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March 12, 2014

D.O.X. is Dead #4: Destiny and Beauty


Okay, so we’re at installment number four.  Let’s do something a little different.  Here’s a very brief recap/summary of what’s been talked about so far.  But let’s do it with style, and invoke the spirit of Kamen Rider OOO.  Sing along if you know the words.  Or the five-second phrase at the start of an episode.  Or, you know, just speak.  Don’t sing.  I feel like this conversation’s gone off the rails, so let’s get to it…with the proper thirty-second music, of course.

These three things happened last time on D.O.X. is Dead! 

Firstly, the ghost-centric story and its multiple versions are revealed -- along with the concepts and key event at its core!

Secondly, the two lead characters, Arc Siegel and Kaylee Hazlett, are discussed at length -- with one of the old version’s greatest faults made clear!

And thirdly, the setting is analyzed, and its expansion made clear…along with the corruption system that informs the plot!

Okay, that’ll do it.  By the way, you can probably close that video earlier.  Unless you actually like the music.  In fact, just go bookmark it so you can listen to it whenever you want.  It’ll be fun.  Or do the smart thing and throw your computer out the window so you can rid yourself of that nonsense once and for all.

Still here?  Great.   Now let’s begin in earnest.


In case I haven’t made it clear before, I’ll say it now: this story has a core cast of eight.  That’s been the case pretty much since the beginning, give or take a couple of months -- meaning that whether we’re talking about V1 (back when it was Dead over Two), V2 (D.O.X.), or…whatever I’ll ultimately end up calling V3, it was always my intention to have those eight characters.  Granted two of them where horrifically marginalized to the point where it was effectively a cast of six -- and five before long -- but in terms of a head count you get the idea.  Like I said before, Kaylee (formerly Katie) was one of them.  The other one?  I’ll get to him another time.

It’s also worth mentioning, again, that pretty much every main character in this story pays tribute to Guilty Gear in some capacity.  The reason for that is because I played one of the games for the first time right around the time when I started the story.  As you can imagine, it was fresh on my mind for a while; that ended up being double the case when I couldn’t come up with a name for one of the Core 8, and ended up snatching up one of GG’s names to compensate.  Then one thing led to another, and the others took on references of their own.  Whatever the case, I’d like to think that if not for the bold, unapologetic, in-your-face insanity of Daisuke Ishiwatari’s precious baby, my story wouldn’t exist.  Or if not that, be the story it is today.

So.  How fitting is it that the game that inspired me also got a recent reviving overhaul?


Well, to be fair, Guilty Gear Xrd is more of a continuation of the canon, rather than an all-out reboot.  That’s especially true, considering that -- as far as I can tell, vis a vis the inclusion of Sin and Ky making references to Dizzy in one of his battle quotes -- Guilty Gear 2: Overture is apparently something they’re not afraid to continue from.  (Joy of joys.  I’m having flashbacks to collecting Dr. Paradigm’s scores in his huge-ass mansion of bullshit.)  In my case, I’m effectively starting over; it’s a reboot that’ll keep certain key events, but everything and everyone has evolved.  Nothing is sacred…well, except for keeping the Core 8 intact.

Now, let me say that my guys aren’t carbon copies of GG’s guys.  There are some pretty marked differences, chief among them the way they look.  Besides that, it was always my intent to have certain characters act and fight the way they do, because…well, it just suited them and their “play styles”.  There was always going to be a guy with a flaming sword.  There was always going to be a lightning-user.  There was always going to be some darkness-slinger who probably needs a few dozen sessions of therapy.  It’s probably for the best if you assume that that wasn’t the result of me subconsciously adding in those elements, but I suspect some of you reading this aren’t exactly the idealistic sort. 

So I’ll go ahead and prove it.  It starts with this guy: Coil.  (Warning: art incoming.  Get ready to hide in your bunker of choice.)


Here’s an old file on him (so glad I made these things for no reason):
“A hooded punk with a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Everest.  Brash, foul-mouthed, and always looking for a fight, this stranger blew into New Rock City and is making a name for himself by taking on any gang members that cross his path -- and of course, he has his sights set on making Arc’s teeth into a necklace.  He’s also the chosen one destined to slay the lord of the dead with his magical flaming sword.  Wait, what?”

Well.  Looks like Past Me saved me a bit of an explanation.  While simultaneously demanding more of it.  Man, Past Me is an asshole.  Or…was an asshole.

Anyway, this is going back about a thousand years, but when I talked about Final Fantasy 13-2

*shudders*

When I talked about Final Fantasy 13-2, in one of the posts I made up a phrase called “The Chosen One Problem”.  In a nutshell, it’s the issue of whether or not someone who has the title of Chosen One -- in whatever form it may take -- actually deserves to be called such.  What makes them so special?  Is he/she the right person for the task?  Is there absolutely no one else?  You know, things like that.  I feel like that’s an especially important set of questions to start considering in a post-Harry Potter world -- especially when Mr. Potter won the day with luck and timely assists more often than he did with his skill or force of will.  But what do you expect when he shares a universe with Sir Neville M.F. Longbottom?


