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by Brett Smith
Nanaki (you may better know him as Red XIII) is one of the most symbolic and interesting characters of Final Fantasy VII. On the face of it, he often seems very emotionally detached from the goings-on of the party. However, to say this would be a serious misunderstanding. In fact, he is the physical incarnate of history and guilt for the party. Through his treatment, response to it, and elongated life, he represents history. By hiding his true name, having misunderstandings about his past, and in his reponses through the deaths of Aeris and Bugenhagen, he symbolizes guilt. These two aspects of him come together to deliver a very strong message about our past, and our attitudes towards it.
At the first time he is seen within the game, Nanaki is treated in such a way to make him appear related to history. He is witnessed being studied by Hojo; history is studied by scholars. This goes deeper than that, however. Shinra attempts to manipulate Nanaki by injecting Jenova cells in him. Going by the adage "He who controls the present controls the past," this symbolizes the efforts of a totalitarianist company-government to change history. Hojo also attempts to breed Aeris and Nanaki in an attempt to create a Cetra with a longer lifespan for his studies. From a viewpoint of Nanaki representing history, Hojo is trying to elongate the Cetra's place in history.
Perhaps more telling, however, is not these events, but rather, Nanaki's reactions to them -- or, more appropriately, lack of reaction. He makes no attempt to impose his own identity on the group; rather, he allows the group to make their own decisions. When they first meet:
Hojo has given me the name Red XIII, a name with no meaning to me whatsoever. Call me whatever you wish.
Also, when the party encounters Rufus, Nanaki only describes himself as a "laboratory specimen." History is regarded in much the same way: the events themselves exist, but history makes no judgments of itself; its witnesses and later analysts perform that function. Nanaki is treated as if he were something of a representation of history by others, however. Bugenhagen tells him:
Look always to the eternal flow of time which is far greater than the span of a human life. It will teach you more, than staying here in the valley. What you will see will eventually become a part of life's dream.
Nanaki expects to be treated much in the same way. He also considers the events in an historical way: later, retrospecting, he says:
Midgar... I hated the fact I was caught by Hojo and taken back to the lab where they did all kinds of experiments on me... But because of that, I was able to meet you all... People you meet... others you don't...... strange, isn't it?
Hence, he considers his own past in the same way history is considered.
History also lives long, but is not immortal. Nanaki is likewise, living through 548 years, at least. He witnesses the entire chain of events: from the very beginning, to the very long-term consequences of the Planet's battle with Meteor. Hence, he holds a memory of the group for a very long time -- as history does.
When I talk about my mother, I am full of pride and joy... And that's fine. ... But when I remember my father, my heart is full of anger... He...... left mother for dead. When the Gi tribe attacked, he ran off by himself, leaving mother and the people of the Canyon!
Nanaki is also the incarnate of guilt. A hint of this has already been seen in this essay: namely, the fact that he does not tell anybody about his past for a long while. He even goes so far as to not take his real name. This implies that he is covering it up for some reason. Considering his feelings for his father at the time, it is likely he is doing it out of guilt.
Once he learns the truth about Seto, he begins reinforcing his true identity in front of others, introducing himself to Shera as "Red XIII, also known as Nanaki," and associating himself with his father: right there, in his conversation with Bugenhagen, he asserts himself:
I am Nanaki of Cosmo Canyon! The son of the warrior, Seto! I'll come back a warrior true to that noble name!
While he seems to recover from this understanding, however, he is still frequently troubled with guilt.
One such instance is when the party discovers the association of number tattoos with involvement in the Jenova project. Nanaki is instantly worried:
... you know, of course... My tattoo is number 13. Hojo put it on me. Everything else is just war scars, but the number was done by Hojo. Cloud... I'm number 13. Am I going to go mad too?
Tifa instantly pesters him, but Nanaki persists in his feelings:
Tifa: "I don't know what Hojo did to you, but you've been all right so far, right?" Nanaki: "But..." Tifa: "Be strong." Nanaki: "But, I..." Tifa: "Stop it, Red XIII! Be strong!"
Even for events outside of his control, Nanaki feels guilty.
He also feels guilty after Bugenhagen's death, another event out of his control. He instantly tries to hide the past again, as he did earlier:
Grandpa told me that he's going away again! It seems he really liked that Airship. He told me he couldn't stay still and just zipped out of here! He even gave me a gift, look! Wait a minute. Aren't you supposed to give gifts AFTER you come back? Ha ha... Grandpa sure is strange!
Even with a pathetic coverup, Nanaki attempts to cover his past because of his feelings of guilt.
Aeris used to pat me on the nose sometimes. I used to hate being treated like a child like that, but I also liked the attention.
Nanaki also feels guilty about Aeris' death. When the party takes Bugenhagen to the City of the Ancients, where she died, he says to Cloud: "I wanted to apologize to her for what I did when we first met." This is particularly interesting, because he does, in fact, promptly apologize to Aeris as soon as Hojo flees the scene. However, he is still burdened with the guilt of his actions -- simple actions which did not cause any permanent harm to anyone.
Another interesting instance to note is the fact that when Cloud is overcome with guilt, Nanaki immediately tries to bring him out of it -- as if they've effectively swapped places for the time. As Cloud apologizes for having lied about his past, Nanaki helps him: "Don't say anything, Cloud. All you've been doing is apologizing." Hence, he clearly understands Cloud's guilt best, and does what he can to help Cloud overcome it.
I am Nanaki, son of Seto... I am afraid of nothing... It's all right, all right. I'm Nanaki, the son of brave Seto... I'm not afraid of Sephiroth...
The fact that Nanaki is the incarnate of both history and guilt is very telling. It makes a strong statement about how man reacts to history: that man attempts to cover his past because of guilt from it. This message is seen elsewhere in the game: Tifa does not say anything to Cloud about his historical innacuracies, because she feels guilty about their childhood relationship. Barret says that he bombed Reactor Number 1 because it was for the good of the planet, when, in fact, he is haunted by the thoughts of how many lives he took in doing so. Cloud very literally creates a new past for himself because of his guilt from not making it into SOLDIER.
This statement rings very true in the world. Austria is presently in a state of political turmoil due to a politician who has praised some of the Nazi systems. Many people feel guilty about this piece of their history, however, and would do anything to get him out of the public eye. A debate currently rages over South Carolina's flying of the Confederate flag, because many blacks find it offensive, and whites consider it a shameful part of their heritage. Hence, the fact that Nanaki symbolizes guilt and history creates a very telling message.
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