header is screenshot from Final Fantasy VII Rebirth
It's Not Just the Wildfires
Autumn Wright

It’s blight; The hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that destroys eastern hemlocks branch by branch, eradicating the canopies of the forests that’d once convinced a people they’d found their promised land. In Massachusetts, it’s cause for preemptively felling trees near houses—easier than identifying and fighting the aphids, whose rot compromises trees that can reach 150 feet. 

Without the annual frosts, it’s spreading. So we cut down the trees closest to the houses, the ones that blocked the sun in summer and muffled the sounds of the river. Drag the wood away on Christmas Day, when the kids visit from the city. It affects others’ homes too. Small mammals who prefer the hemlock’s cool shade, warblers that rest in its limbs, deer that shelter from snow, and birds of prey that roost atop the old growth.

These juxtapositions across coasts—the spectacular wildfire and the pile of wood in an empty yard—characterize climate collapse. And there’s a greater loss still. The Anthropocene: the loss of all the things we didn’t know. Not just changes in landscapes, but soundscapes. Not just in condition, but possibility. Blighting theory, imagination, the “horizons of the thinkable.” The loss of some magic in the world. 

And that is the first horror you could know of Berserk; The days when silence ceased to be mere silence. In the hollows of trees, the ground beneath graves, the whispers of winds, the lull between waves, the depths of wells, the darkness of attics … the liminalities between imagination and possibility where reason is bound. Berserk is when something again breathes within the silences, “Like a folk tale told by elders to children … as if it might have been there all along.” Somewhen, somewhere, like a forest in a dream.

A cross section of an ancient sequoia tree rests in a dimly lit corner of the Hall of North American Forests in the American Museum of Natural History. It was felled on the other side of the continent in 1891 when it was over 300 feet tall and more than 1,300 years old, back when the oyster beds of New York Harbor—possibly half the worlds’ population when Hudson first crossed it—fed a nascent America on its conquest over nature. No evidence of such abundance remains in the water today, just artificial restoration. The industry and culinary traditions that grew with them gone too. 

It’s not an original observation, this alienation from nature itself. Reading historic accounts of our contemporary environments draws out this feeling that some magical quality of the world has been lost. Across the polluted estuary erroneously named the East River, in another 19th century colonial institution, stands a wall of reliefs from the Kalhu palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II. The reliefs elevate this Ozymandias, manufacture his mandate through a relationship with the supernatural world. The halls of the museum’s looted+ Near Eastern collection are a gallery of when, of where the preeminent forms of representational art were still unreal. Not an arms race to reproduce the likeness of the world as is. Or, well, maybe it was.

Now, stories of that old world are confined to fantasy, a genre codified by the nostalgia of early 20th century European writers lamenting that effervescence of the world as they knew it before war and mass industrialization set us on a course for a new age. 

In Berserk, the forgotten fantasy is returning again to the world, shattering the minds of all who face the changing fabric of reality. The towering manga, over 8000 pages of illustration that emulates renaissance masterworks (especially those of Hieronymus Bosch) was mangaka Kentaro Miura’s genre defining life’s work. The weight—of narrative, themes, artistry, ink, legacy—is all part of its effect. The story begins in medias res, in an edgy dark fantasy world, but Midland was not always such. The status quo was not a dark take on the romanticized Europe of The Lord of The Rings, it was the war and diseases and stratification of a somewhat more historically accurate medieval Europe (c. 15th-16th centuries). 

What fantasy exists in Berserk's Golden Age arc is a remnant of a forgotten time. But then the Eclipse. In the grandest of Faustian bargains, the world first veers from its course in an act of selfish sacrifice, of self-preservation, of interpersonal betrayal as a broken man forsakes those closest to him. The horrors it manifests, calling forth demons and fairytale alike, spread across the land and traumatize the few survivors. A main character loses the ability to speak for the remainder of the manga. Another loses limbs. 

It’s a story filled with ends. Violence is shown as its own small apocalypse as grief and loss change lives, if not worlds. Betrayal and sexual assault rearrange the world as much as any fantastical beast does, and Miura corporealizes horrors in a way that representational art should struggle to convey. And while ordinary people on the margins of its story are constantly made smaller by the grand scale of conflict (supernatural, political, and interpersonal), there are also quiet moments of shattering. The kind that seeing even a fairytale creature in our own world would inspire in us.  

But, somehow, Miura’s story keeps going. Its hero and his newfound family keep surviving. Even as their home breaks again, and again, until — finally — the reason of the world ends. 

Berserk isn’t the only work to acknowledge this imaginative change. The films of Hayao Miyazaki often draw this transition as a parallel to its protagonists’ coming of age, while the films of a younger Makoto Shinkai consider the perspective of generations born in the present disasters. But the Anthropocene, defined by the advent of nuclear power (Günther Anders: “On August 6, 1945, the day of Hiroshima, a New Age began: the age in which at any given moment we have the power to transform any given place on our planet, and even our planet itself, into Hiroshima.”) or climate change (John Green: “We are powerful enough to warm the planet but not powerful enough to stop warming it.”), changed the question of philosophy from “how should we live?” to “will we live?” 

In On Extinction, Ben Ware writes towards a collective time liberated from the paradoxical, narcissistic apocalypse narratives of the 21st century: that it is both too late for the planet and that we must urgently act now to save it. It’s not the only paradox, either. History has ended, there is no alternative to capitalism, yet fascism is more pervasive than ever. It’s a philosophical matter rather than a scientific one (of which the consensus towards climate collapse is clear). Regardless, the present seemingly won’t end. The end looms, but that’s all it ever does. “We find ourselves in an expanding present that has been stripped out of any real sense of the future or the past,” Ware writes. The present political and economic forces stagnate, though they do still change—in one direction. They crumble.

