Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Magical and Girls and Rapelay

I can't believe the semester is drawing close to an end. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions we had in class (particularly on gender), learning about Japanese games culture, and reading everyone's blogs. The readings that were assigned and the presentations were definitely eye opening. This course encouraged  me to delve deeper into Japanese popualr  culture and to rethink and re-evaluate some of my own assumptions and prejudice of about Japan,  otakus and games/gaming in particular.

Before reading Hemmann’s blog on "Sailor Moon and Femininity, I would have agreed with critics like Napier and Allison who are critical the ways in which Sailor Moon represents “femininity”.

 Napier, for instance, finds the Sailor Scouts “lacking in psychological depth,” while Allison finds it troubling that the “girl heroes tend to strip down in the course of empowerment, becoming more, rather than less, identified by their flesh,” a trademark visual feature of Sailor Moon that “feeds and is fed by a general trend in Japan toward the infantilization of sex objects” (qtd in Hermann)

 I remember as a child, I had a collection of Sailor Moon scepters, wands, and compacts, and I would pretend to “transform” into Sailor Venus (for she was one of my favorite characters) and defeat imaginary villains. There weren’t many strong female heroes that I could relate to and I think as a child, I was glued to Sailor Moon for this reason. In relation to Napier’s and Allison’s concerns, then, I think, one the implications of their argument is that although they are resisting patriarchal definitions of femininity (from a Western lens), they themselves are ascribing a particular kind of femininity as the correct version of femininity. The fact that both critics draw attention to the representation of  women as “flesh” and “infantile”—as primary factors of Sailor Moon’s disempowerment—suggests that if Sailor Moon didn’t show so much skin, and if she looked a bit older, then, she would be ideal super heroine. So what would Napier’s and Allison’s version of a progressive heroine look like?

Why can’t powerful or magical women wear short skirts? Or show flesh? How dare they reveal a kneecap! Why should the outfits that the Sailor Moon characters wear define their Being? Or undermine their, agency, individualism, and power that they possess?

In the introduction to Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture (1999) by Sherrie A. Innes,  she writes “traditionally, men have learned that they should be the stoic brave heroes, capable of overcoming any obstacle that stand in their way. Women have learned that toughness has little to do with them” (7). Althought Innes specifically refers to American popular culture, we can see how Sailor Moon, at the time of its production, was ahead of its time, particularly in envisioning women as focalising agents of a narrative in which they become the hero of the story. Sailor Moon is not made to appease a male-audience, but rather to encourage young girls that they, too, can achieve great things in life.


 I am not quite sure what is more disturbing… the actual game itself or the comments made during the gameplay.
While the game is highly problematic because it justifies rape as a legitimite form of revenge and suggests that these women deserve to be raped, the comments made by the player further validates random acts of violence against women.  Throughout the gameplay, the player states:

These fuckin women are always trying to talk over me… I’m not narrating this shit especially when these cunts are talking over me”

“Japanese women normally sound like they’re having sex when they talk”

Comments like these reinforce Azuma's claim that “What’s important isn’t the images in these games, but how such images are consumed and the environment of their production.” In other words, the ways in which Rapelay is consumed by this particular player, is revealing of how sexist and racist discourses are naturalised and remain unproblematic ....because according to the player “it’s just a game”.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Week 9: Role Playing Games

I found the readings this week really insightful, although, I think, to many avid players of games, this would be common sense. I am beginning to realise that although I am interested in examining games (particularly BL games) in theoretical ways, I lack the practical experience of playing games, which limits me from delving deeper into the field of Game Studies.
For those of you who are interested in BL games I recently came across this youtube page. It's definitely not scholarly, but it does introduce a variety of games for you to explore.
Now in relation to the readings...
It is fascinating to see the plethora of RPGs and JRPGs, its history, and development over the years. I did, however, find the reading slightly isolating…since the only game titles that I recognized were Final Fantasy and Zelda… both of which I have not played.  HOWEVER, despite my insufficient knowledge of the gaming world, I am particularly interested in the controversy/ debates of what makes RPGs culturally distinct.

