Wednesday, 8 April 2015

How I Properly Discovered Eroge, and Should We Take Eroge for Granted?

This image is demeaning, degrading and insulting to women's intelligence. A waste of a perfectly good character design as well.

How I properly discovered eroge

As an animation enthusiast I had always loved discovering different forms and genres of the medium. I had grown up on anime eve since I had discovered Pokemon at 6 years old, and I had gotten into Miyazaki’s films ever since I went to see ‘Spirited Away’ in the cinema. Around the same time as the former, anime was considered to be a children’s medium. There were always things on, like Digimon, Monster Ranchers, etc. I saw one episode of ‘Sailor Moon’ and it was only from the first season (it was the one with all the wedding dress stuff). 
Since then I had only been into Studio Ghibli films because they were richer, more ambitious and more visually striking.
I remember I was watching bits of ‘Saint Seiya’, just to rant and rave at what a damsel in distress Athena was (without appreciating fully the true strength of her character).

I got back into Sailor Moon when I was 15, and from there I started looking at more things like ‘Bleach’, ‘Ranma ½’, ‘Excel Saga’, ‘FLCL’ and various other bits and pieces of anime.
While it wasn’t always the best, I did appreciate the Japanese’s taste in character design. There was always something harmonious about the choices of colour and shape. I still think Rukia from ‘Bleach’ is one of the coolest designs ever.
There was one episode from ‘Excel Saga’, which parodied romance simulation games. I didn’t understand the whole joke, so I just went along with it. There was one point where Excel was the… big sister character? I can’t tell. Anyway, I enjoyed it like the rest of the series.

About 2010-ish, I wanted to get a book, which told you how to draw “Sexy sports wear”, but my mother wouldn’t let me get it. I later understood why. A 17-year-old girl would feel uncomfortable drawing from something meant for lonely teenage boys.
I got an alternative which didn’t turn out any better “How to Draw Anime and Game Characters: Bishoujo Game Characters.” I liked some of the outfits in it: the ninja outfit, the samurai top and hakama, the slightly androgynous kung fu outfit. I knew very well that most of the other outfits were made so that they didn’t leave much to the imagination.
This was the book that taught me about romance simulation games.
These were games that usually featured a male protagonist interacting with one or many female characters. They’re like ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ stories. Most of them set in a Japanese high school.
After the harrowing experience of 'Ren Kagami 5', this was the furthest experience of titillation I could bear to depict.

The games have multiple endings, good or bad, depending on which option you choose in the game.
Of course, as the book demonstrates, these girls were usually one-note stereotypes. You had the gentle heroine, the brainy one, the sporty one, the tough tsundere, etc.
Even more annoying, while each character had a model sheet, the demure heroine had twelve expressions featured while the other characters displayed only six. That was seriously annoying. There was no way my characters could display these expressions without looking one-and-a-half dimensional. However, it did work for the extras and background people. It was insulting that characters who were all supposed to be integral to a story didn’t have that much range in facial expression.

Another factor that introduced me to eroge was when I went to see the Takashi Murakami exhibition at the Tate Modern, and I saw the video of Kirsten Dunst dancing and singing to ‘Turning Japanese’ by ‘The Vapors’. There were some pretty lurid pictures shown in the video: lactation, disproportionately big breasted women, etc.
This picture is just bizarre. Why is she sweating so much? Is the subway that hot? Most likely. Even stranger, why is she crying bubbles? Did she eat a bar of soap?

I suspected that this would what I would encounter if I ever visited a store in Japan, especially since I am a self proclaimed otaku. I had hoped not to be ever surrounded by it.

In 2012, I had the idea of developing my own characters by having them interact with anyone on Anime Characters Database who had the same hair and eye colour as them (because I’m fascist like that). It worked. My main character mellowed down from an angry sociopath into a friendly and sociable individual.
Then for fun I started looking up characters who had the same hair and eye colour as me.
Then one design caught my eye.
She had dark blonde, almost brown pigtails in bunches, deep blue green eyes, and a healthy, friendly, smiling face.

