Another year has come to an end, and with it, I feel the need to recap what I achieved and didn’t, accompanied by a set of my resolutions for the coming year. Ordinarily, this would be appended to the final of my 12 Days posts, but time for that was lacking this year, and as a result, it’s here instead.
Hayao Miyazaki began his career at Studio Toei, and quickly found himself involved in the union struggles occurring at the time, efforts which eventually saw he, Isao Takahata, and others virtually forced out of the studio. Rising to prominence in this milieu, Miyazaki spent his early life as a self-proclaimed Marxist, and the artistic priorities set by those politics survive even into his present work. In the 80s he declared that he wanted to, “always be aware of the dangers of being too wishy-washy, to be aware of the relationships between media creators and consumers, capital and labor.” Yet, within a decade, this belief in Marxism totally crumbled. With the fall of the USSR and the writing of Nausicaa, Miyazaki’s faith in historical materialism—which centers class struggle and the relations of economic production in its analysis—collapsed, and he declared that the kind of thinking where, “if things like the distribution of wealth and the means of production were properly taken care of, everything would get better”, was something he could no longer accept. Indeed, in 1994 he claimed that, “Leaving decisions up to the collective wisdom of the masses just results in collective foolishness”, as well as saying, outright, that “Marxism was a mistake,” and from here, the ecological tones already present in his work became even more central.
“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” – Karl Marx
“The dead speak!” – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
It’s simple enough to claim that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker fails as a sequel to The Last Jedi in forgoing any attempt to follow up on its predecessor’s direction. It’s even easier to attribute its flaws to the trilogy’s lack of a coherent vision: for whatever one might say about the prequels, they know exactly what they’re doing, while The Rise of Skywalker appears to have seen each of its preceding entries exactly one time. Neither of these points are wrong, but they’re also obvious, and could’ve been predicted from the moment The Last Jedi released. Rather, the film has a more fundamental issue: it’s caught in a tension between moving forward, fully inaugurating the Disney era of Star Wars, and slavishly devoting itself to the past, bringing up memories of past entries for fans wherever possible.
This binary trap screams from every moment and scene in the film. Leia is constantly shuffled on- and off-screen(with notably poor compositing) as the movie sees fit. Her inclusion or lack thereof is based on where footage is available for her, of course, yet the unsubtle promotion of Poe as the next general betrays any consistent attempt to linger on the last surviving member of the original trio; as a result, Poe’s eventual leadership is unearned, while Leia’s presence is unfelt. This is done no better with Luke. While force ghosts aren’t new, the presence of both his and Han’s in the film is suspicious, and though his role in the plot is to encourage Rey, he performs so many actions that you have to ask: why is he even dead? The baton is passed to the new protagonist, as it has been in the previous two films to varying degrees, yet the movie is never confident in letting her fully grasp it herself.
This tension is, in fact, so obvious, that’s it’s abundantly present in the final scene of the film. Having overcome the idea that she must follow her bloodline, Rey refuses to call herself a Palpatine when asked what her family name is. While this scene has potential, it kneecaps itself; set at Luke’s family home on Tatooine, Rey specifically names herself Rey Skywalker before turning off to look at the double sun just as Luke did some 42 years ago. The film wishes to escape the orbit of tradition and destiny, yet at the same time, it’s compelled to reflect on every last moment in the franchise, going so far as to retcon Rey’s parentage in order to tie her into the broader plot movements that have been going on since the prequels. It’s a wonder that they didn’t shove in Anakin’s force ghost as well.
My first Star Wars films were most likely from the original trilogy, but as a kid born in 1999, the prequels were a far more consistent presence in my childhood. I loved the adventures of Luke, but the films we saw in theaters were the prequels, and our toys and games were mostly based on them as well. I was still far from an age where the lesser parts of that trilogy were apparent; Jar Jar was just a funny character. When Anakin’s tragedy culminated, I was only six years old. To me, Darth Vader has always been the melodramatic teenager that so many revile.
