Previously on Resonance Frequency: Social stigma, isolation, suicide rates, grief, and losing agency.
Today on Resonance Frequency:
Disclaimer: This article contains major spoilers for Final Fantasy XIII, and potential spoilers for Final Fantasy XIII-2. There are no Lightning Returns spoilers. This article also talks about sex, and has links and images that are NSFW.
There’s more than Final Fantasy XIII than being a metaphor for the Trans experience, it also carries a strong lesbian undercurrent. This undercurrent is felt through nearly every interaction between the story’s three female leads. The leading ladies are: Lightning, pink haired, quick and confident former Guardian Corps Sargent. Fang, a flirty and at times sultry woman who is also a major physical threat. Vanille, an adorable redheaded girl who has made a decision to become a Cie’th because she refuses to hurt innocent people. Fang tends to be the one who gets paired up with either Vanille or Lightning, and there’s good reason for that. Partially due to a decision made early in development which upset what would have been a traditional story between two heterosexuals. This decision has also become a great platform to show just how narrow our definition of ‘sexy’ has become. Through it all, there is still a thriving fandom who see a lot between the female leads.
This leads me to the concept of ‘slashfiction’, an offshoot of ‘fanfiction’. The concept is the same, unofficial media produced by fans in order to recontextualize, remix, or add original stories/ elements to an existing work. Except in slashfiction (named after the / between names), the work focuses around a relationship between two characters which isn’t ‘canon’ (official). Doing so is called ‘shipping’, a term derived from “Relationship-ping”, where characters are paired up to varying degrees of success. I’m not an authority in the field, I’m just a fan like so many else. But for someone who loves the idea of taking a story and helping it be a part of you, if even in a small way, I’ve always loved the concept of fan and slashfiction. The reason why I bring it up now is because Final Fantasy XIII has such strong lesbian undertones that it’s hard to ignore even if you’re not into slash, and it feels that in many ways the fandom/ community doesn’t create these undertones but rather brings them to light. If you would like to find all kinds of fan and slashfiction, Archive of Our Own is the place to start.
Welcome to Part Two of my look at why Final Fantasy XIII is Queer as Hell. We have a lot to talk about.
> The Implications of Fang’s Character Development
“Early in development, Lightning was meant to be a flirtatious character with more sex appeal. To make Lightning a more serious heroine in the veins of previous heroes, Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart, Fang’s character – which was originally a man – was written as a woman, and some of Lightning’s traits were transfered to her.” – Final Fantasy wiki.
This single quote describes a decision which arguably sparked the entire lesbian undertones which permeate Final Fantasy XIII.
In order to understand the extent of this, you have to understand the role which Fang plays within the storyline. Fang is a character who links many of the others together. She is the one who tells Snow and Lightning that a l’Cie can turn back from crystal stasis (knowledge which gives them hope of being reunited with Serah), she spearheads the rescue mission to the Palamecia because of her need to find Vanille (whom she has an important relationship with), while also being one to interact with Lightning quite extensively. Vanille is a common link too, as she travelled with both Lightning, Hope and Sazh (who later split up, with her following Sazh), but Fang is the only character to forge a strong bond with the other two leading ladies. Lightning and Vanille do exchange words, but they never exclusively fight or travel together in the way Fang teams up exclusively with Lightning and later Vanille at points.
I’ll get into the specific dynamics between Fang and Lightning or Vanille shortly, but needless to say that when you change a vital character’s sex, you change the dynamic. Fang displays certain tendencies towards other women… What’s interesting is that if Fang were a man, she might not have had a sexy, flirty side. I like this, because it means that a lot of Fang’s interactions with the two other leading ladies might not have happened at all. Fang is generally flirty with people that she meets, and has a bit of a sultry entrance to the story when she meets Snow. Best example being, “You want to keep breathing? Shut up, and come quietly.” – Fang, while cupping Snow’s chin. That doesn’t discount the fact that the vast majority of her interactions are with other women. It’s even a little funny. When Snow and Fang re-enter the picture (they’re largely absent from the first half of the story), Fang proceeds to run off after Lightning. My theory: She’s been shacked up with a predominantly male military force for days, and goes after the first piece of tail she sees when set free. Inside about a half-hour, she’s seen Lightning’s breasts… and left her speechless when describing the nature of her devotion to Vanille.
