Gekiga’s new frontier: the uneasy rise of Yoshiharu Tsuge

Cover of The Swamp

In honour of Drawn & Quarterly‘s publication of Yoshiharu Tsuge’s The Swamp, Boing Boing has published an essay on Tsuge by Mitsuhiro Asakawa, titled Gekiga’s new frontier: the uneasy rise of Yoshiharu Tsuge. The essay sketches Tsuge’s rise as an early original manga artist and it explains his importance. Now Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly is publishing a series of seven translations by Ryan Holmberg of Tsuge’s work. (Holmberg also translated the essay by Asakawa.) Asakawa is also apparently important to the series being published.

Mitsuhiro Asakawa finally convinced Tsuge and his son to let the work be translated into English. Mitsuhiro is the unsung hero of Japanese comics translation. He’s the guy who has written the most about the Garo era, he’s the go-to guy to connect with these great authors and their families. Most of the collections D+Q have done wouldn’t exist without his help.

(From the Drawn & Quarterly blog post here.)

One of the things I discovered reading Asakawa is that Tsuge worked with/for Shigeru Mizuki, my favourite manga artist, when he was going through a rough patch.

Call for Papers for Replaying Japan Journal, Issue 3

The Replaying Japan Journal has issued a call for papers for Issue 3 with a deadline of September 30th, 2020. See the Current Call for Papers – Replaying Japan. The RJJ publishes original research papers on Japanese videogames, game culture and related media. We also publish translations, research notes, and reviews.

The RJJ is available online and in print, published by the Ritsumeikan (University) Center for Game Studies (See the RCGS English Pamphlet too). Inaba, Mitsuyuki is the Editor in Chief and Fukuda, Kazafumi is the Associate Editor. I and Jérémie Pelletier-Gagnon are the English Editors.

Articles in either Japanese or English are accepted. The Japanese Call for Papers is here.

TOKYO IDOLS: A Look at an Intriguing, Disturbing Culture | Film Inquiry

Tokyo Idols (2017) is a fascinating look at the idol culture in Japan. Directed by Kyoko Miyake it mostly follows an older (19) idol called Rio and her fans. The documentary confronts the creepiness of older men who find it too much work to have real relationships with women, but also shows their vulnerable side. These men spend all their savings on following idols and it gives them a sense of belonging. Miyake shows how the men (and some women) form fan clubs and follow their idol. It shows the constrained hand-shake meetings and photo opportunities that they pay for. It makes the connection to otaku culture and Akihabara.

The documentary nicely shows what it is like for the hard-working idols. For Rio it is a full time job, she has to practice, she has daily live sessions on the internet and she even packages up the schwag she sells. She even goes cycling around Japan (with live internet connection?) in order to connect to fans outside of Tokyo and to try to boost her popularity. As this TOKYO IDOLS review points out, you can’t help rooting for her.

What the documentary doesn’t cover much is the big idol stables like AKB48. Rio manages herself, but most idols are managed by professionals. I would have liked to learn more about that side of the business.

Hutchinson: Japanese Culture Through Videogames

Examining a wide range of Japanese videogames, including arcade fighting games, PC-based strategy games and console JRPGs, this book assesses their cultural significance and shows how gameplay and context can be analyzed together to understand videogames…

I’ve been reading Rachael Hutchinson’s Japanese Culture Through Videogames and it is excellent. The book nicely does three things:

First, it is about important Japanese videogames like Katamari Damacy and Okami giving them a serious reading. Hutchinson treats them as art, but videogame art. She clearly plays the games and writes about the way the mechanics are important to the experience.

Second, she deals with the ways these games are interpreted by both Western and Japanese critics (and fans). This book could serve as a great introduction to Japanese game studies, weaving important Western and Japanese theory into a dialogue around individual games.

Third, and most importantly, she connects the games to reflections about Japanese culture, or I should say, she shows the different ways these games reflect Japanese culture. She deals from the beginning with the way some Japanese games are designed to be mukokuseki or “culturally odourless.” She also talks about how games can have the culture washed out of them in localizations. Above all, she shows how Japanese culture comes through games. This book, as the title suggests, introduces approaches to Japanese culture as seen through games by introducing larger discussions about space and time.

