Yet Those Hands Will Never Hold Anything:

Emiya Shirou as the Interactive Superhero of Fate/Stay Night (Part 2)

Continued from part one.

At some point in the superhero trope, the hero has to start building on the foundation of their training and perfecting their powers. For Shirou, this results in the mangling of his “magic-circuits” due to a lack of understanding as to how to train them properly: each exercise causing him excruciating pain and the risk of potential death. In a lot of ways, he can be compared to a magically-gifted Dave Lizewski or Kick-Ass.

At the same time, Shirou does manage to learn how to competently Analyze the structure and nature of any objects he comes in contact with as well as Reinforcing their molecular structure with his own power: though for a time he doesn’t learn anything beyond this. Much later, when he accidentally summons his Heroic Spirit Servant–Saber–the artifact Avalon–which was implanted his body by Kiritsugu–allows him to regenerate from almost lethal amounts of damage: though it will not prevent him experiencing the pain of these injuries. He also learns how to repair machines and other equipment as time goes on. Shirou also does a lot of heavy lifting, and undertakes Kendo practice with his part-time guardian and high school teacher Fujimura Taiga as well as becoming a very gifted member of his high school’s Archery Club.

For what he is, these are some considerable feats for Emiya Shirou: but modest achievements do not a superhero make. Most of his skills are self-taught and his healing factor imbued and he is–at least in the beginning–not aware of the realities of the magi life that he is trying to embrace on his own. Even later, when he encounters an actual magical tutor, she is also inexperienced–though vastly more knowledgeable than he and is an heir to her Family and Art–his knowledge is still incomplete and he develops it through sheer determination and will-power. But it is this sheer will and the mentality behind it that defines Shirou’s self-adopted identity as a superhero.

Of course, the use of “superhero” is a misnomer in this case. There are a few translations as to what Shirou means when he wants to be a hero. Sometimes, the word is translated into English from the visual novel as a “Hero of Justice,” or an “Ally of Justice.” Essentially, Shirou wants to be a righteous person. On the surface, it fulfills the stereotype or trope of a superhero’s mentality. Shirou attempts to help everyone: from doing their work for them, to heavy-lifting, to doing repair work, and other altruistic chores without asking for anything in return. He will even put himself into fights or harm’s way to protect another person: even if it is a complete stranger.

Shirou believes in helping the weak and defenceless along with fighting injustice anyway he can. He actually enters the Holy Grail War not to win a wish for himself, but to protect innocent bystanders from it getting out of hand. This is probably a similar reason to why Batman began to fight crime: to prevent others from suffering as he did from the same force that took everything from him. Also, unlike his adopted father, he believes he can save and help everyone: including those who would try to harm other people. Moreover, he believes that hard-work and practice can make up for a lack of knowledge and that if he disciplines himself he will make himself strong enough to become that “Hero of Justice”: even if there is always room for improvement.

The fact of the matter is that Shirou is a good if very idealistic young man. Unfortunately, this is only a superficial impression of his behaviour. In reality, Shirou has been made a hollow being from the trauma he received in the Shinto fire ten years before the start of Fate/Stay Night. There is an emptiness inside of him that, combined with his survivor’s guilt, makes him want to do as many good deeds as possible to make up for the fact that he was the only known survivor of the fire: as though deep down he doesn’t think himself worthy enough to live. As a result, the only times that Shirou is ever truly happy is when he helps other people. He either doesn’t think about his own happiness, or he believes that someone like him doesn’t deserve to be happy.

In addition, Shirou will protect someone else’s life over his own every time: even if there are alternative methods to dealing with a situation. He also doesn’t initially seem aware of the fact that other people in his life–his friends and such–would be devastated if he got hurt or killed. This outward seeming altruism is really self-absorption on his part: to be able to cope with a world that irrationally changed his childhood a decade ago. It is also worth noting that the fact that Shirou kept putting himself in danger over anyone else’s well-being could very well be seen as an unconscious death-wish on his part: to the point where he is resigned to one day dying due to his own actions.

If you look at Superman, Batman or the lives of many other modern superheroes as attempts to deal with their own trauma and cope with the sheer amount of guilt for surviving or even existing when so many others didn’t, it definitely brings a Revisionist sense to what the superhero might really well be. This, in fact, is the most crucial part of how a character like Shirou represents a subversion of the superhero trope. After all, wouldn’t someone who continuously risks their life for people without any regard for their own, subjects themselves to constant pain and obsession, constantly does things for people without asking for anything in return and who feels empty inside when they don’t help others be considered mentally unsound or at least atypical as a human being?

It is this wannabe superhero in the midst of the Holy Grail War that is forced to look at some very painful truths. In addition to slowly realizing that he has been patronizing his female allies and friends, including his Servant Saber whose role it is to protect him, Shirou is confronted with the fact that he simply cannot save everyone. He finds himself in the situation of having to choose. Even as his powers improve–especially when they do–he realizes that he is going to have to make some hard choices: decisions that will change the rest of his life. At one point, the player-reader is presented with a dilemma in which Shirou has to choose to save the lives of everyone, or the life of the woman he finally grows to love: merely because of the potential that she might become a danger.

It also becomes very clear as the player-reader goes through all three of the visual novel’s Routes that Shirou does, in fact, achieve his goal in becoming a superhero … in a way. Remember: Heroic Spirits that are summoned by the Grail come from all of myth and time … which also includes the future. The Servant Archer is a heroic spirit version of Emiya Shirou who continued to pursue his ideals of becoming a “Hero of Justice.” He even looks the part with his black armour, his mystical bright red shroud, tall musculature, and keen cold grey eyes. Heroic Spirit Emiya can see and hear very clearly having Reinforced his own body for years. He can summon a bow made of some futuristic alloy and create powerful arrow blasts. He has mastered Projection magic to a point past Shirou’s simple Analysis and Reinforcement power where he can Trace magical weapons, and gain the knowledge of both their histories and their secrets. He can even fly due to the energy or prana provided to him by his own magus Master.