Fang’s interactions with Lightning and Vanille are a fundamental part of the plot, thus couldn’t be changed when Fang’s sex was. Coupled with adding a flirtatious nature to the character, and you have the makings of an epic lesbian romance; whether you intended to or not. It’s worth going into more detail about, which I will in breaking down the dynamics between the three leading ladies.
One thing of note, I just love that Fang was originally conceived as male. That girl’s got tranny DNA in her! I related to her in general, but after learning she used to be a guy I only loved the character more. Nevermind the fact that Fang’s weapon of choice is badass, and a double-headed phallic symbol.
There was one other unintended consequence of this decision though, one which makes me love the decision to turn Fang female even more. Remember, this was done because they chose not to sexualize Lightning. Fang is who she is, because they wanted a “flirtatious character with more sex appeal.”. As we all know because of this decision, Lightning has been largely forgotten about, has rarely been fetishized, and in no way become one of the medium’s largest sex symbols…
> Lightning, Fang, Vanille, and Our Definition of Sexy
Final Fantasy XIII gave us a female lead who wasn’t sexualized, who was a member of a police force, strong and competent, often cold hearted, unrelentingly focused, and who had no love interest whatsoever… and she was still hotter than hell. You want to talk about gaming sex icons? Look up Lightning/ Claire Farron (Light’s birth name) on Tumblr. I don’t care if Rule 34 applies and everyone and everything is sexualized, it’s impossible to ignore just how popular Lightning’s character has become. [Relevant Tumblr link] To me, this is fucking awesome, because it shows that you don’t need to be scantily clad, or a manic pixie girl, or aged “there’s no way that girl is nineteen, I don’t care with the manual says”, to be sexy as fuck. As someone who finds strength a gigantic turn on in both men and women, it’s been amazing to see just how many other people took to this character. Admittedly in an extremely sexual way, but fuck it, that’s fine.
At one point, the man who created Lightning’s character admitted that if she were a real person he’d marry her. As I read that interview my only thought was, “Get in line.”.
There is a debate going on, particularly within the ‘gaming community’ (I hate that term, but that’s a topic for another article) on how narrow our definition of ‘sexy’ has become. That people who develop games are pandering to a 13 year old male audience, introducing things as impossibly large breast sizes, skimpy armour that makes no sense, and ‘jiggle physics’. Within this medium, our definition of sexy is the easiest, laziest, and most boring definition imaginable. It also ignores the rule of ‘different strokes for different folks’. Speaking for myself, I find anything above a D cup a turnoff (and even that’s pushing it a little). I find the girls of DOA to be entirely forgettable. The idea of some girl who only exists for my pleasure just doesn’t appeal to me… But give me a woman who is strong in mind and body, with a life of their own, with a goddamn spine (that’s not aching from supporting a DD cup size), and who isn’t afraid to go after what they want and it’s a whole other story. I know I’m not alone.
Lightning in many ways is not only a breath of fresh air, but also a sign that sexy can mean more than one thing. Other games have had non-sexualized female leads (for example, the ironically forgettable game “Remember Me”), but they didn’t catch on like Lightning did.
There have been complaints about Lightning not wearing pants, instead she wears a skirt and modesty shorts (but don’t ask me how I know that). However, Light’s outfit (a Guardian Corps uniform) does make sense in context. She’s from a tropical seaside town, so a skirt and vest instead of pants and sleeves make sense. Her vest is also zipped up to her neck, and during the only time she unzips it, the audience doesn’t get a look (even if Fang does).