Of course, even though I experienced it differently from many older fans, Star Wars meant a lot to me as a kid. My dad was a huge fan, and as a result, we watched it often. I spent hours in lightsaber duels with my brother and friends, and I couldn’t count how much time I put into LEGO Star Wars or the absolutely, astoundingly bad The New Droid Army on my GBA. I probably spent more time with the toys and media surrounding the prequels than I did with anything else not named Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh. For many my age, and especially me as a young black kid, the hope was of someday getting my hands on a plastic purple lightsaber, the one Mace Windu used in his coolest moments. I would’ve traded a thousand Lando toys for just one of those, which never appeared at the stores. Ultimately, while I never received one, I found more than enough joy in the red, green, and blue ones I actually had.
The tension in The Rise of Skywalker does not derive merely from its two different directors, though that certainly plays a role. Rather, it’s a structural problem and has to do with the intentions of the sequel trilogy as a whole. First and foremost, the films were made for profit, of course, but more than that, they marked Disney’s takeover of the franchise and their new vision for it. While this vision has become muddied, it’s not so hard to see what it was at the start: a trilogy of films to follow in the style of the prequels and originals, alongside a set of ‘Star Wars stories.’ Rogue One and Solo are the only of these actually made, with the Obi-Wan film repurposed into a series and the Boba Fett story outright canceled, but the initial plan of releasing all of these paints a clear picture of the ‘new vision’.
Essentially, Disney intended to do everything Lucasfilm under Lucas didn’t. Lucasfilm rarely put out Star Wars movies—none since 2005—and centered the prequels even after their release in works like The Clone Wars. Disney, on the other hand, wanted to resituate the original trilogy as the main marking point—seen in the fact that all four ‘Star Wars stories’ were connected to it—and they intended to put out movies as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, this general direction for the franchise led the sequel trilogy to root itself too strongly in the originals, rather than carving out its own path. The Force Awakens may aim to serve as A New Hope for this generation, yet that’s difficult to do when it also expects you to capture every reference to the earlier film. Without a doubt, poor management on Disney’s part led to this, and more skilled leadership could’ve prevented the worst of it. Yet, it’s difficult to imagine a world where they wouldn’t want a set of films that are molded for a new world while simultaneously rooted in nostalgia towards the old. And that was never going to be a resolvable tension.
When Star Wars grows nostalgic, it’s not for those like me, at least not primarily. Tatooine may show up again, but certainly not Naboo or Coruscant. Jar Jar will never get another mention. Mace Windu and his purple lightsaber won’t reappear. And while the sequel trilogy borrows much of its structure from the original, with The Force Awakens standing out as the clearest example of that, none of the political content in the prequels is carried over, something sorely missed in a trilogy whose political situation is, frankly, half-baked under the most generous framing.
It’s not as if I feel slighted for this. The prequels are divisive, even in my own head, and they’re hardly as important as the original trilogy. Mace Windu isn’t essential to the films, and throwing a purple lightsaber in there would’ve been no more than pandering. Yet, I can’t help but feel as if all the nostalgia-pandering falls flat because it’s calling back to a time when the prequels didn’t exist. The pod-racers, Senate, and clone troopers are just as much a part of me as Darth Vader telling Luke that he’s his father. Obi-Wan’s anguished pleas for Anakin to return at Revenge of the Sith’s conclusion mean more than his later death in A New Hope. When you get down to it, I’m not the one being pandered to with these new films. So how am I supposed to react when I watch them?
Disney has caught itself in a bind with these movies, one I’m sure it’s recognized with The Rise of Skywalker’s disappointing—though still massive—box office numbers. Few are satisfied when the line between innovation and recreation is so thoroughly straddled, and all the pandering of the film seems to have missed even those more primed for it than I.
But perhaps the real issue here was a reliance on nostalgia in the first place for a franchise of its scale? Everyone’s experiences with Star Wars are different, yet, at least insofar as the trilogy tried to do anything, it aimed at a specific audience with a specific history, believing their interests to be universal enough that it would work for everyone. Those who yearned to see a purple lightsaber were never going to be satisfied. But because of that, maybe Disney should’ve aimed at something genuinely new in the first place.
