#190: In Defense Of Kathy Griffin

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I will make this brief.

After everything that Kathy Griffin has done for us, we better not turn our back on her now. I haven’t said much about it because mostly I was so pissed off at the response of right-wing commentators. And then of course all the people dragging out such old chestnuts as “ugh that ugly cunt isn’t funny fuck her,” or some other such brilliant and scathing insight. You can bet your ass that if the shoe had been on the other foot, and Alex Jones were holding up a decapitated Hillary Clinton head, right wing commentators wouldn’t be tripping over their dicks to call him out on it.

What pisses me off most is seeing Kathy’s friends turn on her. Anderson Cooper saying he thought the photos were disturbing and awful, when he’s actually a friend of hers. Is he trying to put a nail in the coffin and destroy her? Or is he just saying that because he doesn’t want to risk his position at CNN?

Look, I get it. Holding up a severed head in a time where ISIS exists, it’s a bold statement. It’s disturbing. It’s maybe even a little tasteless. But art is SUPPOSED to be bold and disturbing. The message of Kathy holding up a severed Trump head is not “Hey guys, let’s go out and decapitate politicians,” it’s “We will overcome this, we will defeat this demagogue and we will resist.”

But you know what I admire even more than Kathy having the balls to make a bold statement? The fact that she apologized. Kathy has an infamous no apology policy. She stands by what she says. But after seeing the way it affected everyone, she owned it, and she apologized. And honestly, the worst I can say about the photo is that it’s in bad taste. But it’s certainly not “vile and offensive.” What’s vile and offensive is that we elected a man who openly brags about sexual assault.

What if we just called the Kathy Griffin photos “locker room talk”? Would that make it acceptable.

Trump is trying to make himself a demagogue and we need people to send out a message that we aren’t gonna take that shit. And we need it from all angles. We need the protests in the streets, and we need celebrities holding up bloody heads if that’s what they want to do.

The only thing that I’ve found truly unsettling was watching Kathy try and hold it together for her apology video. She seems like she’s been crying, and she sounds terrified. Like she’s afraid her whole career could be over. And it might. And that horrifies me.

Kathy is a fucking inspiration and the hardest working woman in show business. She made art. Art sometimes includes bold statements like holding up a fake bloody head. And unlike the racists who burned/hanged effigies of Barack Obama during his presidency (strangely no right wing media seemed to condemn THAT when it was happening), she isn’t targeting Trump because of his race or his gender or anything like that. He’s being judged based on the content of his shitty character. Need I remind you that there are actual photos of the Trump kids posing with dead animals they trophy hunted? How about the photo of Eric (I think it’s Eric, I can’t tell these assholes apart) holding up an elephants tail in one hand and a knife in the other? Here, have a look.

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Now tell me, is that more or less disturbing than Kathy holding up a bloody Trump mask? Because that’s a guy who actually killed a living creature for sport and posed with a piece of it’s body.

I know, I’m criticizing one of the Trump spawn, not the orange wonder himself. So let me get back to that.

The pussy grabber in chief wants to get the heat off his ass for his recent worldwide trip in which he alienated a staggering number of US allies, continued to deny the existence of climate change, and turned America into the laughing stock of the entire world. Now he’s pulling us out of the Paris climate agreement, which I remind you even genuine evil dictators like Kim Jong Un still participate in. That’s right, Kim Jong Un is more environmentally responsible than Donald Trump.

So, Donald Trump blasted back by dragging his eleven year old son Baron into it, saying that his son was disturbed by it. REALLY? You’re only just NOW worrying about the welfare of your son and what your narcissistic trainwreck of a presidency is doing to him? I’m not buying it, buddy. Trump is using Kathy as a scapegoat to try and get bad press off of him, and when that didn’t work he invented a new internet meme, because the Trump version of doing something good is creating a scandal that DOESN’T involve directly harming other people.

So hey, hand me a bloody Trump mask. I’ll hold it up for you, Kathy. I’m not above rash and over-the-top demonstrations. Kathy said it best: she’s a comedian, she crosses the line, she moves the line and crosses it again. It doesn’t always land. She owned up to it, and she apologized, not because she thinks that her willingness to speak out is wrong, but because she saw that it was genuinely disturbing to people and it crossed a line for a lot of people. She apologized because she’s watching her career crumble around her and that isn’t fair, not after everything she’s done.

