But let's use the cover art to illustrate anyway.
Hey, have I mentioned I currently don't have access to some of my own books?
And that it's hard to find older Angelique images at modern resolutions?
As noted a few posts ago, I've been thinking about Angelique's Knight Captains, and I got to thinking about how they function as mirror-universe versions of the nine Divine Bird Guardians, and how mirror-universe characters work in general. They're not "not you in every way," no more than a reflection is not you. Like that reflection, they're you, but the inverse of you. You, but taken in the complete opposite direction. They could have been you.
Kiefer: Well, this is the most obvious of these, isn't it. Julious is strict, severe, but he genuinely cares about those in his charge. He wants to inspire and motivate them to do better, to reach their full potential - to elevate them. Kiefer is also nobility, also a leader, but sadism defines his character: he sees no responsibility to those beneath him, to the point of abusing them for his own pleasure - viewing them only as means to his or his master's ends, mere tools for his gratification. In contrast to Julious's urgings toward self-actualization for his wards, Kiefer's Iceblade soldiers, as we see in his introduction in the Ailes Noires novel as they line up in martinet precision after they kill one of their number at Kiefer's command, are perfectly molded to his will.
Additionally: Both are associated with Light's traditional affinity for order, taking their leadership roles with the utmost seriousness. Julious, however, sees hierarchy as a structure for inculcating responsibility and proving worth, for the achievement of higher ideals; Kiefer - as demonstrated in behavior toward not only his subordinates but also Leviath, whom he reveres as a god due to awe of his sheer power and before whom he abjectly grovels - views hierarchy as a structure of mere dominance and submission, not for any higher ideal or greater purpose.
Cain: Like Clavis, Cain was parted from his one true love, albeit by far more definitive, unjust, and tragic circumstances. In response, Cain allowed himself to become deadened - allows this loss to make him subservient to an immoral will when he knows better. Yes, he acts as what's left of Leviath's conscience in certain circumstances (though not all, and he certainly comes up with his own share of misdeeds, such as the evident kidnapping of Maria to force Gerhard to join Leviath). But as Kiefer is Light's pride taken to immoral extremes (in Kiefer's case, monomaniacism), Cain is Darkness's passivity taken to immoral extremes. He largely does not intervene when he knows he should; at times in his narration (such as when observing the similarities between himself and Eugene as he notes how loneliness is driving them both to submission to an influence he, Cain, knows is malicious), he seems a distant observer in his own life.
(Aside here: evidently, one of the memorial guides says that Cain's father was a priest, a fact I don't recall Ailes Noires mentioning but which underlines a heritage of morality Cain chooses to neglect.)
Giovanni: Now, this is one of the least obvious, as, unlike many of the other Knight Captains, Giovanni has no evident connection to his counterpart's Sacrea - at least in the traditional sense. The parallel is instead more personal, hewing Sacrea-wise to the associations between Green and youthful innocence, a natural state. Giovanni, even before reincarnation, has an innocent, guileless face like Marcel's but (in the words of early supplemental material) tells lies with the greatest of ease. Marcel is nothing but natural and honest; Giovanni is a con man - he makes a career of seeming sweet and trustworthy but being anything but. It's a weaker tie but one nonetheless.
(Note: A bit after writing the above, I started reading Giovanni's Room, the James Baldwin novel about homosexuality that evidently, unbeknownst to me until recently, inspired the name of the feature on the Maren website where Giovanni showcased game art. The titular character, the bartender and garçon fatal who fully awakens the lead's homosexuality and whose coquettish joie de vivre, childlike enthusiasm mixed with calculated deception, and joy in courting danger very much brings to mind Angelique's Giovanni, is basically a thesis statement on an entwining of innocence and corruption and the former leading to the latter.)
Another inversion - or perhaps part of the same one - is that while Marcel is wholly innocuous, Giovanni is a force with which to be reckoned, to the point where he's built up as a midboss of sorts in the Gaiden 3 Mirror of the Sanctuary story. He prizes beauty and grace even in his martial arts, yes, but his destructive force is such that his reincarnation is presented as a Definite Problem for our heroes in Gaiden 3, on a level above the other Knight Captains. I suppose that makes him a representation of the "red in tooth and claw" aspect of Nature.
