Majora’s Mask ostensibly has a central antagonist, that of the titular mask and its influence over the poor innocent Skull Kid, and supposedly it’s because of this masked villain that you’re gathering power over the course of the game, readying yourself to do battle and save the world. The mask itself provides a very strong piece of iconography too, which is used heavily in the marketing of the game and which has passed over into cult symbolism in certain geeky circles. However, aside from the very start and end of Majora’s Mask, the Skull Kid is arguably not really the true antagonist, and there is another quite abstract and surreal source of your daily anxiety and horror; the Moon. Having never played this videogame until the recent release of Majora’s Mask 3D on the 3DS, this was one of the things that struck me most and stood out as not only as an odd stylistic choice but also as a very effective way (along with the three day time limit) of making you feel always under pressure. You see, in this game whenever you tilt the camera upwards and look at the sky, you’ll see this monstrosity peering back at you…
It truly is the stuff of nightmares! The moon hangs over the world of Termina, and with each passing day gets bigger-and-bigger, until on the final day it almost fills the sky and seems perilously close to falling down entirely. The fact that the world ends on the third day with the moon crashing down to earth and killing everyone makes its constant presence a clear and present danger, something that is the hallmark of a good antagonist. I say antagonist, but then it would simply be the quaint celestial body we’re all familiar with, and hence nowhere near as disturbing to look at, if Nintendo hadn’t given it a face. By anthropomorphising the moon somewhat with its ghastly grimace, hook nose, and unflinchingly furious stare, they have turned this moon from a mere prop into a character in its own right. This is the true source of horror in Majora’s Mask, and I found myself staring at it occasionally trying to see if its expression changed or if its eyes moved. Thankfully nothing happened; if it had then there might have been an accident in my trousers, but its stoic motionlessness imbued it with a different sort of abstract horror instead.
Of course, the idea of the man in the moon is not a new one, especially the idea of the satellite having a human face. Back in 1902’s A Trip to the Moon, or “Le Voyage dans la Lune” by Georges Méliès, we were given the iconic image of a human face slapped onto the celestial body with a rocket ship jammed into its eye socket; replete with crazed facial expressions and indignant scowls. This abstract image from early expressionist cinema has been extremely influential in both film and television, including homage and pastiche in shows such as The Mighty Boosh and films such as Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. It must surely have been an influence on Majora’s Mask too, and the game shares many other stylistic elements and concepts with expressionist cinema, but especially in terms of the moon and it’s horrifically abstract face. There are other similarities with the Georges Méliès masterpiece concerning non-linear narrative and the way in which time is treated as repeatable and flexible rather than linear and causal. The moon is a permanent grim reminder here that even though you might save people, fix problems, change the world for the better… in three days’ time the world will end. The only way to survive is to retreat back through time and undo it all, start again, and always the moon will be back to hang over you in the sky, mocking your feeble efforts and reminding you of your own inevitable doom.
I never thought that a Zelda game would present the world with probably the most disturbing man in the moon, and it’s easy to see why along with the eponymous mask, the visage of the moon in this game has become an enduring symbol of Majora’s Mask. A true classic of videogame iconography and an unforgettable image long after you finish playing; this is what I’ll most remember from my time spent in the land of Termina.