The Mother series of JRPGs offers incredible depths of thematic discussion thanks to its enormous cast of characters, and tens of hours of gameplay. I intend to slowly pick away at some of my favourite narrative elements through a series of essays on specific themes. This particular exploration hopes to highlight what the non-human characters within Mother 2 and 3 might depict about the nature of humanity.
As a way to critique, define, or distil the essence of humanity in fiction, other races/species/classes of beings (perhaps robots, aliens, or the supernatural) are often introduced. They can be used to express humanity’s shortcomings or potential by showing us what we’re not, or perhaps what we could be. Shigesato Itoi’s Mother series of video games plays host to various creatures whose lives play out adjacent to humanity, but are distinct in key ways that help us to address where we as humans fit into the world. In order to unpack the essence of these fictional creatures it will be necessary to discuss various spoilers for EarthBound and Mother 3. You have been warned.
One such race of creatures, known as Magypsies, offers a look at a higher order of being whose lives are mechanically bound to the universe (in a manner distinct from humans). They appear initially as caricatures of transvestites or drag queens when viewed through human eyes. They have physically masculine forms, often sporting stubble, or full beards, but they wear feminine clothes. It is even suggested that they are weaker when they aren’t wearing their make-up. Their speech patterns and appearances which match those of steretoypical okama (either a gay man, or a transvestite) make one of the main characters, Flint, a little uneasy. Whether this is due to homophobia isn’t made clear. Ionia, one of the Magypsies, is left bound and gagged and is discovered by townsfolk, only to be left in a public space and gawked at for the longest time. Due to the difference in the way Magyspies experience time, it appears that this incident was of little concern to her/him, but it shows the lack of empathy inherent in the average Nowhere Islands resident, when confronted with someone out of the ordinary. The discomfort of the pigmask soldiers at receiving oxygen from the full-lipped mermen also hints at broader homophobia or prescriptive gender ideas held by the local inhabitants.
Magypsies are said to have lived for millennia, and in many ways consider the lives of humans to be too brief and uninteresting to be of note. They serve as guardians to the Seven Needles, which anaesthetise the Dark Dragon who sleeps under the Nowhere Islands. Needles can only be pulled by psychic creatures able to perform the psychic attack, PK Love. Once a needle is pulled, its associated Magypsy ceases to exist, as their purpose has been fulfilled. Largely, Magypsies are content with this existence, apart from Locria, who resents serving such a purpose.
Magypsies are named after the musical modes, and each Magypsy’s name was created by removing the final “n” from each mode. They also use psychic powers (psychokinesis) and are able to determine which humans have the capacity to learn such techniques. Magypsies have been known to occasionally assist humans in their plight. In the original Japanese they are referred to without gendered pronouns (as Japanese doesn’t require it to the extent that English does), and in the English fan-translation they are referred to as both “he” and “she”.
The obvious allegory demonstrated by the Magypsies is that of angels, both Biblically and in larger pop culture. They serve both humans and a higher power, but they live lives and have powers beyond that of humans. There’s a clear sense that they serve our human narrative (either as messengers of God, Biblically, or as intermediaries between humanity and a higher power). The popular notion that angels are without gender comes in some part from a chosen interpretation of Matthew 22:30, in which Jesus explains that in heaven, we won’t be married in the same human way we are on Earth, but instead we’ll be as angels, who don’t marry. This is taken by some to mean that angels don’t have gender. One way of depicting a lack of gender is to show these beings demonstrating a disregard for societal gender conventions by appearing both male AND female at the same time; they show a lack of gender by showing “all” genders.
As Alec says to his son-in-law, Flint: “Flint… I see you’re not walking as fast now. It seems the word “Magypsies” has made you curious. The Magypsies have mysterious powers, and have been protecting something here for a very long time. They’re neither human nor beast, neither man nor woman. I have absolutely no idea how old they are. That explanation didn’t explain much, did it? Basically, they’re strange. All of them. Every one of them. That’s just how they are. They ARE good-natured, though.”
The popular narrative of the fallen angel is explored through Locria’s story. Locria rejects a “divine” purpose in favour of manipulating human events to her/his will, taking a role akin to Satan, or Lucifer. She/he appears in a disguise and introduces new knowledge to the relatively new (or “renovated”) civilisation on Nowhere Islands, thereby also taking the role of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Of course the best alien entities in literature highlight our own otherness, as much as theirs. When we see human propensity for cruelty, intolerance, or selfishness in contrast with non-human creatures we better highlight how pride in our species is often undeserved. We are allowed empathy at the point where we can see our experience meeting with the creatures’ lives, and we can better understand our own nature when we see how they diverge from us. Surprisingly, it’s a “humanising” fear (or rejection) of death that puts us on the same page as the antagonist, Locria.
We see a seemingly logical progression of Nowhere Islands’ society from an agricultural, socialist collective, to a near-modern culture of capitalism within the space of a mere three years. As that symbolic fruit from the Tree of Knowledge was tasted by Eve and Adam, so too was the knowledge of self-interested capitalism and technologies that facilitate its propagation bestowed by “The Devil’s servant”, Locria. As is the case in the book of Genesis, this isn’t just a curse, but also facilitates human progress and endeavour. I’ll explore the commentary of Mother 3 on different forms of society in a future post, but suffice to say, the angel/demon theme runs throughout much of the Magypsy lore.
