Kiritsugu Emiya – Admirable Hero or Despicable Villain?

Anime has long been lacking male characters who aren’t emo teenagers, one-dimensional saviors, comic relief, or romantic pretty boys. Fate/Zero doesn’t follow conventional anime trends, instead, history’s most righteous heroes and cunning villains are brought together in an epic battle royale. This might sound strange coming from someone whose favourite characters are all bishoujos, but Kiritsugu has captured my interest as one of the most interesting characters this season. He is by no means kawaii, moe, or funny, but his beliefs and ideals so closely match mine that it’s hard to ignore. The question is: is he an admirable hero or a despicable villain?

I was taught the following when I was growing up: men don’t cry; make decisions based on logic, not emotions; and show no mercy when threatened with hostility. These beliefs made perfect sense to me for most of my life. Showing weakness (ie: crying) is an open invitation for someone to take advantage of you; making bad (illogical) decisions will eventually cause you more harm than good; and beating an enemy to the ground will ensure they never get back up. Now, how many of these qualities can you find in Kiritsugu?

I’m sure he has shed a tear or two during the series, but they were all in private. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Kiritsugu is someone that comes off as cold and emotionless. As Kirei said, he’s certainly not someone you want to mess with.

Kiritsugu’s devotion to making the logical rather than the emotional choice is highlighted in the flashback episodes. As a child, he had no qualms about killing his father to prevent him from causing more harm. His adherence to acting for the greater good remains intact as he grows up, showcased in the episode where he kills Natalia in order to prevent a potential outbreak of magic bees in New York.

To win a fight is one thing, to completely destroy your enemy is another. Kiritsugu shows no mercy when he fights his opponents. Ryuunosuke was the first to feel Kiritsugu’s wrath; taken down before even realizing what happened. Kayneth was next with his team being wiped out after having lost. Neither of these two will ever challenge Kiritsugu again.

By all means, I should admire Kiritsugu; he has an almost religious devotion to his beliefs (which are the same as mine) and never strays from his path. He helps as many people as he can and avoids killing innocents – he should be recognized as a hero. Why then would I not trust a man like him with my life? In fact, I am actually disgusted by some of his actions. Perhaps the answer lies in the sacrifices that have to be made to follow those beliefs.

A lot of people have told me that I’m emotionless, and I have to attribute that to the beliefs I share with Kiritsugu. Someone once asked me what I would do if an out-of-control speeding train was heading to a fork in the path, one leads to my best friend and another leads to 5 railway workers, and I was at the control switch. Would I direct the train towards my friend, or the 5 workers? I said I’d direct it to my friend because 5 lives are worth more than one.

The reason I don’t admire Kiritsugu is because his beliefs are too much like mine and I despise myself for knowing that I would act for the greater good rather than for those close to me. Logically, it makes sense; emotionally and morally, it would be devastating. Sacrificing those close to you is something you would find in a villain, not a hero. Even more evidence of Kiritsugu’s role as a villain is revealed when you consider the definition of a villain, as taken from dictionary.com, “a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime.” Kiritsugu’s methods are clearly cruel and malicious, and killing is a crime in every society.

So in this story of legendary heroes and infamous villains, where does Kiritsugu belong? Should he be admired for trying to save the world, or despised for his methods? I don’t believe Kiritsugu is a hero or villain that should be admired or despised. He is merely human, lost and imperfect, but striving for what he believes is right.

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  1. His higher goal is something I can really relate to, but I dislike his actions.
    *lol* I even felt pity for Kayneth, the biggest a-hole in F-zero as he was tricked and killed like that.

    In the Grail War Kiritsugu is no hero, but also no villain.
    He’s a killjoy Master who gives a damn about honor and the rules.
    Kirei is nearly the same with the difference that he has a very twisted mind on top of that.

    you shouldn’t choose 5 random railway workers over your very best friend.
    I would always choose him for selfish reasons as well ^^
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    • I actually find Kiritsugu and Kirei to be vastly different. Kiritsugu has a purpose, whereas Kirei just seems to be going along for the ride. In my view, I could easily put Kirei into the villain category, it’s not so easy when it comes to Kiritsugu.

      • Yeah you’re right overall they are on a quite different level.
        They are only the same when it comes to ruining the Holy Grail War with their underhanded actions. *Argh* just when I think about the lame death of Tokiomi :(
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    • In the end, you have to realize that those you choose to save weigh neither more or less than those you abandon. Life is not a matter of numbers. You can’t measure it’s value.

