15 Years On, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Is A Lot Smarter Than I Remember

5
Screenshot: Square Enix / Visual Works
Screenshot: Square Enix / Visual Works

15 years ago today Square Enix released Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a CGI-animated feature-length movie based on one of the most iconic role-playing games of all time. A decade and a half before we actually got a Final Fantasy VII Remake (or at least the first part of one), Advent Children’s stunningly rendered CGI and gorgeous fight scenes gave fans some notion of what that might look like. And unlike the fringe mesh shirt and puffy vest combo Barret sports therein, the movie’s visuals have aged remarkably well.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was part of Square’s Compilation of Final Fantasy VII project, which told multiple stories set in the FFVII canon and functioned as a direct sequel to the 1997 game. Set two years after Cloud Strife and Avalanche defeated Sephiroth and saved the world, Cloud has since ditched the mercenary life and, in the great tradition of Phillip J. Fry and Sam Porter Bridges, has become a delivery boy, albeit a delivery boy who rides around on a motorcycle full of six swords that become one big sword.

It transpires that Cloud has to face off against three silver-haired teenagers with a mysterious connection to Sephiroth, who are wreaking havoc in search of their “Mother,” the alien entity Jenova. At the same time, Cloud and many others are suffering from Geostigma, a mysterious and deadly new disease spreading through the planet’s Lifestream.

Advent Children is a lot of things. It’s a ridiculous story driven by alien cancer, bikers with mummy issues, and multiple ghosts. It’s a really well-animated and emotionally charged advertisement for a Panasonic flip phone. It’s a surprisingly poignant narrative about grief, depression, and trauma recovery. It is a movie I love very much.

I remember being 12 years old and seeing Advent Children’s cellophane-wrapped import DVD at the local Japanese outlet store alongside Gundam models, cutesy socks, and anime-branded pencil cases. I was too young to have played Final Fantasy VII when it came out, but I instantly recognised Sephiroth on the cover from the days of reading guidebooks to games I didn’t own and all the time I desperately tried (and eventually succeeded) at beating him as the optional boss in Kingdom Hearts. I liked and still like Kingdom Hearts, but at the same time was very concerned with trying to be mature and like mature things. And at that age, “mature” apparently meant getting into media by Tetsuya Nomura that didn’t involve Mickey Mouse.

The first time I watched Advent Children I only vaguely knew who the characters were and what the setting was. I mostly had no idea what the hell was going on and I was in awe at every bit of it.

Screenshot: Square Enix / Visual Works

Dilly Dally Shilly Shally

As a story about letting go of the past that is actively beholden to what preceded it, Advent Children is a complicated piece of media. Nomura has stated the film was originally supposed to be only 20 minutes long and was extended to 100 minutes (and eventually two hours for the Complete edition) when fan interest indicated a preference toward a feature film. The padding does tend to show, making it an incredibly busy movie interspersed with more than a few moments where very little happens.

There are plenty of beautifully rendered setpieces and exhilarating fights, but to sum up the movie’s first hour, it’s mostly Cloud brooding, villains soliloquizing, random children crying, and the Turks Reno and Rude doing a sort of anime Abbott and Costello routine. Aside from Cloud and Tifa, the majority of FFVII’s main cast don’t show up til halfway through the movie, and only clock about five minutes of screentime. Then there’s a giant dragon to fight, a freeway motorcycle chase, and Sephiroth’s ghost shows up to traumatize Cloud some more.

I’ve watched this movie dozens of times over the last decade and a half, but up until this week, I would’ve told you that Advent Children is a stylish film with lots to show and not much to say. I was going to say that it’s basically a two-hour cutscene that’s largest impact was setting the standard for Remake’s graphic quality and shaping me into the kind of lesbian who really appreciates a full-leather outfit.

But my perspective on the movie gradually shifted while writing this. As I rewatched and put words to Google Doc, I slowly came to realise that underneath all the motorcycle twinks and shameless mobile phone product placements is a film that actually has something thought-provoking and beautiful to say.

