New York New York

I’ve been quiet here lately because just recently I accepted a new job in New York City and I’ve been scrambling to coordinate a long-distance move this past month. It’s very exciting but doesn’t leave me much spare energy for blogging! I’m hoping after November I’ll be settled.

Meanwhile you can read a transcript of a candid discussion between Mattie Brice and I about our personal engagement with fandom over the years. It was a really fun talk with more entries to come as we get deeper in our drinks.

Manga — Themes of bullying

Paste recently had me write an article about two manga I’ve been enjoying lately, A Silent Voice and Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto. Both touch on topics of bullying but with different approaches. Both are also award-winning series written and drawn by women.

A Silent Voice really sticks with you, following the story of a reformed bully trying to fix the damage he’s caused. While the first two volumes are available bundled in both print and digital, Crunchyroll Manga has translated chapters much farther. I’m still trying to catch up to the latest and am finding it to be quite the trip down the road to reconciliation.

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is available in print only and I was so excited when I first heard it announced for localization by Seven Seas. It’s one of those works you never expect to come out in the West, you hear of its accolades and it winning fan-favorite polls but it seems too Japanese for any tight-budgeted publishers to risk it. I was often laughing out loud while reading it so I’m so thankful it got a release and I could convince my thankful friends to give it a shot too.

Games — How Idea Factory (Otomate) Creates Otome Games

Siliconera recently posted an interview with Norihisa Kochiwa, development director of Idea Factory. Otomate is a studio under Idea Factory that focuses on romantically themed visual novels aimed at women. Some of their games have made it over to the west, such as Hakuoki, Sweet Fuse, and Amnesia: Memories. In the interview Kochiwa goes over thematic decisions for new games and bringing out their titles worldwide.

“What we at Otomate would like to focus on and strive toward now is to work with various partner companies and creators to bring more of our Otomate titles to fans worldwide! We appreciate all your continued support!”

“Also, we would love to have feedback from western otome fans! Our first step is to try and introduce otome games as part of gaming culture in western countries, and grow the otome genre with our fans!”

It’s nice to hear that they are making efforts to bring out more otome games globally! We’ve seen part of their efforts recently with Idea Factory International releasing Amnesia: Memories for PlayStation Vita and even porting it to Steam!

Additionally, the otome games Aksys announced for Vita a while back just had their release dates revealed. Code: Realize will be out October 20th and Norn9 will be out November 3rd!

Games — Amnesia: Memories released!

Otome dating sim Amnesia: Memories was just released for PlayStation Vita and for PC via Steam on August 25th! You can even get a significant 40% discount on the brand new Steam release if you buy it before September 1st. The iOS and Android releases will be out later this month!

But honestly “dating sim” seems kind of a misnomer when applied to something like Amnesia. In the West it’s used as kind of a blanket term to describe any romantically-themed interactive game, which can be both easy to understand but also confusing when nuance is concerned. The term “otome” is gaining some prominence, though (it’s even used in the Steam tags). But Amnesia itself plays out more like a mystery adventure visual novel, where your traumatized heroine tries to navigate existing relationships with guys she doesn’t remember via parallel worlds, thanks to the help of ethereal Orion who acts as your guide and your snarky commentary (he says what we’re all thinking, in a very meta sense).

So don’t go into Amnesia expecting to build sweet relationships among a pool of options. Instead each guy is honestly kind of a jerk and at times terrifying, and through dialogue choices you’re trying to suss out what your relationship even was in the first place without raising suspicion. It’s like watching a soap opera mid-season and trying to work out all the backstories. I find it very interesting!

Thinking about all this I’m reminded of this recent article by Carli Velocci in Bitch Magazine about text-based horror games and how marginalized women engage with it and use it as an outlet for everyday fears.

Games — Final Fantasy XIV

It’s been a while since I’ve really gotten into an MMO. Long gone are my college days of 40-man progression raiding vanilla World of Warcraft. I have so many other games I want to play and things I want to work on I can’t bring myself to dump the requisite hours into online role-playing games. I also worked professionally as QA on one for quite a few years, so they’ve kind of lost their glamour.

Before WoW I played a lot of Final Fantasy XI. To the excessive point where I felt I had to do something drastic. I snapped all my install disks, sold off my fortune of gil, and deleted my level 62 Beastmaster while wearing her full Artifact armor and Monster Signa staff—a sort of viking funeral. I remember the hardships that the old Japanese MMO designs required. Which is why I was extremely hesitant to start playing Final Fantasy XIV, their newest Final Fantasy MMO, when it initially came out 2010. And I later heard it was pretty bad. Bullet dodged.

