Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Xenosaga Series's Allen and Shion Romance

(Many thanks to my friend Jolt for his part in making this rant possible, and my sister for bouncing my ideas right back in my face and forcing me to get my shit together with my arguments.)

Oh gosh, I should do a rant about one of the problems with Xenosaga 3’s story decisions. Let me see. How about making half the main cast overall unimportant to the game’s events? Or continuing the decision of Xenosaga 1 and especially 2 to give Ziggy no significant relevance to the story? Maybe the fact that an entire game’s worth of events happened between Xenosaga 2 and 3, and is only related to the player through vague references and an in-game glossary? Perhaps the lack of background and depth for almost all of its villains, whether major or minor?

Oh, I know what I’ll rant about! Allen and Shion. Good God alive, Allen and Shion.

Okay. Before we begin, let me just get this out of the way, to be fair and honest. I personally have advocated, since Xenosaga 1, the idea of Shion and KOSMOS being involved romantically. I think there’s some real romantic potential there, and I swear, it cannot possibly just be my imagination that the games themselves hint at it. KOSMOS is extraordinarily protective of Shion far beyond the scope of her programming; keeping Shion safe can be considered the ultimate priority for KOSMOS, and she will, and does, break the laws of her own construction to make that happen. Shion’s interactions with KOSMOS seem to personally focus Shion in a way that doesn’t happen with her interactions with anyone else, and she’ll allow KOSMOS in without a thought even when she shuts everyone else out. Hell, there’s a scene where KOSMOS even seems to say she loves Shion, in as much capacity as she can--when Shion asks why KOSMOS watches over her in ways far beyond her programming, KOSMOS’s response is basically that protecting Shion is her highest priority, not as a part of her programming per say, but as a direct, interrupting value that comes from her core, able to supercede every other behavioral directive. Shion interprets this as essentially meaning that KOSMOS’s very heart wants to protect her, and it seems like a pretty legit understanding to me (though I am, granted, hardly knowledgeable about the way proposed AI behavior programming and such would work). To me, that is, all things considered, basically a statement of love, right there. Then there’s all the implications of the previous lives thing, the way KOSMOS acts once she’s regained her lost soul...frankly, if the game had just outright acknowledged that KOSMOS and Shion loved each other at some point, and left it at that, it would have been one of the few aspects of Xenosaga’s plot that was understandable and concluded well.

But although I personally believe that there’s a connection of love between them, I DO try to stay objective, both when I’m playing a game and when I’m ranting. I try never to let what I want override my ability to recognize what is, you know? It seems to me like the entire series is implying that KOSMOS and Shion are in love, but I concede that you can argue, probably effectively, that every instance of proof for this idea has some other intention, some other meaning. So what I’m about to say is, honestly, me being objective, not letting my personal biases get in the way of the issue.

Allen x Shion is a fucking joke.

Alright, another note I’d like to make before I continue. I don’t dislike Allen. And I don’t begrudge him his interest in Shion (although I sure as hell don’t understand it; good lord is she a pill). I think Allen is an okay guy. Mildly annoying at times, but in his cowardly way he’s dedicated, he’s got a good heart, and...well, that’s about it actually, since his character is rather flat, but he’s alright.

No, the reasons I dislike the whole Allen and Shion thing that Xenosaga 3 decides to make canon are as follows.

First: He’s an emotionally gutless coward for literally more than 99% of the series. I don’t hold his physical cowardice against him, as I said--he’s not a fighter, and he gets involved in some highly dangerous situations against his will, so him comically wailing like Shaggy from Scooby Doo is tolerable to me. But I’m talking emotional cowardice here. He does not do ANYTHING to make his feelings known to Shion for the entire three games until the second-to-last confrontation of Xenosaga 3. That’s over the course of YEARS! And over a hundred hours for the player. Closer to 200. It takes him until the end of the damn game, the right-before-the-final-boss confrontation, to confess that he loves Shion!

Now, I think he does do this confession scene pretty heroically. It’s one of your standard anime-tastic “I’ll stand up for her even though I’m powerless cuz TRUE LOVE HAS INFINITE HP!!!” scenes, where he just keeps getting up and taking more punishment for Shion’s sake, despite having no chance in hell of doing anything. Cliche, but it works for him.

Although now that I think about it, I’m not sure he actually SAYS he loves her in this scene...but it is, for the first time with him, implied enough to more or less be a confession of love.

