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Life Is Strange spinoff draws inspiration from a classic anime

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The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit ditches the female leads, but not the female influence

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Sailor Moon transformation Toei Animation

Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment revealed the surprising next entry in the Life Is Strange franchise during E3: not Life Is Strange 2, but a spinoff set in the same universe. Out June 26, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is not a proper Life Is Strange game, Square Enix insists; instead, the free download stars a young boy in a vastly different story than Life Is Strange’s typical, teen girl-driven drama.

But after watching a hands-off demo during the event, I came away finding that Captain Spirit and Life Is Strange have more in common than I’d expect. Yes, Dontnod promised that data from the game would transfer over to Life Is Strange 2, whenever it arrives; there will be clear connections between the two titles. But the story of 9-year-old, wildly imaginative Chris — who finds solace from his real life in a superhero fantasy — shows other glimmers of the same elements that made Life Is Strange so novel.

One of them is the supernatural powers, which help Max rewrite and save lives during Life Is Strange’s most crucial moments. Chris accesses his powers through his alter ego, Captain Spirit, who he becomes as an escape from his alcoholic single father. These scenes are beautiful — mundane items become giant monsters; a gray boiler room suddenly swirls with purple smoke. Captain Spirit’s telekinetic powers are even used in quicktime event-style fights in order to progress.

A fantasy scene from The Amazing Adventures of Captain Spirit.
One of the gorgeous fantasy sequences in Captain Spirit.
Dontnod Entertainment/Square Enix

Most striking is Chris’ actual transformation sequence, where his regular clothes change piece by piece into proper hero attire. The whole scene bears a clear, unexpected, resemblance to a different female-driven franchise.

“Sailor Moon, of course, is one of the references we have in mind,” said Raoul Barbet, director of The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit and the rest of the other main Life Is Strange games.

Yet Captain Spirit’s costume change is unmistakably Sailor Moon-esque. Like the anime’s lead character, Chris performs several dramatic movements as his costume comes together. For those young women who grew up watching Sailor Moon, this reference is a wonderful gesture. The anime was a rare ’90s show that starred women who could save themselves — girls whose hero outfits included painted nails, thigh-high boots and a miniskirt.

The Life Iis Strange team may have won over fans the first time around thanks to its non-judgmental view of women. But Barbet said that the appeal goes beyond gender — hence, perhaps, why Captain Spirit is as much based on Sailor Moon as it is more male-dominant anime, like Saint Seiya.

“It’s all those moments [where] you always ask yourself, ‘Maybe at this moment I could have chosen this here,’” said Barbet, referring to Life Is Strange. “With Chris, for us, it’s the same. We’ve all been children, boy or girl, and we had our bedroom, our own toys.

“We hope that players will love Chris and be able to put their own memories into this game,” he said, just as they did with the first one.

But it still feels significant that the Dontnod team borrowed from an anime as uniquely feminine as Sailor Moon: Even though this is the first game in the Life Is Strange not to star a woman, a celebration of their heroism hasn’t been left behind.

Update: The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit launched a day early, and is available now on PlayStation 4, Steam and Xbox One.