Cloud Strife - Becoming Of The Hero
Character: Cloud Strife
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII/Advent Children
Spoilers: Advent Children, On The Way To A Smile
Those who read my first manifesto
for Cloud may have noticed that I finished it a little abruptly, right after the Lifestream-sequence on the second disc. The game itself, after all, was barely halfway, but as far as Cloud himself is considered, his characterization climaxed with the unveiling of his true self. The rest was just about settling the score with his past. But although that was the end of that manifesto, that wasn't the end of Cloud. Final Fantasy VII as a game was finished, but the story it told wasn't.
That's how we get to Advent Children.
I have to admit that I was one of those people who didn't expect too much from the movie: Lots of eye candy, great battle scenes, plot that doesn't give you too many headaches. And seriously? That's what we got. But fortunately enough, in the middle of all that pretty, Advent Children also managed to tell quite a good story.Begin Anew - On The Way To A Smile
Final Fantasy VII's ending was largely ambiguous. Although the world was saved in the end, that didn't mean that the humans would survive, too, and the fact that no human characters were seen in the final scene of the game lead many to believe humans didn't survive the Meteor, but now that idea has been obviously proved false. The world moves on, which means that Cloud is finally able to move on as well, which is something he's happy to do. Two years pass between Final Fantasy VII and Advent Children, and what happens during this time is inspected more closely in On The Way To A Smile.
On The Way To Smile consists of two stories, Case Of Tifa and Case Of Denzel, and both stories as well as a third story dealing with Aeris after her death can be read here
. They're all very interesting reads, but for me personally, On The Way To A Smile matters the most because that story deals with Cloud's life after the Meteor. And guess what? He wasn't an emo yet.
After the world is saved, Cloud first pays his respects to the past, by informing Aeris's mother about her daughter's death, after which he moves on to the ruins of Midgar with Tifa and Barret, where they help out people who are putting their lives together. After this he finally decides to concentrate on himself instead, settling down in the new city known as Edge with Tifa and Barret. They start running a bar together, starting their new life.
Although your regular fan may find it odd, Cloud is actually the most balanced one of the three of them. When Tifa gets depressed for a while after the world nearly ends, Cloud's the one who helps her to get over it. When Barret decides that he needs to do some soul-searching of his own, Cloud supports his decision and stays behind where he's needed, with Tifa and Marlene. The three form a little family, of which integrity is risked as Cloud starts out a business of his own, Strife's Delivery Service, and starts to drift away from Tifa and Marlene as he has to face his past again. He finds himself drawn to one very familiar church whenever he feels at loss, and at one of those times, he encounters something unexpected. A young boy, with a Geostigma scar on his forehead.
Although the human race didn't become extinct with the end of Meteor, it didn't survive the crisis in one peace. Geostigma is a horrible disease that started to spread fast during the two years after Meteor with no known cure, targeting especially children. The boy in the church is Denzel, who was orphaned in the destruction of Sector 7, and later again after a widow who took him in died of Geostigma. After spending a year with a gang of orphans he finally ended up collapsed in the church, from which Cloud rescues him. He's quickly adopted in the family formed by Cloud, Tifa and Marlene, and with new sense of duty, Cloud starts to spend more time with the children, as well as accept Tifa's help more willingly. He's starting to hope again.
But then he finds the Geostigma scar from his own body, and everything goes to hell.To Hell And Back Again - Advent Children
Cloud in the beginning of Advent Children is, if we put it really simply, feeling down. After all his struggles and battles, it looks like the world is not planning to give him anything in return. He follows his old pattern again, withdrawing to himself and accepting no help from others. I know that some fans felt like it was a step backwards to make Cloud angsty again - hell, I was one of these fans - but in the light of On The Way To Smile, I now see that his angst is pretty reasonable. Who wouldn't be a little upset to discover that after finally constructing a new for himself he would end up losing it anyway? Also, there's one other thing that we need to remember. Over Final Fantasy VII, it was quickly discovered that Cloud was never the uncaring jerk he was so busy pretending to be, and despite what it may seem like, he wasn't just thinking about himself in Advent Children. Although he has plenty of reasons to think about himself only, he's also thinking about the two important people that he lost.
Another is Zack, the man whose life he lived for a while, and who gave his own life for Cloud's. Although Zack didn't get enough screen time in Final Fantasy VII to be much more than a very important footnote, it's obvious that he was a very important figure to Cloud, who feels guilty about Zack's death. Another is Aeris, the girl who joined him and the AVALANCHE in battle for the Planet's future and who too died, almost by Cloud's own hand. Of these two it's Aeris who Cloud feels guilty over more visibly, perhaps because he nearly ended up being the cause of her death himself. Cloud spends a lot of time thinking about both of them, wishing he could have done more for them.
So in his depression, Cloud pulls away from his family, traveling the world and taking odd jobs and it's not until Tifa informs him about Reno of the Turks requesting him to protect an unknown man against a strange group of three with an eerie likeness to Sephiroth and mission to restore the reign of "Mother". Cloud accepts the job, and ends up encountering miraculously alive, but not too well Rufus Shinra, who wants Cloud to protect him against the three dangerous men roaming the world. Cloud refuses the offer, no longer a man who does anything for money, but despite his isolation, its family that eventually sends him after the odd trio. As he returns to his sanctuary, Aeris's church, he finds an unconscious Tifa, and finds out that both Denzel and Marlene are in the hands of the madmen, along with several other children. He sets off to save them, even with the end of his own life nearing.
