Fate/Stay Night’s Shirou Emiya and Saber: Selfless People, Selfless Love

I’ve been examining the couples of Fate/Stay Night for a while now, and as we wrap up our look at all the current Fate properties (except those that came out last year). It is time to turn our attention to the final main couple of the first series. I would say we saved the best for last, but sadly that isn’t going to be the case. Still that doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff to talk about. So after the cut let’s take a character dive into the relationship of Shirou Emiya and Saber.

My thoughts on the relationship of Shirou Emiya and Rin Tohsaka are right here!

My thoughts on the relationship of Shirou Emiya and Sakura Matou are right here!

After watching everything Fate related and sitting on my thoughts for almost two years now. I’ve come to the conclusion that Fate/Stay Night is really a story about maturity. That past all the grail wars, fight scenes, and cooking scenes, it is a story about one man: Shirou Emiya leaving his childhood and childhood view of the world behind to embrace the realities of being an adult. This is shown through his relationships in all three routes, which follow a path of Shirou accepting the things he can do, instead of what he can do. In Blade Works, his relationship with Rin Tohsaka gives him a much needed reality check, and she provides a cynical and realistic view of his dreams that brings Shirou back down to earth. In Heaven’s Feel we see Shirou abandon his dream completely in favor of saving Sakura, realizing that his ambitions to be a hero of justice pale in importance to becoming the pillar of support Sakura needs. By the time the credits roll, viewers see Shirou Emiya not as the hot-headed, rash and overly selfless boy with a hero complex, but instead he is a well adjusted and experienced young man. One who takes pride in what he CAN do, not what he WANTS to do.

Saber’s training of Shirou feels like an indulgence she is granting him. Something that distracts her from her job.

But before those stories, we have this relationship with Saber. While present in all three routes, it is the titular Fate route that brings their relationship and later romance to the spotlight. I have made my thoughts on the route clear many times: that it remains the weakest of the three, and the same can be said for the relationship on display. Simply put, I just do not think that Shirou has the same chemistry or emotional connection with Saber as he has with RIn and Sakura. However I would also say that this is the point. It is the first pairing in the story, and if we agree with my idea of Fate/Stay Night being Shirou’s journey to manhood, we see that it has its place. This is the childhood romance, the young love not bound by realistic expectations or real world consequences. That Shirou loves Saber for the idea she represents, and how it can reinforce his own view of the world.

At their core, Saber and Shirou are both incredibly selfless people. They want to do what is best for others, and often at the expense of themselves. They live for pleasing others, and feel they can do the most good if they always put others before themselves. Shirou constantly gets in Saber’s way during the fighting, not because he is stronger, but because he doesn’t want her, a fully trained knight, to get hurt fighting. Until the end of the story, Shirou hates the idea of Saber, a woman, having to fight and get hurt, and believes that he needs to protect her, despite being captured time and again. For Saber, she has sacrificed her normal beloved life as a woman to become a king, throwing away most of her humanity, sexuality and personality in order to become a ‘rock’ that her kingdom could depend on. Something that could be seen as admirable, but in the end only causes her kingdom to turn on her. It is these traits and others which cause Saber and Shirou to butt heads over the course of the arc. They cannot understand each other, but yet are so similar: two people who would lay over lava in order to be a bridge for someone else to cross.

Saber’s wounds against Berserker forever change Shirou’s perspective of her. She becomes a woman burdened by a weight she shouldn’t carry.

And they are also consumed by an all encompassing guilt over past actions. Shirou is plagued by the fact that he alone survived the great Fuyuki fire, that for some reason he was the only person who was able to walk away. Saber meanwhile is racked with guilt over the fate of her kingdom, and wishes to use the Holy Grail to redo the selection. That if Camelot had had a better king, then everything would have been fine. They are two broken people, incapable of accepting that perhaps that is just how the world worked, or that despite the mistakes they tried their very best. It is only at the very end that Saber and Shirou are able to accept the world that life gave them. They realize that it is okay to just live for yourself at times, and that selflessness doesn’t mean forgetting that you’re human. Because being human means feeling human things. We are not iron, but creatures of flesh and blood.

The one time Saber and Shirou attempt to talk about their feelings, it just ends in a fight. He wants to save her, she wants to give herself to her shame.