Anyway. Should I really be rooting for someone who cannot express their feelings to the object of their affection for years, during events of such magnitude as those of the Xenosaga series? It ain’t like the situation in this scene is the first time the Xenosaga gang has gotten involved in something dangerous in his presence! Shion could easily have died any time during the entire series, and more than once very nearly did. He couldn’t find it within himself to tell her at any time during these tumultuous times how he felt? His love for her isn’t strong enough to overcome basic bashfulness during a prolonged period of time in which every time he sees her could be the last time, and yet I’m supposed to accept his feelings as legitimate.

Hell, not to belabor the point, but as I mentioned above, fucking KOSMOS is more honest about her feelings than Allen is, and she’s a fucking robot--a ROBOTIC robot, not the touchy-feely variety. Even if you take that scene between her and Shion not to imply romantic love, it’s STILL a scene in which KOSMOS is being as honest about what she feels as she is literally capable of, which is more than Allen can manage up until the last second.

Now, my sister has argued with me on this point, saying that an unrequited love can still be powerful and real, and I suppose I can understand where she’s coming from on this. I mean, one of the greatest cartoons ever conceived, Hey Arnold!, has a believable and touching case of this with Helga’s feelings for Arnold, which she doesn’t reveal to him for almost the entire series. Of course, Helga is 9 years old, while our boy Allen is a grown fucking man, but we’ll put that aside. So this first point of Allen’s emotional cowardice is, I guess, not a death knell for the Allen x Shion idea, even if I do still think it deserves some consideration.

But the thing is, Hey Arnold! really sold the watcher on Helga’s love for Arnold. I mean, we see many occasions that give us an understanding of why she loves him, from how her feelings started, to her consistent monologues about it, to how well they mesh when Helga puts down her defenses, to how clear it is that Arnold’s influence makes Helga into the better person that she often yearns to be. If you’re gonna aim for the unrequited love angle, you gotta make it believable...and that brings us to our second point.

Second: Why the hell does Allen love her to start with? Now I understand love is all about emotion, but even emotion has its own form of rhyme and reason, and to sustain as powerful and involved an emotion as the love that Xenosaga clearly wants to imply Allen has for Shion, one needs to have some level of connection with the person that one is in love with.

Where is that with Allen, exactly? What is it that draws Allen to Shion? What is it about her that he loves so much? She’s more or less never shown to be considerate of him. Most of her interactions in the games are just bossing him around or getting exasperated with him, and on the occasions where she’s not being mildly hostile, she’s always distant. You could theorize that he’s attracted to her intellect or professional abilities, but we never see an indication that Allen has a particular pride or interest in such things (I mean, he’s great at his science-y job, but it’s never shown that he has more than a typical interest in it). So basically, it’s never shown that they connect well or that there’s a reason to think they connect well. It’s shown that he has no real idea of the pain she carries inside of her until the rest of the cast is aware, and that’s really her only substantial character depth, so what part of her is it that he loves? There’s not a lot to her personality otherwise. I mean, she does put her life on the line for stuff and do the usual hero-ing it up that an RPG character has to, but Allen’s feelings are shown to have been established before any of that stuff started, and there’s no indication that they grow over the course of the games--for all we’re shown, they’re roughly as strong at the beginning of Xenosaga 1 as they are by the end of Xenosaga 3, and if they HAVE grown, then we’ve never been made privy to what it was that nurtured them. You could theorize that he’s a shy and pathetic social outcast so that he’ll swoon over any girl who treats him halfway decently (basically, me in high school...and college...and...let’s stop there, actually), but for Xenosaga 1 and 2 Shion only treats him as either a work underling or an annoyance, and in Xenosaga 3 she’s distracted all the time, so you can’t even go with that (plus, that interpretation’s a bit of a stretch for Allen). So basically, what Allen sees in her is never shown. Does she do anything for him or to him in a spiritual sort of way, like how Arnold influences Helga to be a better person, or Final Fantasy 10’s Yuna and Tidus nurture their own best traits within the other through their emotional connection? Not that we’re shown. I mean, Allen changes for the better, I guess, in that by the end of Xenosaga 3 he’s willing to join the rest of the party in a dangerous situation without complaint, meaning that he’s gotten much more of a backbone, but...well, it’s not Shion that’s inspiring such a change in him, I think, so much as it is his love for Shion. But that motivating love for her is being born entirely of himself, not her own actions or influences, so I don’t think it really counts as a point of something he’d love her for. It’d be like saying he loves her because she’s someone he can love. And either way, he never gives us the idea that he acknowledges her potential betterment of him. So again, we’re not shown any real reason for him to love her.

