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This Week in Anime
The Blood-Soaked World of Onyx Equinox

by Monique Thomas & Steve Jones,

Crunchyroll's dark adventure series follows Izel as he attempts to rescue his sister's soul and stop the evil mechanizations of the heartless gods that manipulate his world. Does this CR Original have the makings of an action-packed hit or is it a gore-packed spectacle (or both??)

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll,

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.Content Warning: gore, some nudity

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Well, Nicky, it's time to formally ring in 2021 with our first column of the new year! It's an exciting time. Our slate is clean, our possibilities are limitless, and we can use this opportunity and energy to set the kind of mood we want to sustain for the next twelve months. In that light, I think the best—no, only course of action for us is to cover a show about blood sacrifices and the imminent destruction of all humanity.
Totally didn't feel ominous having my first show in 2021 (Savage) have an episode titled "The Last Year". NOPE! Lingering existential dread aside, this show is actually a big landmark for animation, as it's the first animated series fully produced by our very own Crunchyroll, featuring a setting rooted in Meso-American culture, and also helmed by a diverse staff. While this is our first show of the year, it is also one of many the many "firsts" you can give to this title. Today, we're covering Onyx Equinox!
Yeah, it's a little different from what we usually talk about here, but I'm cool with that. I'm sure there are plenty of individuals out there on the world wide web who will rankle at whether or not we can consider this "anime," but I would encourage them to please consider devoting that energy towards something that actually matters. It's a cartoon that's streaming on Crunchyroll, and if that's good enough for Abunai Sisters, that's good enough for Onyx Equinox.
Damn, didn't expect the Abunai Sisters to be one of my first thoughts of 2021 (Savage) either, Thanks Steve. The year is already off to a great start.
What can I say, I'm always remembering the classics.
Onyx Equinox has a lot more in common with western toons than it does anime despite being, let's say "anime adjacent", in the same way Avatar: The Last Airbender or Castlevania are. It's also, notably, an original action-fantasy for adults. Something we're seeing more and more of in the age of streaming. Still, we mustn't forget the mountain of anime money upon which its house is built on, which is the real mark for occasion.
I missed the Avatar train, to my continued shame, but that doesn't mean I'm not aware of how huge an impact it's had on the last decade of animation. So I think it's neat we're seeing more animation in that vein get greenlighted, which might not have otherwise been a thing. I suspect, however, that Avatar probably didn't have quite as many scenes of bones splintering.

Seriously there are SO MANY.
Yeah, with that I guess we should address the "Adult" aspect of this. It's true that there's been a bigger push for animation featuring explicit content in order to draw away from the idea that drawings are more than just "Kid Stuff", but I don't think that necessarily deems something "Mature" when the only difference is the amount of blood being spilled and the characters are allowed to say "Fuck" now. And this show definitely has that in spades—sometimes to its detriment, I feel.
For better or worse, that's definitely the thing that jumped out and surprised me first and foremost. Like, the opening scene has you watch the destruction of an entire city in uncut gory detail, and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the series. And I can't lie—I like over-the-top schlocky splatterfests, so that kinda perked me up.
Normally, I'm okay with that kind of stuff. But the first time I watched the premiere in December, it left me feeling a little unoptimistic that I didn't even get to the part where they introduce the protagonist. This might just be because of my own built-up stress, but I mostly found it unpleasant and confusing at first, and I really wasn't the only one who felt that way enough to turn the car around. After all, every once in a while we get a Netflix original like Blood of Zeus that tries to do the same thing and those are wholly joyless spectacles. Though I did find the monster designs cool and inspired. It's just really hard to care about anything when you open your story with nihilistic death and destruction and not much else to latch onto.

Though, since we've talked so much about FIRSTS, and with the start of another new anime season I'm sure all our readers know this lesson well: First impressions can be wrong!! I ended up much more receptive to it when I was in a better mood, and the story of Izel felt much more compelling.
I mean, everyone does say fuck a lot, and every character oscillates between these two states: "being covered in viscera" and "being 5 minutes away from being covered in viscera." So those impressions certainly do hold up. But yes, that's not all there is to the story, thankfully.
And I'm glad, because I still found all those parts mentioned Pretty Unpleasant or jarring and often wondered why or what could be done about it, though I also won't say it's thematically out of line with the story or the history, illustrating how cruel and uncaring the gods are to humanity. We're just currency for power to them. The show opens with Mictlantecuhtli kidnapping and swallowing the city of Dani Baan (known today as Monte Albán) essentially as a declaration of war against the Celestial Gods.

