Recently I was pointed in the direction of this tumblr post written by user azdoine about F/SN. It presumes Shirou is a sub and also trans. It takes a bunch of the imagery from the series relating to the main character and looks at it from the perspective of gender identity, it’s a very interesting spin. So naturally I decided to take it way too seriously. I’m not quite sure how much of it is shitpost and how much is meant in earnest but for the sake of arriving at some (hopefully) cool places I’m going to take it at face value(minus that one HRT bit).
I recommend reading that one before going further. You can find it here:
Spoilers for the entire Fate/Stay Night visual novel follow:
So to begin with I disagree with a lot of it(though not all), not only that but I would argue that this position is at odds with what the entire impetus of the VN, not to say there’s no value in the approach though, in fact, like I said we’re going to take it way more seriously than what this I’m-not-sure-if-it’s-a-shitpost post did.
But first I’ll just get the stuff that is not going to be of much use to this out of the way, the entire first two paragraphs. Not really sure what the deal is, Archer sure is GAR, but he meant to be the foil to Shirou and is defeated by him, I don’t really think people do indeed take him to be a masculine ideal, he’s the stereotypical perfect housewife. If they do, then we’re just gonna prove them wrong here, for real this time.
Ok now for the fun gender theorizing.
First we must understand Shirou’s nature, and that is to copy, or more accurately to counterfeit, he does not simply copy things, he makes forgeries.
In a 1981 treatsie by Jean Baudrillard titled Simulacra and Simulation he makes a distinction between, well, a Simulation and a Simulacrum as turning points in the fabrication of false representations.
“To dissimulate is to feign not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t.” – Jean Baudrillard
When Shirou was saved by Kiritsugu, he saw an empyrean happiness on his face that would define the rest of Shirou’s life, he thought to himself that to be as happy as kiritsugu he would dedicate his life to saving people, no matter the cost, a only he could pay, as he could not engender others for the sake of saving people, that would defeat the whole point.
After explaining the difference between a simulation and a simulacrum, Baudrillard introduced the idea of the hyperreal, the hyperreal are signs that have lost their original meaning, becoming ends in and of themselves often contradicting what they were meant to be, a mobius strip. When a cop, to be able maintain social order and minimize chaos, seeks to uphold the law even when the laws are draconian and so numerous that noone could ever reasonably follow them all, so the people never know when a cop will go after them, their life becomes chaos. You are living in hyperreailty.
When Shirou seeks to zealously protect the world, even at the cost of his own happiness, all in order to reach the happines he found in Kiritsugu, he lives in hyperreailty. In Unlimited Blade Works Archer put it more sucinctly: he called him an hypocrite.
Ok so what is Shirou’s gender, what was he truly born as? Is he Saber and Rin’s bottom bitch? What is the gender of a being whose nature is the pure hyperreal? Someone who is entirely forgeries feigning what isn’t there. What is Emiya Shirou’s true nature?
People in the Nasuverse are born with a drive, a primordial force that dictates their behaviour, this is called an Origin and it’s made out of all the previous lives a person’s soul has gone through. In the case of Shirou, his true origin is unknown, ever since Emiya Kiritsugu took Avalon and inserted it deep inside Shirou’s body, his origin became that of a Sword.
(Swords for Shirou are not just a tool of warfare, but the symbol of heroism itself, chivalry, to protect the weak, this is embodied better by noone else but Shirou’s own Servant Artoria Pendragon, owner of Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone, the icon of chivalry incarnated.)
A person’s origin of course, does not dictate every single action someone has, the Nasuverse further notes the presence of a body and a mind. The soul, or the Origin, is only the id and it is up to a person to decide what kind of life they will lead.
When Archer calls Shirou a hypocrite, pointing out the contradiction in his beliefs, that he is running in a mobious strip, fated to be betrayed by his own ideals, Shirou cuts through all the bullshit, all the nonsensical talk of simulation and hyperreality and responds to Archer that it can’t be wrong to want to save other people. Then he wins, because of fucking course he does, it’s obviously not a wrong ideal to have(no, we’re not gonna get into this philosophical rabbit hole, yes, we’re just gonna assume it’s a good thing to want).
After he finds the resolve to face Archer, he asks himself, is it truly ok to live like this? To live like a machine, driven by the pure raw instinct that’s been assigned to him a the ideal of a hero, to which he answers that yes, it is still a beautiful ideal, then stabs Archer in the gut.
Yet, in victory, he asserts himself as the paragon of forgery, of the fake and empty, no ego just id. In the pursuit of total world happines he acts without thought, pure performance.
Gender Performativity is a notion introduced by Judith Butler in 1990. There’s a pretty good dive into the subject matter by Pause and Select in a video about Boku Girl, I suggest watching that but for those that don’t want to click it posits that people’s gender is not defined by birth but by how they act and present themselves, to gender is to act. Nowadays many gender non-comforming people find it a tad restrictive and narrow, many argue that gender is what one feels their gender is, what one desires their gender to be. But what is then, the gender of a person that has lost their true self and has chosen to life as a machine?
In the essay by azdoine the main point is how Shirou is not comfortable in the role of a man, that he is an absolute emptiness that desires to be penetrated and thus, trans. The problem is that for one to question their gender identity there need be an identity, there is no such thing in absolute emptiness.
