Monday, May 23, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 5: Diamond World

Ah, Toma. Or as I nicknamed him, "the psycho boyfriend." (I also called him Stalker-san for a bit, which kind of gives you the impression of what he's like.)

My first playthrough was the Diamond world, for a couple of reasons. As I've mentioned, character design does a lot to show what kind of person the love interest probably is like, and factors into the selection process for the player. Toma had the most appealing character design for me.

Also, the suit he's associated with is diamonds, which was my childhood favorite, so it seemed like a good bonus. My adult favorite is spades, but I didn't like Ikki's design much, so Toma it was.

Of course, if you've read my comments on Shin's route, or seen his bad ending yourself, you can guess I was in for a rough shock, and I was going in blind.

The beginning was entertaining enough, trying to figure out details of the protagonist's past and why she was getting these mysterious threats, all while trying not to cause Toma to freak out. I got halfway through the month before I stopped playing for the night.

Unbeknownst to me, I had picked a really good time to take a break.

In this world, Toma is an older brother figure of the protagonist, and it becomes clear through early dialogue with a third party that he is not her boyfriend. He says he can't get interested in her because they grew up together, and the protagonist's brief flashes of recovering memory tells her that she liked someone who was having trouble seeing her as a woman.

When she gets around to asking him if she liked him before she lost her memory, he tells her that they were a couple, which contradicts what he had said previously.

Playing through Toma's route was fascinating, because choosing the right dialogue choices reveals that there is a lot that Toma is hiding from her, but it's also clear that despite not being her boyfriend, he cares a lot about her. He says and does all kinds of contradictory things (he says he's her boyfriend, but also mentions that they haven't held hands in years) and resists all attempts at intimacy.

It made for a compelling read. I loved it. I was pretty sure he was ultimately on the protagonist's side and had a good reason for his deception, but then I hit the second half of his route.

You see, Toma's route is the problematic one that I alluded to in my first post, and it makes the game difficult to recommend because I'm not down with attempted rape perpetrated by the love interest.

Toma is, in anime fandom terms, yandere. It's a type of character that normally comes off as sweet until jealousy or overprotectiveness unlocks their crazy side.

And no matter what the player does, he will be a bastard to the protagonist in the second half of the route. Unless enough correct choices are made throughout the story (walkthrough probably needed) he is not redeemable. One of the other characters even lampshades this by telling the protagonist that Toma is the least frequent of the love interests to have a happy ending with her in all the worlds.

I was... rather shocked and disbelieving when Toma locked my protagonist in a large dog cage to stop her from leaving his apartment. It's not exactly where I wanted to spend a third of my playthrough.

Because of the memories I had unlocked so far, I was pretty sure that Toma was doing this because it was his sick and twisted way of protecting the protagonist, but there's no getting away from the sick and twisted. He reveals just how much he's been observing the protagonist, and in subsequent playthroughs of his route (I got his bad ending first and wanted to try for his good ending later) his attentiveness to everything she likes comes off far more sinister than the first time through.

He also acknowledges that what he's doing isn't what she wants, but he doesn't care as long as it protects her.

Even if the protagonist is still sympathetic towards Toma, she chooses to escape on the last day of the route and is nearly run over by a motorcycle, causing a number of scrapes and bruises. What happens then is messed up, no matter the good, bad, or normal ending.

If it's the bad ending, Toma catches her outside and locks her up so she can never escape again. If he seemed yandere before, it's nothing compared to his facial expression when he finds her, and makes it clear that he was holding back earlier. And that he won't hold back anymore. The ending illustration is seriously creepy, with the protagonist suspended in chains while Toma is clinging on to her.

The good/normal endings aren't much better. In those the protagonist is not found by Toma and returns to the cage hoping that he won't notice when he gets home, but because he's hyperattentive, he does. He makes her strip to her underwear so he can see all her injuries and then tells her that since she's disregarded his own pain in trying to protect her, he's going to disregard hers. And, it's pretty clear from the illustration of him pinning her on the bed and his dialogue that he intends to rape her.