Pretty much everything I said back then was in reference to Coil.  In the past, his character arc had a lot to do with him being The Chosen One -- called “The Prodigy” in universe.  But as it turns out, he’s anything but; setting aside the fact that he speaks and acts like the common thug, his skills and his title don’t line up at all.  I know that usually when you see a big whompin’ sword, it’s a signal that whoever’s using it is not to be trifled with.  But as V1 became V2, and V2 progressed in its own right, the reverse became true; his giant sword is noted by AND proven to be a complete liability.  It’s slow, it’s unwieldy, it’s impossible for Coil to wield without two hands (under normal circumstances, at least), and while it does boast raw power, that’s pretty much all it’s got in his favor…and as countless mooks in fiction have demonstrated, having nothing but size and power almost automatically guarantees that the mook will be made into an example, not a threat. 

Coil was THE power-type character in the Core 8’s original form, but that was all he had.  All power, no skill.  Average speed at best, and zero aptitude with magic, and paranormal senses about as sharp as an oatmeal cookie.  He had no right to be in the battle to take back the city, and the world at large -- and you would think that knowledge like that would reflect in his personality.  Sadly, you’d be wrong; Coil started out with all the brazen, cocksure swagger of a rock star, simply because his power (however little he had) put him a cut above the average man.  Basically, he was spoiled rotten.

And then you realize that he knew how weak he was.  So he wasn't quite this person.


He was more like this person.


Much like Arc, the crux of Coil’s character was that he ended up having his pride shattered and got exposed as a fraud on a regular basis.  But unlike Arc (to an extent, at least), Coil’s coping mechanism was to hide his weakness behind the façade of Joey Tough-Guy.  He had to pretend like he was hot stuff -- the hero everyone counted on -- because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have had anything else.  Well, except for a wellspring of untapped rage, but that’s a topic for another time.  What’s important to keep in mind is that Coil pretended to be a hero but was actually a zero…and he STAYED a zero from start to finish, despite character development and his furious attempts to claw his way to respectability.

Past or present, Coil may have some things in common with Guilty Gear’s leading man Sol Badguy, but there’s at least one key difference: COIL IS NOT THE MAIN CHARACTER OF THE STORY.  He’s a main character, but he can’t take the top slot.  And he never will.  That’s not to say he was a walking punch line -- if he could hit you, he would end you -- but in a story like this one, being guided toward a climactic battle thanks to destiny or some divine edict from God isn’t enough.  Despite his change from boy to man, despite his grief-filled past, and despite his destiny, Coil didn’t get to walk away with his destiny fulfilled.

He didn’t get to walk away period.


I don’t remember exactly when I decided Coil had to die, but I’m not 100% opposed to the idea, even now (which is more than I can say for the then-shortchanged Katie).  That was a major distinction between him and his ostensible rival Arc; whereas the former marched up to the final boss because someone else told him to, the latter marched up to him because he decided it for himself.  One was guided by fate; one made his own.  It was a brutal sixth-act twist -- one of the lowest lows in the story, and something that no amount of optimism or zeal could change. 

Looking back, I don’t think that Coil was necessarily a “broken” character, unlike a couple I could name.  He had his trajectory and his personal struggles, and he had his moments of triumph as he fought (within and without) to overcome them.  But I think that the problem -- a problem that pretty much every cast member shared, if I had to guess -- was that he struggled, but he didn’t struggle in relation to anybody else.  Basically, the bonds he forged weren’t really earned or earnest, so in a late-game scene when he tries to throw “the power of friendship” in Arc’s face, he rightfully tells him off…and does so for all the wrong reasons.  He was supposed to have relationships with the other characters, but those were only suggested bonds at best -- even when one of them was effectively a father figure, and the other was effectively a brother-in-arms.

So, how has Coil changed since then?  Besides cosmetically?
      
I can think of one thing: he’s kind of a dork now.


That’s not to say he’s a total nerd.  He’s still a rough-necked punk, and he’s still something of an idiot.  But it becomes increasingly obvious that he’s putting on an act, and trying his absolute hardest to pass himself off as Joey Tough-Guy (to the point where his catch phrase is “I’m a man, dammit!”)  He’ll blush, stumble over his words, and reveal all too quickly that he’s into more feminine hobbies.  Despite that, he’s gruff and foul-mouthed as all get out; a lot of his dialogue gets tagged with an almost customary “you bastards” -- but despite that, he’s the same person that will go out of his way to fanboy-out over the mere presence of certain other characters.

