Waifu Wednesday: Poppi

One of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s best characters is Poppi (aka Hana in the Japanese voice track), the artificial Blade created by the Nopon Tora as an attempt to finish the work his dadapon and grampypon started.

Always endearing, surprisingly empathetic and understanding to her friends and companions, highly capable in a variety of situations and owner of probably the sharpest tongue in the whole cast — though she has some stiff competition from Nia — Poppi is an absolute delight to spend time with, and a highlight among an already very strong ensemble of characters.

She’s also a character who undergoes some of the most obvious and recognisable growth — in more ways than one — over the course of the narrative. So let’s take a closer look!

Fanart by Supernew (via Danbooru)

Poppi is introduced fairly early in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and when we first meet her, she is presented as both child-like and, in some ways — particularly her movement — awkwardly robotic. It’s clear that she’s something very different to the other people in the cast, but she nonetheless has sufficient personality about her to make her interesting right from the outset rather than being either a “blank slate” or a stereotypical dry and emotionless robot.

Tora finishes the work his father and grandfather began on her in an attempt to stand alongside his new friends as a Driver of a Blade, even though he himself has found on several occasions to have no aptitude for resonating with Core Crystals. Poppi is an artificial Blade, however, so there is no need for resonating, nor any aptitude for resonation; instead, she is programmed to be loyal to her master, and equipped with a variety of functions that enable her to be useful in a variety of ways.

We’re given numerous suggestions over the course of the narrative that the original intentions behind the design of Poppi may have been somewhat less than wholesome — and this is true of all three generations of Tora’s family that have worked on her. Indeed, Poppi happily admits during one memorable scene that she has a bunny-girl outfit designed to cheer up her master, and that the “cheer-up effect can be enhanced by initiating tail-wiggle protocol”. On top of that, the design for her subsequent iterations — based on a large-breasted teenage maid and a distinctly curvaceous young woman in a rather revealing leotard and stockings combo — were obviously designed with… aesthetic as well as practical considerations in mind, shall we say.

Fanart by tactactak (Pixiv)

Although it would have been easy for Poppi to be represented almost like a “slave” to Tora, and for this to be a negative thing, her character is written in such a way that it’s clear she wouldn’t actually take any crap from her “master”. She frequently pokes fun at him in a distinctly disrespectful but good-natured and endearing manner, and makes it pretty clear that she continues to follow along with the group because she wants to, not because she “has” to.

Exactly how this side of her came about is left a little ambiguous. One interpretation of it all could be that Tora is somewhat masochistic, and deliberately programmed her personality to be this way in order to indulge his fancies. Indeed, the later revelation that she has a hidden “dog mode” that Tora is very embarrassed to have revealed in front of everyone else would seem to suggest at least part of her personality was crafted to appeal to her “end users”.

Another theory is that Poppi is capable of learning and absorbing information from all around her, and her more “human” tendencies have been acquired from the company she is keeping. Considering one of the members of the group she spends all her time with since being awakened for the first time is the rather abrasive Nia, it’s understandable that she would pick up at the very least a bit of cheekiness.

That’s not the only influence Poppi has absorbed, however. Protagonist Rex’s willingness to clearly show his emotions seemingly has something of an impact on Poppi, too. Several tragic events over the course of the game’s narrative see Rex expressing himself through shouting, crying and screaming, and in an oddly heartbreaking scene somewhat later, Poppi tries to convince a seemingly utterly defeated Rex that he needs to keep fighting with an uncharacteristically powerful display of what appears to be genuine emotion. She screeches at him that he needs to stay, to keep on being true to himself; she sounds like she’s crying. Is that something that is even possible for an artificial Blade such as herself? Apparently so.

