I've watched both the Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night anime (including the Unlimited Blade Works movie), but none of the visual novels, so no spoilers from that unless they are light spoilers. One thing that bothered me was that despite the fact that heroic spirits are defined by the public opinion/view of them, some heroes had qualities that were in direct opposition of what the public thought.

We know that heroic spirits, being sealed on their Throne of Heroes, are meant to be completely unchanged. This is the entire point of the Throne of Heroes. But this seems to be in opposition of the previous fact that heroic spirits are defined by what others think they are. Then there are Counter Guardians who are completely different, I believe, in that they are not sealed on their Throne of Heroes.

One particularly important Counter Guardian of the series is Arturia, or Saber. Arturia is female, despite the fact that she was treated by even her contemporaries as male, and has gone done in history as male. In fact, there isn't even any small hint as to Arturia's gender being anything other than male in our history, or the history of the Nasuverse (I believe). This being true, shouldn't Arturia be male?

This not being the case shouldn't Arturia be erased, or else create instability in the World? Same with Iskander. In history he is known for being pretty short, even for a Macedonian. That he is very tall means there is an incongruity with human knowledge and true fact.

Furthermore, in the Unlimited Blade Works movie Archer is revealed to be Heroic Spirit Emiya. If Heroic Spirit Emiya is summoned before he is even a hero, or acquired his gift from the World, etc., then how is it that Heroic Spirit Emiya is even strong at all? The power of a Servant being based on their popularity at the time of their summoning, Emiya should be weaker than pretty much every other Servant, and then some.

Maybe I'm just over-analyzing things, or I have some misconception. In any case, answers are appreciated.

  • Fate Stay Night's predecessor has Arturia being male and the main character being female, but the gender is switched around when it is made into a visual novel to fit the demographic of the game.
    – nhahtdh
    Jun 10, 2014 at 9:53
  • Right, I understand that, but is there a reason within the lore of the show? Really all the writers had to do to make things consistent was turn King Arthur into Joan of Arc, so why did they choose to keep the character as King Arthur? I really would like to believe that the writing isn't so bad as to have such an obvious flaw.
    – Natusake
    Jun 10, 2014 at 19:58
  • 2
    Though I don't believe it is discussed in FATE canon, there are elements of Arthurian legend that make more sense if Arthur is Arturia. Like why Uther hid his heir, and Gwen's affair. Jan 8, 2017 at 5:18

4 Answers 4


Firstly, Altria. what we see in Fate/Stay Night is not originally what Kinoko Nasu first wrote, the original version was called Old Fate (旧Fate) or Fate Origin which was re-imagined into Fate/Prototype, in this Altria's character would have been a man (Arthur) and Shirou's character would be female (Ayaka Sajyou). Of course, this is no longer part of the Canon that is the Nasuverse but I thought I point out that originally Altria would have been a man.

As for Altria herself being a woman, Merlin's prophecy never indicated the gender of the future king, it was just a common view that a King would be a man; the inscription on Excalibur (or Caliburn, I can't remember which it was) also didn't indicate that a man had to be the one to pull the sword out.

As Altria acted the part of the king, she dressed and acted much like one, even to the point that Merlin made her into a pseudo-male and Mordred's identity was concealed, so because of that, their genders are normally concealed and were thought to be men. There is also ambiguity with the Arthurian Legend as in the Visual Novel, Shirou says that some legends portrayed "Arthur" as a woman or a group of people, which is why he wasn't surprised that "Arthur" was a woman (more so that he summoned her).

Also, "King Arthur" became more of a symbol than anything else. Merlin was clearly aware of this when he warned Altria before she pulled the sword from the stone that if she did she wouldn't be human anymore.

One thing you may have missed is that Altria isn't in the Throne of Heroes like most heroic spirits. Those who are in the Throne of Heroes are in there because they made a contract with the world to receive the strength to be a hero so it's their price. Altria became a hero on her own, but on her death. She desired the Holy Grail to redo the sword-drawing Ceremony and find someone whom she believed to be more capable of being a king than her. She made a contract with the world to become a heroic spirit if she got it. Therefore, while Servants like Iskander or Gilgamesh who are copies with their original still at the Throne of Heroes, Altria is always herself. This is why she can remember the events between wars when normally even if a heroic spirit is summoned again they won't remember any other wars they were in.

Now, let us move on to Heroic Spirit EMIYA, who is a Counter Guardian. Before I begin, I should point out Altria is not a Counter Guardian. Counter Guardians are a special group within Heroic Spirits who made a contract with Alaya and as such they are incorporated as part of humanity’s Counter Force summoned whenever a factor in the extinction of mankind is detected.

