nanakibh: (rita - spellcaster)
ナナキBH ([personal profile] nanakibh) wrote2016-02-05 09:45 pm
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Thoughts on TOA and Jade & Dist

So, okay, I decided that I would write about this while it's still fresh in my brain. There are a lot of things lately that I've regretted not writing down because I didn't want to make a tumblr post about it, announcing my feelings to the entire internet.


I replayed Tales of the Abyss.

I first played it back in 2007, nine years ago, after a friend of mine who was really into it suggested that I play it. I was a stupid kid back then, lemme tell you... Perhaps their enthusiasm had a negative, opposite effect on me - whatever the case, I ended up hating the game. All I did was complain my way through the entire thing and left a bad taste in my own mouth over it.

More specifically, I couldn't stop comparing it to other games that I played and liked more. Final Fantasy VII was my absolute favorite game then (Which may be getting narrowly beaten by Tales of Xillia 2 now.) and I couldn't help but see the characters of TOA as clones of FFVII characters. A year or two after I played the game, I coincidentally went to a panel at a convention that compared the characters of TOA and FFVII and made the panel-goers decide which characters were better, and, back then, FFVII won out, so I felt very vindicated in my stupidly unfair comparison.

Yes, they're similar in ways. A lot of things can be compared because it's difficult to find something that's truly "unique" anymore. When I was younger, I guess that FFVII must've seemed very unique to me, because now that I look back, I can see all the ways that FFVII draws from other things too.

That way of thinking is in the past for me, but I still feel disappointed by it now because it wrecked that friendship I had. I think they unfriended me because they got fed up with my complaining. (...Although I can't say I miss them. I don't think we would've agreed about the game in other aspects anyway, even if I had the same mind then that I do now. lol)

Anyway, there were a lot of things I skipped while I was playing it the first time. I just wanted to rush through it as quickly as possible. It still bothers me that the skits aren't voiced in the English version, but I skipped over them entirely back then. I still did that a number of times when I played it this time, but I tried to find the more relevant-sounding ones on youtube so I could listen to them with the Japanese voices. It filled in a lot of information I didn't know before. The skits in Tales games seem like they're something secondary or extra, but you can usually find some very important story-related information in them - I didn't know that back then.

I also didn't bother playing any of the sidequests. I don't think I got any of the costume titles or anything, and I can't even verify that now because I accidentally saved over my cleared save file with a new game and I don't know what I accepted from the grade shop - if anything.

Not playing the sidequests is a big deal.

See, my favorite character was Jade, so... You lose chunks of his backstory if you don't play the sidequests that are relevant to him; namely the Catalyst Weapons quest, the following Forbidden Artes quest, and the Contamination Effect quest.

I also loved Dist. I think I would consider him my favorite TOA character now, even over Jade, though Jade is an extremely well-written character. I'm not sure why I liked them back then. I wish I had spent less time talking about what I disliked and focused on the things I enjoyed. All I know is that I shipped them and I even wrote them a fic, but I can barely bring myself to look at it now because I'm sure that it lacks the depth of the one I just wrote. There's just no way I could have written something objectively GOOD (in my eyes, at least) if I hadn't played those sidequests and listened to the skits.

I used to think that Jade/Dist was a crack ship. That's how other people treated it, which is, I FIRMLY believe now, not only unfair, but completely incorrect. lmao They couldn't be FARTHER from a crack ship.

I'm not sure I understood "tsundere" when I first played it.

I'm not sure that MANY of the people who played it then (and now) understand what tsundere is. That's the only explanation I can come up with for why people treat Jade/Dist the way they do.

Both Jade and Dist are tsundere. For each other. It's extremely easy to prove. I feel like I don't even have to word it that way. It doesn't need proving.

It's a fact. Jade and Dist are tsundere for each other. It's stated by the party. It's THERE, but perhaps it's played so straight and seems so unexpected (for a number of reasons, the #1 being that they're both male) that it went over players' heads.

"What are you saying, Nana?" you cry. "Are you saying that Jade/Dist is canon?"


Tales of the Abyss is not in short supply of tsunderes. Jade, Dist, Tear, Asch, and even Luke and Natalia are tsundere in varying degrees. I believe I just listed them in order from most tsundere to least tsundere.

Jade is at the very highest end of tsundere where his actions seem SO violent toward the person he likes that it can be misconstrued as hatred to the untrained eye.