In the normal ending, there's a sound effect of her breaking free and she runs out the door, bumping into Shin, who helps her escape (I like to think she kicked Toma in the nuts). A lot of the mysteries in the storyline are then resolved in exposition and Toma disappears from her life.

To get the good ending, the protagonist needs to completely trust Toma despite knowing everything he's lying about (if that's not a contradictory set of requirements I don't know what is) and if she does, she doesn't run out of the rape scene. Instead she asks him to help her, and during the resulting moment of shock on his part, she accidentally knocks her diary off a shelf.

The diary reveals (almost) everything that the protagonist had been trying to sort out since she lost her memory.

In a way, Toma's storyline is tragic. It's clear from his actions that he cares about her (it may be twisted to all heck, but it's there) and the diary reveals to both of them that the protagonist loved him too, but she was having trouble confessing her feelings to him. The day they met at the start of the storyline was supposed to be the day she would tell him her feelings, except that it got disrupted by Orion's arrival and the onset of her amnesia, then amplified by unrelated harassment from other girls in a club and stuff related to the fifth storyline that crosses all realities.

Everything snowballed from there, making Toma feel like he had to take extreme measures to protect the protagonist, and causing him to mistakenly think she was in love with someone else (he resisted all her advances because he thought she was someone else's girlfriend) when he was the one she was in love with the whole time.

Since Toma reads the diary as well, he comes back to his senses and participates in the epilogue to set everything right.

But that doesn't excuse everything that he did along the way. I'm surprised how easily the protagonist forgives him (her own voice comes out a lot once she has her memories back) and when she decides to stay with him after everything that's happened, even he admits she has poor taste in men.

What I didn't like about the ending was that Toma reverts completely from psycho wannabe boyfriend back to his earlier affectionate personality. (Five minutes earlier he was ordering her to strip and suddenly he's uncomfortable kissing her when she's not dressed?) It happens so easily that the unfortunate implication is he can switch between the two at the drop of a hat, and when you replay the route, it's easy to see that his psycho side was always there, buried just beneath the surface. Even when he and the protagonist are in their final scene together he admits he's afraid he'll be unable to handle it if she ever leaves him.

It makes me want to shake the protagonist and say, "Did you forget what he almost did you, what he did do to you? Don't you realize that the crazy side of him hasn't gone away?"

I might have been okay with this if Toma had been the bonus/villain route unlocked for subsequent playthroughs, as I expect a certain amount of twistedness in those, but Toma was a regular love interest so this completely blindsided me.

For what it's worth, his storyline is well written and probably worth playing twice so you can see how far ahead he begins manipulating the protagonist (proof that his psycho side was not a sudden snap), but I have mixed feelings about not knowing how dark his route can get. On the one side, not knowing is effective because of the shock it elicits, but on other, it makes this game the "attempted rape by a love interest" game so I'm going to have to include that qualifier whenever talking to anyone interested in playing it.

I've seen characters with yandere tendencies in otome before, but Toma goes so much farther than any of the others. And that's saying something considering that there is a bonus route in this game with a love interest whose split personality wants to kill the protagonist. Ukyo's route is up next week!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 4: Clover World

For some reason, Kent's route is called Clover instead of Club. I suspect this might be what Japanese players use to refer to the suit since some of the artwork uses this spelling and the localization team might not have wanted to change that.

Kent was the last of the four main routes that I played largely because of the "type" he appeared to represent. Being tall with glasses I assumed he would be the cool, logical type, and the only route where he does much as a supporting character is Ikki's, where he is so bluntly observant that I told a friend I wasn't too interested in playing the route where I would be dating Spock.

At first my suspicions appeared to bear out. Kent's storyline starts much like Ikki's, with the protagonist waking up in her apartment with no memories and almost immediately being asked to meet her boyfriend. Once again she meets him and Orion is surprised by how she had such an incompatible boyfriend, but this time instead of being mobbed by women, he's just an insensitive clod who doesn't understand why she got so upset yesterday.

Apparently they had a fight, and this is normal behavior for them.

Kent is brusque and every conversation seems to be setting up for an argument, or a debate as he calls it. He's terrible about showing affection and it's clear that he has no idea how to date, since a lot of his early dialogue centers around doing research on how to do it properly (and he misinterprets the advice pretty badly).