But more than this, he has developed a technique that very few Heroic Spirits and even fewer mortals have mastered. Because of the strength of his will and dedication, Heroic Spirit Emiya can manifest a reality from inside of his own being and apply it for a time to the world. This is called a Reality Marble: essentially a world that reflects Emiya’s very being. This world is one full of fire and a hill of swords. It is from here that Emiya is able to Project all of his weapons with consummate ease and when he summons it, it increases his strength and speed even further. The creation of a Reality Marble in the Nasuverse is known to be an extremely potent and forbidden form of magic: which is a tremendous achievement for Shirou to potentially forge for his own. It is literally the world that he made for himself.

The fire represents the blaze that Emiya Shirou came from. The hill of swords, on the other hand, comes from his potential future. After the War, Emiya Shirou drives away the people in his life who care about him the most: in order to protect them from his chosen path. Once he eliminates this support base, he proceeds to train himself and undertake dangerous missions: honing his powers over twenty years to create his Marble. He uses his powers to save as many people as he can in the most dangerous places in the world, but gradually begins to realize that he can only save so many. After all, even Superman can’t save everyone, and the Man of Steel is much more powerful than the man whose Body is Made of Blades. In the end, Emiya is betrayed and executed by some of those whom he saved: becoming the scapegoat for one very terrible conflict. He apparently willingly lets himself be killed to preserve the peace on that hilltop of that last battle.

It even serves a part in creating his very own hero’s chant.

So Emiya makes a deal with the World to become a Heroic Spirit: in this case what is called a Counter-Guardian. Unfortunately for Emiya, what this means is that he is generally summoned to destroy a threat before it becomes one: regardless of how many innocents die in the process. So for many cycles of existence Emiya is summoned to stop evil no matter cost. He had been forced to destroy his own ideals again, and again, and again with weapons that are only copies of the originals–that don’t actually exist in a tangible permanent form–until, finally, it broke him. By the time he is summoned by his Master into the Holy Grail War, he sees his previous self–Emiya Shirou–and hates him with an extreme passion.

In Kill Bill Volume 2, it is posited that Superman’s alter-ego of Clark Kent represents his perhaps unconscious critique of humanity: as something along the lines of weak, cowardly, and pathetic. Archer, in contrast to this, represents all of Emiya Shirou’s ideals incarnate. He even looks like a superhero. However Archer–as Heroic Spirit Emiya–hates what he did to himself and everything that he stands for. He can’t stand the things he used to believe in: the process of watching his own hypocrisies play out for him. In turn, Emiya Shirou dislikes Archer for his cynicism and bitterness, but also for the fact that he has shown him nothing but contempt since they met.

Emiya Shirou essentially goes back in time to kill himself so that he will never have to experience the pain of realizing that everything he believed in was a lie: or at least to make sure that in one alternate time line one Emiya Shirou would not make that mistake. Archer becomes Shirou’s own beliefs and self-hatred come back, literally, to destroy him. If Clark Kent is Superman’s critique of humanity, then Archer is the Nasuverse’s critique of the modern superhero ideal.

If this were the only ending to Fate/Stay Night, it could be construed that it–and the character of Emiya Shirou–are the children of superhero comics Revisionism. In fact, there is one ending where Shirou chooses the lives of everyone else over that of the woman he loves and he lets her die. At that point, it seems to kill every kind and empathetic part of him. This Bad Ending, ironically enough, is called “Superhero:” another brutal jab at the trope. But given that Fate is a visual novel and a video game, Shirou’s life need not end there.

For instance, in the Normal or True Endings of the first arc, through helping his own Servant come to grips with her past, Shirou seems to understand that he can take a middle-ground in pursuing his ideals and actually valuing his life. In another arc, where he actually talks with, fights and even overcomes and moves on from Archer–his warped Platonic ideal–and he is resolved to pursuing his ideals but he has another person help him along the way and so far does not alienate her.

Finally, in the last arc, he makes the decision to save the woman that he loves–realizing that he can love others and himself–and becomes a whole other kind of hero. Even Archer comes to some sort of peace with the decisions he made as Shirou’s future self and accepts that he did what he had to do: and perhaps even goes on to do what good he can given his choices.

It is not an original thing for a superhero to face their doppelganger, but for them to make some sort of peace or understanding with it is an entirely different story that is either from some good Reconstructionist comics or from something older altogether. Nasu Kinoko creates a dark world in Fate/Stay Night, with Emiya Shirou as a very deconstructed figure in keeping with that universe, yet he and the staff at Type-Moon generate enough humour, enough fun, many epic moments, and light, and love, and character-interactions–and choices for the player-reader of this visual novel video game–that there is still hope for humanity and happy endings even for the most realistic of wannabe superheroes, and for the superhero trope to influence many new stories in comics, film, and interactive worlds.

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Matthew Kirshenblatt is a graduate from York University, Toronto, Ontario, and is a writer and blogger living in the city of Thornhill. He is a comics and mythology fanatic; having written his Master's thesis, "The Spirit of Herodotus in Gaiman and Moore: Narrative Spaces and their Relationships in Mythic World-Building," he also contributes science-fiction, horror, and revisionist short stories to Gil Williamson's online Mythaxis Magazine. Nowadays, he can be found writing for G33kPr0n, and creating and maintaining his Mythic Bios: a Writer's Blog, in which he describes his creative process and makes weird stories, strange articles, reviews, overall geek opinion pieces and other writing experiments.

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