Also, a word, there are lots of Proper Nouns with indigenous names in this show, but since the audio is all in English, there are NO ENGLISH SUBS for them!! We're gonna try our best to get all the names correctly, but having no closed captions to go on may not only affect the accessibility of this article but also for anyone who might be unfamiliar or hard of hearing watching the show.
OH YEAH before we continue we might as well get this bellyaching out of the way. Hey Crunchyroll? Why don't you have English subtitles for Onyx Equinox? It's cool you've dubbed and subbed it in a bunch of other languages, don't get me wrong, but English subs would be nice!

I mean, for one, it makes our very important online shitposting jobs harder. But like Nicky just said, it's also just a bare-minimum accessibility need. It just baffles me that the initial release of the show wouldn't include them. ESPECIALLY when, y'know, English subs are kind of your whole deal as a streaming service.
This could really apply to all dubbed anime as well, I really wish companies would get on board and start applying a dub track along with their regular sub release (lookin' at you, Netflix) because I actually do have problems parsing with spoken word and it heavily affects my ability to talk about dialogue when I can't give examples. It's going to be hard for me and everyone posting online to talk about some of the good moments of the show when they can't engage with the "text" visibly online.
I actually ended up watching most of the show with the Spanish subtitles on, mostly so I could etch a lot of the proper nouns in my brain more easily (and to brush up on my high school Spanish a bit). That said, I do still have the Wikipedia article open so I can just copy-paste a lot of these deity names, because there's no way I'm getting "Mictecacihuatl" correct on the first try. Anyway, in summary: Crunchyroll, get your shit together.

Back to Onyx Equinox proper: There are only so many humans, and thus only so much sacrificial blood to go around. It's a rough blood economy out there. Naturally, the Celestial Gods aren't too pleased about Mictlan hogging their favorite food source. Two uniquely enterprising gods, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, use this opportunity for a friendly wager. A wager that only holds humanity's continued existence in the balance. No big deal.

Side note: Quetzalcoatl is the ONE Aztec god I can spell correctly on my own. Thank you, FGO.
How very On-Brand of you.
I try not to disappoint.
Off-Brand for me, I couldn't balance two languages at once because my brain kept discerning the differences between English and Spanish and despite being half-Mexican, my Spanish has never been good. Though, this is also why I wanted to talk about the show so badly. Onyx Equinox isn't just a fantasy, these are real people involved and there's obviously a lot of care put into this set-up—even if to most people it might as well be alien.
Oh yeah I am wayyy out of my culturally cognizant depth here, but clearly a lot of work went into making the setting and design of the show authentic to Mesoamerican history and mythology. That's pretty rad!
Though, maybe I can't argue that Quetzalcoatl isn't an anime household name when it's the famous setting of so many cosplay photos. AKA The San Jose Poop Snake right across from the convention center.
Onyx Equinox makes him look a tad more handsome.

Actually one thing I noticed during some cursory Wikipedia research is that some of the character designs reference illustrations from actual Aztec codices. Like Quetzalcoatl's getup on the left there:

And Tezcatlipoca on the right:

Again, neat!
Yeah, again, the attention to detail in the designs are super-neat for those that care to look deeper into it. I've always been a big nerd for mythology, so that stuff is right up my alley and some of it fits well into the characters as well. The gods also come in many forms; I particularly love this version of Mictēcacihuātl, the lady of the dead, who you may associate with the more well-known Day of the Dead.
She's very good, as is her Big Scary Bone Lord form.
Yeah, at first most of the gods are much more terrifying than poop snakes would lead you to believe. Also scary is when they've stolen a human body and you get to watch it slowly deform, unable to hold their essence. You're more likely to identify them by their voices given that the cast is so small. Fortunately the voice direction is pretty good in that they're always distinctive.
The creature/monster design is just one of the best parts of the series. Even when the gods possess normal humans, the way they mutate into an abstraction of the respective god's visage is very good and creepy.

