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Moe Check! ยป Wallowing In Doubt

Another one from Nanatsuiro Drops.

One of the things I've been working on when not fiddling with high explosives my computer is something I've temporarily titled "MBHC". The idea is that one day, I might finally get off my lazy posterior and learn how to create a game in Renpy. There is, of course, that tricky obstacle of learning how to code that. (Just because I effectively taught myself Java in a week doesn't mean I liked it.)

The basic premise is that the player character, who is a Typical Visual Novel Protagonist Guy (TVNPG), is from Somewhere Else, and has come to Earth to find a suitable candidate to be a magical girl. There's a lot of stuff about the Champions and Adversaries of Balance, the Bureaucracy of Destiny, so on and so forth.

But nobody really cares about that. The main point of a story which is depicted as a bishoujo game are the female characters; everything else may as well be lorem ipsum for all the attention that will be paid to it. I am, in fact, counting on this, as would a craven coward who tosses a juicy piece of meat at a ravening dog in order to make good his escape. While readers (or players, possibly) are otherwise distracted with their mental images of the moe-blobs in the story, I get to experiment with writing a whole-hearted, non-parodic, celebratory magical girl story.

The primary stumbling block I've come across is actually an old one, which has tripped me up in other original stories I have written: namely, if a story is to possess an anime feel, should it be set in Japan?

There's the old bromide about writing what you know, which doesn't really work for my habit of using a fictional locale: Singapore, being a tiny island nation, does not have any leftover space in which to place another fictional city. Placing it in Actual Singapore would alienate the majority of English-speaking readers culturally, especially if I have to make the decision whether to consider the pidgin of Singlish a separate language, and thus eligible for translation into proper grammatical English.

The only other real-life experience I have which maps over to most of the rest of the world's, thanks to the United States being the primary force in globalization in the latter half of the 20th century, is that of an American University. This is a cliche in itself, considering the sheer number of Wacky Hijinks webcomics or original stories set in an American University, most likely the author's own. Besides, I don't know much about most of the US anyway; Americans who've met me in Real Life will remember how culturally shocked I always seemed to be, as well as my catchphrase.

In a case of Damned If I Do/Don't, if I set the story in Japan, I will base it on anime, and I will get accused of being an ignorant fanboy. If I set the story in the US, I will get almost everything wrong, and I will get accused of being an ignorant foreigner. To make a hollow laughter.

I never know why the desire to move to Japan is shouted down as shallow; I have a desire to move to the US, mainly because you people seldom have to pay international shipping fees, and this statement is often met with general approval. I suspect a double standard.

4 Responses to “Wallowing In Doubt”
  1. Kalium says:

    You could set it in the US with the lead characters being fish-out-of-water types.

  2. My first thought would be: Don't use the US. I'm born and raised on west coast USA, and in a story I'm writing, one of the characters was born in Boston (although her family moved when she was still young). Even though she only lived the youngest third of her live in Boston, she has enough of Boston in her to require a substantial bit of research on my part. And even then, I might find I've made a lot of mistakes. If you get the language wrong, some people will notice. Would an early 1900's citizen of Arizona who plans to investigate an old mineshaft first go to the general store and buy a battery-powered torch? Or would he buy an Eveready flashlight? This requires you to spend time getting to know the setting. You said it yourself: "If I set the story in the US, I will get almost everything wrong, and I will get accused of being an ignorant foreigner."

    The other side of the tracks is using Singapore for the setting. This you know. This you can do. Whether it's in whole a fictional town, or a fictional town based on a real town, or a real town you're familiar with, it doesn't matter. Are there customs and peculiarities to Singaporeans that would be family to a player from Singapore that would puzzle a non-Singaporean player? Are there honorifics such as the Japanese -san and -chan and the Korean -gun, or position-related ones such as the Korean dae-gaum and nau-ri, and Japanese sensei and sempai? I say use them, but put them in a context (for those used less often) where they'll be understood. Maybe include a text file detailing these cultural terms. You said, "Placing it in Actual Singapore would alienate the majority of English-speaking readers culturally," to which I have to ask, "When did a majority of Japanese anime not do this?" One of the first anime I saw that wasn't set in a fantasy world was "Tonari-no Totoro", and one of the things I thought when seeing it was, "Whoa, families take baths together in Japan?" Even considering the year the movie must take place during, I'd say there's your culture shock right there.

    The in-between is the Japanese setting. Everything you need to know about Japan for a magical girl-related story, you probably learned by watching anime. You have all the material to copy what you've seen, and expand on it. If you copy too much, you'll probably get your "ignorant fanboy" accusations (simply copying the settings and mannerisms seen in anime). If you expand too much, you'll probably get, on the other hand, you might step into the "ignorant foreigner" category.

    I'd say the choice is whether you want to go with what you know (Singapore) or what your expected readers know (Japan), and avoid going with the US unless you've seen enough US media to compare with the Japanese media you've taken in.

    Personally, I always enjoy learning about foreign cultures (not just Japanese or Asian cultures), and I might be up to checking out a game or reading a story if there were cultural elements in it that would get me reading up more about it. Of course, I also generally stick to only "kid-friendly" series, so any game with a rating of "for ages 13 and up" or higher wouldn't register on my "check this out" radar.

  3. Qwerty says:

    *Reads everything and falls asleep.*

  4. ETERNAL says:

    To put it simply, I'd suggest using Japan if you feel uncomfortable with the US. Some doujin VNs I played, Ori Ochi Onoe being the first to come to mind, use Japanese names and feel quite Japanese even if they were written in English. True, you'll probably face problems with general ignorance (hence my story being set in North America), but I think it'll be more accepted with the readers if you're ignorant about Japanese culture rather than being ignorant about something all of us take for granted: American culture.

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