A Clash of Ideals: Shirou VS Kiritsugu

Fate/Zero is a massive trove of philosophical ideas. Today, we will have an in-depth look at Emiya Kiritsugu’s ideals, and compare it with the ideals Emiya Shirou, Fate/Stay Night’s main protagonist. Please be warned that there will be major spoilers ahead, and also do take note that I will be comparing Kiritsugu with the Shirou of Fate/Stay Night’s anime, NOT the visual novel, as you can basically control how Shirou should go about his ideals in there anyway.

There’s no hope on the battlefield.
It has nothing but unspeakable despair.
Just a crime we call victory, paid for by the pain of the defeated.
Yet humanity has never recognized this truth.
And the reason for that is, in every era,
a dazzling hero has blinded people with their legends and prevented them from seeing the evil of bloodshed.
The true nature of humanity has not advanced a step beyond the Stone Age!

We will first have a look at Kiritsugu. The foster father and role model of Shirou, was actually a man with a very twisted ideal. He aspired to be a hero of justice, but he also understood it is impossible to save everyone. Viewing things objectively instead of subjectively, his way of salvation focuses on “maintaining” the scale of good and evil. If he was forced to kill five person to save five hundred people, he would gladly pull the trigger, and if being forced to kill five hundred thousand people in order to save six billion people, he would again, gladly do so. Kiritsugu kills people and criminals to increase the higher statistics of people who will be saved by his actions.

Through his countless killings, Kiritsugu has shielded off his emotions, which enabled him to think logically. He selfishly understood that his brutality and atrocity is needed by the world and by shutting off his human emotions, he kills and kills non-stop, with the delusion that his act of murders are for the greater good. However, deep down, Kiritsugu is a human, he has doubts, and is surprisingly quite emotional. Despite his countless killings, the man knew his way of saving the world is completely wrong. That was why he sought the Grail once he was aware about the existence of the Holy Grail War, in hope that the Grail would do what he couldn’t.

Once Kiritsugu discerned of the Grail’s true identity, and it’s method of granting the user’s wish, it is no doubt Kiritsugu wanted to destroy it. His ideals and beliefs were in a haywire after that, and his merciless facade was completely shattered. After being shown such a hell, even saving one, just one life is enough for him, as even just saving one life, would be a ‘salvation’ to his struggles.

Kiritsugu: When I was little, I wanted to be a hero
Shirou: What? You wanted to be one.. Did you give up?
Kiritsugu: Yeah.. It’s unfortunate but being a hero is a limited-time thing. When you grow up, it gets hard to call yourself one. I should have realized that earlier.
Shirou: I see. That’s just too bad, then.
Kiritsugu: Indeed. You’re absolutely right.
Kiritsugu: The moon’s really nice tonight..
Shirou: Yeah.. Since you couldn’t do it, I’ll do it for you.
Shirou: You’re an adult now, so you can’t do it. But I can. Leave it to me.
Shirou: Your dream..
Kiritsugu: Right… Yeah… I can be at peace now..

..which brings me to Emiya Shirou next. Shirou, who was saved by Kiritsugu, is a young boy, and probably because of that, his naivety knows no bounds. He wants to be a hero, an “Ally of Justice” like his father, to uphold his idealistic views and most of all, to obtain his childish dream of saving the world. Unlike Kiritsugu, Shirou isn’t as logical as his role model, and in hopes of achieving his dream, he relied on simple activities like helping everyone with their daily tasks, works hard, and to have a healthy lifestyle.

Later on when he begins fighting as the master of Saber, his perspective in battles also begun taking shape, and his outlook when compared with Kiritsugu, is like hell and heaven. In contrast to Kiritsugu’s cold and calculating personality at both his opponents and allies, Shirou opted a more self-sacrificing altitude. Instead of looking at things logically, and making a small sacrifice, Shirou always makes his best attempts at saving everyone without a care of his own well-being. Countless times shown, Shirou, who barely knows how to use magic, was injured to the extreme core by the more experienced magi. He couldn’t stand people getting hurt for his sake, and even sacrificed himself keeping Saber from getting hurt, even though as a Heroic Spirit, Saber’s strength is inherently stronger then that of Shirou’s. Rin repeatedly argued with him and his philosophical stance in Unlimited Blade Works too, to show Shirou just how wrong his idealistic approach is.

