Onyx Equinox, the third Original production by anime-distributor Crunchyroll, is a blood-spilling animated fantasy series steeped into the temples, gods, and rituals of Mesoamerican history and mythology.
Creator Sofia Alexander, previously a storyboard artist for Infinity Train, tells Polygon, “I hope that the love I have for Mexico and our culture and heritage is translated correctly.” Alexander grew up in the Mexican southern state of Quintana Roo, the home of Mayan ruins, and spent her early years surrounded by Mesoamerican iconography.
She was initially nervous to pitch Onyx Equinox, which started as a comic, because of the scarcity of Mesoamerican-related animation, with Victor and Valentino being one of the few exceptions. “There are no stories about Mesoamerica for a reason, right?” Alexander remembers thinking. “No one cares. So why?”. Fortunately, Marisa Balkus, a Crunchyroll executive, loved Alexander’s pitch, and the show became the first original series to be produced entirely out of Crunchyroll Studios.
Onyx Equinox, which premieres on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 1 p.m. PT, follows the young Aztec boy Izel, humanity’s reluctant hero-in-training. As one of the gods devours humanity, others turn their eye on Izel to close the five gates of the Underworld and stop the annihilation. Izel must set aside his doubts of his fellow man in order to save his world.
While the series is high fantasy that indulges in violent spectacle, Alexander’s heritage is woven into the storytelling. In anticipation of the premiere, here are just a few of the places, names, and foundational facts to know.
Mesoamerica generally refers to pre-Columbian “Middle America” societies in the North America regions. Across millenniums, starting with hunter-gatherer societies, its civilizations thrived with innovations and invention in math, art, architecture, astrology, calendars, and codices before the Spanish conquest and colonization of the worlds around the 1500s. To this day, the bygone Mesoamerica remains a rich historical subject. Many of its living descendants, such as the Mayans, seek to overcome cultural suppression and preserve their culture, language, and medicine.
To construct a plausibly lived-in world, Alexander and her team sought resources from the National Institute of Anthropology and History to recreate the liveliness of these cultures. She needed to convey that “they’re not ruins, they were colorful, and populated with millions of people.”
Interestingly, Izel and his sister Nelli are Aztecs who mention early on that they originated from Tenochtitlan, and now live in a Mayan city as servants to a Mayan master. Studies on the skulls of Maya sacrificial victims suggest that they come from “across Mexico and far beyond,” which means they may not have originated from the place in which they were sacrificed at. That the siblings are depicted as outsiders living with fear makes the world feel even more lived in.
The gods of Onyx Equinox
As the “feathered serpent” god, his first appearance in a human shell is laden with feathers and scales. He makes the bet with Tezcatlipoca to find the human champion to close the five Underworld gates.
Tezcatlipoca, or “obsidian smoking mirror,” breathes out carving-esque smoke. He tasks his trusted jaguar emissary, Yaotl, with monitoring Quetzalcoatl’s human champion. Fun fact: The boney left foot of his human shell alludes to a battle in the creation myths.
“Lord of Mictlan” is the god of the Underworld. He greedily gobbles the city of Danibaan, exacerbating the blood drought among the gods and gradual annihilation of civilizations.
The Onyx Equinox locations
A Zapotec city that is known as Monte Alban today. It is the city Zyanya fled when the Lord of the Underworld Mictlantecuhtli swallowed her people.
A Maya city and Izel’s home. It features the five-layered Pyramid of the Magician with its elliptical base and rounded sides, which were considered unusual for Maya architecture. Legend tells that the Pyramid’s name was given because it was built in one day.