Dain is, by Lunar standards, an odd hero.
He has no initiative, for one; whereas Arhes dreams of becoming a Dragonmaster from apparent birth and Hiero is always delving far afield in search of treasure or ancient lore, Dain's passion takes the form of laid-back, freeform wandering: in Vheen Hikuusen, he is largely content to follow Ghaleon's lead. Up and proclaiming oneself the savior of the known world takes a certain healthy self-regard, but Dain, as the events of TnK seem to bear out, has concern for everyone but himself. He's entirely heart- and emotion-driven; he seems more akin to a Lunar heroine than a hero. (Perhaps this is appropriate, as he acts in a similar way to Ghaleon as the female love interests do in the games - inspires drastic action upon wronging.)
Dain's not what we're used to, but he works in several ways. For one:
C'mon, the man is sunshine personified. The one thing the audience knows about Dain is the ferocity of Ghaleon's attachment to him, and darned if the story doesn't make the reader feel it, too. His sweetness makes him instantly engaging to the audience, gives them an emotional stake in a character who's a linchpin of the backstory playing out but who, at least in this form, is a bit of a stranger to those familiar with the franchise. Plus, it just makes him a really, really nice fellow to be around. The biggest point of success of Funato's Dain is his big heart.
Remilia says it best: "He's like a child." This is appropriate, as he has a child's lack of calculation and approaches problems in the purest and most innocent of terms; he's a pure spokesman for the "love" side of the love vs. duty equation. (It also makes him an excellent foil from Ghaleon, who is the consummate adult, all bloodless practicality.) He initially spurns any conscious assumption of adult responsibility, brushing off Ghaleon's exhortations at the beginning to better himself, but it's not that he's dismissive or contemptuous of responsibility; it's that he's blind to it, to the need for it. TnK is about how his eyes are opened, how his childlike worldview is challenged but how it ultimately leads to the big decision that sets Silver Star into motion.
"...And what's keeping you from being an ordinary girl?"
To study the contrast between Dain and the Lunar model of heroism is to call the latter into question. TnK is, in fact, all about giving the duty side the fair hearing it never really gets in Silver Star, where the hero, while earnest and well-meaning, is stiflingly self-centered. Nall, Arhes's mouthpiece, has to turn nearly every comment back into a compliment about his master - "not as good as Arhes!" His girl is little more than an accessory - the damsel in distress, the finishing touch on his knightly panoply. Yeah, Dain may insist on milk with every meal, but when it comes down to what matters, between Dain and Arhes, who's the truly childish one? Silver Star is ostensibly about entering the adult world, but entering the adult world, in the traditional Lunar model, is all about validation; for all the talk of love vs. duty, duty is conspicuously absent.
For TnK's young people, however, their dealings in the adult world, whether they recognize it or not, are all about responsibility and sacrificing for others. To protect her people, Remilia heaps duty upon herself to the point of madness. Dain cares nothing about self-aggrandisement and everything about helping others: first with offering manual labor; then in trying to convince his best friend to repair the airship (even while he's being insulted); then in arguing to save Remilia from implosion by stress. For them, heroism - even if being a hero isn't an end they consciously pursue - is about what they can and have to do for other people rather than what they can get from them. (And indeed, what they can get is very little - while Arhes fulfills his childhood dreams and claims worldwide adoration, all Remilia gets is one more day of normalcy for Vheen.)
As examined, while he doesn't consciously fixate on duty, Dain is unfailingly a responsible young man in the clutch. Dain's initial limitation, though, is that while he'll react, he's won't act - he's passive. He'll argue to help Remilia, he'll insist on repaying even duplicitous hosts back for a night's stay, but he won't study magic, as Ghaleon exhorts in the beginning, so he can preemptively address Lunar's problems himself. Again, he's not selfish; he's just blissfully ignorant about the greater workings of the world. To Dain, the world is a fundamentally happy place, and disruptions to that state in the form of problems are temporary and need be addressed only as they pop up. He's too sunny and good-natured to imagine that life is founded in darker truths.
The breaking point comes, naturally, when he sees someone suffering - Remilia, first weary beyond reckoning yet left to suffer by the oblivious crowds, then breaking down when Dain angrily confronts her. Dain wants only to live a life of happy indolence, only to learn from Remilia that such a life is paid for by the suffering of others, of those who take the task of running the world upon themselves. He tries to talk Remilia down, but he's powerless; he can't dismiss or resolve her dilemma - her people need protection, and she's the only one strong enough to give it to them. Indeed, he was the only one who recognized a dilemma even existed, saw past the panic and fear of the immediate crisis to see and be touched by a human being in pain.
