Same end goal, different method

Nintendo has a history of localisation, culturalisation and censorship. To some all these three terms are synonymous witch each other, as the end result is the same; modified or removed content to avoid offending someone. While you’d think this would be appropriate, the reality of it is that the Japanese developers don’t give a rat’s ass about it and mostly look at at the sales numbers.

Everybody who played games during the Third Generation remembers how NES had strict censorship rules across the board in order to maintain certain image. Sega used this to advertise themselves as a more mature option, with far more lax rules imposed to the developers, which ultimately ended in the birth of ESRB, the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Nintendo mainly caters and develops for Japan, and this applies to all Japanese developers across the board. There is nothing wrong in this, though the reality is that a game that has the strongest roots to Japanese culture will sell less in the West. It would make sense for a company to want to localise and culturalise their game for the Western market in order to make it more profitable, but there’s the rub.

As much as game developers may tell use the art when describing games, their actions betray the notion. Art has an untouchable sanctity to itself, where the work and author is required to be respected. This goes to all art. Games, however, are not art and can be modified to any degree the creators see fit in order to make it a more selling product. Certainly developers are willing to meet halfway through and modify things that may seem inappropriate (for some) while keeping the overall work intact, but this sort of approach is not needed for art.

It should also be mentioned that culturalisation is an incredibly half-assed method to localise or translate anything. American sensibilities do not meet up with various European nations to any degree. A chest-size slider from Xenoblade Chronicles may be somewhat eyebrow raising thing in a puritanical nation, yet most European nations would laugh it off and admire the extent of customisation the developers have provided. Yet Nintendo is listening and believing people who consider themselves the guardians of Western (American) culture by taking anything that would seem offensive. Though there’s another rub in there, as most of these offences seem to touch upon only on depiction of women. The aforementioned chest-size slider being a good example of this.

Nintendo’s approach how they culturalise is limited at best. According to an interview, staff from Nintendo Treehouse travel to Japan to discuss with the developers in order to affect development of a game. This effectively means that Nintendo has few selected guardians of morality that dictate what should be censored from a game for Western release. This is of course absolutely bullshit, as this without a doubt affects author’s vision and intent for the game. Staff from Nintendo may claim that they aim to have different region versions as close to each other as possible, though that’s beside the point; without exchange of ideas and contest of contents, cultures stagnate.

Nintendo can claim to disregard politics and concentrate on fun as much as they want. With the action of culturalisation, they are making a political statement about people, their culture and what sort of content they should be have available for consumption. Due to this, the only way to play a Nintendo game in the future in its original, unaltered form, is to play a Japanese original release with no modified or removed content.

Despite all this, Nintendo’s attempt to increase sales by catering to puritanical moral guardians fails to take notice how it’s not the chest-size sliders or the like that affect sales. As much as Japanese developers want to think otherwise, Japanese games don’t sell if they have anime look or otherwise. No matter of censorship won’t change the fact America and parts of Europe reject this look. There are numerous stigmas towards anime, starting with perversions and under-age girls in lingerie to hyperviolence. Often combinign the two no less.

If Nintendo would do culturalisation to its fullest extent, they’d completely rework the Xenoblade Chronicles 2‘s visual design and story to step away from Japanese culture and anime visuals. However, Nintendo, like any other Japanese company, takes pride in their culture and its products and would consider this an impossible task. However, changing something that’s little and of no importance is OK, just to make sure it could sell a bit more.

Which is absurd.

A minor edit in a game’s options or visuals won’t change the fact that a game like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is inherently Japanese and this is its grand weakness on the market. It can’t be even properly contest on the market place on its own merits due to censorship applied to it from the Treehouse. Nintendo has an extremely small pool of data from which to make their decisions on, and their failure of following reports from sites like Kotaku and Polygon instead of following raw data that is the consumer trends means they will continue to censor their games for no good reason.

Video games may have eclipse Hollywood in terms of money flowing back and forth. However, unlike Hollywood, the game industry is spoiled like a baby. This media can’t mature any further if its ideas, methods and content is being suffocated for the sake of supposed American culture. The European nations suffer from this, as each nation has its own distinct culture and approach things from their own angles. No company would want to make around 53 different versions of a game for the Western world, counting American and Canada with the all the Old World countries and their transcontinental states.

