Crunchyroll has been making some major moves with original programming. But with shows like The God of High School, In/Spectre, and FreakAngels, they have shown a drive to bring unique and exciting content to the screen. One of the more interesting shows to come out on the platform is Onyx Equinox, a dark animated show about the many gods and cultures that exist in ancient Mexico.
Created by Sofia Alexander, Onyx Equinox takes the classic myths and ledges, and gives it a new twist. The show follows an Aztec boy named Izel as he is chosen by the god Quetzalcoatl to close five gates to the underworld and save humanity from potential doom. Sofia Alexander is no stranger to the world of animation, having worked on Infinity Train, Invader ZIM, and The Powerpuff Girls. But Onyx Equinox is a much more personal story, built on the legends and myths she has followed since she was a child. CGMagazine recently had the chance to chat with Sofia on a call, to discuss the show, culture, and how Anime had a strong impact on the culture and childhood within Mexico and South America.
CGMagazine: First I want to just get off with, how did this Onyx Equinox come together, and how did it make its way to Crunchyroll and become a full-fledged series?
Sofia Alexander: Well, it began as a college assignment back in my freshman year. Back then it was just Nelli, Izel, and Yaotl who are still in the series. And from that freshman year, I kept using these characters and developing a story. As I went through my college career up until my senior year, that is when I finally had the characters more fleshed out including the story and, of course, all the things that have changed. But for the most part, the characters are still the same. I had the story always on the back burner. I forgot about it a couple of times; came back to redesign and I used it a lot in my portfolios.
Originally, I wanted it to be a comic book. And when I got the opportunity to sell it, well, I don’t want to say who ― I don’t want to put them in that kind of spotlight ― but I was going to sell it. And I don’t know if something in my gut told me to wait and because I wanted to tell the story in a different medium, and I felt that the characters were not there yet. I wanted to grow more with them as an artist; as a person. And finally, like I said I had this idea ― I’ve had it for 13 years now. So they have changed, they have grown. And the story has been shaped by my personal experiences as well as those of the writers of the artists.
And for me, starting off being a storyboard artist, telling stories, I thought maybe I can make this into animation, an animated show. And I was lucky to pitch it to Marissa. It was serendipitous. It was like being there at the right time with the right person and being ready. It’s those three. I don’t think people understand that it takes those three elements for you to be able to sell an idea because there are so many other wonderful ideas out there that don’t see the light of day because one of those things was not right. But I was just really lucky to have had Marissa there to hear my story, and for her to go, you know what, this doesn’t suck.
CGMagazine: I would love to talk about the myths and ledges used for Onyx Equinox. Why the choice of ancient Mesoamerican setting, and do you think it allows for more freedom in telling stories for the series?
Sofia: Well, the reason why it was a Mesoamerican setting is that I grew up in Cancun, and It’s a heavily archaeological site area, Maya specifically. And my grandfather is proud of our heritage. And he wanted us to appreciate the beauty of Mesoamerican and see it in a different light than what history has painted it as unfairly, even media, depicting Mesoamerican as savages and needs of colonization. From a very young age, I learned to appreciate the cultures and being an artist, I just kind of; stood in the middle of, like, the archaeological site, and I was like, how did they live? Where were their houses? What was this like? And I’m sure a lot of people ask themselves these questions but being an artist, I kind of like having the opportunity to truly let this story bloom surrounded by this very beautiful rich culture.
And we will see more than just the Aztec and the Maya. And so I’m very excited about that because all these cultures are not well known. And to this day, we still have people that identify as Aztecs. We still have Maya people. We still have all these other different beautiful cultures. They don’t get the media attention because usually, it’s Aztec or the Mayan. And the reason for it being a Mesoamerican setting for the story is just because I wanted to share the beauty of Mexico. And because I grew up watching movies about Greek gods or Arthurian legends and all these epics, Lord of the Rings, I thought why can’t we have the same, but set in Mesoamerican in our history, our culture? I never saw Mesoamerican being depicted how I wanted it to be.