As we progress through Mother 3 we discover that humanity has previously doomed itself through selfish, apathetic living. What do we see when we look at the Magypsies and how their path through life differs from our own? We see happiness for the Magypsies lies in simple pleasures: Bathing, dressing up, parties, and generally relaxing. This is something they share with the Mother series’ other endearing and benevolent beings, the Mr. Saturns.
The idea that our own lack of naivety can be our undoing is a strong theme in both EarthBound (Mother 2) and Mother 3. Jaded self-preservation keeps the police force of Onett from ever stopping any real bad guys, instead preferring a method of victim blaming and police brutality. It allows powerful businessmen to become vessels of evil statues. It turns abused children into time-travelling dictators. Our inability to believe in truth, justice, and each other keeps powerful forces of evil and apathy in control until a ragtag band of child heroes steps up to the plate. The Mr. Saturns are introduced as a foil to this aspect of our human nature.
The Mr. Saturns embody a naive will to do good, even more so than the childlike optimism of EarthBound’s central 4 characters. They are squat, pinkish, whiskery people, who all have the same red bow in their single strand of head-hair. In the English translation, we learn that even female Mr. Saturns have the same name. Every Mr. Saturn is called Mr. Saturn. The Mr. Saturns in EarthBound aid the heroes with improbable inventions and, despite being enslaved and forced to work in a factory at one point by a literal personification of pollution, are generally chipper, and always much wiser than their incomprehension of human technologies might suggest.
Itoi has previously said that the Mr. Saturns represent innocence within the world of EarthBound. They simultaneously represent innocence abused, and innocence as power. They are both slave and hero. Their lack of gender identifiers is part of their unspoiled nature, and this speaks volumes in a game series that otherwise deals heavily both in gender stereotypes and in the destruction of them. In EarthBound, Paula’s ultimate power over the final boss Giygas shows the power that can be inherent in the ultra-feminine, nurturing stereotype, when almost no amount of physical strength will overcome ultimate evil. Mother 3’s Kumatora is a princess who doesn’t fit any of the clichés. She’s a foul-mouthed, physical, punk-haired, hoodie-wearing force of nature, which is certainly in part thanks to her upbringing outside of many human social conventions. She was raised by the ultra-feminine, yet physically masculine Magypsies, so her relationship with gender norms is far from typical. The preposterousness of her forced femininity as she wears the maid outfit and communicates in forced speech patterns while she works in Club Titiboo further demonstrates the arbitrary nature of gendered trappings. As far as gender is concerned, it’s possible that the Mr. Saturns were always intended to be without biological sex as well as gender. Lacking concrete evidence either way, they stand as another wonderful facet to the Mother series’ exploration of gender, and as such, of human nature.
Both Ness and Lucas, the main protagonists of Mother 2 and 3 respectively, are spoken to at a deeper level by a psychoactive force from within the Saturnian coffee they drink. They hear a voice, clear and in their own language (as opposed to the loopy Saturnian speech), that reassures them, and comforts them, before they embark on the next step of their journey. Among the topsy-turvy flying saucer and bows aesthetic of Saturn Valley comes a quiet, reasoned voice of comfort. These seemingly primitive, yet high-functioning creatures offer a temporary safe-haven from the corruption of the world. We see there is bravery, comfort, and a subversive wit to naivety. We can see beyond our own reasoning to a childlike world where “fishing for birdies” and “playing ladder” don’t merely make sense, but are useful, beautiful solutions to our predicaments. Our own intellect and traditions often hold us back from seeing great visions and remove opportunities for real growth.
Further to the Mr. Saturns, we meet the possibly prehistoric race of creatures known as the Tenda. Their name is a suitable wordplay, as they are the tender, scared personification of our innocence, in the face of the Mr. Saturns’ strength and dynamic nature. They are rendered ineffectual by virtue of their almost babyish, constant fear. Actual, human education in the form of a book called “Overcoming Shyness” is needed to give strength and confidence to these little, green people. The Mother series also examines the potential darkness of our “innocence” through the childish cruelty (in contrast to childlike sincerity) dished out by Porky, the immortal and eternal child. His garish theme-park metropolis, New Pork City, is the embodiment of selfish and immature desires coupled with unchecked power.
The relationship with human gender expression ties the Mr Saturns and the Magypsies together as two sides of the same coin. Both a naivety and a long-lived worldliness point to the often arbitrary nature of “gender”. In the same way, our human nature for cruelty and mistrust is unpicked from both ends by creatures who appear at first to be both above and beneath us in the natural order. Through angel analogues we see human folly unpacked in the eyes of ancient creatures. The mechanics of altruism and selfless living are shown through the inhabitants of Saturn Valley. For all the morality and discussion on human nature we see spelled out through the human characters of the Mother series, it’s the non-human ones that act as some of the best mirrors to humanity. We see the nature of humanity best through the eyes of outsiders.
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