But if you think that Coil is a more comedic character now, DON’T.  If anything, he -- much like the revamped cast at large -- is significantly darker.  The key concept behind V3 Coil is heaviness, which you’d expect from someone who can summon a sword the size of a surfboard.   But it goes beyond that; he’s not exactly the most articulate, but there’s some incredible weight behind his words.  He’s young, but there’s a sense of maturity to him; he’s a quieter character, and much more focused on doing what he thinks needs to be done instead of just grandstanding. 


It’s true that he’ll get into a fight on a moment’s notice, but whereas V1/V2 Coil would be the one to start a fight, V3 Coil is the type to end it.  Most importantly, the type of person he is -- the Chosen One -- weighs down on him constantly.  He’s self-aware; he knows his weaknesses better than anyone, and the fact that the world is about to face its darkest hour has him damn near petrified.  To say nothing of the deep, corruption-begging grudge he’s got inside him.

Oh, and that sword of his?  It’s even worse for him now.  Granted his sword -- and several other weapons -- has taken on a more mechanical bent, but the compensation he gets (think King Dedede’s Jet Hammer mixed with Tsubaki’s Install) can only do so much.  The weight is utterly immense, to the point where you can see him physically struggle to swing it under normal circumstances.  More often than not, he has to drag it behind him just to move.  To put it simply, he’s had to train himself so much that he doesn’t win because of it.  He wins despite it.   

He’s still the cast’s dedicated power-type.  Unfortunately, now he’s sharing that slot with Kath.  (Warning: more art incoming.)  


(Fun fact: there’s more to that picture in the top left corner, but given that the face alone is the stuff of nightmares, I thought I’d spare you from the rest.  Thank me later.)

Now then.  Let’s check the file.

“Katie’s (improbably buxom) older sister.  Proud, haughty, teasing, and more than a little confident in her looks, Kath is prone to messing with Katie whenever the two meet.  Despite that, she’s fun -- fun being subjective here -- to be around, and always tries to be the life of the party when she’s with others…often by resorting to devastating (awesome?) hugs.  But there’s more to her than meets the eye; for starters, she’s an ex-wrestler.  And for another…”

You know, I’m starting to get a little distressed by how often the topic of breasts pops up on this blog.  I mean, that’s probably because I’ve played apologist for Senran Kagura a couple of times, and visual design at large by way of Dragon Crown’s Sorceress.  For the record, I just feel like sometimes I need to try and clear up some misconceptions; as in, it feels like sometimes people will dump hate on a character just because of the way he/she looks -- and to me, that’s seedier territory than just making an improbably buxom character.  Appearances can (emphasis on can) inform a character or even person’s mindset and personality, and can do more than just offer the ever-vital “instantly-recognizable silhouettes” of Simpsons and Futurama fame.  Real-life contexts alone can offer up potential to be mined or defied.  Simply put, it’s a matter of giving you more tools to play with.

Now pardon me while I go eat my foot.


Getting back on-topic, Kath (Kerry in the earliest versions of the story) was the most problematic character in the Core 8.  That’s not just me talking; people outright said they didn’t like her, or they didn’t see the point of her besides being a foil to Katie, and a bad one at that.  I’m not about to go conflating her lack of appeal with her abundance of adipose tissue, but if nothing else it DID give me a wake-up call.  Kath wasn’t the character she needed to be.  Had she continued on the path I set, she wouldn’t have been much more than a patsy -- someone to get taken out when the plot demanded it.  Hell, that description of her up there came long after I started, and edited her into becoming.  And even then, it was more of an informed ability than something she actually got to show off.  And even then, she only did so in almost-offhanded scenes.

But her problems went well beyond her ability (and opportunity) to do some ghost-punching.  True, adding that in definitely helped her case, but a character’s worth to a story goes well beyond their fighting prowess…though that should be obvious by now.  If she was going to be part of a cast -- part of a unit with eight different personas and styles -- then she had to have a pronounced role.  She had to offer up something nobody else could, in a way that would give her unmistakable definition.  And so, somewhere along the line Kath became more than just a cheap foil.  She became one of the most important characters in the entire story. 

 VS

(That’ll make sense in the context.  I swear.)

Much like Coil, Kath’s bluster was a way to cover up her crushing despair and loneliness.  She had that body, and some real power, and plenty of smarts to boot -- but one way or another she ended up never really getting what she wanted or needed.  Despite towering over her, Kath ended up in the shadow of her little sister.  

That shame and realization of her powerlessness (compounded by the fact that she spent most of the story having no powers and hanging out with people that do) pushed her further and further into the depths of despair.  You could even say that Kath went through negative character development by story’s end; whereas Coil became a stronger and more mature person (even if it didn’t end well), Kath goes from a character with her fair share of baggage to someone utterly consumed and oppressed by it.


