In defense of offensive content

Months ago, I wrote a post about obscenity law in the US and how anime, game, and similar material that some people would consider offensive or objectionable fit into that framework. However, there was a key question I left hanging back then that I’d like to address now: why protect art that many might find offensive? And in particular, why protect the creation and marketing of erotic and pornographic content?

I might also be writing this because Evenicle was one of the games I got during the lunar new year Steam sale

As I wrote before, this isn’t merely an academic question, because some people seem to believe they should be allowed to enforce their personal views about art by effectively regulating the expression of people they disagree with. You’d think that socially conservative fervor of the 80s and 90s had made a comeback for some of the puritanical screeds you’ll find on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and all the other big social media platforms. This attitude seems to be thriving now more than ever, in fact. See Sony’s changes to their content policies over the last year and self-censorship now on the part of even Japanese developers and publishers. I certainly can’t say how much, but at least some of this is likely a reaction to these agitators. Even honest, hardworking NSFW artists on Twitter have had to bear insults and attempts at shaming online, and for what? For exercising their rights to free expression. I know I’m a complete nobody who should probably be saying these ideas while standing on top of an actual soapbox in a public park, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to stop talking about these issues while things remain as they are. Hence this post, in which I’ll probably once again be preaching to the choir. But I welcome anyone who disagrees with me to read through my arguments and post a comment challenging them.

As before, I’ll be looking at this question partly from the legal perspective, with all the same disclaimers contained in my last post on the subject: none of this constitutes legal advice, it’s all probably nonsense, etc. etc. If you haven’t read that post, I’d recommend it anyway — you don’t have to read that one to understand this one, but it does provide some background to what I’m writing about here. Again, I’ll be addressing the situation here in the United States because that’s where I live and hold my license, though I do think a lot of the following arguments apply universally. And finally, if you’re tired of reading my broken record bullshit ranting and raving about art and censorship, you should probably skip this post. Drop in some other time.

First of all, what constitutes offensive art? There are probably as least as many answers to this question as there are people on Earth, so I don’t want to say I have an exact definition of the term. And I can’t refer back to the Supreme Court’s Miller v. California test here, because while it uses the term “patently offensive” in its second prong, it doesn’t define it other than to say that something patently offensive might be considered obscene. Moreover, different works of art offend different sets of people, and they offend for different reasons.

Yes, the First Amendment generally protects art from government prohibition, even if the author’s intent is mainly to offend. However, there are plenty out there who want to regulate art on the basis of its content, whether they perceive it to be too violent, or too sexual, or expressing an unacceptable political or social opinion. While these people aren’t anywhere near a majority of the consumer base, they’re fanatical and vocal enough to have their views taken into account by developers and publishers who will sometimes practice self-censorship simply to try to avoid a controversy.

I still don’t know if that’s why Nintendo censored Tharja’s butt in the Fire Emblem: Awakening DLC. I guess a tame bikini shot was just too much for American 3DS owners to handle.

I suppose it’s very obvious by now how I feel about these self-appointed guardians of purity and their efforts to strictly define the boundaries of what’s acceptable in art. I believe that people should have the right to enjoy any kind of art they like as long as that art doesn’t involve causing harm to others.1 My belief in protecting the integrity (and even the sanctity if you want to get really lofty about it) of art and its free enjoyment has a simple basis: that none of us chose to be born on Earth, into whatever society we happen to live in, so why shouldn’t we be able to escape from our daily lives however we wish? It doesn’t seem right that anyone should be prevented from getting their escapism in whatever way works best for them, and I’ll defend this position until I’m cold and dead in the ground.

Okay, so maybe I’m getting a little dramatic. But I feel just that strongly that people should be able to create and enjoy art freely. To that end, I’ve made a very incomplete roadmap of arguments to defend that position. I also have to admit that I feel this strongly in part because the above-mentioned fanatics like to go after some of the developers I like for their inclusion of erotic or even just plain pornographic content into their games. I’m not talking about criticism here, to be clear: I have no problem with someone saying they think a game or anime series I like is lousy for reasons I disagree with. Reasonable people can and do disagree about the quality of art — that in itself is completely normal. No, my arguments are directed against those who pressure developers and publishers to self-censor and who support restricting the sales of these kinds of works, banning them from online platforms, or taking similar action.

These are also purposely written as defenses, not as attacks. I’m not really interested in attacking anyone else’s personal views, just as long as said views aren’t put into practice with the effect of restricting the legitimate freedoms enjoyed by all the rest of us. Again, if you disagree with anything I’ve written below, please feel free to post a comment. Same if you’ve found a hole in any of my counterarguments.

So let’s begin. I’ll throw out some of the most common attacks I’ve heard along with my responses to them.

The distribution of socially harmful works should be restricted for the public good.

This is probably the most common argument I’ve seen in favor of censorship or heavy regulation, and probably because it’s one of the more convincing arguments its proponents have. While I don’t see much of a problem with pornography in itself, it’s true that its excessive use can hurt a relationship if it’s diverting attention from one or both of the partners. The same might even go for milder forms of erotic art, though it seems a lot less likely to be the case the tamer the content gets.

However, this is not a valid argument to restrict such content, much less to ban it from certain platforms. There are plenty of perfectly legal habits and practices that do more demonstrable harm to the people involved in them. Gambling, drinking, and tobacco use each arguably take a far greater toll on mental and physical health, relationships, and the public good as a result. Yet they’re not banned, and nobody outside of a few on the political fringes seriously suggest they should be. They’re regulated to some extent, but beyond that people are free to enjoy such potentially destructive habits. So unless the person making this argument is also advocating for the banning of all potentially socially harmful vices, it comes off as disingenuous. Even if some people may find a way to use such material irresponsibly, it doesn’t follow that it should be banned or strictly regulated.2

Not unless something like this ends up happening, and even then I’m probably okay with it.

That’s not even mentioning the fact that some works containing erotic content deliver what most people would consider positive social messages. Interspecies Reviewers, for example, has stirred up controversy for its sexual content, but from what I’ve seen of it, the manga and anime both express ideas of acceptance and diversity in a natural, non-stilted way. The content is certainly sexual, but the message is a good one. The same is true of many other works that take hits for being “fanservice garbage” or “basically porn” without regard for their context. In fact, a lot of the proponents of censorship don’t seem very interested in considering context. But context is everything. It’s what gives content its meaning. How can it be ignored if the argument is based on the supposed harm an artistic work might do to society? It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a difference between erotic and pornographic material, and also between non-sexual nudity and sexual content — differences that rely upon context. Context that, again, all too often goes ignored.

But nobody’s talking about a government ban.  Calls for the artists and the game industry to self-regulate have nothing to do with First Amendment rights.

It’s true that this isn’t a First Amendment issue, at least in the way these arguments are normally made. Groups that pressure artists to self-censor can claim that much. However, self-censorship can create the same kind of chilled environment for art that government censorship can, to the point that there may be no real difference between the two.

