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Kuzu no Honkai & Writing Sex Scenes

The first post and we’re already a fair bit into January… I should probably start by saying thank you to Irina again for mentioning me in a batch of great blogs. Also a big thank you to Amelia for nominating me in her post for the Mystery Blogger Award. I don’t know if I’ll quite make a post for it at the moment, but I’m still really grateful all the same!

And, of course, another thank you to everyone following my blog, new and older. I hope I can exceed your expectations in this new year. Now, onto the article.

[NSFW]

Anime isn’t a medium that distances itself from mature subjects. 

We can easily turn to Neon Genesis Evangelion or Serial Experiments Lain for examples. More recently, Death Parade and KADO: The Right Answer come to mind. However, none of those four are the type of mature I’ll be talking about today. In this article, when I say mature, think something more the lines of romance. Nana and Bloom Into You are great examples of this; both shows which I loved from beginning to end and deserve their own individual articles.

Even then though, I haven’t specified enough. We’re moving a bit farther into the general label of “mature romance” and stepping into passion and sexuality.

Kuzu no Honkai is a show that aired in 2017, met with mixed opinions, not for the quality, but rather the subject matter. It was too painful to watch and even disgusted people. Relatability is a term people love to throw around and, in the literal sense, wasn’t there at all; people found themselves unable to empathize with the characters. 

For more background, the translation of Kuzu no Honkai is Scum’s Wish. It tells the story of multiple characters who yearn for a person they can’t have. Instead, they mutually use each other as substitutes for their true love. Things get more complicated when same-sex relationships and relationships with large age gaps are posed, making the characters internally conflicted about their perceptions of love on multiple fronts. Unrequited love ultimately describes the entire show. 

Today, let’s have two topics. Let’s talk about Kuzu no Honkai and the tactful use of sex scenes.

The entire cast of Kuzu no Honkai is filled with characters that people would describe as scum and it’s fitting. Only one person really escapes the title throughout the entire series and still gets flak for how he acts. 

In this scene, Hanabi confronts her teacher about how she has loved him for the longest time but could never express it. It’s only now that she can tell him, strong enough to confront her own feelings and conclude that long lasting unrequited love. 

*Note that they are not blood related; however, they did grow up together which is why Narumi Kanai (the teacher) views her as a younger sister.

As you can see, the conclusion of this unrequited love isn’t them getting together nor is it them abolishing love. Hanabi said herself that these feelings in the moment and what they do aren’t romantic, but it’s still love. It’s not passionate, it’s compassionate. It’s moments like these that really define the series. She hasn’t found love. She has understood what love is and entails. 

Kanai is the man who I said escapes the title of scum. He accepts Hanabi’s feelings as gracefully as he can, understanding that this confession doesn’t require a response. Hanabi already knows the answer. This is just her proclaiming it. 

What’s interesting is that Kuzu no Honkai is full of sex and it isn’t the kind of anime to shy away from showing it. But was it necessary? Did animated sex scenes benefit the narrative it was trying to tell? Could implications and clever cuts do the job just as well or better than what we were given? I don’t believe so.

Showing these characters in bed pushes them past the point of no return. More than that, it’s very symbolic of the point of view. The sex scenes are beautifully drawn, more so than the day to day life we are frequently witness to. Its allure captures and entices them to do horrible things, guided only by their emotions. Some scenes show a fiery orange glow while others dim it to an abyssal blue. 

The actual sex isn’t neglected either. Take this scene:

Mugi has to ask “How do I get this off?” He says it in an extremely monotone voice, bereft of any excitement or passion. The scene is temporarily paused by taking off a ribbon. Remember, most of the characters are in their first relationship. They’ve never had sex before and it’s indeed incredibly awkward. Moreover, he actually isn’t into having sex with Moca. He goes so far as stripping her to only her underwear before realizing it. Even in the POV of Moca, I’m sure the blue tint would still be there because she knows this is all meaningless. There’s no fiery passion that takes hold of both of them. There’s only the empty night sky filled with stars that have already decayed. 

Look at the colors used in this scene and how bright they are:

It’s the exact opposite of the scene with Moca because Mugi believes he loves her. What’s great and terrifying is how warm it is without the lighting being harsh. It gives a feeling of comfort and safety: what he sees in Akane.  

Before I move on to how you should incorporate sex scenes in writing, let me conclude my thoughts on Kuzu no Honkai. 

It was a heart wrenching series that I kept up with as it aired. I always questioned how far it would go and asked if it would step even further than it already had. In retrospect, what’s amazing is how the anime discouraged people from watching it solely through subject matter. At a certain point, those people felt that the story wasn’t one they watched solely for entertainment. It had become something else entirely. Its saddeningly mature story and beautiful art can still drive me to tears two years later. Despite it not being exceptionally praised and even hated by some, I’ll always remember it as a well written bittersweet anime.


Now that we’re through that, let’s talk about how to implement sex scenes in writing.

Of course, the style will vary depending on what you intend to convey. After all, if you plan to write a sex scene, everyone knows at this point it’s not about the sex. And if it is? Well, that’s a post for another day (Which I fully intend to write). 

That’s why, before you even start writing, you need to ask yourself if that sex scene is necessary. For what purpose does it exist? Is it to show another side of the character? To show how close two characters are or aren’t? 

Most importantly, ask yourself if doing it another way would be better. Sex is an easy way to show intimacy but if that’s all you want to express, cuddling is actually better. I’m not joking either. Two people having sex is just life. Two people cuddling together is endearing and cute. 

You don’t need to show intimacy through physical contact at all either. Everyday things which seem like routine can be made into thoughtful and affectionate acts. Imagine a couple who lives together. Their routine in the morning is to have a nice breakfast. To show how close they are, maybe they know how they their significant other takes their coffee.

If you want to go a bit further (And still use coffee for some reason), imagine that same couple. This time, one of them has to quickly travel and visit their family. The other person still in the house accidentally makes two portions of food, forgetting they’re alone. It’s simple to understand and effective. 