Donald Trump is causing real harm to real people, and making a statement is both allowed and acceptable. Last I checked, despite Donald Trump’s best efforts we still have freedom of speech, and that includes bloody performance art. And don’t give me this crap about how “unsettling and vile” that picture is. We live in a culture that goes to the movies to see torture porn for fun, but suddenly you want to act shocked and clutch your pearls because a comedian makes a statement with a mask covered in fake blood? Like I said, if anything the photo was in bad taste, but it isn’t vile, it isn’t disgusting. It’s an artist making art.

Kathy Griffin does not deserve this, after everything she’s done for Americans, for the gay community, for women in comedy, for comedy in general, and especially for veterans and soldiers. Kathy Griffin has devoted significant amounts of her time, money and energy to soldiers, she’s included soldiers in her stand up tours, in her television shows, in her comedy specials, and done countless benefits for them. She’s been an outspoken activist for gay people, she’s gone canvasing door to door for the LGBT community, she’s organized marches against homophobic policies, and she’s never stopped opening up her damn mouth to defend people who need defending every chance she gets. Even though she crosses the line, she’s doing it for a reason, she’s making an important statement, and even her apology was sincere and heartfelt.

Kathy Griffin has more courage in the little finger gripping that bloody Trump mask than Donald Trump will ever know or understand. Trump is a disgrace to America and to the world, and while he was tweeting on his golden toilet in a building with his name plastered on it, creating racist birther conspiracies, Kathy Griffin was on several USO tours, staying in a hotel that was almost bombed, and flying into a warzone in Kandahar, Afghanistan to entertain US troops, because she’s a fucking American.

What we need now is the courage to stand up to demagogues, to challenge them, to not give them an inch, and yes, to even hold up a severed head every now and then if that’s what it takes to get the message across that tyranny doesn’t have a place here. I stand with Kathy, I support her, I love her, and I’m not turning my back on her because she did what she does, and what she will continue to do, which is to cross the line, move it, and cross it again. That’s what artists are here for.

Rain: A Romantic Short

The window was cracked just a bit, and I could hear the rain falling from the sky, that steady safe woosh of an endless shower of water, falling and falling from the sky, soaking the ground and the grass and the pavement. Water that falls and seeps into everything and finds it’s mark and nourishes.

It was a gray day. I couldn’t remember what time it ought to be, though it was probably the afternoon.

We were all alone. We would be for a few more days. The blinds were raised to show the view of Henry’s back yard, a lush green valley of grass that needed mowing, and in the distance at the bottom of the hill were the trees that led into an expansive forest. Their property extended somewhere into the woods. Usually we’d be out there, even in this rain, soaking wet, up against the wet bark of a tree. But we didn’t mind.

I could smell the rain in the air. It smelled like home, like something safe. The gray light cast down to the boy who lay in my arms. My eyes washed over him, drinking in the sight of his soft, white skin. He’d always been somewhat pale, but right now his whole body was flushed pink. His arms were pulled close and his hands rested on my chest, his fingers making slight movements against my naked chest that sent shivers through my body.

His eyes were closed, his moppy dark brown hair obscured most of his face. It was still damp from sweat. Beneath the covers, our naked legs were intertwined, and my still sticky cock was pressed against his thighs. His member was hiding somewhere, because he was curling up slightly and facing toward me.

I brushed a strand of dark hair away from his face. He took a staggering deep breath that told me he was falling asleep. I pulled him closer and felt his heart beating in his neck and his back, still thumping a little harder than normal. A few minutes ago we’d come together and collapsed, and I had pulled the blankets above us to fight the oncoming chill of the cool afternoon air.

No one would be home for several days. We were all alone. This was our time. We were lucky to have it. We’d been in love for years. Our parents thought we were just friends. We couldn’t tell them the truth, or anyone else. Not even our friends new. Though we both knew they suspected it and we didn’t deny it.

Sometimes we met up underneath an old abandoned bridge in the woods. Sometimes in the dense forest behind Henry’s house. And sometimes, when there was a blessed hour or two when no one was around, we could pull our clothes off, breathing quickly, hearts thumping, and fall into Henry’s soft queen size bed, and we would roll and giggle and kiss and bite and embrace and thrust and pull and we would make mistakes and accidentally hurt each other, and our bodies would awkwardly clap together and make silly noises, and sometimes there was a mess and sometimes there were unpleasant smells and sometimes one of us would have a runny nose and it would get on the other. Being in love is a messy business. Being human is messy. Touching is messy.