Much like with Ikki, the first memories the protagonist gets back are of fighting with Kent, but unlike Ikki's storyline, where we only hear that he's changed to become a better person since meeting the protagonist, we actually see Kent's struggle to change and we're with him every step of the way.

Part of it is because they haven't been dating as long. The protagonist has the ill fortune to lose her memories just a few days after she starts dating Kent, but instead of derailing the romance, she tries to be a good girlfriend because she doesn't know what their relationship was like before or why they started dating in the first place.

The other part is that Kent, despite his manners, is genuinely interested in being better at courting the protagonist and, once he realizes that not every conversation is going to result in an argument, is willing to listen to her suggestions on how to treat her.

This is going to sound a little odd, but Kent reminds me of my dad. There's a lot that's different about them too, but Kent specifically says that he's not a mind reader, and the protagonist is going to have to tell him what she wants or he's not going to be able to accommodate her. It's something my dad talked a lot about when he told me about his own relationship experiences. (Way to go, Dad! You've now been compared to a hot guy in an otome game.)

Perhaps because of that I felt Kent's romance was more realistic, even if the extremely logical parts of his personality were not. His route is a story about communication, which makes or breaks any relationship. It might not be as sexy as some of the others, but it's certainly sweet.

Since the memoryless protagonist honestly takes a stab at making the relationship work, she helps the laconic Kent open up and treat her like the girlfriend he wants her to be.

The problem becomes her memories, because in a twist I haven't seen before, it looks like her returning memories of Kent are almost entirely bad (not surprising considering all the fighting they did) and this romance probably would never have happened if she hadn't lost them.

When Kent finally figures out she has amnesia as part of the story (and not the player screwing up from bad choices), he's entirely supportive of her getting her memories back, but is also afraid that she will hate him again once she does. It's a nice set of conflicting interests, though ultimately he decides to help her no matter what it costs him.

Not getting her memories back is not an option, because if she does not then Orion will never leave and will involuntarily push out what remains of her mind until she degrades completely.

It turns out that the worst memory between them hinges around the fight they had when her dog died in an accident where it was run over by a car. Kent's bumbling attempts at comforting her included telling her that she should have been a more responsible owner, because if she was, then she wouldn't have used such a frayed leash that could easily break and the dog wouldn't have been so ill-trained as to run away the instant it got free.

It's unsurprising that in that moment she told him she hated him.

They only started dating because of a fight to begin with. Kent, understanding that he was feeling romantic inclinations, wanted to see what it was like to date someone and suggested it as an experiment. The protagonist disliked that he was seeing love as a set of chemical reactions rather than something more romantic. So they essentially started dating each other to see who was right and whether love could be justified as something rational.

But because of her memory loss and subsequent attempts to have a real relationship, she's able to see a different side of Kent who is trying to be better to her and is a nice person even if he's not always good about showing it.

Kent's story felt very human. I got his normal ending first, which is usually a bittersweet one since the relationship isn't fully committed, but it's by far my favorite of the normals and in some ways I like it better than the good ending for its realism. Kent leaves for a year to study abroad and promises to keep in touch. In a call back to his impersonal attempts to be a boyfriend earlier in the story, the protagonist tells him she would be happy just getting "Good morning" and "Good night" texts from him.

After the ending illustration scene ends, a text message pops up in an unusual post-ending scene. Since it's morning, we expect it to be "Good morning" since we know Kent isn't much for words. Instead, all it says is "I want to see you." Cue the girly squees.

The good ending changes things so Kent initially loses his chance to study aboard so he can rush to the protagonist's bedside after an accident, when it logically makes no difference to her health whether or not he's there (the accident describes her as having light injuries). Just speaking for myself, I would not have wanted him to pass on his academic presentation for a romantic gesture like that, but the ensuing ending where they both travel to London the following year instead is charming, and keeps them together.

Kent also wins points for being the only mainline love interest to actually interact with Orion. Granted, Shin and Toma never learn about him, but for someone as logical as Kent to force himself to accept the existence of a spirit must be a humongous undertaking and I'm happy he takes it as gamely as he does.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 3: Spade World

Ikki's route is played much the way Orion's opening dialogue leads you to expect. The protagonist wakes up at home with no memory and does her best to hide it from those around her. She doesn't always succeed to the degree that she'd like, but the dialogue options offer some creative ways to avoid answering questions.

