Characters: Balthier and Ashe from Final Fantasy XII
Spoilers: The entirety of FFXII
Note: This manifesto spoils a lot, but is in no way a comprehensive summary of the game's plot.
(yes, that's official art!)
Ashelia B’nargin Dalmasca (Ashe):
Ashe is the princess of the small desert kingdom of Dalmasca. The game opens with her wedding to Prince Rasler of Nabradia, Dalmasca’s “sister” kingdom. Rasler is too good to be true: he’s handsome, noble, and brave. He’s the very definition of “Prince Charming.” In flashbacks, it is revealed that Ashe was very much enamored with him, which is a rarity in arranged marriages. Not long after their wedding, however, the Empire of Archadia invades Nabradia and Rasler is killed in battle. Shortly thereafter, Ashe’s uncle, Marquis Halim Ondore, announces fallaciously that Ashe committed suicide. Dalmasca comes under Archadia’s rule, and the capital city of Rabanastre falls under the control of Vayne Carudas Solidor, the second son of the Emperor of Arcadia.
Ashe goes into hiding, calling herself “Amalia”, and covertly spearheads the rebellion movement in Dalmasca. During a failed raid on the Rabanastre palace, “Amalia” meets Vaan, Balthier, and Fran—which pulls the three into the events which comprise the rest of the game.
Ashe is cold, stoic, and determined in demeanor. She will sometimes fall back on her pride and pull rank on others by reminding them that she is a princess—however, she is upset that she can walk around in her own city, undisguised, and not be recognized. Despite the harsh exterior, she cannot hide her longing and regret for her dead husband and tends to fall apart when she sees what appears to be his ghost. In flashbacks, we see that she used to be a far happier, more “girlish” person.
Her default weapon is a one-handed broadsword and a buckler. Ashe is also fairly skilled with magic, making her an excellent choice for a “paladin” type character.
Balthier (Ffamran) Bunansa:
Balthier is a sexy, swingin’ air pirate who travels Ivalice with his
Balthier is cool-headed, sarcastic and yet chivalrous. He is constantly reminding Vaan (and the audience) that he, in fact, is “the leading man.”
Balthier’s default weapon is a shotgun, making him similar to Mustadio Bunansa, to whom he is possibly related.
- When “Amalia” appears, Balthier gives her a knowing look. He knows that there’s something up with her, but he doesn’t pry.
- Only when Judge Bergan holds his sword to Balthier’s throat does Ashe relent and caves in to his demands.
- When Fran goes berserk, Balthier says “Well I always knew that Fran didn’t like getting tied up. What about you, Princess?”
- Ashe decides that she doesn’t want to be a convenient political pawn who just waits for everything to fall into place, as that is Ondore’s plan for her. She begs Balthier to “steal [her],” which is highly reminiscent of a discussion between Garnet and Zidane in Final Fantasy IX, which was also directed by Hiroyuki Itō.
- Balthier asks for one of Ashe’s rings as collateral for his aid in guiding her to the Stillshrine of Miriam. Ashe’s character art shows that her two rings are identical, which may mean that both of them are wedding rings. At any rate, she hesitates, but he emphasizes “it’s your choice.” She gives the one on her right hand to him.
- Balthier gets visibly annoyed when Al-Cid flirts with Ashe.
- After fighting Bergan, Balthier offers to guide Ashe to Archades. He doesn’t ask for any money or reward.
You can see the video of this scene at this link: . It is the first video listed on the page, entitled "Balthier's Revelation."
The party has made a long journey from Mt. Bur-Omisace to the edges of the Archadian Empire. They arrive at the tropical Phon Coast. Vaan and Penelo race toward the shore, followed by Basch. Ashe trails behind. She looses her footing, but Balthier grasps her hand. He asks her what she wants from Draklor laboratory. Ashe gets defensive, and wants to know if he only sees her as being power-hungry and craving nethecite. Balthier then tells Ashe about his past—how his father went mad in pursuit of Nethecite. How he pushed Balthier to become an Archadian Judge. He tells her that his father is Draklor Laboratory’s head researcher, Dr. Cidofolas Demen Bunansa. On a personal note, he adds “and I suppose that’s when I lost my father.”
Ashe empathizes and recalls a moment between her and Rasler shortly after their marriage. After the flashback, Ashe is staring at her ring. Balthier implores Ashe “not to give [her] heart to a stone.”
This is probably the most compelling moment in the game for Balthier/Ashe. Here Ashe is worrying about what Balthier thinks of her, and Balthier is imploring her to not become like his father, someone you can only assume he loved very much. Balthier cares for Ashe here.
- The party runs out to prepare to head to the Feywood. Balthier lingers behind and speaks with Reddas. We find out that Ashe stayed behind as well.
- As Fran reads the ancient script on the door to the Pharos lighthouse, Balthier sidles closely to Ashe.