I particularly liked the generous footnotes that allow one to follow up on the critics and cultural theory she weaves in. This is an academic book at its best where every footnote promises a pleasurable exploration of some facet of game studies or Japanese culture.

I have taught a course on Japanese Game Culture a couple of times and always felt that I wasn’t well enough prepared for the potential of the course. This book strikes me as a perfect guide and text for such a course. It is clear that Hutchinson has taught Japanese games for some time and this book benefits from the experience. She talks about how students might interpret a game and contrasts that to more obscure interpretations in a way that hints at how one might teach Japanese games. One senses echoes of class discussions in the balanced way she handles questions about games and I can’t help feeling that she has a rich syllabus up her sleeve for teaching the subject.

In short, this book does what I’ve felt we needed for some time: it provides a serious and rich introduction to Japanese game studies suitable for scholars and useful as a textbook. (Full disclosure: I know Hutchinson from the Replaying Japan conference series and she thanks me in the Acknowledgements.)

Update August 25th, 2019: If you are interested in Hutchinson’s ideas about teaching Japanese games see the YouTube video she recorded, Teaching Japanese Videogames: Why, How and an Example of What. She describes her philosophy of teaching Japanese games, the issues around teaching games, the issues discussed, the “texts”, and she gives some in-depth examples.

Di GRA 2019 And Replaying Japan 2019

Read my conference notes on Di GRA 2019 And Replaying Japan 2019 here. The two conferences were held back to back (with a shared keynote) in Kyoto at Ritsumeikan.

Kieji Amano deserves a lot of credit for putting together the largest Replaying Japan programme ever. The folks at the Ritsumeikan Center for Games Studies should also be thanked for organizing the facilities for both conferences. They have established themselves as leaders in Japan in the field.

I gave two papers:

  • “The End of Pachinko” (given with Amano) looked at the decline of pachinko and traditional forms of gambling in the face of the legalization of casinos. It looked at different types of ends, like the ends of machines.
  • “Work Culture in Early Japanese Game Development” (with Amano, Okabe, Ly and Whistance-Smith) used text analysis of Szczepaniak’ series of interviews, the Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, as a starting point to look at themes like stress and gender.

The quality of the papers in both conferences was very high. I expect this of DiGRA, but it was great to see that Replaying Japan, which is more inclusive, it getting better and better. I was particularly impressed by some of the papers by our Japanese colleagues like a paper delivered by Kobayashi on the “Early History of Hobbyist Production Filed of Video Games and its Effect on Game Industries in Japan.” This was rich with historical evidence. Another great one was “Researching AI technologies in 80’s Japanese Game Industry” delivered by Miyake who is involved in some very interesting preservation projects.

Doki Doki Literature Club!

The Literature Club is full of cute girls! Will you write the way into their heart?

Dr. Ensslin gave a great short survey of digital fiction includ the Doki Doki Literature Club! (DDLC) at the Dyscorpia symposium. DDLC is a visual novel created in Ren’Py by Team Salvato that plays with the genre. As you play the game, which starts as a fairly typical dating game, it first turns into a horror game and then begins to get hacked by one of the characters who wants your attention. The character, it turns out, has both encouraged some of the other girls (in the Literature Club) to commit suicide, but they edits them out of the game itself. At the end of the game she has a lengthy face-to-face with you breaking the fourth wall of the screen.

Like most visual novels, it can be excruciating advancing through lots of text to get to the point where things change, but eventually you will notice glitches which makes things more interesting. I found myself paying attention to the text more as the glitches drew attention to the script. (The script itself is even mentioned in the game.)

DDLC initially mimics the Japanese visual novel genre, down to the graphics, but eventually the script veers off. It was well received in game circles winning a number of prizes.

Home – DIGRA 2018 Conference

Last week I was at the DIGRA 2018 Conference in Turin, Italy. The conference was well organized and the quality of papers was high. As always, I kept conference notes here.