One thing that’s worth bringing up is that the relationship between Arc, Katie, and Kath was vital to the story.  It’s not what I’d call a straight-up love triangle (though in retrospect, the overtones of shipping and OTP shenanigans are immense), because the “love” only went one way.  Arc and Katie had THE relationship.  That was non-negotiable, and Arc himself made that clear at several points.  He may have been the Archie in the situation (and I can't believe it took me this long to notice the similar names), but he wasn't about to string along Betty (Katie) and Kath (Veronica), especially if it meant treating them like interchangeable parts.  

But Kath -- as a result of certain events, the blooming corruption, the opportunity to bond, and the scars on her heart -- tried to crowbar her way into being the apple of Arc’s eye.  It’s true that they did end up building a relationship, but it was more of a big sis/little bro bond than anything…at least for an outsider looking in.  For Kath, she actually tried to make Arc accept her love, even if it was the result of her mind getting twisted.  It reached a point where, while earlier versions of the story were set to have Kath get mortally wounded by Kaylee, by V2’s final incarnation the reverse happened.

Arc did NOT approve.


It’s hard to gauge how people at large would have reacted to V2 Kath in her final form.   Just because some people didn’t like her didn’t mean that others wouldn’t, after all.  Still, I guess there’s not much reason for me to worry about that now.  V3 Kath is here -- and here to stay.  And she’s looking to be a much better character…by being much worse.

If I had to describe V3 Kath in one word, it would be “unabashed”.  She’s got no filter; she does what she wants and says what she thinks, and doesn’t put any stock in the consequences.  She’s confident in her being -- her strength as well as her looks -- and thinks that she’s got the right to act out just because she’s her.  But a key distinction is that one of her mantras is “I live for myself.”  She says as much several times; she acknowledges that she’s a complete bitch, but could care less -- because in her eyes, she’s just being as selfish as everyone else.  She’s just the only one with the guts to admit it.  So despite being a wrestler (something that’s proven much more readily in V3), and someone with the potential to manifest superhuman powers, she’s the first and loudest to refuse the call.  Though to be fair, she’s not the only one.

You probably shouldn’t have expected anything else from a character paying tribute to I-No.


Kath is nowhere near apologetic, but she’s not an entirely irredeemable person.  She doesn’t start as a philanthropist, sure, and she has a real edge to her, but she gets to go high as well as low.  In V1/V2, the issues in her head (and her arc) were pretty much dependent on past, unseen events -- nothing more than hearsay for the reader, despite being critical elements that informed everything to follow.  With V3, the big stuff is almost entirely framed in the present, as it should be.  

A string of events forces her to have a crisis of confidence, and clash with the other members of the Core 8.  Her struggles are laid bare, and she starts fighting to overcome them…to the best of her ability, at least.  As the story progresses, it becomes pretty obvious that Kath just might be a threat more than an asset.  If I had to chart her out, she’d probably go from low to middle to high, then start going back lower until she hit rock bottom.  In theory, at least.


I can’t say for sure whether the not-love triangle will take form when all’s said and done.  I suspect it will, to some extent.  But certain elements are more pronounced than before; that is, Kath and Kaylee have a MUCH stronger relationship with one another than just basic sisterhood.  If the problem with past versions of Kath was that she was a cheap foil, then V3 fixes that by making her a definite foil from the get-go.  

They’re comrades vis a vis the threat to the world, but they’re still two very different people -- to the point where you could assume they’d have a Street Fighter 4-styled rival battle somewhere down the line.  Whether Arc was in the equation or not (and he is, with the Arc/Kaylee bond on more solid ground), these two have a grudge that needs to be sorted out.  One way or another.  And by that I mean violently.  Very violently.


I suppose that the takeaway from all of this is that the best thing a writer can do is be confident and unapologetic (because otherwise you end up erasing years of work by way of second-guessing yourself).  Was V2 Kath a good enough character, precisely because of her style and pronounced flaws?  Arguably.  But if V2 Kath was “good enough”, then I want V3 Kath to be “great”.  How will people react to her now?  I don’t know.  But I will say this much: I hope there’s no middle ground for her.  I think it’d be pretty great if she was a character people really loved or really hated.  I’m doing what I can to make her -- and everybody else -- intensely lovable, but you know how it goes.  One man’s Daryl is another man’s Lori. 

I will say this much, though.  Coil and Kath are both real troublemakers -- in-universe and out of it.  And right now, that’s just the sort of people they need to be.


Okay, that’ll do it for this post.  What’s coming next?  Good question.  We’ll just have to see.  By which I mean I’ll have to draw out of a hat or something.  Crap, what am I going to put on those lots?  Do I even have a hat big enough?

I need a distraction.  Axl Rose, get in there!


...........................Great.

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