The game industry needs to grow up into its teenage years and stop giving a shit about what people say about them and go their own way. Let the market decide what’s appropriate and what’s not. Culture can’t thrive if there is no open debate on presented ideas. All ideas exist to be tested, and so does a market test a game. However, as said, a game can’t be tested on its own merits if it already has been censored.

Vote with your wallets and make your stance known, as private consumers. The only way to say No to unnecessary censorship is through money.

A local question

Astro Boy, Gigantor and Eight Man are classic shows that have a place in American pop culture, even thou Eight Man is probably the most forgotten piece of the bunch. This was the 60’s, and a cartoon with robots flying in the sky, high-speed androids and robot boys fit the era fine. From what I’ve gathered from what people who grew up with these shows, nobody questioned their origin. They were entertaining shows on the telly and that’s all that mattered. I’d throw Speed Racer into the mix as well, thou it arrived just a tad later to the mix, but met with the same treatment.

Video and computer games have a similar history, all things considered. Nobody really cared where from arcade games came from, they just rocked the place. Not even the name Nintendo raised some eyebrows, it was just some exotic name cocked up in a meeting. Pretty much what Herb Powell did in The Simpsons.

Games had a shorter gestation period than robot cartoons when it comes to finding the source to some extent. US saw the mid-1970’s Shogun Warriors, a toyline that used wide variety of toys based on Toei’s show with some changed names to fit better the American market. The NES era is relatively infamous of its localised games, and much like how American reception of these Japanese cartoons ultimately was felt back in Japan, so was the localisations and changed made to games. Perhaps the best example of this would how Salamander became Life Force in its arcade re-release and effectively became its own spin-off from the base game.

This, of course, has been largely in America. Europe is a bit of a different thing, with France, Italy and Spain having their own imported animation culture to the point of Spain having a statue for Mazinger Z. I remember reading about a tennis comic that a French publisher continued after its end in Japan. This was done by hiring an illustrator who could replicate the original style and saw healthy sales for a time. Something that like probably could never happen in modern world, unless the original author has died and has made it clear that continuing his work is allowed. Somehow I can see titles like Mazinger  and Dragon Ball still gaining new entries to the franchise long after Go Nagai and Akira Toriyama have left for Mangahalla.

Sadly, I am not as well versed in pan-European phenomena when it comes to Japanese animation in the Old World, but there are numerous resources in both online and book format, often in native tongue. Perhaps worth investing time into for future entries.

While things like Robotech and Voltron made their names around the American landscape, the 1980’s saw a growing appreciation for the original, unaltered footage. This was the era of Laserdisc, and people were mail ordering cartoons solely based on the covers. Can’t blame them, LDs tend to have absolutely awesome covers. Whenever these shows were shown in a convention, a leaflet explaining the overall premise and the story would be spread among the visitors or a separate person would enter the stage and give a synopsis of the events on the screen. There were those who felt, and still feel, that localisation demeans the original work.

Similarly, game importing became a thing in the latter part of the 1980’s and in the early 1990’s with NES’ success, though it should be mentioned that Europe saw PC game importing across regions far more. The Nordic countries began importing NES games anywhere they could and specialised mail service stores popped up just to service this part of the population. It wasn’t uncommon to see Genesis and Mega Drive titles sold side by side in-game stores. Appreciation for the original game saw a rise, either because of it was simply cool to have shit in Japanese or from America, or because some level of censorship was present. However, more often it was because Europe was largely ignored when it came to releasing certain games. Importing unavailable games to a region is still relevant, perhaps even more so than previously now that companies are investing in English releases in Asian versions and region free consoles are becoming an industry standard.

The question I’ve been asking myself for a long time now, longer than I’ve been writing this blog, is that whether or not wholesome localisation like Space Battleship Yamato and Starblazers was a necessary evil of the time that we can be do without now, that we are grown culturally to accept the original work as a whole, or whether it’s just hubris of the people who are too close to their sub-culture and co-fans. A person who is tightly knit with music’s sub-culture doesn’t exactly understand the sub-culture of pinball or golf.

