Friday, June 22, 2012

Character Study: Gilgamesh (Fate/Zero, Fate S/N and Etc.)

Welcome to a new feature on the blog: the character study!   I'll use this feature periodically to cover characters of note (to me, anyway) in anime/manga and - possibly - to address the complexities of their characterization and their roles within their respective series.  If you have any characters you'd like to nominate, drop me a line here!  In the meantime, how about some Gilgamesh?



In fandom, the two most frequents interpretations of Gilgamesh's character run thusly:
1) Gilgamesh is an arrogant douchebag.
2) Gilgamesh is an arrogant douchebag with a hidden heart full of warm and fuzzy feelings.

I find both of these interpretations problematic, honestly, though aspects of both of them might, to a certain degree, prove true.  Ultimately I think Gilgamesh is a more complex and nuanced character than either of these interpretations would allow.  I hope to address that here (and please be forewarned I'll generally focus my thoughts on Fate/Zero since that's the currently-running series, though I'll reference other works periodically).

Let's tackle Gilgamesh's arrogance first, because it's integral to who he is.  Yes, Gilgamesh is arrogant.  Undoubtedly.  But I think it's important to realize that in Gilgamesh's view, he isn't being arrogant; from his perspective he's simply stating facts.  He's not saying the world is his garden and he owns everything in it to make people angry - he's saying it because he believes it's true.  He views challengers as usurpers because he believes he is, by right, the absolute king of all things.  Moreover, though he's not invincible, he's hardly a pushover in battle.  Gilgamesh has the treasury and the abilities to back up a lot of his statements; what other people perceive as arrogance I think you can also interpret as complete self-assurance and pride.


Admittedly, there are those who find even self-assurance and pride unappealing, but in the Fate universe those traits count.  A lot.  During the mad feast of kings and the discussions between Rider and Gilgamesh, it becomes evident that these ancient kings perceive pride as a prerequisite to kingship, an integral part of the title.  To have no pride (or arrogance, if you want to call it that) is to make yourself common, unworthy of leadership.  Both Rider and Gilgamesh implicitly acknowledge that kingship demands a larger-than-life figure, a godlike persona that can rule fearlessly, that (for Rider) inspires others to dream.  The duty of a king is not just to lead his people, but to inspire them and push them to greater things, and that idea abjures to a degree the "king-as-a-common-man" motif.

As for Gilgamesh's warm-and-fuzzy feelings, or the lack thereof...  Certainly Gilgamesh is capable of feeling.  I think people often misinterpret him as being incapable of any emotion but disdain, which is inaccurate.  He's bemused by Kirei, he demonstrates respect for Rider and Waver, he shows an interest in Saber, and acknowledging these things is good. However, I think the depth of Gilgamesh's feeling runs the risk of being both simultaneously over- and underestimated, so it's important to talk about what Gilgamesh feels, and why, and where it all comes from.


In the Fate/Zero universe in particular, Gilgamesh's two most significant relationships (setting aside Enkidu for a moment - I'll get there) are with Kirei and with Saber.  For most of the Fate/Zero series he's the serpent twined around Kirei's neck, seducing him into darkness, and later he becomes Kirei's partner in crime; his interest in Saber leads him to focus on her in particular beyond many of the other servants and masters.   His interest in both characters stems from a sort of curiosity: Gilgamesh wants to see what Kirei will do with that black, empty heart of his once he discovers desire, and in Fate/Zero particularly he wants to see how Saber will bear or collapse beneath the weight of her idealistic aspirations.  In both cases, I think it's fair to say that Gil holds a fondness for both characters, and in particular takes a delight in Kirei whom he has essentially nurtured into darkness.  However, his curiosity about Saber and Kirei stems not just from warm-and-lovey feelings for them, but rather from the primary source of all Gilgamesh's feeling: his relationship with Enkidu.



As a being of partially-divine origin, Gilgamesh stands alone and above most mere men.  It's Enkidu who aspires to stand alongside him, Enkidu whose dreams are bigger than his reach.  In Enkidu Gilgamesh finds a true companion - the only companion he will acknowledge or whose company he desires - and Enkidu still inhabits Gilgamesh's memories, his thoughts and feelings, even his Noble Phantasm.  I believe that Gilgamesh's interest in and curiosity about Kirei and Saber - the fact that he's drawn to those who attempt to move beyond themselves, even when that reach seems futile or dangerous - stems from his first and most precious friendship.  What Gilgamesh seems to admire most in others, or to respond to at least, is aspiration, the willingness of a person to reach beyond themselves even at great cost. (Think about this in regards to his relationship with Tokiomi, whom he obviously disdains, precisely for his lack of such traits).  Though Gilgamesh believes that Saber's lofty ideals will crush her and presumes that Kirei's might render Kirei a fuller man, in both cases he responds to what defined his relationship with Enkidu.   And he makes no bones about the fact that it's Enkidu he holds in highest regard, whatever he might feel about others.  So does Gilgamesh have a heart?  Yes.  Absolutely, and for Enkidu in particular.  But he won't allow that heart to become his weakness, and he won't let any relationship replace the one he holds in highest esteem.


Certainly, Gilgamesh can be infuriating.  He's dismissive and whimsical, sometimes cruel, and has a tendency to disregard everything he perceives as beneath his interest.  Yet in sharp contrast to other characters, he seems well-suited to deny the corrupt Grail precisely because he believes himself beyond such petty desires; his belief in his absolute sovereignty over all things inoculates him against corruption.  And in the morally ambiguous world of Fate/Zero, it's not impossible for him to be so complex or for his characterization to make such demands on the viewer. A creature of contradictions, he seems well-suited to the role of antagonist in the series (alongside Kirei) - and yet it's impossible to wholly dismiss him as such.


