On Christian Otaku Outreach

Subahibi has finally been announced for an August release (which isn’t July 20th, very disappointed). Considering its fame across the entire otaku community, I’ll be interested in seeing people’s reactions, even if I think it’s gotten a bit overrated over the years (also because Sakura no Uta ended up being even better). Even so, as a philosophical masterpiece that people have waited years for and with a translation project(s) that spawned numerous memes, this is one of those titles where I put on my elitist cap and wonder how you can call yourself an otaku if you’ve never even heard of this title before. I guess I should apologize in advance, but this post is going to be closer to a rant that a usual coherent post. This frustration I have with the otaku community – and mainly the Christian otaku community – also played a role in why I left Beneath the Tangles.

The more I interact with or listen to Christian otaku, the more I question how otaku they really are. This is a frustration that is admittedly in part elitism on my end, and I try to curb that as much as possible while phrasing my opinions in a more joking manner (i.e. bad anime is bad). But any elitism I may feel toward others’ interests and knowledge is often less about feeling superior and more about feeling disconnected. Because there is a big difference between “you don’t like what I like,” and “you have absolutely no idea what I like even is.” I’m sure this is a feeling that every anime fan can empathize with, so there is no reason to think that the same phenomenon cannot occur even within a fandom as large as this one is.

I should clarify I don’t intend to criticize Christian otaku who don’t have any interest in visual novels (the part of the fandom that personally relates to me, but there are numerous other fringe niches that exist and are ignored). You like what you like, and I like what I like. However, when it comes to the topic of ministry and outreach in this area which is very close to my heart, this disconnect brings about two related issues that I can’t ignore. The first is the general ignorance of what is out there and what it looks like. I remember reading about a Christian anime fan who was excited to attend Comiket because it’s a “Japanese anime convention.” Little did she know how much of the event was literally pornographic, and she was scarred, to say the least. Even people who are more aware about the culture than this will paint the industry with broad strokes without actually knowing any details about it.

Now, it’s basically a catch 22 to expect people who aren’t well informed about the industry to understand it. But I suppose what I want of people is awareness to some degree and to be more open about learning rather than trying to generalize something you know very little about. Especially when it comes to the former, it’s absurd to me how misinformed or ignorant self-proclaimed Christian otaku can be. Probably over 99% of them don’t even know what Subahibi is, even though it was one of the most praised titles in the community in the last several years (and this not limited to only VNs). I understand that this is caused by a mix of different interests, that the majority of anime fans talked about stuff like Madoka, SAO, and Shingeki instead, and most of all, that most fans are new fans who haven’t been engulfed in the fandom for decades, but again, that’s exactly why I’m trying to bring about awareness on the subject – and again, specifically when it comes to Christians. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to know about everything; the sub-communities are so large and expansive that it’s basically impossible. However, I wish there was some better awareness surrounding some of the biggest, most talked about things, and that these things exist and are loved by the fandom. If you are going to call yourself an otaku, then at least have the awareness to know there is some spectrum from 1-100 (to keep things simple) and you fall at the 20 or the 50 or maybe the 70, and that there are things beyond that into the 80s and 90s and 100. Honestly, I wouldn’t even put myself into the 80s on such a hypothetical scale.  I have my limits, but I’m well aware of what exists beyond that, and that’s what I’m asking of people who are attempting to do Christian outreach in this weird but attractive fandom.

Dies Irae is pretty good too

This leads into the second issue when Christian otaku actually start talking about and doing outreach work. If you are an anime fan reaching out to anime fans, then fine go do that; that’s great. But this means you are completely unequipped to deal with other people, who are further along the yes-overly-simplified-2D-spectrum I just mentioned. This in itself is again okay because that’s how things will always be in any field. However, while the first issue is fine in a vacuum, when you combine outreach with the previous issue of lack of awareness, it has the potential to go wrong in all kinds of ways. Especially in a part of the fandom that is almost inherently anti-Christian (i.e. porn games), for Christian otaku outreach to 1) not be able to relate to them, 2) not even be aware of some of the biggest titles, and 3) still imply you can understand them, that is going to exacerbate any disconnects that already exist. I mean, I feel that disconnect pretty strongly even as a Christian; how much worse will it be for people who are wary of Christian fans?  I don’t expect you to change your interests nor am I intending to set a bar of elitism that you must pass. However, I do wish that when someone mentions something as widely recognized as Subahibi, that you don’t give a blank stare of ignorance, or when someone starts talking about porn, that you at least know how to deal with the situation rather than being surprised that there are fans who glorify these things.