In Xenoblade Chronicles 3, a vampiric cabal has frozen all the world in an “endless now.” The manifestations of a collective anxiety of the unknown, these corporealized desires for stability have seized the cosmically joined world of Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and in their moment of subatomic annihilation and artificial recreation to cultivate an eternity of strife. While the internal conflict of each previous game could be aesthetically traced across a move from a fantasy to sci-fi setting as characters learned the philosophical and physical ontology of their own world, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 finds the worlds that past heroes (and players) fought for at war. Inhabitants from each world have joined together in a war against the inhabitants of the other. Having once fought through their own collapse as the nature of their past realities stagnated, their futures have now gone wrong.

The cause of conflict is unknown to its soldiers, each living ten years in an unknown cycle of artificial rebirth, stuck in this moment of time that was never meant to last. Living to fight, fighting to live. Ware: “If the future is to be salvaged and the dead time of the present to be redeemed, it will only be through the transformative agency of those who have learned how to take political sides.” Indeed, the hero of Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s prologue, Future Redeemed, echoes Wittgenstein’s critique of scientism, that, “The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves.” Matthew tells his sister, clinging to a romanticized past characterized by its scientific hubris: “Turning around, going back … Looking for a new way forward. Doing that time and again, that’s how you build a future.” 

Slowly over their fight to break out of the stagnate system that has harmed each of them, the hero party must confront the artificial nature of their reality. As they learn the origin of their liminal world, they have to accept that to fight for the future means the end of the only world they’ve ever known. And that world ends in ways big and small—in annihilation and grief. Through their journey, the heroes all come to embrace the unknown enough to fight for it, to fight to lose what they have grown attached to, and fight to be where they belong. In Xenoblade, these philosophic and emotional arcs are in harmony with the physical properties of the world. It’s through their shared fight that they could grow close, and through their victory that they’ll be separated. The memories of each world—of each other—will fade as the morning sun rises.

It’s worse; The end. I desire to be on the other side of climate collapse, when humans will survive but governments won’t. You should not want this. Until the precipice is reached, borders will only become more violent, turning inwards. Thus, the end as something spectacular is alluring. It isn’t messy, but a “sublime event.” The only possibility of change, an outside force beyond the power of this planet. A meteor, aliens. But in our world, fighting for the end of unshakable systems to save, rather than end, the world looks like revolution—the emergency break of history that Walter Benjamin writes “[interrupts] the course of the world.” 

In Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, the course of the world fights back. The planet is headed towards climate collapse as Shinra, an energy company and weapons manufacturer parading as a fascist nation, drains the world of its literal essence to sell back to its civilians as technology and entertainment. (It’s the U.S., y’all.) Its ends diverge. As the world crumbles to dust, an alien beckons a meteor to bring a stop to the capitalist vamp. So, Avalanche must dictate the terms of the end of the world, the end of the world as they know it. First, we see all that Shinra has destroyed. 

Departing from Midgar, the game lays bare how similar disparity is mapped onto the world. Lower Junon, Corel Prison, even second class on a cruise that looks like the AI Wonka Experience of tropical paradise. Aerith is impressed with the sparse grasslands. She doesn’t know the missing bird songs, the shady canopies. The metal sky had no constellations. Her fight is for a world she’s never seen, one she’ll never get to see. She’s in a similar position to the player. And as the architectural hierarchy in Midgar’s plates was familiar to the majority of people actually playing Final Fantasy VII in 1997 and Rebirth in 2024, the hierarchy of these disparities is another middle class familiarity: vacations.   

The Golden Saucer is the crux of Rebirth’s class commentary. It’s a theme park. We arrive after witnessing the destruction of Barret’s home, first glimpsing the lights aboard a cable car while tourists fly in over the desert via helicopter. The party knows that this is only possible by draining the planet, and that the amusement themselves serve to placate that reality for those who can afford it—those benefiting from the destruction they’re ignoring—lest they pull the emergency break. 

Playing Final Fantasy in the genocide, I thought about how it had become a critique of itself. Rebirth is the Gold Saucer: a product sold by an industry built on the exploitation of developers, factory workers, and miners alike. Consoles made of conflict minerals consuming more and more power to render Cloud Strife’s pores. But even Barret enjoys himself. “Future's not promised to no one,” he tells Cloud. “Live it up while you can.” And what else could you say? He’s just a kid.

So we fight over the end, because the end matters.

In the summer of 2021 I ended another 2000 word essay on apocalypse fiction for this publication with an admission: “I don’t know that we could know what the apocalypse truly looks like.” 

In a December 6, 2023 diary entry published by Verso Books, a Palestinian refugee in Rafah wrote: “In Gaza you can witness what the end of the world will look like.” 

It has been over two years since I wrote about the impending destruction of my home place to phosphate mining, four months since Hudia wrote about the decimation of Gaza by the IOF.  

It has been 28 years since the first Gaza border wall was built, 27 since Aerith died. 

It’s not just the wildfires.


The walls of the Brooklyn Museum cite a provenance back to the sale of the Iraqi site to British Museum archaeologists by the Ottoman Empire, though the provenance of much else in the collection is less substantial. The British Museum sold the reliefs it could not display, which through a series of acquisitions led to their present location. Which is both an apt allegory for the two nation’s colonial projects as well as a self-admission that the Brooklyn Museum retains little archaeological claim to the reliefs in the present day. Both museum’s cite conflict in the region as factors in their continued claim to the artifacts, though neither acknowledge that their archeology was part of the same colonial endeavor that destabilized/s the area.


Autumn Wright is a critic of all things apocalyptic. They can be found on TwitterBluesky, and cohost.