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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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.