The Marx quote I led this article off with was written just as the long-hoped-for European revolutions failed, typified by the revolutionaries’ futile attempts to bolster themselves through a connection to past greats. As Star Wars continues to revive its fallen heroes and villains, settings and journeys, it’s stuck in this very trap. But Marx offers a way out, and declares that the revolutionary may succeed when he learns the new language of revolution “without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.” Only by abandoning the stale language set out in 1977 can the franchise move forward. Until then, the dead will keep speaking.
Yes, that’s a very provocative title, but I’m willing to hold to it; Seabed, the 2016 visual novel developed by Paleontology is, without any hesitation, my pick for game of the decade. Leave debate over whether or not visual novels even count as games at the door; if you’d like for me to frame it as the best digital art instead, then go right ahead, as my opinion would hold just as clearly in that case.
I’ve already written a review of Seabed—two of them, in fact—and if you’re interested in a spoiler-free explanation of why this game is worthwhile, then read those. However, those reviews are truly incapable of demonstrating why it might deserve a game of the decade title, and indeed, I’ll have to go into relative depth about the plot to justify that. As a result, I only recommend this post if you’ve already read Seabed(you blessed few), or, more likely if you’re willing to read spoilers. If you’re a member of the latter group, then I hope that this might convince you to give it a chance, even knowing some of what occurs.
The principal mystery of Seabed is that of Sachiko and Takako. Why are they separated? Why don’t they remember anything about what happened? Given that Takako is acknowledged as dead by other characters, and eventually Sachi herself, how is it that we see her contemporary life? What’s up with the similarities between the situations the two women experience? And perhaps most importantly, who in the world is Narasaki?
Some of these questions are only partially resolved, but by and large, the game concludes in revealing that the Takako we know exists within Sachi’s head, where the latter woman created a world in which her late beloved could live happily. It’s for this reason that the sanatorium Takako spends her time in is so similar to the hotel Sachi visits. Narasaki, meanwhile, while initially posed as a psychologist, ultimately acts as a bridge between Sachi and the world inside her mind, allowing for one fleeting moment of contact between the two of them, supposedly the last before Sachi’s eventual death.
While the story is supernatural in certain elements—it’s difficult to explain Narasaki’s appearance through anything other than supernatural means, as she’s perceived by others and thus can’t be a pure creation of Sachi’s like inner-Takako is—this is merely an amplification of what’s already present. At its core, this is a game about grief, yes, but it also bears a heterodox perspective on the human mind, one which opens its arms to the range of possibilities and is disinterested in medical formulas, whether they be psychoanalytic or psychiatric in nature.
These themes, present from Narasaki’s first meeting with Sachi, come to a head in the game’s climactic scene, where she and Takako talk to one another over the phone. It’s perhaps 10 pages long, short by any standard, yet the absolute ease with which the two of them speak again, reminiscing about the past even as they recognize the fleeting nature of the call, is impossible not to cry at. It’s a level of intimacy that’s difficult to establish in any work; many try, and those that succeed on even a basic level always curry favor with me, but if you told me that Sachi and Takako’s conversations were based on those of a real couple, I wouldn’t be surprised. Of course, that only makes the pain of their separation all the harder to bear.
I first played Seabed for my review of it, at a time where I had still never experienced a relationship. In the time since, that’s obviously changed, and with it, I’ve gained a new perspective on all works that deal in romance, this game included. I certainly cried at the time, yet when I read it now as someone who’s engaged, it rings entirely differently. I don’t simply mean that it forces me to imagine what might happen if my fiancé were to die. I do that often enough on my own prompting, and any work triggers that response, no matter how mediocre. No, Seabed isn’t merely a story of grief with a nice aesthetic.
What truly marks the game as not just fantastic but important is the extent to which it truly internalizes the idea that those you care about continue to live on within you. Sachi’s grief and longing for Takako literally fuel her to recreate her beloved. While she encounters hallucinations of the girl in her waking life, the version of her that she talks to on the phone, whose perspective we witness throughout the game, is entirely different. She’s fundamentally real, and autonomous, so real that their eventual reunion upon death is promised, despite the lack of anything resembling an afterlife outside of Sachi’s mind.
