The Importance of Your Most Mundane Choices

This post will heavily spoil the content of the visual novel Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi. You have been warned.

She seems innocent enough…

Regardless of how much you know about what makes the visual novel Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi as interesting as it is, one of the main heroines Aoi immediately begins the story by talking about how they are in a game. Thus, the lurking suspicion of whether she is just being a denpa girl or actually breaking the 4th wall is there from the onset. However, no matter what she says about being a fictional character, or about how the game CGs or the “god” of the outer world, it is never clear which of the two it is. At least for the first third/route of the game, which features the cute childhood friend Miyuki. However, after you complete her route and begin Aoi’s, things slowly get weirder as you interact with the denpa girl. The natural conclusion is that she’s just crazy with her talk about god and needing sex to maintain her existence. Then the game reaches a climactic scene just after you’ve fulfilled her obsession for sex. Miyuki crawls out from under the bed (and now the Nitroplus horror begins) where you just did the deed, straight up murders Aoi and breaks the protagonist’s limbs with her baseball bat, accusing him of betraying her. But this is a VN, and on the Aoi route, you never got together with Miyuki. Yes, but she’s not talking about THIS route, and she’s not talking to the protagonist. She’s talking about the previous route, and she’s talking to the YOU behind the monitor screen, playing this game.

And thus the 4th wall is shattered as you enter the final leg of the story that challenges everything you thought you knew about this game. The game is actually forcefully closed and rebooted. The new loading game screen looks like some 8-bit game out of the 80s. You can try to load your old saves but they no longer exist. Yes, the game literally deletes all your save files. You start a new game that appears to be the same as before. However, if you click the wrong choice, you end up in an inescapable loop. You close the game because there is no way to exit the loop. The game will not close. There is literally no way to close the game other than doing a forced shutdown (at least, I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe there’s some gimmick). You reboot the game. Instead of what you expect, Miyuki appears and asks “do you understand how this world works now?” You are no longer playing a game. You are playing against Miyuki, and she knows exactly what you are doing and can control the game as she pleases.

怖怖怖怖怖怖

The rest of the game basically consists of trying to outwit Miyuki, in a loop of satisfying Miyuki’s yandere lust for you all while the game remembers every action and choice you’ve taken. Even when you think you’ve outwitted Miyuki, she still knows because she is the game. The final climax involves YOU the player, not the protagonist, choosing which girl you truly love. After the credits roll, you will find you cannot go back to replay anything. The only way is to completely uninstall the game and reinstall anew. In this way, the game’s story and message has a direct effect on the real world. In the end, what the game asks of you is that even though you are playing a game, to truly consider the meaning of the choices you make and care for the characters you interact with. While it comes off as an amusing and hilarious trick that makes for a memorable game, it is nevertheless something that is very interesting to consider on a deeper level.

How much do you really think about the choices you make in life? I’m not talking about the big ones like where to go for college, whether to buy a house, or whether to take that job on the other side of the world. But how much do you think about the small choices; do you even think at all? How much do you think about the daily conversation you have with your coworker, or about the momentary interaction with a stranger on the street? There is a natural inclination to care less about the decisions you make when it comes to people you are not too invested in or are not a big part of your life. After all, there’s nothing wrong with going through the motions that society expects of you for a person you may never interact with again. Who cares if it’s thoughtless when your paths will never cross again? Yet, this VN challenges that very inclination through fictional characters – people who are not people; characters who are purely programmed by a script.

Christians always speak of “planting seeds,” but seem to easily glance over the fact that everyone is always planting seeds. The question is what kind of seeds are you planting? What sort of effects are you going to have on others with your words and actions, for everything you say and do can be seen as the act of planting seeds. If Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi can teach you to treat fictional girls with even the smallest extra degree of respect, love, and thoughtfulness, then how much better should you treat the real people around you? When you start a new game in a VN, the characters do not remember what you did in previous game. It’s your chance to start fresh and try a new route to see a different part of the story. But the girls in this game remember what you’ve done and said. Your actions have left a permanent mark in their lives. In the same way, your actions can leave lasting impressions on people no matter how little you may think they do. While people may not remember all of their experiences in life, those experiences are still a part of what makes up who they are and who they become.

We don’t know the situations of those around us; even our close friends have personal thoughts and feelings that they do not share on a regular basis. Thus, our actions and words can play far larger roles in people’s lives than we realize, even if they are strangers. This is not about helping others, reaching out to them, or trying to save anyone, per se. What Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi wishes to convey is only that you be fully considerate of the decisions you make and the effects of those decisions on those around you.  Is this not right in line with living our lives out as followers of Christ? Being loving and thoughtful towards others is not something to be done when it suits us but rather incessantly throughout our lives. You don’t know what effects your decisions will have on the strangers around you, but at the very least, you should act with the awareness that you are an ambassador to Christ, and every action you make is representative of your beliefs. Strangers aren’t NPCs in a game, and in the real world, there are no re-dos.

