I had a long, solo train ride from Boston to NYC on a quiet Sunday morning last weekend, so naturally it was the perfect time to enjoy a full, uninterrupted listen to both of the released albums from the Protomen’s 3-act rock opera exploring the Mega Man universe. I’m happy to report it’s as awesome as you would imagine a rock opera about Mega Man being. Seriously.
I’m late to the party when it comes to the Protomen – but you’re not exactly reading Pitchfork right now, so sorry if they’re already passe below 14th Street, or something. They’ve already been hat tipped by the likes of WIRED and Joystick Division, and I first heard of them years ago from Penny Arcade. So don’t make the same mistake I did! You could be listening to Act I: The Protomen while you read this!
About halfway through act 2, I got to thinking about how… just plain good these records are. Where countless movies, TV shows and books failed miserably, a band of indie rockers from Murfreesboro, TN got it so very right. Why?
Perhaps most importantly, the Protomen’s music builds on the already solid fiction of the Mega Man games that so many of us have such fond memories for. They don’t needlessly pile on forced backstory and violently change the mood, like the creators of Super Mario Brothers: The Movie. Or invent a whole different story out of whole cloth, and shoehorn in Mega Man characters, like some OTHER Capcom franchise’s ill-thought sliver screen debut.
The Protomen opera instead holds up seemingly minor characters to the light and explores periods of time that were glossed over in the narrative of the core (8? 9? Do the new retro ones really count?) Mega Man games. It’s a lot like the mega-successful Broadway play, Wicked, when it comes to offering a compelling narrative through a shift in perspective. The second act, The Father of Death, is particularly handy with this, as it presents Dr. Wily as a somewhat sympathetic figure with honest, selfless motivations.
To be fair, there have been more terrible games based on decent movies than vice versa. But Hollywood, and the publishers of crappy officially-sanctioned-fan-fiction books, could learn a lot about translating games to other media from the Protomen’s labor of love.
They chose a good franchise that already had a fun, compelling story attached, but still enough room for additional stories to texture its world. Also, I think the fact that they’re working within the fiction of a NES era game really makes the Protomen’s job easier. We just expected simpler stories from our games back then, and there’s plenty of room for interpretation in those 8-bit visuals and chiptune soundtracks. Especially when that interpretation itself is in a non-visual medium, like rock opera in this case.
At the very least, if you enjoy Mega Man games, or just being a nerd and the culture that surrounds games in general, I think you’ll like the Protomen. I can’t wait for the third act, and I wonder if they’ll move on to a different franchise once this saga is complete. For every terrible Prince of Persia movie that gets produced, someone, somewhere must shelve a gritty, heartbreaking Star Fox script, right? Right? *sniffle* do a barrel roll indeed.
It looks like they already made cool Star Fox puppets. Where's Robbie Henson?!