‘lol, that’s so ironic–*SMACK*’

Ugh, I hate it when people misuse the term ‘irony’. The first definition for ‘irony’ at Dictionary.com is this:

i·ro·ny

[ahy-ruh-nee, ahy-er-]

–noun, plural -nies.

1. the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning:  the irony of her reply, “How nice!” when I said I had to work all weekend.

That’s not technically what I would call ‘irony’ (insomuch as it’s also sarcastic, and in this case, there is irony in the sarcasm; it’s not that it isn’t ironic, there’s just another term to use for it–verbal irony and sarcasm are oft intertwined like this, so using verbal irony as an example of irony is difficult, because most verbal irony ends up termed as ‘sarcasm’ in casual conversation, etc.), but it’s a slippery slope from here down to saying ‘it figgers’ and spazzing out like Alanis Morissette.

THAT IS NOT IRONIC. THAT’S NOT EVEN SARCASTIC, LIKE DICTIONARY.COM. IT’S JUST A BUNCH OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. BEING STUCK IN TRAFFIC WHEN YOU’RE LATE ISN’T IRONIC UNLESS YOU ARE THE CITY ENGINEER WHO DESIGNED THE ROAD SYSTEM AND PROMISED THAT IT WOULD FOREVER ELIMINATE TRAFFIC JAMS, AND YOU ARE LATE TO A MEETING TO TALK ABOUT HOW THIS REVOLUTIONARY NEW ROAD SYSTEM WILL ELIMINATE TRAFFIC JAMS. THAT IS IRONIC. A RAINY DAY IS NOT IRONIC, NOT EVEN ON YOUR WEDDING DAY. IT IS NOT IRONIC.

*pant* *pant* Okay, now to move on to what I actually wanted to post.

This was mostly spurred by my perusal of the Final Fantasy Wikia page on Sephiroth. I was digging for the actual citation of where Yoshinori Kitase said that Sephiroth is stronger than God, since there is not a thing in the world that the Final Fantasy Wikia can tell me about Sephiroth that I didn’t already know.

Can God make a rock so heavy, Sephiroth cant lift it? No. (citation needed)

At the end of the article, I found this little gem:

“His statement about not having a hometown when arriving at Nibelheim is slightly ironic, as Sephiroth was born in Nibelheim.”

That’s not SLIGHTLY ironic, that IS ironic. That’s something that we call ‘Dramatic Irony’, which is a situation in theatre where an action takes place on stage, but the audience knows more than the characters onstage, and thus the audience is aware that the character is about to make a mistake. This is exemplified in Oedipus Rex. The audience knows that the prophecy was made about little Oeddie and so his father (the king of Thebes) had him thrown onto a mountaintop (as was the Greek custom for infanticide), and so we know that he was adopted by a different king and queen (this time of Corinth), and so when Oeddie hears about this prophecy, he ends up leaving home to avoid killing his adoptive father and marrying his adoptive mother, and ends up killing his actual father and marrying his actual mother.

The audience is aware of all of this (that is, assuming they speak Greek), and so the play is ironic in the true Greek sense of the word. Likewise, when players play through Crisis Core and sees this scene…

…it is ironic (that is, assuming they have played FFVII). It’s ironic because the player (audience, whatever) not only knows about Sephiroth’s lineage, but they also know that he was born at Nibelheim, which is the town they just arrived at, where he is asking what it’s like to have a hometown. It’s not ironic to the characters, though, it’s ironic to the player. Moreover, it wasn’t ironic when we saw this same scene 14 years ago:

(Well, okay, this scene isn’t exactly what we saw 14 years ago–the scene we saw 14 years ago had much crappier graphics than even this video; though I’m sure we all remember it looking more like the above than it was in reality.)

It wasn’t ironic then because it was the first time any of us were experiencing Final Fantasy VII. However, with the bevy of prequels and sequels being released (in in-universe chronological order: Before Crisis, Crisis Core, Lost Order, the oft-dreamed of PS3 remake which will probably come out the same weekend as Duke Nukem Forever, all of the novellas, Advent Children, Dirge of Cerberus, all of the other novellas), our viewing and experience of each new entry increases the amount of irony we experience–especially in the telling of Sephiroth’s story.