This isn’t just a hypothetical situation. It’s occurred throughout our modern history, both before and after the landmark Miller case. Looking back to the 1950s, we can find the Comics Code Authority, a private organization created by the comic book industry to regulate its own product. See also the Hays Code, which from the 1930s to the 1960s strictly regulated content in American films that the MPAA perceived as carrying immoral messages. And as recently as the 1980s, the Parents Music Resource Center, headed up by the wives of several prominent DC politicians, pushed for the heavy regulation of rock, rap, and pop albums for their perceived violent and sexual content. Senate hearings took place in which musicians as varied as Frank Zappa and John Denver warned about the dangers of censorship of music and of art in general. These proceedings resulted in a compromise, the infamous Parental Advisory sticker, which ended up becoming a kind of badge of honor for musicians whose albums received it — presumably not the effect the PMRC had intended.

This label should have just said “BUY ME TO LISTEN TO SWEARING AND WORDS ABOUT SEX”

This is the pattern of censorship of art in America: not direct government prohibition, which would in almost every case violate the First Amendment, but rather interest groups urging politicians to “encourage” industry associations to regulate themselves (fill in the blank implied by “encourage” however you like, but money is certainly involved, at least indirectly.) Sure, that doesn’t create a First Amendment issue, but the end result is nearly identical. So why should things proceed any differently now with video games? Starting in the 1990s, interest groups of various stripes have pushed for the regulation of games. This again resulted in a compromise with the creation of the ESRB and its rating system. Which I think is a perfectly reasonable, sensible approach to the issue. Mark games with content that might be objectionable on the box and let the consumer decide what to play on that basis. Or let parents decide what games are suitable for their kids to play. The creation of this framework should have ended the controversy about objectionable video and PC game content, but naturally it hasn’t, because games make for a convenient scapegoat when bad things happen. Easier to blame this weird new popular entertainment medium than to admit that there are underlying problems in society that need fixing and trying to actually fix them.

I suppose all this boils down to the following: while it isn’t, strictly speaking, a First Amendment issue, it doesn’t really matter if the end result is effectively the same as placing a direct ban on or restriction of erotic or otherwise off-color content. That’s assuming that the various interest groups in question don’t try to have such material banned outright, which is not something we can take as a given. As I wrote in my first post on the subject, there’s no reason to believe socially conservative groups that want to tear down the wall of separation between church and state would have any love for the free speech clause of the First Amendment. And I highly doubt the group of fanatics attacking artistic integrity from the political left would care either. Extremists and fanatics in general seem to think in the same way, even if their end goals are diametrically opposed. As far as they’re concerned, freedom of expression is a right that belongs to their camp and a privilege that may or may not be extended to others depending upon what they want to express.

However, that wasn’t exactly what our founders had in mind when they signed off on the Bill of Rights. It certainly doesn’t fit with the current understanding of the First Amendment, at least not since the old English legal precedent Regina v. Hicklin was overturned by the Supreme Court back in 1957.3 The Hicklin standard that governed until the mid-20th century defined obscene and therefore bannable art by testing “whether the tendency of the matter is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of [the] sort may fall.” Though it’s usually not stated outright, this seems to be the standard that some of those on the extreme but very vocal fringes want to return to. The trouble with Hicklin, aside from being far too broadly worded, is that it requires a moral arbiter to decide what counts as an immoral influence. I know many of our friends on the far right and left would be happy to take that role, but good luck finding any consensus on the matter. This is the sort of thing that might work in a very small community where everyone goes to the same church, but the point is the standard wouldn’t extend beyond the bounds of that community. The alternative, again, is to impose the values of one of the lunatic fringe upon the entire population.

If there’s one thing the members of ResetEra and Focus on the Family can agree on, it’s that short shorts and thick thighs in video games are a terrible and corrupting influence on their players

So you’re that willing to defend your anime boobs and all that stupid nonsense? There are far greater problems to deal with than this, so you should just drop the issue.

I certainly agree that the human race faces greater problems than an outfit in a game being censored when it crosses the Pacific. I don’t need to look beyond the borders of my own country to see that. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our access to health care is still inadequate, many of our public schools lack funding, and our political system is currently being put through a stress test that it might not pass.

However, this argument is still worthless. Because we aren’t the ones creating the controversy: it’s rather those self-appointed guardians of purity on Twitter, Reddit, and elsewhere calling for developers and creators to practice self-censorship and attempting to use public shaming tactics to get their way. This is an attempted intrusion upon what I see as the artist’s right to create and the consumer’s right to enjoy art. If they want to blame anyone for manufacturing a controversy that might distract from more important issues, they should blame themselves.

You should get a life/get out of your parents’ basement/etc.

I only include these lines because they and others like them are thrown around so often in arguments about erotic and pornographic content in anime and games as if they had any bearing at all. In politics, irrelevant personal insults thrown around wildly can sometimes lead you to victory (just look at our current chief executive for proof of that.) However, when we’re trying to get to the truth of a matter, they’re merely a distraction. They’re also effectively an admission that your opponent in the argument has nothing left, so you may as well quit the conversation at that point.

Even supposing that people living in their parents’ basements who don’t get out much automatically lose the argument (which makes no sense whatsoever) it’s worth mentioning that fans of anime, manga, and games that may sometimes include some spicy content are all types of people living in all types of situations. But no, please keep ignoring that fact. Just keep throwing those bullshit insults around. We’re all antisocial unskilled basement-dwelling man-children. Oh yeah, and we’re all members of the alt-right too. Every one of us!

Just let me brush tails in peace. That’s all I want, is that so much to fucking ask

But how am I supposed to take you seriously when you’re placing a screenshot from a porn game in your serious post about law and art?

Okay, maybe you have a point, hypothetical opponent.

Then again, this is part of the point I’m trying to make. I will admit that certain expressions may be so extreme that the risk they pose to society outweighs the value of allowing them to be expressed. As an example, let’s say a group of people wants to stage public orgies, right out in the open. You could make a decent argument that this counts as an artistic expression depending upon how it’s staged, but aside from the fact that such an expression would violate existing public decency laws, I don’t believe it’s right to subject the general public to such an extreme display. However, many of the expressions people take issue with are nowhere near that extreme hypothetical. If your plan is to banish all depictions of nudity from society, you’d better start going around all the art galleries in the country loaded up with cans of spray paint. And in any case, to demand the regulation of what a person is allowed to enjoy in the privacy of his or her own home, no matter whether it counts as pornographic — that’s a different matter entirely.