The fact that Lightning has no love interest is also interesting. Arguably, this is where a lot of her appeal comes from. Because she’s not clearly in any relationship, there’s a bit of self-insertion fantasy to be had (admit it). It also makes it more fun to play around with who she may have affections towards (see the Fang/ Lightning section below). Still, as many women are defined by their relationships to men, seeing Lightning have other priorities than love is refreshing. It’s one of the reasons I have issues with the film adaptations of The Hunger Games. They’re trying to crowbar a love-triangle into a story where Katniss really doesn’t give a fuck. Go and read the books, her relationship to Peeta and Gale aren’t ones she cares a great deal about; mostly because Katniss is busy trying to stay alive, protect her family, and avoid an authoritarian government out to destroy her. In many ways, there’s a few parallels between Lightning and Katniss. Not the least of which is that they both volunteer for almost certain death, as part of a plan to save their younger sister. Others include not being interested in romance, being cold hearted, and good with weaponry. That said, Katniss remains fairly unlikeable in the books, while Lightning does show her warmer side and come to accept a lot of changes in her life. Still, both characters break from the norm where they are in no way defined by the men around them and seem to take little interest.
Lightning also displays a kind of femininity I was not expecting to see out of a Japanese RPG. She’s not a girlie-girl, but is quite feminine. Looking at her, she’s obviously feminine in her hairstyle and dress, but she’s no push-over and is one of the strongest people around. Lightning is an example of a woman who seems happy being female but isn’t defined by it. She’s living her life, doing what she needs to do, without her gender being exaggerated in any way despite clearly being a part of her.
I’d like to add that while Fang was given a flirtatious nature, and her sari does reveal a lot of skin, she doesn’t fit our narrow definition of sexy either. She’s tall (5’9”, which people assure me is tall), toned, her breasts are reasonably sized, and has more of an amazon look than anything. Furthermore, objectively she is Final Fantasy XIII’s strongest character. No other character is able to deal damage on the scale that Fang does, and she does it through physical strength to boot. Her unique skill is called ‘Highwind’, a purely physical assault which hits all enemies multiple times and can do over six-hundred thousand damage; in a game where a boss having three million hitpoints is a big deal. I’m used to seeing women often in supporting roles, or that of casters, ones which don’t depend on their physical prowess. I’ve come to see Fang as a rolemodel, that women can be just as strong as men, and can compete in the physical world. She does this while being feminine as well, but it’s hardly a ‘girlie girl’ femininity. Instead it’s that amazing and confident mature femininity. The amazon type. Or ‘glamazon’ as one person once put it. So it’s not only Lightning who broke the mold, even if Lightning has become the face of the series (and arguably the whole franchise).
To top it all off, I’ll argue that Vanille is a subversion of a common character trope. I mean look at her, right from the get-go her appearance, and the fact that she’s in a JRPG, and the fact that her l’Cie brand happens to be on her upper thigh just below a miniskirt invites a lot of assumptions. Her upbeat at times bubbly and nonchalant nature, especially at the start, only seems to confirm what we’re all thinking. She’s the JRPG jailbait (even if the literature says she’s nineteen) of the game. The Yuffie, or the Selphie of the story. It’s easy to forget about an hour in that Vanille had the opening line of the narrative. And that her trepidatious tone is more in line with how she really feels. Her narration marks the beginning and end of each chapter, and you find her reflecting back on everything that’s happened with a kind of sadness. Originally slated to be the main character, Vanille is the deuteragonist of the story. She’s also the only one of the six mains who knows the full story until about 80% of the way through. She has also accepted a fate worse than death in an effort to protect those she loves. In a JRPG, you’d expect her to be the best healer of the group. Or maybe the best magic dealer, at best. Instead, Vanille is the top Sabatour (debuffer) in the game, her forte is fucking up the enemy’s day and weakening them. Arguably a support role, but an offensive one and she’s one of the few characters who can learn ‘Poison’ (one of the most valuable abilities in the late game). Oh, and Vanille’s unique ability is the fucking ‘Death’ spell.
Vanille is positioned to be a subversion of your expectations; cute, bubbly, and girlie on the outside, while capable of making life and death decisions that would leave most of us weeping in a corner. Even if she carries the guilt of those decisions, that only makes me love her more because it makes her a three-dimensional character. A goddamn person. This unassuming girl that many write off immediately, is one of Final Fantasy’s greatest badasses.
Lightning does get more sexualized in the sequels though. Especially with Lightning Returns where the developers felt a need to raise her cup size from C to D. I’m rationalizing this as even the Goddess Etro has a thing for Lightning (which would explain a couple things), and figured she’d make a few alterations to her champion during the five-hundred years Lightning is asleep. Dammit, I’m Pagan, where’s my free boob job?