As we reconstruct the story of the game’s main antagonist, we find a tragic hero who suffers a fall and never recovers from it (and draws more than a few comparisons to Oedipus). It all begins with an origin story that seems like it would either end up producing Batman or the Joker, and to some extent, ends up producing both. Much of Sephiroth’s life is left up to total speculation; we know for certain the events that led up to his birth and the immediate aftermath (detailed in DoC), and we know some of the events of his participation in the Wutai War and Shinra’s campaigns against AVALANCHE over 20 years later (BC and CC), but the only detail we know about his life between those two points is that he was already famous during his childhood, that he and his friends pass the time by William Tell-ing apples off of each other’s heads WITH THEIR SWORDS and he uses an entire bottle of shampoo and conditioner every time he washes his hair (tidbits we learn in CC).

We know that the turn of circumstances that led to his downfall was much earlier than the original FF7 lead us to believe. In the original, it appears that his madness was precipitated by a single event; namely learning about his true origins. But through the extended canon, we know that his battles against AVALANCHE leader Elfe years before Nibelheim instilled in Sephiroth the concept of fighting for something he believes in rather than just doing what he is told like an attack dog, and that his downfall was a slower, much more gradual process than our first experience with the game 14 years ago showed us. We have since learned that it was only after having all of his friends and even his illusion of family stripped away through madness and death that he reached the point where he could be broken (and though the number of people he counted as friends was a whopping two people, he was fiercely loyal to them; which could be counted as his character flaw (other than being totally batshit insane)). His breaking was similar to the process by which cults recruit members, which was the exact aim that Genesis had; to form an anti-Shinra faction and wage war against his oppressors using the very tools they had created. Sephiroth defected from Shinra in the end, but ended up declaring war against all of humanity and repeatedly attempted genocide against the entire population of the planet.

That’s a bit of a bigger target than Genesis had, and Sephiroth included Genesis in his crosshairs, all because Genesis called a spade a spade and said that Jenova was a monster.

"Mommy? ...Mommy?"

When the story is told in reverse, the audience has a different experience from the experience one has upon revisiting the story. When revisiting the story, the audience essentially becomes omniscient in regards to the events of the story; Aerith going to the City of the Ancients and dying isn’t ironic on my second playthrough of the story. However, with multiple prequel titles being released for FFVII, there are elements of a non-linear story making their way into the series, and since we have seen the result of the prior events, we have a different perception of the prior events themselves; playing Crisis Core is a very sad experience all the way through, because the player knows that Zack, who is a very happy-go-lucky and likable character, dies at the end in a very brutal and drawn-out manner…but he must die, because his death results in Cloud taking up Zack’s place. It’s also a very surreal experience engaging with characters that the player knows well in later points in their life; in Crisis Core, Cloud is still an optimistic teenager who always has a smile on his face, Aerith is a rather shy and introverted girl, and Sephiroth is not only sane, but is professional, wise and heroic.

The difference between a story purposefully told in reverse (reverse chronology, such as in Memento) and prequels, though, is that a reverse chronology is a device employed to tell the original story, while a prequel relies on the audience’s knowledge of the original story to complete the sequence of events which began in the prequel, but also relies on the fact that the audience does not know what events eventually resulted in the events of the original story; we know the effect, but not the cause. A story told in reverse chronology tells the original story backwards, while a prequel expects the audience to pick up everything it lays down due to their knowledge of later events. A comparative example: the Star Wars prequels lay out the events leading to the fall of the Senate and the rise of the Empire, while the trailer for Dead Island tells it’s epic 3 minute story in reverse.

I just love watching this. Pity the game probably won’t be half this good.

The unique aspects of FFVII’s story, however, is that the original game contains flashbacks and references to many of the events that take place in Crisis Core–we specifically see the events leading up to the Nibelheim massacre in the original game (both how Cloud tells it, and how Sephiroth recalls it). Crisis Core depicts the event how it actually happened, from start to finish, which (almost disturbingly) is exactly how Sephiroth represented it in the original game–the man is insane, but honest. An informed audience playing Crisis Core will pick up everything the game lays down, understanding each action’s significance withing the whole of the story’s fabric. Every bad decision Zack makes, the audience sees and understands, even when Zack doesn’t (which is most of the time).

Within the larger context of the Final Fantasy VII universe, Crisis Core is a tale of tragic irony–and when I say something is ‘ironic’, I really, truly mean it in the literary and dramatic sense.

Take THAT, Alanis Morissette.

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