The fact Poppi has absorbed information and influences from around her is shown in more subtle ways, too, perhaps most notably in the manner in which she speaks. In both the Japanese and the English scripts, she speaks like a Nopon: in the former case, by adding “desu mo” to pretty much every utterance as a verbal tic, and in the latter by using the Nopon’s characteristically bad grammar and deliberately cutesy vocabulary to express herself. (In a rather delightful sidequest elsewhere in the game, it’s revealed that the Nopon’s use of language was originally a deliberate affectation in order to manipulate people of other species, but it became so widespread over the years that it’s now just how they all speak.) As a character who is effectively the “child” of a Nopon, this is entirely understandable.

As Poppi undergoes her two upgrades to her different forms, she develops in a number of subtle ways, too. In her original, child-like form, known as Poppi α (“Jet Spark” mode in Japanese, abbreviated to “JS”, a pun on the Japanese term for “elementary school girl”, joshi shougakusei, often abbreviated as “JS”), she walks around in a distinctly robotic manner, with an awkwardly “formal” gait when she walks, along with jerky, awkward and often incongruous gestures when she is talking.

Her first upgrade to the maid-like “Quixotic Tutelar” or “QT” (cutie) form (“Justice Knight” or “JK” in the Japanese script, with the latter again being a pun, this time on the word for “high school girl”, joshi kōsei, abbreviated as “JK”) reflects her “adolescence”: she looks more human, speaks more confidently and moves more naturally.

And her second upgrade to her “Quantum Technochampion π”, or “QTπ” (cutie-pie) form (“Judgement Day mode” in Japanese, abbreviated to “JD”, another pun, this time on joshi daisei, or “female college student”) involves a lengthy sidequest in her attempts to become “a real lady”, with the outcome being her most human-looking form, which also features her most natural-looking movements. Her idle animation in this form is a sight to behold, as you can see above. Nothing is more intimidating to one’s enemies than an idol dance.

Interestingly, Poppi’s “evolutions” aren’t presented as permanent changes. This is primarily a mechanical consideration, since Poppi’s three “forms” effectively allow her to function as three separate “Blades” for Tora, but they’re also presented as having different specialisms, none of which is necessarily “superior” to the other. As such, Poppi is able to switch between her three “modes” at will.

Fanart by Vic (Pixiv)

Even the child-like Poppi α gets plenty of moments to shine in the story, and each of forms has its own loadout of specialist field skills to make use of, too. Poppi α has the “Leaping” and “Superstrength” skills, for example, reflecting the boundless energy of children; Poppi QT has Lockpicking, Fortitude and Agronomy, showing slightly more “mature” interests (along with perhaps “pushing the boundaries” like a teenager in the former case); Poppi QTπ, meanwhile, has Keen Eye, Ancient Wisdom and Forestry, demonstrating rather more refined, “adult” interests.

Regardless of her form, though, Poppi is an utterly charming addition to Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s cast, and she’s there for more than just comic relief. Her innocence and lack of knowledge of the world mirrors the player learning about the setting and characters in the early hours of the game, and her development over time is heartwarming and inspiring to witness. She has plenty to contribute to the narrative as a whole, and even when she’s not the focus of the story, she’s a pleasure to have around.

We love you, Poppi. Desu mo.


More about Xenoblade Chronicles 2

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7 thoughts on “Waifu Wednesday: Poppi”

  1. I’ve seen enough media about human-like robots that I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when the robot among the cast ends up being one of the most human. While I like the cast as a whole, the dynamism that Poppi displays throughout the course of the story is just fantastic, and seeing her subtly change over the course of it makes some of the ending scenes that much stronger. That, and her English VA (who voiced all three forms) really gave a knock-out performance.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interestingly in the JP the bunny costume is bikini armor, and you find out in an optional heart to heart that JD forms design is based on ero magazines

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kind of an odd change, since I’d argue a bunny costume is more inherently “sexual” than a bikini, but eh, you don’t see either. This game is full of odd changes, though I think a lot of them are in the name of attempting to broaden the audience outside of typical JRPG/anime fans (i.e. people who might be unaware of common tropes) rather than outright “censorship”.

      Like

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