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July 28, 2016

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE: Do You Remember Love? (Part 2)

I would be remiss if I didn’t start this post off with a story about Yourself.

No, I’m not talking about you.  I’m talking about Yourself, a girl I happened to meet when I was in kindergarten.  At the time, she was (presumably) a year older than me, but other than that she seemed normal.  Brown hair, brown eyes, freckles -- not exactly someone who’d stand out in a crowd.  But the thing about Yourself was that she had a certain verbal tic: as far as I could tell, she would end every sentence with the word “yourself”.  Say hello to her, and she’d say “Hello yourself.”  Moo like a cow and she’d go “Moo yourself.”  At one point I was walking through the school halls and spotted some art from her class; sure enough, I spotted a piece with Yourself’s name in the corner, written in the black ink of a Sharpie.  Permanently etched into green construction paper.

Since my family packed up and moved to a different town (and, you know, because I was six), I never got around to learning the full story behind Yourself.  Maybe she was just being cute and sassy, and tagging all of her sentences with that single word.  Maybe there was legitimately something wrong with her.  Maybe her parents had terrible naming sense, and spamming that word was to be their penance.  No matter the origin, I wonder about the end result: what’s life like for her now if she hasn’t dropped the tic?  Is it a waking nightmare, or proof that she lives by her own rules?  The mind boggles.

I just thought I’d tell that story because it’s so bizarre it’s actually kind of entertaining -- unlike getting tangled up in Tokyo Mirage Sessions “censorship” again.  So let’s do this lickety-split.

So like I said last time, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has seen some changes going from the East to the West.  I’m at peace with a fair number of those changes, but less at peace with the circumstances surrounding them.  In an effort to cut through the controversy and mud-slinging, I thought I’d try to define my stance and feelings.  You know, come to my own conclusions, and help people see where I’m coming from.  I don’t expect or demand them to agree, but I’ll still offer a steady hand if need be.

And once again, I’ll say it plainly: I’m very uneasy about using the word “censorship” to describe what’s happened to TMS (or Fire Emblem Fates, or any other game that drums up hundreds of comments in a matter of minutes).  I’m sure there are people who’ll argue right now that even if Nintendo didn’t mandate altered or removed content -- and that’s likely the case, since it was NOT NINTENDO that handled localization -- it’d still be a form of self-censorship to take that stuff out. 

That brings up the whole question of what censorship is -- and since that’d spark a discussion about semantics on par with World War II, I think we’d all be better served by calling them “edits” or “changes”.  In their eyes -- developers, publishers, et al -- edits are made in service of appealing to potential fans, preserving creative vision, and making the best game possible.  I wish I could say it was that simple; it is in some respects, but we wouldn’t be here now if it was 100% easy, now would we?

It’s easy to flare up and get emotional whenever there’s been a change, but it’s important to keep a cool head and think about what was changed and why -- to try and understand the reasoning behind the original inclusion, and why it might have been dropped during the localization process.  Apparently, there’s some hot springs content in the Japanese version that’s missing in the west.  And I’ll be honest: my biased, unfair, knee-jerk reaction is “Good riddance.” 

I’ve seen enough modern Japanese media to know that a trip to the hot springs means a dearth of quality (and an abundance of adipose tissue to “compensate”).  That’s probably not the case with TMS given the pedigree and the other parts of the content, but I can grasp why it got booted out.  I don’t know if it’s 100% good or 100% bad as I am now, but again, I know hot springs scenes.  I’ve played Persona 3.  I’ve played Persona 4.  I’ve had my fill.  I don’t need to see any more.

But don’t think that I’m playing apologist for Nintendo, Atlus, and everyone involved in the game.  It’s not black and white -- and some of the choices made here are not great.

I’ll be frank: you pretty much lose your right to make edits or curb content when you cannot go a single scene without seeing Tsubasa’s jiggle physics in action.  Tsubasa is, as Shakespeare would say, racked up; the first five minutes of the game alone go a long way towards reminding you of that.  There’s a part of me that applauds the choice, because it’s juxtaposing the “pure and innocent” angle/archetype they’re going for with attributes that -- however unfairly -- are often causes for stigma and shame.  (It’s not quite one-to-one, but you could argue that Maiko’s promoting body positivity as well.)  The problem is that, again, it skirts that line between “fanservice with a point” and “YO!  BOOBS!  YES!”  It’s way too easy for people to tumble onto one side or another.