If you’re sure you want to include a sex scene, I recommend being familiar with literature from both sex’s POV. It makes a huge difference and it’s very noticeable when the author only knows their own mindset. 

The vocabulary you want to use should be a mixture of both literal and symbolic. I assure you, trying to describe everything literally is incredibly off putting. It’s better to read a comedically metaphorical scene than a disgustingly literal scene. Inevitably though, you’ll need to include terms for genitals. What terms you use are up to you, but keep in mind that things can turn comical very quickly. There’s a fine line between medical vocabulary and colorful words that’ll take you many rewrites to find. Just go with whatever comes to mind the first time and come back later.

The best piece of advice: including all senses, should be paid strict attention to here. The warmth or coldness of a person’s touch is frequently used. The lingering smell of shampoo in someone’s hair, the sweet taste of their lips, and soft exhales all serve as basic tools you’ll want to utilize. 

The first time you write a sex scene, it’ll be tough. When you read it back, it’ll sound awkward. At times like that, just remember that it’s no different than writing a dance.

You don’t and shouldn’t describe everything that’s going on. Keep in mind what you’re trying to express.

The Dark Maidens / Girls in the Dark

When I write articles, I want my audience to come out with something relevant by the time they get to the end. Otherwise, I feel like I wasted their time: a precious commodity which, at least for myself, is decreasing at a gradual rate. It’s for that reason I hate to gush about a subject for the sake of it. This time though, you’ll have to forgive me. The only message I can muster is that you should buy a copy and immerse yourself in the writing of a brilliant author. 

The topic today is The Dark Maidens, otherwise known as Girls in the Dark, a novel by Rikako Akiyoshi. 

**I’ll be careful not to spoil anything.

Stumbling around on the second floor of a bookstore, I aimlessly picked books out and read their synopses and beginning pages. It was only by chance that I stumbled upon a pair of novels with a black spine. They were the only two copies in the entire store on the highest shelf no less. Printed on them was the title: The Dark Maidens


Its synopsis is as follows:

“At a prestigious girls’ school, a student has died. Itsumi was the most beautiful, charismatic, and popular girl at St. Mary’s Academy for Girls. She was also the president of the exclusive and tight-knit Literature Club. One week after her death, the members of her beloved club gather in her memory. But as they each testify to what happened in the days leading up to the tragic event, their accusations turn shocking-

Why, and how, did Itsumi really die?

In this glittering and gripping murder mystery, everyone has their own motivations and version of the truth. In its portrayal of the alliances, treacheries, and invisible tensions between friends and frenemies, The Dark Maidens keeps readers guessing and shows that what is sweet can just as easily be poisonous.”

The writing continued, detailing who Rikako Akiyoshi was as an author: degree attainment, other works, awards, and the adaptation of The Dark Maidens to film. 


The synopsis undoubtedly worked as a hook for me. Although, I am and have always been a fan of mystery so there is some bias involved. Nevertheless, I believe it would still pique the interest of others given the setting, suspects highlighted, and style of writing.

Finished with the synopsis, I moved on to the content. Oh, how quickly I was whisked away. Its very first page had, in a sense I’ve never experienced before, immersed me in the world. It was as if the author and character speaking had merged; incarnating the setting and welcoming me to the Literature Club. Indeed, from that first page, my mind was made up to buy the novel.

I said I wouldn’t spoil anything which makes it very difficult to explain my love. Let me expound on what the synopsis briefly touched on then and go from there: the style of the entire novel.

The novel is written in Rashomon-style. This style depicts an event from the perspective of multiple characters. What this means for the novel is that the accounts referenced in the synopsis are able to be explored in full, and gloriously subjective, detail. It becomes even more flavorful when the chapters of the novel are the stories written by the club members. The reader can then match up timelines, point out inconsistencies, mark the gaps in recounts; all exactly as you’d want from a mystery novel. 

Even still, this in itself isn’t avant-garde. Many mystery novels have, to my knowledge, done this in the past. What marks it as brilliant to me is the particular style of each account. Each student’s personality is uniquely conveyed through word choice and distinct literary devices. Neither the story written by them nor the one they recall is exactly alike. This where Rikako Akiyoshi takes the crown. Representing unique character personalities alone is a difficult task for some writers, myself included. Yet, she did more than that. I’d posit that if you gave her the task of talking about the mundane from each character’s perspective, you would be able to tell who was speaking.

The chimes of Sayuri, the effective narrator of the book who closes each chapter, also was wonderfully done; reflecting the mind of the reader and asking questions which spark relevant curiosity. Sayuri was a favorite of mine, always waiting to hear her comments on the story presented. 

This was the first story I’ve read by Rikako Akiyoshi and I’m more than interested in reading more. In fact, I may just pick up every story written by her; a testament to how enamored I was by the writing. After all, Christmas is nearly upon us. What could be a better gift? In the meantime, I’ll be rereading The Dark Maidens and mulling upon the fact that there were only two copies at the bookstore. Also, I have to see about that movie adaptation. Hopefully it’s just as good as the novel.

If you’re even remotely interested, please consider buying the novel as a gift to yourself or another. I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

Here’s an Amazon link.

Anime & Sex-Role Adoption

Originally submitted to John Jay College of Criminal Justice under the name Jeffrey Inigo, 2019.

This is a research paper regarding the role anime has in sex-role adoption. While not formally published yet, any usage of the content herein requires proper citation.

That said, the language used is very formal, even for this blog. If a sufficient amount of attention is given to this, I’ll publish another article detailing the results in simpler terms and what their implications are.

A forward thanks to Irina, an excellent writer with a brilliant blog. This paper was, in part, inspired by her post: Does Animation Distill a Serious Message.