Regardless, it became clear Lightning was popular with the fanbase so they tarted her up a bit. That said, Lightning has a huge variety of outfits in Lightning Returns and not all of them are skimpy. Her armour in FFXIII-2 is also fairly practical, and still pretty hot. Through it all, Lightning doesn’t lose that strength and conviction that made her so sexy in the first place, so I’m willing to overlook the addition of jiggle physics for Lightning Returns. It’s clear they wanted to make her more ‘traditionally’ sexy, but it’s not distracting either so I’m rather ambivalent about the whole thing.
> Fang/ Vanille (“Fanille”) – A canonical romance?
This is where the decision to turn Fang female impacts things the most. In regards to Fang and Vanille, their story is one of two people who were both orphaned and grew up together on Gran Pulse, before becoming l’Cie and taking part in the War of Transgression (which happened 500 years before FFXIII’s story begins). Their participation in which left them together in crystal stasis in one of Oerba’s temples, before being moved to the Pulse fal’Cie which found its way into Cocoon. The two come out of crystal stasis and are forced to confront the panic that starts when Cocoon realizes there is a Pulse fal’Cie within its borders. Fang doesn’t remember what her Focus is, while Vanille remembers clearly but lies and says she’s forgotten too because their Focus is to destroy Cocoon (something she doesn’t want to do). Fang’s l’Cie brand is whited out/ frozen (by a Goddess, but this isn’t apparent at first) and thus will not turn her Cie’th, while Vanille’s continues to progress. Fang is very protective of Vanille and dedicates herself to getting Vanille off of Cocoon. The two are separated at a point, and Fang spends days trying to find Vanille which leads her to run into Cocoon forces, Snow, and eventually Lightning and the rest.
Although the decision to change Fang’s character came early in development, it doesn’t change the fact that Fang’s quest to save Vanille has some very romantic undertones. Not only is Vanille Fang’s top priority, but the script has her talk about Vanille in distinctly romantic language. The best example of this comes shortly after Fang meets Lightning. Lightning is distrustful of Fang once learning she’s from Gran Pulse (and a little angry that Fang is indirectly responsible for Serah becoming a l’Cie), and asks if Fang is trying to find her Focus again and be an enemy of Cocoon. Fang’s response is: “Pulse and Cocoon can rot for all I care. If I don’t figure out our focus soon, Vanille’s going to be a Cie’th. I’ll tear down the sky if it’ll save her.” This leaves Lightning speechless, which we’ll get into later. Fang really means this, she knowingly goes into a trap laid by PSICOM because there’s a chance she can break Vanille free from its grasp. She, and the others succeed, and the moment Fang and Vanille see each other they run to each other’s embrace. Accompanied by a scene consisting of “Fang!” “Vanille!” -hugging- <Boss Fight> “Fang!” “Vanille!” -hugging-.
This happens before the second big clue to Fang’s intentions, her… liberties with Vanille’s body. It’s easier to show you, so I’ve included a photo.
Moments after being reunited Fang gets down on her knees and looks up Vanille’s skirt. She is checking the progress of Vanille’s brand, but note how almost everyone else decides to turn and look away. Fang even lingers for a moment, and honestly could have just asked the girl. One thing to note is that while all the guys turn away, Lightning keeps watching.
Once united, Fang and Vanille share a few scenes alone. One of which involves Vanille coming clean about what Fang is, and how she’s known Fang’s Focus all along but played dumb in order to avoid completing it. Essentially, Vanille didn’t want to hurt anyone on Cocoon, or have Fang go through with her Focus. I would love to go into depth about how this nineteen year-old kid made a decision to turn Cie’th, rather than hurt innocent people and loved ones. This is revealed during a flashback showing the day Vanille met Serah: “This place was so beautiful, and my focus was to destroy it. So I decided to do nothing, and wait to become a Cie’th.”. Vanille was still the one withholding that information because she wanted to protect Fang from going through with her Focus. Fang’s brand being sealed meant that she could ignore her Focus if she desired, something no other l’Cie is given the luxury of.