Then Square-Enix announced the FFXIV complete overhaul with a new director at the wheel. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out and the revamp was made live in 2013, a time period when I was very busy. But gradually I was hearing how legitimately good the new FFXIV, subtitled A Realm Reborn, was. I finally grabbed a cheap copy during a Steam sale last year and gave it a shot. And wow, they weren’t wrong!

They even tied the world remake into the story, similar to WoW’s Cataclysm. I find the trailer for it very emotionally stirring….

Imagine my shock when I’m doing one of my first questlines, complete the requirements, and instead of requesting I go back to the quest giver in town, like I was used to in FFXI, I could turn it in at an outpost nearby and even pick up further quests there! This is something we’ve come to expect because of modern usability introduced by the likes World of Warcraft and I was really happy that simple questflow had made it into FFXIV. Also there were a lot of sidequests to gather and level up on, no more grinding on tons of enemies in forced parties.

Final Fantasy XIV cribbed a bunch of systems from other popular Western MMOs as well. There are public quests that pop up similar to Warhammer Online. Enemies’ special attacks are telegraphed by AOE indicators on the ground ala Guild Wars 2. Reputation systems and daily quest allocations like World of Warcraft. Simpler travel systems via paid attuned teleportation, Chocobo rentals, airships, boats, and personal mounts. This all seems like really basic stuff but seeing how they implemented it all so fast after the initial launch is amazing! The latest expansion even added in flying mounts.

I’m also compelled by the main scenario epic storyline pulling me through the game. It feels very Final Fantasy and so many references are lovingly weaved into the game with masterful localization. Magitek armor, Judges, summons, Cid. A recent patch added in a Gold Saucer area where you can learn how to play Triple Triad. I enjoy that the class system is not tied to a particular avatar and instead you can switch your class via weapon equip and level each one individually on your same character. Some advanced roles even require you to progress multiple classes to a particular level in order to unlock their starter quest.

Time did a profile on the new director, Naoki Yoshida, and it goes over a lot of his Western gaming influences.

I’ve read that Dark Age of Camelot is one of your favorite games. What other games, either past or present, have been the most influential to you as a producer and director?

As an avid online gamer, I can’t go without mentioning Diablo and Ultima Online. Diablo taught me about the joys of playing online with other players, and how to add value to an item so that players would obsess over it. I don’t even want to think about how many hundreds of hours I’ve put into that game (laughs). As for Ultima Online, the thousands of people sharing one world, the thrill of player killers, and role-play that is very free, were all very impactful to me. There are many other games that fuel my passion, but I would list these two as must-haves. I can still talk through the night about all of the episodes I had in-game.

Read the rest of the profile on Yoshi-P here!

You can buy Final Fantasy XIV itself for PC, Mac, PS3 or PS4. You can also get it on Steam where you can even pay your monthly subscription fee via your Steam Wallet.

Manga — Happy 801 Day!

It’s August 1st, Yaoi Day (8/01: Japanese eight can be read “ya”, then zero as “o”, then one read like “i”). My friend Anne has a really good short breakdown of the genre if you’re unfamiliar with it.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to post the list of BL (boys love) manga recommendations that I’ve been planning. For a while friends have been asking me to recommend BL manga that I enjoy and that would be good for beginners. I’ve also been asked by other friends for recommendations that deviate from the typical 90s-esque CLAMP-Shoulders Yaoi-Hands styles that are most prevalent. There are a lot of artists working in the genre so styles can range significantly.

If you want a BL history lesson I can’t recommend more Moto Hagio’s Heart of Thomas printed in a nice hardcover edition by Fantagraphics. It’s a shoujo series from 1974 and one of the earliest examples of mainstream women manga artists exploring themes of same-sex relationships. While BL media can be fraught and filled with problematic portrayals that in no way reflect realistic homosexual relationships between men, it is an interesting space to explore because it’s one where women have a lot of creative power in, as far as the Japanese market is concerned.

My tastes in BL manga tends to lean towards odd-couples with some domesticity, humor, and a bit of smut, so that will be present in my following recommendations. I definitely have a longer list and I plan to do a follow-up post outlining some series that would totally be on this list if only they were officially localized. It’s also safe to assume that these books are rated 18+.

