My presentation for Boston pop Culture Conference. Too tired for details, will explain stuff later.
Once Upon a Time, in the Year 200X:
Exploring Fan Recreations of the Megaman Mythos in Music and Other Media
Twenty five years ago the Nintendo Entertainment System found itself with a new platformer whose frustrating level of difficulty was only surpassed by its fun gameplay and innovative player choices. Capcom unveiled one of its most iconic characters with the release of Mega Man in the US or Rock Man as it is known in the original Japanese. With ten installments of the original series and several titles ranging across multiple continuities and consoles, the Mega Man franchise has the record for most games out there. *Ludologically speaking, the games have a very consistent formula that gamers will immediately recognize. Choose the order in which you fight the evil Robot Masters and traverse their perilous stages. These worlds are themed appropriately for their end boss and contain a variety of enemies alongside perilous jumps overlooking instakill spikes and bottomless pits. Your main weapon is the reliable arm cannon or mega buster but the crux of the game involved acquiring the weapons of end bosses that leads to rock paper scissor style guesswork on behalf of the players to determine effectiveness for different situations.
*The classic series only added a few variations to the gameplay but the formula stayed mostly the same. The other consistent element of the games is the minimal storyline and the amazing music, both of which let fans fill in the gaps and rock out in their own way. This paper explores how these two aspects are reappropiated by fans in different media to reinterpret and add to the canon and mythos of the Mega Man series.
Let’s start with the overall basics of the story that have been set up by the games. In the not so distant future of the year 200X, Dr. Light created a series of robots with specific purposes to help mankind. *His greedy and ill intentioned assistant, Dr. Willy reprogrammed all but Rock to satisfy his nefarious deeds of apparent world domination. Rock would be then modified for battle and set out to stop Willy. After saving the world, Dr. Willy escapes prison builds eight more robot masters and the story is mostly the same from then out in each game. *The third game added three distinct characters to the fold. Roll, a sister to Megaman built at the same time and him, Rush the utility dog, and the actual first robot made by Light and Willy, Blues, aka Protoman. * Serving as rival, brother, and enemy to Mega Man, Proto Man is mysterious and with no clear motivation or master. Straigh up playthroughs of the game do not reveal much else about any of the characters or the overall plot beyond what was previously mentioned. Going through the old instruction manuals that came with the game added some extra intricacies but these are mostly fluff details and the manuals are a rarity today. The games in Japan included a manga that explained the events leading up to the beginning of the first games but official translations in English are only now being released.
*A lot of the character interpretations are taken for the animated television show, known mostly as the Ruby-Spears cartoon. Interesting additions like having Dr. Willy be German while Cut man and Guts Man being the in universe Abbot and Costello are accepted by fandom but not taken as strictly canon. Perhaps the most important element to consider is that the title hero is more than just programmed to follow orders. Dr. Light designed Mega Man with the ability to choose on his own the best course of action. This leads to him being able to lie and to volunteer himself for modifications to become the super fighting robot we all know and love.
There are two forms of music reappropiation that fans have applied to Mega Man in a direct and indirect fashion. The direct manner takes the actual music from the game and remixing it. *The most literal of these examples can be found with New York’s maestro of video game music “brentalfloss” of YouTube fame and his “what if this song had lyrics?” series. The title sequences of the send and third games are some of his most popular work and there is even a joke version for the fourth game of him just saying “Mega Man” over the music. Stand out lyrics include “Where’s that guy I know with balls like a rhino.” and *“I am also known as the blue bomber, I am voting for Ba-Rockman Obama.” His rendition of the first level of Wily’s castle from MM2 includes an interesting compliment to the villain as he stops his message of vengeance to admit “although I like your mustache.”
*Videogame rappers Duane and Brando decided to put a medley of the entire soundtrack to MM2 with more gangsta interpretations of the characters. Of note is the very misogynistic tone that the Mega Man takes on Roll as he tells her to “get back into the kitchen” after delivering a pimp slap. *The rock band known as The Megas took the same concept and took it a step further by doing a full album of each of the songs done by their respective robot masters. These normally one dimensional villains are given complex back stories and personalities, including Freudian excuses for their evil nature, like Airman, and a possible homoerotic fascination that Flash Man exhibits for the hero. *The group also teamed up with a similar band called Entertainment System to do the songs for the first game with the glaring exclusions of fan favorites Guts Man and Cut Man. An album with the third game’s songs is in development and they have performed some of their songs in their live shows.