In writing this, and thinking about the Marcel-Zephel contrast, I realize one could deem the Green vs. Steel dichotomy as one of natural naivete vs. modern, sophisticated cynicism.
Eugene: Eugene's situation is similar to Cain's (as Cain himself realizes when Eugene elects to join the group). Eugene allows himself to be wholly subsumed by his devotion to Leviath, to be bent wholly to his will and to abdicate personal morality, to the point of killing his alleged loved one to prove his loyalty. Granted, the murder is a vehicle to a weird sort of self-actualization for Eugene, as his fiancée had, for practically Eugene's entire life, considered him her slave and property - but he ends up in no less thrall to Leviath. He does defy Leviath, in a manner, to save Renaud, but again: speaking generally, the character is defined by his subservience to his Lord. He is Water's gentleness and yin taken to a corrupt extreme, almost a spinelessness - a toxic sublimation of the self to another's wants and abandonment of personal morals that is a corruption of true kindness. Lumiale, meanwhile, has a great deal of inner strength and proves more than willing to speak up and defy others to make a moral stand defend what he believes and loves. Eugene is softness and stillness to (in another Cain parallel) a deadened degree.
Eugene also represents corrupted Water in his role in Leviath's ranks: that of a poisoner.
Gerhard: Like Giovanni, the inversion here is personal - one of finesse vs. bluntness. Oscar is a martial man, but one of elegance and flair in every manner of his bearing; Gerhard's a fighter, an effective one, but gracelessly direct, relying on raw power, and is clumsily earnest in his personal demeanor. Oscar comes from a military background; Gerhard is part of a martial organization, but not an officially-sanctioned, government group - instead, a band of pirates and bandits. Both engage with people, but in different miens: Oscar with elegant seduction, Gerhard with a guileless, earnest manner. Oscar is a consummate ladies' man; Gerhard has no such experience. Oscar is smooth and confident; Gerhard is brash and frequently confused, a man with no indoor voice or self-modulation.
All of Oscar's "ojou-chan" panache establishes him as a ladies' man, yes, but it also reflects on the expression of his Sacrea: Oscar is Fire's strength gracefully directed for noble purposes, like a finely-honed blade. Gerhard is Fire's strength wielded clumsily and indiscriminately - warring for warring's sake, for the love of battle and an unworthy master. (At least in theory, as far as the combativeness and love of aggression goes. In practice, Gerhard comes off as one of the better-minded Knight Captains, slower to genuine anger and less enamored of violence than, say, Kiefer, or less liable to instigate trouble than Giovanni.)
Sionna: A relatively simple one: both are geniuses in their own milieus, though Sionna more with clean, clinical theory and Zephel with hands-on tinkering and experimentation. Zephel is very hot-blooded and emotional; Sionna is clinical and cold - and murderous. Innovation and ingenuity purely for its own sake, heedless of immoral ends.
Renaud: The good little apples of their groups, Renaud and Luva are a duet of complementary and contradictory naivete and knowledge. Luva is the oldest of his cohort (at a ripe old age of 26) and is highly-learned & possessing great wisdom but often naive in the ways of the workaday world. Renaud, at 13, is the youngest of this group and gifted in the arcane arts, but in an innate, natural manner rather than one acquired by the conscious study of knowledge; though innocent in demeanor, he has killed hundreds. Like Leviath's other less-stable followers, he is blinded, almost demented, by his devotion, to the point where he mistakes great evil for holiness; the sagacious typically provide insight as to the proper course of action to others, but Renaud cannot perceive the true nature of even his own actions. The path his life has taken is decidedly not wise.