18 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this and I agree 100% with it.

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  2. Once again you are spot on with you understanding of Gilgamesh. I can't wait till you do Rider. The Three Kings as I call them ended up being my favorite characters in the whole series.

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    1. I'll definitely do a Rider profile in the future, then. :D They were my favorites, too!

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  3. I'm really glad I stumbled upon this on tumblr and then came here to read it all because it really opened up my eyes. I never really paid that much attention to Gil being more than just a pretty character and an overall douchebag, but now I have things to think about so I can reevaluate my impression of him.

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    1. Oh wow, thanks! I'm really glad I gave you some food for thought. ^^

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  4. Gilgamesh is a would-be rapist. You find this out in the visual novel

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    1. Certainly, yes. He's a whole lot of horrible things, and still a very complex character to boot.

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  5. I have begun my grand lurking within your blog, and I must say you are wonderfully awesome! I don't see that many comprehensive and well-written reviews/character studies such as yours! I don't always comment because I am horribly lazy that way, but you are certainly worth the effort and all my cyber-praise! :D I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS <3

    Anyway, before my attention span wanes, I'll say all the stuff I want to say so far here:

    1. YES I LOVE GIL. AND HIS AWESOME NUDITY AT EPISODE 25 IS THE BEST FAN SERVICE EVER. --> yes, that deserved the all caps mode

    2. Your characterization of Gil is the best I've read. I certainly love him to bits. In terms of the F/Z philosophy, I initially loved Rider's more, but I gradually came to love Gil the more I understood him. AND SHIT JUST SHIT, when he said that Enkidu is the only friend he will ever have, his humanity just blew me away with that line alone; extreme arrogance all forgotten. XD

    3. F/Z aside, I also absolutely agree with you that Another is one horror anime that was done very well. I wouldn't call it my ultimate favorite or anything, but it was definitely worth finishing (and I seriously mean that because even though I watch a series' episodes thoroughly before deciding whether or not to abandon it, I do abandon anime that I seriously realize I will not be able to put up with.). I sometimes think about whether or not there will be a second season, with Kouichi and Mei making appearances or even having central roles once more in breaking the curse.

    4. SUISEI NO GARGANTIA EPISODE 4 IS WIN, AND EXACTLY FOR THE REASONS YOU MENTIONED. XDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD

    I feel like we are entirely on the same wavelength. No seriously. I. MEAN. IT. LEDO </3

    5. I LOVED FRAU. I LOVED YOUR CHARACTER STUDY ABOUT HIM. I LOVE YOUR POSTS. Kthnxbye.

    6. I haven't read all of your posts about Shingeki no Kyojin (I don't know know how many there are. I've only seen the one about ep 4), but if we're of the same mindset, I'm sure you will like it even more as it progresses. Though I absolutely love Suisei, Shingeki has a more special appeal to me. I've read all 44 chapters of the manga so far, and I gotta say, I amazed myself by breezing through 200+ pages of just one chapter because IT WAS THAT GOOD. Shingeki's best moments are definitely when they're fighting against the Titans, because that's when each of the character's personalities really stand out. I think the greatest philosophical theme in Shingeki is when everyone is continuously debating whether or not their fighting is really changing anything, and it's amazing how that debate never gets old throughout the series when it happens so often.

    Hahaa, okay that's it for now. Thank you for distracting me from work. I sincerely mean that. XD

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    1. Lurk away, new friend! :D

      Gil is something special, isn't he? Along with just being a riot to watch. For my money he was one of the most entertaining characters in the entire anime, and I'm glad other people agree he's more complex than his arrogance lets him seem initially. Gil forever!

      Another was so much fun! I thought they might be setting up for a second season too, given that particular ending (and the fact that the curse itself isn't actually dead) but we'll see how it goes. Kouichi talking on the phone in the middle of a *burning mansion* is still one of the most hilarious things I've seen in anime.

      I'm relieved Shingeki gets even better! It's been good and I like it, but I've been ambivalent about Eren as a character and I think that's going to change for the better as time goes by (even though I have all of the love for Mikasa, holy cow). I've read bits of the manga, and it seems like an intense ride. This spring season is a good one!

      Drop by any time to distract yourself! :D

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  6. I love this article. It is the best one I've found yet so far about Gilgamesh. It clearly explains Gilgamesh's character to where people can understand. It certainly helped clear up some of the confusion I had lol. I now have a better idea of who his character is, and I grasp it more than I would have. Thanks for writing it! It helped me out a lot. Did you write one on Saber? Her character kind of confuses me as well. Really what I don't apprehend is why she wants to change her past. I know she believes that she didn't rule correctly, but why? What got in her way of being a good king? Why did Britain fail? Thank you!

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    1. Thanks so much!

      I haven't written one on Saber, but I will take it into consideration for the future. Long story short, she wasn't able to protect the country as she wished and lost a lot of people she cared about. I have the impression that part of what got in her way is her idea of what a "good king" is - someone noble and honorable in the way that Gilgamesh and Rider might not always be.

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  7. Loved this analysis. Will you also write about his character in fate/Stay Night?

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  8. I agree with your point of view about Gilgamesh tbh , but you miss some facts about him in fate zero , like how he was tained by Kirei in betraying Tokiomi. This is nothing thou, i could speak every day about Gilgamesh without getting bored . He is more than what it looks like.

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  9. like it a lot
    do Griffith from berserk

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  10. Gilgamesh. People can say whatever they like about him, but he's always going to be one of the greatest characters in the Fate series.

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  11. Gilgamesh's Hogwarts House - what do you think?

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