Japanese animated shows exhibit a limited promotion of sex-role stereotypes; less than that of contemporary television. While studies do posit that television is culpable in sex-role adoption as will be further explained, they don’t reference Japanese shows explicitly. This is important as a nation’s media is indicative of its culture. Yet, to what extent is a point of contention given that, as explained by Matthes, “Most research on gender stereotypes in television advertising is based on single-country studies” (2016, p. 314). Due to this, no comparison is available which directly demonstrates the differing effect of culture. Regardless, past literature and a modern analysis of popular animations as of 2019 prove the initial claim. Thus, literature regarding the effect of television, its contents, as well as the effect of animated shows in particular will be explained.

On a grander scale, television’s potential effects on a child’s identity are known. Given the abundance of gender stereotypes in television, as evidenced by Matthes’ data who describes the situation as a “global pattern of gender stereotyping” (2016, p. 325), children are exposed to the risk of sex-role adoption. Sex-role adoption is a process by which a person’s identity is modeled by their perception of another individual of the same sex. Ellithorpe explains this in broader terms, relating it to gender and race: “One way that adolescents may explore and formalize their identities is by selecting media content with characters that match their racial and gender identity categories” (2016, p. 1433). This adoption isn’t necessarily harmful dependent on the role model; however, given that in regards to television they adopt stereotypes, these perceived role models are inappropriate. A commonality among many television shows is the portrayal of males as dominant and females as complementary, an infamous sex-role stereotype that’s still prevalent, demonstrating their inappropriate nature (Durkin, 1985, p. 325). 

Animations are not exempt from having sex-role stereotypes either. Disney movies are a poignant example with Coyne stating that “There are still strong messages of traditional gender role stereotypes for girls and women (e.g., physically weak, affectionate, nurturing, helpful, fearful, submissive) [since the release of Disney Princess movies in 1937]…” (2016, p. 1910). Moreover, animations may pose an additional risk because of their medium. Typically, animations are thought to be safe for the consumption of children (Coyne, 2016, p. 1910) because that is the demographic normally targeted. Such logic then dictates that many parents aren’t aware of the implications sex-role stereotypes have or their inclusion in cartoons, or perhaps both. While Disney movies were discussed, not animated shows, the conclusion that sex-role adoption may stem from animations applies. Rather, the argument for animation’s ability to contribute to sex-role adoption is enhanced due to the relationship the two share. Disney movies, given their profit and evidenced by their continual growth in the modern era, have and continue to be an inspiration for a plethora of artists. It would follow then that artists would seek to mimic and include similar themes reminiscent of the popular product to drive sales.

Generally, Japanese television is not reflective of the rest of the world’s global stereotyping. Matthes note that, “In all countries but Japan, the association of female primary characters with toiletries, beauty products, personal care, and cleaning products can be confirmed” (2016, p. 318). This difference can be explained through two conclusions, both beneficial to stopping sex-role stereotypes: (1) the perceived importance of a stereotypically beautiful physical appearance is decreasing for women, and (2) the use of makeup and other miscellaneous beauty products is becoming acceptable for men. The latter is doubly important considering the following quote: “Research has found that boys can learn gender stereotypes from watching female heroines in the media and vice versa” (Coyne, 2016, p. 1910). Thus, exposure to sex-role stereotypes is dangerous for both men and women. They will formulate a misguided expectation of reality and act according to that if left unchecked. 

To fully analyze whether there are sex-role stereotypes in Japanese animated shows, the top fifty most popular animations (MAL, 2019) were viewed by the author of this paper. All fifty shows portrayed multiple female characters free of stereotypes as a side character. Although, out of the fifty shows, only forty-six were observed to have female characters who took a main role in the narrative. Of the forty-six, five were noted as having one or more sex-role stereotyped traits such as deference to a male or the inability to fight. In all fifty shows, male characters took a main role. The overlap of characters in a main role can be explained by the inclusion of multiple main characters within a show. Of the fifty male main characters, three met the definition of stereotypical. Most male main characters actually had one or more of these characteristics: unathletic, shorter than average height, a fear of fighting, and social anxiety.

The aforementioned data translates to 92% of shows having a female main character and 11% of female main characters exhibiting stereotypes. 100% of shows had a main male characters and only 6% exhibited stereotypes. Lauzen writes, “Females accounted for 42% of major characters on broadcast network, cable and streaming programs [in 2017]” (2017, p. 2). The difference between the 92% and 42% is evident. Additionally, the mentioned percentages of stereotypes for both male and females characters doesn’t take into account the parodic nature of multiple shows or the subversion of the stereotype therein. That said, arguments can be posed about whether parodies contribute to the problem of sex-role adoption and so the percentages will remain unchanged. 

This paper contends that the analyzation of the top fifty most popular animations of all time is more representative of the medium than the currently airing popular animations. The top fifty of all time represent a range of data from 1996 to 2017 as well as a consensus given by the majority of watchers. It can also be stated that these fifty are of significant impact in the minds of viewers, evidenced by their continued popularity over time. Looking at currently airing popular animations wouldn’t provide a large enough sample size worthy of analyzation. Any data observed from it would be insignificant, regardless of whether it finds Japanese animation to have a positive, negative, or no correlation to sex-role adoption at all. Considerations for future studies; however, may wish to look at the top ten most popular animations per year from the late 90s to 2019. Such data may indicate a fluctuation in cultural objectives and perceived sex-roles in Japanese society.

Further arguments can be made that the categorization of genres within Japanese shows as a whole contributes to the overarching problem of stereotypes. Besides conventional genres such as action, horror, or mystery, there are also genres such as shoujo and shounen. When entertainment is marketed as being of the shoujo genre, it targets the demographic of young females. Conversely, when marketed to the shounen genre, it targets young males. These two terms are used to describe genres, but on their own also translate directly to “young girl” and “young boy.” No literature has documented the effect this labeling has; however, shoujo and shounen can be seen as a way for the audience to search for their interest. At the least, it isn’t indicative of malicious intent or put in place for the purpose of restricting people. Nevertheless, this paper recognizes that such labels may have unintended consequences and concedes that, although not available, alternatives should be considered.