The three men are known as Kadaj, Loz and Yazoo, and their goal is to collect the remains of Jenova, which are also behind the Geostigma, and call a new "Reunion" upon the Planet. This plan includes collecting the children infected with Geostigma, who are then taken to the Forgotten Capital of the Ancients, where Cloud also arrives. Despite his best efforts, he fails to save the children, and has to be helped out himself by Vincent. Marlene is the only one who manages to escape from Kadaj and his gang, and ends up lecturing Cloud about his apathy over their grim situation. After a bit of thinking and some advice from Vincent, Cloud finally pulls himself together and they head for the city of Edge.
The city is in chaos when they arrive, filled with monsters, Bahamut SIN as the worst one. AVALANCHE has regrouped and struggles to defuse the situation with the help of the Turks, and it's when Cloud arrives when the tables finally turn in their favor. It's during this battle when Cloud starts to regain his strength and confidence, finally relying on his friends as they help him to defeat Bahamut SIN, and it's Aeris who gives him the final lending hand. Cloud's the one to stand as a victor, no longer running away.
Meanwhile, Kadaj, the leader of the deadly trio, has recovered the box holding what's left of Jenova from Rufus, and Cloud soon goes after him as well as Yazoo and Loz. After a long chase and some explosions, Cloud soon catches up with Kadaj and battles him. During their fight, Cloud regains more and more of his spirit, starting to feel alive again, a process which culminates as he and Kadaj end up in Aeris's church. That's when Aeris's power manifests, with a rain breaking out indoors, healing Cloud from Geostigma. After this, nothing stops him from finally taking Kadaj down.
Unfortunately, the battle doesn't end there.
In the midst of delivering final blows, Cloud manages to break the box with Jenova's remains, of which contents are then absorbed by Kadaj, who then transforms into Cloud's greatest foe: Sephiroth.
During the course of Advent Children, Cloud has faced many of the issues that he had in Final Fantasy VII, so it's only natural that his final battle is against the one man with the greatest influence on his life. Kadaj, Yazoo and Loz, the apparent clones of Sephiroth, were actually manifestations of Sephiroth's own spirit, so to defeat them for good Cloud needs to defeat Sephiroth as well. But despite all the angst he's gone through, Cloud hasn't been broken. He's ready for battle. First, they seem like equals, then it seems like Sephiroth is winning, mocking and playing with him until he has Cloud finally backed up against the wall. He stabs Cloud in the shoulder, after which he asks if he can rob Cloud of all things important to him.
Apparently, Sephiroth doesn't remember that it didn't work the last time, either.
Because although we all first thought that Cloud didn't learn a thing from his previous journey, he proves on this moment that he has, that there's nothing in the world that isn't important to him. With this lesson learnt, there's just no way that Sephiroth is going to win.
Kadaj starts to disintegrate. Aeris works on her magic elsewhere, holy rain spreading across Edge and healing all those with Geostigma, including Rufus. After that she instructs Kadaj to rest, who, believing that his "mother" is talking to him, is happy to comply. All is fluffy and well again. And then Cloud is shot in the back.
At this point, it's pretty easy to see that the fandom would never have shut up if things had ended up like this for Cloud.
Cloud has faced his greatest enemy, but now he has to face something even worse: The two friends who he lost. Luckily, both Aeris and Zack are smarter than him. Cloud wakes up in Aeris's church, more specifically in a pool of water, surrounded by his friends and people of the Edge, along with the children cured from Geostigma. Only Denzel is unhealed, but this is fixed as Cloud becomes a baptist and pours healing water over him. With that, the Geostigma is finally gone, and everybody rejoices. But while the others celebrate around him, Cloud notices two familiar figures from the background. Aeris and Zack are about to leave the church, smiling to him.
"You're alright now, aren't you?"
With everything settled between the three, Aeris and Zack leave, and Cloud smiles.Finally Complete - Becoming Of The Hero
Like I stated in the beginning of this manifesto, I didn't expect much from Advent Children. On the contrary, I feared all the time that they would go and ruin entire Final Fantasy VII for me, and the news about Cloud possibly dying didn't help me to change my mind. More detailed plot summaries made me feel a little more hopeful, though, and the movie itself blew the rest of my worries there. I still don't know whether Advent Children deserves a fandom of its very own or not, but in the end it gave me the most important thing. Cloud was still there, intact and recognizable.
Cloud wasn't complete at the end of Final Fantasy VII, and while he's better off in Advent Children, I wouldn't say that he's complete there, either, but purely in positive sense: He has a full life ahead of him. On The Way To A Smile proved that unlike some fans insist, Cloud isn't grim nor self-destructive, but rather optimistic and hopeful, willing to live his life. He wasn't completely free of his past, but he wasn't controlled by it, either, and although he still had issues to deal with, he had learn to cope. When he's infected with Geostigma, it's only understandable that his development takes few step backwards. He may have helped to save the world, but that didn't mean that he was an unstoppable, untouchable super human.
But even as he ran and felt sorry for himself in Advent Children, he didn't do that for long, but instead pulled himself back together and faced his destiny once again. No matter how much he gets stricken and how many sad faces he makes, he never gives up, and in the end he really is rewarded for this. In Advent Children, the last scene shows us a close-up of Cloud standing among his friends, in the middle, as the part of the group, happy. Just like I wanted to see him.
Considering all things Final Fantasy VII that are still on the way, it looks like the story still isn't over. But as of now, things are finished for Cloud. He finally got his happy ending.