Of Redemption And Forgiveness Of Sins
Found this gem on a KH Stan’s Tumblr. Will not name names or link to the OP, but the things that are said here deserve to be disputed.
I’ve found, over the years, that I have this sort of tier system when I decide how I feel about a character committing any sort of sin. The lowest tier is for characters I can’t, in good conscience, hold responsible for an action. This tier is generally reserved for children, mainly. Possibly other characters who, for whatever reason, have their ability to make a legitimate moral decision somehow impaired. Referring to my recent bit of KH discourse is a perfect example: little child Ienzo during the fall of Radiant Garden.
This post about Varian from Tangled: The Series kind of puts my feelings about this particular free pass given to underage characters who make mistakes or become villains.
The mid-tier is where most of my favorite “problematic” characters fall: people who do terrible things, but the circumstances surrounding the deeds give them a legitimate reason to, or at least alter their ability to do the right thing. A good example of this is Axel: cunning murderer, liar, manipulator of the two children that rely on him. He makes terrible decisions, but he also lost his heart at the age of fifteenish. After that, he was used by the Organization as an assassin, made a tool. He spent ten years being lied to, gaslighted about his ability to relearn and feel emotions. When those emotions, start to return, painful ones among them, he doesn’t know how to properly deal with them and has no one to turn to for help or comfort. When his two friends, the only sources of positivity in his life, are endangered, he can’t see any way to protect them beyond the duplicity and manipulation he’s relied on for a decade. In short, he does awful things, but I can’t see him as a bad person. Rather, he’s stuck in a terrible situation and reacts accordingly.
OK, I’m with this on “the circumstances surrounding the deeds give them a legitimate reason to do terrible things” but absolutely NOT with “alter their ability to do the right thing.” Because Axel did do the right thing on more than one occasion. He showed Roxas kindness and was open to teaching him and learning about him in the process. He allowed Namine to leave the room she was being held captive in so that she could set things right and derail Marluxia’s plan to brainwash Sora. He stood up for Xion against Saix on more than one occasion, even stopping Roxas and Xion from fighting to the death when they’d been set up. And of course we have his attempt to save Kairi after he’d both kidnapped her and gotten her abducted by Saix, and his self sacrifice to help Sora so that he could go help Kairi. So Axel proved himself entirely capable of doing right - he had the ability. Lacking the ability was never the problem for him, it was all about the desire to act upon that ability. Axel consistently lacked that desire. Because he was selfish, entirely by choice. Because he liked being used as a tool for the Organization’s benefit so long as he too benefited from it. He wasn’t being lied to, at least not in the story as it was originally told before the “Nobodies can develop hearts of their own, Xemnas is a LIAR!” retcon was forced into the narrative - he made a conscious effort to be cold, jaded, and exploitative of circumstances and others around him because it enhanced the efficiency and precision of his occupation. He didn’t know that full feelings and emotions of the heart was something he wanted or needed until he started to experience them thanks to Roxas, Sora, and Xion, and once he did realize this, he did whatever he could to not lose the source(s) of that sensation even if it meant acting against others close to him, said source(s) of that sensation included. The fact that he didn’t know how to properly deal with his feelings and had no one to turn to for help or comfort is true, and it makes him a tragic character whom we can feel for. But when his friends were endangered, “protecting them” was Axel’s rationale for acting the way he did in response. The duplicity and manipulation he utilized in order to keep them around and safe with him was not for their sake, but for his own. He didn’t want to lose that source of positivity in his life. Even when Roxas and Xion were wanting to leave the Organization behind and would be better off doing so given how terrible the Organization was for them, Axel put his own wants, needs, and experiences far ahead of those of his friends. He was not protecting them, he was protecting himself. In short, he did awful things because he was a bad person who refused to recognize how bad he truly was, refused to get better, and refused to put the ones he cared about first, up until the very end when he finally started to get it and laid down his life to do the right, unselfish thing. This “he’s stuck in a terrible situation and reacts accordingly” Marv Wolfman Slade Wilson defense bullshit is not gonna fly as an excuse for Axel’s acts of villainy done of his own choices.
