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Parzival, Art3mis, Aech & I-r0k

Ready Player One
by yo go re

A while back, I joked that Ready Player One was basically "Funko POP!s: The Movie." And now it turns out that, indeed, Funko has the license.

By the year 2044, the planet has been all but ruined, so most people retreat into the OASIS, a free, customizable virtual reality world whose in-game currency is stronger and more stable than any in the real world. When the game's founder, James Halliday, dies, a message is sent to every player, announcing a contest: whoever solves his Easter egg first will be given control of the OASIS and Halliday's personal trillion-dollar fortune.

Our POV character is Wade Watts, aka "Parzival." (He chose his username after the Arthurian knight Percival, but all the more normal spellings were already taken.) He has a superhero's name because his father liked comicbooks, and he spends all his time in the OASIS because he's a dirt-poor Okie trailer rat. Plus he's overweight and socially awkward, and you know those types of people love to withdraw to digital communities, the losers! Anyway, back to the in-depth, obsessive review of an action figure that I'm publishing on the website I've been a part of for years.

In the book, Wade describes Parzival as looking pretty much like him, just taller and more muscular. Once he can afford in-game items, he starts wearing fancy armor and carrying cool swords, but the movie has chosen to dress him in a black T-shirt, blue jeans, a denim vest, and sneakers. Since the culture of the world of Wade's craft is obsessed with '80s ephemera, this makes sense as a "normal" set of clothes - especially if dressing the movie character like Marty McFly was out of the question for legal reasons. (Or even for personal ones: Spielberg has said he's choosing to avoid referencing many things he was involved with, just so people won't this is just a vanity project.) Parzival has blue and black markings printed on his arms, a golden sword logo painted on the back of his vest, and golden wings sculpted above his black Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

The blue-and-black colorscheme, coupled with the bright white hair and the pseudo-80s setting, makes Parzival look like Evan Peters' Quicksilver (when he should really look like Cyclops). The haircut is a bit "'90s boyband," honestly, but the inclusion of Street Fighter and Overwatch characters shows that the movie version of the OASIS is going to expand its obsessions outside a single decade.

Though this set includes four figures, it only includes three weapons. So which one is supposed to go with which character? I guess they're interchangeable (since no one really has a "signature" weapon in the story), but we're nerds! We demand precision! On the plus side, the gear is just as referential as everything else in the OASIS, because the first accessory in this set is Robocop's Auto 9. Parzival has a holster molded on his right hip, but it's non-functional.

Next we have Art3mis, who only has a 3 in her name because plain old "Artemis" was taken. She's Parzival's major competition in the OASIS Easter egg hunt, and is ahead of him in the process for most of the search. In the story, she's fairly high-level, is a famous streamer, and maintains a blog where she ruminates on life, the egg hunt, and everything. Which is why Wade's got a crush on her before they first meet.

The book describes her as "a sort of mid-'80s postapocalyptic cyberpunk girl-next-door," and you can definitely see that in this toy. She has alabaster skin that fades to vibrant magenta on her shoulders. She has red circuit-style markings on her arms and torso, as well. Her clothes are mainly black: a tank top with a red star tunnel pattern on the front, a series of silver belts hanging around her waist, and jeans that appear to be slashed to show the pink leggings beneath. However, the book specifically describes her as "Rubenesque" - aka short and slightly chubby - while this is a typically slender actress body.

While this design retains Art3mis' "raven hair," it's done in a big, swept-up spiky look and dyed pink. Her avatar's face is meant to look unusually human, as though her pointy chin, rounded cheekbones, and perpetual smirk had been scanned into the game as a skin, but in the movie it's pale, frowny, and has big anime eyes. Maybe the costumers thought a normal teenage girl mixed in with everybody's idealized selves would look out of place?

The next gun in the set is an M41A, aka the famous pulse rifle from Aliens. No matter what you think of Ready Player One as a concept or as a story, you have to admire the license-wrangling that must have gone into getting this movie made. Warner Bros. is releasing the film, but Aliens is a Fox property: that means for this gun to even cameo on the screen, the lawyers would have had to get involved - to say nothing of then making it as a toy!