Alternatively, you can make like Tezcat and possess a giant golem made out of jaguar corpses.
Ah yes, the Discovery Channel.
It's the circle of life, and every part of that circle is a dead jaguar. The god of the dead, Mictlantecuhtli, also gets a few very good, very metal manifestations, from giant manspreader to unnerving skull taffy.
They also 100% do not care about humanity or their fate but rather how they can manipulate them to serve their end goals, which leads back to our initial gamble, Izel. The chosen boy, dubbed champion and humanity's "lowest of the low". He doesn't have a great life, with his sister as his only family, but it's simple and not devoid of joys like eating some sweet homemade Tamales. Something I also did much of over the holidays.
Of course, his very loving sister dies as a sacrifice five minutes later, because Izel would be too happy and we wouldn't have the rest of the cartoon otherwise. So it goes.
And what follows is his literal descent. Having lost all hope, he falls into the water right after her, hits his head on the door of the underworld, and accepts death until he gets fished out by a giant angry kitty cat who tells him to man-up cuz the gods want him to close those gates.
And if you're at all familiar with the Hero's Journey, you probably have a good idea of where things are headed. Izel's journey from whiny wimp to humanity's champion is littered with gruff magic jaguar mentors, new friends, conflicts with said friends, temples with conveniently-installed switches, a descent into the underworld, and this creature.
I love Me'que. I would protect Axolotls with my life.

But first we gotta get to the most important part of any Hero's Journey show: The Power of Friendship!
Featuring: jocks!

A girl with a dark secret and huge arms!

And bird girl!
In order they are Yun (Left) and K'in (RIght), Zyanya, and Xanastaku.
Honestly I don't find any of the characters terribly compelling on their own, and they spend a lot of the show being jerks to each other, but they do end up having some nice interactions in the long run.
Don't forget!! Horrifying tiny knife creature that constantly cries out for blood like it's some sort of cursed Pokémon : K'i'iik.
Okay the talking knife IS very good.
But yeah, on their own the cast isn't very complex but they do share their own burdens with each other and believe in helping each other once they learn that's the only way they're going to get anywhere. Izel starts out pretty sniveling, having been thrown to cruel fate over and over again even before the Gods decided to play with him. He's been chased from his home, sold by his father, and generally abandoned by humanity, all before the ball even had a chance to drop.