But in some ways, it’s not even about the people or the opinions they have.  TMS’ edits are, based on what I know, totally uneven.  Ignoring the fact that bras don’t seem to exist in this universe, the version I’ve got in my Wii U right now makes damn sure I know the girls’ measurements -- which is a holdover from Japanese media, but it’s still awkward.  There’s a boss that gets covered up, but it only happens in a cutscene; beyond that, she’s letting it all hang out.  The default costumes show their share of skin (and then some), but apparently they had to add extra fabric to cover up Tsubasa in a wedding dress?  Huh?

I’d say that TMS is strong enough to stand on its own based purely on its gameplay.  As a JRPG, though, it lives or dies on the quality of its story -- which is exactly where the edits can hit it hardest.  From what I’ve read, some of those changes impact the plot and characters; in a nutshell, they’re not the same as the original versions.  That right there can be a problem, because it means that the intent and creative vision might have been jeopardized in translation.  I’ll emphasize “might” for now, but if ever there was a reason to stare daggers at the crews (East or West), we have it.

Supposedly, one of the chapters glares idol culture and its commoditization of its “stars” in the face.  Or if you prefer, sexualization; a big chunk of it involves getting Tsubasa in a bikini at one point or another.  With that said, my understanding of the original version is that it’s a way to help Tsubasa develop as a character, allowing her to become more comfortable in her skin.  That’s good.  The bikini is there for more than just fanservice; it’s the means to an end, and the idea that anyone would be scared off by the prospect -- to reflexively assume bikini = fanservice = outrage = conflict = boycotts -- is a depressing one.  (Though to be fair, I’m enamored by the replacement; it’s hilarious, it can serve a point in its own right, and I unironically think it’s cool.  Hopefully I can have Tsubasa wear it in battles.)

I hope that the other changes aren’t that extreme.  I wouldn’t put it past them, but I’m hoping for the best.  After all, I’m a guy who wants to put out content on a massive scale, via no shortage of writing projects.  As I’ve said several times before, one of those characters is a single mom who eventually gets tall enough to overshadow Godzilla.  I’m not ashamed to admit that -- in her current design -- even if she was a normal height she’d be a real bra-buster (though that’s partly because she’s got a plus-size frame).  And since she can’t exactly visit the local tailor, that also means she has to make do wearing whatever scraps she can stitch together.  To wit: I’ve iterated that character half a dozen times in the past month and a half, and I always come to the conclusion of “Nope.  No pants.  Less clothes.”

So you know what?  I get it.  I understand why people are mad at Nintendo, Atlus, and the rest for making changes -- why they’d cry out “censorship” when they feel like a creative vision is being suppressed.  I may seem blasé about the subject (and even on the side of the “censors” at times), but I have concerns.  Nobody wins when the spread of ideas is limited.  That’s especially true when it comes to art, the greatest teacher and communicator we have.  I’d be pissed if my vision was jeopardized by some limp-wristed overlords from on high, so I sympathize with the rage and frustration felt by fans of the medium.  I really do.

In my case, my reason for creating a curvy kaiju-mama is tangentially thematic; she needs to have a motherly form even if it clashes with her monstrous attributes, and she’s far from the only one in her story to have exaggerated looks (the story’s main villain is an absolute heartthrob for the ladies to drool over).  But you know what?  Honestly, I feel like trying to justify my decision is like coming up with excuses.  She’s got big boobs and wears minimal clothing because I wanted her to -- because I thought it’d be cool and fun.  The end.  It’s just a part of who she is; it’s not used directly for fanservice, and I would hope that people understand that.

