There’s been a bit of drama in the Visual Novel community lately with the recent localisation of If My Heart Had Wings by the new Visual Novel publisher Moenovel. Specifically, there’s been much discussion (mostly backlash) over Moenovel’s decision to remove the game’s erotic content.
I’m still figuring out why, but there’s this clear disparity between my views and the views of the majority. Moenovel have copped so much flack over this decision. I haven’t seen it myself, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were getting death threats over it. This is hardly a new thing; it’s pretty commonplace to see Otaku getting mad when a release of something differs from the source. Just look at the flack various Anime adaptations of manga, light novels and visual novels get for not being ‘true to the original’. We’ve all been there. But, getting so aggressive over the removal of sexual content? Is this really the same? Is this really okay?
This goes a lot deeper than just the community getting a bit too upset over something I don’t mind. This goes to the very core of the industry. I tote around the term ‘Visual Novel’ quite a bit because I believe it more accurately describes the broad spectrum of the medium without specifying any particular genre, but most people lump these games under the blanket term ‘Eroge’. What does Eroge stand for again? Oh, that’s right, Erotic Game. Aren’t I such a fool for forgetting this simple fact? But, I’ve seen many games which feature no erotic content fall into this ‘Eroge’ labelling. I know it’s just Japan and they often use English words in ways that may not accurately correspond to their original meaning, but that doesn’t stop people’s perceptions. Perceptions of not only the public, not only the fans of these games but even the people who make them. The Eroge industry is built around sex. I dunno if it’s because I’m a westerner or because I was raised to be a bit conservative with my ideas of sex, so I’ve always swallowed my voice. But I feel the need to speak my mind today.
As you may know, I’m a huge fan of Key’s works. From Kanon to Rewrite, many of these games feature erotic content. But there’s always an all-ages alternative. In the case of Kanon, the erotic version preceded the all-ages version. With Clannad, there was no erotic content, and yet it somehow managed to become one of the most successful Visual Novels ever. Hmm, a bit odd for a sex industry. Little Busters! is a more recent example. The original version of that game was all-ages, but then was later re-released as “Little Busters! Ecstacy“, boasting heaps of added content, such as three new heroine routes, and added H-Scenes for each of their heroine routes. Well that’s all fine and good, except, uh… I don’t read it for the porn. To clarify, I’m perfectly fine with pornography existing in the world. Everyone’s entitled to their own pleasures. But Eroge is a strange parallel world from the foreign land of Japan where the lines between pornography and art become very blurred. Within the Otaku sphere, people even make a distinction between ‘Nukige’ and ‘Eroge’, the former of which is basically Eroge minus the plot. You know, actual pornography. Eroge usually features a complete story, with porn added at the end. I can’t help but feel like this is really weird, though! Let me use an analogy some of us may be familiar with. You’re in your adolescence, you have a character from a show or game that you’ve become fond of. You go to Google their name to look for art, only to discover Rule 34 of your character, much to your shock. It’s very jarring! I won’t criticize people who get off to Rule 34 of their favourite characters, but to me, I feel like there’s something very weird about seeing something you’re familiar with get placed in a sexual context. I feel like there’s a boundary that should always separate entertainment and pornography. No great works of literature ever had to stoop to pornographic exposure of their characters to make their stories work; that can severely damage the artistic integrity of your story. (Recent examples like 50 Shades of Grey aside…) And I know, using words like ‘weird’ really demonstrate just how subjective my experience is! I am biased. I can’t apply this feeling to anyone else, and I know that. But, I still want to try and get my view out there. Doesn’t this seem weird to anyone else to see the boundaries of sex and art or entertainment cross? Surely I’m not the only person who feels this way.
But the next problem with my ranting is that, well, I’m a part of this community. I have adopted these so-called ‘Eroge’ into my life as something I proudly proclaim my love for. Don’t I already resign any right to argue against it? Well, maybe, but I’ve never played a 18+ version of any of the ‘Eroge’ I’ve played. I always opt for the all-ages version, and if it doesn’t exist, I usually wait for it. I’m about to ‘pop my cherry’ with ef – a fairy tale of the two, only because the anime adaptation is pretty much my favourite anime series of all time. (My friend commented on how adorable it was that I “saved myself for my favourite one”, ahaha.) So I’m in a very weird, awkward position here. I’m the western all-ages demographic for Visual Novels. A more niche market doesn’t exist on this planet! And here I am, trying to justify my view, essentially turning my back on the entire community of Visual Novel fans. It’s taken a lot of guts to write this post.