By that I mean that pop-culture in general doesn’t give jackshit whether or not panties are censored in a video game, it’s irrelevant in macro-scale. Even in a localised form a product can impact pop-culture in ways that the original couldn’t, the aforementioned Speed Racer and Robotech being highly impacting examples in American pop-culture. I guarantee that these shows would not have their impact without the localisation effort.

Is it a necessary evil then? Perhaps this is the subjective part with no answer. Those who value original, unaltered product without a doubt will always prefer the “purest” form of the product, whereas someone who doesn’t have the same priorities will most likely enjoy the localised version just as fine. It would be infantile to assume that people who don’t know better can’t appreciate the original piece or lack in intelligence somehow. It is merely a matter preference, and like assholes, everyone has one.

If it matters, I personally vouch for unaltered products whenever applicable for the sake of keeping the integrity of the product and the intentions of the creators intact. However, also see complete localisations having their valid place in e.g. children’s cartoons. While it would be nice to have two or more versions of everything for the sake of options, that’s not always an option for budgetary, marketing or some other reasons.

Perhaps that’s what could be argued; when it comes to Western culture, we are more acceptable to unlocalised products more than previously, but total localisations still have their place. Even without knowing much about the source, we can appreciate the intentions and look past the cultural difference.

Or at least we should be able to, and appreciate the differences and intentions without resorting to raising a hell for nothing.

From art films to Dr. Pepper and forth

Localisation has become somewhat divisive word. For some it’s almost a curse, a method to taint the sanctity of the original work, be it whatever it may. To others it’s more like an overall way to tell you’re doing your best to bring over a work with a whole new translation thrown in there.

Localisation costs money, there’s no debate about that. In the years past localisation was only done to pieces that garnered that extra effort in order to maximise the exposure and consumption of the product in good faith. I’ve used Godzilla: King of the Monsters as an example before, as it’s a damn good example of localisation adding something to the piece while not taking anything essential to the story. While purists will always claim that Godzilla/Gojira/ゴジラ is the only true version of the movie, the Raymond Burr starred version was instrumental in the success of the franchise in the West and changed landscape in many ways.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters wasn’t a run of the mill dub, it was more and took itself seriously. Burr’s character was essential at the time to bring the events closer the American (and European) audience, as none of us experiences the A-bomb like they did. Not that the current Japanese society has, they’ve more or less inherited the cultural trauma, but with Fukushima accident being used as the background with Shin Godzilla, we have a good branching point with the whole runaway nuclear message. Burr’s narration and scenes added to the work, but never tried to take anything away from the core piece. It helps that Burr was an excellent actor.

Keep in mind that original Godzilla had hit the theatres in the US in a very limited way, and with equally limited success. It wasn’t until King of the Monsters was localised, or Americanized, the franchise made the cultural impact in the US as we recall the franchise starting as today.

New World’s Godzilla 1985 tried to replicate the localisation that the original had, but the less said about how largely they lacked the respect for the work and how much Dr. Pepper had advertisement in it, the better. One of the best bits that came from the disaster was Burr’s ending speech, which still can resonate with viewers. Not because it’s that well scripted, but because Burr manages to put some damn effort into it.

With movie companies getting more lax with their localisation, often just throwing in a dumpster-tier dub or the rare hastily collected translation, Nintendo tightened their grip with the games released on their system, removing religious tones, violence and gore. While Current Year is no argument for anything, you’d think that in these thirty years and some, Nintendo and other companies would’ve loosened up and stopped dictating what consumer can and can not take.

That is the crux between the current idea of localisation compared to the 1950’s. Rather than thinking How do we add to this piece so it can be enjoyed by a larger amount of people?,  it seems places like Nintendo Treehouse and 8-4 translations are in a stance of How do we change this so it won’t hurt anyone’s feelings while pushing an agenda? The agenda bit may seem a bit overbearing, but when you remember 8-4 turning a character into Tumblr pronouns in Gunvolt and changing Panthera’s name into Zonda, fucking the script and characterisations in Drakengard 3, Treehouse cutting in-game content and screwing up the translation in latest Fire Emblem and removed character modifiers in Xenoblade X.

