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“Justice and righteousness can not save the world. I care nothing for them.”

There are a great number of character archetypes out there in the world of fiction, and amongst protagonists it’s generally pretty easy to make the distinction between a hero and an anti-hero. Fate/Zero is pretty unique in how it is overall more about an event rather than a specific character (ie the story is about the Holy Grail War). But if I were to pick out who our protagonist is, it makes sense to go with Kiritsugu. And when I think of Kiritsugu, I don’t think of him as just an example of an anti-hero, but also a Byronic hero.

(Note: Fate/Zero spoilers in this post, up to episode 18.)

Wikipedia and TV Tropes offer a good run-down of what the Byronic hero entails. But basically, it’s a type of character made famous by Lord Byron, a nineteenth-century English poet. The Byronic hero is a great person with great ideals, but suffers in a tragic world, all while dealing with his own tragic flaws. In the end, many stories with a Byronic hero as the lead are quite engaging because they’re so incredibly conflicted. Think Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, the doctor from Frankenstein, and the eponymous Phantom of the Opera. Or, for some anime examples, think Alex Rowe from Last Exile, Doctor Toshio Ozaki from Shiki, or to some degree–perhaps half the cast from Pandora Hearts (LOVE that series). Oh, and let’s not forget Yozo, the protagonist of No Longer Human (featured in Aoi Bungaku), while we’re at it.

But let’s analyze Kiritsugu a bit. What makes him a Byronic hero, and how does his role as one affect Fate/Zero in general? Wikipedia has a nice list of traits to work with, so I’ll go ahead and go from bullet point to bullet point, and see how well each of them fits with Kiritsugu.

Arrogant – Kiritsugu is generally not very vocal about his skills and abilities, which makes sense considering he’s engaged in a battle royale to the death with some of the world’s most powerful mages and legends, and doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. If the goal is to kill all enemies, it’s best to focus on doing just that. Kiritsugu also recognizes the need to not let his personal feelings get in the way of his missions in general–so he’s rarely had a chance to show much arrogance.

Cunning and able to adapt – You all saw him come up with a plan on the spot to defeat Caster’s sea monster behemoth, right? He didn’t even flinch. x_x His duel with Kayneth was also an excellent display of his fighting prowess, and his more recent methods for curb-stomping poor Lancer and his Masters was very much cunning, if not devious.

Cynical – Life has been quite unforgiving with him, which has shaped the way he views the world–and particularly the world of magic. And perhaps even more so, the world of combat in general. How ironic it is, that the Servant he summons is one so thoroughly devoted to the code of chivalry and noble combat.
(But perhaps there is at least one significant trait that the two do share: they both have a really serious martyr complex. I wonder, if Saber reflects back on her discussion with Rider and Archer, will she be able to change herself–or somehow keep Kiritsugu from suffering the same way she has?)

Disrespectful of rank and privilege – Well, Kiritsugu certainly doesn’t seem to think highly of the mages he’s dealing with, many of which are of high rank in the magical world’s social ladder. Nor does he hold in high esteem the mighty legends that have been summoned as Servants in this Holy Grail War.

Emotionally conflicted, bipolar, or moody – Don’t know about bipolar. And overall, he isn’t terribly moody either. He has his moments of desperation (particularly when he confided to Irisviel his deepest worries regarding the Holy Grail War [namely Kirei]), but he most always keeps his feelings bottled deep inside. Is he emotionally conflicted? Definitely. But interestingly, even as a child, it seemed that once Kiritsugu has made a decision–he stands by it to the grave. Once he confirmed everything his father was doing, he sure didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. The reasoning for this seems fairly clear. He hesitated to kill his friend Shirley once she turned into a Dead Apostle, which led to the destruction of the entire village. He couldn’t stand to let another such “mistake” bring about further calamity.

Having a distaste for social institutions and norms – Kiritsugu doesn’t want to stand out in this Holy Grail War. And presumably, he never wanted to stand out during all the missions that earned him the title of mage-killer, either. His life’s workspace is very much confined to some of the darkest, most treacherous corners of human society, so his thoughts on the ways of “the general populace” don’t play much role in this story–and would (understandably) be quite skewed in the first place.

