Tuesday, May 24, 2011

That ain't right.

I'm a strong follower of That Guy With The Glasses, and it was through his website I got to enjoy learning of video reviewers such as Linkara, Nostalgia Chick, and even Brad Jones (whose reviews of the absolute worst movies of all time are all that keep me from burning down modern movie theaters sometimes because I know it can get much worse than Red Riding Hood).

One that I got into late is a young man by the name of CR, whose nostalgic look back at "Familiar Faces" (how convenient that's what he named his video series) recently brought a series back to mind that I've always been a large fan of. However, there's one thing about it that also embodies an issue I have with a lot of the entertainment I've seen coming out of Japan.

(Now, first a disclaimer. This article is in no way my attempt to suggest that Japan is a nation of perverts. It's in no way suggesting that anybody who likes video games, anime, or manga (cartoons and comics to those not in the know) is a pervert. What this is is an attempt to acknowledge two extremely different cultures and a large gap between them of what is acceptable and what society frowns on.)

Anybody who knows me can confirm that I've seen a lot of entertainment that came from Japan around and after the turn of the century. Cartoons, comics, video games, magazines, live action movies, soap operas, weather reports, I watched and read it all and soaked it in like a sponge. Some stuff I really liked. Some stuff I absolutely hated. But I was hooked on everything Japan had to offer. I even ate the imported snack foods and started shopping in Asian markets for ingredients whose "animal/vegetable/mineral" categorization I couldn't even begin to guess at.

But as time went on, I realized some common themes amongst a lot of the things I saw. One was that the Japanese love their giant robots. Another was a tendency to be coy in their descriptions of people, places, and things. This might've simply been a translation issue, but if I had a nickel for every time a character made a reference to "that place," "that person," "that time," or "that thing," well, I'd have a lot of nickels.

But one thing I saw was that Japanese entertainment (at least for the time I watched it) focused a lot on young heroes facing stark odds. It might be a high school comedy series or an apocalyptic nightmare, but a lot of series would place teenagers in the starring roles as the only people left who can get the job done. I was puzzled when this was applied to stories about war and battling (Neon Genesis Evangeleon, the Gundam series, Stellvia, pretty much every Final Fantasy game) since I assumed that an adult soldier would be better trained and more durable. This isn't to say teenagers and children are incapable soldiers (I've seen video footage taken from Africa to show me otherwise), and a lot of series take the time to explain how there's usually something unique about this particular group of teenagers or there's something in the design of whatever equipment they're using that is better suited for younger soldiers to utilize it.

Again, the root for this is undoubtedly a cultural issue. I've read essays discussing how Japanese adults enjoy the freedom from childhood and how stuck in procedure the adult life becomes after school. I've seen people discuss the fact that younger audiences simply aren't interested in seeing older heroes, and how the series with younger characters always do better. I'd be willing to accept any simple explanation, but there's one thing that I really need to get off my chest.

When you import a series to the United States and one of the more sexually suggestive characters is underage, I think the studio is perfectly within its rights to change their age.

One example is going to be the star of my next article, Grenadier.

Keep in mind I actually really like this series.

follows the adventures of a young woman named Rushuna Tendo. She lives in a standard fantasy historical Japan, which means everybody has guns and occasionally a giant medieval suit of armor shows up. The manga and the anime have two very different takes on the character, but a lot of the basics are the same. Young woman, long blond hair, constantly described as a foreigner...oh, and there's her method of reloading guns which has become rather infamous online.

Yes, you did just watch a woman reload a gun by launching the bullets out of her cleavage. Her very ample cleavage. And just how old is Rushuna in this series? How old is a girl not only sporting a chest that big, but constantly getting her clothes ripped to the point where she's barely dressed, flashing her underwear at people all the time, and at one point actually losing her underwear in combat? Sixteen, according to her.