Yet as Japanese console RPGs became increasingly more dominant in the 1990s,[76] and became known for being more heavily story and character-based, American computer RPGs also began to face criticism for having characters devoid of personality or background, due to representing avatars which the player uses to interact with the world, in contrast to Japanese console RPGs which depicted characters with distinctive personalities. American computer RPGs were thus criticized for lacking "more of the traditional role-playing" offered by Japanese console RPGs, which instead emphasized character interactions.[50] In response, North American computer RPGs began making a comeback towards the end of the 1990s with interactive choice-filled adventures.[77]

 What lies at the heart of this issue, it seems, is that it does not matter if RPGs are culturally distinct since through adaptation and parody, RPGS, generally speaking, blur cultural difference to ultimately produce a commodity that sells. The market of RPGs is primarily concerned with capital, and one can argue that capitalism is not marked by ethnicity or gender. In other words, RPGs that borrow from both the American and Japanese models neutralise cultural and aesthetic differences, promoting, to some extent, the idea of  global RPGs??

Monday, November 4, 2013

Week 8: Gaming and Nostalgia

          A friend of mine for her MA thesis last year proposed the idea of nostalgia and its relationship to a national memory that is potentially gendered. Although her project mostly examined Canadian legal documents on immigration policies etc, I think her idea of nostalgia correlates particularly well with Jaakko Suominen’s “The Past as the Future? Nostalgia and Retrogaming in Digital Culture”. Suominen makes the connection between digital cultural production to nostalgic sensibility, which made me think of the cultural implications of retrofitting classic (video) games in our day in age. To clarify, I think that the reappropriation and redistribution of games like Space invaders, Super Mario etc invokes national sentiments, particularly of Japan’s emergence on the global stage, which was achieved partially through the game industry market. The repackaging of retrogames (speaking specifically of Japanese games here) may be seen as a gesture to appease cultural anxieties about the declining interest and investment in Japanese game products as discussed in last week’s reading? Moreover, in what ways can we consider retrogames, or even contemporary games as promoting or invoking a nostalgia that is gendered? Say in sengoku jidai games, for example? Or perhaps questions of gender and nostalgia are superfluous?

        In relation to Newman’s readings on narrative and space, I am intrigued by his idea of gaming as a bodily experience. He writes, “videogame spaces are experienced viscerally with the whole body. The exploration of videogame space is a kinaesthetic pleasure” (122). Video games as he describes, or so I have interpreted, are extensions of our own living space and reality. That in embodying technology we are able to transcend from one reality to another…kind of like cyborgs. This idea of blurring "real" and virtual space needs further interrogation, I realise, and perhaps I may  return to it...


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Week 7 When West Meets East: Glocalization and the contemporary Japanese game industry