Regarding EMIYA's summoning, he is summoned from another reality which is entirely possible for the Holy Grail. One of the key things in the Nasuverse is that there are alternate timelines which are all still Canon because of the Second Magic which is the Operation of Parallel Worlds. The 5th Magic's Domain is unknown but it's abilities are related to Time Travel. However, Touko Aozaki claims there should be more to it because time travel is also governed by the Second Magic. Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg who wields the 2nd Magic was actually present when the Holy Grail System was first created, so being able to get Heroes and the such from other times and realities would then be possible if it incorporated principles of the 2nd Magic (which I would do in order to crystallizes a Servant's feats in the from of the Nobel Phantasm).

Now in EMIYA's timeline, the 5th Holy Grail war was a disaster:

In Heaven's Feel route in the visual novel, Archer recognized Sakura's Shadow and how it was attributed to Angra Mainyu. Whether it acted during his 5th Holy Grail War is unknown but it is clear that Angra Mainyu and the Greater Holy Grail was not destroyed/shut down before a major disaster occurred.

If EMIYA came from the same reality that Fate/Stay Night was in, then he would have known that he would have not been able to kill himself and by killing himself he may have caused more destruction. Practically, Fate/Stay Night occurs in a separate timeline/reality to the one EMIYA existed and the Grail summoned him because of Rin's Pendent which he still kept. So if EMIYA's strength comes from how popular his legend is, then it will be unaffected because his Legend is from a separate reality which will still be known.

Also Rin is shown to be able to draw Mana from other realities in Heaven's Feel by using an implantation of the 2nd Magic

Now I haven't read all too much into Iskander so I can't vouch for the difference with his legend. However, this could be explained because the Holy Grail System is damaged. Rather that rehashing what caused it because it could be spoilers, you can read the 3rd and 4th Paragraphs here to read up on the discrepancies with the Servant Summons or look up on the wiki on how the system was originally created. However, since Mordred's legend is unaltered in Fate/Apocrypha, and in that timeline the Einzbern's summoned Ruler rather than Avenger, we can safely say that Altria wasn't altered when being summoned.

  • Please check the edit to "wouldn't not...". I can't tell what you meant.
    – nhahtdh
    Jun 11, 2014 at 7:32
  • I really think you need to add a short version, like a summary of your answer as it is too long
    – Darjeeling
    Jun 11, 2014 at 12:45
  • Rin's only attempt at anything related to Second Magic is in Fate/hollow ataraxia, where she attempts to make a miniature Jewel Sword (and fails with spectacular results). Therefore this point is not applicable.
    – кяαzєя
    Jun 11, 2014 at 16:01
  • Also in Fate/complete material II: Character Material, it's mentioned that her name is romanized as "Altria."
    – кяαzєя
    Jun 11, 2014 at 16:06
  • @nhahtdh it was meant to be "would've not" as i was explaining that EMIYA couldn't foresee the outcome
    – Memor-X
    Jun 11, 2014 at 22:10

The original author Nasu Kinoko mentioned that having a female protagonist with a male Servant wouldn't be very interesting. The male version (mistakenly romanized as "Saver" [セーバー] in Character Material, as opposed to "Saber" [セイバー]) from his original draft depicted him as being cocky and arrogant, still having the same sense of duty of the female Saber.

When you think about it, Nasu uses the gender bender plot device in an interesting way by making (female) Saber, aka Altria, out as a character that's not influenced by preconceived notions of the mythologies behind her character.

When you break everything down, Servants and their Noble Phantasms are a little more than "historical figures" and "magical artifacts," which make them out to be incarnate legends. These so-called "legends" are seen as a whole by everyone. So there exists certain exaggerations that probably never happened to the figures themselves that get seen when they are summoned as Servants. Some notable examples from Fate/Stay Night are:

  1. Heracles' (abnormal) size
  2. Gilgamesh's blonde hair
  3. Gilgamesh's Gate of Babylon possessing of all the Noble Phantasms in history (anachronistic, the regions and times don't line up appropriately)
  4. Heracles' twelve lives (this is more or less a reworking of the 12 labors)
  5. Assassin's very existence (note that this version of Sasaki Kojirou [summoned by Caster] never actually existed)

The Grail isn't as omnipotent as many believe. It's rather incomplete and merely makes the soul and puts it into raw energy. How the Grail gathers the information and how the Third Magic and it tie everything together is not explicitly mentioned. It's possible that being incomplete, the Grail gathers the soul and then creates the body and abilities from contemporary knowledge of the time of the war. Assassin, though never having actually existed (he himself even admits this), is realized by the Grail. So it's possible for the Grail to create a soul and body from a fictitious literature/accounts.