We didn’t mind. We treasured everything. Every moment and every touch, every taste and smell. He was the only person I’d ever loved, and I never wanted to love anyone else. The world was empty but for Henry and his moppy hair and his shorter height than mine, and his adorable round butt that made me instantly hard every time I saw it, and the way he laughed at stupid things in movies that made me roll my eyes, and the way I could feel him harden in his pants when I gave him even the most gentle kiss. The way his bright blue eyes would look up at me, because he was always lower than me, when we stood he was lower, and when we were in bed I held him against my chest. It’s strange that it was my arms around him that made me feel so safe.

When his head was laying against my chest, with his soft, wet breath against my skin, I was more than one body, his entire being was an extension of mine, with his own individual thoughts but we shared one beating heart that led us to come together again and again, our mouths sloppy and wet, our cocks throbbing with the intense beating of our hearts, our heads swimming and hot with something that couldn’t be expressed out loud, the whimpers that passed between our lips and the gentle moans and the loud gasps of pleasure only hinted at something so large that it filled up our chests and when we burst, bloody and warm, all over each other, we just kept growing until we filled the room and I think we might fill the whole world.

With my outer hand I explored the familiar contours of his body. The gentle down of hair against his butt, which he hated but which I thought was incredibly sexy. My fingers passed through those hairs that were so light they were almost blonde, perfectly splayed along the cheeks of his butt. My finger found it’s way between them into the warm crevice that seemed to beat with his heart for just a moment against my fingertip. He was nearly asleep but he noticed, and he squirmed gently, but it was a happy gesture. He was exhausted, but I knew that if I pushed my fingertip further, he would want more. I ran my fingertip up along the crevice between his cheeks and then my nails gave a gentle tickling scratch up his back to his shoulder, and he breathed the tiniest sigh of relief. I wanted him to have this reprieve, I knew that in an hour or so we’d be at it again.

But in this moment, with the lingering smell of our bodies and our sweat and our fluids still sticky and drying against me and inside of him, we were safe, and we were whole, and it was quiet. My head was swimming and I found myself getting sleepy too, but I kept my eyes open, and watched the rain outside the window.

This moment might come again and again in our lives. We might have a million of these moments. But this one would never be replaced, and none afterward would be the same. When we were older, we’d both look back on this moment and yearn for it, even if we still have the happiest of moments then, this one will never come again. This one is perfect.

I am more perfectly alive than any other person in the world. Anyone who yearns and tries and searches, it is this that they are searching for. It is this moment in the rain, with Henry pressed against me, and the utter safety of knowing that I don’t have to get out of bed if I don’t want to, and I don’t have to let him go.

I place a finger, the same one that was just giving his entrance a gentle prod, beneath his chin and with the slightest pressure I raise his face up, and his lips form the slightest of smiles. I lean down and my lips reach forward and find their home upon his, and his lower lip is in my mouth and I suck it gently, and a soft and gentle groaning for more comes from him chest and his throat, vibrating against my mouth. He wants more. He’s insatiable. I love him so much.

I kiss his closed eyes, my lips touching those soft eyelids, and his lashes flutter just a little from the surprise, but he’s smiling again. He opens those eyes and they look into mine, and they are blue and crystal and bright and full of everything I am, and he leans up to give me a kiss himself, one a little rougher than mine, his lips pressing hard against mine, and now my eyes are closed, and my pelvis instinctively thrusts forward as my cock begins lazily thickening, and finds its tip pressed against his erection. He lays his head against my chest again and his eyes are closed, and as I glance at his face I place a kiss on his temple.

Everything is worth this. Any pain is worth this. As long as I have this, I can be anything. As long as Henry is pressed against my chest and his lithe body is squirming in my arms, readying itself for more of our passionate and emotional connection, as long as I have the heat of his body to protect me from the sweet chill of the rain outside, I am alive. He is everything in my heart, and the world is a bright landscape upon which he walks, and his destination will always be in my arms, where I need him to be, where I can have safety and shelter. He is rain and forests and beds and moments.

His voice is a soft, crackling whisper, saying that he loves me. My vision becomes blurry. He’ll notice in a moment and ask me why I’m crying. But for a fraction of a moment, this is my reality, forever and ever, and I am so happy that I can’t express it, but my body is trying anyway, with my hard cock and my salty tears and my expectant lips when they come close to his.

And there is no world, no home, no life, but for this feeling, and even though in a few moments it will subside, and transform, and become something different, it’s here. And this is enough. This is enough.