In a way, Kiritsugu’s approach in saving the world resembles that of Fate/Stay Night’s Archer. They are cold and calculating, and saving everyone and making small sacrifices are nothing but daily routines to them. Blankly, they kept on repeatedly “saving” the world almost to the brink of insanity. Kiritsugu himself becomes exhausted after years of killing, and immediately turns to the Grail as his one and only means without even questioning the seemingly vague omnipotent wish granting device.

Archer, who is the manifestation of Shirou’s future form, had been ridding the world off evil by mechanically “saving” it, to the point that he became dead, incarnated into a Counter Guardian, and was even ultimately betrayed by his own ideals. Two men, who both grew weary by their own foolery, desired to end it in one way or the other. It is ironic that Kiritsugu’s adpoted son would ended up in almost the same path that he did in the future.

Shirou’s approach would definitely resembles a genuine hero. However, he has no love for himself and had no qualms about sacrificing himself. In a way, Shirou even sounds more like a monster, compared to Kiritsugu, who dons an emotionless and merciless mask, was just an ordinary human deep down who is prone to extreme fears and despairs. Between Shirou and Kiritsugu, who do you think is the true “hero of justice”?

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This entry was posted by Kai.

26 thoughts on “A Clash of Ideals: Shirou VS Kiritsugu

  1. Between Shirou and Kiritsugu, who do you think is the true “hero of justice”?

    Neither, actually, because their ideas aren’t about deciding between justice and injustice. The tests the Grail forced on Kiritsugu are a good example, there was nothing about justice in deciding which ship of people to save.

    Okay, technicalities of what words are used aside, during the tests the Grail put Kiritsugu through I was reminded of the “original” Star Trek episode “The Conscience of the King”. The governor of an isolated colony that would exhaust its food reserves months before a relief convoy could arrive had to choose what to do an decided the best course of action was to execute half of the population to save the other half. He then spent the next 20 or so years running from his past when the supply convoy arrived early enough that it would have saved all. His daughter, however, takes it upon herself to protect him from those hunting him down for revenge because she believes he made the correct choice and that justice should be on his side.

    • Ack, funny. I forgot to put my own answer in my post. And I do agree with yours. What the characters did no matter how glorified they make it out to be, it couldn’t count as justice or evil.

      Star Trek eh. That’s a funny comparison but it does seem similar. Again, it does seem like it’s pretty tough to brand it as justice or injustice since he was thinking of the best of the people, just that he picked an inhumane and merciless way out of it.

  2. I’d have say its neither as well. Shirou – an idealist, blinded himself from the fact that saving everyone was an impossible, while Kiritsugu – a realist, knew this and from there started his own way of saving. Though both did things name of “justice”, people still died in the process – the many people that Kiritsugu had to kill in order to save others/Shirou killing Kirei. Despite saving the world through their own methods, the act of killing is plainly unjustifiable, thus removing justice itself. May it be the hundreds of people Kiritsugu killed or the single priest that Shirou had to defeat; judging a life, whether it is good or evil, is an act no human will ever be able to do.

    • Shirou is indeed just a human, he’s not a god and it’s impossible to save everyone. As for Kiritsugu, he surprisingly feels more human-like, he knows logically that he’s just a human, and to save everyone means to tackle on the impossible. Both did kill a lot in the process, and both claim that their actions are in the name of justice, though still inexcusable.

  3. Hmm, now that’s a tough question. We all know that their ideals are far from perfect (well, depending on the context) Thing is, there’s some noticeable problems on both their ideals.

    For Shirou, his ideals were half-assed and technically borrowed (a la Cloud Strife). He was saved by Kiritsugu, while everyone else died. In his mind, that was his calling to be a “hero” – he wanted to experience the same joy Kiritsugu experienced back then. So even when lacking in power, he does what he can to help. But in reality, he’s a self-sacrificing optimist with a Messiah complex.

    Kiritsugu on the other hand, chose to be a “hero”, or at the least, he just wanted an end to numerous deaths. Unlike Shirou, he had the means to become what he wanted to be (via Natalia) but from there his ideals evolved into the “majority over the minority” thing (through his realization that you can’t save everyone) – making him a pragmatic Superman with a sniper rifle.