Fang’s anger at her, and the guilt Vanille feels brings forth her Eidolon (discussed in the previous article), and afterwards the two have a heart to heart. Initially furious with Vanille for withholding this information (to the point where it looks like Fang is going to strike her), Fang relents and embraces Vanille. “Poor kid, you’ve had it rough. Listen, you’re not alone anymore.” Fang has Vanille promise that they’ll stick together with their ‘new family’ and the two continue on.
The only times Fang has ever threatened to strike Vanille was when Fang was afraid that Vanille would turn Cie’th. In one case, she turns on the entire group. It doesn’t matter if she’s going up against five l’Cie, she still is committed to protecting Vanille (sometimes the only way she knows how). The fact that there are two cases where Fang nearly tries to kill Vanille to prevent her from going Cie’th could be interpreted as an element of violence between them, but it also shows Fang’s dedication to Vanille’s well-being. Addressing the abuse issue farther, Fang nearly strikes Vanille after finding out the truth, but doesn’t and instead comforts her. While Fang doesn’t have a whole lot of character development, arguably her working through some anger issues is something which does happen.
During the story’s climax, it’s Fang and Vanille alone. Fang refusing to become Ragnarok in front of Orphan, and accepts whatever fate might come of it. Even after (she believes that) she watches the other four be turned into Cie’th, she refuses. She carries the guilt that she caused them to meet that fate, and doesn’t fight back as she’s beaten down by the Cie’th, but is eventually forced to become Ragnarok. Fang, as an incomplete version of the creature, fails to destroy Orphan and is tortured for it after she reverts. Brought nearly to death, then healed so that Orphan can do it to her again. Vanille doesn’t cower, and even as Fang urges Vanille to run, she stands her ground and refuses to leave Fang’s side. This happens as the four return (having overcome whatever Orphan did to them) and rescue Fang.
The last moment between Fang and Vanille is at the end when they merge to form a wholly realized Ragnarok. There’s a few elements in this scene worth discussing. The first is that, I’ve never seen anyone hold hands and look to each other in the way Fang and Vanille do, in any other context, than when standing at an altar getting married. Look at this, this is a marriage if I ever saw one. Complete with how they eventually become one, save Cocoon together, form the crystal pillar to hold it aloft, and this all climaxes in an orgasmic cry from both of them before they solidify in crystal. Naked, holding each other, for what was intended to be an eternity.
There’s one more scene that doesn’t involve Fang, but does involve Vanille’s decision to find Fang. Remember that Vanille is running away from her and Fang’s Focus, in part to protect Fang. In a flashback, it’s shown that Serah and Vanille met on a beach and talked. Vanille admits that she was trying to find someone (Fang) and apologize for something, but that she could never find the words. Serah confides in Vanille that she has dreams of destroying the world (a sign that she’s the girl who was made a Pulse l’Cie). Serah goes on to describe how she decided to tell Snow about her status as l’Cie. Serah’s direct quote to Vanille is: “[Nightmares of destroying the world] had me so scared, I tried to run away. But then my boyfriend, he came chasing after me. That’s when I understood, running away and leaving behind the people you care about, that isn’t love. Though you might just want to keep them safe, shutting them out of your life only hurts them more.”.
Serah encourages Vanille to find Fang, and that she’ll find the words. Arguably ‘love’ can mean a platonic love, but given that Serah was talking this in the context of loving her boyfriend, it could be taken as romantic as well. Vanille’s protective instincts around Fang, coupled with tripping over her words and going “I just don’t know what to say”, and gaining insight into her relationship with Fang when someone’s talking about their boyfriend… These are all signs of a romantic entanglement.