I think especially because there has been a recent growth in people trying to do Christian otaku outreach (no doubt related to the recent growth in anime fans), this is an important time when Christian otaku have kind of a blank slate to define themselves. Yes, there is a huge anti-anime voice in the Christian community, but there has never really been a large, strong voice of Christians not only supporting otaku but trying to claim we all share the same interests too. Moreover, VNs in particular are in a similar situation in the West, with localizations starting to flood the market on steam. Titles fans have only dreamed of getting localizations like Subahibi, Dies Irae, Clannad, etc. actually happened. There is not going to be a better time to start learning about VNs as a Christian and become a part of a community that is very different yet much related to anime, just as I wondered only a few years ago.

the crux of what I want to say is that this is about forming a collective social implication about what the term “Christian otaku” means and therefore how Christian outreach on both sides will be affected by this perception

Right now is the time when Christian fans are beginning to define what a “Christian otaku” even is, and whether or not that includes or excludes certain groups and fandoms. It could just be the biased VN fan in me, but I feel that the boundary of a Christian otaku will be defined within a few short years. I realize it may sound alarmist in some ways, but frankly, people vastly underestimate the speed of influence that internet culture has on our daily lives. If people don’t make efforts now (which is in part what I’m trying to do, but I’m just a lone fan), people on both sides will start to form more defined ideas of what a “Christian otaku” means, who that includes, and most importantly, who they are willing to reach out to. In other words, the crux of what I want to say is that this is about forming a collective social implication about what the term “Christian otaku” means and therefore how Christian outreach on both sides will be affected by this perception. As of now, people view it as a joke, but are simultaneously willing to listen and learn about it because “lol what in the world is this supposed to be?” That luxury of being a foreign existence will not exist for long. As such, I would really like to fully implore Christian otaku working in the field of outreach, be it Japan or the States, to really consider the scope of the otaku fandom and how to broaden outreach as far as possible before such boundaries are defined.

Coming back to Subahibi, I would really like to see every Christian otaku at least have an opinion on it. I mean, right now, most don’t even know what it is. But this is a title that’s been almost universally praised as a philosophical masterpiece. It has so much to say about happiness in a broken world, a topic that I believe is very relevant to Christians. It has some of the most infamous use of adult content in the industry. I don’t think the scenes can really be called pornographic, because they are most certainly not intended to instill sexual gratification but rather disgust. For example, the beastiality scene got removed from the R-18 release; it’s that bad. I’m not going to tell you to read the scenes (I pretty much just literally could not physically read them.  Not even the images, just the pure text was already too much for me), but I can still acknowledge how much meaning there is to them in the greater scope of the story. There’s also this one spoiler that I will probably write on later which was incredibly remindful of our relationship with God. When I consider just how knowledgeable Sca-ji is about Christianity (daily reminder that this guy understands Christian theology better than any other Japanese author in the industry and uses references in proper context), a part of me wonders if that was actually intentional. I guess I would call those the three major reasons Subahibi is a work that would make for very interesting discussion among the Christian otaku fandom, but sadly, almost no one even knows what it is. I’m not even asking people to read it, just be a bit more informed about it to form some kind of opinion for discussion with others. Because I guarantee you that while being ignorant about these things will generate disconnections, having some kind of informed opinion on a porn game can lead to quite some interesting discussions.

Utawarerumono and God

The following is a guest post by my good friend and fellow VN enthusiast Japesland of Beneath the Tangles. When it comes to seeing Christianity in eroge, he is as weird as I am, so I hope you find his thoughts on the topic interesting. Utawarerumono is currently being localized, with the first 2 games already released and the final game scheduled for release this September. Naturally, the post will contain spoilers for the games, so you have been warned.

One of the craziest things about being a Christian is seeing Christianity in everything. I’m no psychologist. In fact, having only taken the most basic of psychology courses in college, I’m sure I know less about psychology than many with at least a basic college education. I’ve also been surrounded by Christianity and Christians for more or less my entire life. Those with more than my aforementioned level of psychology education could probably point out a physiological reason for why I constantly see the story of God and Israel all around me, and I could hardly refute that line of reasoning. However, that does not change the fact that I continue to see God no matter where I look, no matter how much I do or do not want to acknowledge it.

The most recent instance of this comes from finishing one of my favorite, in a guilty pleasure sort of way, video game series of all time: Utawarerumono.

Looking at the history of the series and its most basic premise would seem to indicate anything but a relation to Christianity. The series began almost twenty years ago exclusively on PC as an eroge with light strategic role playing game elements (notably, like some of its peers, the series has picked up some degree of popularity, so it no longer has to rely on porn as a selling point). The story essentially takes place in a fantasy Yayoi period, perfect for chuunibyo and nearly all characters feature animal tails and ears, making it appear marketed particularly toward a fetish-driven audience.

Yet in spite of all this, now that the series has come to its three-game conclusion spread over nearly two decades, I couldn’t help but be moved to my very core at not only an emotional, but a spiritual level.

The first game of the series has you playing an amnesiac human who has awoken in an unfamiliar world filled with unfamiliar creatures. Throughout the course of the game, you ultimately discover that this world is a post apocalyptic earth, and your character has only survived and awoken at this point because of his existence as a sort of god (the explanation is far too complex to explain here). By the end of the game, the climax has you sacrificing yourself, sealing yourself away with your more or less evil half in order to save the whole of society as it has managed to exist to this point.At this point the story is hardly Christian in nature. In fact, the concept of yin and yang is far more prevalent, necessitating that the good and evil halves of this deity be sealed away indefinitely.

Then enter the final two entries in the series.

In these two games you play as a human in the true sense of the word. Unlike the first game, you not only think you’re a human, you know you’re a human. There is nothing to indicate otherwise in the whole of the narrative. However, like the first game, you end up concluding the series by sacrificing yourself and ultimately sealing yourself away in a climatic conclusion that results in being killed by a great evil, returning temporarily from the afterlife, then returning to the afterlife as an exchange of sorts with the sealed main character from the first game (it’s worth noting that these games follow the first game by nearly 20 years, both in real life and in the context of the story. That’s a long time to wait for players and characters alike, and makes a more significant impact than my simple explanation does it justice).

