It’s that time of the week again, and there’s no way I could let my coverage of Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis slip by without celebrating Jessica Philomele, arguably the most prominent female character in the game.
Jessica is the one who appears alongside main protagonist Vayne in the promotional artwork. Jessica is the first playable character that you meet once the game proper gets underway. And Jessica… was named something different in Japan?
We have a lot to talk about here — some of which may involve some mild spoilers — so hit the jump and let’s get started!
First up, that name. While she’s called “Jessica Philomele” (“Jess” for short) in the localisation — and that’s the name we’ll be assuming in all future discussion of her — in Japan she was known as “Philomele Hartung” (“Philo” for short).
The reasons for this change aren’t entirely clear, and we can’t even look to the usual explanation of the localisers wanting to “Westernise” names to broaden the audience or add puerile jokes in this instance — most of the names in Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis are already fairly Western, with many (including “Philomele Hartung”) taking influences from Latin and Germanic languages.
The name “Hartung” actually has a tenuous connection to the subject of alchemy, though unlike Atelier Iris 3’s use of “Crowley” and Atelier Iris 2’s references to “azoth”, it’s not an actual reference to a proponent or desired product of the practice this time around. Instead, a gentleman named Albert E. Hartung acted as the editor for the renowned eleven-volume scholarly text A Manual of the Writings of Middle English between its third and tenth volumes, and that final volume focused on medieval scientific and technological theories — including alchemy. But I digress. We’re here to talk about Jess. And rhyme, apparently.
Jessica follows the trend of Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny and its sequel by being the lead female, a playable character and, personality-wise, the closest thing to a stereotypical “Atelier protagonist” we have in the game — but not actually being the main protagonist of the game. Interestingly, Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis was the last Atelier game to force a male protagonist on the player; Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy features a choice of protagonists — one male, one female — while subsequent Atelier games aside from Escha & Logy (which once again offers a choice) return to the female protagonists the series began with.
What do I mean by a “stereotypical Atelier protagonist”? Well, while each character has their own unique features, of course, your stereotypical Atelier protagonist can be described as 1) female, 2) clumsy, 3) lacking in self-confidence, 4) determined and 5) eminently willing to put the necessary work in to succeed. Jess fulfils all of these criteria perfectly.
Probably the least obvious of these is the third one; Jess’ cheerful, playful nature and seeming willingness to jump headfirst into activities she enjoys might make her seem like a character perfectly at ease with herself, but it’s in the scenes where she and protagonist Vayne have the opportunity to chat one-on-one with each other that she reveals the truth: she’s aware of her own limitations and often a little frustrated by them, and this can lead her to overcompensate somewhat. In turn, this can lead to her trying to do too much with her alchemical experiments, causing them to end in disaster and for her to get locked into an endless cycle of failing, attempting to make up for that failure, then repeating the process.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is the fact that Jess knows she doesn’t have as long to live as everyone else she knows — a fact she’s been aware of since her childhood. This leads her to want to make the best of the time she has available to her, and to become frustrated when she’s not able to do that. Despite this, she remains surprisingly upbeat about the whole situation, to a fault sometimes.
On one particularly memorable occasion, she severely offends a classmate grieving for a recently passed relative with her rather glib attitude towards mortality. Vayne actually forcibly removes her from the situation at this point, believing her to have been unnecessarily harsh, but it subsequently emerges that it’s simply just how she has always coped with the knowledge of her own mortality constantly hanging over her head. Everyone copes with these things in different ways.
Jess’ relationship with Vayne is rather heartwarming; she’s his first friend at the Al-Revis academy, and although her cheerful nature would seem to make her the sort of girl who would be popular among her peers, she tends to confide in him specifically — he’s the first she tells about her condition. The two are good for one another; Vayne lacks general confidence at living among his peers due to having been shunned by people for his mysterious background prior to his attendance at Al-Revis, while Jess desperately wants someone to listen to her and take her seriously.
This doesn’t mean Jess becomes dependent on or clingy towards Vayne, mind; her charismatic, cheerful nature means that she’s quick to make friends and can easily be seen as a central, important part of the central cast as a whole. But she’s glad to have someone who sets themselves apart just a little bit — someone that she can really talk to, even if she doesn’t quite know how to do that to begin with.
How does Jess’ story turn out? Is her mysterious terminal illness really going to see her life come to an end after she graduates? Or will Vayne and company find a way to save her? Once again, that’s entirely up to you to discover for yourself!
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