Everything I have described above is a goddamn love story. Two halves of one whole, searching for each other, going to extremes to protect each other, the sheer amount of physical contact between the two, and choosing to live the rest of their lives in each other’s embrace. Obviously the script never has Fang or Vanille express their love for each other, something which may have been included if Fang was male. Still, Fang and Vanille’s relationship is so vital to Final Fantasy XIII’s story that in keeping it, they couldn’t help but keep a lot of the elements of what is fundamentally a love story. There wouldn’t be any debate over the nature of their relationship had it been a heterosexual coupling, and honestly there’s not much debate over them as a lesbian pair as is. Even people who aren’t part of the ‘slashfic/ shipping’ community jokingly refer to Fang and Vanille as “magical lesbians”. You don’t need an explicit sex scene, or the direct professing of one’s love in order to have a love story. I still found Fang and Vanille’s relationship to be rather touching. In Final Fantasy XIII-2 it’s revealed that they dream together, and thus spend hundreds of years not only in each other’s physical embrace, but living together in a mutual dreamscape.
All of this makes me reluctant to even refer to Fang/ Vanille as shipping, because it’s not shipping if it’s bloody canon.
> Fang/ Lightning (“Fangrai” or “FLight”) – A non-canon romance.
Straightforward, confident, and not one to mince words. Feminine, but not girlie. This woman has a commanding presence, and is not one people ever ignore. She’s often criticized for being stubborn. Motivated by the need to protect her loved ones, she will go to any length to do so. There are two very different sides to her, one the world sees, and one those closest to her see. While wearing the markings of her home proudly, the person she loves comes first. No stranger to conflict, she’s physically adept and proficient in a variety of weaponry as well as hand to hand combat. A born guardian, and when needed, a leader. Even if her anger needs to be kept in check, lest it damage those she’s trying to protect.
One soul, born into two worlds during two different lifetimes. Twice orphaned. The first was born into the collectivist culture of Oerba on Gran Pulse. She shared a home with many other children, becoming quite close with one. With little provided for her, she grew up relying on others and becoming extroverted and playful in the process. To interact with members of her village was to make the whole of them stronger. This soul later grew to be a proficient hunter, and defender of her home. The other was born five hundred years afterwards, into the individualistic culture of Cocoon. With some of what she needed provided for her, she could withdraw and focus on protecting the one she loved. Suspicious of others, and not allowing herself to become dependant, she became introverted and focused on making herself stronger. These skills made her an ideal Guardian Corps soldier, and gave her a way to provide for her loved one.
While not canon, there are people who have read into Fang and Lightning’s interactions as having romantic subtext. What I just wrote was an illustration of why I believe the pairing makes sense, when coupled with other canon events. Not all relationships feel natural (see ‘Lanille’ below), but there is something about Fang and Lightning that underlines everything that they do. I believe it’s because they work as many great couples do: They are the same soul, but were brought up in radically different circumstances. Fang grew up in a collectivist culture and became extroverted; Lightning grew up in an individualistic culture and became introverted. Their core values and approach are the same, but it’s the surface elements which balance each other out. There are two schools of thought applicable here. The first says that a stable relationship is built around a similar core system of values, but where one partner is introverted and the other extroverted. Anecdotally, I’ve seen this happen quite a lot in the pairings around me. The other school of thought was first described by Plato, in a rather violent story where mankind was split in two, and one half searched for the other until they found their ‘soul mate’. Related is the ‘Twin Flames’ viewpoint, that there is one soul split in two that endlessly searches for its other half and eventually dies whole and complete, only to be be reincarnated and begin the search again.
In Final Fantasy XIII-2, Serah meets Fang and Vanille in a dream world. It is Serah’s first time meeting Fang, and even if their time is brief, Serah’s narration mentions how much Fang reminded her of Lightning.