Her name was Ren Kagami.
I loved this design. I wanted to steal this design for myself, illegally and shamelessly. This was a design that didn’t appear to fit any stereotype mentioned in the book.
It was a shame, then, that she had to be a sex object in a hentai game.
A hentai game about incest.
The game was called Oyako Neburi- Sasou Hitozuma Dakaretai. The artist is called Hajime Kotobuki. It was a game about a boy who has sex with his mother. And his sister. And his next door neighbor (Ren Kagami). And her mother.
I went onto the website, I looked up the game, and I saw Miss Kagami being treated as nothing more than a fictional piece of meat for the player to enjoy.
Poor girl, harassed in such a carnal manner.
You can imagine how personally insulting that is to me as a woman.

All in all, it was a waste of good character design, through and through. Insulting characterization that only serves to conform to teenage boy ideals. If this girl existed, she would not put up with her childhood friend having sex with her mother, let alone do a threesome.
In any case, this was the game that started my morbid curiosity for erotic games.

I’ve got a funny story I like to tell people. In the summer of 2012 I went to Japan, and spent a week in Tokyo and another week in Kyoto. One evening we were wandering around and we saw this store that had manga outside, so we went in. I went upstairs to look for costumes and I found rows and rows of video game pornography. It was so disgusting and disturbing to me that I started blundering about like Snow White in the forest. I had a good laugh afterwards.

A year later, I started developing Ren as my own character. I changed her hair colour, gave her a slightly different figure and a completely different face. A perfect thinly-disguised plagiarism.

About the same time, I went to London MCM Expo Comic Con in October 2013. I bought two Japanese music albums from there; one was an album of an artist and voice actress named Yui Sakakibara.
Her music was what you’d expect from women’s J-Pop: ear-bleedingly squeaky and obnoxious. Yet there were a couple of cool songs, so I looked them up.
And what a surprise, they were intro songs to various visual novels and eroge.

In December 2014 I set up a second DeviantArt account, SourNote2014. For a while I didn’t know what to do with it. Then I realized, I could use it as a disguise. I could disguise myself as a hentai to get people’s attention, and to ultimately read this blog post.

Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle, if you will.
It was easy. No one would ever find me out because perverts on DeviantArt are so selfish they don’t think about who could possibly be doing the artwork that they favourite practically all of.
Second, hentai artwork on DeviantArt is so commonplace that they wouldn’t suspect someone disguised as a pervert to really be an outspoken feminist.

(I was wrong. They don't care.)

It all brings me to this:

Should we take Eroge for granted?

My answer is no.
Ever since it came about, people in the West have accepted it as part of Japanese culture, and that bothers me.
We do still live in a male-dominated society, and despite the valiant efforts of feminists to create strong female characters (and there have been!), sexism still runs rampant in the world, and Japan is just as guilty as all the other places. Objectifying underage girls? Oh, well, it’s Japan.
No! We can’t let something like this slide because of culture!

What on earth is she even doing? Nobody poses like that!

