Well, this is it. The infamous Act 5. I call it infamous, because any search on the web for Homestuck will inevitably lead to some comment about skipping Acts 1-4 because they are boring, and going straight to Act 5. Of course you can do this. My youngest started with Act 5 but eventually went back to read the first four. To really understand the story and the mechanics of the game the kids are playing, you have to have read it all.
Act 5 Act 1: It’s All About the Trolls
Act 5 opens with the introduction of the planet Alternia, which has two moons orbiting it. As we zoom in to the planet, we are introduced to a boy who is celebrating his Wriggling Day. He is Karkat Vantas. He likes bad romantic-comedies and thinks he is good at programming, but he really isn’t. He also has anger issues. He and his eleven other friends are going to start playing an ancient game tonight, one that their hacker friend Sollux found and has called Sgrub. This Act introduces us to the trolls and their society and shows us the game session of their version of Sburb.
The introduction of the trolls starts slowly. After meeting Karkat, who is carcinoGenetist in the previous Acts and the sign of Cancer, we start to meet his friends. Gamzee is the sign Capricorn. He loves clowns and is very low key and relaxed. He reminded me of a stereotypical stoner from 80s movies. He really likes the soda Faygo. Terezi is Libra, blind, and wants to practice law. We’ve met her as gallowsCalibrator in the previous act. Sollux is Gemini, and appeared briefly as the tech guy in Act 4. He is big into programming and computer tech. Tavros is the sweet adiosToreador from Act 4 and is still just as sweet. He likes to play card games and Extreme LARPing. From these five, we move quickly to Nepata, Leo; Aradia, Aries; Vriska, Scorpio; Equuis, Sagittarius; Kanaya, Virgo and grimAuxiliatrix from Act 4, and finally Eridan and Feferi, Aquarius and Pisces respectively.
A lot of this Act shows how these 12 friends interact. I say friend, but that word doesn’t have the same meaning to trolls as it does to us. The Alternian word for “friend” and “enemy” are the same. So these characters say they are friends, but they can still say and do things to each other that would end friendships in a heartbeat among humans. They are violent and can be downright hostile and cruel to each other and not really think anything of it. Vriska did something terrible to Tavros in their past but turns out to have feelings for him later. This gets us into Alternian relationships. To say they are complicated would be an understatement. Several pages of text and animations are used to try to explain it all. The suits and colors from a deck of cards are used as the best representation of the different facets that troll relationships can take. It is so long and convoluted that Hussie inflicts the whole explanation at once to on the reader as a punishment. The basics are that Trolls can go from platonic friendship to steamy hot passion or love-to-hate, and all the shades in between.
But this is just one aspect of troll society. Trolls are insectoid in nature. They are hatched from donated genetic material given to the Mother Grub deep underground, and they spend their first few years fighting to make their way to the surface. The survivors are given to a caretaker, a Lusus. Lusus come in all different sizes and shapes. They can be very difficult for the young trolls to deal with, but the kids care for them just the same, just like real parents. The Lusus end up playing an important but heartbreaking role in the trolls’ game session. There were some sad, touching moments with them. Troll society also seems to have a hierarchy that is based on the color of one’s blood. It isn’t explained exactly in the Act, but Vriska makes a big deal about not knowing the color of Karkat’s blood, and Karkat tries to take great pains to guard it. Jack’s stabby-stabby moment with him gives the secret away.
Much like the human kids’ game session, the troll kids’ game session is broken up with flashbacks and introductions. It’s pretty far into the act before the last two trolls, Eridan and Feferri, are introduced. We don’t see a lot of the game session either. The trolls’ session lasts for 600 hours, approximately one month. Over that time, we see Karkat make contact with Jack Noir, Vriska and Tavros take on quests, and chat board sessions that, thanks to the trolls’ technology, allows their past, present, and future selves to talk to each other. The present and future Karkat argument is quite funny, as is the fact that the board updates are often used to ask Karkat for romantic advice.
The ending of the trolls’ game session is narrated by Aradia. She tells of their difficult battles and how, when they had completed the session and were just inches from claiming their prize, something catastrophic happened: a scratch. She doesn’t explain in detail what it is, but what we do learn is that it’s something that can happen in a game session, and that it came from the human kids’ session through a rift in paradox space. The trolls are banished from their space and are forced to retreat to the Veil. They can neither return home nor enter the universe their game session created. This is why they are so angry at the human kids. It’s not their fault, but you can’t really blame them either.
I really enjoyed this Act, as everyone predicted. The trolls are a great, varied bunch of characters. Hussie put in a lot of work creating a very different species with some similarities but just enough differences to make them interesting, and not just “humans with horns.” This act also reconfirms Karkat as my favorite troll. He is John’s counterpart, and John is my favorite human, so it shouldn’t be too surprising. Also like John, he gets a lot of the good, funny moments. I should mention one new character that was introduced in this Act: Vanilla Milkshake. He is a legendary being who is omniscient and omnipotent, wears a green suit, and has a white ball for a head. Some of the things he says and does make me think he will be showing up again later. The Midnight Crew return in this Act as well. They appear to be the Trolls’ exiles, as we see Hearts Boxcar berating poor Tavros from his control room when Tavros gets into a sticky romantic situation with Vriska.
There is only one flash animation for this Act. I was confused by it the first time I watched it, but on the second time through, I got it. It’s very timey-wimey, which is why I had a hard time with it at first. “Make Her Pay” shows what happened to Vriska, Terezi and Aradia that gave them their various disabilities, and what Aradia does when she finally has the ability to give a little payback. I can’t say Vriska doesn’t deserve what she gets. My daughters told me I would either love or hate Vriska for the things she does in this act. I had to go with hate.
This is what makes the trolls, and all the characters in Homestuck so good. You definitely develop feelings about them, one way or the other. Of course, the reader isn’t the only one developing feelings. This Act is also where the idea of “shipping” is really introduced. It first comes up after Aradia and Equuis start up a black relationship, and Nepata then updates her Wall of Shipping, which has different pairings of all the friends. Shipping is a fannish pastime where fans pair up characters into relationships that they like or think will work. These pairings can lead to huge flame wars between fans if not everyone agrees and can even lead to fans calling the author of their own work wrong for not following a certain relationship. I have it on good authority that it’s not bad in this Act, but it increases in Act 6.
But for now, I still have a second part in Act 5 before I get to that. And an intermission too, I believe. Maybe now I’ll get to see Jade make it into the Medium? I am excited to see the kids and trolls interacting more. Now that we’ve seen the consequences, I also really want to see what a “scratch” is and how it happens. I think I’m in for another long read.
Images © Andrew Hussie and MSPaintadventures.com