And being a huge anime fan I thought I wanted to make it into a cool epic anime-inspired fantasy action, adventure, tragedy. All the good stuff that I like personally. So that was the reason why. Saying choosing to do Mesoamerican-inspired cartoons, I don’t know if I would call it choosing because I feel like it was meant to be. I’ve always had this yearning of telling this story of a kid, a Mesoamerican kid. So, I don’t know saying that I chose it. It doesn’t feel right for some reason that sounds weird. But something that tells me like this is how it was always meant to be.
CGMagazine: Okay. On that note, as you mentioned, it is such a rich culture and such filled with a story. How did you sort out what to take from the myth, what to elaborate on and where did myth stop, and your ideas and visions take hold?
Sofia: That’s a good question. And for me, the important part first and foremost is what services the story and the character development. It can be any setting. That’s why it was nothing stopping me from it being a Mesoamerican but you do have to take into consideration, well, if there’s going to be monsters, what kind of monsters do we want to use ― real mythological monsters? And why would it serve the story? Would it move the plot forward? If it were up to me, I would add everything that I know about Mesoamerican mythology. Like there’re so many cool creatures and monsters and gods. But again, it is one of those things like, if you go to a bakery, you can only eat so much. For me, one thing in order to show these beautiful legends and myths and figures of history, I just had to really reel back ― like really back in ― and be like, okay, for the story to advance, we’ll need this plot device, this kind of character, this kind of villain.
But I don’t think it was a challenge on where to draw the line, but rather when to know it’s too much or when to know that like, look, you can’t use that because it wouldn’t make sense. Does that answer your question? It’s just about servicing the plot and the characters’ development. And yes, because it takes place in a setting where we’re talking about various cultures, and we only certain god’s people will question why I chose certain gods overall but it is just for the story and what services.
CGMagazine: How did you, or did you not tackle a subject that might not fit modern sensibilities, and how did you make it cohesive with the myths that do exist?
Sofia: What was important was to have a clear motive, and from what I understood from the myths, from what I learned from what the anthropologist helped us do research on. I chose those gods based on the kind of temperament I needed for these characters. And I don’t change the history of these gods. I just take who they are, and I put them into my story. So, I don’t deviate from their legend. Because I’m not telling their story; it would be cool because I have a bunch of ideas. But yeah, it’s just for me the, what you said, modern sensibilities. It is a very different culture. It’s a very different idea that’s for sure that we have not been exposed to. But for me, what is relatable is who the characters are.
And once you relate to a person or a thing or characters in a story, then nothing else matters. Everything else kind of just buy-in. Otherwise, why would anyone read Lord of the Rings and feel connected to Frodo and his journey, the ring barrier? You connect with him because he was someone who was not equipped to carry such a big burden, and maybe that’s why he was chosen and how he grows. And you feel for these characters. So, for me, it was more important to make sure that these characters are relatable, and then everything else falls in place.
CGMagazine: I just have one last follow-up question, just because you did mention the fact that anime was such a big part of your childhood, and I’ve heard that from many people from South America. Why is it that you believe, or in your opinion that anime has and has for a long time taken such a hold on South America? What is it about the story that is told in anime that resonates in that culture?
Sofia: Actually, that’s a good question because of the history behind that in Mexico, we don’t have the means to create our cartoons, our media to promote, or anything. And American cartoons, some of them were too expensive for us to buy, and Japan needed to sell cartoons. And the US wasn’t buying because they were creating their content. So, Mexico is like, hey, we need content, and we need it cheap and Japan sold it to us. And it just kind of became, like, big consumers of it. And so, it’s kind of been there, I guess. So, for me growing up with Anime because we had a demand for content that we could not create ourselves. Maybe that would have been different if we had been able to create our content.
But I don’t know like I think for me it was storytelling. I’m a fan of Dexter’s Lab. And you know, I had a lot of cartoons that are American that are episodic that I loved but for me, I connected with the characters a lot more when they had overarching stories of a season of a series of a much bigger plot. And it just felt like an epic you always want to tune in and see Goku has been able to achieve this Super Saiyan mode or, I don’t know. For me, that was what made me a fan of anime. I cannot speak for anyone else because maybe it’s because they like the style. But yeah, for me, it was more of a format.
CGMagazine: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time.
Sofia: Thank you. I appreciate these questions were awesome.
Pick up Issue #40 of CGMagazine to read the full interview with Sofia Alexander