rynling: (Mog Toast)
[personal profile] rynling
When it comes to video game villains, there's a certain amount of puppy kicking that you have get past in order to figure out what's going on with them. Nintendo villains tend to not kick a lot of puppies, especially compared to Final Fantasy villains, who routinely have puppies positioned directly in front of their waiting feet.

Seymour is especially bad in this regard. He doesn't particularly come off as insane, but the game gives him so many puppies to kick that it's hard to understand who he would be if he weren't a video game villain. He hardcore creeps on Yuna and then tries to kill her, he murders multiple highly ranked members of Yevon (including his father), he orchestrates the mass slaughter that is Operation Mi'ihen, and his ultimate goal is to become Sin so that he can end human suffering by destroying every person in Spira. I define all of this as "kicking puppies" because it's over-the-top evil behavior that doesn't really serve any narrative purpose aside from establishing the villain as the bad guy. Seymour is difficult to understand because, once you take away all this puppy kicking, there really isn't that much there.

In the Japanese version of the game, a lot of the heavy lifting is done by Seymour's voice actor, Junichi Suwabe, who is quite prolific and especially known for playing characters who are brilliant but slightly unhinged (such as, most recently, Victor in Yuri!!! on Ice). Suwabe's voice basically sounds like liquid sex, which goes a long way toward establishing a seductive quality to Seymour's character, thus offering a partial explanation as to why he would have risen so high in Yevon. In Japanese, there's a strong social positivity attached to the sort of highly formal and "soft" speech that Seymour uses, which is supposed to give us an impression of him being cultured and intelligent and every bit the summoner and scholar everyone makes him out to be.

I think this is the key to understanding the real conflict that Seymour represents, which has more to do with Yevon than it has to do with him. In Spira, Yevon controls absolutely everything. Although tradition and religious faith comfort the people, Yevon is thoroughly corrupt and does nothing to actually protect people from Sin. The high-ranking clergy know that Sin can never be defeated by summoners, but they still take advantage of the people's faith for political and economic gain. Because Yevon's power is so deeply entrenched in the culture and society of Spira, only an outsider would be able to resist it.

As a the child of an interracial couple who lived in exile for most of his life, Seymour had the potential to be that outsider, but he devoted all of his energy to becoming an insider. He rose high in Yevon, which is, after all, what his father and mother wanted him to do, both of them hoping that he could prove instrumental in easing the racial tensions that were exacerbated by Maester Mika's integration policies. As one of the members of the esoteric inner circle of Yevon, and as someone who has witnessed the horror of what it means to be a Fayth, Seymour has access to information that most people in Spira do not, but he is not able to do anything productive with this knowledge and insight.

Seymour resists the myth that Spira can be saved from Sin, but he has also bought into it so deeply that he has begun to embrace the original purpose of Sin, which was to protect Spira from complete annihilation by blasting its level of technology back to a preindustrial level. Seymour could have become a radical, but he is way too invested in the system. Essentially, his "evil" is that he has assimilated.

Tidus is a true outsider, which is why he gets to be the hero of the game. Still, Seymour is correct in his understanding that everything in Spira is a "spiral" of death from which it is incredibly difficult to escape. If Sin is not defeated, people may suffer at some undetermined point in the future; but, if Sin is defeated, everything will change, and people will suffer right now. Basically, change is hard, even if it's beneficial in the long run. If the system changes, people will lose things that are important to them. Tidus is clueless about all of this, and so he questions and undermines and breaks the system without really thinking about the larger consequences.

In the end, however, neither Tidus the radical nor Seymour the reactionary is a sustainable position, and it's actually Yuna, the compassionate young women who can understand both positions, who survives and addresses all of Spira after both Tidus and Seymour are gone.

