Yeah, just gonna update the blog outta nowhere like it ain’t no thing.
Go on this journey with me, will you? UNDERTALE. UNDERTALE spoilers (beware). UNDERTALE fan-comics and fanfiction. Tumblr character-driven ask-blogs. UNDERTALE Tumblr fan-ask-comic-blogs exploring a version of events after the ending. Congratulations, we have arrived at the headspace necessary to comprehend Dreemurr Reborn.
Dreemurr Reborn is a consistently high quality and high effort production, save for one thing that’s been nagging at me for a while now: There’s this weird undercurrent of author exceptionalism throughout the whole thing.
Again, UNDERTALE spoilers abound. Maybe at this point there’s been so much internet exposure it doesn’t matter anymore, but this random, aggressive blog post really ain’t worth reading if it’s gonna spoil you on the crucial details of an impactful RPG you might play someday.
The basic premise of Dreemurr Reborn is this: After the true pacifist ending of the game, Asriel Dreemurr, in his last moments before reverting to Flowey and being left stuck in the Underground forever while everyone else moves on, is approached by Frisk, the player character. Frisk offers Asriel his SOUL – to sacrifice himself so that they can merge and share their life, so that Asriel can escape and get a second chance. So their adventures begin, the two sharing custody of the same body but with Asriel nominally in charge.
It was once really popular in the fandom to invent some way to save Asriel from his perceived fate worse than death at the end of UNDERTALE. His line, “Don’t you have anything better to do?” was often felt not with sorrowful understanding, but as a challenge. Some people looked endlessly for yet another, more perfect ending, while many others created and sought out fanwork to help explore the possibility where Asriel gets a happy ending too.
There’s nothing wrong with that in my mind. If you take the story seriously, it’s a way to help remember and treasure the memory of characters you truly care about. If you don’t take it seriously, then at least it’s fertile ground for creative exploration, as all fandom can be.
Dreemurr Reborn is an old and prominent example of this. The artist, Fatz, has constantly pushed themselves and grown through this long project, in art, writing (both comedy and drama), and even multimedia. They’re making a small UNDERTALE fangame to cap off the story, which is incredibly impressive.
I’m just worried Dreemurr Reborn: The End will have some of the same self-congratulatory subtext I’ve noticed earlier.
It first hit me strongly when I rewatched the fan boss fight video for Chara, UNDERTALE‘s hidden antagonist of sorts, which takes place early in Dreemurr Reborn‘s storyline.
Chara’s easy to misunderstand since they only show up at the end of UNDERTALE’s genocide path, and the dialogue creates more questions than it answers. Naturally, this means the fandom has run wild with interpretations, ranging from over-forgiveness to literally making the child Satan. But this fan video gets it as right as it can: Sympathetic of Chara’s reasons without forgetting that they were willing to take some very dark actions.
Then it gets weird.
The Chara boss fight’s Act 2 gimmick is spending the SOULs signed over in UNDERTALE post-genocide runs. All of them. It is implied that the underground’s many, many resets were done in sequence by every player of the game, one after the other, and Chara has been witness to them all. Chara even describes them (the “Frisks”) as having different genders from playthrough to playthrough.
So, reading into this: Every player who has done the genocide run of UNDERTALE is contributing to this fight (including me). And now that the consigned SOULs are being spent and there will be no more resets, that makes this the omega timeline, the one true continuation after everyone has finished playing the game.
Okaaaay. Kind of presumptuous, but also really, really cool in terms of playing with meta-narrative. I am all about dat metatext.
Then there’s the dialogue that makes me suspicious.
“Can’t you see? This Frisk… They will get bored. They will reset everything.”
Then later, after Chara’s defeat:
“…No. I don’t want you to give me your SOUL. Frisk wanted to give you a second chance. I can’t take that away from you.”
Every other Frisk – every other player – got bored and left you, Asriel. Left you behind to become Flowey again. Or destroyed everything to watch it all break in genocide. But not this one. This one wanted to give you a second chance. That makes this one special. That makes this the true omega timeline.
Patting yourself on the back there much, Fatz? Like you’re the first one to come up with this premise? Like you’re the only one in the entire fandom who wanted dearly to find a way to give Asriel a happy ending? Like putting in all the time to make the comic and the animations is equivalent to being the one true Frisk that sacrificed their SOUL?
The subtext and metatext is inescapable to me: “This Frisk” is not a viewer insert; it means Fatz.
