Thursday, September 20, 2018

Battle Breakdown - Kiritsugu Emiya vs. Kirei Kotomine (Fate/Zero)

When most people think of major climactic anime fights, it's normally very over-the-top with destructive attacks and big speeches and lots of screaming. While it is often between just two combatants, it's rare that the fight only contains two total hits and no dialogue, and still remain compelling and incredibly interesting. Thankfully, we have one such brawl here today, between two of the most important characters in the Fate series in the first and only fight between Kiritsugu Emiya and Kirei Kotomine in the 2011-2012 anime Fate/Zero.
Watch the fight here!

 It's difficult, if not downright impossible, to break this fight down in terms of themes or character arcs coming to a climactic head. This fight is really a matter of settling who is the more cunning or the one who is really willing to go the distance in this feud.

It's a brawl that's been hinted at and built up to since the prologue episode of Fate/Zero. All series these two have been comparing themselves to one another, trying to figure out what it is that is drawing them ever closer until at last they meet and at last they fight.

And it isn't as if the fight is incredibly long or that they talk to each other. As was mentioned earlier, they don't speak to each other. They barely even change expressions. They just instantly know that they have to kill each other, because only then will they know an escape from the lives they think they're leading.

This isn't going to be a character analysis of Kirei and Kirtisugu, because that alone deserves its own blog post. Instead, this is going to be an analysis of the fight that the two have and how it's ultimately a reflection of both themselves and the struggles that they've been having all season.

Kiritsugu vs. Kirei

It's important for Kiritsugu to throw down against Kirei because all season he's been in a constant conflict that he and Kirei are ultimately the same person: heartless monsters that only get joy out of bringing pain in some damned fool crusade for justice. What's interesting about how Kiritsugu fights Kirei is that he keeps trying the same tactics that he did against lesser mages, and lesser opponents. 

He's never been one to underestimate his opponent throughout the series. He lays clever traps against Kayneth, comes up with the strategy for the heroes to defeat Caster, and is the one to lay siege to the temple where the grail is to be held. But it's only when he comes across Kirei that he's thrown off his balance, if only for a short time. 

Kirei has been that one wildcard for Kiritsugu throughout the series and it's shown exceptionally well here. The only hit that Kirei gets in against Kiritsugu is when Kiritsugu underestimates Kirei's inhuman abilities and his superhuman strength and speed. After that, though, it seems that Kiritsugu gets the upper hand in the fight. Likely, he would've won, but that's all up to speculation. 

We're in  Kiritsugu's head for most of the battle, since he is the POV character for the scene and he is our main character for the series. He never seems to lose his cool but moreover is a fast analyst for his major disadvantage. We finally get to see Kiritsugu act himself, and be forced to take action into his own hands, and because of this cunning, he may actually have won the fight. 

Kiritsugu was never a coward but was always one to keep away from the main fighting. Here? He has no choice, he has to square up against Kirei, it's the only chance he has. Not only that, but he's smart enough to know that Kirei will be expecting him to keep his distance. When Kiritsugu uses his Time Alter spell to close the distance, that's the first time that Kirei is shocked, it's the only time that Kirei cannot predict Kiritsugu's moves. As a result, it allows Kiritsugu to get the distance he needs to prepare himself for his final shot. 

Kiritsugu's body language is also something important to note. He retains his solid posture up until that decisive moment, where he starts to slouch. Where he, finally, shows that he's weak and tired, even after just that one punch. His confidence is gone for just a moment and it's clear that one more hit is all it's going to take to have him die. However, he pushes through, because this is the power of his resolve. 

Kirei vs. Kiritsugu

Obviously, Kirei is the antagonist of the fight, the one that we're actively rooting against. But he's also the one that seems to have the leg-up for most of the fight. He's basically a brick wall that Kiritsugu cannot pass through. Everything that Kiritsugu throws at him, including his powerful Origin rounds, are useless in the face of Kirei. He blocks and stops everything. 

This is Kirei at arguably his most menacing. While he is vile and cruel when he makes his big heel turn, this is him at his most determined. And why shouldn't he be? Apart from his goal to find joy alongside Gilgamesh, his goal of defeating, destroying, and ultimately killing Kiritsugu is right there at the top of the list. 

While we don't get much in the way of inner thoughts from Kirei, unlike Kiritsugu, his single-minded actions and ability to just brush aside almost everything Kiritsugu throws at him displays that monster that's been lying in wait all series. There are hints of it during his brief fights with Maya and then some other inhuman feats he's pulled off, but this is at a whole different level. 

What's curious is how he starts the fight, by kissing his cross. Was that in defilement of his father's legacy, a mockery of the God he once followed, or perhaps some sort of taunt for Kiritsugu? It's the only hint of the insanity of Kirei has spiraled into thanks to Gilgamesh and after that, we see the great monster of the Church act as the weapon he was born to be. 

It's only when Kirei gets duped by Kiritsugu, when the power of the Command Seals fails him, that we really see him lose a bit of hope. Their brief brawl where Kiritsugu is doing everything he can to attack Kirei with the knife is most interesting from Kirei's perspective because he is helpless to fight back but likely disappointed that this is all Kiritsugu can do against him. It's written plain on his face. 

Kirei doesn't necessarily have anything to prove in this fight other than the fact that he can kill Kiritsugu. It isn't that by killing Kiritsugu he'll feel some semblance of freedom or that in their battle he can discover his true purpose; he's already done all of that. Really, this fight is little more than an assertion of this change in the eyes of Kiritsugu. In fighting Kiritsugu, Kirei shows the mage-killer what Kiritsugu would have become if he hadn't met the Einzbern family and fallen in love with Irisveil. 

Let Them Fight

But beyond motivation and character drive, this is just a damn good fight in terms of choreography and animation. Everything is fluid and the most important parts of every moment of the fight are kept in focus and in the center of every shot. 

It's also an incredibly brutal fight. The single blow that lands on each fighter is horrifying and would probably take down any other opponent. Kirei downright kills Kiritsugu for just a moment before Avalon heals him and Kirei is less than a second away from getting his chest blown open by an Origin round. He's lucky to just lose an arm and some of his magical abilities. 

Because this is a shorter fight and a good portion of it is strategizing there is not much left to say that hasn't been said, or that can't be said by simply watching the fight unfold before you. There's reaction videos of people who have never seen Fate/Zero falling in love with the fight because of how clever and fast-aced it can be when the action gets going. 

This is one of the smarter fights in anime. Actions are carefully taken and the two characters in question are doing their absolute everything to take the other one down, but they just refues to stop. It's brutal, intelligent, and just incredible to watch unfold before you. 

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