Much more happens in the plot than this, but the Gospel connection that I just can’t forget, despite its analogous inconsistencies, comes down to matching each character with a Bible element. The main character from the original game is God as he interacts directly with his people, perhaps referred to best as the Holy Spirit. The main character of the second and third entries is the human element of God: Jesus. Both characters have similar, yet fundamentally different existences, in some ways analogous to the relationship of these two facets of the Christian God.

In Utawarerumono, the first game’s protagonist, Hakuoro, leads his people much like the people of Israel, through hardship and strife, enduring great loss, but ultimately into prosperity, then necessarily departing from their presence for a limited period of time (still there in spirit, but no longer leading in the direct fashion that he once had). Many years later, the protagonist of the final entries, Haku, leads a different group in a much different and more personal way, resulting finally in his own necessitated death. However, in spite of this death, he returns to life shortly after to “finish the job,” after which he returns to his afterlife state, exchanging places with Hakuoro, finally returning Hakuoro to direct contact with the people he led, now increased many fold.

Anyone with passing knowledge of the Biblical narrative, whether or not you call it “history” will see the connections here. Israel’s God once led the nation tangibly and directly before an extended period of several hundred years of basically “radio silence” following the last of the prophets. Then entered Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for all, returning to life physically and as a human for a short time before returning to Heaven. At this point, in his place, He sends the Holy Spirit to lead the people, much like God had allegedly led Israel in ages past.

So am I crazy?

If you haven’t played the games yourself, it’s obviously hard to say, as my account is colored by my Christian faith in every way fathomable. But rather than claiming that these flawed connections between a dumb game and the Bible are evidence of God, I think it’s significant to note that this interpretation can exist at all. Did God influence the writer to include these distant allusions, or am I merely seeing what I want to see because it is what I believe?

Ultimately, I don’t think the answer to that question matters, because either way it is evidence to me not that there is a God or that Christianity is true, but that if God exists and Christianity are true, He and it can truly use anything to strengthen faith and understanding. Even Utawarerumono.

Tsuki ga Kirei: The Cultural and Generational Gap of Technology

I have mostly been enjoying the Tsuki ga Kirei anime with its depiction of first love between two awkward teenagers.  The worst part has been the CGI, the best part has been the dokidoki romance; the second worst part has been the NTR, and the second best part has been whenever the NTR gets mercilessly crushed by our main characters. It’s great, adorable, and fun romance. It’ll never reach anything amazing like ef~A Tale of Memories/Melodies, but it has certainly managed to be very good at what it’s meant to do – depict awkward teenage romance. One of those aspects of awkward romance is the texting, where just thinking of what to write or how to respond can take minutes or hours. They ponder what to write then erase it and ponder more. Before they know it, the day has passed. Or when they do send a message, they wait in anticipation and anxiety. When they get a response back, their stomachs fill with butterflies and they blush and rejoice at the simplest thing. This is painfully reminiscent of my own teenage years. But it is also a thing that is very new to the world of dating and childhood.

She’s so adorable

The progression and evolution of technology has been unbelievably rapid the past hundred years and especially the past twenty years. This has changed not just how we live as a society and culture but how children are raised, and this creates generational gaps that are increasingly more difficult to overcome. Many parents do not even understand the technology that exists. Just think of the stereotype of trying to teach your mom how to use a computer or a smart phone; it’s more often true than not. How could a generation that struggles to understand emerging technology possibly understand what it’s like to grow up with that technology as part of your daily life? The answer is they can’t. And as technology continues to progress with AR and VR and even the fast paced evolution of internet culture which changes by the day, I, too, will be unable to understand the next generation. In fact, I already experience this with teenagers using terminology and memes I don’t understand. My 2 year old memes and slang are already outdated. But more than that, I also don’t understand what it’s even like to grow up with the internet as it exists today. When I was a kid, the internet was new and everyone was exploring what it could do. On dial-up internet. Today, the internet is exponentially large in comparison, with all of it at your fingertips on demand. Of course I can’t understand what it’s like to grow up with that kind of technology, at a time in one’s life where you are still learning about yourself.

Throughout the ages, parents have a habit of casting aside their children’s complaints about not understanding them. Because parents have far more life experience, they know what’s best for their children and have the right to ignore what they have to say. But every now and then, that’s not true. Parents (or adults) are still humans, and perhaps more often than we’d like to admit, the kids may know more about the situation than we do. Even with this generational gap in technology, we adults might think that just because we use the same, new technology, we can understand what’s best. But I think that’s just arrogance speaking. The different generations will use the technology differently, and this will create an entire generational culture of how they interact with the technology, one that may be completely different than the one we see and understand. Now, as someone without kids, I’m not here to tell parents how to raise their kids. However, I do think it’s important to realize that these massive developments in technology mean children are going to have a completely unique and foreign experience growing up online. As a result, the interactions with technology as you understand it will not necessarily be applicable, and it will be important to make judgments as a parent based on the culture of the children rather than the internet culture that you understand as an adult.

