In this world, there are three anime character archetypes that really get my adrenaline pumping and brain working overtime, for all the wrong reasons. They are the generic male lead with the personality of a hoof of white bread, the generic moeblob scared by everything outside the realm of cuteness, and the generic martyr-type that sees him/herself as the world’s salvation and the only thing standing between it and utter destruction at the hands of humanity or a robot or something.
Despite being only statistically the most important thing in all of existence since certain species of anaerobic bacteria decided to fuck that not breathing oxygen shit, Fate/Zero is annoying for the sole reason that it plays host to three of those annoying martyr type characters: Kariya Matou, Berserker’s brooding sickly master, Saber the goddamn poster child of the franchise, and Kiritsugu Emiya, Saber’s master without a moral compass. The first two are excusable enough; Kariya can sic giant hornets on people while channeling all the manic enthusiasm of the Crow, and Saber’s a king from an age that demanded compulsory chivalry on at least a surface level from its leaders, so it’s kind of expected. It doesn’t keep them from being irritating as all hell, but at least they’re tolerable and slightly endearing for it. Kiritsugu has no excuse for it, however.
The thing is, he was a perfectly badass character before without being a totally unlovable twat. He may have been messy and conniving when doing his job, but he had to be in order to do it properly. Not only that, but he even showed himself to have a soft spot for his lover Irisviel. I can’t say that I understand why since she’s pretty fucking ineffectual aside from being the vessel for the Grail, but it gives his character a degree of depth that could have been topped off as it was with little trouble for the rest of the series. Instead, after his cold-blooded yet awe-inspiring elimination of both Archibald and Lancer, he proceeded to spill his motivations with little prompting from Saber and Irisviel. Instead of being a renegade with little regard for anybody but himself, it turns out that he’s a tortured soul that doesn’t believe in chivalry and seeks to put an end to all violence through… violence. Oh okay, I guess I can’t accuse him of being off message or anything.
I understand that his reasons are supposed to be ambiguous and hypocritical, since that’s perceived as him having an unclear goal in life and thus having room to grow. The fact that he doesn’t look at Saber and Iris in the eye for more than a second confirms that he isn’t terribly happy with what he’s done. However, I see the lack of clear-cut goals to be a developmental dead-end, one that can’t be remedied with a few neat speeches and not-so-subtle comparisons between him and Saber. The not-so-different angle only works when the character in question recognizes it, not when the audience has to draw the connection themselves.
To be perfectly fair though, it does give the slightly misplaced Saber-Kiritsugu pair a little more explanation without really explaining it. Judging from both of their aspirations, which are very similar, and the inconsistency of their methods, it’s neat to see just how much they match up despite how morally opposed they are to each other. To be even fairer, it also makes sense that the Holy Grail War, intentionally or not, would draw characters of this sort to compete against each other; those with a lofty goal but not a particularly practical method would be tempted by the promise of having that wish fulfilled just by winning the Holy Grail War. I accept it as a well-implemented plot device, but don’t care for it for strictly personal reasons.
I can’t quite pin down what it is about this archetype that bugs me so much. Maybe it’s the fact that I find the idea of sacrificing oneself for what’s perceived to be the greater good a completely selfish concept, only appealing to those with a sense of pride that want to hide it under false humility. While Kiritsugu doesn’t quite fit this mold, he comes close enough that I hold him as an example of what not to do when designing characters. Without his unachievable goal of ending all violence ever, I found him a much more compelling character in his aimless, yet focused demeanor. I have no problem at all with the show itself; I just don’t like these types of characters with a martyr complex, especially if they don’t know it.