A Prologue in Darkness

So let me explain what this is. I’ve wanted for a long time to try and condense my thoughts about Christianity into one place, and I doubt it’s something that I could ever encapsulate within one project. But I’ve thought of an idea for a book, in which I go through the major points of the Bible and talk about my perspective on those stories and characters, and how they’ve influenced the world today, and basically just try and deconstruct Christianity, to understand something that has caused me so much heartache and which I feel is such a powerfully harmful force in the world.

Truthfully, I’ve always found most of Christianity’s central mythos incredibly uninspiring, at least when told from the point of view of God as the protagonist. There’s not a lot of magic and adventure, and it’s mostly concerned with farming and deserts. As for the players of the story, Satan is by far a more interesting character who seems to have a much more moral stance, and God consistently behaves in ways that are irrational and inexplicably cruel. Earlier today I wrote down a conceptual outline for the chapters of the book, with each chapter being focused around a certain character or character. For instance, chapter one would be called Adam and Eve, chapter two would be Satan, chapter three would be Cain and Abel, etc. And I could go chronologically through the Christian Bible and touch on the things that interest me and that I want to talk about. The final chapter would be focused on the central character of the Bible, God himself, and would cover the book of Revelation.

I started to get ideas for a prologue, starting the story out right before the creation of the universe, and treating God in the most sympathetic and compassionate light. I’m actually really quite proud of this so I’d love any feedback you may have.

The beginning is not the beginning. The beginning of all things is a mystery, perhaps forever unsolvable. We don’t even know that there was a beginning. But this story begins with a creature, a being who is alone, floating in the vast darkness of the cosmos, floating in nothingness. We don’t know what he looks like. We only call him “he” because it’s the way he will later refer to himself. Perhaps he is vaguely humanoid, with two arms and two legs, hands and feet, and a head fitted with eyes, ears, a nose and mouth. Perhaps he is curled, fetus-like, sleeping in the vast emptiness, dreaming in the dark womb of nothingness, waiting to be born into the cosmos. Perhaps he is a tiny speck, perhaps he is large and monstrous, and perhaps, like all of existence, he is void and without form.
Where did he come from? Does even he know? Is he the only being in existence, or is he a being left over from some previous existence? Was there an ending before all of this? Was there a cataclysm that destroyed the entire cosmos and reduced it to nothingness, leaving only this sleeping catalyst? Was the past universe like a plant that upon it’s death, drops seeds of new life, and this sleeping creature is that seed? What is the nature of this being? Does he have emotions, thoughts, desires? Does he feel pain or love, is he lonely? Is there anyone to equal him, a companion to share his existence with, another being like him? Could he even create another like himself if he wanted? Were there others like him once, and now only he is left?
Perhaps he unfurls his body, such as it is, and stretches his muscles and joints, such as they are. Perhaps he looks around and sees the nothingness. Perhaps he feels afraid. Did he have a mother or father? Did he have a family? Does he remember the answer to this question? Perhaps he looks behind himself, at that expanse of darkness that is the same as every other expanse of darkness. Does he see the past? Or is it as much a mystery to him as it is to all who come after?
Those answers will never come. The mysterious being closes his eyes and gathers his thoughts and emotions. He gathers everything he has, and prepares for one magnificent display, he prepares to create everything. He holds out his hands, and he opens his eyes and his mouth, and creation begins.
A vast explosion, a soundless cosmic bang, and all the light of all the stars and all the galaxies comes pouring from one point of light in the vast darkness, and that point of light is the being who lay in the darkness, and from him come planets and meteors and dust and fire, moons and nebula and molecules and atoms and cells and water, from him comes the infinitely expanding universe with it’s constants and it’s laws, it’s various physics and biologies, it’s planets of rock and mountain and ocean, and from him comes mathematics and science and future and past and magic and reason, pain and hope and love and loss and possibility and infinity.
He finds himself floating in a sparkling universe, still racked with the painful explosions that are it’s birth cries, he looks around at the terrified newborn cosmos, and he smiles, holds out his hands over a sphere of water and rock, and he opens his mouth to speak.

#189: Things That Should Have Happened In Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII is a good game with a lot of flaws. Mostly, the only thing people talk about are it’s flaws. I still think it holds up as a fun experience and a well-made game. It’s a milestone in the visual capabilities of the series, but the muddy storytelling of director Motomu Toriyama is somewhat notorious for being completely incomprehensible. Whenever one plot-hole appears, Toriyama just distracts you from it by pulling out a new plot-hole, until finally you finish Lightning Returns and think, “Well I guess all those plotholes are filled now that the universe has been reborn. Oh well.” This is not excellent storytelling.