In similar ways, there is a cultural gap when it comes to Japan and technology. Most people fail to realize it, but Japan’s use of technology is very different than the way ours works and they are still, in many ways, living in the 90s, largely because Japan has a staunch refusal to adapt to new methodologies. They still love to use the fax machine, for example, and their website designs make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. Although slowly changing, few people have their own computers. The PC never really took off in Japan, and consequently, Japanese people have some pretty abysmal IT skills. Email is something that many older people fail to comprehend beyond the most basic usage; they use it, but they can’t understand any of its more “complex” uses, like bcc or attachments (because bcc means someone is spying and attachments all have viruses). Even when I went to Todai, most of the students had no idea how to troubleshoot a computer or how to do a lot of things I would consider simple (at least for a student at a top university). At the same time, the younger generation lives on their phones even more than we do, whether they are gaming or texting or browsing the internet (in great contrast, much of the older generation still loves their flip phones).  As a Westerner, it can be surprising to see a culture that is so divided in their use of 21st century technology. I am no expert about the exact mechanisms that happened to cause this, and that is an entire topic by itself, but it is suffice to say that this is the strange reality. Therefore, with a culture so different when it comes to technology, a similar thing occurs with the aforementioned generational gap. In fact, I would argue this cultural gap is compounded by any existing generational gap, making it even harder for Westerners to understand how these people interact with the technology around them.

LINE is really popular

Thus, I come to the main focus of what I wish to rant about. From what I have seen from Japanese churches and missionaries, the majority utilize Facebook as their social media of choice. It is the largest and most successful one, and we can easily see how useful it is in the West. However, I would argue this is an incredibly large mistake being made by people who have fallen victim to this generational and cultural gap of technology, or in this case, social media. By far the most used social media in Japan, especially with the younger generation, is Twitter and Line. You see both of these in anime on a fairly regular basis, and Tsuki ga Kirei features Line quite heavily as well. The obvious reason for that is what I’ve just stated: these are ridiculously popular in Japan. If missionaries want to reach out to the Japanese with social media, then they should really be using Twitter and Line, not Facebook.

In fact, I would argue using Facebook is not only a lesser choice but a counterproductive choice. Culturally, Japan does not use Facebook the way we do in the West. Many of them use it closer to LinkedIn, as a professional profile and/or blog. This is fairly dependent on how “Westernized” the individual is, but it is also worth noting that this means they are very unlikely to engage with things that will be perceived negatively by the public, i.e. Christianity. Thus, a Japanese person is actually motivated to avoid your Facebook page, regardless of curiosity. The same is not true of Twitter or Line. It is here that they can live out their online personas. In fact, this phenomenon is seen to a smaller degree in the West, and I am willing to bet most of you are more willing to show off your anime interests using online names rather than on Facebook. The anonymity of the internet is incredibly important to people, and so it follows that the Japanese would be more willing to engage with Christian content when their real names are not involved.

Yet, this power of anonymity goes even further. As someone who follows a number of Japanese people on Twitter, I know for a fact that many people are willing to open up to the internet about how they are feeling, what they struggle with, and their concerns about the future. I am not even talking about conversations; they post these things on Twitter for all to see without any prompting from others. Missionaries always talk about how hard it is to get the Japanese to open up and talk honestly, how hard it is to befriend them and have these kinds of conversations. They are right, but the power of the internet and anonymity makes this orders of magnitudes easier and simpler.  These people are already talking about exactly the things Christians claim are difficult to learn about, yet there are practically no Christians listening to them. So why are churches and missionaries not utilizing these social media over Facebook?

The only conclusion I can draw is because there is an enormous cultural and/or generational gap in understanding how these people interact with technology.  So in case you haven’t realized by now, I am once again criticizing Japan missionaries everywhere for their ignorance about the country they claim to love so much. Granted, I know there are examples of Christians using Twitter as a form of outreach, but for every one of those, I know ten others that prefer Facebook. I have said it before, but I often wonder if Japan missionaries have become too complacent and accepting of the smallest victories. They have used the excuse that Japanese people require years of work and friendship before opening up to others (which is generally true) such that they do not consider their current methodology is inefficient for reasons besides the aforementioned excuse, trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy of miniature gains. All of you Japan missionaries who don’t use Twitter and Line clearly don’t know what you’re doing, so please fix it.

We Are All Terrible Communicators

The more I study Japanese, the more I realize how bad English translations are, not entirely at the fault of the translators. The languages are just so different and the nuances simply aren’t conveyed the same way. But more than things being lost in translation, I am learning just how much is lost in everyday communication, when the language of the speaker and listener is the same. In the anime Seikaisuru Kado, this idea of miscommunication and loss of information through language is used during the communication of humans with the higher dimensional being Yaha-kui zaShunina. He explains that no matter how effective language is, it can never communicate 100% of the intended information. Without a full understanding of an idea, miscommunication will certainly occur. As one of the main characters Shindo tries to communicate with him and find proper terminology, Yaha-ku zaShunina (I really don’t want to write this name out any more) often gives out scores for how accurately the information was understood, constantly noting that their communication is imperfect.