    Neither of them at their end state is the true hero of justice. Mainly because I don’t think a single person can embody true and righteous justice. Young Kiritsugu or even young Shirou might’ve done it, but over time I think it’s impossible that there ideals don’t distort.

    • During the fire, almost everyone died, even Shirou was on the brink of death. During such a hell, he opened his eyes and saw that there’s actually someone trying to help him. It’s no doubt he admired him, and ended up borrowing his ideals in the process, and for good or for the bad, he took the ideals to extreme levels.

      It all stems from when Kiritsugu was young, when he couldn’t kill Shirley so that she could die as a human. From then on, he wanted to be a “hero” who kill when needed, and I guess that’s the catalyst for his twisted ideal.

      True. Justice isn’t for human to decide, and most of them are just fairy-tale, childish dream to evoke a beautiful ending.

  4. Aha, you beat me to it
    Such a nice relationship between these two, I just loved that scene at the end of Zero.

  5. An interesting post I liked the thoughts you’ve put into it.

    being a hero never worked for Kiritsugu, I actually think he did more bad than good things with his twisted ideal. In the end he could just be a small scale hero when he saved the small kid Shirou. Well, after Kiritsugu destroyed the Grail, he indirectly killed Shirou’s real parents I assume, man thats actually horrible :(

    before summoning Saber, Shirou did a better job with being a small scale hero, he helped the people around with smaller problems, mhh you could say people mainly exploited his good will. He was just too kind and his self sacrificing attitude was too extreme.

    Overall being a large scale hero seems to be impossible for a mere human.

    • He’s judging who to live, and who to die, as if he’s a superior entity of humanity, but we all know he’s just human, so he got no rights to make decisions like that. When being forced to make that choice, I can understand but it’s he himself who initiated it, he started killing criminals and others who tipped off the scale as soon as he learned gunslinging from Natalia, and from then on, it’s just a downward spiral. And he probably did, and he probably didn’t even tell Shirou he is the one who initiated that fire outbreak in the first place, and Shirou grew up only to see him as a hero without knowing the darker side of that man :(

      I’m not sure if I could even call that a hero. He’s just being helpful but people just make use of him. What’s worse is that he is aware but he doesn’t even mind being used, it’s as if he’s a dog without his own will. It’s pitiful.

      Yes, that’s so damn true.

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  7. I think they are one and the same. As you mentioned, Archer is Shirou from the future and we see how he became more like Kiritsugu after all that time. You can be a hero, but there’s only so much that someone can take before they start to fall apart mentally.

      • In the minority, but I view both as heroes; they both did their best to live up to their ideals, but were betrayed at the end. They both did what most people can’t, so they are both heroes.

        • Looking at things in a small scale, I guess Shirou would indeed be a hero of some sort. He strives to be a hero, and strives to be a better man each day by doing good deeds and being helpful. I can’t see Kiritsugu as a hero in the minority or the majority though, the countless killings he did is just inexcusable.

          • Perhaps so, but Kiritsugu endured through choosing to kill a few to save more, a decision most heroes (Shirou included) did not have to make.

            • However he did kill, the fact of taking a human’s life purposely makes him a sort of criminal, but a superhero? Don’t think so. In my opinion, I think Kiritsugu isn’t a superhero, but just a pitiful human, he works towards his ideal with such sacrifice and dilligence, and in the end, it didn’t work out the way he wanted, and the grail showed him that hard fact painfully.

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  9. I might be thinking about this the wrong way, but I suppose I’m in the minority myself when I say that to me at least both are heroes and sorry if I’m repeating what someone else said. (First time making a post like this.) A hero does what most people won’t do. We say that killing another person is never justifiable, but I don’t think the truth is ever as simple as that. If you had a sister that you knew without a doubt in your mind would be tortured, murdered, and other things I rather not put into words happen to her would you really care how she was saved? Would you care what I did to get her back for you? (Machine Gun Preacher.) A hero to me is someone willing to do what others are not. Shirou was willing to kill one person and by killing that one person he saved someone that if he had done nothing wouldn’t have been saved. Kiritsugu was willing to kill ten to save a hundred gladly if needed be as someone said. If those ten didn’t die then the hundred would die. A hero isn’t always someone that can be held up as a shinning example and to me most aren’t those that are shinning examples. Of course this is all my own opinion. It might not always be right to the whole, but that doesn’t make it wrong either.

