Image source: ufotable on Twitter

The story of Fate/stay night has three main routes it can take. Different things happen to the various characters across the routes showing different sides to their characters. The latest Fate movie, Heaven’s Feel, revealed a new facet to one of the series’ cruelest characters that actually made me feel empathy for him.

Fate/stay night is the story of the Fifth Holy Grail War centering on the protagonist, Shirou Emiya. In the original video game, there were three story routes; the “Fate” or “Saber” route, the “Unlimited Blade Works” or “Rin” route, and the “Heaven’s Feel” or “Sakura” route. So far, the first two routes have been released in anime series form—with some changes from the original game story (particularly in the Fate route). The Heaven’s Feel route is now being released in the form of three movies. The first, Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. presage flower, which was released in Japanese theaters last Saturday.

Events diverge drastically across the three routes in a very Butterfly Effect manner, with characters who play major roles in one route being nothing more than a footnote in others. However, the pieces on the board remain the same. Shirou is still the heart of gold hero, Rin Tohsaka is still the fussy tsundere, Sakura Matou is still the sempai-adoring sweet little girl, etc. And then there’s Shinji Matou.

Image source: ufotable on Twitter

Shinji Matou is an asshole. He’s haughty, petty, abusive, and for all intents and purposes seems written specifically to deserve every bad thing that happens to him. And yet, fascinatingly enough, through the various scenes in presage flower, despite his treatment of other characters—his adopted sister Sakura in particular—I began feeling more pity than hate for him.

It started right at the beginning of the movie with a flashback scene from the archery club. We see that Shirou and Shinji are regarded as the up and coming stars of the Japanese archery club. Shinji obviously harbors jealousy against Shirou’s skill. The scene jumps and we are shown that Shirou has accidentally hurt his shoulder at work and Shinji berates him for his carelessness.

Later on, after his shoulder has healed, we see that Shirou still has a scar. Shinji berates him further and Shirou quits the club. Later, in a different scene, we see Taiga Fujimura, Shirou’s guardian looking over a photo album. One of the first photos we see is one of a young Shirou and a young Shinji together at what looks to be some kind of school event, either a field trip or athletic festival.

Through this sequence, I began to understand the complex relationship that the two boys shared. Despite the animosity that Shinji seems to harbor for Shirou, we see from the photo that at one point the two had indeed been close friends. It was Shinji’s upbringing that twisted him into the hateful little monster he became.

Image source: ufotable on Twitter

Shinji both idolized and despised Shirou’s unyielding will and perseverance because it was something he did not have. No matter how much Shinji would insult or ridicule Shirou, Shirou never pushed him away. Shirou was the only person in Shinji’s life who neither looked up to nor down on him, but instead actually accepted him. For Shinji, when Shirou quit the archery club, it was like a knife in his back. His friend and rival had abandoned him.

That sequence of events completely changed how I viewed Shinji and his actions. The internal conflict he must have constantly felt at being born into the world of magic, but not belonging there. The Holy Grail War was his chance to prove himself. And yet, there in his moment of glory, in walks Shirou. For Shinji, seeing Shirou casually strolling into the one domain that Shinji believed he was superior in was obviously more than he could take. It’s no wonder his feelings quickly went from animosity to murderous loathing.

Shinji Matou is an asshole. And yet, seeing the events of Heaven’s Feel play out, I felt empathy for him that I never felt before in the other routes. Shinji is an arrogant fool who makes all of the wrong choices. But now I can understand and even empathize with why he made those choices. He’s perhaps the most loathsome character in the series, but at the same time, to me he feels like the most human.

Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. presage flower is currently showing in theaters in Japan. The movie is scheduled to premiere in North America in select theaters on November 3, 2017.

Image source: Fate Stay Night USA‏ on Twitter

Comments (1)
  1. due to certain events that happen in the story i can feel nothing but deep seething hatred and disgust for this character deserving of every bad thing that has happened to him and burning in hell is too good for him.

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