Anyway, what do you think, reader? Am I insane? That’s entirely possible. I’m just tired of the unbearable smugness of these knights of purity, those guardians of propriety who think they can just enforce their views without any meaningful opposition. As long as people are too squeamish to talk about erotic and pornographic content, the pro-censorship and pro-restriction camp will have the advantage, and they will use it. So let’s not be shy about the matter. Our arguments can and should always be well-reasoned and civil, but we shouldn’t feel compelled to blunt them just because we think we’re on the less socially acceptable side. If I even possessed a few remaining fucks about what society thought of me anyway, being a lawyer for the last few years has taken them from me.

And now that I’ve given my big Braveheart speech, I’m done. I know there are plenty of people out there saying the same sorts of things I’ve written here, and many more thinking them, so it’s not exactly like we’re a lonely bunch. It can be easy to forget that sometimes, though. I also wanted to expand upon what I wrote in that first post and fill out the “why” part of it that I felt was lacking there. I hope I was able to do that without rambling too much. Next time, I’ll probably be both calmer and more coherent. Until then. 𒀭

 

1 I may as well throw intentional harm towards animals in this category to expand it to all sentient beings — I’m absolutely not a vegetarian, but I also don’t like the idea of harming animals for mere entertainment. It’s not an especially brave stance I’m taking here, I know.

2 This is the same argument proponents of cannabis legalization like to use, and I agree with it in that context too. I just don’t talk about it here because it’s not relevant to the subject matter of the site. Neither is politics in general, except when it intersects with art as it does in this case.

3 If you’re wondering why US courts were applying UK law in this case, it’s because US law was originally based on the old English common law system, and so the courts and even Congress would sometimes use an English precedent to base their rulings and bills upon when they couldn’t find an American one. Many of our own common law standards can still be traced back to the post-Norman conquest English legal framework, though you’ll hardly ever find anyone using an English or UK precedent anymore in practice. It’s also why we have so many old Norman French terms in legal jargon along with all the Latin. And no, we’re not letting go of any of it. It might be the 21st century now, but in some ways our profession is still stuck in the 13th.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 11

Things have slowed down a bit here.  Sorry about that.  A lot of work combined with life being not much fun at the moment, even less than usual.  But I’m still watching Cop Craft.

Generally a bad idea to stick your finger in Tilarna’s face

Summary: Kei and Tilarna interview Tourte, the still-living mayoral candidate, who proves himself to be exactly the kind of asshole we thought he’d be, chewing out Tilarna for being a Semanian and acting like a pompous blowhard.  Tilarna points out that San Teresa was originally Semanian land that got warped into the Pacific Ocean or something, but Tourte doesn’t care and insists that Semanians don’t fit in with Earth’s society.  Our heroes leave the interview without any leads as to who killed Mozeleemay, but with at least a vague impression that Tourte wasn’t involved.  Meanwhile, the rest of the vice squad are pursuing their own leads in the same case and manage to come up with the identity of the murderer: an ex-Marine who went AWOL during the initial war against the Semanians.

Meanwhile, riots and fighting break out between Semanian and Earth humans over the murders of Kahns and Mozeleemay.  In the middle of this chaos, my prediction from episode 10 comes true as Mozeleemay’s wife Marla steps in as a mayoral candidate in the place of her dead husband.  However, at a tense, secretive park bench meeting between Kei, Tilarna, and a reporter who showed up last episode, we see a photo of Marla with her husband’s assassin in a hotel room, implying that Marla had her husband murdered.

The lesson here is if you’re cheating on your partner with his future assassin, you should probably keep the curtains closed

Before Kei and Tilarna have too much time to be shocked by this news, they’re ambushed and arrested by a bunch of FBI agents.  Tilarna sniffs out latena and determines that all but one of the agents are corpses being controlled by magic.  And sure enough, they dump Kei and Tilarna into the back of a van where they’re greeted by none other than big bad guy Zelada, where the episode ends.

Analysis: Just getting this out of the way: I won’t complain about the animation quality anymore.  There weren’t any action scenes for them to screw up this time anyway.

There were a lot of extreme closeups of Tilarna’s face as usual, though. They really like using these shots, don’t they?

A whole lot of plot stuff happened this episode, probably because there’s only one episode left, at least as far as I’ve heard.  We still don’t know what Zelada wants with Kei and Tilarna, except perhaps to kill them, but that seems a little too straightforward.  Marla having her husband murdered certainly doesn’t come off as a surprise — as we know, she has no problem with having people killed, and putting her weak-willed husband out of the way lets her pursue power on her own terms.  The fact that Zelada captured Kei and Tilarna while meeting the reporter who turned over that evidence suggests that he has a connection to Marla as well.  We know Zelada wants to sow discord between Semanians and Earth humans, so maybe all this is just in service of that goal.

Eh, close enough

All the anti-immigration/xenophobia stuff in this arc is pretty interesting.  It’s hard to watch Cop Craft without making comparisons to the current situation, especially in my own country, where the public’s opinions now range from “open the borders” to “deport all the illegal immigrants right away.”  I’m not sure how much the plot of Cop Craft is influenced by current events, considering the fact that it’s based on a series of light novels that started in 2009, but even if there’s no direct link the issue is definitely timely.

Thankfully, Cop Craft is not approaching the subject of xenophobia in a preachy or heavy-handed way.  Tilarna and the other Semanians trying to live in San Teresa aren’t presented as mere helpless victims, and Earth natives who have problems with them aren’t presented as complete assholes who are hateful for no reason.  All these people have reasons for feeling the way they do, reasons that the show explores a bit.  Tilarna realizes as much this episode when she compares the two current mayoral candidates: Tourte, who’s an anti-Semanian zealot but seemingly an honest guy, and Marla, who publicly supports Semanian rights but who has also used murder as a political tool at least twice at this point.

Tilarna learns about American democracy this episode, which boils down to choosing which candidate you think is less of an asshole.

I can’t stand works of fiction that try to make political points by bashing them over your head with purely good protagonists who spend their off time feeding orphans and widows and ridiculously evil villains who kill kittens for fun.  Thankfully, Cop Craft is not at all like that.  Its characters come off as pretty realistic — most of them are just people trying to live their lives who are thrust into difficult situations and conflicts.  Cop Craft pretty clearly takes a stance against anti-immigration and xenophobic views (after all, the bonding between Kei and Tilarna is one of the central elements of the series, so it wouldn’t make sense otherwise) but it approaches the issue with some nuance, which I like.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy some weird fanservice this episode, though

Anyway, the writers have certainly woven a tangled web here.  I’ll be impressed if they can sort it out in one episode, and I’ll be pissed off if they fail to do so and end the season on a cliffhanger.  Especially if we end up never getting a season 2.  I don’t read light novels (nothing against them, of course, I just don’t) but if that happens, I’ll have to seek the original work out to see how the series ends.

Let’s just hope for the best.  Until next time, stay safe.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 9

This week, Cop Craft gave us that swimsuit episode I was predicting, though it happened in a way I couldn’t have predicted at all.  A lot happened this episode. In fact, it’s really more like the bottom half of episode 8 and the top half of episode 9 (which also contains a little bottom half, if you know what I mean. (I’m talking about another fanservice shot of Tilarna’s butt.  Though it’s got nothing on last episode.))