Now, if you look through that last paragraph, you’ll see I used the word “shown” several times at key points. Rather than just being a case of having a low vocabulary, that was intentional, because it leads me to this piece of storytelling wisdom: Show, don’t tell. Now, I think that tell is underrated as a narrative fashion these days (Isaac Asimov, after all, mostly told in the first book of his Foundation series, and it was awesome), but it’s overall sound advice. And that’s the thing--we’re told that Allen loves Shion, but we’re never really shown that he loves her. Oh, the games throw us several scenes of him looking and acting like he loves her, yeah, but we’re just never given any understanding of how, why, where it came from, what keeps it going, and so on. And this is all just why this pairing is stupid and wrong from Allen’s side...which brings us to the other side.

Third: Shion never had any interest in him. She barely seems to even consider him a friend for most of the series, and on the occasions when she does, it’s still not as a particularly close friend. She clearly likes him just fine, but that’s all.

Now, though Allen can’t seem to work up the nerve to be honest with the woman he supposedly loves for the near entirety of the series, he DOES make a few blundering, pathetic attempts to let ambiguous implications let her know how he feels about her. These implications are utterly lost on her, and it is, for ONCE in a story coming from Japan, NOT because she is just generally oblivious. It is believable oblivion, the kind you would naturally have if someone just did not even register on your radar as potential romance material.

See...in most animes and games and such where this trope of romantic obliviousness comes in, the person (we’ll call them Person A) who’s not picking up on the other person’s interest (we’ll call them Person B) is clearly just completely oblivious. That is to say, there’s reason to think that Person A would certainly have at least some interest in Person B, if Person A were not so completely oblivious as to miss all of Person B’s signals. And it also usually seems kind of unrealistic that Person A is somehow missing all these signals to start with.

It ain’t like that with Shion. The lack of recognition isn’t out of character for the sake of poor writing. It doesn’t come off like she’s just not getting something that she might actually have an interest in. With Shion, it’s clear that she’s not picking up on Allen’s signals because it’s just something she would never think of.

That does not sell me on this pairing.

Fourth: It’s so obviously, and poorly, shoehorned in. And I mean like wow, here. You know the first time, the very first time in the entire series when Shion ever looks at Allen with anything resembling interest? During the end sequence. The END.

I assume you’ve played the game if you’re reading this far, but let me refresh your memory here. They’re all escaping because God knows you can’t have a final dungeon that doesn’t fall apart at the drop of a hat (well, the drop of a last boss’s body, at any rate), and they’re all fighting Gnosis on the way out, and a big appears in front of them, and somehow the rest of them are too busy to notice it, so Allen...sorry, give me a moment to stop giggling at the very memory of how overblown and stupid this is...he lets out this roar and vow to protect Shion, which is about as hilariously over the top as one might expect because his voice acting was not meant for manly roars, and he jumps way up into the air, lands on the Gnosis, and starts beating on it with the butt of his rifle. You are watching a scrawny stereotype scientist jump like 20 feet up, knock down a towering titan of a monster, and instead of FIRING THE GUN HE’S HOLDING, start hammering at it with his skinny little arms holding the rifle butt. By far the most amazingly silly, stupid part of this scene is the fact that you are actually supposed to take it seriously.

As this happens, Shion’s eyes are like...you ever watch your average girl when she first sees the werewolf guys in the Twilight movies go topless? It’s basically the anime version of that.

And that’s it! That is the first and LAST time in the entire roughly-200-hours-long Xenosaga series where Shion shows an actual, demonstrable interest in Allen. The ending of it. I mean, there’s shoehorning, and there there’s THIS. Out of all the truckloads of details and ideas they violently cram into these games, the hundreds of silly and terrible aspects that were given actual game time, THIS did not make the cut! Why should I take this romantic subplot seriously when the writers didn’t? Not to mention that this scene would imply that the only way that the writers feel they can possibly inspire some emotional reciprocation in Shion is by employing the most ridiculously unlikely shit possible.

And hey, at the risk of beating a dead horse by reminding you of my own pairing preferences yet again, I’d like to point out that it’s funny what you can read into this scene. See, at the moment this scene happens, it seems very likely that Shion will either never see KOSMOS again, or will at least not see her for a very, very long time. So, this extremely recent separation and loss having just had enough time to start sinking in, what is it that makes Shion suddenly into Allen? Seeing him fight for her, act as her protector.