Now those are very interesting ideas, but sadly the Fate route does little to really dig into them. Having to pull double duty in explaining the basics of Fate and tell a story means that this relationship often feels like it is on the backburner. Shirou in the Fate route often comes off as an annoying idiot, blinding rushing into combat without thinking things through (something I believe is intentional when you see his growth over the other routes) It also doesn’t help that Saber, despite her great design and cute moments, really doesn’t have much of a personality. That of course is intended, a female knight who has tried to rub out the truth that she is a woman, she isn’t running around cracking one-liners or indulging in those tried and true anime tropes. But there still isn’t much meat there. She doesn’t have Rin’s spunky zeal, or Sakura’s dark secrets. She feels more of a mascot, a stoic cold figure who you can’t really understand. Again that is the point, but I would have liked a few more moments of tenderness. I have no doubt that should Nasu return and re-write the Fate route as he’s been hinting at for years, that these ideas would get more light. But for what we have now, they feel undercooked and underutilized, which is a shame.

The second sex scene between Shirou and Saber is actually not half bad. Representing a culmination of their feelings before the final battle.

Fate/Stay Night’s Shirou Emiya and Saber are a fine couple, but remain the weak link in a trifecta that has a surprising amount of depth and nuance. Much of that I do believe is intentional. This is the starter romance, the one that places our lead character on the path to manhood. It is supposed to be a strange, head-scratching and sometimes mind boggling pairing, but it is also one that has stood the test of time. While people will debate which relationship is the best of the three (it’s Rin for me), the love of Saber and Shirou is something that has lasted a very long time, and man if the final bonus scene at the end of the visual novel isn’t wholesome as fuck.

In the end, Saber is able to accept her fate, put down her sword and embrace the person she always was.

2 thoughts on “Fate/Stay Night’s Shirou Emiya and Saber: Selfless People, Selfless Love

  1. Okay, so I’ll try and get my thoughts out in a concise manner, even though I do have a lot to say.

    While I do feel you hit some of the correct beats when it comes to this relationship, I fundamentally disagree on nearly every point you’ve made. Mainly, the idea that this is a childish relationship(and that this was somehow intentional?), or that it’s the weakest of the three.

    There is an argument to be made that this is the best of the three parings and it honestly shouldn’t be difficult to see why, despite your reservations. Objectively, it is the most flushed out and explored of the three, by FAR. Nearly the entire route is focused on building the relationship between these two characters. From the very moment Saber shows herself, we see that Shirou finds her to be enchanting. Almost every scene after, the novel pushes them in situations that are relevant to the story, while simultaneously nudging them closer as people (Saber passing out after attempting to use more mana than she had available, and Shirou having to nurse her back to health)

    Rin and Shirou, while fun, lack both passion and development. This is actually a meme in the community, where fans will call it the “Archer” route due to Rin takeing a backseat. Even some of the Taiga Dojo’s make fun of it.
    It lacks that sense of well….. romance? They feel like high school sweethearts, not two individuals falling in love. (I still really enjoy them)

    Sakura’s relationship, while being the most grounded, is simply a case of tell, not show. With almost the entire relationship being told offscreen, Sakura and Shirou lack the means to keep the audience engaged, and we can see the results as both Sakura and her relationship with Shirou have been held in such low regard since FSN’a conception, only gaining a foothold now due to the HF movies fixing a lot of the issues the VN had (such as showing how Sakura and Shirou meet) We only know that Shirou likes Sakura, we never see how that affection is born or how it progresses in the novel, and considering how nonchalantly Shirou brushes Sakura aside and gets feelings for another heroine, people had trouble taking their relationship seriously.

    With Saber, everything is shown in detail. Every situation, every thought, every moment, is on screen and available to the reader. We can see their struggles, and watch as these feelings develop as a result of intense struggles both physically on the battlefield, and emotionally in the Emiya Household.

    Chemistry is a subjective term, and will differ from person to person. However, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy the chemistry. Watching Saber come out of her shell and learning to accept herself while battling her own insecurities is just a pleasure to observe. It’s fun seeing this normally tightly strung character drop her mask and act like the self she has been repressing all this time.

