Among the many strengths of Fate/Zero are the selections and personalities of the heroes, and maybe most fascinating among them is Gilles de Rais, otherwise known as Bluebeard. Insane, bloodthirsty, and mechanical in how he dispatches innocent victims, Gilles de Rais makes a much better villain than we’re used to in typical anime fare. The inspiration for such a character was easy to find, because after all, the real Gilles de Rais was a more horrible monster than the fictional one.
The anime Bluebeard fits well as a serial killer’s servant, as the true Bluebeard was a notorious one himself. In this way and in others, the anime version’s personality and activities match well with the 15th century noble and knight.
Connection to Magic
It’s quite fitting that in Fate/Zero, Gilles de Rais is a servant involved in a contest between mages. Besides the rites performed to evoke demons, Gilles was very much connected with a magus (the series would’ve provided an even stronger connection if their Bluebeard had a sorcerer as a master rather than a serial killer). Francois Prelati was an Italian magician and alchemist in Gilles’ employ. Not only did he perform magic for his master, Prelati was also a close consultant who advised him on his daily affairs. Unsurprisingly cruel, Prelati actively helped Gilles gather children for his heinous activities.
Connection to Joan of Arc
An interesting part of Gilles’ storyline in Fate/Zero is his infatuation with Saber, whom he believes to be Jeanne d’Arc. The story has the villain in love with the legendary Joan of Arc; this, in fact, may not be far off from the truth. Gilles fought alongside Joan, literally saved her life twice, and became very close to her. Regarding the two, Jean Benedetti writes:
They had much in common: both were reckless in battle; they both preferred a simple response to any situation; they both had a sense of occasion, of the theatrical; and they both shared a fondness for fine clothes.
Benedetti later describes Joan as a parental figure to Gilles. That makes it all the more strange when he shows no concern later at Joan’s arrest, trial, and execution.
This complicated relationship is certainly reflected in the series. The real Gilles’ lack of care for Joan at her most trying moment, even though she was largely responsible for his rise to a position of power, seems to go hand in hand with the anime Gilles’ switch from lovey-dovey words to attacking Saber with all his might.
Faith in God and Satanic Activity
The anime Bluebeard frequently talks of God (mostly as his and Joan’s enemy); his real counterpart had strong ties with God and also with the devil.
The horrific crimes that Bluebeard did (some mentioned in the section below) ran alongside and sometimes intersected with his interest in the occult. But he wasn’t simply a dabbler – Gilles hired alchemists and conjurers and performed many rites to bring forth demons, with eyewitness accounts to substantiate these occurrences. At one point, Gilles offered various body parts of an infant as a sort of exchange to bring forth a demonic spirit (this experiment failed).
The hypocrisy of Gilles is that he was often seen as highly devout figure. He went to confession even as he committed atrocities and was known for his generosity. And in the end, just before his execution, Gilles talked of salvation, seemingly assured that he would be pardoned by God.
In the anime, Gilles speaks heavy words against God. But as in real life, the spiritual talk and actions weren’t the most evil and demonic acts he did…
Atrocities Against Children
Fate/Zero builds up the villain by making his victims young boys and girls; this is an effective tool to create certain feelings in the audience, but it is also based on reality.
Gilles and his men took in children ranging in ages from 6 to 18. He obtained his young victims via kidnapping, paying the parents with promises that the children would become choirboys or pages, or taking children who were begging for alms at his estate’s front gate.
Historians calculate that he tortured and killed at least 60, though the numbers I’ve seen seem to indicate that there were at least 130 victims, without including dozens of children who went missing in the towns near his castle and who were never found, or those whose bodies were cremated. So possibly, nearer to 200 were killed. Some claim that the number was closer to 600.
Typically, Gilles sodomized and then hanged the children (probably boys and girls) to damage their vocal cords; he then watched as the their throats were slit or as they were mutilated. A willing accomplice testified the following:
When the children were dead he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and head he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the said children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed…
Gilles was a true monster. Luckily, we as viewers are saved by the animators of Fate/Zero, who turns the “cameras” away from the carnage of Gilles’ den of horrors.
Eventually, the courts acted after years of rumors about Gilles associated with the countless missing children. Gilles and others admitted to their guilt in an extraordinary trial, and in the end, he was convicted of “heresy, apostasy, sodomy, sacrilege, and violation of the immunity of the Church.” Hanged for his crimes, Gilles still lives in the annals of infamy.
Now, we’ll have to wait and see how the animated Bluebeard pays for his crimes…
I stopped procrastinating and got to work on this piece after reading the wonderful comparison post by trzr23: Iskandar: Anime vs Reality.
Benedetti, Jean (1971). Gilles de Rais: The Authentic Bluebeard. London: Peter Davies.
Gilles de Rais (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 14, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_de_Rais
Hyatte, Reginald (1984). Laughter for the Devil: The Trials of Gilles de Rais, Companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc (1440). Toronto: Associated University Presses.