Amber Michelle (myaru) wrote,
Amber Michelle

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Symbolism in Xenogears. Full of opinion, as usual.

acebullet and I were talking about symbolism in literature on the way back from In-n-Out. (The food from which, by the way, was delicious as usual.) His art class is pretending to be a freshman English class at the moment, and we were reminiscing about the misery of high school English, in which teachers insist we discuss blatant symbolism and overinterpret every little thing.

Naturally, talk of blatant symbolism and over-interpretation led me to think about Xenogears, and various subjects of discussion over the- oh, is it eight years now? I feel so old when I say that.

But wait! This isn't about me making fun of Xeno fandom and my own inane rambling of the past (even though that would also be fun). It's more like... looking back at the symbols in the game that I recall, and trying to decide if any of them are really meaningful. There are certainly times when it isn't - the gears being named after Norse figures, for instance, which I still see no real point to - but there are bits and pieces that can actually be argued for. Of course, as with most symbolism, a lot of them are blatantly obvious. For example:

The emblem of Solaris: the sephirotic tree. I guess Solaris considers itself the path to god. (Really.) You actually can't read much farther than that and still have something that resembles the game.

Anima Relics: you can argue that naming them after the twelve tribes means something if you trace the relics back to the Gazel Ministry, but it starts to get mucked up around that point, and in the end, all you can really say is that the names sound religious (and therefore deep). I had an idea about this a long time ago, and I can't remember it.

Deus: is... god? Well, that's the surface reading, at least. Clearly we (and the characters) were supposed to think of it that way, but the name doesn't encompass the truth about Deus as he relates to the rest of the system, which is more complicated than this word.

Zohar: a difficult one. If you know something about the Zohar, it's blatantly obvious when you read what it tells Fei. If you don't know anything about it, you'll have no clue. Note also that the Zohar is very similar to the Monolith in 2001.

SOL-9000: related to the above, another 2001 reference, but it isn't... well, I guess it is like its namesake.

Soylent System: I'd never heard of Soylent Green when I played Xenogears, but if I had... :P (I still think what Shitan did there was an incredibly assholish move. XD I love him for that.)

I think I have to take back the second part of my judgement re: the Solarian Emblem, because you actually can take it farther, and still have something that resembles the motives of the Gazel Ministry. But like the Zohar, I don't think that's immediately obvious if you don't know anything about the background of the symbol. I'm guessing most people don't, and there's no reason they should know.

I won't really get into it, but as far as I remember, the Gazel were planning to become one with God, or even to sort of become god in their own way. That's actually very interesting. I don't remember exactly what the philosophies are - I think the idea of becoming one is not actually kabbalah at all; maybe Sufi? There is a very clear distinction between God, the unknowable, and what we as humans can actually witness, which is part of what the tree is about. You're supposed to vicariously experience the act of creation, so in a way you become "like" god for that time - at least, you can look at it that way for Xenogears' sake - but you never actually become one.

So in any case, the sephirot are actually an interesting and somewhat accurate representation of the intentions of the leaders of Solaris. (Especially Krelian.) Again, I really don't think this is obvious unless you've done some reading. The game just tells us it's "the path to god" and it doesn't really go much deeper than that. I remember it feeling almost like I was supposed to take it literally.

I could write an article on this for GA too, but I haven't read up on the subject recently. You can tell by my explanation.

After thinking about this stuff, I decided that I thought Nisan's one-winged angels were the most effective "symbol" in the game, because they stood for things both obvious and not. A lot of it is obvious - dialogue tells you that the light or space between their hands represents the path to god, and also that they're unique as a symbol (compared to the symbols of other religions like the Ethos, I guess) because they have defined gender characteristics. After playing the game, they don't have to tell you that the angels symbolize the act of one human helping another and becoming whole, but they do anyway.

Part of what makes them effective is their multitude of meanings in the context of the game. It isn't always subtle, but they represent some of the most important themes in the game (humans gaining independence from god by helping one another; on the other side of the coin, humans joining together to reach god - which you can interpret in a few ways), and they're also representative of Fei and Elly specifically, and everything about their history. The angels have a really emotional function, which something like the instant horror of the Soylent System doesn't really live up to. I don't even like Fei, but his history with Elly throughout the ages did strike a chord, and the angels remind me of it every time I see them. They sort of embody both tragedy and hope.

The Zohar, while deep (and Deus, which gives it a second layer of interesting interpretive possibilities), doesn't really inspire the same kind of feeling. I have no sympathy for Zohar's dilemma. There's nothing in its existence I can relate to. It is - and is supposed to be - a really abstract part of the game that gives the story an underlying feeling of depth, if you follow what it's saying. And if you don't, it's just a bunch of gibberish. It's the one thing that is consistently misunderstood about this game. The Existence's dialogue, which is where all of the juicy information is, confuses people. That's why I don't think it's an effective reference, or symbol, or whatever you want to call these elements of the storyline.

The Nisan angels were easy to relate to and understand, even if you don't agree with their message. And every time you see them they mean something new, at least to me. Their meaning in Nisan's cathedral is completely different to the meaning I get from the image of the angels in Krelian's merkavah.

I once had an idea for a drawing where Krelian, standing on one outstretched hand, was reaching out to nothing - there would have been an empty gap where the second angel was supposed to be. It'll never see the light of day, because the Krelian shrine will never be finished, but that was the image I hoped to use in the layout.

It would've been nice to have all of these ideas back when I cared enough to see them through! But that's the way it is.
Tags: public: xenogears

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