While this is allegorical, implying that a healthy manner in dealing with loss is not shutting it down, or pretending that it didn’t happen, but instead living on in the hope that you can make your late loved ones happy, it’s also literal. Aside from the details surrounding Narasaki, events like this occur in real life. Sachi deals with her grief by literally recreating her girlfriend inside her head. Technically speaking, that’s what most psychological professionals would call an unhealthy move. Yet, the game makes no judgments on this front, and if anything, rejects that diagnosis.
The hallucinations Sachi sees of Takako hurt her, actively impeding her ability to interact with the world she inhabits, but the setting she creates for Takako is preserved to the end, and absolutely never interfered with. In fact, Narasaki’s role is nothing like an ordinary mental health professional, whether of a psychoanalytic camp or a more American-style psychiatric one. If anything, she’s closest to a Deleuzo-Guattarian schizoanalyst, but I wouldn’t even say that fits. Her job is to ensure that the world within Sachi operates smoothly in tandem with her outside life, but she makes no attempt to “cure” her or hold back any psychic energies. For Sachi, this is a healthy way of dealing with grief, and boxing her into some trite conception that “creating personalities based on your dead loved ones is a bad idea” is worth less than nothing. Human psychology is not so formulaic, and healthy behavior very much lies in the eye of the beholder. Narasaki denies the medical role of enforcing normalcy. Indeed, once Sachi and Takako reach happiness, that’s enough, and Narasaki disappears, having done her job.
This, ultimately, is what makes Seabed so important. It presents a relatively anti-psychiatric perspective, which in itself is a rare and valuable find. A work that accepts what many might see as “mental illness” as just one way we can process the world is extraordinary. Yet, like the queerness, it’s not the presentation of this alone that makes it such a powerful work; I’m hardly one to praise art merely due to its representation or lack thereof. Rather, it’s how it all comes together.
Queerness and mental illness are both forms of otherness, as is grief, a state-of-exception for human life in general. Seabed embraces these alterities, and rather than naturalizing them, it simply presents them. The vast, vast majority of the game is nothing more than Sachi and Takako’s daily lives, with only a relatively small number of punctuating, “strange” events. These women occupy positions outside the social norm, both in their relation to one another and their mental states, and the game makes no attempt to pretend they’re “normal”. However, they are just as living happy lives as anyone else would be. We’re beset by attempts to make queers and the neurodivergent seem “just like normal people,” but finding a work where all of our very real differences are presented as deserving of genuine uneventfulness is virtually unheard of, and essential for a true aesthetic of alterity.
Gameplay, including choices, would not just be a distraction in Seabed, but a hindrance. Like a traditional novel, the game is concerned with interiority and mundanity, not with the periods of participatory excitement aroused by even the most basic of route systems. It’s oft-described as hypnotic, and that hypnotism comes from being sucked into an othered perspective, without the difficulty that usually presents. To a greater degree than any other game I played this decade, it both examines otherness and presents a way forward in regards to it. It’s idiosyncratic, yes, written more like a literary novel than the average game. Yet in a year where I’ve once again been reading literary novels, I can truly say it stands strong among them, as well as the games it competes with for this category. I doubt it’ll be your game of the decade. But I hope you can see why it’s mine.
Studio 3Hz’s Blackfox, which released on Crunchyroll at the start of October, is an entirely unfinished product. Initially developed as a normal, single cour TV anime, production difficulties eventually saw its first arc reshaped into a film, with the narrative’s conclusion still up in the air; though it must be said that those who believe the movie is a poorly condensed version of the entire show poorly condensed the SakugaBlog article they learned this from, and there’s no particular reason to believe that more movies won’t come out if this one is a success, seeing as some amount of pre-production is doubtlessly already finished.
This is a paper I wrote for class. If my professor finds it, please don’t mark me down for plagiarism, it is mine. Otherwise, please read it as a school paper and not an ordinary blog post.