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His Favorite – Suzuki Tanaka (free preview)
I wasn’t sure what to think of His Favorite at first and grabbed it out of boredom, but it charmed me pretty quickly. This one is about an unattractive boy, Yoshida, and his popular classmate who takes a liking to him, Satou. At first Satou can come off as pretty pushy, but I enjoy how their relationship ends up in later volumes and the silly backstories. The Rumic-style humor and stylistic weighted lines of the art kept me coming back for all 7 volumes. Also I should note this one is very tame as far as any sexual content goes, so it’s a good start for those not feeling ready to take that plunge yet. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).


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Awkward Silence – Hinako Takanaga (free preview)
Enthusiastic and consensual relationship from the get-go! Yes! So unfortunately rare (and lamentably doesn’t remain true for the second pairing in the same series). Satoru is an introvert who has trouble making his expressions apparent on his face (which for the reader is supplemented by thought bubble exuberance and small expressive avatars). So this leads to communication issues with his new boyfriend to work out. Lots of misunderstandings that thankfully get resolved quickly and end up being more cute than irritating. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).


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Apple and Honey – Hideyoshico
I am a big fan of artist Hideyoshico! She captures very cute interactions between her characters and draws such expressive faces. Apple and Honey is actually side stories intersected with a different couple’s short story in the middle. The other volume, His Rose Colored Life, is the main couple set in a college and is a bit more melodramatic than the other books on this list. I recommend getting these ones in print instead of digital, the transfer quality leaves much to be desired.


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Crimson Spell – Ayano Yamane (free preview)
Crimson Spell has got that corny fantasy romance novel aesthetic going for its covers and I love it. It’s about a prince getting cursed by a heirloom sword and traveling with a sorcerer in order to find out how to remove his demonic affliction. Artist Ayano Yamane’s books regularly top the New York Times Bestsellers list for manga when they are released (Crimson Spell volumes as well as Finder) and she is surprisingly popular here. One thing I didn’t expect from Crimson Spell was the humor. It reminds me of Bastard!! but with way more actual sex. This one is only available in print.

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Manga — Gengoroh Tagame TCAF panel transcript!

(it’s probably safe to assume most of these links are pretty NSFW)

In Toronto a couple of months ago I had the privilege of attending a panel featuring the world-renowned gay comic artist Gengoroh Tagame. Japanese manga artists don’t often tour worldwide so being able to see them in person is a rare alignment of the stars depending on what festivals you’re able to attend that given year (I still remember being devastated at missing out on Naoko Takeuchi visiting SDCC in 1998).

The panel also featured Tagame’s long-time translator and localizer, Anne Ishii, and her collaborator at MASSIVE, Graham Kolbeins. Additionally there was Leyla Aker there, SVP of Publishing at Viz, able to offer insight into the other side of the coin, BL (yaoi) manga (Viz owns the imprint SuBLime).

What followed was an insightful look at Tagame’s artistic history and the changes that took place in the gay manga publishing space over the past couple of decades in Japan. As a historian and a critic Tagame is very thoughtful about his art and hearing his lived experiences and take-aways was fascinating.

I highly recommend reading the entire transcript of the panel, thanks to Deb Aoki!

Tagame also shared some of his evolving thoughts on genre boundaries and the controversial term “bara”:

“When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called “gay manga” would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.

But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators? So those are definitely things I think about a lot as a critic.

Furthermore, going back to the gender of creators, that’s problematic as well because sometimes BL creators– and I’m speaking just from personal acquaintance with some of these creators– may be biologically female or identify on the page as heterosexual women, but sometimes they’re actually lesbian or transgender.”

“I mentioned in the Massive anthology that I actually personally hate the description “bara” comics, because it’s inaccurate and a false representation, but I’m thinking now based on all the issues I’ve just delineated that “bara” could actually be a very convenient term to describe the situation, or the style.

The reason I hated the description “bara comics” is because the one thing I wanted in the 21st century for people to stop appropriating this terrible word in association with gay men. I don’t want there to be any link between this derogatory term with the gay community. But, seeing it used as a way to describe just the content makes it apparent that it’s very convenient for talking about art that is linked by characters that are muscle-y, huge, and hairy, versus more feminine theme of willowy, romantic figures. That’s a delineation that I can appreciate, I think now, the more I think about it– “bara” could potentially emancipate the content from its creators.”

Read the rest of the transcript here!

You can also read more interviews with Tagame and other gay manga artists in Massive: Gay Japanese Manga And The Men Who Make It.