They had to shove that pool scene in somewhere, so why not here

Summary: The writers apparently wanted to wrap up the “Tilarna switching minds with Kei’s cat” storyline quickly, because it gets resolved before the first half of the episode is done. Cecil and cat-Tilarna go to the dump, and cat-Tilarna leaps into a giant trash heap to sniff out the latena and find the crossbow that caused the whole situation. Cecil panics and calls Kei to tell him what’s happened, fearing the worst.  Tilarna finds the crossbow and runs after it, but she has to jump off a conveyor belt leading to a compactor before she’s ground into a paste.  The crossbow is crushed and Tilarna thinks she’s doomed to be a cat forever… but in a weird anticlimax, it turns out that the crossbow being destroyed broke its spell, and Tilarna and Kuroi’s minds are returned to their rightful owners.

Tilarna comes to in Kei’s apartment as she’s being beaten by Hellmandes, a federal customs agents I didn’t even bother to bring up in my last post. Hellmandes was bugging Kei over that missing crossbow throughout episode 8 and into this one for good reason — he’s also an artifact smuggler and is now demanding that Tilarna tell him where it is so he can sell it. Now that Tilarna is back in her own body, however, we know how that will turn out.  She beats the shit out of him, finds her sword, and is prepared to kill him before Kei shows up and stops her to place Hellmandes under arrest for smuggling.

The face you see before you die, unless you luck out and get saved at the last minute

This is where episode 8’s story ends and episode 9’s (?) begins, because we’re immediately sent to a vice squad pool party. We get a little pool/swimsuit fanservice, then Kei sees on the news that Kahns, a candidate for San Teresa mayor, has been shot by a Semanian terrorist. Zimmer sends Kei and Tilarna directly to the coroner to attend the autopsy of the now dead gunman (still in their swimsuits, despite Kei’s objections) and Tilarna smells latena on the corpse and says he was probably being controlled by Zelada, the Semanian mage they fought all the way back in episode 4.

Cecil is unimpressed by Kei and Tilarna’s attire.

On their way out of the coroner’s office, a passing cop insults Tilarna as a “damn alien” under his breath, and Kei chews him out for it in front of everyone. Kei and Tilarna have a nice emotional moment, and the episode closes with Kei predicting a lot more strife between Earth humans and Semanians, considering the fact that a Semanian shot Kahns and that one of the remaining mayoral candidates is a racist asshole who wants to ship them all off (and the other is Mozeleemay, the lecherous dickhead from episode 7.)

This was a dramatic scene, but all I could wonder was why the hell is Tilarna wearing a school swimsuit, complete with that hiragana nametag on front?  It makes absolutely no sense.  I bet Range Murata insisted on it.

Analysis: Getting the end of episode 8’s story out of the way: it really did feel anticlimactic. Turns out Cecil and Tilarna didn’t have to chase that garbage truck after all; they could have just waited for the crossbow to get crushed at the dump. Not that they knew that, of course, but it still made the story feel pointless. Or maybe the whole point of it was to justify all those scenes of Tilarna crawling around in her underwear last episode. If that’s the case, I can forgive them.

Speaking of fanservice, here’s that gratuitous butt shot I was talking about.  Pretty tame compared to episode 8.

The second half of this episode was far more interesting. The semi-disgraced Mozeleemay’s mayoral opponents are revealed — the one who seems like a halfway decent guy has been shot and is probably out of the picture, and the other is an anti-immigration zealot. This sets up an interesting situation for Kei, Tilarna, and their colleagues.  We know both of these guys are assholes, and both would probably give Tilarna a lot of problems if they won the election.

Kei and Tilarna also had a few moments that suggest something more might be going on between them at some point. Tilarna gets weirdly indignant about Kei not being angry that Hellmandes saw her half-naked, and she seems a little put out when Kei said he was “freaked out” by her crawling on him last episode when she was in cat mode. Meanwhile, Kei goes out of his way to yell at that cop who calls Tilarna an alien, then explains to Tilarna that when he calls her an alien it’s like when a gangster calls his girlfriend a “bitch” — it’s sort of a term of endearment. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I’m sensing some tsundere vibes coming off of both of them, though it’s a lot more obvious with Tilarna. Or maybe they’re just teasing us and nothing will happen. We’ll see.

We also get a scene of Tilarna being mad and pouty again, which is always appreciated.

That’s all I have for now.  See you next episode, and until then, stay safe.

Politics, video games, and “nerd culture”

A while ago, I read an article published by Vice. This article titled “I Watched ‘The Simpsons’ for the First Time Ever and I Couldn’t Stand It” was written by one Nicole Clark, a self-proclaimed millennial who takes great offense at several classic Simpsons episodes produced over 20 years ago for not being sufficiently politically correct.

This character is meant to be taken seriously as a role model and a hero, not as a satirical criticism of middle class American society

I won’t get into how badly Miss Clark misses the point of The Simpsons, or how many times she comes off like an alien who doesn’t understand the concept of satire or of humor in general. Others picked apart her arguments well enough already months ago; there’s no need for me to pile on. What I want to address is rather her use of shaming as a technique to make you, the reader, feel bad for enjoying something she does not. At the end of the article, as though she were anticipating this, Clark writes “[i]f you love The Simpsons and the show is special to you, that’s great,” but this statement is overshadowed by the subtitle of the article and by the priggish tone of it in general. “How did you people put up with Homer’s nastiness for so long?” She asks. How could you? Get on my level of wokeness.

Criticism is well and good, but this is a step beyond mere criticism of the work – it is an attack on the fans of the work.  Such attacks are becoming more and more common in pieces about video games written by contributors to big-name sites like Polygon and Kotaku, especially with regard to the writer’s perception of the game’s treatment of female characters. (Let’s not even mention Cracked, which you can visit to learn, on a nearly daily basis, 5 Reasons Why [fill in title of popular video game/movie/TV show] is Sexist and Why You’re a Sexist for Enjoying It.) And the weapon used by the writer to attack the fan is shame. It is absolutely shameful that such a game would be released here.  Shameful that you would enjoy such a disgusting, awful work.  It’s a bad game, and by extension, you’re a bad person for enjoying it. I’m a millennial just like Miss Clark, and I find this sort of church lady attitude being expressed by a lot of people in my generation.

This September is All Gifs Month here on the site

Friends, family, and readers alike know that I am absolutely not a fan of President Donald Trump. The guy is an incompetent shithead if his performance over the last 20 months is any indication, and as an American citizen living in the US and being directly affected by his bullshit I am not happy about it. After Mr. Trump won the election, I looked into getting involved in active political opposition, but two things stopped me. The first was the fact that I had a government job at the time that prevented me from taking a partisan stance in public. The second was some of the batshit insanity being spewed forth from the American left. While I agree with many of the left’s policy goals*, I just can’t bring myself to join them as a card-carrying member because I hate their insistence upon total political and cultural orthodoxy. And because I do not believe that artists should be shamed into silence or self-censorship just because their creations might hurt some people’s feelings, or because it’s controversial in the “wrong way.”