When West Meets East
Mia Consalvo’s “Console Videogames and global corporations: creating a hybrid culture” investigates the commodification of cultures to interrogate how the industry of games and game consoles complicate conventional understandings of national culture and geographic borders (123) through the lens of globalisation theory. At the heart of her argument about the glocalisation of games and the cultural flow of capital, Consalvo complicates the “West-rest” hierarchy by suggesting that in contemporary game industry, the power dynamics between East and West has been inverted to “Japan-West”—positioning Japan as being equal to the West—while simultaneously fostering discourses of the “yellow peril” or as Consalvo puts the “Japan panic”. Drawing on the work of Tomlinson’s notion of culture as a fluid entity, Consalvo suggests that “If the nation is no longer the boundary of culture, another unit of measurement must be created” (131). Consalvo espouses the idea of technoregionalism, a term which she borrows from Luke that describes how “regions are not place based, but correspond to specific industries, trades, arts and sciences” (131). Ultimately, then, both the glocalisation and the globalisation of game consoles are heavily influenced by and invested within a capitalist industry. Countries that possess or have access to capital are the ones that benefit from the glocal and global phenomenon, but what about those countries that get left behind? Consalvo contends that “culture flows to survive, and as it flows, it shifts, warps, changes and modifies, to become hybridized, strange and new” and indeed this is applicable only to cultures that are equipped with the proper resources and finances.
Consalvo’s main argument that Japan represents the nexus of capital flow and power is contradicted by Inafune Keiji who sees the decline of Japanese games within the global market. He states that “I believe that in Western or other parts of the world, they all liked Japanese games from the past and benefitted from them. They had a significant amount of influence in game development around the world, but that's all from the past. Because Japan is not in a healthy state right now, not everybody is being influenced by us now.” Here, Inafune conveys sentiments of a nostalgic past when Japanese game systems/games once held economic and global sway. The implicit claim that Japan’s well-being relies on the nation’s participation on a global scale reveals Inafune’s anxiety of a deterioration of Japanese identity.
In relation to Aoyama and Izushi’s “Hardware gimmick or cultural innovation? technological, cultural, and social foundations of the Japanese video game industry”, I was particularly drawn to their discussion near the end of their article that explores the significance of the manga and anime industry to the development of the game industry. Although much is said on the topic of how video games have borrowed and adapted conventions of anime and manga as well as its aesthetic styles, the opposite is also manifest in contemporary works of anime and manga that borrow elements of games/ game culture.
 Meganebu: This anime employs conventions of visual novels, and also plays with panels transitions that are distinct to manga. There is something 3D-ish about the visual aesthetics that reminds me of videogames too.
Sword Art Online

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Week 6: More on Otaku and Moe

            I am beginning to find Otaku Studies really really interesting! My prejudice of the otaku phenomenon, which has been informed and influenced mostly by popular media depictions of otaku as being “socially awkward”, “manias”, and slightly “hentai-ish” (such as in the anime/ manga series Gintama),  has gradually changed since reading some of the critical works on otaku culture.
P.S. If you haven't seen the Otaku Arc from Gintama you must! It's one of my favorite animes!! and yes, Hijikata is my favorite character~


Otaku Japan’s Animal Database (In response to Chapter 2)

            The second chapter provides the theoretical framework of “data base animal”. Azuma makes an intervention in critical debates and discussion on “post-modern characteristics of otaku culture” (25) to ultimately interrogate their patterns of consumption in relation to broader ideas of grand narratives (or lack thereof).

            One of the things that caught me off guard about Azuma’s use of the phrase “derivative works” is that he avoids contextualizing it in relation to theories of adaptation and fidelity criticism. This is because “quotations” “influences” and “parodies” all “presuppose a unit such as an author or work,” (49) whereas Azuma’s notion of “derivative works” resists ideas of a single author. Instead, he demonstrates how the database of Di Gi Charat, for example, “was driven by the power of fragments” (41). However, I do not find Azuma’s definition of “derivative works” so different from Linda Hutcheon’s definition of adaptation. Hutcheon writes that an adaptation is “ a derivation that is not derivative—a work that is second without being secondary. It is its own palimpsistic thing” (9). The difference may be  that while Hutcheon seems to be writing against fidelity criticism, destabilizing a hierarchy of original works vs. derivative works, Azuma draws attention to the importance of fidelity in both the commercial and non-commercial success of derivative works. Azuma talks about fidelity without ever using the term. He writes, " It is not enough to “extrac[t] and imitate[e] only the simulacra as designs (literally at the surface level) without understanding the database of moe-element” (65). In other words, one must demonstrate a deep understanding of the conventions of the genre (database), but also be able to identify the difference between simulacra and database to produce “good” quality works. Azuma emphasises how issues of fidelity are integral to understanding the trends in otaku culture .
            The cultural production of character/character goods ties in nicely with Ian Condry’s Anime Creativity: Characters and Premises in the Quest for Cool Japan. His ethnographic study of “anime in the works” is quite interesting, and his essay reminded me of the manga Bakuman. Condry offers an insider perspective of the production of anime to suggest alternative ways of analysing the cultural and aesthetic significance of the medium. In doing so, he renegotiates definitions of “cool Japan” by demonstrating the how this idea fosters a “brand label” that encourages orientalist discourses about Japanese culture. Much of the scholarly work on anime, according to Condry, focuses on narrative rather than characters. This is an interesting point in relation to Azuma’s argument about the emergence of Di Gi Charats because it indicates the pervasiveness of kyara (characters) and how these kyara don’t necessarily have to belong to a (grand) narrative, but are invested with cultural meanings on their own