For Shirou, hollow, who rejects his own ego or the notion of one thereof, and is driven by an animalistic id that pushes him to play the role of a hero, performance is all there is. Having been born a man, he plays the part, nothing more, but of course, he’s not really happy that way, he just is that way.
Then there remains the question of whether or not this makes him, if not a man then, perhaps non-binary? Also untouched so far the matter of him being a bottom(bitch).
In the Fate route, there’s a scene where Gilgamesh fights Saber and Shirou, they manage to drive him off for the moment, this scene comes towards the end of the route, after they have already sort of established how they feel about each other and even have had sex once(if you played the 18+ version!), scene in which both Saber and Shirou are so hopelessly subs Rin needs to come in and get them to fuck each other(as she watches of course, she don’t work for free for noone).
They don’t come out of the fight with Gilgamesh unscathed, Shirou ends up badly hurt and Saber ends up supporting him as he heals, a very nice scene follows:
“ I finally understand. You were my sheath, Shirou…”
…She says so in a deep, seeping voice.
The feeling is so comfortable that my remaining consciousness fades away.
I’m glad to be saved and I let my body sleep.
…But before that.
I complain to myself that it would have been more perfect if our positions were reversed
Here Shirou finds his situation as the less traditionally masculine of the two, imperfect, his role is not being preformed, the narration is detached as if he was an espectator, once again it is not what gender he thinks he is, but how perfect the gender act is. Our perfect housewive is bothered he’s being carried by a girl, how cute.
Touching back on the original essay, Shirou is the sheath to Saber’s sword. perhaps not transgender but maybe a sub. Also a new question arises, Saber’s gender identity.
Arthur Pendragon – King of Britain, Knight of the Round Table, chivalry incarnate and titular character of some ridiculously misogynistic tales such as Le Morte d’Arthur – a cute girl.
Surely just a genderbend character meant to appeal to thirsty otaku who want to fuck historical figures, or perhaps not, leaving aside the reductionist notion that they wrote a 60+ hour long fantasy epic for the sole purpose of appealing to horny people. Arguments that bring up the gender-bending as if it was some unholy insult to the legend are rooted in nothing but a lingering misogyny as if making a great man into a woman lessened the greatness of the tale. There’s really nothing fundamentally wrong happening here.
Something the creators wrestled with too, Kinoko Nasu himself said he was stuck and couldn’t write the visual novel initially. When suggested by longtime friend and lead artist Takashi Takeuchi to turn Arthur into a girl, Nasu thought it abhorrent, he compared it to turning Guts from Berserk into a girl.
It took some convincing but he finally agreed and managed to write the VN, but the question now is if he accidentally created a transgender-coded character.
Not really, I think this one is fairly straight forward, in my opinion one of FSN greatest achievements was taking a very misogynistic tale(s) and making the main character a woman who struggled with the gender norms of the era. Saying “no actually, Artoria is a man” robs it from that power.
Beyond that, away from the meta and back into the text, it’s clear Saber was not happy with the way she lived, to the point her wish to the holy grail was to undo her entire life and existence, pretty clear she did not enjoy being forced to pretend to be a man, though she fulfilled the role that was asked of her stoically. Saber’s story is one of social gender dysphoria.
Being forced to live for the sake of others, her kingdom, her people, made her a certain kind of empty, much like Shirou she never really questioned if she was happy or not, she just carried on as asked, not the same motivations, but similar results.
Which is why both Shirou and Saber and Rin’s bottom bitches.
So, Shirou is Saber’s sheath, and Saber wants to penetrate Shirou(but I mean, everyone in F/SN wants to penetrate Shirou in one way or another at some point in the story), but for neither could we confidently say they’re anything but what they now openly claim to be.
Ultimately I think both Shirou and Saber are the gender the were assigned at birth, perhaps Shirou would arrive at some other answer were he to question his identity, but if he was capable of asking himself that he wouldn’t be Shirou. Some might see that as a somewhat disappointing conclusion, after all, it’s a lot of huffing and puffing for the most evident. But I don’t think so, the reason perhaps some seem interested in their gender identity is that the story – from the moment it chose to flip Arthur’s gender – challenges a lot of gender norms. Shirou’s psyche in particular a farrago of traditional machismo with what are traditionally conceived notions of femininity. The answer is it’s the traditions that are wrong, one not ought to use those to define gender roles in the first place. Artoria the main victim of tradition, forced to take the full mantle of Man to be allowed to be King.
Chūnibyō(中二病), meaning eight grade syndrome, is a term closely associated with stories like Fate/Stay Night, and F/SN is arguably the biggest most popular example of this sort of subgenre, but also, as the name suggests, it was meant for middle school kids that had delusions, dreams of ancient cosmic gods, occult super powers, a particular kind of out of touch kid. At the least charitable, it‘s people who aren’t very(socially) functional, cringe, is how it’s often abbreviated; a more charitable interpretation, one I prefer, is it designates those who challenge social norms, many of which ought to be challenged, after all, who else to do so than those deemed to be undesirables or out of touch.
Chuuni could be said to be made by and for such people, featuring, same such kind of people. That is the best that chuuni fantasy worlds can bring, worlds in which fakes/dreams are true/real, worlds where men can be housewives and women can be kings.