While Ikki's route has a level of mystery about it due to the player's amnesia, it doesn't quite manage the oomph of Shin or Toma's. This is largely due to the fact the plot doesn't seem to have much in the way of suspense beyond the fact she has amnesia in the first place. Sure, the player and the protagonist have a lot of questions, but Ikki's route doesn't feel like it has a problem beyond what recovering the protagonist's memories would solve.

His route is largely a story about a good looking young man with the unfortunate ability to charm any woman who meets his eyes. In other words, his story is more about him than the relationship between him and the protagonist, and I never quite got the feeling that Ikki loved the protagonist for herself rather than simply being the only person who can resist him.

Ikki cannot have a normal relationship with someone who is constantly under his sway due to his "condition" and he's annoyed by that. By the time we meet him he's been like this for several years, rotating girlfriends and figuring even if he can't find anyone he likes he might as well have a little fun.

His condition is a little weird though, in that other than Orion and the protagonist's magically induced amnesia, supernatural elements are sparse from storyline to storyline. But there is no doubt that Ikki's condition is supernatural given the way it works. Shortly after eye contact is broken, women come to their senses.

The protagonist is the only exception, and he's both intrigued and a little disappointed that his eyes don't work on her.

As with Shin, the protagonist starts out already dating Ikki, but despite the fact he's the playboy character, he hasn't actually gotten very far with her. Most of the mystery is figuring why the protagonist is going out with him in the first place, why she puts up with all the crazy girls in his fan club (especially since they're constantly trying to drag him away from her), and what is this mysterious deadline where he wants her to fall in love with him by the end of the month.

While interesting, it's just not as compelling, because it doesn't feel like there's a greater truth to be found. With Shin and Toma there was a lot of "Do I trust what they're doing?" and "What is the real story?" But with Ikki, the real story is pretty much what you see.

Ikki has girl problems. Ikki likes the protagonist even though he has to sneak around to see her. Eventually, Ikki develops a spine and girl problems end.

The protagonist actually does very little other than get jealous and a little upset at Ikki to finish off the storyline. The most engaging parts of her involvement are early ones when she's trying to get a hold of her situation, but after that the show is all Ikki's, and arguably if Ikki had more backbone there wouldn't have been much of a story at all.

The thing is, despite his confidant playboy image, Ikki is actually a doormat and a people pleaser. He can't stand being mean to girls who can't help falling in love with him, and while that's an admirable trait, he's not good at drawing the line between being civil and explaining that he really can't keep them company, which results in Ikki constantly being late to dates with the protagonist and running a charade that he actually doesn't care about her.

Some of the stuff Ikki and the protagonist arranged pre-memory loss was just flat out nuts to accommodate his desire to be nice to everybody. For instance, he wants to walk home with her from work everyday, but he gets mobbed by his fan club so he always meets her about a block away after he manages to humor them.

It's not like he's trying to be a gentleman about it. He ignores her when she leaves, even though she's known to be his girlfriend, and escorts one of his fangirls to the train station before turning around and meeting up with the protagonist. He does this to avoid upsetting his fans (who would otherwise bully her) while still sneaking around to see the girl he actually likes, and the pre-amnesia protagonist knew that this would be their mode of operation, even though she didn't particularly enjoy it.

But the story can't end with that as a permanent arrangement, especially since the unwritten rule is that Ikki never dates anyone more than three months and the end of August is the deadline, so in the good ending Ikki confronts the fangirls openly about who he likes and that they better not do anything to her or he won't have anything to do with them.

In the middle, there's just a lot of waffling back on forth on Ikki's part, trying to please his fangirls while trying to keep them from bullying the protagonist, and trying to get the protagonist to fall in love with him, when there's really no compromise. The ramp up to what might be considered the climax is actually Ikki suggesting they should take a break from their relationship, with the difference between one of the bad endings and the good/normal endings is whether or not the protagonist is jealous enough to confront him about it.