This freedom of sex-role stereotypes generally runs counter to Japanese society, one that is very much a patriarchy. Even still, this can be theorized to be purposeful; artists and animators expressing their true feelings through animation because they are unable to in real life. External factors also include the shedding of xenophobic tendencies on the part of the Japanese post-World War II where the country found itself isolated; now beginning to lead towards more liberal tendencies and gradually becoming increasingly more open to outsiders. These liberal tendencies may pose a shift from the aforementioned patriarchal system to one that is more equal (Rush, 2015). 

Japanese animated shows aren’t free from sex-role stereotypes. A number of shows, past and present, do include an unrealistic portrayal of men and women; sexualizing them to provide a fantasy. The difference is in the proportion of shows which do it, especially compared to the previously mentioned statistics of broadcast network, cable and streaming programs as provided by Lauzen (2017). Compound this lack of stereotypes with the portrayal of strong and independent women, as well as diversity in gender, and perhaps Japan’s animated shows may do more than simply avoiding promoting sex-roles. Nevertheless, it stands that Japanese animated shows do a much better job of portraying both sexes than contemporary television. 

References

Coyne, S. M., Linder, J. R., Rasmussen, E. E., Nelson, D. A., & Birkbeck, V. (2016). Pretty as a Princess: Longitudinal Effects of Engagement With Disney Princesses on Gender Stereotypes, Body Esteem, and Prosocial Behavior in Children. Child Development, 87(6), 1909–1925. 

https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.1111/cdev.12569

Davidson, E. S., Yasuna, A., & Tower, A. (1979). The Effects of Television Cartoon on Sex-Role Stereotyping in Young Girls. Child Development, 50(2), 597–600.

https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.2307/1129444

Durkin, K. (1985). Television and sex‐role acquisition 1: Content.

https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8309.1985.tb00669.x

Ellithorpe, M., & Bleakley, A. (2016). Wanting to See People Like Me? Racial and Gender Diversity in Popular Adolescent Television. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 45(7), 1426–1437. 

https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.1007/s10964-016-0415-4

Lauzen, M. (2017). Boxed In 2016-17: Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes in Television.

https://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/2016-17_Boxed_In_Report.pdf

Lazar, B. A. (1994). Under the Influence: An Analysis of Children’s Television Regulation. Social Work, 39(1), 67–74. Retrieved from:

http://search.ebscohost.com.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9403302584&site=ehost-live

Matthes, J., Prieler, M., & Adam, K. (2016). Gender-Role Portrayals in Television Advertising Across the Globe. Sex Roles, 75(7–8), 314–327. 

https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.1007/s11199-016-0617-y

MyAnimeList (MAL). (2019). Top Anime by Popularity

https://myanimelist.net/topanime.php?type=bypopularity

Rush, M. (2015). Theorising fatherhood, welfare and the decline of patriarchy in Japan.  International Review of Sociology, 25(3), 403–414.

https://doi.org/10.1080/03906701.2015.1078528

Thank You

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States and to any of those who celebrate, I hope you have a beautiful day! To those who don’t? All the same!

Since it’s Thanksgiving, I figure this is an appropriate time to say “thank you.” So, thank you. To the few people who read this little blog with its lethargic output, I’m really happy and I hope you continue to enjoy it. I can’t put everything into this at the moment and it feels terrible, but I won’t abandon it. I don’t want to ever abandon something again. I’ve worked on quite a few things and I tossed them to the side and- Oh, I’ll talk about those things another day. Today is supposed to be happy!

Let me tell you a story then. It’s a true story, a departure from what I usually write. A part of my life story. A “thank you” to a precious friend.

I worked in an office for a bit: three years to be exact. Mind you, it was only a gig in a driver’s education program, not the horrid DMV though. Still, I had quite a heavy and diverse workload in retrospect. I would be filling out tax forms, registrations rosters, writing up receipts, making tests for the program, grading them, calling parents and the DMV, etc. 

Despite that, it’s wasn’t horrible. No, the work didn’t make the job horrible. It was the solitude of the office. Once you finish your work, what else? You just sat there in silence, hands folded, maybe answering a phone. After the first hour, the unfamiliarity of the small office wore off and that was all it was: a small office. What was the point of my being there? I was wasting time I could devote to projects.

Thankfully, there was one other person there who was like a light in the dark. I had known her before. No. That isn’t correct. I had simply been aware of her before. To be honest, I can’t even recall if we talked prior to the job we shared. When we sat across from each other in that office though, I found someone to laugh with: a true friend.

Well, that’s not exactly correct either. You see, she had gained an impression during our awareness of each other prior. In her eyes, I came across as… let’s say “cold.” Completely justified, mind you, and more true that not. Unless I know a person for an extended period of time, my behavior is distant. All that to say it took awhile for what can be determined as friendship to blossom. Thankfully, I was persistent in thinking up jokes and topics of conversation. In my mind, the catalyst which spurred it was, of course, anime.

Once I found out she was a fan, we were giving recommendations and reminiscing on past shows. I believe there was a time where were playing OPs and EDs from our phones, unaware of the classrooms down the hall or the potential for customers to come and register, all to guess where they were from. This went on for the better part of two years, culminating in me dragging her to a small movie known as Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel – Lost Butterfly, the second movie of the Heaven’s Feel arc. The funny thing is, she didn’t even know of Fate past the ridiculous trivia I had told her. 

**If you don’t know, Fate has a reputation for its genderbending of historical characters. 

My English King Can’t Possibly Be This Cute!

She ended up watching the first movie the night before we would see the NA premiere of Lost Butterfly. Because of this, she was actually missing out on two whole Fate anime which heavily pertained to the plot. Nevertheless, she admired Ufotable’s beautiful animation and was all the more mystified by the plot. After the movie, I explained what she might’ve missed and since then, she’s watched most Fate anime that have been released as well as tapping into the mobile game: Fate/Grand Order. I look forward to watching the third Heaven’s Feel movie: Spring Song.

