There’s an amazing thing with seeing yourself in the works you enjoy. It’s beyond just making you feel seen. It shows the strength within you. That you can do it too. That there’s people blazing a path, waiting for you to join. That you belong. That you’re not alone. Now, before I get really into waxing-Shonen anime, I think it’s important to delve into today’s article. Yes, it’s another Masks: A New Generation topic. Yes, it’s an actual play podcast. And yes, you’re gonna freaking love listening to it.
Where Critical Bits is phenomenal at matching the bizarre and wacky with serious and satire, this podcast excels at the grounded feeling of so many things. Growing up in a new school. Being a trans girl. Having friends who you can depend on. And being a superhero student.
Wait, the last one’s only true if you go to U.A. Or in the case of these three girls, Phoenix Academy.
This is Unlabelled. And it is in my opinion, the brightest rising actual play right now.
This article contains spoilers for up to episode 8 of Unlabelled.
Unlabelled is a Masks: A New Generation actual play podcast, GM’d by Danni. Compared to Critical Bits, it is a more recent podcast, beginning in December 2019. Its description states its themes are “gender identity, friendship, responsibility, and what it means to be a hero.” And damn does it deliver on those.
While I would normally be hesitant hearing a TTRPG podcast focusing on gender identity, the fact that each member of the podcast is a trans woman completely eases my worries. One of my longest laughs during the opening episode was when they jokingly discussed if they were “equipped to tackle these topics”, mirroring my own arguments I often have with myself internally.
But more on that later. Onto the cast!
- Saorise Olivera, played by Alice Kyra, is the Deliquent playbook. Born to two cis woman witches who utilized a magical ritual to bring a daughter of theirs into the world Saoirse, also known by her hero name “Crash Override”, eschews her mother’s magical ways and instead adores using technology to succeed in the hero world. She is my trash daughter and I love her.
- Becky Lancaster, played by Jay Ilse, utilizes the Legacy playbook to embody the spirit of the Green Knight, receiving an axe of divine might from Old Man Oak, a living tree. A noted bully-hunter and immigrant from England, Green Knight balances her desire to dole out justice with the limitations of teenage life. I both admire and want to protect her in equal measure.
- Cynthia Knull, played by Bea Mcjanda, uses the Transformed playbook. Cynthia, known by her take- upon title of Jupiter Rising, was just an awkward girl hanging out with her girlfriend when a meteorite landing near turned her into an incorporeal being contained in a suit. As is the pattern for this article, there needs to be a defense squad for this girl, immediately!
As you may have guessed, I’m a big fan of the entire cast. From their confidence on the microphone, to how they can mesh the comedic into actual story development (the thing that brought them together was the fact that there’s a memetic Dracula virus the team had to stop).
And it’s not just the main characters. Dani has an amazing talent for making NPCs three dimensional, such as the school’s resident bully, Big Bad Wolf, who already shows depth by chafing under the command of the school’s resident queen bee, Abby Juration. Speaking of Abby, I’m already on the edge of my seat to see where her alliance in the most recent episode with the main characters goes.
Nearly every NPC introduced is more than just a single word like “Bully”, “Awkward”, or “Haughty.” When former villain Snow Flake is introduced the group explores the unfairness of how a teen, forced into crime without any other choice, being basically a prisoner and a forced obstacle in a test. Even for a show only starting out, the group is already exploring parts of the superhero convention that have gone unquestioned for too long.
That’s where the grounded feeling comes in. These characters are teens. Superpowered and in a superhero school, yes. But at the end of the day, they’re just kids. When Becky worries she hurt Cynthia during the first big battle, the shock she feels is of a kid who just hurt one of her closest friends. When Saoirse decides to run for class president on a whim, it’s the impulsiveness that we so often remember partaking of in our teen years. During the open episode, when Cynthia goes flying out the window due to a miscalculated jump, all she can think of is how embarrassing it must have looked. Don’t need to remind you how relatable that is.
When you take adult players to play younger characters, often our maturation shines through in their actions and emotions. And while there’s no person in my mind who can completely avoid doing that, the Unlabelled cast do a phenomenal job of bringing you into that awkward teenage world we all remember and look back on so often. This podcast, set in the Phoenix Academy playset, embodies as much the school life as the superheroics. And that is as it should be.
Now, on a more personal note, this podcast is the first new addition in a long while to be added straight to my library. The fact there’s a group of badass trans girls, playing badass super trans girls and doing it so well makes my heart warm. The TTRPG hobby can be very exclusionary towards us of more marginalized identities. And it never ceases to make me smile when I see people like the Unlabelled cast being out there and being themselves authentically without a damn.
So, do yourself a favour and get in on the opening floor of a podcast I know is gonna be all we can talk about in not too long.
Listen to Unlabelled. And have a great time!