Those Who Fight

In the time since Sephiroth was defeated, Cloud’s life has gotten as normal as it can get. He has a regular job. He’s formed a chosen family with Tifa, Marlene, and a young orphan boy named Denzel. He has friends who call him on his Panasonic FOMA P900iV™ cell phone and want to be a part of his life. But upon contracting Geostigma he begins to distance himself from everyone. He’s pushing people away, hiding his sickness, and won’t answer any of the calls he receives on his Panasonic FOMA P900iV™ cell phone. He struggles in silence.

Screenshot: Square Enix / Visual Works

Advent Children really works to eschew the common story idea that the day is saved after the villain is defeated. Yes the world was kept from destruction, but just because you survived the thing that nearly killed you, that doesn’t mean you’re ok now. Cloud being alone for the majority of the film makes a lot more sense once you realise he’s punishing himself for his perceived failures to save Zack or Aerith. The only reason why his companions are absent for most of the movie is because he doesn’t know how to let them in. He feels unable to take care of himself, let alone others, and his survivor’s guilt takes the form of the violent shadows of Sephiroth and the disease that’s slowly killing him.

The Geostigma is a manifestation of the individual’s trauma as well as the planet’s. The events of FFVII left both Cloud and the planet Gaia wounded. When the planet’s lifestream fought back Meteor, it became tainted with Sephiroth’s corrupted cells which, upon coming into contact with a person’s lifestream, poison the body against itself. Most disproportionately affected by the disease are the many children orphaned when Midgar was destroyed, including Denzel. It’s the emotional pain of loss manifesting as deterioration of the body, and that’s not something you can fight against with a six-foot sword.

Advent Children is about the process of trauma recovery, the key to which isn’t letting go of the past, but accepting it and moving forward. The original Final Fantasy VII ends with a 500-year timeskip to a future when the planet and nature have healed from the destruction wrought by Sephiroth, Jenova, and the Shinra Company, but Advent Children makes it clear that healing and survival is not a passive action. You have to continue pushing onward, doing the work in spite of the pain, and accept love regardless of whether you believe you deserve it. By the time Cloud is dueling with a reborn Sephiroth, the members of Avalanche are ready to join their friend in battle, but choose not to, recognising Sephiroth as Cloud’s demon to slay. They are there if he needs them, but also acknowledge his need to be the one to give himself closure.

Screenshot: Square Enix / Visual Works

There is a lot of substantive symbolism to accompany Advent Children’s visual beauty, it’s just a lot harder to understand in a vacuum. I don’t know that my perspective of the movie would have shifted so greatly if I hadn’t recently played through the Final Fantasy VII Remake and watched a six-hour analysis series covering the original game.

Advent Children is very much the Donnie Darko of CGI anime follow-ups to critically acclaimed games. Both are gorgeous and messy with plots that only start to make coherent sense if you watch the extended version plus supplemental material, and both inspire a similar life cycle of viewership. They’re the kinds of films I would’ve described as “hella profound” as a teenager, grown embarrassed of and categorised as a guilty pleasure when first revisiting as an adult, and eventually come back around to develop a nuanced appreciation for.

“There’s Not One Thing I Don’t Cherish”

Toward the end of the film’s climactic duel, Sephiroth looms over Cloud, his dark wing spread, acting as the specter of Cloud’s trauma given form. He sneers at Cloud and says “Tell me what you cherish most. Will you give me the pleasure of taking it away?” Cloud shouts, “There’s not one thing I don’t cherish” before he executes his Omni-Slash Limit Break and rocks Sephiroth’s shit. What an incredibly badass way to say “I love things.”

Gif: Square Enix / Visual Works

As my first real intro to a series that’s given me so much joy, Advent Children is something I deeply cherish. This wasn’t a Kingdom Hearts Disney-fied version of these characters and it wasn’t something I could only engage with for moments on my cousin’s save files. It was a piece of media that was mine and my first chance to experience what Final Fantasy could be for myself.

