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  • “The Phantom of Akihabara,” Chapter 3: “Taboos”

    Posted on June 13th, 2009 keving 4 comments

    090613-akihabara1

    The history buff sighed. “What does freedom of speech mean, anyway? Is anything okay as long as you claim that it’s fiction? Or as long as the opposition groups don’t find you? Either way, the developers never bothered facing facts. Any form of entertainment’s going to offend someone, somewhere out there, but they kept on revising and recalling their work whenever any crap popped up. That’s why we’re all in this pile right now.”

    Here is chapter three (“Taboos”) of The Phantom of Akihabara: GAME OVER, a serial novel written by Yoshitaka Ohsawa between 2002 and 2004. You’ll want to start at chapter one if you’re new to the tale.

    In a collapsed Japan where all the “poison” has been removed from mass media, the otaku culture of the past finds a way to survive in the wreckage. Ryohei Takamizawa’s job is to find rare and out-of-print games for his nostalgia-happy clients. What’s he up to this chapter?

    Happy readin’.

    ——-

    The battle was over soon enough. I lost, but I wasn’t thinking about winning in the first place. “That move’s called the Stun Palm of Doom,” began the player, far too eager to give me a beginner’s lesson for my tastes. I responded by drawing the gun in my pocket on him.

    The player stared down the gun barrel, the look on his face betraying his surprised confusion. “I hope you appreciate me putting up with your little show,” I said, placing a finger on the trigger. The move was all it took to crush the player’s pride, a pride that was nonexistant outside of the electrons that run down the circuit boards.

    “Tell me what I want to know. Now.”

    ——-

    It seemed like I was a breath away from finishing the job. One phone conversation with the history buff was all it took. He had the first edition of Teitoku no Ketsudan, and he was willing to negotiate. The way he put it, he would be happy to consider my request as long as I could trade him for the first pressing of Dai Koukai Jidai III. The fact that money wasn’t enough for him annoyed me a bit, but I placed a call back with the guy I knew at Sofmap #666, and he said he had the game.

    This was all going far too well. I had a bad feeling about all this good fortune I was encountering — a feeling that later proved extremely accurate.

    ——-

    “Hey. Thanks for coming.”

    The man lived inside a regular-sized house in the middle of Kanda, the sort of place that some people would say “Why do you hate your country?” if they realized he occupied the space entirely by himself. His silver hair looked dyed, and the black-rimmed glasses he wore were apparently inspired by a 20th-century historical novelist he liked. Judging by the books, swords, pieces of armor, games, anime DVDs, and so forth stuffed into his cramped study without any rhyme or reason, it was plain what kind of person he was.

    The sheer scope of his obsessions made me convinced that the uneasy feeling in my stomach was all too justifiable.

    “Eh heh heh… Wow. You got it. You know, Dai Koukai Jidai III, the first version, that’s somethin’ special to people like us. You know what I mean? You don’t look like you do. There are craploads of games set around the age of Columbus, like this one and The Atlas, but there’s a taboo to all of ’em. None of ’em can touch it.”

    “A taboo?” I couldn’t have cared less about this topic, but I couldn’t afford to rile him, either.

    “Slaves. You got me? Slaves. One of the main trading commodities of the Age of Discovery. Millions of black slaves, on a one-way trip from Africa to the West Indies. Ironclad, historical fact. But even in the 20th century, when they still had a concept of freedom of speech, it was still a huge taboo to simulate it in a game.”

    He didn’t give a rat’s ass whether I was listening or not. Nothing excites people like these more than showing off their knowledge and their collection. But these days, they’ve got noplace, no one to show off to. Now he had an audience, and I guess he had an afternoon’s worth of lectures planned for me. No wonder he was so eager to meet me.

    “But Dai Koukai Jidai III was different. It strove for realism at all costs. Compared to the other Age of Discovery games, it’s the most complete package out there by a longshot. They even defined what languages your character spoke. Your stats in X language or Y language aren’t good enough, you can’t even talk to some people. They divided Europe up into Spanish, the Romance languages, the Germanic tongues. Completely realistic. So of course they simulated the slave trade in-game.”

    The man grew more ominous as he spoke.

