I think I’ve learned about myself over the years that I really do love the whole “monster boyfriend” genre. It’s a wellspring for marginalized creators to explore relationship communication issues over what is essentially unknowable. But it’s not without trying, as our plucky leads show.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride series is a cut above the rest. While the initial premise might elicit some side-eye—our young heroine is initially bought at some magical slave auction by the intimidating mage—it quickly does away with that threat and gives the lead Chise the freedom to explore this opened up new magical world on her own terms. And we quickly learn that Chise isn’t completely isolated, she soon meets a whole bevy of powerful side characters who are there to support and guide her, even against some of the Magus’ teachings.
Anyone else read the book The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley? While reading Magus’ Bride I’m very much reminded of the section of that book where princess Aerin finds herself shacking up in some timeless lakeside magical realm with a grumpy young mage who begrudgingly becomes her teacher, then lover….
So if you like that scenario but with a lot more actual Welsh lore references and Full Metal Alchemist fight brutality then I say read this beautiful manga!
Also I love when they boop.
Also author Kore Yamazake’s little postscript comics are adorable.
It’s been busy for me lately! But not in a bad way. It’s all been fun stuff.
I’ve started writing a column on sex games at Kotaku! Which I cheekily named Come Yourself To Death (I’m very excited to cover Hadaka Shitsuji when that localization comes out). So far there are two pieces, the first on the yuri (girl/girl romance) game Kindred Spirits on the Roof and the second on a game jam game about explicit consent, Cute Demon Crashers. I have a list of interesting games I plan to play and write about, so please look forward to that!
And on the podcast front last weekend I was a guest on Idle Weekend! My friend Danielle and I talked about Mystic Messenger, Yuri!!! on Ice, and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. Meanwhile, a bit ago myself and Mattie Brice tentatively launched the first episode of our podcast, called Affection Points, where we discuss particular games. The first episode we have is on Style Savvy, a game we both dearly love and would discuss often at local bars.
Otherwise I’ve been helping out other journalists as “otome consultant”, providing guidance for this Mystic Messenger article on Vice and this Mystic Messenger article on Kotaku. Mystic Messenger is very popular lately!
I met my current partner on the internet 15 years ago. We found each other in a newsgroup (which was like an email-based forum aka Google Groups) and built our relationship via a related IRC chatroom and the phone calls. So flirting with characters in a chatroom format feels rather nostalgic.
Cheritz, the Korean developer that created Mystic Messenger, is a studio I’ve followed for a couple of years now. I bought their debut game, Dandelion, directly via their website. They were early adopters of localizing their otome games into English and I was all about supporting that, back when options were very slim.
I was initially taken in by Dandelion’s cute hook of dating animals that turn into men, but stayed for the surprisingly bittersweet endings and endearing characters. I later recommended their follow-up game, Nameless, in my Offworld article about otome games. And I did a bit of a Let’s Play of it.
Mystic Messenger is a free-to-play mobile game, very much unlike their more premium priced PC games. But the Cheritz soul is still there. This time instead of a day-to-day simulation or liner visual novel experience Mystic Messenger’s story is told through interactive chatrooms that naturally unlock every couple of hours. You can expedite this process using the hourglass currency you can earn and buy, but I really recommend sticking to the natural cadence of the game. It makes for a better experience.
You can also use these hourglasses to backtrack to inserting yourself into missed chats. Otherwise if you don’t keep up the chat opportunities will pass and you’ll be reading through archives, watching the characters chat about you while you observe. It’s kind of lonely and extremely effective to encourage you to pay attention when the chats first pop up. That’s also why I transferred the game to my phone instead of my iPad.
Through your chats and text messages you’ll first learn that Jumin is a trust fund kid who loves his cat, Zen is a narcissistic up-and-coming actor, Yoosung is a college student obsessed with an MMO, Seven is an erratic sysadmin, and Jaehee is an eternally suffering personal assistant.
Over time you’ll get to know and prefer some of them over the others, either consciously or unconsciously choosing your chat responses to pay attention to and side with one of them. After a couple of real time days the story will branch and that character will be your focus for the rest of the game.
Oh and sometimes the denizens of Mystic Messenger will literally call you. You can put your headphones in and have professional Korean voice actors chatting in your ear. I always pick up immediately for Jumin and Jaehee.
A few months ago I was invited to Anime Fan Fest to be on a panel along with Jason Thompson and Daryl Surat to champion my choices for best (and worst) manga of the past year. Just recently this same panel has been held at SDCC and it reminded me that I never got around to posting my list. So here is my selections of what I personally recommend should be read from among the countless domestic releases in the past year. I’m leaving out my votes for worst manga since I’m not here to yuck anyone’s yum, I just had to give some titles for the sake of discussion at the panel. You can read Jason and Daryl’s submissions for the panel’s list here.
Best New Manga (YA)
Yowamushi Pedal — Triumphantly heralding the return of sports manga in English! I love artist Watanabe’s flow and sense of speed, and while his characters may look rough in the beginning for those used to the anime’s style, their designs quickly catch up.