Let’s go back to one of my favourites, Little Busters!. As I said earlier, Little Busters started off as an All-Ages game, but was later re-released with added erotic content. As a fan of the game, I’m always having a lot of trouble trying to rationalise this in my mind. I know that sex sells, and I know that this industry is built around the belief that sexual content will promote the sales of their games. But I feel like including gratuitous sexual content really damages the artistic integrity of your work. Yes, I do play it for the plot! I played it for the plot before sex was even a factor in the equation. Jun Maeda is one of my idols, and I spend a lot of time wondering if he and the other scenario writers ever imagined their heroines blowing the protagonist while they wrote their routes. I choose to believe that it was never about the sex, and that they wrote these stories to convey deeper messages and touch people’s hearts, like they have mine. It’s really hard being a Visual Novel fan sometimes, being forced to accept the harsh reality of the object of your affection. But it is a business, and they exist to make money, so Visual Novels with erotic content will continue to be distributed. I accept that I can’t do anything about that as one person.
But something big is happening right now, a small ripple that could lead to a big change in the industry. Moenovel is looking to reintroduce Visual Novels to the west, and unlike previous attempts by companies like Mangagamer, they’re emphasizing the emotional impact of the story over any pornographic appeal. This isn’t a game where you fuck cute girls, it’s a story that will touch your heart. I feel like Moenovel is just the thing I’ve been waiting to see, and so I can’t help but support them as much as I can. They’re aiming to bring Visual Novels to a broader demographic than ever before. They won’t be focusing solely on the core Otaku demographic, but instead expanding to include everyone who can appreciate a good story. In Moenovel’s words, “we want 12 year old French girls who like anime to know about it as well”. I’ve shown my own mother the Clannad anime and she fell in love with it, but I’m afraid of showing her my copy of the Little Busters visual novel because she might get some strong misconceptions from half-naked loli art on the back of the box. I want to be able to engage people like my mother in these stories, the stories that touch my heart unlike anything else. And that’s what Moenovel’s hoping to do with If My Heart Had Wings. Isn’t that a wonderful thing, a noble cause that should be supported?
Apparently not, if I’m to believe what the masses are saying. Throngs of Otaku are coming together to protest against Moenovel’s ambitions. The things I’m hearing include accusations that they’ve ruined the game by not including erotic content, and refusing to buy the game because of it. On the more extreme side, I hear people say that they’re threatening to ruin the industry. I haven’t played the game yet, so I can’t accurately comment on how well the game has been edited. But from what I’ve heard they’ve paid special attention to making sure the censorship doesn’t affect the integrity of the product. They’ve even gone so far as to edit the script and re-voice lines to make sure that they flow of the story isn’t compromised due to the censorship of erotic content. Who could be unhappy with an effort like that? And yet I hear again and again how much of a horrible thing they’ve done by localising this game.
I’ll be blunt. I just don’t get it. How does the removal of erotic content impact your enjoyment of the game this much? I can somewhat empathise with people who get angry over lost content going from source to adaptation, but this is just the censorship of pornographic content. Is clothing unclothed characters and removing gratuitous sex really going to impact your enjoyment of the game as much as you’re leading me to believe? Is it really that bad? Or are you getting a bit too upset over nothing?
Everyone’s entitled to their own pleasures. But I can’t empathise with people who throw so much hate at this company for all the good they could accomplish for the industry. The people who propagate this aggression really come across as elitist perverts trying to justify their lust for anime girls. I’ve wanted to jump ship from the community many times after hearing shit like this, but I’m stuck here, so I may as well take a stance. I don’t believe this is an acceptable response from the community. I know I’m probably in the minority, but I’m certain there are people out there who agree with me, and it’s my hope that they’ll join me in speaking out against this distasteful attitude.
So, I ask once more: Is this really okay?
Afterword: The primary goals of this post were to convey my feelings on these subjects and to generate discussion. Whether you agree with my view or not, the discussion generated has been very insightful and worthwhile. Thanks to all who have shared their thoughts, I’m glad to have been instrumental in generating this discussion. My view has developed quite a bit since posting, but I’ll leave the post unaltered for now. I won’t be fit to properly respond to people’s comments regarding If My Heart Had Wings until after I’ve played the game myself. I won’t guarantee I will follow this up with a second blog, but this all I can say in response to the discussion for now. As for the issue of Eroge and sexual content, my opinion is continuously evolving, much as a result of the discussion generated from this post. I hope you won’t think too sourly of my emotionally-charged post. I am proud that we as a community are able to have civil discussions on issues we may not always be able to agree on. It’s been enlightening.