Feminist Interventions

Throughout this chapter, Azuma focuses primarily on the cultural production of Di Gi Charat to demonstrate the ways in which that these characters/characteristics are not “a simple fetish object, but a sign that emerged through market principles” (42). Azuma further contends that “Di Gi Charat is not so much a project that naively relies on the desire of chara-moe but a complex project that, by pushing that desire to the limit, has become a satire for the present market dominated by moe-related designs” (47). Azuma’s justification is an attempt to de-fetashise the enterprise of Di Gi Charat by suggesting that moe-elements are in fact “satire” and therefore should not be taken seriously or at least interpreted in a comedic light. What are moe-elements satirical of exactly? In his assessment of the representations of chara-moe, Azuma does not seem to take into consideration how moe-related signs uphold patriarchal ideologies of a certain kind of femininity. The image on page 43 illustrates a bricolage of signs that constitute the chara-moe (See Fig 6).The lavish costume design and excessive use of accessories for an otaku consumer may signal excess and therefore the character is rendered in a parodic light, but how would this character be interpreted for a non-otaku consumer? The fact that a woman’s body (or that of a child’s) is used as an instrument to rewrite and redefine constructs of “femininity” and “cuteness” etc is troubling because it  validates, to some extent, the objectification of the female body as something to either  laugh at or something to desire. OR as Sharon Kinsella contends in her essay, "the increasingly intense gaze with which young men examine girls and girls' manga is, to use the words of Anne Allison "both passive and aggressive" (qtd in Kinsella 306). 

This concern emerges from the idea that if the database is an archive of signs generated from numerous sources and functions as a representation of the collective imagination, then, to what extent the database specifically one that is exclusive to otaku? and one that is specifically Japanese?

Sharon Kinsella’s “Japanese Subculture in the 1990s: Otaku and the Amateur Manga Movement”

            I was particularly drawn to Kinsella’s introduction of her essay, but especially her attention to place and setting:

A limitless secret world of smoldering underground clubs where baby girls in bikinis wield Uzi submachine guns and Russian Eskimos D.J. in Elizabethan court dress. Grey catacombs of deserted rain-swept streets where beautiful women in impeccable Nazi uniforms sport unexpected erections. Nameless back streets scattered with the limpid green lights of opium- soaked noodle shacks where Oxford dons chop up giant squid for hungry pairs of lusty French school boys. Such is the stuff that amateur manga is made of. (289)

Kinsella’s description makes references to Russia, Germany, England, and France suggesting that amateur mangakas prefer to set their stories in the West. I find this a peculiar gesture, and it is an aspect within my own research that I continue to explore. Why do Japanese mangaka turn to the West to tell their stories? To articulate anxieties of gender and sexuality?

I think one of Kinsella’s main arguments is that the otaku culture emerged in relation to and also in response to the dojinshi phenomenon. She argues that otaku’s “adoption” of girl culture had (and continues to) evoke social and cultural anxieties (moral panic) of effeminate men.

There is one last point that I would like to contend. In her essay, Kinsella argues “The yaoi style emerging from Japanese dojinshi is clearly the Japanese equivalent of Anglo-American slash” (307). Here she equates slash and yaoi as similar genres, however, critics such as Mark John Isola “Yaoi and Slash Fiction: Women Writing, Reading, and Getting Off?” and Marni Stanley “101 Uses for Boys: Communing with the Reader in Yaoi and Slash” provide counter arguments. [Both articles can be found in Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre.]