It greatly concerns me to see left-wing priggishness and self-righteousness seeping into what was once a safe haven for misfits like me. This transformation might even be having an effect on games and media imported from Japan, where this movement doesn’t seem to exist at all – games end up arriving Stateside with objectionable content censored or cut out entirely. This is nothing new, but conservative religious and parents’ groups used to be the driving force behind the censorship. Now the politically opposite social justice warriors can join the censorship party. The result is a modern “nerd culture” with all the sharp edges sanded down, all the rough bits smoothed out. It’s pleasant and inoffensive and doesn’t require a lot of critical thought. It’s walls of Funko Pop figures and old episodes of The Big Bang Theory. In the end, it can’t be called anything other than corporate. Any art, any expression too weird, too dangerous, has to be buried – that sort of stuff isn’t good for business, because it makes that lucrative “nerd culture” look too bizarre to be marketable.

So what’s to be done? Most big publishers are going to play it safe by succumbing to loud-mouthed interest groups on the left and right and keeping anything too controversial out of their games. We can only rely upon those publishers willing to take chances, as well as the still sort-of-underground independent game development community, which is all about taking chances. There are quite a few games I’m looking forward to from indie developers like Yuppie Psycho and YIIK. The left- and right-wing self-appointed content police will always exist, and they’ll always be trying to ruin other people’s fun to make themselves feel superior, but I’m optimistic about the future of video and PC games because I know that true creativity can never be stifled – not completely. 𒀭

* I’ve never gone into much depth about my political views here, but now that my country is standing on the precipice of utter fucking insanity this seems as good a time as any. I believe in closing corporate tax loopholes, increasing spending on healthcare and public education, maintaining and improving environmental regulation, and maintaining the wall of separation between church and state. All of these are center-left to left domestic policy platforms in the US. The left wing of the Democratic Party that intersects with the fringe Democratic Socialist party is also the only political wing in the US that expresses any support at all for the Palestinian cause, which is something I care about deeply. I just have a problem with the attitudes that many leftists in the US express about art and expression and with their holier-than-thou attitude in general. They value art for its political and social value – hell, I do too – but they also view art for art’s sake as suspicious, as self-indulgent. If you’re not using your art to make a positive political or social statement, it’s implied, you’re part of the problem. In a broader sense, they see any sort of compromise as a betrayal, and they seem to always be looking for something to be offended by – as if our current president doesn’t give them enough material. These sorts of attitudes are part of what separates liberals from socialists – and what separates democrats from authoritarians, both on the left and the right.

SimCity 2000, Part IV: Smog Apocalypse

Several years pass, and Hell continues to grow, slowly spilling out into the surrounding hills and valleys.

10

A new development thrives to the east of the original settlement, though it’s still polluted and crime-ridden.  The presence of the stately city hall building makes this street a little classier than the rest, however.

10b

The mayor makes a point of visiting the city assembly as little as possible.  Whenever he shows up there, the newly elected representatives of Hell’s wards ask him a lot of questions that he doesn’t have answers to.  Like “where’s the running water in my constituents’ ward” or “why is there a constant light blue cloud of fog hanging over the industrial district.”  Better for the mayor to stay in his office, where security can make sure those troublemakers can’t get to him so easily.

10c

City Hall does more than look pretty.  It allows the player to find out how much of his city’s currently developed land is being used for what purpose.  Not terribly useful, but it’s more information, at least.

10h

The mayor finally caved to public pressure and approved the construction of a hospital and a school.  The hospital so that Hell’s residents can live longer for the purpose of paying more taxes, and the school so that the children of Hell’s growing population can at least learn to count change and use manufacturing machinery without getting their arms chopped off.

11

Big news arrives: the aeroplane has been invented!  This means we can build an aeroport.  Only we can’t, because each airport tile costs $250 and you need at least a 2×6 block of airport tiles to build a functioning one.

Aside from breaking news, the Courier still carries concerns about the city’s pollution.  Typical liberal media scare tactics.

11b

What the reporter didn’t catch was the mayor’s sarcastic tone when he said the municipality would assess the pollution problem.  He set up a “Pollution Commission” five years ago at the insistence of his advisors and it met a grand total of three times, and all three times the whole commission just decided to adjourn to the bar downstairs because it didn’t have a budget to actually do anything.

At least the city’s finances are healthy.  Those oppressive interest payments are still due at the end of every year, but the city can afford to make them now.  Of course, the city’s advisors want to make absolutely sure that that won’t be the case anymore by touting their pet projects.

12a

Let me tell you who it wouldn’t benefit, Ms. Health Advisor: smokers.  If the citizens of Hell don’t want to breathe in smoke, they can hold their breaths.  Or buy gas masks, because most of the city’s air is pretty hard to breathe without a filter.

Of course, the same advisor has another brilliant scheme:

12b

Since the mayor is unelected in this game, he doesn’t really give a fuck whether he’s popular.  He does give a fuck whether something is expensive, though.  No free clinics.

Let’s hear from the city’s other advisors.

12c

Absolutely not.  Hell Technical Institute is school enough for the little bastards.

Never mind.  We’ve heard enough from the city’s advisors.  These idiots actually think pollution is a problem.  It can’t be that much of a problem if people are still moving in and adding to the taxpayer base.

12e

Shit.

The city’s sirens sound as a thick cloud of smog, thicker than usual,  ascends from the industrial zone and blankets a corner of the neighborhood.  Since this is an emergency, the game pauses and we now have the option to send police and firefighters to the scene.  The mayor promptly dispatches firetrucks from the city’s two fire stations to resolve the situation.

12g

The firemen arrive, get out of their trucks and look at the cloud of smog, unsure of what to do about it.  One firefighter suggests shooting water at it with the hose.  Another firefighter calls him a dumbass.

Eventually the cloud dissipates and the firefighters return to their stations.

12h

After every disaster, the city paper puts out a special report.  The headline “Hell is Toxic” seems like a reasonable one, considering that we’re in Hell and that it is in fact pretty toxic.

Fortunately, though, the pollution scare doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on anything.  It caused a few buildings in the southeastern corner of the crater to turn abandoned, but they were reoccupied shortly after.  Still, the incident finally pushes the mayor to institute pollution controls, if only for the good press and to attract more residents to Hell.

13a

Pollution controls cost serious money.  And it’s not too obvious that they’re working.  This abandoned building, for example, is still home to heavy pollutants.  In a way it’s good that it’s abandoned, because it probably isn’t fit for humans to live or work in under any circumstances.