    There is also a point I need to correct , and that is Shirou falls in love with Saber because she shares in his ideals. This is not the case at all. There is a direct flashback (when Shirou is fighting Gil) that states that while Shirou admired how she ran through life with those ideals and mindset, it is WHO she is as a person, that caused him to fall in love with her. This is stated to be the case a number of times and you can see it in the text, as Shirou enjoys his time with her, values her as a person and ultimately selects choosing her needs over the needs of the HGW (Shirou states that she is is reason to fight, and it’s been like that for a while) .

    Now we get to the real reason why this couple is above the other two. Depth and symbolism. These two characters are mirror images of one another in nearly every way, and the VN hammers that into you whenever they discuss their feelings or goals/ambitions. These two are so similar that other characters actually start pointing it out in expository dialogue (namely Archer and Rin) If you want to get an idea of how similar, take a mental note whenever one of them says something (during the bridge argument) that can be applied not only to the other person, but to themselves. I’ll help you out, it’s ALL of them. And when the reader understands these similarities, the entire relationship clicks. These are not just a master and a servant, these are soulmates who want the same thing, who act the same way, and who have the same views. In hindsight, it shouldn’t be surprising to see how these characters fell in love. Other than the absurd level of emotional pressure that the HGW gives, pushing them closer, they are also constantly discovering they are one in the same. The route even bumps you with an analogy “sword and scabbard” that represent these two halves becoming one. It’s stuff like this that put it head and shoulders above the other two. There is actually something being said with their relationship, something powerful and represented beautifully through striking similarities. It’s honestly one of the only depictions of soulmates I enjoy, and even the UBW anime makes reference to it on a number of occasions.

    If there’s one point you made that personally irks me, it’s the idea that this romance is childish. Firstly, this relationship has the most adult-like decision made in the entire VN, that being of acceptance. The harsh reality of the Fate Route is Shirou understanding that he and Saber cannot be together, no matter how much he loves her. He comes to understand that sometimes, life is just like that, and even if you want something, you can’t always have it. This concept of acceptance and moving on with life is one every adult needs to hear (many really need to follow Shirou’s lead here) . Their love is feels real, not because they’re attracted to one another, but because they spend time together, grow and talk about what they value, like a real couple. And while their understanding of one another comes from their shared views, their love comes from accepting their discovering who each other is as a person, and despite both being at their lowest and most broken, continuing to want to spend time with and love each other anyway. You mention the fight they have, but how does it end? With Shirou coming back, gently taking her hand, and taking her home (It’s not an accident how the flashback showing one of her knights leaving her for not understanding the hearts of men is shown the night before the date, where Shirou leaves because she doesn’t understand his heart) That is the love found in most authentic relationships today. Don’t let the goofy premise fool you, both these characters were setup to where they could fall in love, doing so realistically within the context of FSN.

    Just because Shirou is at his most immature, does not mean that the relationship mirrors that childish sentiment. Shirou and Saber are built up, all on screen, are shown to spend almost every minute of every day with each other (often in absurdly emotionally stimulating situations) and are shown to be compatible in a way that no other paring in the series can match. This is a relationship that very one can enjoy, one where people can look at the deeper themes of a romantic relationship (symbolism and parallels) while simultaneously enjoying the heartwarming and upbeat vibe they bring to the table.

    I personally feel you missed the mark with these two, and given their popularity in the Fate community( having the highest number of fan made creations in every category of the three main couples) I do hope you’ll revisit the route and take another look at what I consider to be, the most explored and ultimately best relationship in the Visual Novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those are some interesting points man. It’s clear this means a lot to you.

      Perhaps it is because I wrote this after the Fate route in the anime, something many agree is a lackluster adaptation on its best day, but again I just did not feel the connection that you seem to have. That doesn’t mean your wrong, far from it. But when I look at Saber and Shirou, at least from what is shown (and what I can remember form reading the Fate route almost two years ago,) I just felt that it was the first step in what ends up being his culmination into an adult as you see in Heaven’s feel. That was the interpretation I walked away with from watching the anime, where the Fate route is often ignored or tossed aside because it is not done by Ufotable.

      If I ever return to this route (no doubt I will ,as I am die-hard Fate fan) I’ll keep these thoughts in mind and who knows, maybe my thoughts will change. It took multiple viewings to nail down my thoughts on Rin and Sakura, and I by no means thinks I should say that I’m finished with it.

      But that is my view, and it is neither correct or incorrect. Thanks for responding.


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