Walter: Walter, much like fellow latecomer to Leviath's campaign Ka-Fai, seems to have been initially envisioned mainly as a killer version of his counterpart Guardian. For Ka-Fai, this vision got expanded considerably - see below - but Walter never really got fleshed out. He remains uncomplicated: courage taken to a berserker's extreme, to utter, mad heedlessness for risk or the impacts of one's actions. Like the Guardian of Wind, Walter does what comes naturally, but Walter's "naturally" is destructive instead of sawayaka. (Unlike the relentlessly honest and forthright Randy, Walter's split personality ensures that what you see is not always what you get - though due to a biological/psychological phenomenon instead of any conscious deception, as with Giovanni.)
Ka-Fai: OK: I'm putting this last instead of next-to as would be proper, as in going over Ailes Noires and other Leviath material, I've actually come to have a great deal of appreciation for Ka-Fai. He's one of the less-central characters in the narrative, and consequently one whose origins were initially not given as much thought. The early concept seems limited to the joke of a hard-bitten terrorist reincarnated in the body of a cross-dressing peacock. (As per LoveLove Tsuushin fanart, a good deal of Ka-Fai's early appeal - though, frankly, far from all of it - lay in the idea of a killer Olivie.) There's ancillary early material that specifies Ka-Fai attempts to find beauty in war and combat, but this didn't stick. I'm glad it didn't, because Ailes Noires finds a far better parallel that links Ka-Fai to the Sacrea of Dream, both as an inversion of it and a corrupted expression of it.
Olivie, we are told, came from a planet of snow in the middle of absolutely nowhere, clawing his way out of the sticks to achieve his dream of becoming a fashion darling - his ideal self. Ka-Fai, meanwhile, was born into a planet of war - red-hot and scorching as opposed to Olivie's ice, similarly desolate and forsaken. When Leviath's band comes upon him, he is enjoying uncommon success as a military commander of exceptional ruthlessness. He makes his entrance into the novel by dramatically crashing a party thrown by the colonial lords oppressing his planet to celebrate Leviath's arrival and the sure victory they feel his mercenaries bring; Ka-Fai kills one of the lords in Leviath's very midst, to impress upon the lord's peers that none of them are safe. Leviath identifies Ka-Fai as the obstacle to his success in this arena and sets about isolating and excising him from his comrades on the opposition and recruiting him, as is his MO.
Ka-Fai is betrayed by his comrades at Leviath's instigation and set for execution but - with Leviath's help; the man's devious like that - escapes. His plotline reaches a climax in one of the novel's strongest character moments, where - after physical and emotional trials surely meant to put the stolid, fearsome assassin in a weakened, less-guarded state - he arrives at Leviath's camp to rendezvous with the man. Ka-Fai reveals his experiences (and Leviath) have taught him that even if his army achieved its goal of usurping the imperial governor, the army leaders would merely take the colonial lords' places as corrupt rulers; his true goal, raising the peasants up from the poverty in which they live and ending the wars that are ravaging his planet and people, would never be achieved. Near tears, he asks:
"Tell me...what do I do now? I can't support the general anymore - but I can't abandon my homeland! I don't want to create any more people like me...!"
Now, Ka-Fai being that aware of the cycle of violence may be an overstep by my translation - if I had it to retranslate, I would perhaps put it as "I don't want to there to be any more people like me" instead. But regardless of exact wording, the point remains: there's a better person in Ka-Fai, but not one his environment or he himself have allowed to flourish. His motives are noble, and he truly wants a better life for his people, but he's done horrible things to attain that - things he knows are horrible. He is so desperate to achieve his dream in seemingly unattainable circumstances that he has gone to dreadful lengths in pursuit of it. Where Olivie became the best version of himself and rose above his circumstances (albeit ones that were far less oppressive), Ka-Fai sunk into the morass around him - allowed it to drag him down to his worst. As strong as he is, as efficient in his role as he is, Ka-Fai despises himself. But he still has that dream for his people, and he genuinely wants better for others, even if he believes himself to be beyond redemption. I think that entire picture makes for a beautiful character, honestly, and a far deeper dark mirror of Dream than the original concept.