Nisio Isin of the Monogatari/Zaregoto series actually has an interesting quote on the matter of communication as well

People can’t express their thoughts a hundred percent, and what does get expressed isn’t going to make it across a hundred percent; in practice, you’re at sixty percent for each if things go well, which would mean the audience of a work gets only thirty-six percent of what the author is thinking. The other sixty-four percent is made up of misunderstandings.

Granted, the context of the quote is about authors commenting on their own work and how different people inevitably end up interpreting the same work differently (a topic that perhaps deserves its own post). However, in the context of communication in general, I find the quote to be equally relevant. Perhaps the numbers are a bit too arbitrary, but the basic sentiment holds true. Some people are skilled at expressing themselves with words, but many of us are not. How often do you struggle to find the right words only to realize you still chose the wrong ones? How often do you think someone meant one thing, only for them to counter with “that’s not what I meant”? Additionally, language itself is not perfect. Sometimes the perfect words still fall short of your intended meaning, and sometimes the clearest words will still be misinterpreted by people with a different understanding of how those words are used. I mean, we live in a world where the usage of a word like covfefe can evolve overnight.

Communication is arguably the most important thing when interacting with other people, but it takes far more effort than we like to admit, and that’s largely because so much of it involves miscommunication. Even so, disagreements are often attributed to differences in opinions, ignorance of opposing parties, or even stupidity. And sometimes these may very well be true. Everyone is ignorant about different things; we can’t all understand every topic. As harsh as it sounds, some people are less intelligent than others and can’t comprehend complex topics as easily. But if we are to acknowledge the miscommunication that arises from both a speaker’s inability to fully express their thoughts and a listener’s inability to fully interpret those words, I think we will find that many arguments are simple (or perhaps, complex) misunderstandings. Even how a word is used and interpreted differently can cause these kinds of misunderstandings.

Take for example, the term “Christian.” It should be a word that clearly denotes devotion to Christ and belief in the Gospel message. Yet somehow, it can mean a million different things. Which denomination are you? Do you go to church? Do you hate anime? Do you celebrate the idea of sinners suffering in hell? Do you believe in Christ? (I have had “Christians” tell me that their denomination does not…) A great deal of clarity is required to determine what kind of Christian you are talking about; by itself, it means almost nothing. People have all kinds of different ideas of what a given word means to them. Even though language has dictionary definitions of words, the fact remains that definitions change based on how we choose to use words, and that flux is further dependent on things like culture, beliefs, and personal experiences.

If a single word can cause confusion without follow up clarity, you can begin to imagine how many problems can arise with the added complications of context (or lack thereof), tone (which can be both helpful or detrimental), cultural differences, and worst of all, things being left unsaid entirely due to whatever human emotions we have like embarrassment or distrust. Unfortunately, we take language and communication for granted and more often than not assume what we interpreted is true, simply because the words have a clear meaning to us; in fact, this is the very crux of miscommunication as there is no reason to doubt out internal interpretation of what we hear. It is surprisingly easy for this misstep to snowball into a back and forth argument that sounds like the two are talking about the same thing but in their heads, they really aren’t.

I suppose no matter how much I write, you are likely to misunderstand some of the things I am trying to say, making for a rather ironic post. When we consider that the original quote from Nisio was in Japanese, we have an added layer of lost information and probably a pun or two because what else would you expect from Nisio? Even so, if we were to score ourselves on how accurately we interpret words around us, I think an assessment of 36% as an overall average is not too far from the truth. Especially when it comes to abstract things like how or why you are feeling a certain way or why your opinion on something is the way it is, it simply isn’t possible for language to communicate these things with 100% accuracy.

It is only natural, then, that Christians are just as vulnerable to this as much as anyone else. Yet, far too many Christians are too quick to judge what others are saying without considering that miscommunication is possible. Whether this is trying to reach out to others or listening to your pastor on Sunday morning, we internalize what we perceive to be true without questioning how accurate those perceptions are. It is so easy to misunderstand the intent of what is said because of these issues of communication, our own prejudices, and the influences of our own desires on interpretation. This extends to every aspect of our lives, and it is dangerously easy to think nothing is being misunderstood. As Christians (or even as humans), we need to make sure we understand the feelings and thoughts of those around us if we want to properly build community, and that can only be obtained through proper communication.

Therefore, I want to challenge everyone to critically think and question your own perceptions of everything you hear around you and in turn, realize how poor at communication everyone really is. The only real solution to poor communication is to communicate more with an open mind and an earnest desire to understand others.  Especially as Christians who are called to love others, it is imperative that we do not act on misunderstandings. In order to truly build a bridge between Christians and non-believers, it is necessary to have clear and precise communication, something that is often not addressed completely when Christians speak of outreach and missions. Communication is hard, and we will never truly get over this barrier; however, the more aware we make ourselves of this problem and educate others on it, the better we can close the gap of misunderstandings.

 

A Week in Review: Music, Radio, and Figures

While I call this a week in review, I am never going to have the time to actually make this a weekly thing. But since work keeps me pretty busy throughout the week, I find myself catching up on the latest otaku news later than usual, often not until the weekend. Since I promised I would be writing more posts with a “by fan, for fans” goal, as well as just having a personal outlet for ranting about things, I hope this will at least be a semi-regular thing, most dependent on how much I care about the recent happenings.

