ext_407752: (harmonious)
[identity profile] execharmonious.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] ship_manifesto
Title: Morning's Star, Evening's Fall, and Night's Eternal Compassion
Author: [livejournal.com profile] execharmonious
Fandom: Atelier Iris 3
Pairing: Iris Fortner/Crowley
Spoilers: Significant spoilers to the end of the game. Both endings.
Warnings: Some mentions of Satan (in case that religiously squicks you), shameless literary pretentiousness.
Credit: Characters, settings, and screenshots © GUST and NIS America. Also features a screenshot courtesy of Zany Video Game Quotes, from The Legend of Zelda, © Nintendo.


Atelier Iris 3, for those who haven't heard of it-- and that's probably most of you-- is one of the latest titles in GUST's loosely-linked and rather sprawling Atelier series, a collection of RPGs focusing on alchemists and featuring the mechanics of alchemy as a fundamental part of the game system, in a departure from most RPGs.

It's a tale as old as time, or at least as old as Zelda: Iris Fortner, child of the Fortner lineage of alchemists, is heir to a strange book she cannot open. In another world, a man is trapped by his curiosity and sentenced to a dreadful fate, triggering a series of events that leads the powers of the book to awaken. For the sake of the world and all worlds bound to it, Iris must collect the 8 actually, 9 gems that comprise the sacred book, and undo what has been accidentally wrought.

Pretty standard plot, to be sure. The thing about this game that's great, though, is the characters.


Crowley

An alchemist and Raider (combatant and odd-job-doer for hire, like most of the game's main characters) who gets caught up in a truly unfortunate turn of events. He isn't as strong or skilled in the warrior arts as most Raiders, and so is often left behind as others rank up and gains little respect; unlike many, he doesn't take pleasure in the more aggressive aspects of Raiding, but instead simply enjoys the opportunity to exercise his curiosity and explore the Alterworlds, looking, with an alchemist's mind, at existence as a thing to be appreciated rather than struggled against.

However, his curious tendencies and idealistic outlook get him into the worst situation of his life when he comes across a dark gem of the Escalario, a mysterious book designed to keep an ancient entity of destruction sealed. Drawn by its beauty and mystery, he touches it and becomes possessed by the Shadow Gem, and begins to act with the will of Uroboros, the sealed force of destruction. He subsequently places a curse on Iris's life, binding her life to that of Uroboros. He is slain by Edge at the Crystal Valley Dakascus, though Uroboros continues to live.

We learn about him mostly through his diary, and through the comments of other people. When the party themselves meets him, it's always as the possessing force Uroboros, rather than the true Crowley others occasionally see. As such, he's a very misunderstood character in fandom, which tends to completely ignore these revelations and treat his desires and words as synonymous with those of the Shadow Gem.


Iris Fortner

A relentlessly optimistic alchemist and Raider whose alchemy is her life's greatest passion, and the title character of the game. Some statements at the beginning of the game (such as Edge's exasperation with her for forgetting things) imply that she is somewhat detached from some physical practicalities of the world, but she's enlightened, not ditzy. She proves herself multiple times to be wise well beyond her years; without wavering from her idealism and perpetual hope, she also calmly acknowledges the struggles that lie ahead of her, and when the life of Uroboros becomes bound to hers and her death is necessitated to destroy it, she makes the decision to die for the world without faltering.

She exudes the permanent happy calmness, amiable nature, and willingness to sacrifice of one on a path of transcendence, and indeed that is what she is, for alchemy is the art of transmuting both base metals and oneself into a more refined state. She is never without sorrow and compassion for others' pain, for neither should any truly enlightened person be, but she has a steady vision beyond living in the moment.


Edge Vanhite

While Edge isn't a character in this pairing, he's the one canonically* and fanonically paired with Iris, so it suits the needs of this manifesto for me to say something about him. Edge is a Raider and a competent warrior who's lived with Iris from a fairly young age, possibly due to the death of his family. He's uninterested in alchemy, and while he sympathises somewhat with the fact that others mock her for the practices they considered outdated, he tends to ultimately agree with them that it is, indeed, an outmoded and largely useless art.

His ways are very practical and somewhat nihilistic; he repeatedly scorns Iris's alchemy, and indeed Iris herself, for being impractical, weird, or not down-to-earth enough, admonishes her that dreams are nice but that she needs to ultimately be realistic (denying her alchemist nature, since the art of alchemy is heavily reliant on metaphor, imagination and aspiration), and admits that he himself "lost his dreams and wishes long ago". Though he acts in compassion for her, he can also be fairly rude and harsh to her, calling her "stupid" and telling her, when she cries, that she should just give in to others' rejection of what she practices and loves most dearly.

