago. Not even one episode ago. They literally had this talk in the same episode. Then just a few scenes later, Rin swears that she’ll make Archer pay. In any other series, the important regret conversation might have taken place early in the story, so when the actual betrayal occurs, and Rin’s swearing to make Archer pay, the viewer could be like, “Oh man, this is a callback to that one moment…!” But no such thing here. Nope. We talk about regret, then bam… a potentially regretful moment occurs. There’s no payoff whatsoever. It’s hilarious. Ah well.