I was struck how game studies is less and less about games. Of course, games are the subject of research, but game studies is less about the appreciation of games and more and more about what we can learn about other things through games. Games, like literature, have become a lens for looking at other things making the field richer and better aligned with other fields like media studies or literary criticism.

Next year the conference will be held in Japan and linked up with Replaying Japan. I look forward to the encounter between these different game studies cultures.

Kompu Gacha: Banning Loot Boxes

I’ve been meaning to write for while about Kompu Gacha (or Complete Gacha), a game mechanic that was popular in Japanese mobile games until it was banned in 2012 (see this story too). Kompu gacha is an extreme (or complete) form of the gacha game mechanic which was in turn inspired by the ubiquitous gachapon vending machines you find in Japan where for a couple of coins you get a small loot box (sphere) with a random gift in some theme or series. Children collect items by buying the loot boxes with the hopes of getting new trinkets in series that they collect and trade. Mobile games in Japan borrowed this well known play mode and began to include virtual loot boxes that you could buy in-game. Developers fine tuned the system to the point where millions of yen were being spent on vanishingly rare items. This led to a public controversy after there were cases of youth spending thousands of dollars that then led to banning the loot boxes.

There are a number of reasons why this mechanic and its banning are interesting:

  • It is an example of the grey area between gaming and gambling. In fact, Belgium has also outlawed video game loot boxes as gambling.
  • Gacha mechanics in general are economically important to Japanese mobile/social game design.
  • They are an interesting mechanic in and of themselves and show how an element of randomness that has consequences can be fun. Philosophers and historians of gambling have noted the importance of the element of real risk to the intesity of gambling. It gives everyone a chance to be heroic.

I should mention that it was Mark Johnson and Tom Brock who drew my attention to loot boxes. They have been doing important research on loot boxes and giving papers on the subject.

CSDH and CGSA 2018

This year we had busy CSDH and CGSA meetings at Congress 2018 in Regina. My conference notes are here. Some of the papers I was involved in include:

CSDH-SCHN:

  • “Code Notebooks: New Tools for Digital Humanists” was presented by Kynan Ly and made the case for notebook-style programming in the digital humanities.
  • “Absorbing DiRT: Tool Discovery in the Digital Age” was presented by Kaitlyn Grant. The paper made the case for tool discovery registries and explained the merger of DiRT and TAPoR.
  • “Splendid Isolation: Big Data, Correspondence Analysis and Visualization in France” was presented by me. The paper talked about FRANTEXT and correspondence analysis in France in the 1970s and 1980s. I made the case that the French were doing big data and text mining long before we were in the Anglophone world.
  • “TATR: Using Content Analysis to Study Twitter Data” was a poster presented by Kynan Ly, Robert Budac, Jason Bradshaw and Anthony Owino. It showed IPython notebooks for analyzing Twitter data.
  • “Climate Change and Academia – Joint Panel with ESAC” was a panel I was on that focused on alternatives to flying for academics.

CGSA:

  • “Archiving an Untold History” was presented by Greg Whistance-Smith. He talked about our project to archive John Szczepaniak’s collection of interviews with Japanese game designers.
  • “Using Salience to Study Twitter Corpora” was presented by Robert Budac who talked about different algorithms for finding salient words in a Twitter corpus.
  • “Political Mobilization in the GG Community” was presented by ZP who talked about a study of a Twitter corpus that looked at the politics of the community.

Also, a PhD student I’m supervising, Sonja Sapach, won the CSDH-SCHN (Canadian Society for Digital Humanities) Ian Lancashire Award for Graduate Student Promise at CSDHSCHN18 at Congress. The Award “recognizes an outstanding presentation at our annual conference of original research in DH by a graduate student.” She won the award for a paper on “Tagging my Tears and Fears: Text-Mining the Autoethnography.” She is completing an interdisciplinary PhD in Sociology and Digital Humanities. Bravo Sonja!

DPLA Primary Source Sets

Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) has a fascinating collection of Primary Source Sets that bring together materials around a subject for teaching and historical thinking. For example they have a set on Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan that allows you to see both American and Japanese representations of Perry and the important visit. These sets show how a digital archive can be repurposed in different ways.

Composite Image by Picasso
From the Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and Modern War Set