 

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Tamura Yukari and Life with Depression

Tamura Yukari aka Yukarin is one of the most popular seiyuu of our time and for good reason. In terms of sheer voice acting talent, she is one of the best, able to do everything from a cute innocent schoolgirl to a haughty femme fatale. Be it her acting, her singing, or her forever 17 looks, she is loved by anyone who knows anything about anime voice acting. Yet, I would wager a guess that these celebrity features fail to properly convey the real reason why some of her biggest fans love her.  When it comes down to it, Yukarin is human just like the rest of us, but she shows it far more than your usual celebrity. I wonder if part of it is that she entered the industry and fame at just the right time. She isn’t a far back veteran from the 80s/90s when seiyuu never really got the spotlight as pop culture media. Yet, she’s also old enough that she hasn’t been a victim of this recent trend of idolizing seiyuu and selling them based on looks, personality, etc. rather than talent. This generation of seiyuu is very interesting to follow, both during the early 2000s and in the context of the uprising newer generation; however, for me, Yukarin takes the spotlight when it comes to the hardest things in life.

Following celebrities, there is always some kind of wall between their stage personality and lifestyle versus their real personality and lifestyle. Especially in Japan, where the paparazzi exists at a much lower tier of obsession (even more so when it comes to the anime world, where there’s hardly any money to made gossiping about seiyuu. Unless you’re seiyuu A *coughMinorincough*), it is not uncommon for fans to be in the dark about their favorite actors’ lives. Take for example marriages and childbirth which are usually announced after they happen or shortly before, respectively, and come as a big surprise to everyone. Conversely, with the whole culture of radio shows and social media in Japan, we actually get an interesting and informative peek into their lives. It’s a strange balance, but I do think the anime culture that’s been fostered has helped fans be fans of people rather than actors.

As such, when it comes to seiyuu like Tamura Yukari, it’s really hard for me to say my favorite thing about her is her talent or voice. Instead, what I’m drawn most to is her real personality and how human and relatable she can be. Unlike most of her fellow seiyuu, Yukarin tends to be a lot more pessimistic about things. It’s pretty common for her to berate herself and comment on how she isn’t doing a good enough job. Moreover, on both her blog and twitter, she often says a lot of things that make it clear that she suffers from depression, even if she has never outright stated it. This, above all else, is fascinating, heart-breaking, and alluring simultaneously.

Nendoroid Yukarin

It is counterintuitive to the cultural expectations of society, especially Japanese society, that someone with depression could be so loved and admired. In fact, it seems counterintuitive that someone so loved and admired could even have depression. Yet, I think the phenomenon of Yukarin reveals a crucial truth about depression as a mental illness. In Yukarin is the embodiment of the fact that depression is not logical. As someone who suffers from depression myself, I know it tries to be logical when it can. A lot of the times, the lies I tell myself make a lot of sense, so naturally, I should be depressed. But other times, it makes absolutely no sense. Sometimes I will just be depressed and I can’t even figure out an excuse, true or false, as to why I feel the way I do. I just do. Yukarin is someone who is loved by thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands if we go by her 600k+ twitter followers, yet she’ll still talk of feeling sad, lonely, and worthless. Even someone as cute, cheerful, lovely, and popular as her can sometimes have these negative feelings and suffer from an illness that goes beyond all reason.

And that, I think, is exactly what makes her so appealing. Because if someone like Yukarin can feel that way, then it’s perfectly reasonable for a regular person to feel similar, negative things. This is not to say that being depressed and thinking negative thoughts is a good thing; however, it is reassuring for people to remember it is also a legitimate part of life. Particularly in the Japanese culture which has a difficult time even admitting mental illness is a real problem but rather blames such feelings on weakness, I suspect being able to relate to a celebrity who gets depressed and lonely is something that is very meaningful to many Japanese fans. Even for me, listening to Yukarin’s complaints and thinking about them in the context of how popular and “successful” her life is can be a much needed support. It really helps me to know that I’m not alone in feeling the way I do. It’s not a justification that depression is A-okay (though surely some might end up that way), but it certainly alleviates the idea that there is something wrong with me for feeling the way I do. Rather than becoming more depressed for being depressed, I can take a little bit of solace by remembering that even someone like Yukarin sometimes feels the same. Surely, many other fans feel similarly; our love for Yukarin is bolstered not by her successes in life but by her failures.

Anime Yukarin

Christians often cite depression and suicide as a major problem with Japan and a critical reason why the country is so in need of God. But I think Christians are often so concerned with fixing the problem that they don’t see some of the solutions that the culture has unintentionally discovered. As the responses to Yukarin’s own solitary actions show, there’s something about one’s own shortcomings that resonates with a lot of people. And while Christians try to do this too, they seem to forget about the powerful factor anonymity provides people, especially the Japanese who are so culturally fearful of drawing attention to themselves, or the importance of forming a meaningful connection. In some ways, Yukarin has done more for Japan than the average Christian missionary; in some ways, she has done more for me than the average fellow Christian. She is amazing precisely because she is not amazing, and that is a quality I think a lot of Christians can learn and grow from, not just individually but also in interacting with the people of Japan.

 

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.