Last year around Valentine’s Day I did a character dive on a number of anime relationships that I really liked. One of them, and the most popular was the relationship between Shirou Emiya and Rin Tohsaka from Unlimited Blade Works. It was a great post and I loved talking about what still remains one of my favorite couples in all of anime.
But that is just one of three main relationships in the main Fate story. What about the other two? Well another year has passed, so it is time to dig back into this world! After the cut let’s take a character dive into the relationship of Heaven’s Feel’s Shirou Emiya and Sakura Matou!
One of the cool things about the Fate relationships is that each of the three are completely different in what they are and how they happen. While Shirou’s relationship with Saber is very much a courtly type of love, where Shirou falls in love with Saber for what she represents, his relationship with Rin is different. Like I said last year, his romance with Rin is one of equals. Both act as another aspect to themselves and give the other a different view in the world. Shirou provides Rin a hopeful, less jaded and somewhat naïve view of the world, while Rin gives Shirou a much needed dose of reality, brutal honesty, and cynicism. They say opposites attract for a reason, and it is very clear with the main pair in Unlimited Blade Works.
Heaven’s Feel, the final route of the series is a different beast entirely, and in my view, serves as the final steps towards Shirou’s transformation into a man. Out of the three heroines, he has known Sakura for the longest, and is closest to her. She is present in the start of all three routes, and it is clear that they have a relationship that feels very much like siblings. However, as it is for many romances, one of them wants it to be more. It is obvious, painfully so, that Sakura has a romantic attachment to Shirou, and it is clear to see why when you examine her character and history. Shipped off to the Matou family as a child, condemned to a life of torture, abuse and yes, rape, by their magics, and all but forgotten by her sister. All for the mere ‘sin’ of being born with magic ability into a mage family that already had one. While their father Tokiomi intentions may have been good, having Sakura adopted would have protected her from the laws of their world, and yes, he (and Rin) had no idea of what they were doing to her, the way that Sakura is just thrown to Zouken Matou is cruel. Even worse is that the only person who bothered to try and get her own, Kairya Matou, ends up consumed by his own good motives. Coupled with the jealous and anger filled Shinji Matou, passed over in favor of an outsider, Sakura’s life was pretty much a living hell.
Which is why, from Sakura’s side, it is clear why she loves Shirou. To her, Shirou Emiya is a white knight. A good young man, kind to a fault, and with a strong sense of right and wrong. He welcomes her into his home without a second glance, teaches her how to stand on her own two feet, and gives her the affection and warmth she never had before. The keys that he offers, an object that keeps showing up in all three films is a symbol of that, it represents a home, a place where Sakura can go and always be loved, welcome and wanted. This becomes so important to her, that when the mere thought of losing it, first through the holy grail, and then overhearing Rin sharing a similar memory, Sakura starts down a dark path that almost destroys her. To her, Shirou is everything she needs, strong arms to hold her, a smile to comfort her, and a hand that will never reject her. It is why when the truth of what has happened to her gets out, Sakura attempts to run away. She doesn’t want her “impurity” to stain what she views as a perfect and pure man. Is it the ‘strong independent woman’ thing to do? No, but that is not who Sakura is. Yes, like Rin she is a character of great inner strength and will, probably more so as she has endured so much trauma and horror, but as you will read in a later character dive, not everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Not everyone can ‘handle it’ People need to be saved, and that doesn’t stop them from being good and capable people.
For Shirou himself, as I said at the top, his relationship with Sakura is a final culmination of maturity for the character. I will be honest, I thought, and still do in some regards, that his love for Sakura isn’t as real and genuine as it was for Rin or even Saber. Their love isn’t forged through combat, or a clashing of ideals, but instead out of what could be considered guilt or pity. Shirou feels responsible for Sakura, and he stays with her out of that sense of duty. I do wonder, if things hadn’t gone the way he did, if their relationship would have gone the way it did. Would he have learned to love her if the crisis of the Holy Grail and the shadow hadn’t made things needed? Would he have been able to look beyond Sakura as just a little sister, instead of the woman she had become? It is something to consider. However, that is not the story that Heaven’s Feel tells us.
Shirou Emiya, by deciding to live his life for Sakura, to be her rock, to abandon his ideals to stand by her side, no matter what, is again, a final step in maturity. No longer is he a child blinded by unrealistic dreams, unaware of the cruel realities of the world, or ignorantly stating he can save everyone. Instead Shirou realizes that his pie in the sky dreams pale in importance to the very real problem in front of him. Sakura needs someone to protect her, to love and cherish her, to give her the affection and attention she needs. That problem is something only Shirou can solve, something only he can do, and it is something he can make better. Yes, it is not changing the world or being the hero of justice he has fooled himself into thinking he can be, but it doesn’t matter. Sakura doesn’t need a hero of justice. She needs Shirou, she needs someone right there, right now, to give her the will and courage to go on. By realizing that and forsaking his dream, Shirou becomes a man, seeing that what is more important is what you CAN do in the present, not what you MIGHT be able to do in the future. That is what causes Archer to abandon his vendetta, for Rin to back off, and in the end, what saves Sakura from herself.
It should also be noted that Shirou and Sakura remain the only couple in the main Fate series that retain the sexual elements of their relationship. Unlike Saber and Rins which were cut from their adaptations, Sakura’s sex scenes remain intact and part of the story, and for good reason. By not running away from sex, it helps solidifiy the bond and love between the two characters. As much as I wanted Rin and Shirou to get down and dirty (or at least kiss, holy fuck), the relationship was great enough that it didn’t need it. Sakura and Shirou are different. That intimacy, that tender embrace, and the closeness is what Sakura wants, and like I said, to be held and love unconditionally ends up bringing her through to the other side.
Fate/Stay Night has great relationships, and the variety of what is offered is just one of the many reasons why the series has lasted so long. While Rin and Shirou will always be my favorite, I can’t deny that the romance between Shirou Emiya and Sakura Matou is great for all of its own reasons. A relationship bound by duty and protection, where a girl yearns for someone who loves her unconditionally, and a man who realizes that he must step up and fix the problems in front of him, not those in a possible future. It is probably the most mature of the three romances, and it holds a special place in my heart, especially in the final scene of the films, where the two boldly go hand in hand to a future of peace and happiness.
At least, that’s what I think…
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[…] I’ve read on his site. Take, for example, my favorite post of Dewbond’s from 2021, Fate/Stay Night’s Shirou Emiya and Sakura Matou: Love bound by Duty and Protection. It talks about the experience of watching the trilogy of movies that starts with Fate/stay night […]
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