Over five years ago, this video was released, which then became a part of one of my favorite albums of all time Owari no Hoshi no Love Song, Jun Maeda’s collab with Yanagi Nagi. Diverse music, great vocals, and emotional lyrics, I still listen to many of the songs on a regular basis. It didn’t take long for me to ask: when will Maeda release another album and who will he collaborate with next? Finally, we have an answer: Long Long Love Song will be released July 26th, 2017, with the vocals by Anri Kumaki. The preview we have this time is “Bus Stop,” which is, as expected, really amazing in every aforementioned aspect. If the rest of the album is this quality, then I will once again be very pleased with another of Maeda’s works.

When No Game No Life aired, I tore it apart for its incredibly shallow writing and pathetic attempts at trying to be smart, which a lot of people fell for, to my disdain. But I did praise its existence for one thing: it gave us the glorious No Radio No Life radio show by the why-are-these-two-not-married hosts Matsuoka and Kayanon. That was about 700x as entertaining as the actual anime, and I was pretty sad to see it go. Luckily, with the new movie being released, No Radio No Life is back, and with it, the glory of Kayanon being adorable (not that she hasn’t been adorable in the other stuff, but more Kayanon is always a good thing). Between drinking like this was an episode of Kayanomi and acting like a lost foreigner, it was one of the best episodes I’ve seen in a few months. The part where she drops the Engrish (which was amazing in its own right) and acts like a weaboo with bad Japanese… Holy Kayanon, she basically defines real life iyashikei.

Meanwhile, Fate Grand/Order continues to be the biggest waifu bait I’ve ever had to deal with (to be fair, it’s possibly the biggest waifu bait ever). I figured after surviving the CCC event with Meltlilth after some 200-odd rolls (okay, maybe I didn’t survive), I was done with throwing money for awhile. Unfortunately, this happened. I mean, I’ve been waiting for it, but at least give me some kind of break. Do the waifu gods have no mercy on my soul? Actually, I suppose they wouldn’t on any wallet that isn’t already empty. That sweater shisho with that smile, and that pose, how can I resist? Pre-orders when? Hopefully no Kohaku-san until next year. Good thing the Tsukihime remake is still a myth.

Why Every Japan Missionary Should Read Sakura no Uta

Is that title too sensational? Probably, but lately I have felt it to be true, so if you want to disagree, you’ll have to actually read the thing and tell me why I’m wrong. “Oh but it’s in Japanese.” Well, yeah, and I don’t really see an English translation doing justice to Sca-Ji’s genius prose, so you better read it in Japanese. If you can’t commit to learning the language, I’m not sure what you’re doing as a missionary in Japan. “Oh, but it has porn scenes.” Fine, then skip them. It’s not that hard, and it’s not like I’m telling you to read Subarashiki Hibi instead where the porn is actually important.  If a little porn is going to scare you away, then again, why are you in Japan of all countries? Walk into a conbini and you will see shelves of gravure every time. “Oh, but it’s so long.” Welcome to the world of visual novels. If you can’t invest a simple 50 hours into reading what is the most philosophically heavy story that has hit the otaku market in years, then I will take that to mean that you have zero interest or intention of ministering to the otaku subculture. And while that’s possibly true of a lot of missionaries on a surface level, you probably don’t realize how much that sub-population is growing in Japan. If you’re a missionary in Japan, chances are you’ve met some closet otaku. It’s too bad your impression of them is so wrong. Maybe if you actually read Sakura no Uta, you would have a better understanding of the people around you.

Okay, that’s enough patronizing for now. While I admit I intentionally used that tone to get a rise out of a certain audience, I will also say that the otaku side of me often gets very frustrated when Japan missionaries demonstrate an astonishingly low or even non-existent understanding of otaku. I mean, I guess it’s fine if you were a normal person living out a normal life, but if you’re intending to reach out to people and understand their culture and you still have the mindset that visual novel = eroge = porn game, then you’re going to have a hard time when you talk to otaku. Of course, even Japanese natives have this misconception, so as a fan, I can’t help but throw my hands up in the air and reiterate that you people have no idea what you’re talking about. But that’s okay, because Sakura no Uta exists.

There are two major reasons why I believe every Japan missionary should read this work. The first is because it’s, well, simply a masterpiece. In terms of story and writing, yes, but even more so in terms of themes and life lessons.  Sure, Rewrite, exists, and if you know me, you know I’m a huge fan of it because it was the most spiritually enriching piece of fiction I have ever read. I could praise it all day, but I will simultaneously admit it has its flaws. It’s no masterpiece. Sakura no Uta, well, okay, it has flaws, but they are so vastly overshadowed by everything else, I am still caling it a masterpiece. Every time I think about it, I am amazed that it can touch on so many ideas and yet have those all be encompassed together so perfectly as it poses the question “what does it mean to live out your life?” The story is heavy and painfully realistic at times; it pulls no punches in reminding you of how easily life can bring you down. Yet because of this, it brilliantly asks some very hard questions about how you as an individual choose to live out your life and what your decisions mean to others and to yourself.  I could get into more specifics, but I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible. Suffice to say; reading this novel ruined me for months as I was forced to completely re-evaluate everything about my perceptions of and choices in life. Personally, it was doubly powerful because I then had to reconcile those answers with my own Christian faith. Sakura no Uta demands introspection like nothing else, and so I cannot help but place it above every other story I’ve ever experienced. Therefore, it is my firm belief that giving an honest and unbiased reading of this story (that is, not going in with any intention to hate it) will be the best possible example of what visual novels and the otaku culture has to offer people. The medium of visual novels is not just “entertainment” or “sexual gratification,” (though both exist as real reasons) but there are also things on a far deeper and philosophical level than you would initially imagine. And if the story hits too close to home, you might find yourself re-evaluating things about your life that you never thought a “porn game” could make you do.

