The hanar are one of Mass Effect’s most interesting creations, but they’re yet to be fully explored. It’s no secret that Mass Effect plays favourites with races, but the hanar are not alone in getting the short end of the tentacle – batarians, vorcha, volus, and elcor all miss out on the spotlight too, but it’s only the hanar I want on my squad.
Obviously, I wouldn’t object if Mass Effect 4 (I know some of you think it should be Mass Effect 5, but Andromeda was a spin-off rather than a sequel, thanks) gave us a whole new crew. The krogans, turians, asari, salarians, and quarians all get fully fleshed out arcs in the original trilogy, along with notable squadmates. The next game is set some time in the future and new tales will have emerged, but we’ve already explored the genophage and the rise of the geth in depth; many races have had their time in the spotlight. We still know relatively little about how the batarians see their place in the universe beyond them being relegated to slavers and thugs. The volus are great comic relief, but I still don’t feel like I know them. All this means I wouldn’t object to the next Mass Effect game, whatever number it gets, cramming your crew with lesser represented races.
Part of this focus on new ideas could come from making the protagonist something other than a human – that instantly grants them a new perspective on a galaxy and means exploring cultures in a new light, and for new reasons. But if all we get is an asari protagonist on a ship staffed by asari, turians, salarians, and humans, with one krogan warrior by our side in battle, that’s not exactly going to help out the hanar, is it?
There are a few reasons it feels like the hanar belong on the crew, but the most obvious one is Blasto. He’s a fictional character, although the actor who plays him is a real hanar, meaning everything Blasto does could actually be done by a hanar. He’s the first hanar spectre, and we see him initially through a series of posters and vid trailers, where he enjoys an Arnold Schwarzenegger-style arc of action hero to Christmas family flicks. It’s unclear whether or not he later runs for Governor.
Blasto sometimes feels like a bit of an in-joke though. Like the hanar are the absolute stupidest race you could ever think of to have an action hero like Blasto, so let’s do a skit. BioWare definitely winks at the player and the fanbase at large in the latter half of the trilogy, most noticeably in the Citadel DLC, and it’s brilliant to see the developers embracing the community and giving us a relief from the heavy tones and melancholic atmosphere of the Reaper invasion, but Blasto and the hanar deserve to be more than a punchline.
The best way to learn of the hanar is through your hardboiled squadmate, Thane Krios. As a drell, he was raised alongside the hanar, and is able to communicate with them – even though the hanar primarily talk via bioluminescence, they do have actual voices. We also discover that he was trained to kill from age six, eventually registering his first kill aged 12. Shepard can react in shock to this, but Thane will assure them that the hanar offered him a loving home and supporting, nurturing environment – they simply rely on other species as a means of self-defence, because they lack the necessary skills alone. “Have you ever seen a hanar move swiftly out of water? Or hold a gun?” Thane asks.
I love Thane’s story and his relationship with the underappreciated hanar, but that line has always stuck out a little for me. Blasto holds a gun, but also, the hanar have mastered intergalactic travel, and managed it long before humans. Just because they cannot wield a firearm in the way humans, drell, turians, or all the other bipeds do does not make them defenceless beings. Even the most peaceful race would surely have had a scuffle or two that involved some level of armed combat prior to inventing a spaceship?
The movement idea feels hollow too, largely for the same reason. Quarians are allergic to air – I know there’s more to it than that – but they have found an easy solution to that problem. ‘Train an endless supply of drell children’ is not an easy solution.
The biggest problem is that the hanar were written as a background species, and then were brought into the foreground as part of Thane’s narrative. If you want to spotlight Thane, casting him as a noble protector of the jellyfish is a pretty good angle. But when you start to think about what it means for the jellyfish themselves, it all falls apart rather quickly. That’s why the hanar deserve a chance to set the record straight.
I’m over 800 words in and I haven’t even mentioned the most interesting thing about the hanar, which you might argue is poor writing, but I might argue ‘fuck you, leave me alone’. The hanar worship the Enkindlers, which is their name for the Protheans, and are an extremely devout species. Religion as a concept in a sprawling galaxy full of multiple races and ideologies and a very literal rapture could be a fascinating topic, but because the hanar are Mass Effect’s best avenue to explore it, so much of the story has gone untold.
This could have easily been a joke article, one about how cool Blasto is and about how silly it would be to have a big stupid jellyfish in your squad. Maybe you even thought it was that when you clicked on it. But the hanar deserve better – they’re one of Mass Effect’s most interesting races, and the best way to explore them going forward is to put one front and centre on your ship. Even if they can’t fight – which they can, the very idea that they can’t is absurd – at least make one a navigator or something. Anything more than a background character or the butt of an intergalactic joke.
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