We see the horrible toll fulfillment of duty exacts, but TnK balances the scales through its vivid illustration of the stakes involved - the mob scene at the guild following the revelation of the airship's peril. These villagers aren't static NPCs devoted to giving praise to the almighty Dragonmaster; they're helpless, scared people scrabbling to their leader for protection and reassurance. SS might dismiss adherence to duty as the province of the cold, but TnK makes it clear that when the system fails, it is a huge and horrible thing.
After the first incident, Dyne, not yet inured to these truths, is horrified and crushed at Ghaleon's unprotesting acceptance of them; the sheer depth of hurt in his expression suggests that this might be the first time Dain has been thusly disappointed in his parental figure. Later, after he has learned the intractability of the situation, he can do nothing but aimlessly sulk - he's seething at Ghaleon, whom he thinks represents unblinking acceptance of this terrible bargain. Ghaleon, though, has been on the suffering caretaker side of the equation for far too long to be as ignorantly hopeful as Dain would like - he indeed doesn't bat an eye at his own glimpse of Remilia's pain, her collapse in the library. Instead, he tells Dain to pretend not to notice Remilia's moments of weakness "for her sake," and I don't think the sentiment is insincere - Ghaleon has decades of firsthand knowledge of how the few have to take on a great deal of pain and responsibility for the many to live their lives in peace, and crying and wheedling and pointing out their pain just makes matters worse, makes just keeping on worse. Better to let Remilia have her breakdown and do what she must to survive. Given his long life and own share of responsibility, I doubt he's been a stranger to such coping tactics himself.
Against this, Dain's sad, near-powerless insistence upon the right of a good-hearted person to be free of such crushing pain seems wrenchingly pathetic. Regardless of the hard facts, however, he knows in his heart that the situation is wrong. He doesn't have a solution, though - not yet. The breach between Ghaleon and him doesn't prove intractable over the course of the story, and they leave as happy and together as when they came, but it is the first crack, and they will return to this topic of disagreement with another caretaker.
A candle in the dark
Examining Dain's relationship with Ghaleon in Vheen Hikuusen, meanwhile, reveals how Dain's heart is essential in another way: he's the only person who loves Ghaleon for himself. The mazoku and Vheen denizens from Ghaleon's childhood treated him favorably when (and, really, only when) he acted as the mirror of his beloved older brother. The Ausas remember him as an old family friend and guardian. Until Dain, every relationship in Ghaleon's life is suffused with duty, with responsibility, with legacy. Dain, though, brings no baggage or expectations to the table: he cares about Ghaleon for Ghaleon. This is Dain's other function in the tale: he is the first major figure in a long time in Ghaleon's life to engage his (so to speak) human side and the only one to present something worthwhile in his long and weary life beyond responsibility. As Ghaleon awakens Dain to duty, then, Dain provides to Ghaleon the first pure representation of the love side of the equation.
Dain's positive effect on Ghaleon is potently illustrated in the climax of TnK, where Dain's plea spurs an initially defeatist Ghaleon to take the action needed to save the airship's passengers. Upon seeing the ship start to crash, Ghaleon can only stare frozen with internalized horror; when Dain frantically yells at him for help, he numbly rattles off a list of reasons why it's impractical to expect to salvage the ship. Ghaleon is broken, uncomprehending here; this one particular loss has finally breached his shield against the world, his adherence to duty, and he initially can recall nothing on which to fall back. It's only when Dain personally appeals to Ghaleon to act ("I'M BEGGING YOU" - in other words, do this for me) that the elf snaps out of it. It's no coincidence that Ghaleon's remembered answer is prayer, as the scene is a quite literal illustration of how Dain inspires faith in Ghaleon, both in this moment and in the long slog of his life. (We get a vivid glimpse just moments before of how dead and empty Ghaleon's life is without it.) Ghaleon's post-crisis explanation of the "spell" he used is a fairy-tale-like paean to the power of prayer and the heart that we'd never expect to hear from Ghaleon's lips in any other circumstance. Dain's presence not only allows Ghaleon to be influenced by the power of love but allow him to access that power, both through the prayer that saves the passengers and in his own appeal to Dain in the denouement to study and access his own potential.
Why is it that you care about me?