As such, here are some ideas that have brewed in my mind for a while, which I think would have vastly improved Final Fantasy XIII. Personally, I sometimes like to pretend that XIII-2 and Lightning Returns never happened, because the game itself does not set the story up for a sequel, and very little of what happens in the game is really referenced later in the series. XIII-2 and Lightning Returns revolve mostly around Etro and Yuel, but deal very little with the actual journey of the l’Cie in Final Fantasy XIII.

So on that note, I’m mostly going to be dealing with things I would have liked to have seen changed in the original game, though I will make some reference to how my changes my fit the sequels. This also means that I’m not going to spend too much time wondering about why in the world the developers chose to refer to an area in XIII-2 as “Archylte Steppe ???” This seems to imply that the time period in which this happens is either before the fall of Cocoon or after the whole timeline has been fixed, but dialogue from the hunters indicates that it happens after the fall of Cocoon, and that the people who bear the same tribal tattoos as Fang are not in fact from the same tribe as hunters but just Cocoon citizens who reacclamated to life on Pulse. I’m also not going to spend too much time grinding my teeth at the fact that XIII-2 spends a lot of it’s time redeveloping areas from the first game, but completely leaves out many of them like Eden, the Arks, most of Gran Pulse, Nautilus, Lake Bresha, the second half of the Sunleth Waterscape, the Gapra Whitehood, and so on and so forth. But as you can tell, I have my issues with XIII-2 as well, which for the record most people believe to be superior to Final Fantasy XIII, but personally I think that it trades addressing everything Final Fantasy XIII got wrong for sacrificing all the things that it got right.

Anyway.

In Defense of Jihl Nabaat

Jihl Nabaat is a criminally underutilized character in Final Fantasy XIII. Her treatment in the story is baffling: we go through the process of setting her up as a character, even including her in the flashback sequences, set her up as a perfect antagonist to Sazh and build up resentment toward her, and then even include the perfect moment to fight her, and… she’s killed off. No fanfare, nothing. No one even mentions that she’s dead. Barthandelus throws a Ruin spell at her and she’s gone, just like that.

Now, you might say that the fact that she is so important and is disposed of with such little interest by Barthandelus is precisely the point being made about how fal’Cie view humans as nothing more than tools. It does make an interesting parallel with Jihl, who herself sees other people as tools to further her own ends. But this is still bad storytelling. Barthandelus is the most cliche and uninteresting villain in the Final Fantasy series, and that’s in a series that includes such one-dimensional characters as Exdeath and Necron. Not only is he visually unappealing (I’ve seen him hilariously referred to as “the space pope”), but his dialogue and personality are incredibly one-dimensional and cliche. Also, his motives make no sense, but then, that’s a much larger problem within Final Fantasy XIII’s story.

Most of Final Fantasy XIII’s story can be boiled down to: “the fal’Cie want the main characters to destroy Cocoon by killing Orphan, so the main characters rage against their fate and defy their masters by… destroying Orphan and dropping Cocoon out of the sky exactly like they were told.” Even more confusing is why the fal’Cie bother to fight the l’Cie and try to kill them at every turn: Barthandelus is working tirelessly to make the l’Cie choose to kill Orphan and thereby destroy Cocoon, so why is he also directing the entirety of the Sanctum’s resources at murdering them? You could say it’s a test of their power, but then, why does he also personally attack them several times? Why did he bother fusing with Orphan? What exactly IS Orphan anyway?

But I digress. Jihl.

Jihl is an interesting character because of how comically evil she is. She’s sadistic and seems to take immense pleasure is causing pain to others, and yet at the same time we can clearly see that she isn’t all bad. Her first introduction is a brief scene of her smiling at Sazh during the fireworks flashback. Even when she’s actively trying to kill Sazh, she always states her reasons clearly, and even sometimes makes compelling arguments. She honors Dajh’s sacrifice and says she’s going to have his crystal made into a memorial in Eden, without ever revealing the fact that his father was a l’Cie, so that Dajh can be remembered with reverence by the citizens of Cocoon. The thing that actually makes her interesting is how intelligent and well-spoken she is, and how she seems to be capable of surprising compassion for someone who so enjoys toying with people. She talks down to Sazh about Pulse l’Cie being “undesirables,” but she also treats him with some amount of respect, choosing to allow him the chance to get revenge on Vanille rather than having her soldiers shoot them. Even when she strikes Sazh and knocks him out, she doesn’t do this until he becomes uncontrollable with rage.