The story attempts to provide unique plot with unique scenarios, all while drawing from familiar mythos. It's possible that all these changes were a plot device or a creative license by the author to keep this interesting.

  • Sasaki Kojirou's summoning may have been a result of the System being broken since Mediea and Medusa wasn't supposed to be summoned either, however how the Grail gets the data you may be right since the Fuyuki Grail summons this Vlad while the Moon Cell which has watched history unfold summons this Vlad however i would think that the 2nd Magic would play some part since the creators of the Grail were Zelretch's students (at least Einzbern and Makiri)
    – Memor-X
    Jun 11, 2014 at 22:31
  • @Memor-X Moon Cell is a special case (Arcueid, get summoned) and can't really be compared to the Fuyuki Grail. The corrupted grail merely make it possible to summon Servants that's not of the Good alignment. It's mentioned that Tousaka’s ancestor (one of the ppl that helped establish the Holy Grail Wars) was one of Zelretch's least promising one promising students. The Matou family were the ones that established Servant System, but none of Zelretch's pupils were anywhere close to being able to touch upon Second Magic.
    – кяαzєя
    Jun 12, 2014 at 0:44
  • Furthermore, aside from the title "Administration of Parallel World" and the fragments left by Zelretch, we don't know it's exact properties. There's no way to be sure if the Five True Magics related to one another, but from what we've seen so far and from MahouYoru they are each unique within it's own regards.
    – кяαzєя
    Jun 12, 2014 at 0:53
  • If your talking about how i made reference to the 5th magic i was referring to Touko Aozaki claiming that Time Travel is governed by the 2nd Magic, i included that in case if someone pointed out that "Aoko controlled time but she wasn't there with Zelretch"
    – Memor-X
    Jun 12, 2014 at 1:11
  • from what i read, Nagato Tousaka while concidered a mage apprentice, was mainly a tag along who Zelretch looked out for
    – Memor-X
    Jun 12, 2014 at 1:12

Rules are made to be broken

This is the mantra to always keep in mind when engaging the Fate series.

By default—the "rule"—servants are summoned with their body as in their prime (physical prime normally, though servants renowned for more mental deeds would be in their mental prime, which could be quite a good deal older). Except when they aren't.

Leonard Da Vinci could be summoned in the appearance of the Mona Lisa, both because that is the mental image people most often immediately associate with Da Vinci (even though they know they're distinct people), and because Da Vinci himself wanted to.

Penthesilea may have died so incensed by Achilles seeing her as a woman rather than a warrior even on the battlefield that she intentionally manifests as a child version of herself, hoping to make it impossible to suffer such an indignity again.

Napoleon can be summoned as a tall, manly bro if he is summoned more for the concepts he represents (achieving the impossible, responding to the wishes of the people, etc.) than anything else.

So the rule can be subverted by legends and history providing many alternatives for what their appearance and prime are, as well as the very will of the spirit itself. The spirits are enticed there with the promise of a wish on the grail, but the spirit ultimately influences how they manifest in order to best pursue their goal (whether it's the wish on the grail, or simply a chance to fight honorably against other heroes, or whatever else).

Heroes are not (always) one-dimensional

Any servant is just a distilled interpretation of the sum total of their history and legends. The servant Classes are just limited vessels the spirit is shoehorned into.

While Hercules may have legends about his archery skills (including arrows dipped in Hydra blood/poison), when summoned as a Berserker the archery aspects do/can get filtered out as irrelevant. And Cu Chulainn may have some limited rune capabilities as a lancer, but their full capacity is drawn out only if he is summoned as a Caster.

As the last example points out, the form and nature of a servant is also influenced by the class they are summoned into, which is in turn related to the summoner. With no catalyst, the grail attempts (another rule, here) to summon a hero that is similar to its summoner, in order to assist their cooperation. With a catalyst, it attempts to pick a version of the hero that is, again, similar to its summoner, though this may be harder to achieve.

The latter is the case with the Saber and her summoner from Fate/Zero. The summoner would have infinitely preferred an Assassin, as that suited his personality and style better, but his catalyst pretty much forced a Saber that was intensely dedicated to open and honorable combat.

Gilles de Rais might also be a soldier, as when he served Jeanne d'Arc or a horrifying occultist. His history and legends include both tales of a competent solider and strategist, as well as that of a child-sacrificing occultist driven mad by Jeanne's death. Which one you get depends on the situation and the summoner (if any).

History can be inaccurate or ambiguous

When a gender swap (from our perspective) happens with a character, a common explanation is that the historical record simply got it wrong. Francis Drake is a guy, right? Nope, she's actually a beautiful woman with giant bazongas; we just remember it wrong. Other heroes may have ambiguous gender (and/or sexuality) in their histories, which may allow them to be summoned in a seeming gender-swap. Just try to figure out what Astolfo or Chevalier d'Eon are without cheating.