- When Penelo and Vaan insist that it is their right to defend Rabanastre, too, Ashe looks to Balthier for approval before agreeing with them.
- Al-Cid flirts with Ashe again, imploring her to come visit him in Rozarria. This time, Balthier is more visibly agitated and even grunts at the end. Fran appears amused at this display. Notably, they make a point of this in a sidebar in the Final Fantasy XII Ultimania Omega guide.
The rebellion begins to break through the lines and manages to assault Bahaumut directly. Inside, Fran asks that everybody do their best for the alliance. Vaan asserts that they will take care of Vayne no problem and then Ashe will be Queen and everything will be okay. Penelo remarks that being Queen of a whole country will be tough. Bash then says that a certain sky pirate should kidnap her so he can raise his bounty. Balthier says that she wouldn’t need his help, to which Ashe responds “you think I’m that strong?” They share a look.
The End of the Game
The Sky Fortress Bahaumut is going to crash into the town of Rabanastre. The crew onboard the Strahl despairs, until they hear Balthier communicating through the intercom. He and Fran had snuck out to repair the Strahl’s engines, but went on to fix the Bahaumut’s engines, as well. Ashe implores Balthier to make it back alive, to which Balthier responds that he is the hero of the story, and that the hero never dies. A hunk of debris falls on Fran. Balthier shakes his head and quips that he always has to do all the work. He picks her up, and Fran jokes in Japanese that Balthier is the romantic lead, while in English she puns that he's a supporting role (badum-ching).
Then the Bahaumut crashes.
Here’s where things get different depending on which language the game is in. In Japanese, Ashe SCREAMS Balthier’s name. In English, she doesn’t—but she still clearly worries about Balthier in the preceding conversation. Here is part 1 of the Japanese ending on Youtube. It's 7 minutes long, but you really only have to listen for the stuff at the very end, so go ahead and let it load and fast forward. The BALTHIER scream (or rather, Baflear, as he's known in Japan) is rather obvious.
The story leaps ahead to a year from the crash, and is narrated by Penelo, who has written a letter to Larsa, the young emperor of Archadia. In Japanese, she asks Basch to come back to Dalmasca because she thinks that Ashe is “lonely.” In English, Penelo thinks that Ashe “misses [Bash].” While this portion of the letter is being read, Ashe is shown looking at her ring, and looking at the ruins of Bahaumut. Let me note here that she is looking at the ring that she gave Balthier. That ring was attached to a note that Vaan and Penelo received when Balthier stole his ship back from them. The note reads that he had found treasure and that he will “be waiting.” Enclosed is Ashe’s ring. Ashe now has two reminders of the men that she has loved: a ring for Rasler, and a ring for Balthier.
Penelo also notes that there is one month left between the writing of her letter and Ashe’s official coronation as the Queen of Dalmasca.
Here is Part 2 of the ending in Japanese, subtitled. The subber chose to translate Penelo as saying that she wants Basch to come back for Ashe, making her out to be a sort of matchmaker. I can't really say how accurate that interpretation is, though. Watch for Ashe looking at her ring and gazing at the remains of Bahaumut.
Regarding The Spoiler Baby (Ending Credits):
WARNING: Stomping of feet and exorbitant wank my very well ensue from this portion of the manifesto. I will reiterate this but this is NOT INTENDED IN ANY WAY TO DISPROVE BALTHIER/FRAN. I REPEAT THIS IS NOT MEANT TO DISPROVE BALTHIER/FRAN. This is only meant to disprove the notion that for Ashe/Balthier to happen, Balthier would have to be a deadbeat dad/really big asshole .
Before FFXII had an English release, some spoilers seeped into the internet, mostly “Fran and Balthier die.” The counter-argument to this assertion was that “Balthier is seen in the end credits holding a baby.”
I took this to be true as I was playing the game, until I saw the ending for myself. The reason you know that Balthier and Fran do not die is that the Strahl goes missing and Vaan and Penelo receive a letter from Balthier. This is not something you would immediately pick up on if you imported the game but could not in fact read or write Japanese. But I digress. Balthier is in that picture alright, but he’s the baby. The man holding him is Dr. Cid, his father. Let’s do a side by side here, with Dr. Cid on the left, and the image in question on the right:
But wait, you say. Perhaps when Balthier became a daddy, he decided to shave down his sideburns, take out his earrings, and wear glasses. Seeing how either reading of the image requires that someone loses facial hair, I would like to point out that if the man holding the baby is Balthier, he also got a nose job.
This is Akihiko Yoshida’s concept art sketch of Balthier. Keep in mind that Yoshida drew all these images in the ending credits:
And this is Balthier’s in-game render:
If you compare that to the baby picture, you’ll notice the father in question has a much smaller nose.