Y’know. The thing that KOSMOS is most significantly known to Shion for.

So from a certain perspective, you can actually say that this terribly silly, painfully forced Shion x Allen moment is actually just confirmation that she loves KOSMOS, that it’s nothing more than an attempt to regain that love by replacing KOSMOS with someone who can fill the same role. I mean, yeah, I’m obviously reading more into it than I was meant to here, but be honest--is that interpretation not just about the only thing that could make at least SOME part of that scene halfway sensible?

Whether or not you want to look at it that way, though, the scene is, like I said, utterly absurd, unintentionally laughable, and pathetically last-minute. The pairing itself has 0 chemistry, Allen’s persistent emotional constipation gives the player no reason whatever to support it, and the only time that the writers could bother to actually show it at all was right at the last second. Allen x Shion is a fucking joke.

On an unrelated note, thanks to those of you who sent me rant topic ideas over the little Christmas - New Year break. I've chosen the best one and sent the fellow who came up with it an email about the prize, but I appreciate them all.


  1. First I hope you had a wonderful Christmass and a happy new year

    Second It's kinda funny you mentioned Hey Arnold because it ends up like Allen almost like Helga's stalker

  2. Hm that's a shame oh well tacked on anything tends to be a shame really.

    1. True that. I'm sure it's possible to make last-moment-tacked-on stuff work adequately, but it's sure not something I can recall having ever seen done well.

  3. Looks like you're back in top form, my good man. This was an entertaining and enlightening read. I even had the urge to play Episodes 2 and 3 to really grasp your agony, but I know better these days.

    I obviously didn't watch enough Hey Arnold! back in the day.

    I'd like to thank old school Final Fantasy and at least one other prominent game for defying the Infinite HP shenanigans of RPG melodrama.

    You have no idea how fortunate you are to have a sister that'll tell you to get your shit together for your RPG rants. Feel-good platitudes are the source of cheap talk.

    1. Anyone who hasn't seen every episode of Hey Arnold! has not watched enough Hey Arnold!. It's truly a work of art; I'd peg it as the third greatest animated show ever made on this continent, behind only Batman: The Animated Series and Gargoyles (yes, despite my recent obsession, even Ponies can't compete).

      Also, you must be talking REALLY old-school Final Fantasy, because I'm pretty sure I distinctly remember Galuf going Save-Everyone-Self-Sacrifice Infinite HP Shenanigans against X-Death in FF5.

      And no, I totally do know I'm very lucky to have her, heh. She's forced to hear nearly every rant I write, and countless rants have been bettered by her feedback, objections, and ideas. I'm very proud of my ability to play devil's advocate against myself to make sure my opinions are solid, but this blog'd nonetheless be in a sorry state without her additional critique.

    2. The point is, he did die from his blaze of glory, just like Tellah. And it was seriously but a moment, followed by the party using all curative methods available to no avail(maybe the FF7 "witty" jokes will die someday). I can work with brief feats of incredibility, so long as the price is paid all the same. It's not Infinite HP when it stays at 0. Same with FF4. Fake deaths abound, but the one death shown in battle was paid in full.

      So yeah, while they're still inhuman by the proposed standards, they're still within suspense of disbelief. Unlike Commander Allen Shepard. Shit.

      Critique is priceless. Every time I hear of a writer who got rid of their editor because they were "holding them back" ended up being pretty damn mediocre at best. Glad to hear you have more than one voice of reason to work with.

    3. Bah, I suppose you're right. I concede the point, sir.

      Shoulda had my sister go over that comment, too...

  4. Just wanted to say that Batman, square chin animated Batman and Gargoyles was me and my brothers favorite cartoons of all TIME... OF ALL (in Kanye glory) T I M E ! ! ! You can have your microphone back now.

  5. Honestly, my first comment will go here. Shion x Allen = no go! Although I was unreasonable about this at first, but man you really did show all the key points why this result does not cut it! I agree that I don't dislike Allen either because I can relate but that doesn't mean he deserves it! It pains me every time I see his miserable attempts to convey his feelings. I'd be happier with Jr, Chaos or EVEN KOS-MOS!

  6. id like to add that KOS-MOS and shion can track each other any where in the universe with there heart