The fact that Fang and Lightning’s characters follow these schools of thought so closely is one reason many view them as having a relationship. It’s clearly not as overt as the one Fang has with Vanille, but even putting their personalities aside there are… moments which might give you pause. Your mileage may vary depending on how you view physical intimacy, but here’s a few scenes that became sparks which ignited a fandom:
I have to admit, I get really, really nostalgic when I watch the first one. I was once on a St. Andrew’s Cross and in the middle of a scene (so pretty worked up), when the woman came in close and gently stroked my cheek. She had me mewling like a animal, right before she backhanded me clear across the face. That’s the memory from that scene which really stood out. It was wildly intimate, so I might view the first video a little differently than some. Anyways…
That is the most overt reasoning/ material behind Fang/ Lightning’s relationship, but there are a few other moments which punctuate it. Final Fantasy XIII first pairs up its characters with someone who resembles the loved one they’ve lost: Lightning gets paired with Hope, and Vanille with Sazh. For Lightning, Hope becomes a younger sibling who looks up to her. Arguably Lightning becomes a maternal figure to Hope, replacing his mother who he just lost. This mirrors the orphan Vanille being paired up with Sazh, who is a father. When Snow and Fang enter the picture, the pairings switch and Lightning finds herself with Fang. Here, each side doesn’t mirror someone the other has lost, but instead the person that they are. Look at what motivates them, and look at how Fang knows how to motivate Lightning at the end of the second video. Reaffirming that Lightning has her sister to live for, when Light is convinced she has nothing left. Like I’ve said, they’re the same soul, only brought up under different circumstances.
Another moment comes when Fang gives in to grief and Bahamut is summoned. After turning on the others, they step in and try to protect Fang as she struggles on whether to let Bahamut destroy her. While Vanille stays at Fang’s side, Lightning is the one who reaches down and urges Fang to stand back up. This might be a small thing, but of the four, it’s Lightning who wants Fang back. This could be more easily written off, if the same scene didn’t happen a second time at the story’s climax. I said above that when Fang refused to become Ragnarok, Orphan apparently turns Lighting, Hope, Sazh, and Snow into Cie’th. When Fang fails in destroying Orphan, even as Ragnarok, she reverts to her previous form and Orphan berates her for being “another failed l’Cie.”. Orphan is interrupted by Lightning and the other’s return, having overcome whatever “smoke and mirrors” Orphan used. Lightning enters holding her gunblade in one hand, and Fang’s lance in the other. She apologizes to Fang for making her go it alone, and holds Fang’s lance out for her. Fang even acknowledges that this is the second time, and takes her weapon back from Lightning. There’s a small moment the two share, and a nod, before having to turn their attention back to the threat at hand.
I like to think that when Fang says that she would “tear down the sky” for Vanille, that Lightning’s stunned pause is one of a vaguely jealous woman. Or maybe one who isn’t used to seeing women express their feelings for another in that way. You have to admit, the pause is rather striking. Something is going through her head, and I don’t think she’s thinking about Serah. Lightning already showed the lengths she’d to go in order to save Serah, and that included beating on a fal’Cie about two hours into the game. While Light’s reaction is never explained, I almost think of it as an awaking of some kind for her.
Unfortunately, canon events make any relationship between Fang and Lightning difficult, given Fang is turned to crystal at the heart of a gigantic pillar. However, a lot of slashfic and fanfic tell alternate realities, often ones where Fang and Vanille manage to escape being held at the pillar’s centre. While this diverges a lot from the established canon, a lot of great stories have come out of it. Often revolving around Fang and Lightning having a family, and sometimes kids. This is an oddly specific fantasy too, it’s one I’ve seen written by a few authors, but one that I like. It gives closure or opens possibilities on a romance which many people saw, but one that wasn’t given the canonical attention of Fang and Vanille’s.
This is my “one true ship” and I’ve written an extensive slashfic involving the two. I’ll also admit to having a certain image (one of the above) as my phone background, and a file of Final Fantasy XIII images, with a lot of Fang/ Light slash.
> Lightning/ Vanille (“Lanille”)
This pairing contrasts with Fang/ Lightning in that it’s not as common, and I think there’s a reason for that. Fang/ Vanille and Fang/ Lightning feel much more natural than this pairing, thus you don’t get a whole lot of ‘Lanille’. Simply put, Light and Vanille together aren’t as compatible as they are with Fang. Vanille might represent Serah to a degree, but Lightning’s love for Serah was never incestuous. Serah’s love for Lightning on the other hand is so obsessive, it does border on incestuous at a point during Final Fantasy XIII-2. Even if Vanille is in love with Fang, that love wouldn’t translate to Lightning as they don’t have a shared history and Vanille responds more to Fang’s nurturing side. Lightning may have a nurturing side but it’s underdeveloped, and more platonic because it was forged with Serah and Hope. Despite how Lightning and Vanille both mirror someone they’ve lost, the details aren’t right. Couple that with a lack of common ground, and you have a ship that while it exists, there isn’t a wealth of material on it like Fang/ Lightning or Fang/ Vanille.
