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!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Interview at Flash Fiction Online

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you may have seen this announcement already.

My flash story "The Ancestors" has been reprinted in the April 2016 issue of Flash Fiction Online. This is its third publication, making it one of my most popularly reprinted stories, and this time I've been interviewed along with it!

Anna Yeatts asked some really good questions, and I managed to not stumble all over myself answering them!

There were a few redrafted answers though. Otherwise my interview probably would have ended up cluttered with way too much video games and anime. It's really hard to keep that out of my system. They were just so influential to me as a young writer and I've never grown out of either.

If you've ever wondered about my writing process, what to do when writing Asian when you're not Asian yourself, or were curious about what I was thinking when I wrote "The Ancestors" it's worth checking out.