Furthermore, most of the rest of these images portray the characters as they were at some point in the past: young Ashe, young Vaan, Penelo, and Reks, and Pre-Empire Noah and Basch.
This leads me to my second argument against the Balthier's Baby ending hypothesis. The argument goes that Balthier and Fran have settled in the Wood, and had a baby. The Viera who are peeking through the window at the end of the credits are looking in on their new life together. However, those three Viera are younger versions of Fran, Mjrn, and Jote. It stands to reason that if every other party character has a “youth” portrait in the credits, so does Fran. One Viera has short hair—she is Mjrn. One has a ponytail. That must be Fran. The third has plain medium length hair—Jote.
Now, I don’t think that I’ve just disproved Balthier/Fran by eliminating their spoiler baby. Perhaps spoiler baby was a by-product of assuming FFXII would be like FFX, and that like Lulu (who is also magical and dresses in black), Fran would go on to have a baby.
All this is just to say that Balthier doesn’t have to be a deadbeat dad to be with Ashe. You can write Balthier/Fran baby fics until your fingers turn blue, I don’t hold anything against that. They just don’t have a canon baby.
Why I ship Balthier/Ashe:
Initially I joked that I would ship Balthier/Ashe because I thought that Balthier was much better looking than Vaan or Bash. I didn’t really think about it seriously until I discovered that there was actual subtext in the game. Curiously enough, it follows my weird habit of shipping blondes and redheads. Ashe is a dishwater blonde, and in the full motion renders, Balthier is strawberry blonde.
I seriously got into the pairing when I hit the scene at Phon Coast. Balthier is a character who shows very little emotion outside of his snarky, cavalier exterior. He doesn’t let anybody else know about his past, even though they were en route to confront Dr. Cid. Additionally, the scenes where Balthier is bothered by Al-Cid’s flirtations with Ashe are very telling. When a heaping chunk of metal pins Fran to the ground in a sinking fortress at the end of the game, he shrugs it off with a joke—but he is bothered by competition for Ashe. Balthier knows he can make it out of a dangerous scrape, but he knows that once Ashe is officially Queen, she could very well be married to Al-Cid for political reasons. Balthier can’t do anything about politics. When faced with the reality of Ashe becoming Queen, Balthier does what he does when he’s in painful situations—he runs away to do piratical things, like find lost treasure. It gives Fran’s epithet of “the fastest of the sky pirates” a bit of a different meaning.
I’m of the opinion that Ashe’s feelings for Balthier are obvious, especially in the ending sequence. She is meant to be Queen, but she has learned that the people of her country don’t even know what she looks like. She also knows that all it takes is an announcement by another politician to get people to believe that she is dead. Lastly, she doesn’t wish for the strength to lead the country—she wants the strength to be able to leave. Without the blood ties to the treasures of Raithwall, Ashe has very little reason to continue to lead Dalmasca. She spent her life having decisions made for her, and when she got the chance, she rebelled against those decisions (like asking Balthier to kidnap her instead of being a good girl and following Ondore’s plan). Ashe could have a future as a sky pirate. She already has an alias, and she has a month left to decide.
I’ll note that I also like this pairing because it resembles some of the pairings I found endearing in the other Final Fantasy games that Hiroyuki Itō has directed: Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy IX. In FFVI, Locke and Celes (a thief and a high-ranking general) are separated for two years when the world essentially ends, putting Celes in a coma and Locke goes off to try and resurrect his dead girlfriend. In Final Fantasy IX, Zidane (a thief) says behind at the end of the game to comfort someone who is wounded/dying. He reappears some time later for a tearful reunion with Queen Garnet. So the fact that Balthier didn’t immediately turn around rejoin Ashe isn’t a nail in the coffin for their relationship. (I'm not comparing to other Yasumi Matsuno couples, because 3/4 canon Matsuno couples end when one person kills the other--and that doesn't bode well for anybody's 'ship)
The fandom for Ashe/Balthier is small, but growing. When I joined the Balthier/Ashe group, there were barely 20 members. Now there are 58! I seriously thought that I was the only one who shipped them, so that’s somewhat amazing to me, considering just how popular Fran/Balthier is.
Livejournal group: balthier_ashe
This group is pretty much the hub of all things Balthier/Ashe. There's a constant flow of fanfics coming through, with a smattering of icons here and there.
Steal Me is the related fanlisting. It doubles as a general fansite, with a growing archive of graphics, fanfiction, and fanart.
The Sand Rose and the Prodigal is the Fanfiction.net C2 community for Balthier/Ashe.
For Balthier/Ashe fanfiction, I am particularly fond of the "Steal Me" arc:
In Her City
How a Heart Breaks
I have found precisely two Balthier/Ashe pictures, both by Gawain's Angel:
Spring - Balthier x Ashe
So if you've made it through this manifesto...I encourage you to go out and do fanart! I also thank you for taking the time to paw through all this.