Tear is at the low end where her bittersweet attitude towards Luke totally crumbles away and reveals her dere whenever anyone points out that she may like him. In the end, she even admits that she loves him, which is something you will possibly NEVER hear from the type of tsundere that Jade is.

I probably would have liked TOA a lot more if I had realized that my ship was canon. I'm not sure I want to go out of my way to list all of the "evidence" that I have. If you understand tsundere and you play the game, you'll see it as plain as day and won't need anyone to explain it. But apparently there are still a lot of people out there who think that Jade hates Dist or think that the ship is one-sided or that it would just be abusive.

It's none of those things. So, at the least, I'll prove that Jade has mutual feelings for Dist and that their relationship isn't abusive. (Dysfunctional? Oh, yes. But not abusive in the way that Tumblr likes to throw around the word.)

It's clear to most people that Dist has a thing for Jade. He follows him around everywhere and all of his motivations are based on a desire to return him and Jade to a time when they were happier - when they were together. (To that end, he attempts to resurrect their old professor so that he can "reverse" the mistake that caused Jade to become distant.) He's also heavily coded as gay through his voice, outfit, mannerisms, and... Just about everything.

Now, what about Jade? How the heck can I prove that he LOVES Dist?

Because the others say it. On various occasions, in fact. In case you're wondering, the translation is almost exact. The word "love" is used by Guy there because he was implying something romantic. Never does Jade directly deny what they say. As if to prove them right about him being tsundere towards Dist... He acts tsundere about their accusations.

There are also some "blink and you'll miss it" moments in which he uses Dist's real name, "Saphir". During the Forbidden Artes quest, he tells a story about how Saphir found a rock similar to the ones the party was searching for. As soon as he realized that he used his name, he completely changed the story to it being "a servant" who found the stone. Also, after you defeat Dist and his robot for the final time, Jade tells him goodbye using his real name.

The times when he uses it are significant because it seems like Jade thinks of Dist and Saphir as different people. He uses his real name so infrequently, it's like he wants to hide the existence of "Saphir" from the party entirely. The main part of the story is spent with Jade trying to escape from his past self who lacked moral awareness. Dist, on the other side of the coin, lost his morals in his attempt to return Jade's happiness. Inside, Jade still saw him as Saphir (the innocent boy who just wanted to be near him), but, by the end, he said goodbye to "Saphir" when he realized that neither of them were the way they used to be.

I believe there are a few reasons why Dist is the only God-General to survive in the end. (As a note here, I took a glance at the anime, and I'm not even sure he Really Actually Died in that adaptation, so I don't think the wiki should be trusted when it says that he died in the anime. He was defeated in the same way he was defeated in the game. He just never reappeared. Feel free to correct me if it was solidly stated that he was dead.)

Over and over, the party encouters Dist. They defeat his robots. He goes blasting off again. Jade could have - at ANY point - either killed him or had him arrested. After they questioned him about Mt. Roneal and Jade did have him arrested... Dist still escaped from prison. I'd assert that Jade knew that would happen. With all of the other God-Generals, he seemed to have no problem saying that they should simply be killed to remove them as a threat. He knew what they were capable of, and I think he knew Dist better than any of them. At the same time, that's why he wanted to leave him alive. He knew that Dist's meddling wasn't malicious. It's not that Jade saw him as harmless... He just saw him in a different category. Much like how Jade is the token "bad guy" of the main party, Dist is the token "good guy" of the God-Generals, and Jade knew that. As the player, I think you even get the sense that Dist isn't actually bad for the sake of being bad. He's bad for the sake of being good, even if it's just for the sake of one person - Jade.

Before the final battle, Jade tells Anise that he's thinking of returning to his fomicry research. He couldn't have done that research without the help of Dist, who was responsible for half of it, so I believe you can infer that he wishes to work on it with him again. That's why he arrests him again during the Contamination Effect sidequest. Even if you don't think that Jade loves Dist, you can't argue that he doesn't see Dist's value. (Which is exactly what Dist wanted, by the way. He wanted acknowledgment from Jade.) Even if it seemed cruel of him to arrest him again, Dist was getting what he wanted in the end. He was spared because Jade saw his value and believed that he was important to the furthering of fomicry; fomicry, which had SAVED the world in the end because of Luke's creation.