As women frequently occupied a notably inferior position in the social order for much of history throughout much of the world, this creates a strong incentive for ambitious and adventurous women to mask themselves as men in order to realize their goals and dreams. Assassins may have benefited from a certain amount of gender fluidity, as being able to pass for men or women would make it easier to slip through vulnerabilities to reach their targets. Even some historical generals and warriors have records drawing into question their gender. Did they never have children or much interest in women because they just weren't that sexual, and were singularly focused on their duties? Or perhaps they were actually a woman?

In the case of King Arthur (the Fate version of which was originally known as Artoria, but has more recently been changed to be named Altria), in the FSN story/explanation her true identity was masked and known only to a few. She was kept at a distance or in a heavily masking helm when visible to the public. Other public appearances were often done by Gawain or another Knight-in-the-know, borrowing Excalibur if necessary to really sell it. The average citizen would have few to no opportunities to see the King anyway. And in this setting Arthur is noted (and at times criticized) for being an extremely distant, removed, and unemotional ruler: this was the behavior of the ideal King that she envisioned. The King's aging was also stopped the moment she pulled out the sword in the stone, permanently leaving her as an androgynous/tomboyish 14 year old (I think materials may now be saying 16, instead).

King Arthur herself was so dedicated to maintaining the deception and being the ideal King that she developed body image issues, supposing herself to be muscled and un-woman like when the protagonist actually succeeds in developing a romantic connection, despite her obviously waif-like appearance and porcelain skin. She had the heart of the dragon and superhuman strength as a result, which may have encouraged herself to see herself this way. And the conflicts caused by her true gender motivates many other story points in Arthurian legend: why there is a faction of rebels that Mordred can join (not everyone likes a cold and distant king, but she must be so to maintain the ruse, or so she thinks), why Mordred even wants to rebel, why Guinevere and Lancelot hook up (Guinevere was not a lesbian or bisexual, and she had needs; Arthur intentionally overlooks their relationship, until it becomes public knowledge, out of guilt for how difficult their marriage was for Guinevere, and punishes Lancelot only out of a sense of Kingly necessity rather than any actual feelings of betrayal), etc.

Iskandar also falls into this, as Iskandar himself explains the basis for supposing he was short is because he was compared to even more gigantic figures. In particular he says the historical accounts say he was dwarfed by the throne of Darius because Darius himself was a giant among men, who truly did make the beefy Iskandar look short and puny in comparison.

It's a multiverse (and then some)

The Fate universe, or more broadly the Nasuverse, is a multiverse setting in rather the most expansive sense. Multiple universes, alternative histories, time travel shenanigans, etc. are all available. One story in the Nasuverse may be incompatible with others for any number of reasons; a character in one may simply not exist in the other. In particular, every single storyline that occurs in a game like Fate/Stay night—including bad endings, not just the normal/true endings—are canonically true and all happened, just across a variety of timelines/worlds.

Moreover, the Throne of Heroes, where the Heroic spirits reside and are summoned from, sits outside of time and the world, and has access to all of these alternative timelines etc. So heroes have a multitude of possibilities available to them, not all of which need to have been realized within the world and timeline their spirit is summoned into.

The prototypical example is a certain FSN servant who comes from the future of a timeline that is not covered by any of the routes or endings of the FSN game itself (and has never been fully detailed).

Out of universe rationales

The out of universe rationale for gender swaps and appearance changes is the same one as usual: making money. It was determined that a Female main character with a Male Servant wouldn't sell as well as a Male main character with a Female Servant. So once that was settled on the easiest thing to do was to just swap the genders, and so bam, female King Arthur is born. Other characters had their appearances changed to fit modern perceptions of what an archetype should look like. The vainglorious, obscenely wealthy, painfully arrogant king should be more of a pretty-boy, with golden hair to reflect his wealth (gold); not the rough-and-tumble manly warrior that Gilgamesh perhaps ought to have really looked like. The ultimately in manly, world-conquering, modern bro-dom should be huge and muscled and gruff, his intrinsically intimidating physique contrasted with how amiable and bro-like he behaves; not the rather more effeminate physique that Alexander the Great should have had.


Since no one seems to have touched on the King of Conquerors: they explained that in the book shop, that the wording of his legacy was wrong and he was always that huge, just the throne that has been known to depict him as small was even more massive than he is now. Similarly, you should just give lean for creative differences. Alexander was actually known in life to be clean-shaven, pale and dark haired, nothing like the Fate/Zero depiction.

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