*A number of scenes in the game hint at the pairing, including the anime opening which heavily implies it. However, if you ignore what the game developers are trying to set up and actually read the literal text rather than the meta, he shows much more overt emotion towards Rufina than Iris (noted by the second poster in this thread). She's the only one to whom he goes out of his way to give a gift (an adorably clumsy expression of his affection-- a replica of his first sword. So cute.), and unlike Iris whose opinions he largely brushes off, Rufina seems to actually help him grow emotionally. He says things in response to her that show more kindness and optimism than he otherwise shows in the entire game, and it's noted by the characters. It's a very cute and romantic pairing, especially since he's the only one who can see Rufina at all for a very long time, and the only pairing I can see that gives actual hope for his psychological growth and happiness. But this isn't an Edge x Rufina manifesto, so I'll stop here.


Manifesto

Really, the case is already mostly made in the character studies. Crowley (as his true, gentle self, as opposed to the Uroboros-puppeted Crowley we see for most of the game) and Iris are both alchemists, both idealists, both people who look upon the world and see wonder and possibilities, who become so fascinated by things in life that they not only often take risks but don't even see the risks as worrying (Crowley with the Shadow Gem, and Iris with such things as getting excited over being fired out of a cannon...).

While in Crowley's case this idealism was dangerous and even fatal, and one might want to argue that Iris needs to be less idealistic and to be helped in that by someone like Edge, I don't agree. Edge is clearly not happy with life; his demeanour is almost always gruff and dour, and he treats everything as a personal threat, leading to him dealing with the world through violence and aggression. Iris, by contrast, loves life, has a great time of it, and doesn't come to any harm through her idealism (indeed, the confidence with which she is able to embrace even her own death for the sake of the world, no doubt inspired by this relaxed outlook on life as opposed to a bitter and frightened one that clings tenaciously to life, arguably saves the world-- and in the good ending, she doesn't even lose her life). Her instincts serve her well, and she seems able to embrace this mindset without suffering as a result of that powerful intuition (which, if you know anything about magic as it's practiced in reality, would seem to obviously be a result of her diligence in alchemy).

Edge spends a good portion of the game being little short of actively cruel to Iris. So does Crowley, technically, but what fandom forgets is that, unlike Edge, Crowley can easily be absolved of his actions: he's not the one performing them. Had he ever been allowed to interact with her as himself, his kind and peaceful nature would have accorded with Iris's well. Neither of them believe in violence, unlike Edge, who aggressively pursues the path of vengeance; and Crowley would have no reason to ever mock Iris or disparage her for her art (and indeed he seems to have been mocked somewhat in life himself for his idealism and non-aggressiveness, so likely he would understand the frustrations she experiences at the hands of the Zey Meruze townspeople).

Basically, they're... a couple of sweet, gentle geeks. (If it isn't geeky to be fascinated with a barely-ever-practiced occult art to the point of viewing everything in terms of it and squeeing every time you see something because it inspires you to make more alchemical items, I'm not sure what is. Iris is a geek, face it. And if you're reading this you probably are too, and you know what, that's okay. It's not an insult.) And geeks need other geeks, really, not people whose response to their passions is "whatever. You're weird".

I also felt that the game very much underrated who Crowley was as a person. He was, from what we read in his diary, a thoughtful, kind and curious individual who didn't deserve to suffer all that he did-- and despite knowing that he was evincing drastic personality switches that seemed to suggest that he wasn't always the person Edge and Iris knew him as, Edge still pursued his quest of vengeance towards Crowley and struck him down, proclaiming that he was insane.

And most gallingly-- after we kill him, we never hear a word about this. AI3 is a game that focuses a fair bit on the concept of death-- as well as the curse placed on Iris, a number of the quests revolve around monuments and locations where a character's dead lover or family member has passed away, and Edge at one point ends up slaying his rival, Alvero. In all these circumstances, the death is treated as a sorrow upon which the player is expected to reflect. Even Pamela, the ghost character whose personality and role in the game is very much lighthearted and even comic at times, has the circumstances of her death brought up-- in a rather humourous way, but one that's not entirely without poignance, as the man who loves her genuinely wants to know how she died.

But in Crowley's case alone, the game just goes onto the next plot point as if he were entirely expendable. Nobody says a word in his memory. Nobody even says, "that was unfortunate, but we had no choice". It's so badly handled that it personally took me up until the next plot point involving him to know for certain that, yes, he was meant to have died as opposed to just being injured.

Not only is a life never expendable, it wasn't his fault. His death was tragic, and awful, and never acknowledged as the least bit sad-- never acknowledged at all, and I find that a major flaw of the game which I'd like to try and rectify by getting people to think a little more about Crowley. I think he'd be good for Iris, and I think that in general he's a good person who doesn't get respect from the fandom-- near-universally, he's hated, because people don't stop to think about the truth of who he actually was.


Canon evidence?