Yes, he's willing to walk away and give up on the girl he loves because he can't say no to other people.

I mean, it's not that he's a bad character, Ikki himself is sympathetic if flawed, but because all the problems encountered were easily solvable if he would just make his wishes clear, his story didn't carry much weight with me, and I never felt like I got a good feeling for what Ikki and the protagonist's pre-amnesia relationship was like.

But I will say that if one's personal tastes run towards a romantically tormented love interest, Ikki's voice actor does a wonderful job conveying how messed up he feels inside. Ikki's desperation for the protagonist's affection is clear, even if the reasons for his desire are not.

Oh yeah, not critical to the plot in any way, but this is the first otome game where I have been drunk called by a love interest. Not make or break in any way, but Ikki being heavily inebriated was a good laugh.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 2: Heart World

Shin is the character most prominently placed in the artwork, which generally means that he's the closest thing to an official route and the one that probably gives the best feel for the game (i.e. the one you should play first). Helpfully, when the player is asked to choose a world, Heart is at the top of the list.

I played his route second, though I was a little doubtful I would like him because Shin looks rather taciturn.

In retrospect though, I can see why Shin should be played first, if one is inclined to do multiple playthroughs, as his route takes care to establish all of the main characters and the supporting cast.

As is common throughout each of the worlds, the other love interests still exist and have mostly the same personalities, but might occupy a slightly different space. For instance, Toma works at the maid and butler cafe along with the protagonist in Shin's world, but has stopped working there in his own.

Shin's story is surprising in that he figures out that the protagonist has amnesia almost immediately. While his is not the only route to do this, it's surprising considering he's the closest thing to a default and it throws out a game mechanic Orion lectures the player on in the prologue. But what this does is make his storyline significantly easier to get a normal or good ending with since the player has less parameters to juggle.

A player seriously has to work at torpedoing the relationship in order to get a bad ending. I was able to get normal even with my trust meter at zero because my affection was still too high.

Shin is not an easy character to picture as a boyfriend. He's blunt and has little use for sentimentality, but what's interesting is that he makes it clear that the protagonist gave just as much as she took. It's nice to know the protagonist was a spirited girl while she had her memories.

He's very problem-oriented, in that when he finds one, he methodically goes about what he needs to do to solve it, even if the methods might be considered questionable. For instance, he's an incredibly good liar, and while he never does it maliciously, he lies several times over the course of the storyline to get the information he needs, and he's uncomfortably deadpan about it.

His pragmatic nature also makes him eerily calm in situations when panic would be more appropriate, which leads to the main thrust of his storyline.

In this world the protagonist was in an accident where she fell down a cliff and Shin was initially suspected of pushing her off of it. Unfortunately, due to her memory loss, she can't remember what happened that night, but she's told that her pre-memory loss self had vigorously defended Shin, which resulted in him being released by the police. (She loses her memory a couple weeks after the accident.)

The beginning of Shin's storyline was all right, but with Shin being difficult to get along with, the story didn't take off for me until the second half, after Shin is brought in for questioning a second time. At this point, Shin reveals that there was something else that happened the night of her accident and that there may be a real culprit that isn't him.

Once he begins to set up the trap his story becomes a lot of fun, and I like that the protagonist recovering her memories is key not only to exonerating him, but to pinpointing the real culprit.

The plot also makes use of the fact that memories are not reliable, by having one memory that should not be possible because it contradicts known events, and unlocking what really happened is the only way to get the good ending.

Though always blunt, Shin mellows over the course of the story and reveals some of his own insecurities, including what it's like realizing that his relationship with the protagonist has vanished and left a stranger behind. Flashbacks as the protagonist recovers her memories also flesh out Shin's interesting brand of "tough love" and how it's actually helpful to her, because his no-nonsense critiques push her to do better.

The game does a fairly adequate job of narrowing down the suspect pool, though I admit I probably only got it right because I'd played Toma's route first, and if you have, you know enough about him to realize he would have a motivation. I don't think the game does enough to eliminate all the guess work though, and I was hesitant to blame Toma just because I wasn't sure how much overlap there was between worlds.