**During Christmas I believe, we exchanged gifts. One of the items she gave me was a Fate necklace. I wear it everyday I go out. I’ve only forgotten it once and I could feel my body tense once I realized it.

Of course, there’s more to this friendship than anime. Without expounding on it too much, we’re there for each other. We’re free to share our ideas and not afraid to argue. Even if we get angry, we come back. I couldn’t ask for someone better. Whether she knows it or not, she’s helped me in choosing my path in life. Without her, I don’t expect to have gone beyond formal reviews and towards what I do now. 

So, thank you. Because I know you took the little time you have to read this. 

The message of the story? In retrospect, I guess it’s that your closest friends might not be immediately apparent. Fate will lead you towards them, but it’s up to you to reach out. Maybe form a connection through something mutually loved, like Fate. 

Anyway, once more to everyone, thank you. I hope you continue to enjoy what I make and I wish you luck to anything and everything you’ll do in the future.

One more thing. I want to let you know that I’m always working on projects, directly or indirectly. Not a moment passes where I’m not thinking of it. December will be full of stuff I’m sure you’ll like. I can promise an article about anime and its psychological effects relative to gender roles (a pseudo-research paper) as well as the flagship article for How Anime Connects The World, a series which connects themes globally.

That’s all from me today.

~A Very Grateful Person – Fenette

My Experience At Anime NYC 2019

Anime NYC was a phenomenal convention with little downside. First though, maybe I should preface this by saying two things. I live in New York, going back and forth from Manhattan everyday so I’m very used to it. Also, I attended through professional registration. I say “maybe” because the latter didn’t mean much. 

For all intents and purposes, it functioned the same as a 3 day pass with a discount. Normally, the 3 day pass costs $70. A professional pass costs $45. Besides that? I suppose there was early access to the exhibition hall. By a few minutes. On the first day, Friday, I attended late due to my schedule. However, on Saturday, I did go to take advantage of the so called early access. While the “professionals” were the first group to enter the hall (With the exception of those with disabilities; completely understandable and I have no qualms with that), it was about 10:00 AM on the money, the time the hall was supposed to open.

Moreover, while hearsay, I overheard from a person on the professional line that on Friday, those with pro passes weren’t the first to enter the hall, preceded by those with normal passes who arrived early. All that to say I have no bias just because of a dinky badge. (But I appreciate the discount! Accept me next year AnimeNYC!). 

Anyway, on to stuff you might actually care about. The booths! Oh man. I’m still gushing over everything. If you’re looking for any merch, search around enough and you’ll find something to your liking. This is especially true in Artist Alley. Walking around and seeing the variety of art styles, it almost prompted me to ask for commissions (some artists were publicly advertising their willingness to do so too!). If you’re not too interested in artwork or posters, there were many custom badges, pins, and jewelry. I also feel the need to apologize. Some booths got less attention from the public than others and the people running them appeared fairly down. I wish I had enough spare money to give to all of them.

For the purpose of not making this article too long, I’ll cover what I thought was the best booth and one that was… problematic.

 
One booth in particular that kept me coming back for more was Katana/Sakana. I can’t sing enough praises about them or their products. Admittedly, my fashion isn’t overtly anime regardless of the setting. Thankfully, their booth was perfect for me! Designed with the intent to be “subtle and minimal for everyday wear,” they work as great designs for the unaware and wonderful homages to the knowledgeable. Here are two pictures of what I bought: 

Additionally, the two guys running the booth were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I talked with them all three days of the convention and their charisma and passion for the entire medium was evident. These “two guys,” who came down to New York from Toronto, designed all merch themselves and are deserving of so much credit. Go check them at their site here

However, there was one booth which I deemed problematic. I didn’t get their booth name but it was one of various prop sellers, selling foam and plastic swords, as well as other replicas from games and anime. What was problematic about it? The prices.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this because I couldn’t afford them. I’m saying this because they were constantly changing; not from day to day, from person to person. To make sure this was the case, my friend and I tested it. Two people were running the booth when we were there. Let me provide an approximate transcription of the conversation.

**There were no price tags on the props.


Pointing to a sword, my friend asks:

[Friend]: Excuse me. How much is this?

[Seller 1]: $40.

[Friend]: Okay. Thank you.

The seller moves on to help other people while my friend continues to eye the props. Waiting until he is out of earshot, not far giving how noisy the convention was, he points to the sword again and asks the other seller:

[Friend]: Excuse me. How much is this?

[Seller 2]: $50.

With a scrunched face, he shakes his head in disapproval.

[Seller 2]: I’ll give it to you for $45.


What does this indicate? There are two possible explanations.

  • The two sellers were ignorant of the price they were selling the props at.
  • Either of the sellers misspoke. 
  • Seller 2 is hiking up the prices purposefully.

If (1), that’s a serious issue. People are getting priced more than they should unfairly. It also shows a lack of awareness and care on behalf of the sellers. However, I struck a conversation with Seller 2 who stated that he had run many booths before. 

If (2), that’s still a serious issue but perhaps an isolated incident; however it’s not excusable. While the explanation is valid, it’s not a justification.

If (3), I’m not sure. Booths are expensive and you’re trying to advertise and make money. Yet, I posit that this takes it too far. Forcing customers to have to bargain for a lower price is unethical to me. This is especially the case when you’re targeting the community you supposedly love.

**There were other booths selling extremely similar weapons. The prices of these other booths were lower than the aforementioned. Take away what you will from that. 

**Also, every product they sold was “the last one they had.” Now that’s shady.

There are a few things which could be improved upon. I got the feeling that the Javits Center wasn’t used to its fullest potential. The crowd at large mainly stuck to one floor, only separating when going to panels. Perhaps they should consider separating Artist Alley and the exhibitors. 

