Animal Crossing: New Horizons new villagers’ ambiguous gender identities spark fan excitement [UPDATE]

A look at their amiibo cards provides another hint

Publication date of the original Japanese article: 2021-10-19 21:17 (JST)
Translated by. Ari Clark

The new villagers whose upcoming debuts in Animal Crossing: New Horizons were recently announced have become a hot topic on the internet.

Several new villagers are slated to appear in the major free update that’s scheduled for release on November 5. In addition to Niko and Wardell, who work at Paradise Planning, there’s a quirky lineup of characters, from an octopus villager called Cephalobot, to a cute squirrel with a celestial-patterned tail called Ione.

Though each of these villagers has attracted their share of attention, the one who’s been especially talked-about is Sasha, a rabbit villager with bright minty-green fur. Their birthday is apparently on May 19, and their most distinctive feature is their huge, shining eyes.

When it comes to rabbit villagers, there are a lot of very popular ones already in ACNH, from Bunnie, who’s been around since the beginning of the series, to Chrissy, who appeared with her sister on the album cover for Bubblegum K.K. They’re all known for their sparkling eyes, and Sasha is attracting plenty of attention as a cute villager who seems likely to carry on that tradition.

Sasha’s gender has been the subject of some debate. In the Japanese version of ACNH, you can tell a villager’s gender by the personal pronouns they use. Female characters use the feminine pronouns watashi, atai, atashi, or uchi, while male characters use the masculine pronouns oira, boku, or ore.

When Sasha was first announced, their most distinctive features were their long eyelashes and large eyes, so fans thought they would be a Peppy female villager who would use the feminine atai pronoun, just like Chrissy and Bunnie.

However, unlike those two characters, who both prefer to wear cute clothes, Sasha’s outfit involves a blue letterman jacket which gives off a cool vibe. If their fashion sense is different, it’s possible that their personality is different, too, and they may use different personal pronouns from the aforementioned duo.

Another thing that’s been stirring up debate is the layout of the amiibo cards that were revealed during the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct 10.15.2021. As you can see from the image below, the villagers from Niko (in the upper left) to Quinn are new characters making their debuts in the upcoming update. The villagers from Chabwick to Faith are returning characters that have been featured in previous Animal Crossing games.

If you take a look at the order of the pre-existing villagers, they’re lined up in a pattern that alternates between characters who use masculine and feminine pronouns. According to that pattern, the odds are high that Sasha falls into the category of villagers who use masculine pronouns.

It seems possible that Sasha’s design, which makes their gender difficult to guess at a glance, was a deliberate choice from Nintendo. Their name varies according to the language of each localized version, and they’re called Miccheru (Michelle/Mitchell) in Japanese, Alix in French, and Ariel in Spanish. All of these names can be used for either sex, so Nintendo may be trying to prevent players guessing their gender from their name.

In any case, it seems very clear that Sasha isn’t the sort of character who can be easily sorted into the male/female gender binary at a glance. Plus, even once it’s been confirmed whether they use masculine or feminine pronouns, it’ll be a whole different question whether they’re cisgender or transgender, or even nonbinary, so it’s probably best to reserve judgment on the question of Sasha’s gender identity for now.

Gender expression in ACNH is a topic that’s been attracting attention since before the game even went on sale. Not only can players switch their own avatar between being male and female at will, but the available clothing that they can wear is not restricted according to gender.

The game’s director, Aya Kyogoku, also commented in an interview with the Washington Post that “(w)e basically wanted to create a game where users didn’t really have to think about gender or if they wanted to think about gender, they’re also able to.”

A design like Sasha’s, whose outward appearance can’t be easily designated as either male or female, could be said to demonstrate Animal Crossing’s openminded approach to gender expression. At any rate, Sasha’s universal appeal has already won the hearts of many users.

Incidentally, a lot of discussion has also been unfolding around the gender of another villager besides Sasha. That would be Shino, a deer villager who wears distinctive traditional Japanese clothing, and whose crimson eyeshadow seems to have made a feminine first impression on a lot of users. On the other hand, many users have been voicing guesses that Shino will use masculine pronouns.

The basis for these guesses is that, among the deer villagers in Animal Crossing, the ones who use masculine pronouns have horns, and the ones who use feminine pronouns do not. Shino has two crimson horns on their head, which is why quite a few users have made predictions that they’ll fall into the former category.

Then again, differing opinions are out there, as well. One theory holds that Shino is designed to look like a Japanese serow, a kind of goat-antelope native to northern and central Japan. Both male and female Japanese serows grow horns, so according to this theory, Shino could still be a feminine-pronoun-using villager. There’s certainly a lot of anticipation built up for the official reveal of Sasha and Shino’s genders and pronouns!

The newest update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons is scheduled to release on November 5.

[UPDATE 2021/10/29 JST 10:30]

Now we know that the personal pronoun of Sasha is “he/him” and Shino is “she/her.”