In the good and normal endings Shin piles on all the evidence that Toma is the culprit (not in pushing her off the cliff, but in a subsequent injury after finding her), mostly using information the player has already seen but not necessarily had any context for, with the final piece being the key memory the protagonist needed to remember.

Given Toma's route, I'm a little surprised the outcome was as mild as it was, but viewed strictly within the context of Shin's route, it was a satisfactory ending, and the interplay between the protagonist and Shin once she gets her memories back is pleasant. They do make a cute couple and I can see how their relationship works. She really does speak up and dishes out as much as she takes.

Overall, I'd say Shin's route was the sweetest and most fulfilling of the ones I played, though he does take some getting used to. His certainly was the most fun, as I loved the whole recreating the night of the crime to discover who the culprit was, and I found myself grinning at the monitor while the happy ending played.

I think it's really unlikely that anyone would get Shin's bad ending unintentionally, but in the event they do, it does foreshadow what Toma's route is going to be like. In a way, I wish some of that came out in the even good or normal endings just to give players better warning.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 1: Intro

My Hakuoki post series is still the most popular ones people stumble across, so I figured why not do another with Amnesia: Memories? This first post will have only minor spoilers, and look at what makes Amnesia different from others of its genre, but over the next month I'll go through each of the five paths and break down what I thought of them.

Amnesia: Memories is an otome visual novel, what is sometimes referred to as a dating sim, though that label is not quite true. It's really more of a choose-your-own-adventure book that happens to be a computer game with voiceover and visuals. Otome is geared at women, meaning that the protagonist is female and usually has male romance options (some indie otome will have female romance options as well). Visual novels in general do not have to have romantic elements.

For those already familiar with the otome sub-genre, Amnesia: Memories is a little different. Usually you start the game naming your protagonist, who probably has a default name in case you're lazy, and over the course of the opening hour or two you meet most if not all the potential love interests.

Through choices, that may or may not be obvious, the player ends up spending time with the different love interests, getting to know them, and is eventually locked into a "route" where their love interest is set.

Depending on the game it may branch when this happens, making for a different story on every route, or it may run through largely the same plot with variations depending on who the love interest is.

Choosing who to have a romance with is typically aided not just by the story, but by the voice actor casting and the character designs, so the player will have a fairly good idea of what a love interest is like and the kind of relationship her protagonist is likely to have.

Amnesia upends a lot this.

During the prologue the protagonist is informed by a fairy-like spirit that he accidentally collided with her, pushing her memories out of her mind and trapping himself in their place. Worse, her consciousness has been bumped between worlds and there are multiple realities the protagonist could have originally come from. Orion, the spirit, tells her to pick the one that draws her the most and she will go back to that one.

The worlds are identified by suits from a deck of cards; Heart, Spade, Clover, and Diamond (I guess Club wasn't fancy enough). That's all the player gets to make their decision. There's no looking at the men or getting to know them beforehand, and each world gives the player a different love interest.

It's kinda ballsy to lock in the player before they even meet them, but it makes sense in a storytelling fashion, since the protagonist has amnesia and doesn't remember her boyfriend or if she even had one.

From a player perspective it's a little more dicey since the love interests are usually a diverse group to increase the chances that there are one or more the player will like. It's entirely possible to end up playing a route that doesn't tickle a player's particular fancy.

Since I was anticipating the game before it came out, I already knew what the love interests looked like and a little bit about them (bios from the official web site, gameplay trailer), so I didn't choose my first world completely blind. The character designs incorporate the suit the love interest represents, so I made an educated guess on whose storyline I'd have the most fun playing.

From there, the player is tossed in a world the protagonist has no memory of, and has to recover her memories without letting on that she's actually an amnesiac, lest someone take advantage of her. Since it's magically-induced amnesia, getting professional help is not considered an option as she needs to see and do things important to her to trigger memories.

Amnesia makes an unusual narrative choice that I've never seen in an otome, or any visual novel really, in that there is no narration; only dialogue. Usually the protagonist also serves as narrator, telling the player what they observe, and making comments about their situation. It's a useful way to get information to the player and gives the audience some idea of the protagonist's personality.