Fate/Stay Night, a Japanese visual novel developed by Type-Moon, was never intended to be played in the West. Released in 2004, it belongs to a genre which has never thrived in the Atlantic world, and at the time of release, official localizations of visual novels were virtually nonexistent. It’s since spawned one of the most successful media franchises of the last two decades, with dozens of entries and a mobile game released in the United States which has made over 3 billion dollars, all in a climate where visual novel translations have become increasingly common with the rise of digital distribution (Fogel 1). Yet, it still has not seen an official release, and it’s become increasingly unlikely that it ever will. Given its length of around 1 million words, and the illegality of unauthorized translation, the prospect of its being translated in spite of the obstacles seems absurd (Jagged85 1). Still, the fact is that it’s been playable in English since 2008. To make this possible, a metagame was formed, as those interested in playing the game as well as those devoted enough to spend their own hours for the benefit of others worked together as part of the translation team known as Mirror Moon, and participated in the group’s associated forums, all to deliver an English version of Fate/Stay Night. Gathering helpers from around the world, the translation effort showcases the international character of many metagames, uniting disparate nationalities and increasing accessibility to many games. Similarly, it demonstrates the lengths to which people will modify games in order to participate in them. This is the story of Fate/Stay Night’s translation, across languages, borders, and code.
Fate/Stay Night is a visual novel, a genre which emerged from early adventure games such as Zork, wherein the primary mode of interaction is through reading text as sound and visuals appear on the screen. Visual novels can include a number of gameplay systems, with many incorporating mechanics from other genres such as tactical battles, puzzles, and occasionally even racing, but at their core, the only trait which would be considered classically ludic is the ability to choose the direction of the story at various points, and some visual novels lack even that, focusing solely on narrative.
An example of an average page in Fate/Stay Night
While visual novels are relatively unpopular overseas, they once made up a sizable industry in Japan, where Fate/Stay Night was an instant hit, primarily due to the success of its predecessor, Tsukihime, which translates to ‘Moon Princess’ in English. Developed by a small group known as Type-Moon, it was released in 2000 at Winter Comiket, the largest fan convention in Japan. Featuring five ‘routes’ each represented by a different female lead, it tells a story of vampires and magic, where each ‘route’, or narrative path opened up after certain choices are made, grows increasingly dark. Known as a ‘doujin’ or hobbyist work, Tsukihime was effectively what we’d call an indie game had it been released during the mid-2000s in North America or Western Europe. In spite of this, it was popular enough to receive a television anime adaptation in 2003, and its massive success provided Type-Moon with the capital to become a full-fledged company in their own right.
And thus, they were able to release Fate/Stay Night in 2004. Continuing the dark fantasy theme of Tsukihime and set in the same universe, the game tells a tale in which mages known as ‘Masters’ summon historical heroes, such as King Arthur, to fight for them as their ‘Servants’ in the ‘Holy Grail War’, whose winner is said to be granted anything they could desire. By making decisions for main character Emiya Shirou, the player moves through the three sequential routes, with the possibility of branching off into 40 ‘bad ends’ by making choices that cost Shirou his life. To access each route, once again represented by the primary heroines, a careful balance has to be maintained by making choices that please each potential love interest.
In the use of these mechanics, Fate/Stay Night shows itself as an intensely hypermediate game. Hypermediacy here borrows from Bolter and Grusin, describing a tendency in which multiple forms of media coalesce, alerting the observer to the artificiality of the object. A window on your computer, one which, by default, does not take up the whole screen, the game’s multiplanarity always signals a degree of instability, an acknowledgement of its own fiction. If hypermedia objects, by and large, “had to wait for the invention of the cathode ray tube and the transistor,” then the visual novel genre’s total lack of pre-video precedent is explained (Bolter, Grusin 31). Cultural critic Hiroki Azuma similarly sees this hypermediacy as one of the defining traits of visual novels, a result of their postmodern nature, saying that, “once the otaku are captivated by a work, they will endlessly consume related products and derivative works through database consumption” (105). In this sense, the hypermediacy and, to Azuma, hyperflat nature of these games is not secondary, but in fact a primary feature, one which arose with the coming of postmodernity and its characteristic disinterest in anything that might be called ‘depth’. Because visual novels come with built in ‘databases’ in the form of multiple routes, offering related products within the work by never stabilizing along one clearly “true” path, they have an easy time finding success in a hypermedia environment.
