At first glance, the story that's inserted between the simple rhythm tests of Space Channel 5: Special Edition seems a simple battle of good versus evil. In the first game, an evil alien menace—the Morolians—threatens the Earth by forcing its population to dance uncontrollably. In the second game, a shadowy group known as the "Rhythm Rogues" plans a similar fate for the entire galaxy. In both cases, intrepid space reporter Ulala—the force of good—reveals the plot as a conspiracy controlled by a single megalomaniac: the force of evil. But a deeper reading of the game's dialogue and symbols leads to a different conclusion: that the side of "truth" represented by Ulala is little better than the "evil" she is fighting.
From the very beginning of the first game, Ulala is introduced as an up-and-coming journalist for Space Channel 5. "With my news savvy and funky moves, I'll get to the bottom of this," she proudly proclaims at the beginning of the game's first investigation into a Morolian invasion at a spaceport. Yet as soon as she encounters her first Morolian—the subject of a story she is supposed to be covering objectively—she begins to intervene, using her dance moves to fight the Morolian menace instead of report on it.
Soon, she has literally traded in her microphone for a ray gun and proceeds to blast Morolian and human alike, the former to stop their attack and the latter to free them from the alien invaders. But one has to question whether the civilians are really better off after being rescued. Both before and after the rescue the civilians are mere pawns, forced to dance for a cause by powerful forces outside their control. With the Morolians the means of control is a rather direct ray gun; with Ulala, it's the much subtler influence of a strong media image.
When the civilians are rescued from a life of infinite dancing by Ulala's ray gun, they appear in a three-point stance behind her, looking ready to pounce at a moment's notice. They continue dancing, but instead of shaking their hips to the unheard rhythm of the Morolians, they are following along to the almost military cadence of Ulala's boots against the ground. The growing throng of unwitting civilians seems almost blissfully unaware as Ulala uses her position of influence to dance them directly into battle. Media war-mongering at its finest.
Why would Ulala endanger the lives of the very people she's rescuing? Simple: because a patriotic, war-frenzied populace pumps up the all-important metric that keeps Space Channel 5 in business: ratings. Throughout both games, Ulala eschews the dry, boring facts for slick packaging—a revealing outfit, provocative dance moves, sensationalistic headlines like "Evil in the Galaxy Revealed"—to drive the ever-present ratings meter higher and higher. She's aided in this endeavor by her producer, who whispers in her ear between segments with praise ("Hey, our ratings are going up!") or admonishment ("You're going to have to do better than that, Ulala.") based on how many pairs of eyeballs are under Ulala's control.
The producer's focus on ratings is understandable. After all, Channel 5 is facing stiff competition from all sides in the media battle. Chief among these is Pudding, the slight, sexy star reporter for Channel 42. Throughout both games Pudding pops into Channel 5's broadcast, encouraging their viewers to "watch my report on channel 42." The rote mimicry of the inevitable dance battle is an example of pack journalism at its finest, and the resulting transfer of a background guitarist from Pudding's team to Ulala's is journalistic inter-office politics at its worst.
Then there are the "Rhythm Rogues," the main enemies of Space Channel 5: Part II who are, like Ulala, trying to get their message out to as many eyes as possible. Their leader, Purge, hijacks broadcasting signals and even uses hypnosis to get people to watch the black-clad song and dance troupe. Ulala has to fight this more traditional form of entertainment by adapting her style, matching them move for move in a desperate effort to keep her audience.
Other details in Part II show Ulala's as a shell of a journalist who will do anything to keep control of the airwaves. In chapter two of the game, the "space president" is a performer that literally gives the press a "song and dance" that they gladly broadcast verbatim. In chapter three, Ulala ignores the pleas of the space police to stop disrupting an investigation and instead fights them when they try to stop her! Ulala also introduces new costumes and even musical instruments into her reports in Part II in a blatant attempt to attract more viewers.
At the end of the original Space Channel 5, the "evil" mastermind Mr. Blank poses a question to the mob assembled around him: "Ratings were my obsession isn't that what television is for? Then what's wrong with using TV to brainwash the masses?" It's a chill-inducing sentiment, but after playing both Space Channel 5 games, I could see it coming from Ulala just as easily as from the cackling Mr. Blank.
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