I don't know how many people have thought of it that way, but Dist and Jade were equally responsible for the salvation of Auldrant. Their mistakes, which were likely foretold by The Score, were what also caused The Score to deviate.

I like that final conversation Jade had with Dist in the military HQ a lot, by the way. It's very complicated in its simplicity and apparently confused a lot of players. Jade was asking Dist what would happen after Luke's body was disintegrated. Dist was annoyed that he would even talk to him about that, but, when he realized that it was important to Jade, he assured him that Luke's memories would remain. I like it in the sense that even if they're both too stubborn to admit that they value each other, they can agree as men of science. That's kind of beautiful... lmao Their equilibrium is found through that shared interest. Perhaps feelings are just too illogical for them to handle.

As another note about Dist's arrest(s), I think that Jade also preferred arresting him to killing him so that Dist would be safe. He did it to protect him. It would keep him out of their way and out of the way of Van once Dist was seen as a traitor. It would also keep him in one place. Although Dist saw it as Jade running away, it was actually Jade making sure that he stayed where he could find him. Being the world's biggest tsundere, he couldn't just say "Stay here. I want to talk to you later" because that would mean admitting that he wants to talk to Dist at all. Putting him in the Malkuth Military Base Headquarters in the end is significant because that's where Jade conducts his own business. Simple. It's the best excuse for Jade and makes everything very convenient for him.

...I may have elaborated a little more than I anticipated. lmao I'd rather share my thoughts than leave something out, I guess.

Okay, so on the topic of whether Jade/Dist is abusive...

You're going to have to reconsider how you see every tsundere relationship if that's what you think because violence is almost always a part of the tsundere trope. Not always, of course. I'm not sure if Tear ever got violent with Luke, but she most definitely had the attitude.

The violence between Jade and Dist is comical. Everyone always says that Dist "went blasting off again" because it's like Team Rocket. It's supposed to be funny. After reading everything I wrote up there, I hope you can agree that Jade doesn't hate Dist. He thinks of him very fondly, but, being a "devil" as Nephry put it, he has a lot of trouble showing it. It's just like what Guy and the others surmised. He treats Dist badly because he likes him, like a schoolyard bully teasing the weak child they actually have a crush on.

"But what about that scene in the Keterburg hotel, Nana?!"

All you hear is screaming, even in the Japanese audio. We don't hear any punches being thrown, no tables being broken - nothing. We dont know what Jade did to him... And guess what? That's why it's funny! It's a JOKE! Dist is a masochist and Jade is a sadist. The joke is that Jade will give him what he wants and make it hurt so that he can extract information from him. For all we know, he was giving him an extreme titty-twister. Dist is probably going to ask him to do it again. (jk, he won't ask. He'll annoy Jade in other ways until he snaps and does it again without him having to directly ask for it. Because asking would be too embarrassing. #tsundere)

Some miscellaneous things now that just came to mind...

Jade REALLY loves teasing Dist. It's like his #1 favorite thing. He loves teasing everyone, but I don't think he seems happier than when he saw Dist again and was able to toy with him. (I mean the time when he called him "Dist the Runny". I'd bet you hard money that he thinks that nickname is cute.) Even the party was embarrassed to watch them quibbling at each other like lovers.

For his own part, I think that Dist loves being teased. He'll take Jade's attention any way he can get it. So, instead of "abusive", think of them as complementary. One satisfies what the other needs.

Another thing... For as much as they changed since they were kids, I think it could be said that they're also still the same. Their relationship really hasn't changed a lot. It was just important for them to both realize they needed to let go of what was in the past - the professor, specifically. Jade ran away from the past while Dist refused to leave it. Now that they've made peace with her and destroyed her replica for good (which symbolically put the whole matter to rest), they can begin to create the time that Dist wanted to return to, that "golden era".

"Fomicry" itself was a symbol of the past. That was why Jade abandoned it while Dist picked it back up. That's why Jade returned to it in the end, as if to say that he's ready to start over with him.