Additionally, the lines for panels were a bit jumbled. At least, they were for the FGO and Code Geass panels. I’m not sure what a solution to this would be though. The same can be said for the Aniplex store. 

These critiques are largely minor and there’s a reason for that. Anime NYC 2019 was lovely and the critiques I give are small because everything else was great. It truly felt like the community was being catered to in the perfect way. All people who ran the booth felt genuinely nice, a shout out once more to Katana/Sakana as well as STL Ocarina (The woman running the booth took song requests. I talked with her about my inexperience with wind instruments, though she ultimately convinced me that they were intuitive to learn and so I did end up buying one.). Go and check out their products!

This ocarina I bought wasn’t themed on anything in particular, but maybe you’d be interested in these:

The atmosphere was so friendly that I felt comfortable to compliment every cosplay I saw, the antithetical action of the introvert that I am. Some were cosplaying Sailor Moon, Soul Eater, Fate, and prominently My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer.

Would I recommend going? Of course! It would be lovely to meet you all there in November of 2020. Whether you’re a local, from another state in the US, or farther; I extend the welcome I received to you!

Writing VNs

To the aspiring VN author, this article is dedicated to you. 

You need to start writing now. I can’t stress this enough. If this is the path you’re choosing, the road is a long one. Your destination is far and there are no rests. However, this is your passion and you will not be dissuaded. So I tell you, begin writing. While you still have the time, no matter how little, never waste it. You will never get that back. 

Campus Notes – forget me not.

I’ll be the first to say that VN authors don’t need a degree. Such things are fundamentally supplemental. They represent a dedication and mastery of a craft. To achieve the same, you need to [1] read, [2] write, and [3] learn. 

By reading, you’re able to derive a few things which are essential to the overarching development of visual novels: [A] quality, [B] style, [C] tone through sound, music, and illustrations.

[1A]: I don’t care if you read Clannad, DDLC, Steins;Gate, or Katawa Shoujo. Although, I suppose when I further expound on my point, DDLC will be an object of possible contention. Nevertheless, I posit that reading popular VNs aren’t good enough. Those that are popular gain their claim to fame by possessing good qualities. I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t take note of these. I’m arguing that mediocre VNs are equally as important and may in fact better demonstrate what’s crucial when developing visual novels. 

We have gotten used to the high level of quality in our games. When we read one, they’re rated 85% positive or more. We don’t see products below that on the scale. This is the problem. We begin to take good writing for granted. We register the game as good but don’t recognize what makes it so. It’s easy to say that something reads well or flows nicely, but I want you to look at games as more than good or bad. A purely evaluative assessment is useless. Think of reviews which simply state that, “This game is so good. It makes you believe the characters are real people!” That does little to reassure a person who is lukewarm about the product. It says nothing about the intrinsic quality of the game, throwing out completely subjective terms of relatability and good. Reading bad and mediocre VNs will allow you to pinpoint what makes a narrative NOT work. Only then can you truly review a game, both the good and the bad. 

[1B]: Following talk of reviews, this is where style pops its head in. If a game is good or relatable, find out why. Maybe it’s the extensive worldbuilding? Or is it the emotional dialogue? In fact, maybe it’s the opposite. The author didn’t talk about the world at all because it’s understood; an exaggeration of our own. Any additional information would ruin the subtle parallels they’re trying to convey. Perhaps the dialogue is absolutely useless; small talk because it’s what people do: conveying unfamiliarity and awkwardness between characters. In every scene, think about the factors that go into it. What style fits the image you want to make? 

Importantly, take note of the unique writing style which visual novels have. If anything, they’re more akin to the script of a play. Yet, they find themselves unique because they can convey internal thoughts and monologue. I urge you to take full advantage of this. Otherwise, there’s no point in writing a VN over contemporary short stories and novels. Part of the advantage is the ability to work with cliches and tropes. As explained in an earlier article, The Popularity of Visual Novels, VNs are a subdivision of anime culture. Archetypal characters character are going to be a part of the narrative, there’s little question about it. Your goal as a writer is either to subvert them or refine them. This extends to common scenarios as well: (a) the confession after school, (b) a ditzy girl getting lost, etc.


Feel free to use these as writing prompts if you wish:

(a): In my locker, a bright pink envelope laid atop my books. Its edges were slightly bent, the writer’s persistence to fit the letter within obvious. I imagine whoever it was to be pretty cute, fumbling with a confession they spent days writing, their final barrier the dimensions of a letter. Even the penmanship appeared as if it was intricately scribed to the point where it looked like a typed font. I can still remember it. 

“3:30 – The pond. I hope you’ll come.”

The wind was strong, blowing hair into my eyes. I had forgotten to check the weather that morning and only had a light sweater on. But I wasn’t cold, only anxious. The closer I got, the faster my heart beat. My phone read 3:25. I was early. I wondered who she was, who would confess to me, what I would say. Soon enough, ten minutes passed with me lost in thought. 3:35, she wasn’t there. Had this been a prank? Did some assholes set me up? Was she just late? I never found out. 4:00 rolled around. I never saw her.


(b): I yawned openly, tired from a long day’s work. As usual, I found myself taking a detour through the park. Honestly, it’s more routine than detour at this point. There’s not much logic to it. It takes longer to get home and is a rougher trail, but the time spent allows me to forget all about my lonely office job. Compared to the cubicle, this place was the sweetest freedom I could taste. Alone to myself, I could slump my shoulders, loosen my tie, and drag my feet.  This time though, I wasn’t alone. Where the path diverged, a beautiful young woman looked around confused. I wouldn’t feel right just leaving her here and it’s not like she’s out of the way so…

“Excuse me, Miss?”

Her head swiveled left to look at whoever was talking. When she realized that the person being talked to was in fact her, she turned to face me. Through her small pirouette, her long olive coat swayed to and fro. 

With a small gasp, she replied, “Um, yes? Do you need something?”