At first, it doesn't seem as if there's any canon evidence for this pairing. After all, they are the protagonist and the villain, or at least the villain's unwilling vessel. The most we have to go on is that Iris personally submits a quest to the Guild (Truth In Darkness, the quest whose completion or lack thereof decides the ending) to find out what happened to the Shadow Gem that flew out of Crowley's body-- but that can just as easily be put down to her having an intuition that the Shadow Gem was relevant to collect and repair (which turns out to be true) as to any real desire to learn more about Crowley, although it is the quest in which we discover his diary.

However, the good ending does provide one snippet, quite out of nowhere, of evidence for a close bond between them. When Iris confronts Uroboros, the following dialogue ensues:

Uroboros: And you...
Will you even forgive the one who brands you with death?
Iris: Yes.
His feelings are right here, right now...
With me.



(She looks pretty happy about it, too....)

This seems to suggest that, through the magic of the curse "he" placed upon her, Iris could feel Crowley's true heart and true intent. As such, she's able to forgive him easily, knowing that he never had ill intent. Even more than that, though, his feelings continue on within her until the end. "Right here, right now...": even after his death, he's still somehow present inside her. That's pretty impressive, though if you take into account the powerful magic that passed between the two of them, it makes sense.


About the 'shipper

I'm an Ar Tonelico fan, first and foremost; I got into the wonderful world of GUST through the AT series. I hadn't actually been planning to get into the Atelier games, but I was at Fry's with my girlfriend, we saw the game, we bought it, we played it, and I completely flipped over Iris's wise yet perpetually optimistic nature.

I have a hard time saying why I got to like this pairing, really: I can only call it intuition. I've paired a few sets of characters in my time who I just liked based on seeing them in one or two scenes in the game, or even independently, and going, "hey, that works for me somehow!"-- clicking with an insight through which I can imagine them really working. I tend to 'ship people who are very alike in this manner, particularly; I'm not big on "opposites attract" when those opposites are very fundamentally clashing (like violence and reluctance to be violent, or a passion for magic and a disgust with magic), unless the whole point of the plot is one person learning to see things differently because of the person they've fallen in love with.

I also tend not to like canon pairings in RPGs (my primary fandom) too much, not because I'm anti-canon in general but because they usually pair very special people who have unique insights into the world with very Average Hero types, and I don't see it working; one is always going to aspire to more than the other cares about or wishes to see in the world, and the hero rarely changes and grows as a result of witnessing these insights, instead just wanting to drag the other person down to their level. It's a nice fantasy for the player, who's often meant to be embodied in the Average Hero, but it makes for terrible relationship material, objectively.

Past pairings I've 'shipped in this manner include Ruby and Lucia from Lunar: Eternal Blue; like this one, it's a pretty unconventional pairing, but something in me went, "hey, they're both deities with odd views on the world, one's kind of lost and clueless and one's bizarrely capable and cutely wisecracking, this works". (And Hiro's so much better off with Leo. ;) They could adventure together and be Heroic For Justice! It so totally makes sense!)


Fandom guide

Uh....

...I write Iris/Crowley. I think I'm the only person in the world who writes Iris/Crowley. So this fandom guide is going to be all about me; apologies for the narcissism, but until anyone else picks up this pairing, ain't nuthin' I can do. But then, this is what this manifesto is about. If you write this pairing, if you even think about writing this pairing, I wanna know about it. ayulsa(this)at(is)isisview(a)dot(spamtrap)org is the place to send me recs.

I also haven't been very prolific, on account of only having just finished the game. I plan to write more about them once I recover from the epicness that was the ending, though; the blog you want to keep up with for this is exec_harmonious, my GUST fandom blog. It's sorted by tag; try atelier iris and fanfic. (If you like Ar Tonelico, there are great swathes of fic there for it. I'm probably the most prolific AT writer out there, if I do say so myself; I think with a 180,000-word joint fic out there, I'm allowed to claim that title. XD)

Anyway, this is about all I have at the moment: The One Who Called Himself The Morning Star. It's only hintily I/C, but it's there nonetheless. (It makes more sense if you realise I'm making an extended literary pun. The Morning Star -> Lucifer (and also Fanatos, who, while being called Fanatos and not Lucifer is an angel-like Mana of Evil) -> Satan/the Beast -> Aleister Crowley, English occultist, who called himself "the Beast 666" -> Crowley, who was clearly named for the aforementioned alchemist. Yes, I'm a giant dork.)

Also, there's a little fanart of Iris and Crowley (separately, but touching on the themes I've mentioned in this manifesto) at my DA here, and I've bought a couple of cute commissions of them together. If fandom fails you, there's always the power of cold, hard cash to make your dreams come true. :D (Wow, that was so... un-alchemical of me.)

I post as Ayulsa over on A Reyvateil's Melody, the primary English-language community out there for Ar Tonelico and GUST, and if you want to head over to the GUST subforum or the Iris Fortner Guild, I watch those regularly and will pay attention to you there if you've anything to say on the topic, whether it's for or against. I enjoy friendly fandom debate and I try to be reasonable, so feel free to engage me!
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