Really the thing that confuses me the most about the treatment of Jihl’s character is that it doesn’t make any sense from a storytelling perspective. They went through all this trouble to set Jihl up as a primary antagonist, she’s even in a fully animated FMV sequence, and then they kill her with no fanfare. In fact, it honestly feels like they purposely cut out a boss fight with Jihl for some reason. Right before Barthandelus kills her, Jihl leaps down onto the platform in front of the l’Cie and draws her weapon, and the party gets ready for a fight. There could have easily been a sub boss fight here with Jihl, and then the next scene of Barthandelus killing her could have gone on the same.

But this isn’t my biggest wish for Jihl. I think Jihl should have been the game’s main antagonist. Throughout the game we’re treated to metaphors about tools, about people being used by others to further their own ends. Barthandelus is the puppetmaster behind the actions of Lightning and her friends, but I think that the murder between Jihl and Barthandelus should have happened in reverse: I think that Jihl should have been the one to suddenly and inexplicably murder Barthandelus, before removing her glasses and reminding the party that “For every task, there’s a perfect tool.”

I wish that Jihl had turned out to be Orphan in disguise. We know from Barthandelus that fal’Cie have the ability to disguise themselves as humans, and we know that Orphan is ultimately the central power behind Cocoon. If Orphan is really the one at the center of this plan to use Cocoon to summon the Maker, why wouldn’t Orphan choose to disguise itself as a human and walk among them, monitoring the actions of Barthandelus by pretending to be his servant? How great would it be if Lightning and her allies stormed into Eden and Barthandelus appeared on the steps before them in the area where you fight the Adamantoise, and rambled on about how they’re nothing but puppets doing his bidding, and then from behind him came a blast and standing over his body, with her rod in hand, was Jihl, who reveals that she’s been using everyone from the beginning. The game even SETS THIS UP. She talks about using people as tools, doesn’t she? What better way for her to do that?

Jihl could transform into Orphan for the final boss fight, and the rest of the game could play out exactly as it did. If this idea seems too weird to you, let her be Eden instead. Eden is just another fal’Cie like Barthandelus who would have all the same reasons to keep a close eye on him, and the final confrontation could easily switch out Jihl for Barthandelus. After transforming into her fal’Cie form and being defeated, she could fuse with Orphan and become the final boss, the same way Barthandelus did. I mean, the weirdest thing about Barthandelus being the central antagonist is that we don’t know anything about him until he reveals himself on the Palamecia, meanwhile we’ve had the whole game to get to know Jihl.

I won’t delve too much further into this, but Final Fantasy XIII actually has a big problem with not utilizing it’s characters. Raines, Rygdia, Jihl, and Amodar all go mostly unnoticed, despite having thought and care put into their development.

Vanille’s Deepest Secret

Throughout most of Final Fantasy XIII, Vanille’s defining characteristic, apart from her optimistic bubbly personality, is that she’s a liar. She prances around smelling the flowers in an attempt to hide the dark secrets she possesses. Vanille is the fulcrum on which the entire story of Final Fantasy XIII revolves: she chose not to fulfill her focus and become Ragnarok, leaving Fang to do it on her own, resulting in Fang not being strong enough to do anything more than breach Cocoon’s shell. They should have both become C’ieth, but as she so often does in this universe, Etro felt pity for the two of them and intervened, allowing them to enter crystal statis anyway and placing them within the Pulse Vestige with Anima, to be kept safe until they reawakened.

There’s a lot about this story that just doesn’t add up. We’re never given much of a glimpse into what Vanille and Fang’s life was like on Pulse. We only get a few mentions of what life was like in Oerba, and the leftover photographs and housewares inside Vanille and Fang’s house, or her robot friend Bakhti (also known to me as The Cash Machine). There is one brief moment which shows Vanille living on Pulse, and it’s during the opening credits movie, but even then Cocoon still has a hole in it’s shell, so it’s possible that this scene is depicting Vanille on Pulse after returning with Lightning and the gang. Also, Etro becomes an important figure later in the Lightning Saga, but during Final Fantasy XIII she’s mostly left enigmatic, known only as “The Goddess,” and she seems to have a penchant for intruding on history at inopportune moments, resulting in more death or the corruption of the timeline. Why did Etro choose to intervene when she did? If Etro presumably knew that Fang couldn’t breach Cocoon on her own, why did she wait until after she’d tried and failed to intervene and put Vanille and Fang into crystal sleep? Also, we’re told that Fang slept in crystal for five hundred years alongside Vanille, but we never see Fang in crystal form, when Vanille awakens Fang is already asleep on the platform beneath her.