  2. I don’t think he is either. Yes, he saves people from a vampire outbreak and killed the child murderer Ryuunosuke. The main problem is that he takes his ideals to the extreme and sacrificing the people that he loves around him. There is no wonder why he cried numerous times, which is rather tragic.

    Of course, that is all started by his father’s experiment and losing Shirley… So yeah, being Kiritsugu Emiya is suffering.
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  3. Your post made me think about how I actually ended up being raised/raising myself as a “man” XD

    I actually admire Kiritsugu, not because of how he fights for his beliefs or anything like that at all, but because he’s incredibly strong emotionnally, he needs to with all he did. And that’s why I admire him.

    I think that the big difference between a villain and a hero isn’t as much in the goal they pursue than in how thye feel about their actions. Kiritsugu feels grief, if he could find another way to save everyone he’d do it.
    A villain wouldn’t care that much.

    (that being said, I’d save the 5 workers too. Partly because 5 lives are worth more than one, but also because I know I can take the loss while I’d imagine the workers’probable family sufferings and don’t want them to live something like that. It doesn’t really makes sense I know)
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    • I like how he’s able to keep his emotions contained too, it’s how all the boys in my family were raised so I’ve come to expect it from men. Your point about the difference between a hero and villain is a good one. If Kiritsugu didn’t suffer after doing the things he does, I would probably label him a villain without a second thought. The reason I don’t label him as a hero either is because his actions don’t line up with one even though his goals do.

  4. I don’t think Kiritsugu’s a villain but he’s not exactly a hero either. He has heroic acts though and I guess he measures right and wrong by number of people that he saves. I’ve only watched until the Ryuunosuke part but I’ve always seen Kiritsugu as one who lacks emotion because he doesn’t want to show it, perhaps he thinks it might reveal his weaknesses and distract him from his goal.
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    • The problem with Kiritsugu is probably that he tries to quantify his actions as being good or bad, but a real hero would probably follow their heart and stick with high morals despite the results.

  5. It is just as you say, it is hard to depict him as a hero or villain based on his beliefs. Our ethics and morals and opinions is something strictly biased to us. Philosophy is a hard subject to answer. I haven’t even seen the Fate series yet. Still pending on my watchlist. I think I’ll start watching after this second season finishes.
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    • You’re absolutely right, the definition of a hero and villain really depends on the person and the society. With the common definitions of western society, it’s hard to fit Kiritsugu into either category.

  6. ” He is merely human, lost and imperfect, but striving for what he believes is right.”

    The same could be said of any human being, even those like hitler, mussolini, hussain, politicians, or ceo’s of major corporations. No one ever believes that they are doing harm it’s those that believe they are doing good that are the most evil. Hamdo or Light Yagami come to mind.

    • Yes, it applies to most people, but in the context of Fate/Zero, “humans” are actually uncommon. If you look at each of the masters and servants, I find it easy to label most of them as good or bad. Kiritsugu is the one I have the most difficulty in categorizing.

    • Determination is what keeps most of the characters in Fate/Zero going. I think the way they use it is what defines them as a hero or villain.

  7. Kiritsugu’s philosophy is indeed pretty difficult to understand. His concept of right and wrong, and him using logical methods, instead of emotional.

    If someone were to ask me the same thing, having the opportunity to save my one best friend or five railway workers, then I would choose to save my best friend without a doubt. I actually think this is the more human-like decision, rather then indulging in self-sacrifices. As Rider had stated and he was peg-talking Saber, self-sacrifices isn’t the way a person should live. All of us are humans and should be treated as much, we don’t have the power to judge who should live and who should die. Back to your question, the most normal choice an ordinary person would choose would most definitely be his or her own best friend, and that would certainly be my choice if it were me. Indeed, why should I save five strangers who I had never met in my whole life? Well, I may had sounded a bit evil at the end but.. you get my point.. D:
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    • The way I see it, those 5 guys I’ve never met might be even better friends than my current best friend. Who’s to say that one person’s life has more value than another’s? Besides, assuming all people have approximately equal numbers of friends and family, one death would cause less suffering than 5 deaths.

  8. Kiritsugu is a rather interesting protagonist. I like his character because he is different from the typical heroic type that many stories portray their protagonist, but that he is of a realistic kind that reflects on the real society. He is no hero or villian, but I think he would fit very well as what people call an antihero – he ultimately fights for what he thinks it’s right, but the method he carries surely not won’t be appreciated by the common people.