While the game’s story itself is certainly a primary draw, the ability to win the hand of each heroine is a clear motivator for the player, and the initial release contains sex scenes with each of them. The player’s desire to make it through each route, win each girl, and perhaps even see all of the bad endings, is indicative of that hypermediate way of seeing, where no one aspect can take definitive primacy over another. The popularity of this approach, and the story as a whole, made the game massively popular on launch, seeing a side-sequel the next year and an anime adaptation the year after that. It’s with that adaptation that most Westerners were introduced to the game, and the fact that they were unable to play it.
While major, and what they’re best known for now, Fate/Stay Night was not Mirror Moon’s first project. After Tsukihime’s anime adaptation, a group of serious otaku, or Japanese pop culture fans, got together to translate the game itself, releasing a playable version by 2007. While primarily composed of Western fans, one of the team’s central members, TakaJun, was a Japanese high school student at the time of the localization patch’s development and took over primary translation duties, a rare circumstance given that the norm is for translators to convert into their native language, rather than from it (Tay 1). Nonetheless, the translation, while imperfect, was met with great acclaim by the time it was released, and attention quickly turned towards Fate/Stay Night, on which work had slowed down as Tsukihime approached release.
While the staff list between the two works was similar, it would be wrong to focus solely on Mirror Moon when telling the story of this metagame. Certainly, they performed most of the labor necessary for the game’s release, conducting a job which would cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars if done officially, all for free. Nevertheless, this approach, which almost treats the group as a collection of auteurs, ignores the amount of work put in by the community as a whole. Suggestions on features, tips on how to fix awkward lines, and figuring out how to solve bugs were all tasks taken up in the forums, by those who are not listed on the translation’s official credits list (TakaJun 1). In doing this, the players of this metagame created their own rules: rules that not only dictated the flows of labor which led to the translation’s release, but rules around what was acceptable in that release, stylistically and mechanically.
For instance, due to widespread distaste for the sex scenes in the Western community, Mirror Moon implemented a feature, one they also added to Tsukihime, allowing them to be bypassed entirely (Enerccio 1). Type-Moon themselves eventually removed them from later releases, and yet the actions of the Mirror Moon community prefigured that decision by years. Certain players created guides, rationalizing the mechanics so that those only interested in the story would feel confident in their ability to see it all, while others explained how to get each bad ending, subverting the developers’ likely belief that those would be avoided where possible (diomedesxx 1).
This, ultimately, demonstrates many aspects of what metagames can be. Richard Garfield defines a metagame as “how a game interfaces outside of itself,” an admittedly broad definition which could, on some level, apply as far as initial game development (16). Yet, while metagame is often used for the forms of play which surround the game proper, under this sense of the word, translation activities surely must fit. After all, the game was not able to be interfaced with by many without the metagame opening up the space for it, and indeed, the work of the English translation began a chain of metagames, as those speaking other languages continued the process until many more were able to play. If visual novels can be accepted as games, than the translation of Fate/Stay Night has much to teach us about the international character of, perhaps, all metagames.
Through all of this, the metagame played by the Mirror Moon community allowed for the Fate franchise to gain broader traction that it otherwise would’ve in the anime fandom—its original adaptation is generally not well-regarded—and it now stands, both in Japan and overseas, as one of the most popular in the entire industry. Through their effort in translating and modifying the game, they made an entire franchise comprehensible to the corporate levers which control localization; it’s ironic that, given that base, an official translation still has not been developed.
Participating in Fate/Stay Night’s translation metagame at this stage entails translating the game oneself, and that’s exactly what I did. Simply speaking, this process could be broken into three stages. In the first, I downloaded the game and installed it. To make use of the tools commonly recommended for this process, an earlier edition of the game works the best, yet there are issues with this approach that have to be addressed. First, the game’s not capable of being installed without your Windows “locale” set to Japanese, though this is a common problem for 2000s-era visual novels. Second, upon installing the initial version of the game, an error will occur for many users wherein the application never properly starts. To solve this, a patch obtained from Type-Moon’s website is necessary, but little documentation exists on this in English; some manner of Japanese skill is vital to installing the game here, as the version initially translated by Mirror Moon, unlike any version you might be translating, comes with this Type-Moon patch built into the translation patch as a whole(Type-Moon 1).