The basic main intention is there across all the variations; to allow the piece to have as large exposure as possible to general audience. For Godzilla: King of the Monsters it was believed to be a movie worth the localisation effort because the movie was too good to leave to the smaller audiences. Then with Godzilla 1985 you had the deal with Dr. Pepper in there with the Cold War making an impact on the editing table. Now you have these companies not only localising these pieces, but doing intentional omissions and changes to fit certain world view, in some cases catering only on sort of audience rather than towards the general consumers.

You have to question whether or not it would be a good idea to cater to niche audience within niche audience rather than aim for the things that makes bigger bucks. For Fire Emblem, the audience is already within a niche, and as gaming consumers seem to demand more puristic localisations, if not just straight up translations with nothing else, you really have to sit down and think twice whether or not you want your core fans to throw their arms and call your localisation team on changing the content of the game. We should be asking why was Fire Emblem If… developed to have head patting minigame, but that’s as the developers intended and catered to the adult otaku audience, the crowd Treehouse didn’t seem to want to attract. Often a raging fanboy will just cave in at some point and nevertheless purchase the product they so vehemently opposed. Then again, Nintendo does whatever the fuck it wants without giving two shits about what the general consumer wants, so meddling with game content pretty much fits with that.

There has always been a sub-cultural movement to gain foreign products in their most unchanged form, but yet the overall cultural atmosphere e.g. in the US, Germany, Spain, Italy and France require almost everything to be dubbed, maybe even localised to a large degree. Japan themselves are not foreign to this either, but nobody in the West ever calls out them for dubbing or whatever Japanese equivalent for whitewashing is. We’re not even getting some games to West because of rampant feeling hurting imaginary bodies have on some, and the games we do get seem to always go through this sort of content removal and censorship process. Even now, games are being censored to keep certain age rating, like with the upcoming Western release of God Eater. This sort of changes are more understandable than outright omission of gameplay elements. Most people don’t have the option of importing either, due to lack of language skills or due to other issues, like local legislation on import goods or the like.

Of course, people have argued that games should be grown up and already do away with content that could hurt somebody’s feelings, but equally so these people should grow some balls and let things be as intended and allow people to enjoy them in whatever way they want without any bells and whistles attached with the localisers’ own interests. Then again, if it sells well, then it sells well. And then again, any company can save a lot of money on not spending resources on unnecessary changes and just give a title good and proper translation without taking anything else into count.

Discussion on Muv-Luv and its Kickstarter for Western localisation, Part 2

From the last discussion I left out one bit that most of my readers probably realised I intentionally ignored. That point is whether or not there is any need to make this release an expensive one when we can already tell it will have a limited succession even if the Kickstarter actually manages to get off the ground.

To return to a previous example, The King of Braves GaoGaiGar was released with much fanfare and buzzle from the fans. However, the by the second collections sales had dropped and general interest wasn’t there. It was a clear threat that GaoGaiGar would not see a full release, but then Media Blasters cut voice acting out to please the niche audience they had.

Discotek is a company who realised that there is a niche market to cater to. They have been licensing and releasing products without much bells and whistles with success enough to encourage them to release further niche products. The same story applies to Shout! Factory. These companies have been releasing such shows like Cutie Honey, Starzinger, Captain Harlock, Gaiking and Mazinger Z. Despite the fans knowing these by heart and probably have already seen their fansubbed versions, these releases are rather barebones to the lower quality DVD cases and rather poor cover images they come with. These are cost cutting measures these customers are willing to allow in order to get an official Western release they can pay for and show support, thus perhaps getting more of the same down the line. What matters is that they are out there, officially.