*The best example of indirect musical recreation is with The Protomen, a band that has made rock opera based on the world of Mega Man where a tyrannical Wily rules over a dystopian future. Very dark in them and tone, the hero is deconstructed, the creator is made to grieve, and the people are left to die and suffer, over a reverberating chorus that states “we are the dead.” Tragic characters and the search for something beyond our original intended or even manufactured intention are but some of the serious themes that can be found throughout their first album and *the second one depicting how Dr. Light was ruined and Wily came to power. The opera style is even more apparent once you realize that key parts of the story are told not through the lyrics but through stage directions that are available only in the CDs lyric booklet.
Out of all these reinterpretations, there are some common elements that are found in each of these artists. Here are some of the most interesting examples.
*1. Bubble Man gets no respect: Be it through having his power come through flatulence after eating Mexican food in brentalfloss’s rendition or having all of one line before dyeing in the Duane and Brando version, Bubbleman is the butt of many a joke. The Megas have him being self loathing, depressed, and attempting to reach some kind of redemption.
*2. Dr. Light is good natured but ultimately powerless: As creator and father to Mega Man and many of the other robots, the religious imagery is clear. The sense of ownership is placed into conflict with wanting his cyber progeny to be free and choose for themselves. The Megas, describe it perfectly with the chorus to “The Message from Dr. Light” that says “I made you in my image, I built your heart, I gave you eyes, I gave you power, a sense of justice beyond any compare, I gave you hands, a child’s face, I gave you hair, but the burning in your heart I did not put that.” The Protomen take it a step further by having the life of Thomas Light be akin to a Greek tragedy. The death of his father at a young age cemented the truth that no child should have to bury a parent before he is old enough to hold a shovel motivated to try and achieve control of his surroundings through robotics. He would feel even more responsible for the death of his beloved Emily Stanton and later on for Joe, the young man who would be considered the last hero among men, ad both would be merely pawns for Albert Wily to have even more power. His desire to liberate humanity from the dystopia he had a hand in making led to the creation of Proto Man as war machine first and son second. After being destroyed in the first battle, Light chose to give up on humanity and make a new son, only to see him take arms for a people that don’t deserve salvation.
*3. Acknowledging the original games: Brief references can be found in many songs that only diehard gamers recognize. Brentalfloss for example states that “when it comes to robot help, dogs are much preferred cause I can’t do shit with a robot bird” to show how much more awesome and useful Rush is when compared to the bird you get in the fourth game. The Megas have Metal Man saying “take the first shot Mega Man, let’s put it to the test” as an homage to a glitch in the game that makes this particular boss not attack you until you fire. The last song of the Act 1 of The Protomen title “Epilogue: Bue Vendetta” has them just saying the names of characters, something which makes no sense until you realize that it is an homage to the ending of the games where each of the characters would be highlighted during the credits.
4. Mega Man has identity issues: Much like Pinocchio, Astro Boy, and other child like automatons. Mega Man is in conflict between his programming and a desire to find his own path. The Dr. Light of The Megas has him be encouraging towards this sense of freedom, while The Protomen have outright orders not to go and save the world and/or achieve vengeance. Having him voluntarily want to go and fight raises the question as to whether violence is inherent in all of Light’s robots and something that can be easily brought out. The youthful rebellion and acceptance of the world as is best represented by the chorus to “The Will of One”: “Do not say, this is how it has to be. You do no better than the fools of this burning city”. The next song “Vengeance” has Mega Man go crazy with bloodlust as he destroys wave after wave of machines until he finds his reconstructed brother now serving as Wily’s general. The emotional and physical distress from the battle ends with the latter’s death but Mega Man leaving behind the crowd/chorus of people to be slaughtered by the second wave of murderous machines now led by Wily. The Megas have a similar emotional confusion with the song “Lamentations of a War Machine” that has the Mega Man questioning the long line of battles by asking “tell me Dr. Light, why did I fight?”