13b

Hell is still pollution-ridden, crime-ridden and full of angry citizens with no access to running water.  And while it’s receiving a positive cash flow, it’s also still very far from paying off the $20,000 principal on its bonds.  Will Hell pull itself out of its stagnation?  Don’t ask the mayor, because he doesn’t know.  Also, you probably can’t ask him, because he’s siphoned off some of the tax revenue coming in to hire more security.

Recovery and a short review of Gravity Rush Remastered

2

As you can tell from my last post, like many of my fellow Americans I had something of a meltdown for a few days last week inside my brain.  The new reality is so unbelievable to me and to about 100 to 150 million other people here that massive protests and/or riots depending on who you ask and where you look broke out starting on Wednesday last week.  I still think President-elect Trump is at least 50 percent likely to be an absolute disaster, both in terms of social and economic policy, and I’m starting to get ready for the second recession just in case he really steps on the gas pedal of extreme deregulation – the kind of dumb bullshit that very much was a part of the cause of the first recession starting in 2008.  Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s obvious to everyone now that my country is more divided than it has been for over a hundred years.  That would have been obvious no matter who had won.

But fuck me – I can’t do anything to change the future on a large scale.  I can, however, buy a PS4 and copies of a few new games including the new Atelier game and Gravity Rush Remastered, which is an HD port of the Vita original.  Playing the redone Gravity Rush was how I coped with things last week.  There’s perhaps no better game to escape reality with than this one in which you play a young woman who has the ability to shift gravity in any direction, allowing her to fly through the air and run around on walls and ceilings.  The heroine of the game, Kat, has to use her powers to defend the city she lives in from strange monsters called Nevi who seem to have the power to drag people, and even whole pieces of the city, into a different dimension.

3

I’m not going to get too deep into analyzing this game.  It’s been out for four years now, and the remastered version for close to a year, and I just now bought it because I recently had the money to buy a PS4.  What I will say is that this version is even better than the original on the Vita and that it’s well worth playing.  It’s amazing playing Gravity Rush on a far larger screen in HD.  Moreover, all the DLC side stories that you had to buy in addition to the original game are included in Remastered.  They’re also fun, and they open up new costumes for Kat that have no extra functionality at all, aside from getting to see Kat in a maid outfit or a tight catsuit with cat ears and a tail.  Yeah, it’s fanservice.  If you don’t like it, you can avoid those side stories.  They don’t add anything to the central game anyway.

The publishers even went with the nice understated cover instead of throwing together a horrible mash of images and faces and bullshit like they usually do for North American game covers! What more can you ask for?

The publishers even went with the nice understated cover instead of throwing together a horrible mash of images and faces and bullshit like they usually do for North American game covers!  Amazing.

I don’t want to give away anything else about the game, so my review is this: buy it.  And don’t listen to the naysayers.  While this game generally got good reviews, a few people complain about the “cheap controls”.  This is one game to which that old gripe doesn’t apply.  None of the fights in this game are especially cheap if you’ve learned the controls and the different moves well.  And honestly, if every single attack in this game were to connect with enemies easily, it would be far too easy.  People also complain about the plot, but they’re wrong too.  Gravity Rush isn’t a masterpiece of storytelling, but it has enough of a story to drive the action.  And it’s fun.  What more do you want?

There’s another reason I’m writing this piece now – Gravity Rush 2 is coming out on January 20 for the PS4.  I’ve got it preordered and I’m really looking forward to it.  If it simply maintains the quality of the first title, it will be an A-level game. 𒀭

Edit (8/23/18): This post came from a place of severe “what the fuck just happened.”  Since I wrote this, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney has copped to eight federal charges in which he implicated the President of the United States in criminal activity and his former campaign chairman has been found guilty of shady money shit (this is the legal term – please believe me, I’m a lawyer.)  Yeah, let’s see how this goes down.

Also, Kat is god damn hot.

Update #3 of ?

phoenixwright

Hello readers.  I was planning to make an update post about how I’m still still not dead, even after my last two long absences.  There’s been a lot going on with me.  I passed the bar and have been working for a judge for a few months now assisting with research and sitting in on trials.  It’s been interesting and occasionally crazy, and I could write a whole post about how despite that it’s still not nearly as exciting as a Phoenix Wright game or even a Law & Order episode, or about how you really really shouldn’t go to law school.

But now that we’ve elected a god damn Caligula as our president, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point doing that now.  I still can’t believe this happened.  All you folks who voted for Trump and are deliriously happy right now – I don’t bear any ill will against you.  But I will ask you one or two years from now if you feel the same way you do now.  You’ve put a con man into the White House.  Hillary might have been a typically corrupt politician, but she wasn’t really any different in that case from any of the other typically corrupt politicians we’ve had in office in the past.  Trump is different – and not in a good way.  Mark my words and remember them years from now.  If we’re still around, that is.  I’m sorry for the off-topic post this morning but I had to say something about this.  As a Muslim (sort of lapsed, but still) with a lot of Arab family who was born and raised American, I honestly feel kind of like a Jew in Europe in the 1930s now.

Okay, so maybe that’s too dramatic.  But after all the poisonous rhetoric that’s come out this election cycle, can you blame me?  In any case, I’m not going anywhere, and I plan to get back onto a regular writing schedule here, if only to help distract myself from what’s going on right now.  I did just buy a PS4.  What better way to distract myself from reality?

Online book translation review: Seventeen Parts 1 and 2 by Kenzaburo Oe

[Edit: thanks to a commenter below for pointing out that the link to this translation of Oe’s works is dead. In fact, it looks like Tokyo Damage Report, the blog it was originally hosted on, is dead, which is a damn shame. 

Edit pt. 2: I posted links through web.archive.org to the original posts down in the comments below. This seems to be the best I can do. If someone can find a more organized (or better? No idea about that) translation please post a comment, because these really are interesting works.]

Seventeen Part 1, the first part of a short two-part novel by Kenzaburo Oe, stirred up so much trouble in his home country of Japan that the publisher was threatened with death by far-right political groups (uyoku dantai) if the second part were brought out.  Thankfully, both Seventeen and Death of a Political Youth, the second part of the tale (renamed and published almost in secret to avoid a violent backlash) have been translated into English and posted on the blog Tokyo Damage Report.  Oe’s work taken as a whole is funny, sad, and horribly depressing all at once and is well worth a read, assuming the reader has a strong stomach.

Before we look at Seventeen, though, we need to travel back to the year 1960. Japan was still in the process of rebuilding after the destruction of World War II and hosted (as it still does) a large US military presence. The constitutional monarchy re-established by the Allies after the war ended allowed various parties, both on the right and the left, to get back into the game of politics and to openly debate the role of Japan in the world. Many of these debates reflected the capitalist/nationalist vs. socialist/communist divide of the Cold War, and naturally, this stirred up a lot of student political activity, both on the left and right.