My Hero Academia — After watching episode one of the newly released anime I immediately jumped to read every English volume available. Themed after Western superhero stories and comic books, this series has a distinctly different flavor than One-Punch Man. And I never thought All Might would become my favorite character.
A Silent Voice — Emotionally draining but so worth the read. About a deaf girl and her bully.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride — I love Kore Yamazaki’s take on fairy stories and magic. And a mysterious skull-headed fae magician is oddly appealing.
Best New Manga (Adult)
Goodnight Punpun — Much anticipated by me! I love the style of all the background characters when compared to how Punpun and his family is portrayed as crudely drawn little bird people. Yet all their problems are just as real.
Princess Jellyfish — Also highly anticipated by me. Artist Akiko Higashimura is a personal hero of mine. It’s so great to see Kodansha taking a chance on manga aimed at older women (josei).
Monster — Naoki Urasawa’s long out of print masterpiece. It’s back in larger deluxe omnibuses and I can finally begin its mysterious journey.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun — I put this in the Adults section because I feel like there’s a lot of humor to Nozaki that I can only appreciate now that I’m older, especially a lot of the stuff revolving around the working adults the main characters interact with.
Gangsta — A violent mob assassin story but written and drawn by a woman for a change. Kohske’s rich artwork makes the topic all the more appealing to me.
Most Looking Forward To (these are both out now)
Haikyu!! — More sports manga please! I never knew I cared about volleyball until Haikyu came around.
Fruits Basket — And a rescue! Extremely out of print (I would see $24 used volumes and never #1) and something I missed out on in my old shoujo days, I’ve been wanting to experience this one for a while.
Unlicensed Dream Manga
Kakukaku Shikajika — Higashimura’s autobiographical manga! Tells the story of her getting her start in art in a rural costal town with a strange painting teacher. Very emotional.
My Brother’s Husband — Gengoroh Tagame’s general work! It’s a story about a man and his daughter, and his deceased twin brother’s Canadian husband who comes to live with them.
Recently relocating to New York City has turned me into a travel hermit. With enough events locally to keep me busy every month I balk at the idea of flying across the country to wear myself down during my habitual San Francisco GDC excursion.
Trains and busses are tolerable. So this past weekend I was back in Boston for the first time since moving away in November, exploring my old stomping grounds in a new light and attending PAX East!
Saturday morning I burst awake and rushed to the convention center at the last minute to make it to the FFXIV panel. I have unexpectedly found myself caring quite a bit about this game, now that I have become invested in level-capped content. Present for the talk were the Japanese producer Naoki Yoshida (aka Yoshi-P, the man who saved FFXIV) and lead localization guru Michael Christopher Koji-Fox. It’s been rare for developers to leave Japan to personally present at conventions like PAX, but lately it is becoming more common at professional events like GDC. Yoshi-P’s team takes a lot of its cues from Western MMO development so they endeavor to make themselves available to feedback like Blizzard and Arenanet do. I was lucky enough to be able to ask my question from the audience about chocobos being summonable while queued for duty finder dungeons (currently a technical limitation due to the way companions work but being worked on!) and after the panel Yoshi-P agreed to a selfie.
I mostly made the trip to help my friend Christine Love at her booth for her upcoming game, Ladykiller in a Bind. I performed the same role at PAX West in Seattle last year. It’s extremely fun to meet and chat with the folks curious about her game, then coax them to give the discrete show floor demo a try. A majority of comers had never played any of Christine’s prior works nor had even heard of visual novels!
That evening was the staple Foreplay: Romance in Games panel. While I wasn’t on it this year my good friend Arden Ripley was for the first time. I was right up front being loud and supportive, much like Arden had been when I was on the panel the year prior. The entire room was bawdy and riotous, especially Judy Tyrer, who had worked on Second Life and now was a founder of the Jane Austen MMO, Ever Jane. She brought up great anecdotes about regency courtship rituals and penis-through-walls incidents. I want to be like her when I grow up.
Now I’m back in Brooklyn and planning my next excursions. This coming Sunday I’ll be moderating a panel at IndieCade East called From Sequential to Interactive: Comic Artists and Visual Novels. Joining me will be Kasey Van Hise, creator and writer for Hustle Cat and Mia Schwartz, artist for We Know The Devil. I will be offering my expertise in game jam organization and freelance writing advocation for visual novels.
Then in May I’ll be attending Anime Fan Fest in New Jersey. I’ve been invited to be on the Best and Worst Manga of 2016 panel, along with Daryl Surat and Jason Thompson. I’m curious to see how our tastes align and if I can convince people to try some of the manga I’m a big fan of. After the panel I’ll be sure to post my list here!
That seasons is upon us and if you’re reading this then odds are you know someone with similar tastes as me in your life! Below I’ve compiled a list of simple affordable gifts for friends and family consisting of things I already own and love or things I certainly wouldn’t mind unwrapping under the Christmas tree. The items chosen get a bit silly at times but I hope there is something you see that give you cheer-giving ideas! You’ll find the goods under the cut! Happy holidays!