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.

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.