The origins of Onyx Equinox They date back to 2007. Sofia Alexander He started this project as a comic strip for one of his classes at the university and, in fact, was about to sign a contract with a publisher for its publication. However, the talented artist chose to postpone this opportunity, because she wanted to turn this concept into an animated series. Thirteen years later, that dream comes true with the premiere of his anime-style production based on Mesoamerican Mexico through the platform Crunchyroll.
Born and raised in Mexico, Sofía Alexander began her career within the animation industry in a freelance role as a storyboard artist in the 2016 reboot of The Powerpuff Girls. Since then, she has reprized that role in productions such as Stretch Armstrong. and Hasbro’s Flex Warriors, Nickelodeon’s Invader Zim and the Power of the Florpus movie, and Cartoon Network’s The Infinity Train. Sofia has even independently designed concepts for Walt Disney Imagineering, the division of the company charged with developing its theme parks.
In his first opportunity at the head of a series, Alexander presents us with a story where the gods meet at war and a young Aztec is dragged into their dangerous games. Izel is chosen as the “champion of humanity” to complete a virtually impossible task: closing the five gates of the Underworld. Forced to confront his apathy for others, Izel sets out on a journey between hope and despair that will confront him with his own demons and the choice of whether the human race, with all its flaws and contradictions, is worth saving.
Cinema PREMIERE He had the opportunity to talk with the creator and showrunner of Onyx Equinox about the different influences on the aesthetics and narrative of the project: anime, video games, literature and film; the arduous research process necessary to bring this world to life; as well as his desire to see more productions made by compatriots that are inspired by the historical and cultural richness of Mexico.
What motivated you to tell a story set and inspired by the mythology of Mesoamerican Mexico?
I grew up in Cancun, Quintana Roo. The state is surrounded by archaeological sites and, from a very young age, my family always took us to the pyramids; either to Mexico City, where my mom is from, or [a la Pirámide del adivino en] Uxmal, which is one of my favorites, that’s why I included her in the cartoon. My grandfather was the one who really inspired me, more than anything because he was always very proud of the history of Mexico, our culture. How beautiful it is [nuestra cultura] always gave me to tell stories. So when I went to college in the United States, I missed Mexico a lot. Living in a completely different country, I felt a need to reconnect with my own culture and it reminded me a lot of my grandfather. That’s why I started writing this story, about a boy who is going to face the Gods to save humanity. From the first year of the race to the last was when everything was formed, the story you see today. Obviously, the characters changed a lot, but the heart of the story remains the same.
When Crunchyroll formally announced their grid of first Original Productions it was surprising to see that they were already looking to expand their horizons with animation outside of Japan. At what point did Crunchyroll get involved? Did you propose this project to them?
I did the pitch to Crunchyroll. I sat in a meeting with Marisa Balkus, the executive producer in charge of original development, and they weren’t looking for more content. They already had the content they wanted, but I think they saw something special in this story, because we don’t see much of Mesoamerican Mexico in Hollywood or on television. Nothing, it is very little. I want to think that they saw the value, something very beautiful in Onyx [Equinox]. Being able to tell this type of story in a medium more focused on anime. Then yes. I presented the story to them and, thank God, they liked it.
Did you seek out Crunchyroll precisely because you had in mind to emulate the anime style for this series?
Yes, I was always a fan of anime. In Mexico, there is a lot [acceso al] anime. In fact, I grew up with more anime than my American friends had: [Dr. Slump y] Arale, Dragon Ball, Mikan [el gato]. The style, the aesthetics, I was always given, and also the type of story, the format. We are very used to cartoons being episodic. Anime frequents a format where you have a story that is told over one or more seasons and has character development, which I didn’t feel like I saw in other types of cartoons. I wanted that for Onyx [Equinox] because I always loved to see stories based on King Arthur, the Greek gods or The Lord of the Rings, and it’s fantastic, but I never saw something like that based on a Mesoamerican Mexico. That `s what I wanted. Anime has that kind of format that makes it easy for you to tell this kind of story.
Were there any anime productions that directly or indirectly influenced your vision or the aesthetics of Onyx Equinox?
There are quite a few. There was Rurouni Kenshin, Wolf’s Rain… what else? I had a list and they go away. I always liked shōnen. Well, Dragon Ball not so much. No, actually yes, because Piccolo and Gohan in Dragon Ball were an inspiration for the characters of Yaotl and Izel.
What other productions from the audiovisual world or art influenced the project?
