cw: conceptualizations of suicide and self-hatred
Emiya Shirou in Fate/stay night is an exaggerated cipher and not for any clever purpose. He is effortlessly cool and collected. He labors and cares for others; primed to offer help to anyone for any reason, while expecting, even hoping, for nothing in return. All of his chores are done exactly on time, because being orderly is right, and it gives him peace of mind. Emiya exercises regularly, but not for the “vanity” of feeling comfortable with his body, he exercises to remain cautious and healthy. When practicing his magic, he labors until entirely exhausted, and habitually falls asleep on the spot. This personal skill offers no discernible benefit, it is done out of respect for his late mentor (and father) before any personal reasons.
In short, Emiya is insufferable. His only flaws, as they can be called as such, are being bullheaded, sexist, and lacking in certain social graces. These are yet still framed as further positives, masculine traits that are part of the character and charm of Emiya. His personal strivings are without expectations of others and that is infuriating. Perfection is a place that he alone can stand, from its vantage he will provide for all. To join him, to be equal, to expect an exchange of energies is not an affront to Emiya, because he recognizes no such thing. That is the only chink in his perfect posture, the blithe unawareness of the harm he causes. Emiya is not striving to provide, or to be that kind of person. He’s running away from being a bad person.
Years ago I idolized Emiya. In his divine generosity and religious denial of pleasure I found a personification of my young ideology. It was not my youth alone that caused the unsustainability – I find the traits attractive still – nevertheless I mirrored Emiya’s habits. I hoped the emulation would fill and answer this gap that led me to idolize the obvious and the unreasonable. My labor was unnatural and likewise unsustainable. I am not perfect. It is not that I am without responsibility or goodness, but I am without a constant devotion. Perfection doesn’t burn into me so. Returning to Fate/stay night a trifle wiser, I saw Emiya not as someone aspirational, but someone profoundly broken. To commit to doing all right is an action to stave off being wrong. It might be the mark of a “good person”, but it also is the mark someone incredibly afraid of being wrong, of being criticized, of being disliked. A person whose righteousness cannot turn off has no room for acceptance of their entire person, they want to remove the dirt and grime of their person, and it is impossible. Emiya is not a person I want to be, and yet, he is a reflection I have to accept. Emiya’s destruction is similar to my own, as I desired to be the same.
In another life, there is an Archer whose name is Emiya. Archer is one of the superhuman Servants participating in the Holy Grail War. He gave his life saving others and then offered that life to an entity usually referred to as the Holy Grail, in a bid to continue saving lives. Through the Holy Grail, he became a Servant, able to exist whenever the entity deems him necessary. Saving lives is then something he continually succeeds in. Through the infinite he stops threats and helps individuals. His infinite existence empties his ideology that people matter, that people can be saved. It is a constant that people need to be saved and it takes Archer a long time to realize this. He regrets.
Emiya has stumbled into the Holy Grail War – a conflict this time between magically inclined teens. I do mean both entities of him, Emiya the magical teen and Emiya the Archer, are both entwined in this incarnation of the conflict. They meet and they cannot accept the other, Archer hates Emiya as Emiya hates Archer. Archer is smug, sarcastic, overconfident, and very tired. He speaks only of warfare and is an advocate to efficiency and minimization of the conflict. Emiya, instead, wants no casualties, he wants to save as much as possible. A denial of reality for the superlative of possibility: if someone can be saved, they should be saved.
Archer knows Emiya with unshakable intimacy; Archer thinks of his younger self always. It is Emiya’s own impossible perfection and desire to save everyone that led him to become Archer. Emiya’s ideology fails, of course, it’s too rigid. It fails in the course of enacting it, forever. A thing borne out of desperation and coping for an individual in a single space and time cannot extend forever. There is no way out of being a servant, so Archer turns the resentment inward. Tragically, or admirably, Archer still stays true to his reason for existence, despite being cold to it. I think this is a more healthy display of belief, or at least a way of action that appeals the most to me. To waver on what is truth or importance of truth, yet living in admission that there must be some truth. Life as a means to justify being here in the moment is nobility and honor if those two words could ever hold meaning. That is unfortunately a thin, tenuous thread, which threatens to be cut when the corporeality of Emiya’s past lays before him.