Hemman's blog provides a useful and informative analysis of dojinshi culture. I was really intrigued by how Ghibli films have been parodied and appropriated and quite impressed by the aesthetic quality of some of the illustrations.



Thursday, October 17, 2013


Shall we Date Ninja Love Game for GREE belongs to a series of games created by NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West Corporation) Solmare, which is according to their home page “the No.1 Mobile Comic site in Japan”, and also a major global distributor of mobile comics.  The Shall We Date Series consists of multiple spinoffs:

Shall We Date: Ninja Love Mobile Game, is an app that you can download on your  iphone through itunes. It is also accessible on Android and the PC version from the NTTSolmare website.  Ninja Love is a visual novel mobile game, and belongs to the genre of Himekoi that generally falls under the umbrella category of Otome Games. Himekoi games, which translates to Princess love, in my definition refers to games where the player experiences the feeling of being like a princess. The protagonists of these games are young women and as the player you face a very fortunate dilemma of having to choose one of four bishonen to date.
Ninja Love alludes to famous historical figures of the Sengoku Period (Japan's feudal era) and through a parodic rendering of historical facts (as well as fiction), the player is invited to relive and rewrite, to some extent, a Japanese history. In other words, the Sengoku Period is not only used as a backdrop, but allows the player to relish in Japan’s nostalgic past. In doing so, one of the cultural implications of the game—despite its emphasis on romance—is that it has a didactic purpose, but it also engages in discourses of patriotism and in defining a national identity. In response to the question posed earlier in the semester “What makes a Japanese Game?”, I argue, that it contains an element of Japanese history, in its broadest sense. But of course, this element is one of the many characteristics of Japanese games.
Meet the Characters

 You can unlock these characters by achieving super happy endings with two of the main characters OR pay!


So What are Some of the Features of  Mobile Dating Games?
-Less active participation required of the player
-No voice over. Still images with occasional facial expressions and gestures
-You are reading dialogues (and lots of it)
-Music (each ninja has his own distinct background melody, which is reflective of his personality)

            Ninja Love seems to be a very popular game as the NTTSolmare Facebookpage indicates that they now have up to “300K users”. I predict that the number of spinoffs available suggests the immense popularity of himekoi games across the globe.  The application is available in 32 other countries  not including Japan (See NTTSolmare).
 Upon reading several blogs and reviews of the game, here are what some players have to say:
  •    I actually quite enjoyed this game! The characters were hilarious, the dialogues range from cute to crazy (despite the countless grammatical errors lol), and the CGs were surprisingly satisfying in the cute and [the] hot department (´`). Don’t expect too much from it, but the game exceeded my expectations (kiokunoaria)
  •      Overall, I give a 8/10 stars–mainly because I’m biased with all of the shirtless/half-naked men running around half the time in the game. (Jacqueline Cottrell)
  • This is the only game that Solmare NTT [sic] with background music playing with a very aesthetically pleasing game to look at~ sparkles (Corlee 1289)
In relation to the emphasis on the aesthetic pleasure that the player experiences as she ventures on a journey with her selected suitor as indicated in these three comments, it is evident that himekoi games render young men as objects of female gaze, inverting the conventional role of woman and woman’s bodies as carnal objects and spectacle for the male gaze. [1]

