At the time of writing, everyone and their dog (no, uh, no pun intended) is playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Switch.
I am not, because I’ve never really “got” Animal Crossing for one reason or another. I tried both Wild World on DS and New Leaf on 3DS and found myself tiring of both quite quickly… though I must confess I’ve always liked the gentle, relaxed atmosphere — and the creative aspects of New Horizons are rather appealing, so I’m not ruling out giving it a shot at some point in the future!
In the meantime, however, despite my general ambivalence towards the series from a gameplay perspective, I do understand the widespread love for Isabelle. So let’s give her some time in the spotlight!
Isabelle (known as Shizue in Japan) first appeared in 2012’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf. In that game, you acted as the mayor of a small town, and Isabelle was your secretary. She was your primary point of contact for a lot of game mechanics such as enacting ordinances in your town, and a fun character in her own right.
Since that time, she’s been a fixture in all subsequent Animal Crossing releases, including Happy Home Designer for 3DS, amiibo Festival for Wii U, Pocket Camp for mobile devices and, of course, New Horizons. She also got the distinct honour of appearing in both Mario Kart 8 and the lineup of fighters for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch — and in the latter case, she’s her own fighter with a unique moveset rather than simply being an “echo” fighter of the existing Villager character. At least part of this was down to practical matters; the Villager character model was based on older Animal Crossing games, while Isabelle’s character model had slightly different proportions, meaning they wouldn’t have quite been compatible with one another.
Isabelle became the de facto face of the Animal Crossing series following her initial appearance in New Leaf, despite more longstanding characters such as Tom Nook having been around since the series’ inception. For a long time, Nintendo’s official Animal Crossing Twitter account was even designed and composed to look as if it belonged to Isabelle — although at the time of writing, she has passed the reins over to Tom Nook, since it is Nook’s “holiday package” that sets the scene for New Horizons. Her UK English username is still @AC_Isabelle, though, so presumably Nook will give her account back at some point!
Isabelle was designed to be a character that players would develop an emotional attachment to. Speaking with the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata in one of his many “Iwata Asks” interviews, developer Isao Moro specifically noted that, should the player turn down Isabelle’s invitation for a ceremony to celebrate a noteworthy achievement in the game, she would “become so dejected in the way she speaks and acts that you’ll feel really sorry for turning it down.” Nothing like a good old-fashioned bit of emotional manipulation, is there?
Unsurprisingly, Isabelle has been a popular subject for fan artists over the years, with works featuring her ranging from the delightfully wholesome to the sort of disgraceful, depraved filth that will send you straight to Hell for even thinking about clicking on it. You know the kind. Blame the furries. And, judging by some of the things I see on my Twitter feed, some of the people out there who apparently haven’t quite accepted that they’re furries.
In 2019, having heard that the long-awaited Doom Eternal would be releasing on the same day as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the community decided that Isabelle and “Doomguy” were friends, and thus began a wonderfully wholesome series of memes featuring the two disparate characters hanging out with one another, doing activities together and even, in a few hilarious examples, swapping costumes with one another.
Works where Doomguy is shown doing things like teaching Isabelle how to use a shotgun are part of a broader trend known colloquially as “Doomdad”, where Doomguy is juxtaposed with young or cute characters in situations you wouldn’t expect to see them both in. Not that kind of situation, pervert; the kind of activities a father (played by Doomguy) might engage with alongside their kids. Albeit with a few more rocket launchers than I remember from my own childhood.
Surprisingly, some things do seem to be sacred; although there certainly is plenty of Isabelle filth out there should you care to go looking, the bond between Doomguy and Isabelle appears, from a casual glance at the boorus anyway, to remain wholesome and pure. This is nice — though it’s also worth noting that a fair bit of Doomguy x Isabelle art is a bit gory; it wouldn’t be Doom without some demon gibs, after all.
Regardless of what she gets up to in her free time, it’s hard not to see the appeal of Isabelle. Animal Crossing is often described as a comfy, wholesome game that it’s nice just to curl up with and enjoy without feeling any real pressure to “do” anything that you don’t feel like doing. Isabelle’s delightful enthusiasm, kindness and relatable fallibility — despite being a very good secretary, she’s endearingly clumsy — plays a big part in helping to create that atmosphere.
And at the time of writing, being as we are in the middle of a global pandemic that is causing considerable amounts of stress, uncertainty and strife for pretty much everyone around the world, I think we could all do with a bit of wholesomeness.
Oh dear. I think I almost, almost talked myself into picking up Animal Crossing: New Horizons there.
If you liked the fanart featured in this post, be sure to stop by the source links in the image captions and show the artists some love!
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