Real Name: Sétanta
Titles: Child of Light, Hound of Culann
Origin: Ulster Cycle (One of Four Great Cycles of Irish Mythology)
Illustrator: Takeuchi Takashi
Featured In: Fate/stay night
Voiced By: Nobutoshi Canna (Japanese) Tony Oliver (English)
Lancers are often considered the weakest of the three Knight Classes of Servants whose hit and run tactics put them at a severe disadvantage with the upfront Sabers but allows them greater capability against the long-ranged Archers. While far from the most powerful of Lancers, as that title undoubtedly belongs to his teacher, there is a reason that some refer to him as “Irish Heracles.”
As a child, he earned the title of Cú Chulainn, or Hound of Culann in English, by way of killing Culann’s actual guard dog, which was said to possess the strength of ten men, with his bare hands at the age of ten. Feeling ashamed for the crime he had unwillingly committed, he asked Culann to allow him to hold the dog’s post until its pups were fully grown but the man turned him down, telling him instead that he was to train himself to be the guard dog for Ulster instead.
Already having joined the Knights of the Red Branch, Cú Chulainn took his first geas, vowing to never eat a dog. For those unawares, a geas is a solemn promise that will bestow a wickedly powerful curse upon one whom fails to uphold it. From there, Cú Chulainn would journey to the Land of Shadows to attain the demonic spear that has since become his Noble Phantasm and received tutelage of its use, combative arts, and sorcery under the Queen of the Land of Shadows, Scáthach whom in turn was both cursed and blessed with immortality.
At the end of his legend, and believe me there is a LOT to tell of the Hound of Culann, he was tricked into breaking all the geases he had made through the years and thus became no more than a mere man, slain by his own spear. Yet, for all the weakness he had gained, Cú Chulainn was not without his pride as a warrior and tied himself upright to a stone with his own guts. Even as he stood dying, none dared to approach him for his ferocity was well known to enemy and friend alike.
It wasn’t until a raven, likely the goddess of death and destruction herself, alighted upon his shoulder did they believe him to be dead. Foolishly, the man who dealt him the mortal blow, sought to cut off his head to take with him proof of Cú Chulainn’s death. He managed it, but the light in Cú Chulainn’s blood sought retribution and took the man’s entire sword arm as payment.
In short… Cú Chulainn is easily one of the most hardcore of Servants. In point of fact, his skill was so great that he is one of the few Servants to actually have multiple iterations of himself that aren’t the result of “gag” summons or becoming “altered” by the Dark Grail. One iteration is of him just following his apprenticeship with Scáthach and the other of him as a Caster rather than a Lancer and a pretty powerful one at that too.
This particular instance of Cú Chulainn has many notable skills and abilities under his belt. Having been taught rune magic by Scáthach, he can utilize it even without being a Caster, even having some inscribed invisibly upon his armor granting him further strength and prowess. He also possesses Battle Continuation, which allows him to keep fight despite having severe, if not outright mortal, injuries.
Wounds that when combined with the skill Disengage, which allows him enough respite to heal said wounds, makes him a very deadly adversary. Add in his Protection from Arrows, which grants him evasion from virtually all attacks including most Noble Phantasms and increased defense, Cú Chulainn is an absolute nightmare to fight for most Archers.
Last but certainly not least we have his Noble Phantasm, Gáe Bolg: Barbed Spear that Pierces with Death. A demonic spear, Gáe Bolg has two main methods of attack, one that deals a significant amount of damage when it is thrown, unleashing an explosion powerful enough to instantly kill one of the many lives of Heracles as a Berserker. Cú Chulainn’s preferred method of utilizing the spear though is by way of its most powerful ability. Gáe Bolg reverses casualty.
It can, quite literal, reverse cause and effect so that instead of “the spear is thrust, the heart will be pierced” to “the heart is pierced, so the spear is thrust.” Even if aimed at the opponent’s feet, the spear will still manage to pierce their heart without changing its shape or form of attack. Only with godly level degrees of luck can a Servant manage to survive this surefire instant-kill.
Yet, for all that he is a legend without equal on the emerald shores of Ireland, it is not strictly for his prowess that I would prefer the likes of Cú Chulainn as a Lancer. Rather it is his personality, which has been described by fans of the franchise as someone who will gladly try to kill you dead in the afternoon and go out with you for a drink in the evening. a harsh but inexplicably fun elder brother type of Servant.
That, and really, in the animated series based on the Unlimited Blade Works path in Fate/stay night, Cú Chulainn was one of the few spots of good humor to be found and made quite the impression in all of his fights.