Now, a lot of this is presumption and exaggeration on my part. And it’s a dumb thing to get write-a-long-blog-post mad about. The Chara boss fight still a fun video and the Dreemurr Reborn comic storyline has a lot of content that is genuinely cute, funny, and explores the premise of a lost soul’s second chance in interesting ways.
Then there’s the Annoying Dog pages.
Putting words in the implied author avatar’s mouth… As a writer, that… really disgusts me????
“You should be underground. Being a flower. Doing flower things. That is how the ‘true’ timeline usually goes. But the human of your timeline refused to let that happen. They just kept trying to save you from flower town. … Just because I never intended for you to have this life, doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it. You’re an exception to the rule. And there are a lot of exceptions out there. You’re not the weirdest one I’ve seen. I’m just a dog who wanted to make a good story for everyone. And if you can find happiness in this world, when I didn’t expect you to? Then who am I to take that away?”
Overall, pretty safe words to put in Toby Fox’s mouth. “If every fanwork is its own canon, then what-the-heck-ever, you do you.”
The subtext, though. “I didn’t intend for you to get a happy ending. I never intended for you to be happy. That ‘this Frisk’ got you one is something that should be respected, even by me.”
Here’s my take on that: Even if the circumstances of their end state is sad, Flowey/Asriel sure as heck got a big redemption arc out of Toby. Flowey is a parallel to a player who has played everything, seen every ending, every permutation, every game – and no longer cares about anything, much less the lives of anyone in there. When Flowey absorbs the souls of every monster in the underground, and Frisk SAVEs the six friends inside, Asriel is exposed to their love for them, and is in many ways redeemed by that. The feelings overcome the black heart of someone who’s seen it all before, giving them the power and courage to give themselves up for the happiest ending of everyone else. Not through gamesmanship, but through compassion and love from game characters. A parallel for anyone whose stone-cold gamer heart was warmed a little (or a lot) by the true pacifist ending of UNDERTALE. I believe Flowey/Asriel is very much a symbolic character in a game that is very much about games, RPGs in particular. And maybe his ending isn’t happy after that, but considering the sins he committed as Flowey, the fact he was given a chance through friendship to feel and do good again is powerful, moving, maybe even inspiring.
So to say that Toby “didn’t intend for Asriel to get a happy ending”… is kind of missing the forest for the trees, in my opinion.
And to be so presumptuous as to line your fanfiction with “I’m the special one who did what no one else had the guts to do” subtext, and to go so far as to puppet the author avatar congratulating you, is – to use the technical term – grandstanding as all hell.
Now, if I was Fatz reading this, I would probably say, “What the hell, that wasn’t my intention at all! You’re extrapolating from two pieces of work, you moron!”
To which I’d reply, “Intent is a strong word.” This is more the sort of thing that comes about unconsciously. You actually see it fairly commonly in fanfiction in one form or another – attempts to imbue a subordinate work with enough meta-narrative importance to be considered, if not equal to the ancestor, then at least superior to all other subordinates. It’s obnoxious, but no one really makes a conscious effort to do that – it’s more of an inferiority complex thing, and that comes part and parcel with fanwork sometimes.
And at the end of the day, this is my read on it, my reaction to a perception of the subtext. That sounds like a cop-out, but it’s worth understanding that this is a narrative of my own construction. I’m sure many other people read into Dreemurr Reborn differently. Maybe they see that Frisk not as Fatz’ avatar, but as a distinct entity, or a viewer insert, or the communal fandom “Frisk.” Maybe the perceived exceptionalism is actually an expression of something else from the author’s perspective, as though DR‘s Frisk and their efforts represents the hope of all like-minded players, or something like that.
I’m not sure this was worth writing, really. I have very low self-esteem; I don’t want to believe very strongly in my own opinion. But this feeling, this read, on Dreemurr Reborn has been bugging me for weeks. Maybe I unconsciously believe that making fanworks should come with a certain level of humility, and to perceive one not just grandstanding, but weaving their grandstanding into subtext and metatext, is a phenomenon specifically designed to piss me off.
I don’t know if Fatz is actually trying to humble-brag about how awesome the phenomenon of Dreemurr Reborn is and how awesome they are for making it. But if that feeling does exist in them, and it’s the cause of the undercurrent of exceptionalism throughout the blog, I believe it’s something worth recognizing and keeping in check. Nobody likes a braggart.