But TMS -- and games before it, and games after it no doubt -- make me question that level of tolerance.  I won’t even try to deny that TMS ventures into some uncertain territory, and it’s hard to tell when it’s trying to make a point and when it’s trying to play to marketable anime tropes.  But it IS possible to make a point.  Even from what I’ve seen so far, it’s actively trying to push its point as much as it is Tsubasa’s cheer.  So yes, even a bikini-clad girl can help with a story, not just exist to stiffen trousers or make Little Jimmy Xbox ask his parents a lot of uncomfortable questions.  I’m asking gamers to stay calm and think things through when it comes to their claims, but I’m asking the same of those in the industry.  As easy as it is to make snap judgments and make knee-jerk reactions (or act in fear of them), it’s probably a good idea not to do that.  You know.  Probably.

Then again, I wonder if anyone cares at this point.

What I hate the most in this situation isn’t that TMS got edited, or that its legacy will be mired in controversy.  No, what I hate is the fact that, despite it being 2016, it feels like we haven’t moved an inch when it comes to problems like these.  Sometimes, it feels like we’re moving backwards.  The cries of censorship.  The outrage.  The finger-pointing.  The teary-eyed wails of fury at “the other”, whether it’s SJWs, GGers, or anyone with even a slightly different opinion.  The declarations of boycotts.  The mud-slinging in comments and forums everywhere.  The cagey responses from higher-ups.  The lack of communication in general.  The ignorance of context on all fronts. 

The thunderstorm that erupts online, and then dies down with nothing gained besides people ragequitting en masse to do whatever…which means that not one bit of progress has been made on legitimate points of discussion.  It’s all for the sake of the next controversy, and the next attack on enemies (real or not), and the next battle -- perpetuating a cycle of anger that yields no results, and helps bar the content in question from reasonable discourse. 

But I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised.  Everyone up and down the industry ladder dumped barrels of fuel onto the fire whenever Dante’s hair color came up.  What fucking chance do we have for a rational discussion on the depiction of women in fiction?

Yes, I know that not everyone is guilty of being so incendiary and uncooperative when it comes to the subject of “censorship”.  In fact, I would prefer not to blame one single entity for the problems in the industry or its culture.  What I can do, however, is blame everyone.  So I blame gamers for taking shots at each other, forgetting what matters, and proving that we’re gravely lacking in maturity.  I blame nervous publishers who act like they know better.  I blame developers for not practicing self-control and recklessly adding easily-misconstrued content in the first place.  I blame game journalists for creating a narrative where there is (or should be) controversy, which in turn births a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I blame the cultural zeitgeist for imposing a rigid set of beliefs.  I blame the ever-prevalent use of the word “censorship” and the baggage it forces onto the conversation.  I blame the internet for making it unconducive to having real dialogues in favor of typed-out shouting matches.  I blame internet users for having those typed-out shouting matches.  I blame the slew of buzzwords that have convinced too many people that the enemies of everything they stand for wait within the dark crevasses of the world.

I blame everyone.  I blame them.  I blame you.  I blame myself.  And now that I’ve done that, I have to ask: can we please move on?  Can we please try to do better?

I know this message won’t reach everyone.  It might not even reach anyone.  But I hope that we can at least try to handle these situations a little better -- because as a whole, I don’t think we are.  Maybe if we can collectively prove that we’re mature, thoughtful, and cool-headed, we can establish dialogues with the higher-ups and prevent these controversies.  I’m not saying that you should start a campaign to cause a revolution across the internet, or that you need to police everyone you meet.  What I’m saying -- what I’m asking, arguably -- is that you should edit yourself.  You can be passionate and argue, but the second you get consumed by that passion, you lose -- and you risk starting up a brand new war with a few hastily-typed words. 

I’m asking a lot, I know.  “Where do you get off?” you ask.  And yeah, I know I’m being presumptuous here.  Pompous, even.  But maybe if we spent less time arguing and more time discussing -- or cooperating, even -- then maybe we’d actually help the industry out.  Failing that, we’d at least have more time to play the games we love.  So why can’t we use art as a platform to bond, not just a cause for new conflicts?  Why do we have to scream about SJWs and GGers?  Can’t we all just be DHBs -- Decent Human Beings -- that play lots of fun games?  Why do we have to jump to anger and hate?

Why do we have to be like this…?

…When it’s a lot more fun to be like this?

I remember love.  And I hope that you do, too.

…Oh, hey.  I guess I know Macross a little better than I thought.

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