I really like video games, then, The Legend of Zelda and Journey. I also like Alien movies. I love monsters. For me, [xenomorfos] they were very incredible designs and I was thinking: “I think something like this must have existed in Mexica mythology or Mesoamerican mythology.” And yes, you find a lot! I am very excited to show one of those characters. In fact, I think you could see it in the last trailer that they released, there are some monsters that are more or less based on Alien.
How was the creative process to design the characters, monsters and settings that we see in the series?
Apart from the type of investigation, consulting with the anthropologist and archaeologist was also trying to translate the images of the codices into a more three-dimensional figure, because, obviously, the drawings are very flat, two-dimensional. So, you have to interpret: “what was they trying to say with this kind of form?” Although, one can go to places like the INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History), there are many things that have not yet been found. With the help of the art director, we were almost, almost, reinterpreting the symbols and glyphs. There is a certain amount of authenticity to what Mexican-Mesoamerican is, how it was and how we made it more fantastic to make an epic like it is today. How we could design it into something more impactful for the contemporary audience.
Digging deeper into the documentation process, how much research did they have to do to build the world of Onyx Equinox? What were your main sources?
A lot. In fact, I think to this day, I keep reading and watching the news of what they have found most recently and I say: “You may have used this” or “Why didn’t I do this better?” In truth, sites like INAH, the anthropologist and language experts, I feel that it is not enough. With the books that we bought, that Crunchyroll gave us, I didn’t really feel that there was enough time to capture this kind of culture and how beautiful it was in a cartoon, but you do what you can. The truth is, I think that, with the time we had, I hope you like it. But yeah, it was a lot of research every day. Until the last day we were at Onyx [Equinox]He said to them: “Hey, we put this word, but it doesn’t mean what we thought. We have to change it ”. Later, I did not fight with them, but I told them “please, you have to [cambiarlo], is that if we do not do it like that it will not be good, we will be representing someone in an unworthy way “. I really want to do my best to show our culture in the most correct way possible.
Tell us a little about the talents that made it possible to bring Onyx Equinox to life.
I had the honor of working with Kumi Tomita. She is a Japanese cheerleader. She worked in movies like Akira or Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. I work for many companies, many animation studios, which worked on cartoons, I think even Disney, like Gargoyles. She has a lot of experience and the truth was she had a very important role with me on a personal level, because she guides me in what it means to be the leader of a show, because you don’t learn to be one, you have to do it when you have to. She was very patient and pushed me, cheered me on. I loved working with her. I would also like to talk about the voice of Yaotl, which is Alejandro Vargas Lugo. He gave voice to many of the cartoons that I saw when I was little, for example, Puro Hueso [de Las sombrías aventuras de Billy y Mandy]. So, in my apartment I have a dog and I take him out for a walk and all of a sudden I greet my neighbors and I started talking to this man named Alejandro. “How are you, I’m from Mexico”; “I also”. “What does?”; “Well, I do voices to the characters.” “Ah, well I have a show”; “that Father!”. When he gave me his contact, I started looking for him on the internet to see what he had done and … what a small world! Incredible. He wanted me to give someone a voice. The truth, he is Yaotl. The voice he gave the characters is perfect. I love. Besides the fact that Alejandro is a sweetheart, I loved working with him. Nothing to do with Yaotl’s character, because Yaotl is very bad. That is why I said to the dubbers: “they have to use Alejandro, because that’s what he does”. He lent his voice to Yaotl in English and Spanish. Those kinds of people I was able to work with made the experience even more incredible.
Why is it important as Mexicans to reflect our cultural legacy in the productions we make? What do you want to communicate with Onyx Equinox?
I think that now, more than ever, we need to show how proud we are of ourselves. We always throw a lot of flowers on what is foreign, what is European, what is American, when in fact we have a beautiful culture, rich in color, in mythology. We have a lot to share with the world. I hope Onyx [Equinox] be the first step, that opens the door to many other Mexican stories, based on Mesoamerican Mexico, to truly share and show the world how beautiful Mexico is. And for Mexicans, we don’t have to go to Europe, or the United States, or any other part of the world to see something incredible, we have it in our own country. We have to be very proud of who we are, what we have, and I hope that Onyx [Equinox] teach them that we can tell our stories. I urge Mexicans to tell our stories.
Onyx Equinox premieres this November 21 in Crunchyroll.
Onyx Equinox Sofia Alexander
Gustavo Pineda I write about film, television and anime at Cine PREMIERE