Factor in the fact that Vanille and Lightning share no scenes alone, and you’d be reaching to come up with a reason why the two get together. To me this speaks to an unspoken ‘science of shipping’, and how some couples simply work better than others. I’m not discouraging people who do love this pairing, I know that there are people out there. I would love for them to prove me wrong actually, because then I could enjoy Light/ Vanille more. I just don’t see it, it doesn’t match my lens in how I see relationships. I think it’s valuable to know so that it gives context to the relationships (both canon and non-canon) that do exist in Final Fantasy XIII.
> Is Lightning Asexual?
Asexuality falls under the queer umbrella, so why not discuss this. While I don’t personally agree with this belief, it’s not without its merits. As mentioned, Lightning has no canon love interest in Final Fantasy XIII. More than that, her life before the story begins revolves around protecting Serah. Lighting even chose the name Lightning as a way to symbolize her becoming a destructive force, and one capable of doing what needed to be done in protecting her sister. The only man in her life (besides Snow who Lightning loathes, and is marrying her sister) is Lieutenant Amodar, her superior officer. In the scene they share together there isn’t any indication of romantic interest though, and it’s clearly a professional relationship. There simply are not any men or women in Lightning’s life that make up a relationship, and no mention of a past one, and you can argue that she and Fang don’t have a romantic connection… Or maybe just not a sexual one, as I know asexual people can be romantic without being sexual. So there is that to consider.
I think part of the problem is that Lightning never gets a chance to simply be. Starting with Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lightning is conscripted by the Goddess Etro immediately after the events of Final Fantasy XIII in order to be her champion. This means that for hundreds of years, Lightning is in service to someone again, and unable to have a life of her own. This seems to continue in Lightning Returns, even if I think Lightning is trying to do things her own way. At least that’s what I’ve heard. Still, she’s on a mission and as far as I know she doesn’t have any romantic involvements.
I thought about making the argument that Lightning does look after herself, and it’s obvious she puts some effort into her looks. Ergo, she must be looking to attract someone. However, that fell apart when I considered how professional she is, and that maintaining one’s appearance is a big part of that. Additionally, I’ve lost all interest in sex, but I still put on eyeliner and lip gloss every day, that and all of the squats and push-ups I do aren’t done for my health. Even if you’re not out for sex, you still want to look good. Although I am out for romance, and Lightning may not be, so again nothing is definitive here.
As far as asexual goes you can make that argument, but you have to remember that Lightning hasn’t spent time attending to her needs. It’s obvious at the start of Final Fantasy XIII that introspection is not her strong suit, although she makes significant improvement in that area as the story progresses. Ultimately though, Lightning never really gets to have a life of her own. Some might call this tragic, but I call it interesting. If you wanted to take a BDSM lens, you could argue that Lightning is a dominant who needs to serve. She goes from Guardian Corps, to saving Serah, to being the Champion of a Goddess for literally hundreds of years. She’d make an ideal second in command, actually. It may be her natural state. While I haven’t played Lightning Returns, so I can’t speak to what happens there, a part of me wonders if Lightning simply lives to serve. Maybe that’s what makes her happy. It’s worth considering.
> Concluding Thoughts
I never thought I’d go on this long, but I think it’s out of my system now. In the end, while it probably was not their intent, I would like to congratulate Square-Enix on releasing the greatest queer love story and metaphor I’ve ever seen within this medium. For now, I’ve said all that I’ve wanted to say on the topic. I might return to it sometime, especially once I play Lightning Returns, but for now I’m happy to conclude things here. As I was writing this, I realized that it serves as a good primer to talk about how Final Fantasy XIII has helped me personally. How in particular Fang/ Lightning material has helped me navigate healthy relationships. I think I’ll write an article on that soon, so if you’re interested, stay tuned. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you found the above interesting. At the very least, I had fun writing it.
Final Fantasy XIII is one of my favourite games, and the fact that it’s queer as hell is fucking awesome!