On October 12, 1960, in the midst of this tension, a 17 year-old nationalist student activist named Otoya Yamaguchi rushed the stage of a televised speech in a lecture hall in Tokyo and ran a traditional samurai sword through the speaker, Socialist Party chairman and Diet representative Inejiro Asanuma, killing him almost instantly.

A photographer captured the assassination as it happened. (Source: Yasushi Nagao - © 1960 United Press International)

This photograph looks staged, but it’s not.  The assassination as it happened.  (Source: Yasushi Nagao – © 1960 United Press International)

Shortly after the assassination and Yamaguchi’s jail cell suicide a few weeks later, the novelist Kenzaburo Oe wrote a novel about the whole incident – told from the perspective of the young assassin.  The first half of Seventeen, released in 1961, tells the story of the protagonist, a high school student who has just turned 17 years old.  The main character and narrator of this tale calls himself “Seventeen”, and his age does contribute a lot to the story.  Seventeen is an awkward, perpetually pissed off kid.  His family is generally is cold and distant and his elder sister loathes him (for good reason – he flips out in Chapter 1 and gives her a severe eye injury during an argument.)  After poking his sister’s eye out, Seventeen exiles himself to a shed in his family’s backyard where he sleeps, broods, and mopes about his problems.)  Seventeen’s school life is miserable, and his only friend is a stray cat that stop by his shed sometimes.

So far, with the possible exception of the eye-poking, this sounds like a pretty typical coming of age story about an awkward teenager.  In most of these kinds of stories, the teenage protagonist comes to some kind of revelation about himself and grows as a person (see Catcher In The Rye for the classic example.)  Our protagonist here also comes to a revelation about himself, but it leads him to a bloody end.  Seventeen is a coming of age tragedy.

The first half of Seventeen plays out almost like a teenage comedy, complete with dick jokes.  However, halfway through the first part, Seventeen discovers meaning in an uyoku, or far-right nationalist, group, where he finds like-minded friends.  At this point, the story takes a serious turn for the political.  Seventeen also finds that his new status as a right-wing activist has earned him a degree of fear, if not of respect, from classmates and teachers who previously just despised him.  As a fervent young nationalist, Seventeen soon finds himself at the front line of a street fight with left-wing students during a series of protests in Tokyo against the renewal of a controversial US-Japan security treaty.  The second part of Seventeen, Death of a Political Youth, is far more serious than the first part and pretty much depicts Seventeen’s descent into insanity, his assassination of an unnamed left-wing politician as he makes a televised speech, and his short stay in prison before he kills himself.  (Note that this isn’t really a spoiler – it’s exactly what happened to the real-life politician Asanuma and his assassin Yamaguchi.)

Of course, there’s no way to know exactly what was in Yamaguchi’s mind when he decided to kill Asanuma.  But we do know that he was motivated by nationalist sentiment, and Oe’s work parodies that movement – much of the second part of the novel involves Seventeen obsessing over and seeing visions of “the Emperor” – not the actual living Emperor (then Hirohito) but some kind of idealized figure, more like God than a mere human.  In fact, reading Seventeen in 2016, especially in the West, reminds me of the kind of religious fanaticism that seems to inspire violent acts – both of the jihadi and of the extremist Christian anti-government variety.*  Seventeen’s fanaticism doesn’t seem very different.

An uyoku van. The writing on the van are political slogans.

An uyoku van.  These vans are driven around by uyoku guys who dress in paramilitary uniforms and shout at people. The writing on the van is right-wing political stuff.

It should be noted that the right wing in Japan also had a literary side to it, and writers like Yukio Mishima did a lot to push the nationalist agenda (he’s a good writer as well and is well worth a read, despite his weird retro views on worshipping the Emperor and all that stuff.  He also tried to overthrow the Japanese government in 1970 with a group of five other guys and committed actual medieval hardcore ritual suicide with a sword when he failed.  Mishima was somewhat nuts.)

Anyway, if all the above stuff sounds interesting to you, here are the links to the translations.  The translator does an interesting job with the writing.  He’s definitely going for the “feeling” of the text more than literal accuracy. I very much doubt that Oe included the phrase “Shake that ass!” in his original work. But I don’t mind. Also, this seems to be the only English translation of Death of a Political Youth around, so if you want to read it and can’t read Japanese, you don’t actually have a choice in the matter.

Seventeen

Death of a Political Youth

=

*If you don’t live in the United States, you might not know about this strain of fanaticism – I’m not sure how much it really exists outside of the US.  Eric Rudolph (the 1996 Olympics bomber) was one of these bastards.

Retrospective: Civilization II (or, why democracy is a pain in the ass)

On the brink of my fall exams, all my thoughts have to do with copyright and corporate law. This makes me pine for the days of my youth, when I would spend long days playing Civilization II, the second title in Sid Meier’s long-running turn-based world power strategy game. There are few things less painful than watching a horde of 22nd century Mongols hit every major city on your home continent with nuclear weapons, and this thought gives me some small solace as far as my exams are concerned.

I owned the PC original, not the Playstation port.  But this was the best cover image I could find, and they basically look the same anyway.

I owned the PC original, not the Playstation port. But this was the best cover image I could find, and they basically look the same anyway.

Everyone is all about Civilization V right now (and the upcoming Civilization VI.) V is a great edition to the series, but Civ II will always be my favorite title if only for nostalgia reasons. Unlike the hours I spent at my friend’s house playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and fighting over who had to play as Tails, my time with Civ II was not wasted, because the game taught me many valuable lessons. The first lesson I learned was that if you’re the king of an ancient city, you’d better build city walls, otherwise barbarians will plunder and capture it.

The more interesting lessons came later in the game, when you are able to unlock new forms of government through technologies. The world of Civilization II has six forms of government, four of which had various benefits (despotism and monarchy are lousy choices that you have to use early-game and should ditch as soon as possible: they cause your cities to have low production and lots of corruption.) The remaining four forms are the republic, democracy, fundamentalism, and communism.

Being a good American, I thought I’d go for democracy. After all, I love freedom, and nothing says freedom like the power to make a basically meaningless choice between two equally crap candidates from two god-awful political parties. So that’s what I tried out. As it happens, Civ II democracy does have a lot of benefits: you can allocate 100% of your tax revenue to science, which you can’t do with any other form of government, and your citizens’ output is extremely high, meaning more money in the state’s coffers. So why wouldn’t you choose democracy as your form of government?

Because it makes it damn near impossible to wage war. Each of your citizens in a city (represented per every 10,000, then 30,000, then 60,000 people in each city and up accordingly) will become discontent the number of military units you ship away from their home cities, so large-scale deployments are more or less out of the question. And even if they weren’t, the legislature is all too ready to stand in the way of your hawkish initiatives, the bastards.

Well, maybe they're right, because this is usually what your Civ II war will end up looking like: decimated populations, military units disrupting production in enemy cities, and tons of pollution from nuclear weapon use.