Having a troubled past or suffering from an unnamed crime – I do hope you all watched episode 18.

Intelligent and perceptive – Kiritsugu has been shown to be intelligent, coming up with quite a wide variety of methods for dealing with his enemies. He’s been shown several times to analyze the movements and actions of all the other Masters and Servants in the Holy Grail War, and has done well to utilize the strengths of each member of his team. How perceptive he is toward their individual feelings may be up for debate.

Jaded, world-weary – Just look at this man’s eyes. Unlike most of the other characters in Fate/Zero, Kiritsugu has no gleam or variation to the color in his eyes–and lifeless is practically his default expression. I think the only other characters with this “empty” eye style are Sakura and Kirei. It would be interesting to compare and contrast these three characters, to note how they’ve gone on living after the dehumanizing circumstances they each have had to pass through. (Future blog post idea?)

Mysterious, magnetic and charismatic – Well, perhaps not charismatic (Kiritsugu is not exactly a charming fellow), but he most certainly is mysterious–and magnetic. Just ask Kirei. (He interestingly has been focused on three individuals in particular: Kiritsugu, Kariya, and Archer–who each hold many traits of the Byronic hero… Another future blog post idea?)

Seductive and sexually attractive – This may be one of those times in anime where the audience does not need to question why the male lead has all these ladies in his company. Likewise, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Kiritsugu tops the list of Fate/Zero characters that fans want to date.

Self-critical and introspective – We have had a bit of this, and I imagine there will be more of it before the show’s conclusion. However, he has to constantly keep his wits about him, and the fact he is being pushed to his limits in all this keeps him from second-guessing himself.

Self-destructive – He’s made it clear that he’s willing to give up everything for the sake of his goals. To end all the misery associated with the magical world and Holy Grail War, he’s stated he must bloody his hands and become the very thing he despises. How well this will turn out for him, I don’t know. (I haven’t seen Fate/Stay Night yet, so don’t spoil it for me.)

Socially and sexually dominant – Yes, he is a bit of a pimp, you know?

Sophisticated and educated – Certainly in his field of expertise.

Struggling with integrity – I suppose, but he won’t let that stop him or slow him down.

Treated as an exile, outcast, or outlaw – He kind of chose that life all on his own. Granted, he didn’t wish for any of the events that led up to it, but once he made his decision he certainly went all-out.

So there were only a few points that I felt he did not fully exemplify on the list–which is just fine, since every well-written character should be unique enough to not fit perfectly in any particular archetype. But suffice to say, Kiritsugu is very much a man who is both overwhelming and overwhelmed. Considering the tone of Fate/Zero in general, I must question how successful at all Kiritsugu will be in his seemingly impossible quest. Perhaps that will be a major point the show makes in the end. But in my opinion, one of Fate/Zero’s greatest strengths is in the unique perspectives of each character, and how each of their individual worldviews holds merit (save perhaps for a couple exceptions). It’s all quite fascinating, and it makes for excellent story-driven conflict. I mean, how much more interesting is it to have such contrasting viewpoints for Kiritsugu and Saber, than it would have been if they were both working on the exact same wavelength?

Kiritsugu may not have much of a personality at first glance, but as the series has gone along, he’s been shown to have a level of depth that few anime (or works of fiction in general) achieve easily. I’m very curious to see how things will play out with him. And just as interesting as his own character arc are all the subplots involving his relationships with other characters. How exactly will he and Kirei clash by the end of the series? Will he be able to patch things up with Saber in a realistic, satisfactory way? And is there any way for things to not end in complete tragedy for him and Irisviel? I’m especially curious to learn more about the sort of lives the two of them led together. Their relationship seems to have been fabricated out of necessity for Kiritsugu’s goals–but as hinted at on several occasions (including in the ED), they may have had a genuine love. At least, to some degree. I’m hoping this will be delved into more by the end of the series. (Perhaps enough for me to write a blog post on it…)