    • I think the main problem is that both of them proclaimed themselves as heroes in the first place, in fact, they are just as human as all of us. To me, a “hero” is a fictional being where he has the ability to save everyone, “superman”, “spiderman” all are good examples.

      But Kiritsugu definitely isn’t a superman, he is a human with some magi power. Yes, if that were happen to her, I would no doubt starts to make twisted actions, destroying everyone just to save her, but I don’t see myself as a hero, and never will, no matter if I’m sacrificing a dozens of people to save my sister, or sacrificing my sister to save them.

      Shirou on the other end, has the mindset of a classic “superhero”, a fictional being who wants to save everyone. And he is not all words, he actually DID act accordingly to his ideals. What’s more, Shirou is at the age where he could think logically, and he should already have the sanity to think that his dream, is nothing more but a childish dream, but he upheld his ideals for all these years. That’s why I think Shirou seems to be even more monstrous then Kiritsugu sometimes.

      • That’s why I suppose it’s a hard decision. Everyone’s definition of a hero is different. For me I could argue that to me it’s simply the willingness to put yourself in that position knowing that you probably won’t be able to save anyone and even if you do there will be people who will still get hurt over which ever decision you picked.

        So yep in short it really depends on your definition of a hero would be what this all comes down to. It’s interesting of course to see everyone’s take on the matter. To me all dreams really start out as something childish, but that doesn’t make them wrong as Shirou once put it I suppose. Dreams are just that. Their dreams. Dreaming to save everyone might not be possible, but the shear fact your willing too well to me at least that isn’t childish. It might not be possible to truly obtain, but its still worth trying too.

        I’m reminded of a quote I once read. ‘When good men do nothing, then evil truly wins.’ Thinking logically is great, but sometimes you’ve got to just run full force and even if you fall if that’s what your dream or ideal is to not give up on it even if people might think your weird or believe something is wrong with you, but yeah just my opinion lol.

      • A hero, much like heaven, can only exist as a concept. The hero and Angra Mainyu (bearer of all the evils in the world) are, by definition, infinitely apart on opposite ends of a spectrum. The hero must have an infinite/inhuman capacity for compassion and forgiveness while Angra Mainyu must have an infinite/inhuman capacity for destruction. Shirou invokes the former while Kiritsugu invokes the latter all in the name of justice, another concept that both Shirou and Kiritsugu define as “saving as many lives as possible.” Both were heavily influenced to follow these respective paths by very traumatic events during their childhoods such as Kiritsugu’s loss of Sherry and subsequent influence by (and loss of) Natalia or Shirou’s life being saved by Kiritsugu.

        In the end, both were betrayed by their innate humanity, as illustrated by Kiritsugu’s denial of the Holy Grail’s method of achieving “justice” and by Shirou’s eventual realization that he couldn’t possibly save everyone without killing at least one person, namely Kirei. It is also this very humanity that lead to the birth of Kiritsugu’s daughter Ilya as well as Shirou’s falling in love with Saber in the anime. Just the fact that they are human renders both Kiritsugu and Shirou incapable of living up to their ideals.

        I just don’t think it’s fair to label Kiritsugu as criminal while praising Shirou since a strong case can be made that Shirou’s actions were extremely criminally negligent. If Shirou had continued in his stubborn and mistaken belief that he could save everyone without killing anyone, then he would have been responsible for the loss of many more lives as a result of Kirei’s successful summoning of the Holy Grail. At least Kiritsugu was self-aware enough to know that no human could possibly achieve this ideal, which is why he bet everything on an device believed for hundreds of years to be omnipotent enough to grant the miracle he needs. In the end, his mistakes can only be viewed in the context of being fooled by the “fake” Holy Grail.

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  13. Shirou is the hero of justice by definition
    “Every hero needs a villain” as Kirei Kotomine said in UBW.
    And it’s true, Shirou has lots villans which is funny because all them were created because of Kiritsugu (though I’m not sure about Heavens feels’ villain so don’t kill me)
    Which brings me to Kiritsugu, he had no villain threatening the world.

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