    “It was hilarious. Every trade commodity in the game was measured in number of barrels, and naturally that went for slaves too. What’s more, commodities were set up to go rotten as time goes on, either disappearing or becoming unsuitable for sale. Leave slaves on a ship and go on a long voyage, and they start disappearing, one barrel after another. They were treated like things, start to finish. You wanna talk to me about pure realism? Nothing could be truer to history than that, you know. But I guess people criticized it anyway. Starting with the first patch, Koei pretended that the slave trade never existed.

    “You know, Koei, the publisher, their games were all about history, and history’s a delicate thing. They ran into little problems like these all the time. That’s what makes people like me love their stuff so much. But a lot of people just can’t forgive them for that. Nobody’s gonna look you in the face and say that the slave trade never existed, but they still can’t forgive Koei. Meanwhile, these same people loved killing thousands of soldiers, shooting down airplanes, dismembering monsters without a second thought. It’s funny how the whole shebang’s regulated nowadays, huh? It’s like the playing field’s even again.

    “So, getting back to your game, Teitoku no Ketsudan. That’s another little tempest in a teapot Koei got itself into. A bunch of birdbrains got their panties in a twist because of a stupid little ‘Comfort’ command, but what happened after that was even more ridiculous. What with comfort women being such a controvery back then, the protestors said it was inappropriate for a game to be bringing up the topic in the first place. A lot of the slopeheads in the game biz, they didn’t know crap about history. Once doubts started to be raised about the whole comfort women thing, people started calling it a plot on the part of the game makers. The ‘liberals in Koei’ put the command in there because they wanted to stir up the hornet’s nest. Sort of thing.

    “Being involved in history the way Koei was made dealing with our neighbor nations one hell of a pain sometimes. For example, they outsourced some of the work on the third game in the Teitoku no Ketsudan series out to China. That naturally led to a few demonstrations over there. And you know the fourth Dai Koukai Jidai? That game had a pretty Korean girl shoehorned into the plot for some reason, and you know they did it just to placate people over there. And that’s not all, either. For example, they had another series, Taikou Risshiden, which traced the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. You can forget about any game in that series ever touching upon Hideyoshi trying to invade Korea. And, you know, Koei used to have three main game series — Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Nobunaga’s Ambition, and a third one covering Genghis Khan’s era. Why did they stop making Genghis Khan games? Well, it’d hardly be appropriate for Minamoto no Yoritomo to invade Korea and import all their princesses into his imperial court, would it?”

    I nodded now and again whenever it seemed appropriate. He didn’t care if I understood any of his prattle. He just wanted to talk.

    “I don’t know if they did it on purpose or if they just had their heads that high in the clouds, but Koei went through this cycle all the time, portraying some era in history and getting raked over the coals for it before revising the whole thing. Any game — any piece of entertainment — it’s got to be at least a little subversive like that. That’s why I’ve always been such a fan of ’em.”

    My legs were growing numb. I stretched them out in front of me.

    090613-akihabara2“You know, Fuga System, that was another outfit that wasn’t afraid to take chances. They did all sorts of crap they knew they couldn’t get away with from the start. They had this series, Amaranth. This was an era when RPG heroes were all these pure-hearted, immaculate icons, but in Amaranth they screwed each other all the time, and they depicted it, too. The hero switched girls for the sequel, and the game showed everything they did. There wasn’t any adults-only rating or nothing. Plus, in II, the princess of this kingdom winds up getting raped and impregnated by this dark-skinned barbarian from the north, and in order to keep the baby’s blood from “dirtying” the royal lineage, the nobility created this 40-year gap in history and pretended she never existed. Crazy stuff. In their early years, they had this game called BeatVice where you kidnapped and impregnated a girl, held her child hostage and made her fight as a warrior. They were kinda an obscure outfit so it never generated Koei-style controversy, but if the media ever got wind of them, it would’ve been huge. Of course, that was the appeal of the PC game scene. You didn’t have any console first-party breathing down your neck. As long as no one bad found you, you could do anything. It was neat.”

    The man’s ramblings continued to expand, showing no sign of ending.

