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There is a friendly desert community “where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep”. A voice over the radio says “Welcome to Night Vale”. At the same time, somewhere in Argentina, there is a mysterious town no one knows how to get to, and a voice over the radio says there are strange lights over Kirlian.
Netflix recently added a new animated series to their lineup called The Kirlian Frequency, an Argentinian web series first uploaded to YouTube in 2017. According to the description, “In the midnight hour, a lone radio DJ broadcasts the strangest—and scariest—tales from the outer edges of Kirlian, a lost city somewhere in Argentina.” Sound a little bit familiar?
If you were into magical realism or conceptual podcasts in 2012, chances are you were listening to Welcome to Night Vale. Personally, I got into Night Vale on the ground floor and rode that elevator all the way up to episode fifteen, “Street Cleaning Day”, in 2013. I never continued the series up to the present (and now I’m intimidated because there are 143 episodes) but it never left my subconscious. At any one time, you can guarantee I’m thinking about wheat or wheat by-products. Up until last year when I discovered My Brother, My Brother, and Me, Welcome to Night Vale continually held the top spot for best sounds I’ve ever put in my ear holes.
After watching The Kirlian Frequency and revisiting Welcome to Night Vale, I’d like to present an analysis of both programs, comparing and contrasting their similarities and differences. Tell me what you think: are they distinctly different shows, or basically the same thing?
“Goodnight Night Vale, Goodnight” – Similarities
Small Town Radio Show
Not only do both shows feature a small town; they each center around a mysterious radio show that seems to broadcast throughout their respective townships. We don’t know much about the hosts. The Kirlian DJ doesn’t have a name. But in Night Vale we know we’re listening to Cecil, and that he loves Carlos’ beautiful hair.
If You See [mysterious thing] Do Not Approach It
Both Night Vale and Kirlian are full of mysterious things, obviously. But, in similar fashion, both Cecil and the Kirlian DJ warn their listeners against approaching said mysterious things. In Night Vale episode one, you “do not approach the dog park”. In Kirlian episode one, you are instructed not to approach the spirit of Manual Ramirez; he will try and blame you for his death. The circumstances are different, but the language is similar.
Cain Eldritch and Carlos
Cain Eldritch is a surveyor who came to Kirlian to study the town. Carlos is a scientist who came to Night Vale to study the town. The differences: Cain Eldritch is old and also a werewolf; Carlos is young and has beautiful hair and also stays much longer.
In watching The Kirlian Frequency, I found not only similarities in theme but most obvious similarities in the overall aesthetic and color palette of the show. Now, being a podcast, Night Vale doesn’t have a color palette in the same way an animated show has; but it does have specific colors associated with it. A lot of purple and black. Most fanart I’ve seen is done predominantly in these colors and often features smoky or otherworldly glowing effects (not always the case, of course, because art is fluid and up for interpretation).
The Kirlian Frequency—specifically scenes in the recording studio—is presented in the same shades: purple, black, gray, and white. When we leave the recording studio and venture out into Kirlian (and the callers’ expanded narratives) the color palette ventures further as well; green, blue, pink and red, an entire episode in black and white, one episode animated like a child’s drawing. For the sake of similarities, though, let’s focus on the recording studio and the lone DJ; his colors are usually purple and black, and he’s shrouded in shadow with only wide, white circles where his eyes are. Cecil, by comparison, is always associated with the color purple.
Mysteries, nightmares, social oddities, strange lights, unexplained occurrences, a lilting voice over the airwaves, monsters, a pack of teenagers (this I mention because once I read a Night Vale theory that the hooded figures in the dog park are really just teens), a bizarre town and its bizarre customs, and one guy presenting it all to you, the dear listener.
“Good Morning Kirlian” – Differences
Presentation and What That Means for the Narrative
Because The Kirlian Frequency is an animated series, it can run off the beaten path a little in terms of narrative. It breaks away from the strict radio show structure that Welcome to Night Vale, using only audio to paint its narrative picture, must stick to. In Kirlian, the stories start out as call-ins to the radio station; but once that narration ends the story continues in images. Kirlian has that advantage as an animated series.
The advantage Night Vale has as a podcast is it’s much longer and more character driven. Because a podcast is significantly cheaper and easier (to a degree) to make than an animated series, it can run much longer and in-depth. We get a chance to connect with the residents of Night Vale because we get more-or-less weekly broadcasts about them. In Kirlian, there’s not enough time to get to know the characters or the town in ten episodes. The only character we get to know is the DJ, and even that’s a stretch. Near the end of the series, things start to try to connect into a narrative thread, but it doesn’t quite work for me; I’m not as invested in Kirlian as I am in Night Vale because I haven’t been there as long.
The Kirlian Frequency is a horror series. It’s much more sinister than Night Vale, which works well with an animated platform. No one wants to hear supernatural murder described by a radio DJ; horror fans want to see the blood and gore and giant mosquito people. Occasionally, the DJ also presents strident anti-government sentiments; Night Vale seems more-or-less anti-big government, but charmingly supportive of its citizens and small-town government. This sets Night Vale up as an odd town you might stumble upon on a road trip, instead of an outright “place no one can find” like Kirlian.
The most distinct differences between Kirlian and Night Vale (besides the obvious media difference) are story presentation and guests. Kirlian is set up as a typical radio program, taking callers and letting them tell their stories. Night Vale takes no callers; Cecil is the only voice you hear. Night Vale is dedicated to local news, telling its citizens what’s going on in their town; Kirlian presents local horrors as they happen to strangers because no one who lives in Kirlian would ever venture out at night.
Wheat or Wheat By-Products?
Cecil ends his broadcast by saying “Goodnight, Night Vale.” The lone DJ ends his with “Good morning Kirlian.” Night Vale and Kirlian are two sides of the same coin; similar at face value, but ultimately presenting differing narratives. They share aesthetics, but at the end of the day, these are two very different programs with multiple distinct experiences.
You can watch The Kirlian Frequency on Netflix and listen to Welcome to Night Vale on Spotify and welcometonightvale.com.
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