How exactly does this whole Focus thing work? We never learn which fal’Cie it was that gave Vanille and Fang their focus to destroy Cocoon, or why exactly that was the focus they were given. If the C’ieth stones are any indications, the majority of fal’Cie only made l’Cie to do trivial things like destroying particularly nasty monsters or C’ieth who refused to die. And, if Vanille and Fang failed in their Focus, why didn’t they turn into C’ieth? I know the answer is that Etro intervened, but how does that work exactly? Does the fal’Cie who gave the l’Cie a focus get to decide whether or not their thrall turns to crystal or into a C’ieth, and does the authority of one fal’Cie usurp the authority of another? Did they actually become C’ieth and then Etro intervened to turn them human again and put them in Crystal? Who woke them up? Why did they awaken from their crystal sleep when they did? What happens when the fal’Cie who makes you into a l’Cie dies? We know that Anima died right before making Lightning and her allies into l’Cie, but that didn’t stop their focus. If a l’Cie who completes their focus going into crystal stasis, who gets to wake them up and give them a new Focus if the old fal’Cie master dies?

Really, this is a rabbit hole of questions that can go on and on forever. Concerned with clear storytelling, Motomu Toriyama is not.

But again, I digress.

I think that it would be an interesting twist is Vanille herself is the Goddess of Death, Etro. We know that fal’Cie can take on human form, and surely a goddess would have that power. Now, there are holes in this idea: we know Etro is stuck in the unseen realm and can’t return because she was banished there by Bhunivelze, but still, there are a lot of things that would make more sense about Vanille if it turned out she herself was Etro. Vanille is the only party member with the ability to cast the Death spell, and though that does have some connections to her character, it is odd that of all the characters it would be Vanille with this devastating ability that works on almost every single enemy in the game, including the final boss. Vanille is seen making a sign with her fingers and offering prayers to the heavens many times, what if this were the sign of the Goddess? What if she were actually trying to work some kind of magic when she did that?

And why is Vanille narrating the story? From a development perspective, there are explanations: Vanille was initially conceived as the central character and was going to be the game’s primary protagonist, but after showing off Lightning in a promotional video and receiving positive feedback from fans, Lightning was made the central protagonist of the game. For the record I think this was a good move. But Vanille is narrating the entire story of the game, seemingly from within her crystal sleep in the pillar holding Cocoon. She and Fang even speak directly to Lightning and the others at the end after they’re freed from crystal. If Etro is the one who intervened and freed them from crystal, why couldn’t it have been Vanille who did it? Also, what exactly is the significance of becoming Ragnarok? It’s repeatedly stated that ONE of the l’Cie must become Ragnorok, but both times Fang attempts to do it on her own, she isn’t strong enough. Is this an ability they all inherently know? Vanille and Fang do it effortlessly in the end and it’s presumably because they’ve been down this road before and know what they’re doing, but is this is a power that can be used any time? As usual, not much is explained.

Vanille being Etro would continue to make sense as the series progressed. Vanille is somehow capable of seeing into Serah’s dream world and calling her out of it, and Serah’s dream world is within the Unseen Realm, Etro’s domain. During Lightning Returns, Vanille inexplicably has the ability to speak to the souls of the dead and guide them to the new world. No one ever even attempts to explain why she has this ability. Again, I know this pokes holes in the central plot of the three games, but still, I think it would have been a much more interesting twist to have Vanille turn out to be Etro herself, intervening physically as well as magically in the events of the world to try and stop the death of innocent people.

Vanille lies so frequently that she even comments she can’t remember which events are truth or lies anymore. She outright lies to Hope and tells him that he promised to come and see Gran Pulse with her. I actually like the idea that maybe if Vanille were Etro, she could see alternate timelines, and in one of those, Hope did promise to come and see Gran Pulse with her. Either way, Vanille spends much of her time lying to others, even if she does it with good intentions. If Vanille is such a capable liar, couldn’t she be lying about her identity too?