Aech (pronounced like H) is Parzival's best friend and a professional gamer in Death Match and Capture the Flag leagues, and is even more famous than Art3mis. Aech didn't lord all the wealth over Parzival, but didn't go out of the way to share it, either; all Aech's friends were invited to hang out in a fancy purpose-built chatroom that was stocked with virtual copies of old games, movies, comics, and everything else a nerd would want, but it wasn't like Aech was paying for Parzival to teleport all over the universe and giving him high-end gear, either. The Easter egg hunt does come between them a bit, with tensions increasing whenever one of them pulls ahead of the other.

This is easily the biggest character change yet. In the novel, Aech just looks like your average handsome fratbro: tall, broad shouldered, a big gregarious grin, all that. A typical man's man, you know? Movie Aech, by contrast, is a gigantic half-cyborg with robot limbs and a colorscheme like a piece of construction equipment. The only exposed skin on the body (and thus, possibly the only "body" left) is the right shoulder and chest, the neck, and the head; most everything else is grey or yellow metal. The upper chest is connected to the legs only via a system of industrial pistons. This definitely looks like someone made for a fight! Or made to be a human bulldozer.

The book describes Aech's avatar as a white guy with brown hair and eyes. So naturally, the movie gives us a bald brute with a flattened nose and a cybernetic eye bundle on the left side of the head. Sure, why not? All the figures in this set have the same nine points of articulation: head, shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees.

The gun next to Aech in the tray matches the figure's colorscheme - this yellow-and-gray piece is Sledge's Shotgun, from Borderlands 2. Aech's mechanical hand is too large to grip it, so the right hand is molded with two fingers extended, just enough to fit into the trigger guard.

Our final figure is I-r0k, which is surprising: in the novel, he's the minorest of minor characters, a dorky troll who is annoying but hardly a threat to anyone. Putting him in your first four-pack would be like making a set of Luke, Leia, Obi-Wan, and Garindan - you know, the guy who points out to the Stormtroopers where the Millennium Falcon is? I-r0k does cause some problems for the heroes, but then he's pretty much forgotten about forever. Maybe the movie is going to beef his role up, make him more of an actual antagonist, and not just an annoyance? It's not like the story didn't already have a suitable villain.

No matter what, he definitely looks like a schoolboy's idea of a badass character. His face is gray, with a cybernetic jaw. He wears a dark grey hood and what is probably meant to be a trenchcoat, though only the lower edge of it is present here, because his entire torso is a giant silver skull with holes all the way through the body for the eyes and nose. There's armor on his shoulders and boots, and he appears to have spikes just sticking out of his lower legs. His hands are large, clawed gauntlets. Exxtreme!

It's kind of "the thing" in nerdy circles to hate on Ready Player One, because it's all about performative geekdom - people in the story aren't into the things they're into because they're into them, but because they're trying to win a prize. But hey, if somebody told everyone you could personally take control of the global economy based on your knowledge of medieval birth control devices, it'd be gold pessaries as far as the eye could see. The story itself is pretty solid, the writing's decent, the worldbuilding's good, and the characters aren't awful... the nerdy stuff is just the gimmick, the window dressing, and yet you can barely throw a Holy Hand Grenade without finding someone taking a bold, principled stance against the movie. So brave! They're the true heroes here!

*audible eyerolling sound*

Like Will West said, nobody is making you see Ready Player One. And even if they were, this isn't JJ Abrams' brand of faux-nostalgia, this is Steven Spielberg - the guy who made the things you're nostalgic for! People mad at Ready Player One because it uses nerd references are engaging in the same kind of gatekeeping they accuse the book of. It steeps itself in '80s teen culture the way American Psycho did '80s adult culture, but nobody got mad at that because nobody paid attention to what adults were doing in the '80s. But RPO dares to jump into the pool we've been swimming in? NERD RAGE! It's certainly not the best piece of literature I read last year, but I did read it - I didn't just glean what it's about from screencaps of the worst parts in a Buzzfeed list. And having read it, knowing what it is? Hell yeah I'm looking forward to the movie. Well, "cautiously optimistic," at least. Even Spielberg's bad movies are better than many other filmmakers' best, and if he thinks Ready Player One will make a good one, he's kind of earned the benefit of the doubt, there. And let's be honest: even if the character designs aren't to your liking, there is no company in the world better suited to creating the toys for this particular story than Funko. Now how about a set of Daito, Shoto, Sorrento and a Sixer?

-- 03/09/18


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