The second stage involves unpacking the script files in order to obtain direct access to the game’s text. Two tools are necessary for this process. The first of these is GARbro—whose name is a reference to GAR, a meme started by the Fate/Stay Night community—which allows users to browse a game’s files and decrypt them. While the script files can be accessed without this process, they contain no usable text, only a garbled mess of encryption. Following this decryption process, the scripts are readable, but they’re marked up with a large amount of formatting text, none of which is conducive to the translation itself. Here, another tool created by the visual novel community, KAG Editor, is useful. This application, built specifically for Fate/Stay Night, can mark down and mark up a text file from the game, removing the formatting characters while translation work is being done, only to add them back once the job has been completed. Once this has been used on whatever scripts you wish to translate, there’s little remaining in the way.
An example of KAG Editor
While the previous steps require some knowledge of Japanese to get the game installed and unpacked, it changes from useful to vital to the translation work. In my metagame, I translated only a minor chunk of the game, about nine pages of text, and all were relatively short pages, constituting the first scene of the prologue, before it changes narrators. In this process, I had a great deal of freedom, yet with that came a price: unlike the metagame played by Mirror Moon, I lacked an entire community to check my work. As a result, the translations themselves are no doubt lacking in places. Nonetheless, this translation certainly constituted a form of play. Working out exactly how to phrase certain lines became a kind of game, where similarity to the Mirror Moon script, personal proclivities, and feelings as both a writer and fan of the product overlapped; I had to ask myself whether ‘金砂のような髪が、月の光に濡れていた’ should be phrased as “And her golden hair, stained by moonlight” or as “And her golden hair, shining in the moonlight.” While certainly difficult—translation work cannot be said to be easy—it’s a rewarding experience, and it’s not hard to extend the joy found in it to those who worked on the initial translation effort.
While the translation work I did could theoretically be conducted in an entirely legal way, or at least in a manner which skirts the law rather than breaking it, this is not how things played out in practice, and indeed, it’s doubtful that those who worked on the initial translation effort remained within legal bounds either. In the West during the mid-2000s, acquiring games like these involved either paying copious amounts to have it sent by mail, or, more realistically, piracy. It’s more than possible that the only purchase involved in most Western players’ experience of the metagame was made by the person who initially uploaded the game on pirate sites. What makes this notable is that, unlike corporate-run social media environments, where “anyone who launched a social networking project of any kind was introducing his or her own currency”, no money exchanges hands here whatsoever, and certainly not with corporate actors (Castronovo 6). Fan translation is generally not compensated, as attempts at monetization risk alerting IP holders to the already illegal activities.
An example of my translation.
Monetary compensation for the work I completed would be an absurd ask in the first place, given the small amount I translated, but it is a form of labor, and the disappearance of the economic from the space has meaningful ramifications. The capitalist logic of labor needing to be compensated is torn apart by the participation of hundreds, if not thousands, in this same metagame I’ve interjected myself into. While the “makers” of social systems often see virtual currencies as “entirely natural, even necessary”, the work of translation puts a lie to that attempt at naturalizing an absolutely constructed situation (Ibid 8). In perhaps more glib terms, the metagame which surrounds the translation of Fate/Stay Night, while far from revolutionary, pushes against the ideas of capitalist realism, wherein we imagine that “capitalism is [not only] the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it” (Fisher 2). Evidently, cooperative labor can be achieved without the push of the market and the need to receive a wage. This applies not only to the translation itself, but also to the work in making it possible through the developing and archiving of programs built to process it (Baka-Tsuki 1). At the same time, it can’t be denied that both my work and the broader work of the community surrounding the game have furthered the interests of Type-Moon and other agents of capital who profit from the IP, spreading brand recognition and encouraging greater participation in those parts of the franchise that have been released in the West. Similarly, the work of the community offers no escape from capitalism, as those who developed the translation, myself included, ultimately must return to endeavors which result in monetary compensation.