No, I’m trying to help you… 

“Actually, I was wondering if you were alright. You seem a bit lost.”

“Oh,” she chuckles, blushing, “you could tell?”

I return a laugh in kind to try and save her pride. 

“I’m sure it’s common. After all, it’s gotten pretty dark. Where are you trying to get to?”

“Well, I was trying to get to the Shinaki trail and now I’m- Where is this?”

“This is the intersection of Yamamoto and Jinkei. If you want to go to the Shinkai trail, head this way,” I point, “and take the second left. That’ll put you back on track.”

“Oh, thank you so much. Your name was?”

“Makoto Idachi. A pleasure to meet you. Do try and not get lost again, okay?”

This time, she innocently laughs in earnest. 

“You can call me Maya.” She bows with a smile on her face.

“Get home safe, Maya.” I respond as she rises.

Quickly, she takes off before me, skipping down the trail I pointed out. I watch her, wondering if she’ll be fine on her own. However, she soon stops abruptly.

Once again tilting her head to me, she calls out, “Idachi, you should be careful too. Maybe come with me?”

“Hm? What’s the matter?”

“Yamamoto and Jinkei… Oh, you know. I heard it’s pretty dangerous around here. People have even started going missing and- I’m just a bit scared.”

I don’t know what it was but the hair on my arm stood on end. My mind screamed at me not to go with her. 

“Please, Idachi. Won’t you come with me?”


[1C]: Tone through sound, music, and illustrations will be the most important part for you to pay attention to. As writers, our grasp of music is limited. However, if you’re developing a VN, you need to be able to direct it. At the very least, you must grasp what tone the music evokes and the types of instruments it uses to do so. Silence or the sudden cutting of sound is very useful as well. When writing a script, keep in mind what the music will be. I recommend you even play something in the background. Additionally, mix and match music for a fun experiment. Truly grim narratives increase the factor of terror with the inclusion of happy music rather than the usual droning. 

Voice acting is also something key you will want to write notes for. Knowing when to pause, what to emphasize, how to say something; these are absolutely integral. However, give your voice actors freedom. We have a set way in mind we want things to be said. Yet, we need to give them freedom in their field to allow their talent to show. Their unadvised performance may be better than what you were trying to mold. 

Art as well is something you must allow freedom for. Convey the details you want to portray to your artist(s). This includes the general color palette. Find reference material for angles and perspective. Above all, every person in the process must have access to the full script and any background materials you can provide. They too must be in communication with each other. Far too often have I seen the sprites, BGs, CGs, music, and script been completely out of sync. This is unfortunate as the individual components represent an abundance of quality in their own right. 

**Maybe check out Liah? Her art is fantastic and also has free sprites for use.

Here are a few links:


**The sprite itself is an asset for the upcoming VN, Tidal Blossoms.

To see more art and catch updates on the game’s development, check out this link:

The reason this is still categorized into [1. Read] is because you shouldn’t want to make mistakes. I’m not arguing that you won’t make mistakes. In fact, you’ll make many. What I’m discouraging you from doing is making stupid mistakes. Read so you can get a feel of what you want and what you need. Learn from the mistakes of others. Don’t waste money on assets you’ll show off in the prototype version. Try and narrow down what you want before you start spending.

Chuusotsu! 1st Graduation: Time After Time

[2] Writing is the only way you’ll get better. In fact, it’s the only way to succeed. There’s no other way to show your experience in a considerable manner. Moreover, writing is a long process. Of course, the writing period will change dependent on your speed and the estimated length you want your VN to be. Even in the late stages of development and advertisement, you’ll still be making adjustments to the script. Most are minor changes, others a plot breaking continuity errors. My point is that you don’t need other assets at the offset and you won’t need them for a long time. 

Besides, at the offset, you don’t know how long your VN will be. While I did posit that you may have an estimated length, never take these to heart. Sometimes, you won’t reach it and it’s up to you if that’s for better or for worse. Maybe you should leave it shorter than intended. The plot points connect stronger and filler would only detract from its quality. Or is it that you didn’t spend enough time with description? 

**Spending time describing the intricate appearance of a character is largely moot outside of select cases. Some cases include the sudden infatuation of the player character, losing himself in beautiful hazel eyes which glisten like the sunset on a summer day. Or describe things which aren’t easily visible in the sprite. The most prominent thing which comes to mind is an engagement or wedding ring., accessories which may go missed by the player, yet explain the character.

**Small pet peeve from me: I hate the advertisement of word count. If you’re pumping the script full of crap just to put it on the store page, you have another thing coming.

Perhaps the script is even longer than intended? In the middle of writing, you thought of some great character arcs that supplement one’s history and builds the universe. Or maybe the common route is too long or you took too long explaining a character’s morning route. 

**Describing the day to day life of a character, especially when done by the person going through said routines, is short and quick. We don’t pay attention to the small things. People have a two-track mind, doing one thing while thinking about others that are more relevant. 

In any case, you must finish a draft of the ENTIRE script before making the necessary corrections on these grand scales. Otherwise, you’re stuck in an endless loop of revision, looking at the same set of sentences again and wondering if it sounds right. Revision isn’t bad. Never think that. But another advantage of finishing the entire script is letting someone else read it. This is paramount! You know the story. You fill in pieces and correct words subconsciously. Pass it over to a friend. Let them have a run through and you’re guaranteed to find typos (even after release). 

Chuusotsu! 1st Graduation: Time After Time

[3] Learn. Will I really take a whole section of this article to explain learning? No. Make note of what others do and see if you can develop further upon that or bring together concepts into a new idea/mechanic. Pertinent to the last section (writing) is to take criticism and reviews seriously, sorting out subjective from objective remarks.

**Important to note that subjective remarks are still very important. Hidden in them is a critique and hint towards what audience you should be directing your efforts towards. 


