I’m not sure what it is about characters that… aren’t quite human, but there’s something incredibly appealing about them.
I’m not the only person to feel this way, either, as evidenced by the popularity of everything from catgirls (a relatively tame variant on humanity) to the full-on monstergirls found in something like the Monster Musume anime and its ilk.
Zombies aren’t traditionally something thought of as particularly sexy… but there have been a few successful attempts to combine physical attractiveness with rotting flesh over the years. One of these can be found in the Shantae series in the form of Rottytops, a recurring character who has been present since the first game.
We’re introduced to Rottytops as part of a mildly frustrating part of Shantae that involves tracking down the elusive “Zombie Caravan” to continue the main quest. Said caravan only shows up at night, and isn’t guaranteed to be in the same place each time you encounter it, particularly after the first time you stumble across it. Civilised zombies are inherently nomadic, you see, partly in an attempt to distance themselves from their wild, brain-eating brethren, partly in an attempt to escape persecution from people who won’t (or can’t) distinguish them from their aforementioned wild brethren… and, we can infer, partly in an attempt to just be a bit irritating to anyone who actually does want to track them down.
Rottytops is immediately taken with Shantae on their first meeting by the fact that the latter doesn’t immediately recoil in horror or run away from her, even after threatening to eat her brains. Shantae, for all her faults, is a determined young woman, after all, and recognises that sometimes you’ll find friends in the strangest of places. She understands that, in this instance, Rottytops has information that will help her to proceed with her quest to stop Risky Boots, but that information certainly isn’t going to come for free.
Throughout the series as a whole, Rottytops and Shantae have something of an uneasy, rocky relationship. The events of Risky’s Revenge mark a particular low point between the two, especially towards its conclusion, but Shantae isn’t someone to hold grudges. This is made extremely apparent in third game Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, where not only does Shantae team up with her archnemesis against a greater evil, she also finds herself helping out Rottytops, initially under false pretenses, but subsequently out of an honest desire to help a friend she has come to think of as precious.
Rottytops is a favourite character in the series for many people owing to the fact that she is one of the most forthright, up-front and unabashedly flirtatious individuals in the recurring ensemble cast. She dresses provocatively, makes plenty of suggestive comments towards Shantae in particular — who, despite her revealing outfit and sensual bellydancing moves is actually a rather “non-sexual” character for the most part — and, before long, reveals herself to be absolutely comfortable making use of her… appeal to manipulate people to her own advantage.
In many ways, one of the most amusing things about how she is written is the fact that her being a zombie is largely irrelevant for the most part, but you just get the odd reminder here and there — occasional mentions of the fact that Shantae supposedly “owes” her a brain to eat, or the memorable scene in the first game where she unlocks the third dungeon by pulling her own leg off and using the exposed bone as a key. Aside from these aspects, she’s just a cheeky, flirty young girl who most certainly isn’t above appealing to people’s baser instincts in order to get the things she wants.
Rottytops also has two brothers named Abner and Poe, through whom we find out a little more about her character. We first meet these two properly in Risky’s Revenge during a sequence where we discover that civilised zombies have found good strong coffee (preferably with a rotten egg topper) to be an adequate substitute for fresh brains, and get to know them a bit better throughout Pirate’s Curse. We don’t learn the details of how any of them became zombies, though through various circumstances we can infer that Rotty probably died alone, and that Abner in particular feels a great deal of guilt over what happened to her. Rotty herself remains blissfully oblivious to all this in her zombie incarnation, but as Shantae discovers little hints of the truth throughout her adventures — though never quite the full story — Abner is grateful to her for sticking by his sister’s side, even when she makes mistakes. Even when they’re really big mistakes.
Rottytops is a particularly potent example of how most of the characters in the Shantae series are deeply flawed in one way or another — nobody is perfect, not even the titular heroine herself. Rottytops, we come to learn, is someone who often lets herself be swept along by the way things seem to be going, even if this puts her at odds with people she once thought of as friends. This isn’t to say she’s entirely heartless, however; the sight of her bawling her eyes out at the conclusion of Risky’s Revenge makes it very clear that she is absolutely still capable of remorse and regret, particularly when she realises that she’s hurt someone she genuinely cares about.
Despite her apparent self-confidence, Rottytops is also someone who has a certain amount of difficulty expressing herself honestly, too, making her an eminently relatable sort of character for anyone who has ever felt something similar. She uses her over-the-top flirtatiousness to compensate for the fact that she finds it difficult to say genuinely heartfelt things — but throughout Pirate’s Curse in particular, it becomes very clear that she really does value her relationship with Shantae, and thus I’d say it’s fairly likely she’s a fixture in the series for the long haul.
Hats off to Rottytops, then. And that arm. And a leg. And… oh, you fell over. Oh well. Just make sure you have some coffee on hand and your brains will probably be safe…
More about Shantae
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