And that is why I’m going to pitch an animation idea this year that will turn the eroge ideals on their head. It will also be an outright admission of copyright theft. And little miss Ren Kagami will be a part of it.
I want to tell Hajime Kotobuki that I stole his character, just to see his and the world’s reaction. I have even managed to successfully request at least one other person to draw pictures of Miss Kagami, just so she would get at least a little more publicity. She’s the most popular character in my gallery, so it’s a wonder why more people haven’t tried their hand at drawing her yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen and read about few visual novels already. One of the standouts has been School Days, which plays around with the hentai genre and presents it in a fairly realistic, if still somewhat far-fetched light. A boy becomes a serial two-timer and several of the ‘bad endings’ end in the death of at least one of the three main characters.
If some of the reactions of the girls in that game were stupid, than at least they were reacting at all.
‘My Girlfriend is the President’ is somewhat guilty of this, having a number of girls serving all gravitating towards the main character and all easily being swayed by his words and not thinking he’s a pervert. I thought it was creative, though.
So, yeah. If eroge can be offensive, it doesn’t mean it’s all bad. Not in terms of story, at least.
However, I’ve watched a few eroge playthroughs like the one of ‘Honoo no Haramase Oppai Nyuu Doukyuusei’ and played a trial of ‘Oyako Neburi Sasou Hitozuma Dakaretai’, which was somewhat impaired by the lack of sound and the Japanese dialogue in the dialogue boxes ended up as binary coding (and I couldn’t be bothered to try and translate the Japanese written choices because it was just a trial)… and I found that a lot of eroge are really boring. It takes ages to get around to the character you like and even then you have to get through all these lurid sex scenes and it is just a pain in the neck. Also, you have to get through conversation after conversation, which you can easily skip but it’s still absolutely excruciating.

I have found myself a hypocrite on occasion. At times on my SourNote2014 DeviantArt account, I would post a picture of a topless woman just to get attention from my devoted audience, or recommend the website for the other lurid, loathsome pictures I have used for reference, hating myself all the while for going completely against my own feminist values. That said, by the time you have read this blog post, it would all have been worth it.
Besides which, despite the fact that I painted one topless women, I absolutely drew the line (no pun intended) at bondage, foot fetishes, lactation, naked butts, exposed genitalia and other such disgusting fetishes. I may have made myself look like a hentai, but I rarely did anything that made me feel uncomfortable. 

Furthermore, for all the dirtiness of his pictures, Hajime Kotobuki in particular has a very unique art style even by the conformist standards of manga and anime. He has a good eye for colour and design that makes him easily distinguishable from the others.

I get annoyed when people try to uses Japanese words as an excuse for their fetishes. The word “fanservice” in particular is a bad misuse. The definition of the word is something that may have no bearing on the plot but is pleasing to the eye. Spectacular scenery, for example. Or all the “stuff”, as the Nostalgia Critic puts it, in his review of Waterworld. If you have a fetish for seeing how machinery works, no sexual innuendo intended, that’s fanservice. Or all of Padme Amidala’s outrageous outfits in the Star Wars prequels (except for the white bodysuit). That's fanservice to anyone who's a fan of Cecil B. Demille and other such creative costume designers.
Fanservice has consequently come to mean basically “tits and ass for the sake of tits and ass”, giving us the implication that a fan is just another perverted teenage boy (or girl, if “fanservice” consists of, say, a shirtless man).
However, my only complaint is that it’s used in anime where it only serves to provide out of context titillation, assuming all otaku are perverts. For example, despite the very genuine relationship between Kill La Kill’s Ryuko Matoi and her uniform Senketsu, there’s really no reason for the poor girl to dress like a stripper in battle other than for the purpose of male titillation.
Eroge, however, doesn’t hide the fact that it’s porn through and through. Doesn’t hide the fact that most of it is really boring either.

I’d have loved to have put this up for International Women’s Day, but I wouldn’t have come far enough if I did. 

The issue I have with it was the portrayal of girls as subservient to boys to fit into conservative Japanese values.
Dominant she may look, Emi Sawamiya is really just as much of an object as the rest of them.

And it’s not just eroge that’s the problem. It’s just more graphic about it. Anime, manga and even literature (such as the infamous rape scene from Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Paprika) enforce passive women as being ideal.

So yes, if such talent in character design is wasted on insulting characterization, especially in a medium such as eroge, it should definitely be studied.

PS: Once again, my devoted DeviantArt followers, thank you so much for your kind words and for favouriting my artwork.  I am sincerely grateful for you appreciating my artistic talent in this way. My style has always been rather impressionistic, given that my mother is fanatical about the Impressionists. So thank you for recognizing the unique way I paint in Photoshop, the watercolour effect I give my marker drawings. Thank you for recognizing my artistic skill.

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