Since Amnesia forgoes this, the game uses Orion in its stead to feed the player information about their surroundings. This turns out to be a fantastic choice for two reasons:

  1. It really makes the amnesiac protagonist a blank slate for self-insertion. Outside of rarely spoken dialogue and player choices, her conversations with other people are implied rather than spelled out. We see their response, but not what she said, leaving it up to the player to decide how she said anything.
  2. Since Orion is a separate character, the player is free to have a different assessment of the situation than he does and there are even dialogue choices to disagree. I really liked having opinions counter to what I was being told and still feel like everything I concluded was valid.

There haven't been many prominent otome games released in English (most are indie or mobile productions, or both), so I can't say if how common it is, but Amnesia at least feels more risky to me in that one of its routes is seriously messed up.

There is usually a sort of bad boy route that can be taken on later playthroughs with someone who may actually be the villain, or is of questionable morals. Amnesia may be the first to prominently feature a dysfunctional love interest among the default. This one route is potentially triggery and I'm surprised that Amnesia got away with a T rating from the ESRB because of it. (He doesn't just cross the line, he's speeding on a motorcycle when he does it.) I'll discuss his route in a later post, but would not give Amnesia to younger teens because the start of his route is nothing like where it ends up, and it's creep city.

Monday, April 18, 2016

More Whitewashing, More Facepalming

When the week started I wasn't certain what Monday's blog post would be, but then Hollywood did a one-two gut punch to all Asians, and suddenly I have something to talk about. I suppose it's no wonder that movie theaters have largely lost me as an audience. It's a good year if I see more than two movies in the theater.

I do, however, watch a fair bit of streaming media out of Asia, both live action and animated.

I wrote before about how it's easier for an Asian American to go to Asia and become a successful performer outside of their birth country, because their birth country won't accept them and their dreams. Asians are not "believable" in certain roles. And apparently, even the roles Asians can play, can easily be supplanted by white people and Hollywood still thinks this is a good idea.

There is no facepalm strong enough for this.

So, the two things this week are the Doctor Strange trailer, featuring a very white Tilda Swinton playing an elderly Tibetan man, and the first released image of Scarlett Johansson as "the Major" in Ghost in the Shell.

Even though the Doctor Strange punch came first, it didn't hit me that hard since I wasn't paying much attention to the movie in the first place. Or at least it hadn't until I saw this screenshot of all the non-Asian dudes pretending to be Asian:

Really? They couldn't cast a single Asian for that shot?

What bothers me more is seeing Scarlett Johansson as the Major, probably because its an adaptation of a beloved manga and anime; something that Hollywood has a terrible record at doing. And if you want to understand why Ghost in the Shell, despite its cyberpunk trappings, is not a simple cut and paste into western culture, you need to read this excellent set of tweets by Jon Tsuei. Keep hitting Read More until you get to the bottom of his main line of thought.

The part that bothers me the most (being Asian, but not Japanese) is that the studio is clearly intending to keep the look of the series, but while white-ing it up.

The fact that Scarlett Johansson is in a black wig that makes her look like Makoto Kusanagi, means that they want her to look like an iconic Japanese character. I'm not sure they're actually keeping the Kusanagi name (as most outlets I can find seem to refer to her character as "the Major"), but if they want a performer to look like Kusanagi they should damn well make her Japanese.

I know things change in adaptations. I'm not a diehard that needs everything to be exactly the same as the original, and I suspect that if they made her character Major Liz Gregory, set the story in New York, and gave Johansson her natural hair, there would have been much less eye-rolling. It wouldn't be the Ghost in the Shell anyone grew up with, but it could ask the same questions about the nature of intelligence while retaining its near future trappings. Yes, fans would complain about a Japanese story being set in the US, but at least it wouldn't look like whitewashing.

The Japanese novel All You Need is Kill was adapted into Edge of Tomorrow. People expected that Keiji Kiriya would be turned into a white character, and he was, but there was no attempt to make Tom Cruise look a Japanese man, and the movie went down well liked by fans. It was a good adapatation. I can be disappointed about the loss of an Asian role, but I can stomach that. Cruise's character, William Cage, wasn't trying to be Keiji Kiriya.

