Category Archives: Archetypes and Genre

The Trickster Archetype in Pop Culture, Part Two: Better the Devil You Know

The Good Place - Season 1

In the midst of talking about what Tricksters are, let’s take another brief interlude to talk about what they’re not. Last time I mentioned that Kyuubey isn’t a Trickster just because they’re tricky, and neither are most others who fill the sort of Faustian demon role in their story, and I want to expand on that. However, I also want to look at a couple of demonic (or demon-ish) characters from fiction who do fit the archetype, and explore exactly why. Demons and devils (and fantastical equivalents of these things) can be Tricksters, but it’s not because of their devilishness. Rather, it’s almost in spite of their devilishness, and comes down to a few key points including, once again, their place in the narrative itself. With a spoiler warning for both The Good Place and the recent state of the Black Butler manga, let’s dive in. Continue reading

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The Trickster Archetype in Pop Culture, Part One: Down with the System!

deadpool

Storytelling has been an important part of life for essentially all of human history. In this long tradition of tale-weaving there are a few structures and archetypes we just keep coming back to, from ancient mythology to modern movies. One of them is the Trickster, which, in my view, is entirely fair—after all, it’s one of the most blatantly fun character archetypes out there, brimming with cheekiness and social commentary and a degree of unpredictability that you don’t always find with stories about, say, Heroes or Lovers. We’re not telling stories of gods and monsters so much these days, but this ancient character type is still strolling through our popular culture, though perhaps in slightly different shapes and sizes. Continue reading

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The Butterfly Effect: Player Agency and Trope Subversion in Life is Strange and Until Dawn

Well, I went and did it–after years of unshakable love-hate fascination with Life is Strange and Until Dawn, I’ve taken the leap into the fire and brought discussion of them into my work life. This video is a recorded version of the conference paper I presented last week in Perth, preserved for the ages and intended to be accessible to those who couldn’t be there to see it in person (which includes folks outside the academic field). I explore how branching, interactive stories give us the opportunity to mess around with tropes and genre conventions, and the weird Schrodinger’s Cat conundrum that these games can both play into historically harmful cliches and subvert them, and neither result is more “canon” than the other. Check it out if you’re interested!

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Warrior Women in the Workplace: Mythic Motifs in Dragon Pilot

Dragon Pilot (8)

The women of Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan have a lot to deal with. The central premise of the show is that dragons exist and have been camouflaged from the general public throughout history—in the modern day, this means disguising them as planes. Only a special few can form the kind of bond it takes to “pilot” these mythical beasties, however. Dragon pilots are always, and have always been, women only; and they have to be chosen by the dragon itself.

Lady pilot and dragon also have to be emotionally and mentally in sync, sort of like how you have to be “Drift Compatible” to co-pilot in Pacific Rim, except that the characters in Pacific Rim are not swallowed whole by their mech-partners at any point. To add to the physical strain, the rigorous training, and the daily ordeal of being eaten, these dragon-attuned women have one more vital code they must adhere to to retain their prestigious position: they cannot, under any circumstances, fall in love, because that will bust the entire system and they will no longer be able to fly. It’s just the way it is, and always has been.

So the dragon pilots are exclusively women, have a “warrior” status, a special connection to nature, and are forbidden from falling in love lest they lose their power. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Dragon Pilot is playing around with some very old ideas. Continue reading

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Hyouka and the Jerk-Genius Detective Trope

Hyouka (36)

Hyouka is a series about solving mysteries, but it’s also a story world where mystery novels exist, so naturally they come up in conversation. Protagonist Oreki shows little interest in whodunnit books like those by Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, but this is understandable because Oreki doesn’t show much interest in anything—in fact, his motto in life is “If I don’t have to do it, I won’t. If I do have to do it, I will do it while expending as little energy as possible.” His best friend Satoshi, by comparison, is much more engaged with the world and with things generally, and in this particular case, is vocally interested in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Oreki asks him if he’d call himself a “Sherlockian”. Satoshi looks a little awkward and says no, he wouldn’t.

Now, this is Satoshi being humble because he’s not as much of a superfan as he could be, but because my main association with the phrase “Sherlockian” is the fandom for the BBC series Sherlock, my first thought was that he was actually embarrassed about having a blog and an AO3 account dedicated to the Steven Moffat show. And that funny little thought inspired me to rewatch this video essay about the many pitfalls of Sherlock—one of which is the show’s utter unflinching reverence for Sherlock Holmes himself, in all his glowing embodiment of the “emotionally detached, logical, and actually a real jerk, but we all love him because of his mega-genius detective skills” trope. And that got me thinking about Oreki, who is very much the Holmes of Hyouka. Yes, Oreki, mister “I don’t care about anything, but I’m good at solving puzzles so people admire me, especially that cute girl over there” himself.

By all rights he could have been just one more obnoxious example of the jerk-genius archetype that has evolved from Holmes, but interestingly Hyouka’s narrative makes a conscious effort to steer him away from it. That same arc with the “Sherlockian” conversation takes a wonderfully meta dip into mystery stories and their revered problem-solving protagonists, and in the end points out that this is nothing worth aspiring to—which ends up being a fun bit of genre play as well as great step in Oreki’s character development. Continue reading

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Country Roads, Take Me to Hell: The Spooky Small Town, the “Returning Home” Plot, and the Coming-of-Age Story

oxenfree-review-hero-0-0

Life is Strange, Night in the Woods, and Oxenfree form sort of a holy triangle of “young woman returns to a place from her childhood, has a complicated growing-up adventure, and has to fight a frightening supernatural force” game stories. They have common ground not just in their themes but in their wonderfully gothic small-town settings, all three of which serve as fantastic landscapes not just for the player to explore, but to heighten the tension and atmosphere and make the characters’ journey more vivid. Each protagonist is in a liminal time of their lives, caught between childhood and adulthood—Alex of Oxenfree and Max of Life is Strange being in their final year of high school, Mae of Night in the Woods being in her early twenties—and what better way to reflect this unsettling in-between-ness than placing these characters in an equally unsettling setting, where the past and the future symbolically collide alongside night terrors that are decidedly more literal?

A lot of love and work has gone into creating three-dimensional settings for these stories, places with history, complexities, and an effective dark undercurrent… almost making Arcadia Bay, Possum Springs, and Edwards Island main characters in their own right alongside the heroes navigating them. So what makes these settings work? What exactly makes them so spooky? And what makes them such good arenas for these stories about the terrors of growing up to take place? Continue reading

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Revue Starlight and the Unreality of the Stage (and Why It Works)

Revue Starlight (23)

Stage musicals blur and bend our perception of what is “real” in a way that’s sort of unique to their medium. With the audience sitting in the same room as the actors (perceived as characters) on the stage (perceived as the fictional world of the story), their suspension of disbelief becomes a little more elastic and more forgiving. We’ll accept the background scenery rolling away because we understand that it’s a set change, we’ll accept the chorus turning and addressing the audience because we understand the “fourth wall” in theatre is much more malleable than it is in movies or television, and we’ll accept characters over-emoting because we understand that they have to convey these feelings to people who can’t see them up close. And most importantly, we’ll accept characters breaking into song, because of the theatricality of the whole thing. The audience-story relationship is by nature more ethereal, so we have fewer demands that theatre conform to “realism”.

In a way, this means a story about the theatre is the perfect place to play around with perceptions of “reality”, and that’s where we come to the delightfully bizarre and distinctly musical Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight. Continue reading

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