    He will destroy his enemies without mercy, leaving moral decisions behind and decide what is “logical”. There is no mercy in fighting. The train question that your friends brought up is the so-called “trolley problem” that Wikipedia mentions, which was one of the first things that I thought of too when I saw your post. Many people will refuse to kill the man next to you (fat guy, or best friend in your question’s case) and let the 5 on the train to die, heros will try to save both, while those who put feelings behind will save the 5 instead (which is statistically more beneficial).

    But then, even though I like his character it does not mean that I will like to follow what he does. He carries out his methods his own way wishing that there won’t be another one like him in the future with such “necessity” to fight “evil”, hence he wishes his adopted son Shiro to take a different approach to him, even though I really am not fond of Shiro overall as a character.

    Having to hide your feelings away in order to be efficient and survive in harsh environment, fighting evil that you know you cannot completely eliminate, wanting to save as many people as possible, yet those you want to save the most are the ones you ultimately cannot save… Kiritsugu is a character that I really do feel sorry for.

    • I had completely forgotten about the term antihero, but you’re right, he does fit the bill perfectly. The problem is whether or not the audience believes that the ends justify the means.

      Shiro does pale in comparison to Kiritsugu, and I think that’s largely due to the difference in beliefs. There are far too many heroes in fiction, which makes them feel dull and boring after a while. Not to mention that it’s impossible to relate to them because they don’t exist in real life. On the other hand, Kiritsugu is completely relatable, he even has the same beliefs that I do.

      • The end always justify the methods in my book

        If it were just my best friend I’ll probably sacrifice him as we’ll IF it was up to me. What if you twist it around though? What if it was pne of your parents. Who you own probably everything and have no right to sacrifice them? Or even worst. Your little brother pr just any kid who has probably a full life ahead

        The gray line is too thin

    • I had completely forgotten about the term antihero, but you’re right, he does fit the bill perfectly. The problem is whether or not the audience believes that the ends justify the means.

      Shiro does pale in comparison to Kiritsugu, and I think that’s largely due to the difference in beliefs. There are far too many heroes in fiction, which makes them feel dull and boring after a while. Not to mention that it’s impossible to relate to them because they don’t exist in real life. On the other hand, Kiritsugu is completely relatable, he even has the same beliefs that I do.

  9. Pingback: A Clash of Ideals: Shirou VS Kiritsugu « deluscar

  10. To me, a hero, much like heaven, can only exist as a concept. The true hero and villain are, by definition, infinitely apart on opposite ends of a spectrum. The true hero must have an infinite/inhuman capacity for compassion and forgiveness while the true villain must have an infinite/inhuman capacity for destruction. Shirou invokes the former’s methods while Kiritsugu invokes the latter’s methods all in the name of justice, another concept that both Shirou and Kiritsugu define as “saving as many lives as possible.” Both were heavily influenced to follow these respective paths by very traumatic events during their childhoods such as Kiritsugu’s loss of Sherry and subsequent influence by (and loss of) Natalia or Shirou’s life being saved by Kiritsugu.

    In the end, both were betrayed by their innate humanity, as illustrated by Kiritsugu’s denial of the Holy Grail’s method of achieving “justice” and by Shirou’s eventual realization that he couldn’t possibly save everyone without killing at least one person, namely Kirei. It is also this very humanity that lead to the birth of Kiritsugu’s daughter Ilya as well as Shirou’s falling in love with Saber in the anime. Just the fact that they are human renders both Kiritsugu and Shirou incapable of living up to their ideals.

    Ultimately, I don’t think that Kiritsugu was any less heroic (or more villainous) than Shirou, since a strong case can be made that Shirou’s actions were extremely negligent. If Shirou had continued in his stubborn and mistaken belief that he could save everyone without killing anyone, then he would have been responsible for the loss of many more lives as a result of Kirei’s successful summoning of the Holy Grail. At least Kiritsugu was self-aware enough to know that no human could possibly achieve this ideal, which is why he bet everything on an device believed for hundreds of years to be omnipotent enough to grant the miracle he needs. In the end, his mistakes can only be viewed in the context of being fooled by the “fake” Holy Grail.

  11. he stood by his beliefs
    sacrificed 10 for 100
    all life is equal to him and were he to kill millions to save billions hed do it

    nothing more nothing less
    so within intent hes good, a hero or sorts, perhaps different methods couldve been vastly better, more ethical, but if you were to shoot your closest mother figure in a plane to save everyone else from death, wouldnt you do it too?