The second reason every Japan missionary should read this is because Sakura no Uta does something really, really ingenious. It starts off with incredibly clichéd romcom scenes with stereotypical characters that seemingly have very little depth to them. Sure, there’s the occasional suggestion of something on a deeper level. I mean, the opening itself has references to Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, Kenji Miyazawa, and more. Sca-Ji loves his classical literature, and he is truly a scholar to the point that I am sure he knows the Bible better than many Christians. But I digress. The story takes this incredibly anime-esque setting and turns it completely on its head. It uses those very things as the foundation with which to spur the aforementioned questions about life. Those questions can then be turned back around and asked about those very clichés and stereotypes within the anime culture. And when you understand the context of those questions, you will understand the entire otaku culture on a completely different level. Granted, most people are kind of already aware of these things. High school is considered a prime time of one’s life; it is that springtime of youth where things like first love can lead to happiness. The cliches of anime seek only to reflect the most glorified time of people’s lives. I hear things like this about Japan a lot. I’m sure you have too.

But Sakura no Uta has some very powerful things to say about these ideas. In the same way it forces individuals to re-evaluate their lives, it forces a re-evaluation of the industry itself and the stereotypes of the anime culture. Because in the end, the entertainment used as escapism and the individuals who are drawn to it are intrinsically tied together.  As a result, this all triples back onto the main audience of visual novels and eroge, i.e. the otaku population. It forces introspection on the reader due to the struggles of the protagonist, then on the state of the otaku market that got turned on its head within the story itself, and finally back on the reader as one who consumes those very things. It seems ridiculous that a single story can have so many layers to the introspection it demands of its readers, but like I said, this is a masterpiece.

A Christian missionary with superficial understanding of the anime culture may only be forced into a third of that introspection. However, that is perhaps enough of a start to begin a re-evaluation of your own understanding of otaku and the subculture and how these interact with the greater Japanese culture at large. Again, I don’t want to spoil unnecessarily, but this introspection of life that I keep referring to includes the struggles, regrets, valuations, and dreams of individuals. Thus, Sakura no Uta is a story that can completely change your understanding of everything about the Japanese population and even more when it comes to the otaku population. Even if you somehow legitimately have a strong, empathetic understanding already, at the very least, a “porn game” will have reaffirmed some heavy truths about Japan that you know to be true. How’s that for some food for thought?

Still, I doubt many Christians will read this. The majority of you will give up due to various reasons like length, boredom, porn, or a lack of time; well, the majority won’t even bother to try. I don’t really mind that though because then I’ll be able to constantly respond to everything regarding Christian outreach in Japan with “well, if actually read Sakura no Uta…”  I mean, seriously, please try to prove me wrong or something because I probably won’t stop saying that. This is my challenge to anyone who is serious about Christian ministry in Japan. It is truly the greatest piece of fiction I’ve ever read and will be something I constantly refer back to in life not because it has answers but because it poses hard, necessary questions about what it means to live out life.

Visual Novels and Eroge as a Christian Fan

While I have written on this topic before from other perspectives, I wanted to open this blog by being completely open and honest about my experiences with eroge as a Christian, especially in regards to the sex scenes that are often danced around. I used to be one of those people who thought they were all “Japanese porn games,” but then I saw the light and am now a believer in the wonderful art of visual novels and eroge. It’s true that eroge have pornographic content, and I can’t say my experiences have been perfectly free of mistakes or questionable decisions, but overall, they have made a clear positive impact on both my emotional and spiritual lives.

First of all, visual novels are just an awesome storytelling medium. They have all the descriptions and length of a novel, the beauty of visuals, and the immersion of sound. Finally, the “choose your own adventure” mechanism that permeates the medium has led to some really interesting ways a story can branch into different routes, which are often coupled with true routes that deliver really intriguing stories, themes, and very unique twists that cannot be found anywhere else. A couple of examples that anime fans would be familiar with are Clannad and Steins;Gate, and if you’ve only seen the anime, remember that the general consensus is almost always that the visual novel is better than the anime. Therefore, working from here as a base, it is hard to deny that the medium itself is really fascinating, whether from a creator’s or a consumer’s viewpoint. However, the issue is that this medium has been used as a primary export of cheap pornography, kind of.

I’m not going to bother touching on nukige because in my view, works which are so largely pornographic are basically the pornography of films. We normally don’t talk or think about porn when we talk about movies, so I don’t see the point in talking about nukige with the topic of visual novels.  But yes, I am reminding people that visual novels are but a medium, much like film, and judging the medium as a whole is not a simple task. That said, eroge are in a kind of grey zone between all-ages and nukige. While they do have erotic content, said content is usually a pretty small part of it. This makes it very easy to skip, and it’s really unfair to judge an entire work for these few scenes. But while I could (and have in the past) talk about the pros and cons of these scenes and their effects on the works they inhabit, I think it would be more relatable if I instead spoke of my own personal journey and experiences with the medium.