Well, maybe they’re right, because this is usually what your Civ II war will end up looking like: decimated populations, military units disrupting production in enemy cities, and tons of pollution from nuclear weapon use.

This was the most interesting aspect of Civ II to me. You can certainly play as a democracy and win the game by dumping 100% of your revenue into science. I never really bothered with this method, though, because to me it was a lot more fun to adopt a communist government instead: you still got pretty good production and high scientific research out of your cities, but without any discontented citizens (if they complain, send them off to Gulag!) or that pesky Senate to get in your way (if any of your Politburo colleagues presents a challenge to you, have him killed and make it look like an assassination, or hold a series of show trials followed by executions.) So you can churn out infantry and armored units and wage war to your heart’s content, or at least as far as your budget allows. You could do more or less the same with a fundamentalist government, though your scientific research took a serious hit.

This is a pretty good way to deal with those damned Mongols who always seem to want to conquer the whole world.

This is a pretty good way to deal with those damned Mongols who always seem to want to conquer the whole world.

To be clear, Civ II doesn’t require you to conquer the world to win the game. An easier, albeit more time-sensitive, victory method is to develop a space program through research dollars and reach Alpha Centauri before any other power. Fulfilling the space race condition does require you to build defenses against nuclear attacks, but you can pretty much put a stop to all aggression against your state short of sneak attacks by beating every other world power to the Great Wall and United Nations wonders, which force your enemies to offer peace terms in negotiations. If you’re going this route, you’re pretty much required to adopt democracy for its massive research and production benefits.

From talking to friends who also played Civ II, though, the communist/fundamentalist brute force method seems like the most common one. Why? The same state practices that I hate in real life and that could and almost have led the real world to disaster and the near-extinction of humanity I happily pursue in my game of Civ, and apparently lots of other normal, non-atrocity-committing people do the same. Is that just because Civ is only a game, or does that mean I’d pursue the same policies if I were a world leader myself?

The Civilization series puts god-like power in your hands as the ruler of a people and eventually of a world power. I think it’s only natural to want to see what it’s like to utterly wreck the planet for humanity and conquer everything by razing and occupying cities and stabbing your friends and allies in the back. But I also think Sid Meier and co. tapped into something dark in the human soul with these games, the part that might find some actual enjoyment in this sort of destruction and misery. After all, guys like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao existed, and many horrible tyrants before them, and they were all humans just like you and me, not devils out of a fairy tale. And such people still exist today in the form of brutal dictators and murderous terrorists. Who knows what any one of us might do when given absolute power?

In case there's any doubt, however, no, these guys are not my role models.

In case there’s any doubt, however, no, these guys are not my role models.

Sorry, this one was depressing. It must be because of the exams on my mind – I can’t get into a good mood right now. I’ll start writing again after I’m done with them, and hopefully about some lighter topics.

Retrospective: Saya no Uta

It’s Election Day here in the United States. I went to the polls today, in fact, though I didn’t really much like either of the choices I was given. It’s hard to get excited about electoral races in a two-party system.

Why do I bring this up? Because today I’m also taking a look at a game that I’m surprised wasn’t banned by law in the US, because it definitely walks some sort of line – definitely the sort of game that any good “family values” interest group would try to have dumped into the gutters if it had enough notoriety.

1763821-snucover

Some games are damn near impossible to review, and Saya no Uta (eng: Saya’s Song) is one of them. This 2003 visual novel was released by Nitroplus, a prolific developer also responsible for big names like Steins;gate and Phantom of Inferno. Nitroplus’ work tends to be pretty dark, and Saya is no exception.

Saya no Uta tells the story of Fuminori, a medical student who is involved in a car accident and is badly injured. To save him, his doctors undertake an experimental procedure. Fuminori survives, but at great cost: the entire world and everyone in it now appear completely grotesque and horrific in his eyes. All of his friends and associates look like monsters made of rotten meat (and stink as well.) Of course, the world hasn’t changed at all – only Fuminori’s perception of it. This fact doesn’t really help, though, even as Fuminori tries to continue living his normal life.

Fuminori, wearing the expression of a man who has just finished his exams after two weeks of binge studying and isn't convinced that he didn't fail all of them.  I know that look because I've had it.

Fuminori, wearing the expression of a man who has just finished his exams after two weeks of binge studying and isn’t convinced that he didn’t fail all of them. I know that look because I’ve had it.

Only one thing sustains him: the existence of a girl, Saya, the only person around who looks to Fuminori like a normal human being. Saya is a mysterious girl who approaches him shortly after his accident, seemingly without anyplace to call home, and Fuminori subsequently clings to Saya as the last thing in his life that seems at all pure or good. However, Saya isn’t merely a girl without a home – she’s something much more, and her relationship with Fuminori ends up driving him to extremes that he could never have imagined.

Saying anything else about the plot would spoil the game. All I’ll say is that it is one of the best VNs I’ve played as far as writing and emotional impact go. (For you anime fans, Saya no Uta was written by Gen Urobuchi, also responsible for writing the popular series Puella Magi Madoka Magica.) It’s short, too; just around five hours or so, and there are only a few endings, so Saya isn’t a massive time investment like other VNs tend to be.

She looks like a typical cutesy anime girl, but Saya isn't what she seems.

She looks like a typical cutesy anime girl, but Saya isn’t what she seems.

Warning: Saya no Uta is a hentai game. That’s to say that there are sex scenes in it. More alarmingly, Saya’s appearance and mannerisms (she comes off something like a young teenager, although the anime style adds some ambiguity to that) may seriously turn some people off. However, none of this bothered me too much, firstly because Saya doesn’t exactly have an age, at least as we understand it, and secondly because Saya no Uta is the only h-game I’ve played in which the sex scenes actually added to the game’s story instead of simply being some beat-off material shoved between normal scenes to sell more copies (I’m looking at you, Fate Stay/Night, but you’re not the only suspect.) In any case, the sex scenes in this game aren’t really made for that sort of thing, and I didn’t feel especially dirty for reading them. I did feel creeped out, but that’s exactly the feeling the makers were aiming for, after all. Together with the rough (in a good way) art style and the haunting soundtrack, Nitroplus succeeds at creating a strong atmosphere with Saya that you might feel drawn into.

So I feel like a creep now, writing about what’s technically a porn game (though I would argue it absolutely isn’t one in spirit, even if it does sit in the h-game category.) But hey, that’s why my blog is anonymous. God bless anonymity, right?

Anyway, Saya no Uta is up for sale through JAST here (of course, you can also buy the original in Japanese if you understand it.) JAST localizes a lot of Japanese VNs, and they apparently haven’t censored Saya at all, which is nice – censoring the game would pretty much kill the whole point of it. It’s supposed to be a little shocking, after all. But please don’t play it if you’re under 18 or you have a weak stomach. There, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.