Additionally, the process of engaging directly in the metagame furthered the ideas of Bolter, Grusin, and Azuma. In accessing the game’s files directly, an already hypermediate experience became all the more detached from any sort of coherency. The usually hidden structure was revealed in unpacking and altering the text, demonstrating what most players already know on some level: that the choices they’re making all happen within a specifically-constructed environment, where the status of the art as a program can never slip away. Azuma’s form of database consumption could easily be furthered here, as those interested in consuming iterations on the same archetypes have the ability to, with only a minor amount of technical knowledge, alter the game itself, in order to play through the same experience in changed form. Indeed, that’s what I did, as my translation conveys the same general meanings as the existing one, while still containing different nuances. An endlessly recursive loop could be built out of retranslating Fate/Stay Night.
In the grand scale, my project is still lacking. My translation is short, unedited, and hasn’t been shared broadly with the community. For a longer work, a clear direction would be to extend the work I’ve done, such as translating the entire prologue, alongside expanding the amount of participants, approaching Mirror Moon’s work in bringing an entire community and staff into the metagame. What I’ve currently done, in unpacking the files and preparing an initial segment, is ultimately minor enough that it’s difficult to even call it a start, and yet it is a precursor to a more sustained effort. In spite of Fate/Stay Night’s popularity, the current translation remains divisive, with many sections said to be outright mistranslated, and a serious effort to change that might improve, or at least alter, the experience of many players. While Mirror Moon no longer exists, translation work for various Type-Moon properties continues, and engagement with that community is another essential step in developing this project further. Nevertheless, the research done here is productive. The work of Mirror Moon and those who surrounded it at its peak has been pivotal to the development of Fate/Stay Night’s community in the West, and without building myself up too greatly, I believe that I’ve perhaps shined a light on the need to reevaluate it through a new lens.
Azuma, Hiroki. Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
“Board F/Sn Typo/Grammar Mistake Report [v3.2].” Mirror Moon Forums, http://forums.mirrormoon.org/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=2459.
Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Arthur Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. MIT Press, 2000.
Castronova, Edward. Wildcat Currency: How the Virtual Money Revolution Is Transforming the Economy. Yale University Press, 2014.
Fate/Stay Night, Type-Moon, 2004.
“Fate/Stay Night – Walkthrough.” GameFAQs, https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/pc/921327-fate-stay-night/faqs/53220.
“Fate/Stay Night.” Baka-Tsuki, https://www.baka-tsuki.org/project/index.php?title=Fate/stay_night.
“Fate/Stay Night ero removing patch.” Mirror Moon Forums, http://forums.mirrormoon.org/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1488.
Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books, 2010.
Fogel, Stefanie. “Mobile MMO ‘Fate/Grand Order’ Reaches $3 Billion in Player Spending (Analyst).” Variety, 14 Mar. 2019, https://variety.com/2019/gaming/news/fate-grand-order-3-billion-player-spending-1203163752/.
Garfield, Richard. “Metagames.” Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Essays on Roleplaying, edited by Jim Dietz, Jolly Roger Games, 2000.
Tay. “TakaJun.” Fuwanovel, https://fuwanovel.net/2010/09/takajun/.
“Top 25 Longest Game Scripts.” Giant Bomb, https://www.giantbomb.com/profile/jagged85/lists/top-25-longest-game-scripts/89583/.
“TYPE-MOON F.A.Q.” TYPE-MOON, http://www.typemoon.com/faq/#fate18.
1 – This is arguable in regards to other East Asian countries, but a marked downward trend in the popularity of visual novels has been observed even in Japan. Nonetheless, popular genres, including many gacha-based mobile games and RPGs, make use of various tools deriving from visual novels.
2 – The heternormative assumptions of many visual novels are well-documented, and often go unquestioned in works on the genre such as Azuma’s. Further research would benefit from a questioning of these assumptions, especially as the presence of specifically queer visual novels increases. Later entries in the Fate franchise have offered a choice of gendered protagonist, and usually allow romance with female and sometimes male characters regardless of gender, among other potential vectors of queerness.
3 – Further focus on the Fate/Stay Night community as a whole would be a welcome addition to the overall metagames surrounding the text.