This scene is one that I absolutely adore because of how subtle yet significant it is.
Anyone that knows of Seifer, regardless of their feelings towards him, knows that he is not one to be forced into doing what he does not desire. He shows the Garden, the player and his peers this very thing time and time again. Keeping that in mind, it’s clear that he doesn’t have to do what he does in this scene. Seifer doesn’t need to await the emergence of the new SeeDs, he doesn’t need to stand there and clap for them, either. Everyone’s views of Seifer are already perfectly transparent: he’s nothing but a troublemaker. With that, I ask, what’s there to gain?
Yet, he does. Seifer chooses to stand there, front and centre, and clap for Squall, Zell, Selphie and Niida. He chooses to stand there and clap for his once-fellow cadets, his once squad-mates.
To those that deny the importance of this moment, the importance in the addition of this scene…well, I honestly haven’t a clue as to what to say. I’ll allow that the significance of it is easy to miss, but to deny its very notability thereafter? To that, I give an ever so imperceptible shake of my head.
There’s a great deal of meaning in the scenario writers, the director, and the entire Final Fantasy VIII team clearly wanting the inclusion of this scene. The mere seconds-long scene, in which there is no exchanging of words or relevance to the plot otherwise, would be wholly unnecessary…were it not included for the specific purpose of showing the player that there is more than meets the eye in regards to Seifer. I feel that, with the inclusion of this scene, there’s a particular meaning and significance that the team wanted conveyed, an additional notch to Seifer’s already complicated characterization, if you will, to show that Seifer is clearly not as cut-and-dried as some may assume.
Another note-worthy aspect of this scene is that they chose to do it in a manner that is clearly the opposite of Seifer: subtle, silent and subdued.
((While I agree it’s a nice scene I wouldn’t call it that significant. The game portrays Seifer as a rebel and loose cannon up to this point but I wouldn’t extend that to mean that everyone views him as “nothing but a troublemaker”. He’s rebellious, potentially violent, clearly an experienced and respected cadet who just doesn’t apply himself.
This would been one of Seifer’s many failed examinations, and as shown with his brief conversation with Xu he has a fairly dismissive attitude to them by this point. I doubt a scene like this would have happened after his other failures, he likely would have just nodded and walked off after failing so many times, respecting the SeeDs who pass but not regretting his examination attempt.
As I said the game has shown Seifer as only a troublemaker up to this point. Instead of looking at this as abnormal behavior I would see it as the game giving you a first glimpse into the rest of Seifer’s personality. Rebellious but not afraid to swallow his pride, unsuccessful but still respected by the other cadets, even capable of appreciating his other “friends” when it comes down to it.))
I feel that it’s highly significant. If you consider the existence of the scene, there really is no other reason (none at all) for the FFVIII team/scenario writers to write and include this scene otherwise. That, in itself, makes it wholly significant.
I don’t think Seifer has a dismissive attitude at all towards the SeeD examinations. Were that the case, I strongly believe that he wouldn’t be taking it anymore. Yet, he does continue to do so.
In regards to your second paragraph, wouldn’t your headcanon make this scene significant also? If you believe this to be the one time Seifer has done this, wouldn’t that make this scene all that more significant?
Prior to this scene, there’s the scene in which Seifer is separately approached by Shuu/Xu and Headmaster Cid. The conversations that occur between them in Japanese colours my opinion of this scene. In the Japanese, Headmaster Cid tells Seifer, in no uncertain terms, that he’s being used as a scapegoat for the good of Garden, saying that “for the sake of maintaining the system (within Garden), there’s no other way.” I don’t believe that anyone, after hearing that to be the reason for their failure, would stand and give an ovation for the four SeeD cadets that did pass, half of which were under Seifer’s command (his whole team but him). Especially considering the fact that Squall and Zell both made the decision on their own to go to the Communication Tower. I highly recommend reading the posts I wrote on the conversations between Shuu/Xu (here) and Headmaster Cid (here) as those are the main motivators of my opinion in the above post.
I don’t see this as abnormal behaviour at all. The Seifer shown in this scene is directly in line with the Seifer that Rinoa speaks rather fondly of, showing us that there’s far more to Seifer than what has been portrayed thus far. Therein, again, lies the significance, the importance that I feel the FFVIII team was trying to get across in a scene that would otherwise be considered unnecessary.
(I’m unsure as to if you see Seifer as a troublemaker or not? You mention at the beginning that “wouldn’t extend that to mean that everyone views him as ‘nothing but a troublemaker’” but later say that “As I said the game has shown Seifer as only a troublemaker up to this point.”)