Archer hates himself. A self-loathing that Archer internalized, maybe even weaponized, unravels when the self is real and placed before him. Archer no longer hates his own self, he can direct his hatred toward the object that best fits, a physicality of his past self. That which is true is magnified by ontological symbolism. I imagine being there, confined with his past self, witnessing all of the same mistakes and contradictions, is incredibly agonizing. If only he could’ve realized, if only he had done this, if only there was healing, and so on, but there is nothing that can be done. As this occurs in the realm of the real and not within the mourning of his own mind, the grime that could never be washed or accepted surfaces, and does so violently. Archer could never end his own self, not even conceptually, as he always lived to save other people. It would be easy, justified, dislocated, and physically painless to end the other self before him.
The climax of Unlimited Blade Works is this ontological suicide. Though I find Archer’s beliefs to be sustainable, it matters that Emiya’s beliefs never were, and Archer is Emiya to the very end. Seeing his past self, full of conviction and passion that is inculpable to him now, hurt unimaginably. It became undeniable that Archer was no longer the Emiya that was set before him, even though his actions upheld everything both incarnations of himself wanted. This contradiction, to Archer, represented a complete dissolution of his self. He became a Servant because of the beliefs of the person before him, he is chained to those beliefs, and yet he no longer believes in them as his own. It is altogether unreasonable, unacceptable, and the only way Archer feels he can express such an impossible reconciliation is to intervene. A suicide for this self-betrayal, an action equating to his infinite pain, based on a finite hope that his death can intervene. If Emiya dies, can there be an Archer?
A Servant’s existence is self-fulfilling I think. I believe Archer knew that too. Servants far surpass the capabilities of any person, magus or otherwise, so it’s no coincidence that Emiya, not Archer, won that final duel. It is may be called an unreasonable death, this final act to preserve his beliefs at the cost of even his life. The death of Emiya would be a contradiction of their held beliefs, so the contradiction was given to Emiya. Even as Archer is allows for his life to be taken, he’s making a final bid to save another. That’s just as well, for Archer existence confirms an endlessness. Fate/stay night concerns plurality, no matter how a single timeline turns out, as long as Archer exists in one, he will exist forever.
It is cruel that Archer, even when he shows the most agency, cannot be let go from the thrall of his contradictions, mistakes, and pain. There’s comfort in finding that the protagonist of Unlimited Blade Works, the Emiya of this suspended time, will be able to find healing, and will possibly not become Archer. It is Emiya’s fear of being wrong, the fear of having a life not worth living, that leads to becoming Archer. Emiya’s fear of himself, Emiya’s fear of Archer, is what causes Archer to exist. As the relationship is a dualism of the self, the prevention can be read as many different things, but I don’t feel confident in rejecting Archer. Archer’s own existence is defined by that rejection, but, that is a meaningful perspective unto itself. That rejection is the fear of the grime of the person, to be suspended in goodness, to atone for all wrongdoing. It may be that Archer can never accept himself, but I’ve come to accept Archer.
The tragedy of Archer is being unable to accept the parts of the self that aren’t considered good. I find myself trapped in cycles of self-loathing that are debilitating and to an extent harmful. The depiction of Archer helped me to interrogate my need to exorcise and run away from these feelings. Intense self-hatred does not stop someone from being capable or for following their beliefs. In some ways, it may even legitimize and enable an individual to do good in unforeseen ways. Self-loathing can and will be justified, useful, and still harmful. As romantic of an idea as viewing such an existence honorable, it’s more of a temperament. It’s something that is very tiring. I can’t profess to always feel worthwhile, or to have “reclaimed” my self-hate, but it’s a plain comfort to have accepted myself.