Monday, September 8, 2014

The Sonic 3 and Laputa Connection

I can't take credit for making this observation myself. I read about it somewhere on the internet (of course) and later discovered this article (which I referenced frequently while putting this post together and borrowed a few pictures from) as well as this forum thread. Apparently, animation legend Hayao Miyazaki's 1986 film Castle in the Sky (also known as Laputa: Castle in the Sky), one of my favorite films from a director whose work I absolutely adore, seems to have had a hand in inspiring Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Knuckles, one of my favorite games of all time. There is plentiful evidence within both works to support this theory, but Yuji Naka, one of the original creators of Sonic the Hedgehog and producer and lead programmer on Sonic 3 and Knuckles, has also stated in interviews that he is an admirer of Miyazaki's work.

This just blows my mind. One of my most cherished video games from my childhood took inspiration from one of my favorite films from my adulthood by a director whose work I would completely fall in love with years after first playing Sonic the Hedgehog 3. After hearing about the similarities between Sonic 3 and Knuckles and Castle in the Sky, I decided to watch the film and the play the game back to back. It was a fun day.

Let's take a look at the evidence. Both works center around a floating island held aloft by a massive gem:

Laputa from Castle in the Sky
Angel Island from Sonic 3 and Knuckles

In addition to this central premise, there are a lot of visual and artistic similarities between the film and game and even certain scenes from the movie seem to have served as inspiration for scenes in the game. A number of the zones (or levels) in Sonic 3 and Knuckles also parallel several locations in the film:

Could the overgrown arboretum of Laputa have been a template for the lush jungles of Angel Island Zone?

In the film, one of the main characters, Pazu, marvels at an "underwater city" beneath the moats of Laputa, a seemingly obvious inspiration for the aquatic ruins of Hydrocity Zone.

The ruined courtyards of Laputa may have inspired the appearance of the overgrown ruins of Marble Garden Zone; this zone also may have been inspired simply by Laputa's overall appearance as an ancient city taken over by nature.

The military's massive camo-patterned flying warship, Goliath, could have led to the creation and appearance of Dr. Robotnik's camo-patterned Flying Battery.

This one may be a stretch, but the crystallized second act of Lava Reef Zone is reminiscent of the scene in Castle in the Sky of the cave full of glowing volucite rocks.

The heart of Angel Island, Hidden Palace Zone, with its technological look and square patterns reminds of the advanced and cube-decorated core of Laputa. Not to mention...

...both Laputa and Angel Island float in the sky because of the power of a massive gemstone that is sought after in both works by megalomaniacal madmen.

Now we get to Sky Sanctuary Zone from Sonic 3 and Knuckles, which is perhaps the biggest piece of evidence supporting the Laputa inspiration:

The pillars, fountains, walkways, yellowish-greenish hue and overall imagery of Sky Sanctuary Zone brings Laputa to mind immediately.

The climax of both the film and game also share several elements in common. Let's take a look:

Dr. Robotnik's Death Egg (besides being an obvious parody of the Death Star) resembles the spherical, mechanical-looking bottom of Laputa. Both also happen to be doomsday weapons.

The scene where Robotnik releases an army of Egg Robos from the Death Egg is similar to the scene where Muska releases an army of robots from Laputa.

The way Sky Sanctuary crumbles block by block before Sonic leaps onto the Death Egg is very similar to the way Laputa crumbles block by block during the climax of the film. Note the near-identical color palettes hear and the overall symmetry of the imagery.

Finally, in the endings of both film and game, Laputa and Angel Island float higher and higher into the heavens with the help of the giant volucite crystal and Master Emerald respectively, away from the hands of greedy humans.

Could this all be a coincidence? I suppose. Am I reaching too much in some areas? Probably. After all, ancient floating islands covered in mysterious ruins from a civilization long extinct (except for a few key descendants of course) are nothing new. The idea has been presented in plenty of art and media throughout the years. But I think the fact that Yuji Naka has cited Miyazaki as a major influence of his coupled with the similarities in many of both works' environments, scenes, themes, and art suggests a clear link.

Also, the Sonic series is well-known for taking inspiration from other sources. Some may call it "ripping off", and in some cases I can certainly see where they're coming from, but the Sonic games are still remarkably original, and there are many zones and other elements from Sonic 3 and Knuckles that I didn't touch on that don't bear a resemblance to anything in Castle in the Sky. The Sonic series copies and emulates, sure, but much like a lot of art, it uses these elements in conjunction with its own unique ideas to create something original. The Sonic series is also full of references to pop culture and mixes many disparate elements from tons of different sources. I already mentioned the Death Star and Death Egg comparison, but there's also Super Sonic and the seven chaos emeralds being a supposed reference to Super Saiyans and the seven Dragon Balls. And did you know that Sonic's red and white shoes were inspired by a Michael Jackson album cover (Michael Jackson also worked on the music for Sonic 3, ironically enough). Did you also know that Dr. Robotnik's design was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt?

Speaking of Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik...

Yep, he's in Castle in the Sky too! He also makes a cameo in another Miyazaki masterpiece (and my personal favorite film of all time), Spirited Away:

I'm joking of course, as these are both original characters created by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, and the character from Castle in the Sky obviously predated our favorite rotund mad scientist's existence (perhaps Theodore Roosevelt wasn't the only inspiration?), but the resemblance in both cases is uncanny.

It's amazing how one of my favorite video games and one of my favorite films, both works of art very beloved by myself and first consumed separately at very different points in my life are so closely related, with Sonic 3 and Knuckles, which I experienced first, taking so much inspiration from Castle in the Sky, which I first experienced much, much later. Sonic 3 and Knuckles is something that I associate largely with my childhood, while Castle in the Sky is something that I associate with my young adulthood. But the latter is several years older than the former. The fact that Miyazaki's films and Sonic's games, both of which have been hugely influential to me, would be linked's all so strange to me, but it also makes so much sense.

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