This inversion of conventional gender roles I think on the one hand seems to celebrate the liberty of female sexuality by providing woman with an outlet to explore her sexual or romantic desires—although within a virtual Japanese world—while on the other hand, it also reinforces fixed and patriarchal notions of femininity and masculinity in ultimately validating discourses of heterosexual romance. Many otome games, I think, employ a fairy-tale narrative and doing so sets up a happily-ever-after ending, which becomes the ultimate goal of the game. The player is, in most cases, rendered as the damsel-in-distress, emphasising her powerlessness and helplessness without the protection of her male suitor. The idea of knight-in-shining-armor, though, reinforces a power dynamic that polarizes gender difference. In other words, woman is weak/man is strong; woman is passive/man is active. While to some extent Ninja Love conforms to these generic conventions of otome games, it also complicates these dichotomies by allowing the player to contribute and participate in the assassination of Oda Nobunaga and to restore peace. So in Kotaro’s route, for example, he thanks you for your help in overcoming a foe, which I think demonstrates a mutuality or partnership between the (female) player and the male character, encouraging, to some degree, ideas of equality.
            Moreover, Ninja Love caters to an audience that wants to feel like a “princess” and to be pampered. So while hegemonic discourses of gender propriety are articulated in the game, the player is most likely consciously aware of their role as the female subject and is not necessarily internalising the gender ideology exhibited in the game. However, critics such  as Fusami Ogi who writes extensively on shojo manga writes “we cannot say that the texts [so in this case himekoi games] do not reinscribe the man/woman power relationship because they are written for female readers alone and thus do not affect male readers in any way” (78). Moreover Ogi argues that one of the limitations of the shojo manga genre is that it presents marriage as a natural goal for women. This is also the case for Ninja Love. “In this game, there are three alternative endings consisting of the Happy Ending, Normal Ending, or the Unhappy Ending[. . .] only the Happy Ending rewards you with the last event picture possible for the character of your choice whereas the other ending does not merit anything” (Corlee). This reinforces that the player’s successful completion of the game relies on her ability to make the right choices throughout the game in order to either get married or end in copulation with you ninja: there is no option to live an independent life.
To what extent do games like Ninja Love provide women with a sensation of experiencing or exercising agency within a virtual reality and space? Do women play otome games as a means to escape their mundane and ordinary lives only to ultimately conform to them in games?

[1] BUT does it really?! The idea of a virtual gazing had been suggested in class. That is, since the male character is staring at the player in her eyes throughout most of the game, there may not be an inversion of the male-gaze after all. This idea is particularly interesting in comparison to the ways in which female characters are portrayed as avoiding eye contact with the male player in Ero games, where her coyness invites the male gaze.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Week 5: Otaku Culture continued.

In response to Otaku Japan’s Database Animals Hiroki Azuma. 
          What I find most striking about Azuma’s historicisation of Otaku culture is how he brings together Japan’s past and present in demonstrating how the otaku phenomenon is not necessarily a modern one, but can be traced to the Edo period. In other words, Azuma argues that the practices of otaku culture are closely related to the aesthetics of Edo culture (See 8-9). Another interesting and insightful aspect of Azuma’s theory in relation to the emergence of otaku culture is that its origin was influenced by the rise of American popular art/culture. By showing how the otaku phenomenon is not unique to Japanese culture, Azuma accomplishes to de-fetishise and demystify popular definitions of otaku and otaku-ness. In drawing attention to the ways in which otaku culture appropriated and adapted American comics and animation, a post-colonial reading would suggest that Japan made use of its “master’s tools”, but in order to redefine and re-articulate a cultural discourse (See 18-20). Azuma suggests, though, the double standard of otaku culture in Japan:

One the one hand, as connected to the experience of defeat, the presence of otaku culture is a grotesque reflection of the fragility of a Japanese identity. [. . .] On the other hand, the presence of this culture is connected to the narcissism of the 1980s and is also a fetish that can feed the illusion of Japan being at the cutting edge of the world”. (20)
This contradiction, to reiterate, can be understood in terms of Japanese orientalist point of view: Japan’s ambiguous position as having been once the Empire of Asia while simultaneously being viewed as an occupied or semi-colonised nation from Western lenses. I find it interesting that this tension is still manifest in contemporary manga, anime, and literatures, revealing how Japan constantly redefines and renews ideas of nation and identity in opposition to the West (America). That one’s existence relies on the “Other”. But in this light, I wonder to what extent Japan contributes to its own submissiveness to the West by validating and paying homage to Western aesthetics, tropes and conventions. After reading the first chapter I am left to wonder what is so Japanese about otaku culture?