Dear reader, the aspiring developer and author you are, please chase your dream. It’s a road fraught with difficulty, there’s no doubt, but this is the community you love. Yes? I can’t imagine myself being more passionate than anything else. If you feel the same way, then please, start writing. 

VN Popularity [P2]

As discussed in Part 1, VNs aren’t as popular as other mediums because they exist as a niche of a niche. How then do we make them more popular? Keep in mind that this seeks to answer a long-term problem, not give short-term solutions. 

While I list the main changes we should make if we want to expand appeal, I’ll also chime in with my opinion on what it means for VNs as a whole. 

The first and most obvious way is this:

To move away from anime and Japan. 

Understand that while anime is nearly intrinsic to VNs, if we truly want to popularize the medium, this is the first step we must take. It’s not an easy step, artistically or financially. Every person in the development and publication of VNs were practically raised on anime and continue to show our passion through our work. Yet, we need to show the world that VNs can exist independently. Just like contemporary novels, plays, or movies; VNs are a form of writing, not a statement of the content therein. 

This is from what can be described as a VN adaptation, The Dandelion Girl, based off of Robert F. Young’s short story of the same name.

Such a change will take years if developers even attempt going down this path. I’d be blown away if I saw it within the next three decades. The longer I contemplate this situation though, the more I realize that such a departure isn’t as precarious as we assume. Let me put it simply; western VNs don’t need to abandon their origin completely. In fact, I hope numerous creators continue to explore how they can put their own twist on anime narratives. Instead, we need to hold up VNs that are presentably more western equally (Given they are of sufficient quality of course. Promoting to push a style without it being halfway decent will cave in any future said style has). Both the developers and community then must learn to have faith in each other. As developers, we mustn’t get stuck in the mindset that VNs need to be anime inspired. If that’s the aesthetic which fits, then so be it, but keep an open mind. The community must be willing to disregard the notions of art style in order to embrace new narratives too. 

For a visual novel that perfectly rode the line, see Fare Thee Well by Watercress Studios. 

In short, the hardest part of this could very well be finding inspiration from the West. Keep in mind, the final product can and most likely should be a grand amalgamation of both East and West. Indeed, we must combine rather than regurgitate an intimation of JP VNs. While I do single out East and West, I do it for flair and general direction; not as an exclusion of any culture.

The second step we must take is this:

Evolving the genre artistically. 

During the year, I was given a key from the developer crew Pseudome for their game Errant Heart. Before I play a game, I like to do my research. I’m not talking about the themes or reviews, those are things people should figure out themselves. Instead, I’m referring to the development history of the game as well as the bio of the creators themselves. When reading upon Pseudome and their thoughts when venturing into VN development, I was amazed. I recommend you read about it, even if you aren’t interested in Errant Heart itself. Find the link here

However, the key components which I’ll extract are these: 

  • Before reading Tsukihime, they believed VNs to be synonymous with dating simulators.
  • They disliked the static artwork of VNs. 
  • “Now scrub the search bar and watch the little preview window. Does it take minutes-on-end for the imagery to change? I’ll bet it does.”
  • Utilizing their background in comics and animation, they made it play more like an animatic than a slide show. 
  • “To that end we have implemented myriad techniques to help keep up visual interest, such as multiple character poses, outfits, hair styles, lighting effects, zoom levels, set props, camera panning and other special effects.”

While some of their implementations have been done before, they’re generally rare amongst VNs. Going forward, those who are able to should strive to make VNs more than their minimum.

Even small mechanical systems such as Root Double’s Senses Sympathy System (SSS) provide an illusion of complexity and are thus welcome. At points along the story, the player is given the ability to assess the actions of characters in the game emotionally. These determine how characters are most likely to act, also affecting relationships. Functionally, they do the same thing that regular choices achieve. However, the presentation does the trick in giving, what would otherwise be a well written VN more weight. 

Arcade Spirit’s choices also have a clever trick to them. By corresponding its choices to a personality, the player makes slowly molds the insert character. Eventually, choices are barred to only what personality the character most prominently associates with. There is also a chart which constantly ranks what emotions and types of action are typically chosen. Once again, these are functionally identical to regular choices but are presented well so as to give them presence. Their blending into the arcade and neon style also help drastically so they don’t feel completely out of place. 

All that said, both games have gotten criticism for their mechanics being too “gamey” or gimmicky. If these two games failed in their presentation or didn’t have a charm to them, they would fail as features and I would be inclined to agree. However, I would argue that such systems still retain the fundamental structure of VNs without adding the undisputed gimmick of mini-games. For the most relevant, please refer back to Errant Heart whose additions weren’t in player choice but instead perspective and design. 

In this step, we should be wary of adding things which stray too much from the formula. A VN is, after all, a visual novel. While full blown interactive games are nice, perhaps then we should consider VNs better fitting as a subgenre. 

Lastly then, let’s consider this step:

Taking VNs into the future as a subgenre.

Once more, I’ll say again that I’m not even considering relegating VNs to solely a subgenre. However, pushing their expansion as a subgenre may see more popularity than pure VNs do at current. Take a look at games like Persona or Valkyria Chronicles. Few people would say that they are visual novels. However, they undoubtedly contain VN elements. If more games take this approach, perhaps it’s possible to ease new players into pure VNs. Instead of subjecting them to a slow payout, they have a nice mix of gameplay and story which are segmented for digestible experiences. On this front, I have little experience in development or directing. I only am able to speak professionally on pure VNs. Thus, I can only comment as part of the audience playing these games. Nevertheless, the cons of this are the increased requirements from solo developers. After all, for as intellectually challenging as VNs are to make, they are relatively simple to code. Still, we should be open to its implementation. 

Everything is easy to say and infinitely harder to implement. However, from what I see, these three things will propel VNs forward, all in terms of mass popularity and most in general quality. While they don’t necessarily need a push at current, take what I’ve said as a bit of a prediction as well as a small tip. Never treat what I say as a guideline. I leave the decision to you, a valued member of the community.