Moving along again... One of the other reasons why it's important that Dist is the only God-General to survive is because he was important to Jade as a character. Dist is the only person who really knows what happened to him. He was there and saw everything. Jade continually turned away from him because he didn't want to face the past and what happened to them on that day when Nebilim died. Another one of the reasons he always lets Dist go is because there are things from the past that he doesn't want to forget. The professor was important to them. They didn't want to forget her, but they found it too difficult to let go of her. If he killed Dist, Jade would have been symbolically killing Nebilim again. I think that's part of why Dist is portrayed as someone weak and harmless despite the massive problem he proves to be for the party. Crushing Dist would be like crushing an ant; unnecessary and cruel. It would have undermined the development that was moving Jade away from his Necromancer title. ...That's also why I find it too hard to believe that Dist is actually dead in the anime. It wouldn't make sense.

"Death" itself is also a persistent symbol following Jade. Killing Dist would have stacked more death upon Jade, right at the point when he was about to emerge from it. Nebilim may have died... But Dist was still alive. Jade was still alive. I think that's something that Jade needed to realize; not the meaning of death, but the value of the ones who are alive.

Then there's the obvious thing with Jade and Saphir's names literally being counterparts. I don't know if it goes any deeper than them both being named after gemstones. (I won't speculate on the symbolism since that can be iffy. I prefer to focus on what I can prove contextually.) I just like it because, if nothing else, it shows again that they're two halves of the same coin. I think that Dist's name is something of a mystery at first for that reason. It was meant to come as a surprise, to make you realize "Oh... They're actually very similar." At the point that the party went to Keterburg, spoke to Nephry, and learned Dist's real name, I believe that's when they realized that Dist wasn't a true enemy in their story.

I don't know what else I could possibly add at this point. lol I feel like I've exhausted my interpreting abilities. That was a lot.

So what about the rest of the game?

It was entertaining. I think there was a very improbable amount of continent-hopping, especially where the sidequests were concerned. The one you had to do for Frings and Cecille was just silly. It was worth it for the costume title in the end and did add to the story, but dang. It didn't have to be that long. lol I had to fly from one side of the eastern continent to the other side SO many times.

At first, I thought there were a lot of sidequests, but once I reached the end of the sidequest guide I was following, I felt like there weren't really that many... I think the ones in Vesperia were more complicated and had stranger cut-off points. The number of quests certainly couldn't rival the number of them in TOX and TOX2, that's for sure. So... I would've actually liked more. (But it was a PS2 game. I can't complain. It was probably a lot, considering the time when it was made.)

Nam Cobanda Isle was really cute in this one. I liked the concept of it being like a circus troupe's hideout. That was neat.

My favorite town is Keterburg. Obviously, I like it because it's Jade and Dist's hometown, but I also just really love snow areas in video games. I liked Mt. Roneal too. I spent a few hours outside of Nebilim's Crag to grind and I thought the enemies in that area were really cool. Were they supposed to be escaped experiments? lol One of them really freaked me out because it would just lay down and die instead of disappearing when it was killed like enemies normally do. What was with that?! ...Anyway, I guess this means that I enjoyed that whole continent. lol

The combat was a lot better than I remembered, but I think that's probably because I've just gotten better at playing Tales games in general. Their battle system definitely has a learning curve, but once you're really proficient at one of them (TOX2 for me) then it feels like the others all come naturally. When battling, I spent most of the game as Guy and only switched if it was totally necessary. Guy has a lot of my favorite artes like Tempest, Sword Rain Alpha, and Beast.

Jade was the one I always had the S Flag on. I enjoyed watching his confident stride.

My favorite costume was Anise's Childish costume. I think I preferred all of her costumes to the other characters'.

I hope that Peony marries Nephry now... Just imagine him and Jade as brothers-in-law. fdkgjhfdg Jade would be dying forever.

...omfg, this post got SO long. Okay. I'll stop now. If you really want to know my thoughts about a particular character or something, just ask. lmao

EDIT (3.13.16) I feel like I need to add a VERY IMPORTANT edit to this post after discovering this TOA timeline. I can't believe I had never seen it before. (I can't believe none of my friends had seen it either.) I can't remember what I was even searching for, but I stumbled upon this wealth of information that basically confirms my headcanons as... Well, actual canon.

For one, it shows that Jade and Dist were together for a lot longer than I even expected. I think that their closeness is underestimated by most people. Heck, even I underestimated it. I had seen fanart of them together at the Grand Chokmah military academy, but I thought that was more fanon.