Now he has to attack and dethrone gods and what does he get out of it? Well, maybe a chance to revive his sister at least.
I think for me it came down to the cast and story being very competently written, but not much more than that. Like, their arcs hit the beats they should in regards to opening up, learning to work together, forgiving each other, etc., but it very rarely breaks out of the Boy On An Adventure mold. Which, I'll stress, isn't a bad thing. It works, and it works for a reason. It's aggressively fine. But I wasn't nearly as drawn to this component of the show as I was to stuff like its creature/character design. I guess I also wanted to see a few more moments like this, where Xanastaku siphons the life energy out of the dying village elder in order to save one of their team. That's kinda fucked up! I like that! I want to see the show dig into that kind of complex morality more.
We still never fully learned her deal tbh, now that I'm thinking about it. I guess that's more of something to expect if we ever get a season 2. But the party is relatable enough that I feel like they work. Somehow I feel like the Ball Chads ended up becoming more likable since they already understand familial connections and always had each other; they also do eventually try to act like brothers to Izel.
They also fight using a magic rubber ball, which is pretty sweet, I cannot lie.
Magic Soccer Ball COOL
This thing does DAMAGE too. And like, I was imagining this thing to be a souped-up soccer ball too, but then I read up on the sport they play, and apparently, those balls were ALL rubber. No air. Just rubber all the way through. That CANNOT be a good thing to come in contact with your face.
I feel my shins bruising from the thought.
You don't have to tell me twice, buddy.
Ball is love, Ball is life.
TL Note: "No toques la pelota" means "No touching the ball" Ball is death.
Though, tbh, out of the main cast, my favorite character ended up being The Cat Daddy, Yoatl.
Oh yeah, he's big time Gruff Reluctant Dad Figure Who Eventually Opens Up To His Ward Through The Power Of Found Familial Love, which I am an equally big sucker for.
Also, his voice is sexy and Mictēcacihuātl agrees.
Yeah turns out Yaotl came from much more human-shaped origins than his cyber-panther visage might imply. And he also has a much more orgy-filled past with the goddess of the dead than I expected going into this show.
yeah Content Warning, these are all stills but deffo a lot more full frontal nudity than I expected.
If your number one question about Onyx Equinox is "are there weiners?", buddy, lemme tell ya, there are several.
Introduced as Tezcatlipoca's most loyal emissary, Yoatl is tasked with babysitting Izel to make sure he has at least a sort of chance of closing the gates and not just crying the whole time under the guise of "fairness" aka keeping Tezcatlipoca informed because he can't sabotage the bet directly. You keep kind of expecting a heel-turn but he starts out thorny and unhelpful to begin with and then doesn't even when he has the opportunity to. The why lies in his former human nature, even if it's not really something he remembers.
Yeah, I pretty much surmised where his arc was headed as soon as he showed up and started yelling at Izel, but it's still good. Love those dad feelings. Come to think of it, I was surprised that Izel never got a Character Development Haircut. That seemed like a no-brainer.
He at least gets to wear more than just....a cloth, after a few episodes.
Ah, true. He also gets those Protagonist Eyes that end up cursing/destroying every single city they visit. Being a teen boy hero is suffering.
I also thought Mictēcacihuātl ended up being a more standout character, as a sort of helper and sort of antagonist and honestly, the instigator of the whole actual story.
Oh yeah I liked her! Whereas her husband was just a big bony jerk, she ends up being a lot more sympathetic despite ultimately standing in our heroes' way. In general, I like the way the gods' threads came together in the end, and Izel's first climactic moment of real self-actualization in the finale was legit great!
Yeah, for those familiar, she was actually a human infant sacrifice that death took in to be his "wife" aka someone to watch over his bone collection while I presume he went out to go drink the blood of more humans or whatever. She ends up going out (with the dog's supervision) and falling in love with humanity and later Yoatl. However, they are drawn apart by the way of things, and so she plots her revenge. Gotta hug your dog to feel better about the unfairness of god bullshit.
"God bullshit" really does sum all this up.
Also yeah, Izel's last stand at the end, where he decides that he is TIRED of playing games he has no control over, is pretty sweet, on a personal level at least. Even though we have yet to see all the consequences and it could also have spelled the death for ALL OF HUMANITY. We won't really know unless we get a season 2 though.
And who knows if or when that will happen. For what it's worth, though, I do think Onyx Equinox ends in a much stronger place than it begins, and I'd be very interested to see the team develop those ideas in a second season.
Yeah, and even if it doesn't get another season, I think it still makes a fine statement about the worth of humanity and all that. It also helps that the music is like, really good and carries a lot of dramatic weight for the show while mixing both traditional and modern styles. Not to mention, given that this is an ambitious project with some new creators, it could've turned out MUCH much worse if it was bad (which it isn't). That's kind of the big pitfall many minority creators fall into. The cycle of Ambitious Project gets funded > Fails due to any number of reason > Studios never want to be ambitious is a rough cycle that plagues all of our current media industries and part of the reason it's so hard to get stuff made by anyone who identifies with anything other than Wonder Bread. So even if Onyx Equinox isn't my favorite, it's good enough that I want people to check it out and potentially try to break out of that cycle.
Agreed! And this is pretty much the kind of series I wanted to see out of a new production studio willing to try something outside of the box. In that respect, I think Onyx Equinox did a bang-up job. And if we're comparing it to some of the other shows under the "Crunchyroll Originals" branding, Onyx Equinox is at least 100 times better and more competently put together than Gibiate. It's a solid crowd-pleaser. If that crowd is okay with a lot of disembowelment.
We gotta have less BRUGS and more shit like this. Let's all put the past behind and overcome BRUGS together!!
Society has advanced past the need for Brugs. It is now the age of the smug axolotl.
We could all use a little more Axolotl in our lives. Have a good 2021 everybody! May these cute pink water creatures bless you.

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