Right now, I am hoping that the live action major isn't keeping the Makoto Kusanagi name. The fact that yellowface sfx was even experimented with is terrible.

If this was what we had gotten, a Japanese woman, playing Makoto Kusanagi, I would damn well run out and see that movie, because that right there... That is Makoto.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Anime Talk: Magic Kaito 1412

At the time this is going up, I'll have been out traveling for the past few days and I didn't have time to come up with something I was comfortable posting, so instead I'm pulling out a backlogged post that never went live about a favorite anime series of mine.

My review of Magic Kaito 1412 went live at Diabolical Plots about this time last year, and at the time I really liked it a lot, but it's hard to say how much until time has given some perspective. And you know, it might not break any new ground, but it's still pretty damn fun. As someone said in the Crunchyroll viewer comments, "Magic Kaito is the show you didn't know you needed."

I certainly didn't.

It's cheesy, unrealistic, and soaked with unabashed wish fulfillment, but Magic Kaito's enthusiasm makes up for so much. Kaito himself is really what sells the show.

Teenage Kaito Kuroba is secretly Kid the Phantom Thief, and with the help of his father's friend (who plays Alfred to his Batman), he pulls off stunts and impossible thefts to search for the elusive Pandora Gem, which can only be revealed by holding a large gem to the moonlight to see if there is a second gem hidden inside that shines red. The men who killed Kaito's father are after the gem, believing that when Pandora is held to the sky it will shed a tear granting immortality.

Kaito decides that he will thwart them by finding the gem first, and then destroying it.

But Kaito is a trickster and loves the spotlight, so it's not enough to simply beat them to any gem that could possibly be the Pandora. He has to show off, sending advance notices of his thefts, and pulling off stunts that appear extraordinary, and sometimes they are, but are usually the result of careful prep work, much like any good performance.

One of the things that I love about Kaito is that unlike Batman, he's not consumed by his quest to avenge his father. Why he's doing this vigilante work does bother him from time to time, but he believes that isn't all there is to him, and there will eventually be a lot more to his life than being Kid.

Personally, I love seeing Kaito go about his prep work since it's something we don't often get with pop culture thieves, who often look like they just decided to break in one day and they immediately know how everything is set up. Kaito and his father's friend Jii are a two person operation which means that one or the other of them is doing the legwork and neither of them are fabulously rich (though Kaito seems to be upper middle class since his family can afford a two story house in Tokyo).

Though Magic Kaito 1412 performed well in the Japanese TV ratings, regularly beating anime shows like Dragonball and Pokemon that are more famous on this side of the Pacific, it's largely been overlooked in the United States.

Crunchyroll eventually licensed it, for which I'm glad, though it happened mid-season, which resulted in the show slipping in under the radar with little media coverage. Considering that Crunchyroll already had its sibling program Case Closed I'd like to think that the delay was due to contractual negotiations, but I can't help wondering if part of it also might be that Magic Kaito just doesn't register that well on our side of the pond.

Though Magic Kaito takes place in the same world and is older than Case Closed when it comes to the original manga, Kaito probably would not have become as famous if he had not become a much loved guest star in the Case Closed series, and Case Closed did not perform as well as its original US licensee had hoped. As a result, the series was discontinued with only one release of Kaito's TV appearances as Kaitou Kid ("kaitou" being Japanese for "phantom thief") and a single movie appearance.

Whereas in Japan, Case Closed has been on the air for an incredible 20 years and is releasing its 20th theatrical movie this April (it's an annual thing).

I would love to buy DVD or Blu-ray copies of Magic Kaito 1412, and heck, I'd like to spring for the Case Closed episodes and remaining movies where he appears, but not everything simulcast gets a physical release and I suspect that Magic Kaito continues to fly too far under the radar to be even a rescue license.

But I'd like to hope.

So I'm talking about it in hopes that others who like a good romp with a teenage phantom thief, or are just on the lookout for underappreciated anime, might check it out.

Until then, I'll leave this fan music video, mostly containing footage from Kaito's appearances in Magic Kaito 1412 and last year's Case Closed/Detective Conan movie. If you can't tell, he's the fancy one in the white suit, because a gentleman thief's gotta have style!