A Titanic Superboss

I’m not the only Final Fantasy XIII fan to be baffled by the development choice NOT to make Titan the game’s superboss. Instead the superbosses are the final C’ieth stone mission and the Long Gui. Titan is a very prominent figure on Gran Pulse: he’s always seen walking around just beyond the mountains, no matter where you are on the plains. There’s a series of C’ieth stone missions revolving around running a gauntlet for his amusement and showing off your strength to him. He creates mist that causes power C’ieth to appear, and he even speaks briefly to the party. We also know that he’s a fal’Cie, and the characters in Final Fantasy XIII never met a fal’Cie they didn’t want to kill. It just seems obvious that Titan would be the game’s optional superboss. It even seems to imply that he would be, considering several of the C’ieth stone missions are done specifically at his behest, or in his area of the world. It would make sense that fighting him is the ultimate prize for completing these missions.

But alas, nothing. And even stranger is the fact that never appears in the Lightning Saga. Atomos actually reappears in Lightning Returns, sleeping in the Dead Dunes. This conflicts with the widespread notion in Nova Chrysallia that Pandemonium is the only living fal’Cie, because Atomos is clearly still alive and hasn’t become a crystal, but nonetheless, there he is. If Atomos survived, why didn’t Titan? Especially when massive juggernatus like Atlas seem to mirror his design. Surely he’d have been involved somewhere within the side-story of these huge creatures? Is the Atlas included in the second game a re-skinned version of a planned Titan superboss that never made the final cut?

Really, every time I see him on the Archylte Steppe, it’s like the game is just rubbing my face in the fact that he isn’t available to challenge.

Where The Hell Is Everybody?

Everyone, including Vanille and Fang who are natives and presumably understand a lot of it’s history, wonder where the hell all the people on Gran Pulse disappeared to. It’s brought up a few times with confusion, and then never addressed again. We know that the War of Transgression took a huge toll on both Pulse and Cocoon, but Gran Pulse is literally the entire planet, and there doesn’t seem to be one surviving human anywhere. We even see the ruins of Paddra, which indicate that it was a very modern, technologically advanced city, because it’s ruins include cars and traffic lights. The world is filled with C’ieth stones, and it’s never addressed whether or not these C’ieth stones are the remains of the humans who lived on Pulse after the war.

Did the war take such a massive toll on human life that only a few survived, and then those few all eventually became C’ieth? Why is there not a single l’Cie on Pulse who fulfilled their focus and turned to crystal? We never learn the answers to these things. Even weirder is the fact that in Final Fantasy XIII-2, Hope and the Academy set up shop in the ruins of Paddra and launch an investigation into it’s history, but they only bother researching it’s ANCIENT history, learning about the Seeress who led the city. They never bother trying to learn what it actually was that leveled the city and left ruins behind.

Three games and still the plot-holes left in Final Fantasy XIII are never addressed, we’re just given new plot-holes to contemplate.

Let’s Go Back!

It is standard in any RPG that once you reach a certain point in the game, you have the ability to revisit previous locations and unlock new secrets. Now sure, most of the previous locations in Final Fantasy XIII are straight corridors, but even so, I wouldn’t mind going down those corridors again if they contained new challenges, opportunities and treasure. One of the most glaring problems with Final Fantasy XIII is the lack of opportunities to make money, well why not have some C’ieth stone missions scattered throughout the areas you’ve already passed through? It wouldn’t be very difficult to just replace the PSICOM soldiers with some of the monsters from Pulse and throw in some C’ieth along the way. I know, it wouldn’t make much sense that there were C’ieth all over the place on Cocoon, but it the fal’Cie had no problem turning the Cavalry into Sacrifices, surely they could be persuaded to do it elsewhere on Cocoon. It would also be a great way to earn more money. In Final Fantasy XIII, literally your only source of income at the end of the game is to farm Sacrifices for Perfume or farm Adamantoise and their kids for Gold Nuggets and Platinum Ingots. Even if you LIKE fighting an endless parade of Adamantoise, this is still lazy development. As usual with Final Fantasy XIII, they don’t utilize their resources.  Even if stomping back through the Vile Peaks and fighting new monsters wouldn’t be incredibly fun, it would at least be more fun than fighting the same monsters on the Archylte Steppe over and over again to grind for Crystarium Points while you prepare for C’ieth stone missions. Slap some Perfumes or Incentive Chips onto the monsters in previous locations and put them on a higher level and bam, you’re ready to roll.

And there you have it. These questions have been rolling around in my head for a long time, and there are always more. But for some reason, despite all the glaring flaws in Final Fantasy XIII, I keep coming back to it. Some detractors would call that “a dog returning to it’s vomit,” I call it being in a codependent and possibly abusive relationship with Square Enix.