I started reading VNs with Planetarian and Little Busters! after which I was completely hooked on what these stories could convey. But neither of those had any R-18 scenes. One of the next things I read was the MuvLuv trilogy which did have a few of these scenes. As I said before, skipping the stuff was really easy, and I didn’t really feel anything morally wrong with it so much as accepting that this exists and I didn’t want any part of it. With that mindset, the biggest problem might be whether or not these scenes might tempt you into sin. But honestly, MuvLuv Extra was really boring and lacrosse made me really angry (did anyone actually like lacrosse?) and I really just wanted to move onto Alternative, the 3rd story which receives the real praise. If the porn made me feel anything, it was annoyance at being so pointless. Then the scene in Alternative happened. It’s a very infamous scene among the fandom, and I admit I ended up reading the first few parts because of how the text was kind of saying something important despite the images. But honestly, I hated that, and I later found that many other fans did too. For many people including myself, it just ruined a lot of the emotional impact that scene was supposed to have. I kind of understand why that scene was there from a storytelling perspective, but the execution was just awful and all I could feel was disgust at whoever made it.

And then I read Saya no Uta. Well, this had way more sex than I was used to by far. I ended up reading the majority of those scenes, and what I found by the end was that as much as I hated them, they really aided the thematic progression of the story. The way the scenes changed over time as certain events occurred did a fantastic job of being thematically relevant to the story, and the mindset of the protagonist is depicted so well through these raw, carnal actions. Was there some disgust? Yeah, especially the more violent ones. Was there sexual gratification? Honestly, yeah to some degree. But that was also kind of the point in how the scenes change over time. If there is one eroge that does a good job of including sex scenes as a meaningful way to help tell a story, it is probably Saya no Uta.

I read a lot more VNs after that, with varying opinions. Some had sex scenes, and some were completely clean. Naturally, one of them was Rewrite, which was literally the most spiritually enriching story I’ve read in my life. I spent weeks thinking about my faith and God after that, and it was then that I was truly convinced that this medium is something special in the hands of a talented writer. I read a lot of excerpts of sex scenes between that half uncertainty of whether the scene will go that far and not wanting to miss anything after the scene and at times, honestly, a bit of curiosity. I started studying Japanese and read Mahoutsukai no Yoru, both an incredibly terrible and fun choice for a first untranslated read. The joy and pride in having read a complete story in Japanese is really amazing, and that is one reason why Mahoyo will forever have a special place in my heart. With only 15 years left until the sequel, I hope to be fully fluent by then!

And then I was told to read Tsuki ni Yorisou Otome no Sahou aka Tsurioto. Ou Jackson is such a god-tier writer. The dialogues he writes are so entertaining, so flavorful, and so full of life and unique personalities. So yes, this is even reflected in the sex scenes. Granted, I only read Luna-sama route because based Luna-sama is an amazing heroine who made all the other girls bore me to death in comparison. I mean, sure, it was a sex scene, but like, wow it was entertaining from a writing perspective. From an objective writing perspective, the biggest issue with sex scenes is they are so incredibly bland. They check different boxes for different fetishes, but the writing is basically all the same and the dialogue could not be blander. Consequently, you could probably just copy paste sex scenes around and no one would really be able to tell; objectively, that’s just bad writing. So when I read something like Tsurioto with very dynamic characters, it would be a travesty for some third rate sex scene to strip them of their personalities and deliver some silly sexual gratification writing. Luckily, it doesn’t do that. Instead, it maintains those dynamic characters and personalities and writes a sex scene that is very clearly happening between these two characters at a specific point in time of their relationship.  I know that sounds weird coming from a Christian, but like, there were some very distinct interactions between the two of them that really made me feel happy for them. I even laughed at some parts because the interactions between the two characters were always comedic, and that writing was maintained consistently and naturally even in a sex scene. That shows not just great writing but also a certain amount of respect for sex rather than treating it as some sexual gratification scene made for sales; instead, it was a scene written as an important part of the relationship between two characters. I can respect that a lot.

Honestly, I have read a number of sex scenes in VNs, but for the most part, I’ve found them and my reactions to them to be very different than I expected. The Christian instinct says these should be really sinful and evil temptations of lust but if I were to describe them in a word, it would probably be annoying. If you are going to try to tempt me into sinful lust, then one of the worst times to do so would be while I’m engrossed in a really interesting story. Sometimes it feels like the writers throw darts on a board to decide where in a finished script they should place them; the timing makes no sense half the time. I guess if you personally have issues with lust, then by all means avoid them, but I’m not sure I can agree with the stance of avoiding them because it’s sex. There are some really interesting, well written stories in this medium, and I think you can see this not just from my opinions but the opinions of all the other non-Christian fans. If people were reading eroge for only the porn, then it is strange to see eroge inspiring fans to talk about serious topics like philosophy, love, and self-sacrifice, themes that resonate with all kinds of people for arguably, all the right reasons.  Sure, the visual novel medium has its share of pointless porn and there is most certainly an audience that loves it, but I will always defend it against uninformed critics and as a Christian, it is my favorite medium to engage in.