    “You know, freedom of speech should be the sole responsibility of the author. It’s his fault if he stretches it too far, and if you don’t like it, then don’t buy it. Thanks to the cretins who don’t get that, we’ve got the world we have today. I mean, it was loony. You had girls showing up in adult games wearing middle-school, high-school uniforms, and they wanted us to believe they were 18 years old. Ridiculous. Course, looking at it the other way, as long as they put that notice on the box, it was fine and dandy to screw whoever you want, even if she didn’t even look ten. Funny, looking back, huh? I mean, they didn’t even mosaic out the penetration in porno games in the beginning, not until 177 got brought up in the legislature and making an X-rated game was enough to get you arrested. That’s where the EOCS came from, too. Bunch of retards. They gave Graduation 2 an 18+ rating because it showed high-school girls drinking and smoking. The EOCS only had jurisdiction over the Softbank-controlled distribution outfits, though. If you could find another distro route, you could still release any kinda game you wanted, sort of like what Sogna did. And, of course, after the Internet developed, indie labels started popping up. One of them, Analog Factory, released Jitsu-shimai, a game that depicted incest. Pretty much a direct challenge to the EOCS. Crazy times.”

    The history buff sighed. “What does freedom of speech mean, anyway? Is anything okay as long as you claim that it’s fiction? Or as long as the opposition groups don’t find you? Either way, the developers never bothered facing facts. Any form of entertainment’s going to offend someone, somewhere out there, but they kept on revising and recalling their work whenever any crap popped up. That’s why we’re all in this pile right now.

    “Of course,” he said as he handed me the Teitoku no Ketsudan box, “when a game tries as hard as this one, I guess it’s too easy a target for ’em, huh?”

    I didn’t follow half of the things he told me, but one thing was clear enough. There were people out there, a lot of them, obsessed over games. They were willing to blow huge sums of money on out-of-print titles. And the age we live in, one where people like me kept their stomachs full off their obsessions, isn’t a very nice one, apparently. The only thing his mind was occupied with was nostalgia for some mythical, glorious age that may as well have never existed.

    (To be continued)

    ——-

    Footnotes

    Stun Palm of Doom: One of the signature special moves available for Akira in the Virtua Fighter series. Most fighting-game scenesters call it by its Japanese name, Hougeki Unshin Soukoshou (崩撃雲身双虎掌).

    Dai Koukai Jidai III: The third game in the series known as Uncharted Waters in English-speaking countries. A Japan-only release from 1996.

    Kanda: A district in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, largely known by out-of-towners for its wealth of used bookstores. It is heavily built up and not the sort of place most people could afford to own a large residence in.

    “20th-century historical novelist“: This refers to Masamitsu Miyagitani, a well-known Japanese author whose novels mainly involve characters from ancient Chinese history.

    The Atlas: A series of seafaring simulations released by Artdink between 1991 and 2000. The PC Engine port of the original Atlas is available on the Wii Virtual Console in Japan.

    “Doubts started to be raised”: The Japanese government gave a formal apology to Korean comfort women in 1992, but their position has hardened in the 21st century. Some Japanese historians (as well as political manga artist Yoshinori Kobayashi) have produced claims that the women were never actively coerced into prostitution as previously reported, a stance that has been condemned by most other Asian and Western countries. See Wikipedia for more about this.

    “Demonstrations”: In 1996, the Chinese government declared Teitoku no Ketsudan III an “anti-revolutionary game,” claiming that it “features Hideki Tojo and glorifies the Japanese invasion of China.” Koei did not outsource development to China as the story’s history buff claims, but did manufacture their PC game packaging in the municipality of Chongqing, where workers threatened a walkout. The controversy was part of the reason the Teitoku series did not see a new release until 2001, five years later.

    Dai Koukai Jidai IV: This game was released for Windows and the PlayStation in 1999. The Korean girl, Sol I-fa, appeared in the PlayStation port only. Korea and China (particularly Taiwan) are extremely important marketplaces for Koei’s historical simulations, with each game splitting their sales almost half-and-half between Japan and the other Asian countries.

    Minamoto no Yoritomo: A 12th-century Japanese shogun. Also the final boss in Genpei Toumaden.

    Fuga System: A small PC developer active between 1988 and 1998. Amaranth, an Ys-like RPG, is largely unknown outside of Japan but proved popular enough to spawn a series of five games between 1990 and 1995.

    177: A game released in 1986 by Macadamia Soft, a division of dB-Soft. Here’s a (censored, non-porny) nico-Video of it.

    EOCS: The Ethics Organization of Computer Software, a Japanese group that oversees the adult game industry.

    Sogna: The adult-game label of Tokyo-based software publisher Silence, active from 1992 to 2003. They officially quit the EOCS in 1997.

     

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