The third tier is pretty rare for me to put a character into, but it does happen: the character that does something shitty that I can’t see an appropriate reason for. The character that I can’t forgive. My current favorite example is Ansem the Wise: the utterly awful, petty, dickish attitude he has towards Namine and Roxas in KHII is beyond what I can stand. He has no reason to be an asshole to them, two children whose short lives have been filled with confusion, fear, pain, sadness, abuse. He’s got reason to use them, yes, to wake up Sora, but the way he treats them? The cruelty? I’ve got no explanation for that other than he is a goddamned asshole, and I hate him.
There is zero excuse for Ansem/DiZ’s cruelty. ZERO. He was being a bad, bad man and he should feel bad about it for the rest of his life. But appropriate explanations, there are two:
1. Namine and Roxas were Nobodies. Ansem/DiZ hated Nobodies because their very being was brought about by Xehanort continuing the research that Ansem himself had began. The fact that these vacant beings are walking around, living and breathing in a World that they should, be all means, not exist in, is a constant reminder of things Ansem has guilt over, but rather than blame himself and wallow in that guilt and shame, Ansem preferred to deflect by resenting and cursing the Nobodies themselves, especially once he learned they were being led by an organization founded by his six traitorous apprentices’ Nobodies. So in Ansem’s warped view, Namine and Roxas were not real children, their lives were not truly their’s to live, the confusion, fear, pain, sadness, and abuse didn’t matter because “a Nobody cannot feel and experience anything”, and they were best suited for serving a useful purpose for him, his vengeance crusade, and his pretentious Servant of the World fantasy he was playing out.
2. Ansem/DiZ had shut himself off from his own heart following what had happened to him and his world. He. didn’t. trust. or. like. ANYONE. He didn’t heed the feelings of shame, recognition of his own horribleness, and desire to do what was truly right by others that were in his heart because he felt he needed to follow what his mind could figure out and determine instead, and that cold, methodological, literally heartless approach left his heart open to Darkness, Darkness that he exploited as DiZ (Darkness In Zero), and he didn’t treat anyone like a friend ‘cause he figured if his own apprentices that he’d viewed as family betrayed him, then who could he trust? So in his newfound sense of misanthropy, he was an asshole to Riku, an asshole to Namine, even an asshole to his own friend Mickey. If that’s how he acts towards people on his own side, it’s certainly not inconsistent that he display a cruel attitude towards a would-be pawn like Roxas as well. It was his poor way of handling his own grief.
But here’s how these characters truly differ:
Ienzo, when he came back whole after being murdered as Zexion by Axel through the Riku Replica he’d manipulated, was fully accepting of the things he’d done wrong before, holding himself accountable for his sins and the effects had on other wronged parties, and actively works to do good in order to atone, never once acting as though he’s owed any reward.
Ansem the Wise, when he survived his attempt at final penance via suicide, was (just as he was during KHII’s climax) fully accepting of the things he’d done wrong before, holding himself accountable for his sins and the effects had on other wronged parties, and he actively works to do good in order to atone, never once acting as though he’s owed any reward.
Lea, when he came back whole after having sacrificed his life as Axel...does a complete backtracking on that progress and seeks out a way to get what he personally desires, shows no remorse and expresses no regret over things he’d done wrong and refuses to ever once hold himself accountable for his sins and the effects had on other wronged parties (Vexen, Zexion, Namine, Riku Replica, Sora, Xion, Roxas), has no intention of actually making things up to his friends once he brings them back (as the story now acts as though he did them no harm and that “I’ll always be there to bring you back!” was a touching, noble promise from one friend to another rather than a literal threat to drag his friends back to the Organization they were running from, no matter how many times they run, all so that he can deny them what they want in favor of him getting what HE wants), only ever apologizes to Kairi (off-screen) in hopes of her forgiving him as though he were owed that forgiveness, acts entitled to a Keyblade of his own despite having done nothing to earn one and shown nothing to make himself seem worthy of one, and all but boasts that he can get away with anything, can do anything he wants and deserves to get everything he wants because he’s so popular.
One of these guys has not earned forgiveness for his sins in-universe, and it ain’t Ansem.