This series I love is messy and inconsistent. It’s concerned with saying something heartfelt at the same time it’s trying to look cool. Yes, it’s capable of being incredibly convoluted. I mean, I’ve watched the movie more than three times this week alone, and I still couldn’t tell you what Sephiroth’s goal actually was. (From what I gather, he wanted to use ghosts to turn the planet into his own personal spaceship, or something.) But Advent Children, like the rest of the franchise, is able to convey sincere emotion while also remaining steadfastly on its bullshit.

Who says you can’t make a good video game movie?

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is available to stream on Crackle and can be rented on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Google Play

Chingy Nea is a writer, comedian, and critically acclaimed ex-girlfriend based out of Oakland and Los Angeles.

Comments

  • “I mean, I’ve watched the movie more than three times this week alone, and I still couldn’t tell you what Sephiroth’s goal actually was. (From what I gather, he wanted to use ghosts to turn the planet into his own personal spaceship, or something.)”

    I’d always just figured he was wanting to resurrect himself in order to finish what he started.

    • Both correct really.

      Jenovas whole deal was poisoning planets then using them as vessels to propel her to the next planet.
      The reunion was about all her cells gathering at a single point so she could continue the cycle with Sephiroth acting as both her replacement and vessel.
      (They basically became one being)

      In Advent children, the Geostigma sickness was the rejected Jenova cells infecting the world to set off another reunion that allowed Sephiroth/Jenova to resurrect and begin the cycle again.

      • Almost. Sephiroth was actually in control of Jenova and using her to get his revenge on humanity. (Due to Hojo’s lies and experiments as well as the research he did in Nibelheim he believed himself a Cetra and wanted revenge for what the humans did to the planet)

        While Jenova was the calamity that fell from the sky because it was a planet devouring alien life form, in the game she is more just a macguffin that lets Sephiroth achieve his goals.

        • I really appreciate these comments.

          15 years later, and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children still confuses the hell out of me.

          Maybe I’m just not the brightest bulb in the ceiling but this is something I’ve always struggled with in regards to Square-Enix. They are so creative and have absolutely brilliant imaginations, but in my opinion, they seem to have trouble writing down a coherent A to B story.

        • I’m not going to say you’re wrong because in the confines of FFVII, translation and what’s left to interpretation, it’s a fair observation to make.

          It’s true, when Sephiroth first learns the of his origins from the records in Nibehiem he goes mad, he initially believes himself a Cetra and seeks vengeance against Hojo, Shinra and humans for what they did to him, Jenova and the Cetra.
          However, after he’s cast into and rejected from the Lifestream, he learns the truth about Jenova and the Cetra, his personality changes and his vengeance expands to include the Cetra/planet itself.
          (The Japanese version handled this a lot better than the English one)
          By the time we finally see him in Advent Children his goal is almost fully aligned with the will of Jenova and the target of his vengeance is Cloud.

          Now there’s no question that Sephiroth gains control of Jenova and her abilities but the evidence suggests this was her will and wasn’t done by force, they both basically used and helped each other and the effect she had on him was very noticeable over time.
          Hojo even theorised that Jenova’s cells would always attempt to reunite and ultimately choose an avatar to achieve that.
          (Hence why he attempted to become that avatar himself)
          Once you start including the extended universe it’s clear that even while Sephiroth had control, Jenova still displayed the ability to manipulate her cells alongside him.
          We also know Sephiroth wasn’t the only one chosen in the greater narrative but he was one of the few who accepted Jenova’s ultimate goal and those who didn’t were rejected or used as tools.
          Kadaj was a good example of this since his only goal was to reunite with mother and he expresses disappointment that in the end she chose “him”
          Genesis was another, wrongfully believing he needed Sephiroth’s cells to stop his cellular degeneration but he was actually fighting against Jenova’s influence.
          (The secret teaser implies he came to understand her will when he begins gathering the other chosen)

Log in to comment on this story!