Gravity Falls is an animated cartoon that airs on Disney channel, but it’s so much more than “just a cartoon” Gravity Falls is a veritable cornucopia of subtle pop culture references, nostalgia, and excellent writing that doesn’t insult the intelligence of it’s audience. In this authors opinion it is one of the few great western cartoons of this generation.
Knowing the above, it makes sense that video games and video game culture would be an on-going theme in Gravity Falls, and to be more specific, retro style video games. With retro games in mind, pixel artist and animator Paul Robertson was a natural choice to provide the sprite style animation needed for the game themed episodes “Fight Fighters” and “Soos and the real girl.”
Paul Robertson’s quirky and often dark sense of humor lends itself greatly to the tone of the show. The episode “Fight Fighters” is a direct reference to Street Fighter franchise and other early arcade fighting games, and throughout the episode there are many other nods to arcade platformers.
The Fight Fighters episode also pokes fun at the ridiculous nature of video game logic and even character archetypes. For example there is a moment where the game character Rumble McSkirmish, starts picking up items in the middle of the road causing the character Dipper to comment on the strangeness of dangerous implements lying around for anyone to pick up. Rumble McSkirmish himself is a combination of Ryu, Ken Masters, and Sagat from street fighter, and just so happens to be on a stereotypical quest to defeat the man who killed his father.
In the episode “Soos and the Real Girl,” the show makes direct references to Japanese dating sims. Romance Academy, the game that the Character Soos picks out is a nod to Tokimeki Memorial showing the characteristic checkered background and school atmosphere.
The game character Giffany, who acts as Soos’s pixelated stalker, is an amalgam of different anime and dating sim characters. Giffany fits the Japanese “yandere” character archetype, a romantic interest that seems at first kind and loving, but who’s affections escalate into mentally unhinged behavior. Yandere, like Giffany, often become more destructive as the protagonist’s affections fade.
It is probably the best parody of Japanese dating sim culture that I’ve seen since Krieger’s digital girlfriend on the show Archer. Soos and the Real Girl, as an episode, leaves the Archer depiction in the dust, making subtle nods to tentacle hentai, and Hikikomori syndrome. It goes even further to feature background easter eggs of allusions to games like Frogger, Pac man, Tron, Tomb raider and more.
Gravity Falls is a multi-layered meta explosion, a celebration of childhood fixations, and a display of the common frustrations of growing up. There really is something for everyone in Gravity Falls, even adults or parents, and it celebrates every piece of pop culture with both honesty and reverence.
Shows like Gravity Falls give animation fans like me hope for the future of western cartoons. If you desire a heavy dose of quirky nostalgia and have an ardent love for the supernatural mystery genre, then it’s time to break out your cryptography books and shamelessly binge watch Gravity Falls: you won’t be disappointed.