“Amphibia” Emphasizes Chosen Families and Self-Acceptance

Amphibia

What if a Thai-American girl wakes up and finds herself in a world filled with talking frogs? Amphibia answers that question. Anne meets new friends, enemies, and tries to figure out her purpose in this strange world.

Amphibia is an animated adventure-fantasy-comedy series by Matt Braly, an animator of Thai descent. He is also known for directing episodes of Gravity Falls and Big City Greens.

As a warning, this recommendation discusses spoilers for all three seasons of Amphibia.

Amphibia

Amphibia centers around a 13-year-old Thai-American girl, Anne Boonchuy (Brenda Song), who is transported by a music box to another world with her two best friends, Sasha Waybright (Anna Akana) and Marcy Wu (Haley Tju). In this wild land, filled with marshes and tropical environments, she meets talking frogs and other creatures, including a family of frogs named the Plantars.

This family is headed by the overbearing and traditional grandfather, Hop Pop (Bill Farmer). He has two kids-of-sorts: an excitable frog named Sprig (Justin Felbinger) and a spunky pollywog named Polly (Amanda Leighton). All of them live on a farm of their own in the close-knit town of Wartwood. As Anne bonds with the Plantars, she learns what friendship and being heroic means. 

This all-ages animated series is filled with diversity, especially from its characters and voice actors. The latter are of Chinese, Indonesian, Pakistani, Japanese, and Thai descent. The show compliments this with wonderful animation, music, and background art.

Unsurprisingly, the series has been been nominated for four Annie Awards, one Daytime Emmy, and a GLAAD Media Award since it began airing in 2019. It includes some voice actors I’m familiar with, like Tress MacNeille and John DiMaggio, who voice characters in Disenchantment, as well as well-known gay actor George Takei.

Amphibia
From left to right: Sasha, Marcy, and Anne with “cool anime” powers in the final episode of Amphibia, floating the air like anime heroes or Kid Cosmic protagonists

Amphibia is more than a series centered on a girl who is adopted by a family of talking frogs. While there is the classic conflict of good vs. evil, there is also a focus on family separation, self-acceptance, and trauma. As I wrote previously, all of the main protagonists have trauma on same level or another, as the friendship between all three of them faces hardships and strains.

This is all mixed together with fantasy and sci-fi elements, and even occasionally situational comedy acts. These complex characters are written in such a way that you become invested and concerned about them, even after ending the series. The series also has plotlines focused on human and animal experimentation, and robots.

This series is part of a recent set of diverse Disney animated series. Others include The Ghost and Molly McGee, a supernatural fantasy, and will-be-ending horror comedy and fantasy The Owl House. Upcoming series such as Iwaju, Moana: The Series, Tiana, Cookies & Milk, Hailey’s On It!, and Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur portend a continuation of this focus.

In the case of Amphibia, Braly based the series on his trips to Bangkok, Thailand where he thought he was an outsider. He also was inspired by video games like The Legend of Zelda and Chrono Trigger. In previous interviews he said he wanted to make the main character a Thai-American because there were few Thai protagonists in TV series or films that he watched as a kid. As a result, he has said he become influenced by the Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog franchises.

In a December 2021 interview, Braly noted the themes of immigration, alienation, and xenophobia drawn from his own experiences. All of these themes are deeply integrated into the series. Some of this is heavily informed, according to Braly, by the 1990s series, Pepper Ann. Braly also noted that frogs were chosen for the series because they are metaphor for change and their connection to Thai culture.

Amphibia
Lady Olivia (right) looks at General Yunan (left) lovingly and tells her she wouldn’t mind “settling down” in Wartwood with Yunan.

Amphibia is rightly praised for illustrating issues like emotional manipulation, bullying, and delightful characters. The series could also be praised for broadening “ethnic-racial representations” like Craig of the Creek and Elena of Avalor. This is something that groups like the socially conservative family-oriented non-profit, Common Sense Media, would praise.

A 2021 report from the organization notes that when people of color are portrayed stereotypically, it causes harmful views to be promoted among White audiences. This is coupled with underrepresentation of specific groups, such as Latine and Indigenous people, and misrepresentation of others.

Little mentioned is LGBTQ representation in Amphibia. Although it isn’t as direct as other recent series, like Dead End: Paranormal Park or The Owl House, Braly stated that in the show’s finale, they left it open as to whether someone thinks of Sasha, Marcy, and Anne romantically or not, as he loves shipping. He called it the “greatest expression of love for characters.”

This gives queer fans who ship Marcanne (Marcy and Anne), Sasharcy (Sasha and Marcy), Sashanne (Sasha and Anne), or even all three in a relationship together some solace. This the case even if this so-called “Calamity Trio” are only be “gal pals” in the show’s canon.

Even so, Sasha was hinted as bisexual in the show’s final episode, and confirmed as such by Braly, as I noted in an earlier post. Her voice actress, Akana, is bisexual herself. She voiced Daisy in magical girl esque Magical Friendship Girl Squad: Origins and Magical Girl Friendship Squad. In the case of Daisy, Akana argued that Daisy was bisexual. However, other crew members argued she was a lesbian, and possibly trans, leading to confusion among fans.

Coming back to Amphibia, Sasha joins other LGBTQ characters such as Frodrick Toadstool and Toadie who were confirmed as a gay couple by the show’s creator. More significantly is Yunan (Zahra Fazal) and Lady Olivia (Michelle Dockery) as lesbian couple. There’s also Ally and Jess who run an Internet video channel together. Their colors are based off the bisexual and pansexual flags.

It is also implied that Mr. X, voiced by RuPaul, is gay, and there are some other minor LGBTQ characters. Similar to Sasha, the sexual identities of these characters are never directly stated. Mr. X is an effeminate FBI agent assisted by a silent assistant named Jenny. After Anne and frog family escape to Amphibia, Anne’s birth family convince Mr. X to hear them out and to be on the same side against Andrias. This results in the military and FBI assisting Anne and her friends in the final episode.

The relationship of Yunan and Olivia, was embraced by reviewers like Jade King, who calls herself “TheGamer’s Queen of Gay Cartoons.” Braly told King that the ship of these two characters was their favorite ship. He called it “very organic” and “awesome.” Fans were jubilant about the news, and fully embraced it. It undoubtedly helped that Fazal was inspired by the protagonist of Darkwing Duck in voicing the character.

Considering that the final episode has a ten year time-skip, it makes the series ripe for a possible spin-off or continuation that happens in that time skip, with different protagonists than this series. While some are conflicted about a spin-off, the show could go a route a la Steven Universe Future, focusing on the aftermath of a victory, with Anne, Marcy, and Sasha having to pick up the pieces.

All three seasons of Amphibia are currently streaming on Disney+, YouTube TV, and Prime Video.

Author: Burkely Hermann

Burkely is an indexer of declassified documents by day and a fan fic writer by night. He recently earned a MLIS with a concentration in Digital Curation from the University of Maryland. He currently voraciously watches animated series and reads too many webcomics to count on Webtoon. He loves swimming, hiking, and searching his family roots in his spare time.


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