The most interesting thing about that part of the timeline to me is the fact that it states, indisputably, that while Jade and Dist were in Grand Chokmah, Peony and Nephry were in a relationship. I feel like the game had only teased that information. For some reason, I feel like this makes another point on the timeline stand out even more:

Near the end of the year, Jade fails a replication experiment and is gravely injured. Peony punches him and makes him realize how his death would affect him, Nephry and Saphir.

I went ahead and underlined Saphir's name there for you. Say, even if Jade and Dist weren't an item at that point, at least Peony was acknowledging the fact that Saphir would be heavily affected if something were to happen to Jade. A little odd to lump him in with them if he was still just a bother, right?

Looking at how much time they actually spent together, it makes it seem way more obvious to me that Jade was fond of Saphir. If he weren't, he would've gotten rid of him. And besides that, the fact that they're always mentioned together when Peony and Nephry's names are mentioned together makes me feel like there's something they're trying to tell me... Like how shortly after Jade and Saphir separated, Peony and Nephry also separated...

It's almost as if Peony/Nephry is meant to be Jade/Dist's straight counterpart.

Anyway, it gets better.

Jade starts fomicry again with the help of Saphir, whom Peony released from prison.

My comprehension skills are a force to be reckoned with. Jade purposely dodged killing Dist and went on to tell Anise that he was interested in restarting fomicry research becaaaaaaause... /POINTS UP THERE/ THAT'S IT. THAT'S THE SHIT. I WAS FUCKIN' RIGHT.

By the end of the game, he was willing to accept Dist/Saphir as his responsibility, which means acknowledging that he was partially at fault for Dist's actions, and was looking forward to restarting their research - which is exactly what Dist had desired all along. The game's title of biggest loser and winner both go to Dist, honestly.

We don't know the circumstances of how Dist was released from prison, nor do we know specifically how long he was captive (a year or less, it seems), but I've got a few assumptions. Even if Jade didn't explicitly say anything to Peony, I bet that Peony released Dist because he knew how important he was to Jade. It goes a little beyond releasing him for the sake of their research. Even if he also teased him as a child, Peony is outwardly kinder than Jade and counted Saphir among his friends (as stated above). The alternative is that Jade actually asked him to release Dist, which, considering how much Jade's thinking had changed by the end, is more of a possibility than it may seem.

The only disappointment I have with this timeline is that it doesn't tell me whether Peony and Nephry got back together. I'm prayin' for them, man!!

Anyway, none of this has been to discredit anyone else's shipping or anything like that, but the evidence I've laid out certainly does lend some strong canon evidence to the assumption that Jade/Dist and Peony/Nephry are meant to be seen as couples. This all feels really obvious to me, but I know that most of this went over a lot of people's heads, so forgive me if you read this whole thing and agreed with everything and thought it was obvious as I did.

EDIT (3.16.16) I gotta stop editing this, but I somehow keep finding new things...

In this edition, I present you with this track from a drama CD that accompanied the Tales of the Abyss anime. It speaks for itself. The video also has subtitles for your convenience.

This track is so important because it confirms a handful of the things I was speculating about in my previous edit. Peony, counting Dist as a friend, decided not to take any action until he received custody of him from the Order of Lorelei. And apparently... It was at Jade's own request. So I was right on both points. I guess it was alright for me to rely on Jade's character development. (In other words, ok to assume that he would feel sympathetically for Dist and be willing to step forward for him/admit Dist's importance.)

I know it's hard for some people to see through what a tsundere is saying, though. I can hear the defense of Jade fans who don't ship them (or who hate Dist) now... "But, Nana, weren't you listening? He's still cold towards Dist!"

That's still an act. You see, Dist is fucking embarrassing. Jade ADORES this goofball, but can't bring himself to say it because he doesn't want to hurt his own image by admitting it.

Thank God for Peony. After Jade starts walking away, he states it very plainly for anyone who was still in denial:

"That Jade came down here especially for you. That shows how much he relies on you, Saphir."

Naturally, Dist is verklempt. He may be a genius, but he's kind of blind to how Jade really feels. He nearly has a breakdown when Peony explains why Jade really came there. That was everything he ever wanted to hear and more.

There are a lot of things I enjoy about this track, but my favorite thing is how you can tell that Dist is still just Saphir. There's no doubt here that all of his maniacal laughter and boasting is phony. He's just a teary-eyed, lovesick moeblob under the feathers and lipstick.