However, most if not all of these lack English language. As discussed how an English dub and proper localisation are expensive ventures to do and seen something that allows everybody to get into and enjoy the product by everyone except the core purists. There is a reason why most of these cartoons have English audio as the default option; it is expected by the common consumer. When we come to Europe, certain countries expect their language to be the default option or at least have a language selection before anything else actually starts playing, including the piracy warnings. France, Italy, Germany and Spain are good examples of nations that tend to favour local releases to the point of producing unique releases just for that nation, despite some releases being pressed for a certain larger area of nations with each having a different sleeve in the cover.

Thus, while I encourage and promote as full blown English release of Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative as possible to maximise the amount of people who could possibly get into it, I also see the reasons and benefits on having a smaller scale release that would cater only to the fans. This is where we get to the whole discussion of what sort of approach the translation should have overall as we discussed in the previous post.

Mazinger Z DVD Volume 1 has a one star review that simply reads No in English. While the fans will laugh at this and purists will snicker Why would anyone want Mazinger in English?, the review does show that there are those who are willing to take the plunge even when a product is not marketed for them.

However, we can also take the discussion to another direction; whether or not the series needs or requires an English release. The fans in the West have already experiences the Visual Novels via fanpatch. Why should they feel need to purchase something they already read years ago?

We can discuss the issue of piracy and all that someday, but that’s something we need to face; there are those who will not put any money down for the English release due to the fact they’ve already read it all. However, the unofficial patch has been the best kind of advertisement for the franchise to a large extent to the point we could even argue that the current Western fandom would not exist in its current form without it.

If the core fans have already read the story through multiple times, what is there to push towards purchasing the English release? Basic consumer principle would dictate that we pay for what we consume, but this isn’t how things roll in reality. To say that all fans will fund the Kickstarter and/or purchase the English release would be naïve. If so, then striking true with the core fandom, which is rather split, becomes highly important if the larger possible audience is ignored, or raise the discussion whether or not the whole localisation should be done. The core fans have already paid for them and imported one the Japanese editions or bought them from DMM. Why bother try selling a product to a consumer base that either already has bought it elsewhere or is satisfied with the unofficial patch? Wouldn’t it be better to provide them with something they haven’t read before, like one of the sidestories or the upcoming Schwarzesmarken? After all, in Muv-Luv most Alternative timeline sidestories are able to stand on their own as separate pieces as long as the world setting is explained.

I will wage my personal opinion from here on.

I want this to happen, and I want this to have as massive release as possible all the doors open for the larger consumer crowd to step in. If it means stepping on some fans’ toes and having the company being called sellouts or whatever other names, then so be it. I am highly doubtful that the Kickstarter will go through just with the power of current fandom, but I am highly hopeful that I am proved absolutely wrong.

I am a fan and while I try to keep as objective view on issues at hand, it is highly difficult and something I can barely do. I am a fan who has bought Muv-Luv and Alternative two times around now; the original CD release for Muv.Luv and DVD release for Muv-Luv Alternative, and the Xbox 360 pack that came with Kagami Sumika figure. I have bought Kimi ga Nozomu Eien few times around, I have books and I have toys. I even have some Comiket materials. Hell, I have the Japanese Blu-Ray release of Total Eclipse and those cost me around 930€ out together. I’m not too fond of the sidestories themselves, but I’ve always been willing to give them a fair chance, just like I will give to Schwarzesmarken when it comes out.

A messy shelf out of...four, I think? I have âge materials spread all over the apartment. I even have some TSF prints on my walls, framed
A messy shelf out of…four, I think? I have âge materials spread all over the apartment. I even have some TSF prints on my walls, framed. I have an A3 F-22A hanging from the side of the bookshelf. A friend of mine who goes by the nick Daironeri jokingly calls this one shelf as the âge Altar

I can’t say that I want to see the Kickstarter and localisation done right, but I want it to be done so that there would be possibilities for future âge releases and that it would find new fans, and perhaps some of those who have never gotten into something like this before.

To put all that down here feels more or less a wrong thing to say as I break the character. Who am I, as a fan, to say how things should or should not be done?

Everything, in the end. Just like you have every right to say how you want to be catered. You are the customer, you are The God. Or perhaps in this case, you are the Creators.

Music of the Month tomorrow, I promise.