“I ask of you. Are you my master?”
Warning: this post discusses the core plot of the series and thus contains spoiler.
I have heard about Fate/Stay Night a long time ago, but only decided to attempt the franchise just a few days ago, by watching the anime. And upon finishing the anime adaptation (Unlimited Blade Works), the title intrigues me more than anything else. Because frankly, what does it even mean?
After deliberation, my stance on the matter is that the title of the game/anime series is indeed meaningful and connected to the central theme, and notably a particular scene which gives rise to the entire story－a fateful night.
Anyone who has played the game, a visual novel in essence, would recall the narrative begins with the emergence of Saber, who rescues the protagonist Emiya Shirou from the fatal attack of another servant Lancer. The scene is narrated in Shirou’s perspective, which is then followed by a three-day narrative from Toshaka Rui’s perspective, and then again, Shirou’s narrative of the same three days until we see the same scene－ Saber’s being summoned. What does this narrative structure tells? It tells us, obviously, that the scene where Shirou’s summoning of Saber happens has such a significant weight to the plot that it is worth telling the player/reader twice the same chain of events in two different perspectives.
And what in essence are in this night scene?
A simple sequence of the events leading up to the summoning of Saber:
- Rui and her servant Archer encounters another Master’s servant Lancer at school, after school-hour and they engage in a fierce fight.
- Meanwhile, Shirou stays later at school than usual because of a request to clear stuff up. He accidentally witnesses the fight.
- At the climax of the fight, Lancer spots the presence of another student－Shirou－ and decides to terminate him to eliminate witnesses.
- Lancer injures Shirou heavily, who lies with only the last breath yet not dead, and thus revivable with Rui’s magic.
- Rui saves him.
- Shirou returns to his house, only to be attacked again by the returning Lancer.
- Shirou in desperation awakens his body’s otherwise weak magic circuit and summons Saber.
Both in the original game and in the animation adaptation, Rui makes an interesting remark when she discovers it is Shirou who turns out to be the “dead” witness:
Is it not the doing of fate that Shirou appears at the “wrong” place at the “wrong” point of time?
Is it not fateful that night, Rui decides to use her precious gem to save Shirou’s life– who would then stand besides her to fight in the entire series?
If Shirou did not stay that night, would it not be logical to think–with his less-than-eligible mana and magic skills–that he would never even know there is a Holy Grail War, not to mention to participate in it?
Now, I ask humbly, does the name of the series carry meaning? You bet.
In short, it makes more sense to assume that the name “Fate/stay night” per se carries significant meaning and connection to the work’s plot and theme , than to simply denounce it as a random stack of words the creators thought cool-sounding to assign.
Added to that, the Chinese translation of the original title フェイト/ステイナイト－命運停駐之夜－meaning literally the night when fate lingers/stays is also consistent with this conclusion.