So Ghaleon is closer to Dain than we see him to be to...well, anyone; he even smiles unironically in his company, without a hint of sardony. In everyday practice, though, the relationship is less a demonstrably fierce attachment we might expect from Ghaleon's subsequent actions - more comfortably lived-in and taken for granted. Perhaps a key moment comes when, in an odd bit of intimacy, Ghaleon and Dain exchange coats during their stay in the ruins. Ghaleon, for all his coldness, seems not only accepting of but nonchalant about what is for him a rather intimate display; one could even term it an indirect hug. It illustrates at the same time, though, that Ghaleon perhaps doesn't consciously realize the depth of his affection for Dain. Remember the big exchange in the scene: Dain asks why is it that Ghaleon "cares" about him (the word "love" being studiously avoided), and Ghaleon can manage only a blank "...I don't know." Really, the scene is in great part about being unknowingly vulnerable to an expression of love.
(It's interesting, in the meanwhile, to study Dain's response. Remember that his query was an answer to Ghaleon's own question of why Dain was so concerned about the guildmistress's welfare. His purpose in asking the question is to point out its irrelevancy. Love is love, and there's no point in analyzing its reasons. Dain's not smart, but he is wise.)
"Studiously avoided," "indirect" - such a distance between Ghaleon and, as Younenki no Owari put it, "the only person Ghaleon's heart held dear." It lends the loss of Dain an additional poignancy - perhaps Ghaleon didn't fully realize what the friendship meant to him until it was over. (This would help explain the severe reaction - not understanding your attachment until its object is gone makes the loss all the more devastating.) But why be distant at all, particularly with someone as openhearted as Dain? It's perhaps useful here to remember those about whom Ghaleon *did* care in the past; we see him maintain a lifelong friendship with not only Niea but her daughter, granddaughter, and great-, depicted in TnK as a long, stark cycle of births, aging, and - primarily - deaths and departures. Remilia's mother remembers "that day he made his last in Vheen"; why did he break off the relationship? Perhaps he got tired of losing people. By the time he meets Dain, he's shut himself down emotionally as a defense mechanism - an attitude that continues a great deal into his time with Dain. That Dain is able to make the inroads he does is a testament to his character.
"Kono ko ga ikiru mirai o omae mo mimamotte kure"
To bookend this, it's worth examining the last interaction of their friendship's duration, Althena's rebirth. The end of the scene proceeds a bit differently in the Japanese version than in the U.S. one, with these as Dain's last words:
|Kono ko ga ikiru mirai o omae mo mimamotte kure.
"Please - [I ask you, too, to] watch over the future in which this child will live."
To which Ghaleon turns with a sneer and walks away in wordless refusal - no "I see only despair" or the equivalent.
"The future," not the child herself, but the language of entrustment used here is suggestive and brings to mind an alternate scenario; I have to wonder if Noah was Dain's first choice. The delivery of Luhna in Silver Star is always completely impromptu; Dain just shows up on Noah's doorstep unexpected. (In the SSS novel, the idea of actually leaving Luhna with Noah doesn't even seem to crystallize fully in Dain's mind until he sees how happy baby Arhes & Luhna are together.) Even for Dain, this is a rather large and important endeavor to attempt without planning. Did he indeed go in blind, or did he have a plan that went awry?
Perhaps Shigema only flirted with the idea, but it would make thematic sense for Dain to consider leaving baby Althena with the one who raised him, and for Ghaleon to reject that custodianship as the first act of his break with humanity. Dain goes away, but leaves Ghaleon a child; perhaps the man thought that, this way, he wasn't leaving Ghaleon alone. Perhaps Dain didn't realize, then, that the revolving door of people in Ghaleon's life was the exact problem; that he was tired of things going away from him, generation after generation aging and dying. Maybe he wanted to hold onto something.
(SSS's scenario, meanwhile, imbues this event with an additional dimension of loss. Tagak impresses in KSK that everyone dies and is forgotten, but we live on through our positive contributions to future generations. In SSS, this lends the heroes' parting of ways additional poignancy; the fool kids Ghaleon mentored - one fool kid in particular, his favorite fool kid - wrecked the whole world. Ghaleon, in his view, has left behind no positive legacy; his entire life - the life he's spent emulating his brother, as everyone wanted - has come to nothing. This places Ghaleon's "I know who I am" speech aboard the ship on the way to Burg in SSS in a different, more tragic light; he sees the entire self that he was up till this point - the self that, he implies, did not know who it was - and all the good it did as a mistake.)