I think Final Fantasy X is a very political game, and I get the sense that what is being critiqued by its story is Japan's Imperial system. With strong references to Okinawa and hip hop fashion, Final Fantasy X draws on the culture of Japan's "lost decade" of the 1990s, when people desperately wanted to see change in their society. Japan can't escape the dark legacy of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War if it doesn't change, but it can't transform itself if it doesn't let go of the Imperial system, which is difficult to reform or dispose of. The older Seymours are too invested in the system, while the radical inclinations of the younger Tiduses fade like a dream. Someone like Yuna, who is both an insider and outsider and possesses the empathy to see the problem from multiple viewpoints, needs to step forward and save Japan by uniting disparate groups of people with a message of hope and a vision of an alternate future.

And that, as they say, is that. Or not?? To be honest, I'm still thinking this through.

Date: 2017-05-09 03:00 am (UTC)
lassarina: I'm not coming out until the stupid people have gone away.  ....I can wait all day. (Default)
From: [personal profile] lassarina
*sits here fascinated*

I don't have enough context (outside the game itself) to critically engage with the idea of the politics and the critique it's engaging but I love the points you make about Seymour. You're utterly right that he could have been the Tidus if he'd chosen that path, but the way he entrenched himself into the power structure makes that impossible for him to even see as an option. it's interesting to think about the possibilities (AU ahoy!) where he doesn't assimilate and become complicit in Spira's, and by extension his own, oppression by Yevon.

Date: 2017-06-07 02:15 am (UTC)
lassarina: I'm not coming out until the stupid people have gone away.  ....I can wait all day. (Default)
From: [personal profile] lassarina
I think the AO3 thing is a function of the timing of AO3 happening. If you look at FFXV the fan works eclipse every other FF by a huge margin, so I'm sure it's just that a lot of people didn't import from LJ/FFNet/whatever.

I would read this AU I'm just saying.

Date: 2017-06-16 12:24 am (UTC)
lassarina: I'm not coming out until the stupid people have gone away.  ....I can wait all day. (Default)
From: [personal profile] lassarina
A good rabbit hole. :D I have played 0 hours. Someday I will have enough time.

Date: 2017-05-10 01:42 am (UTC)
flonnebonne: (Default)
From: [personal profile] flonnebonne
I really like this whole analysis, even though I only have the barest background knowledge on the political shifts you mentioned. Nomura's fashion choices seem a lot less silly when you put it that way...

I can't think of too many other games that advocate a "middle way," Yuna's way, to the extent that FFX does. Most media tells you to smash the bad system and never look back. FFX though...kills off its main character because he smashed the system. Makes you think!

I luuuuuvs me some Ivalice

Date: 2017-06-06 07:53 pm (UTC)
flonnebonne: (Default)
From: [personal profile] flonnebonne
Too bad Ashe is not the kind of person who finds a middle way. (In my game she always seemed to be running off during battle to go kill things off-screen even though I didn't set up her gambits that way.) The Occuria are probably also not the kind of beings that let you find a middle way--although, admittedly, Spira's system doesn't seem to allow for it either. I guess the point is that the middle way is the hard way, and that there are risks associated with taking it too. What if Yuna and co. hadn't been able to end Sin? And maybe Ashe should've grabbed one little Sun-Cryst shard as insurance before she blew up the main one...but that would have opened up a whole new can of worms.

Almost every FF game that I've played (1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, Tactics) of seems to comment on the responsibility that comes with power, and there's usually a strong rejection of the really dangerous, world-ending mystical whatsit...but at the same time, the hero has to step up and use whatever scary/weird/alien power that's been given to them. I think we see this most clearly in FF6, when Terra is explicitly given a choice on whether to become a symbol of hope for the Returners or not. In a way she and her pals do try for the middle way when they start cooperating with the Empire...but all of that backfires and Kefka rips the world apart O_o Kefka and/or the Empire probably would have destroyed the world eventually anyway even with Terra/the player's help, but clearly the middle way has its own risks.

Man, now that I think about it, a lot of the FF worlds sure go to hell in a handbasket. We win the game but the people left in those worlds have to live with some pretty terrible aftermaths. I wonder what an FFXII-2 game would look like? Probably war with Rozarria somewhere in there, since we never actually got to see that country do anything, and Ivalice games need to have politics (except the Advance games).

...And now I'm getting a bit down about diplomacy and nukes and power in the real world -_-

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