Now, from my limited understanding of Japan's age of consent, the federal government has set it at 13, but individual regions can have their own laws setting it as high as 18. So obviously there's going to be a huge cultural difference here. But would it really hurt the story that much if the translators changed Rushuna's age from 16 to, say, 22? I don't think so. In fact, considering we see the character drink, bathe nude (no dirty bits are shown, at least nothing more than you'd see in a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue anyway), and jiggle all over the place, I'd think changing the character's age would make her more appealing to a wider market.

Not convinced? Let's look at one of the biggest offenders in recent history: Dead or Alive Xtreme 2.

Released in 2006, this game was the sequel to the original Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Enhanced graphics, plenty of mini-games, and a widely advertised "physics engine allowing individual breast movement" (there's warning flag number one) were all featured, along with starring the women from the popular "Dead or Alive" fighting game franchise. The game was rated M, meaning you couldn't buy a copy if you were under 18 (not that there aren't shops who don't pay attention or anything).

Now, I will admit that in 2008 I bought a used copy of the game. I'm sticking with the story that I actually enjoy beach volleyball games (I owned Beach Spikers for the Nintendo Gamecube and it got quite a lot of play for a while) and this was (and still is) one of the only games I've seen for the modern console generation. But as soon as I put the disc into my Xbox 360, I flipped open the manual and something caught my eye.

Kasumi, Kokoro, and Ayane had their ages listed as "?." So I did a quick Google check, and found out that in Japan (where the game was developed, of course) their ages are listed as 17, 16, and 16, respectively. Looking up, I got to see the opening movie for the game.

Now, I'm not going to upload the video here, I'll just link to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUY7PzkRkGs. Don't watch if it'll make you rage-quit the internet and try to hunt me down to punch me. If you want to know which girl is which, well, Kasumi has red hair, Ayane has purple hair, and Kokoro...well, I was going to post a picture of her, but honestly I just didn't feel right posting anything I found on Google. She has really long, dark hair, if that helps.

Is the game horribly sexist and exploitive by its very nature? Of course it is. Should studios forbid any games like that from being made? I'd have to say "no." Seeing as games are now being recognized as an art form by the United States, I think games are, by themselves, a medium to express ideas, much the same way movies and tv are. And nobody's saying Playboy should be forbidden from having their own TV channel or that they should ban all movies like Zombie Strippers. At least nobody anybody takes seriously.

However, when I realize I'm playing a game that actively encourages me to take zoomed-in photos of teenage girls, coax them into caring about my character through gifts, or buy skimpier and skimpier outfits for them in the hopes they'd wear one, I keep expecting that at any minute I'm going to hear the theme song for To Catch A Predator in the background and Chris Hansen is going to walk and and ask what I'm doing.

(For the record, the game went back to the game store the next day for a refund. I'm not sure when I'll feel clean again.)

Again, when the game series was originally brought over here, I honestly don't think there would have been any horrible change to the plot if characters had their ages bumped up to 18. Would it still be somewhat creepy? Perhaps, but at least you couldn't argue as well that it was portraying itself like a game to satisfy pedophiles.

Oh, and did I mention that for each character you can unlock a special pole-dancing mini-game/movie? Yes, even for the 16 year old. Thanks for keeping it classy, Japan.

Now, I'll fully admit that there are a lot of things from Japan where it'd simply be impossible to change any ages. Any series that takes place in high school, for example, would be extremely difficult to swap ages around in. A series where a specific plot point focuses around a certain birthday would be really difficult to change anything that important about. Of course, other series would have to be considered on a case by case basis to determine just what kind of message the series sends to have a character that young.

And I know that there are a lot of die-hard fans of stuff from Japan who protest is you change even the slightest thing about their entertainment. They want the obscure pop culture references, they want the original translations of places, people, and time periods. They want it to be just like how the Japanese artist intended it to be.

To which I say...why? Does it really take away that much from the story for the character's age to indicate them as a bit wiser or a bit more experienced in life? If you're worried that the character will lose some of their "child-like innocence," I'd argue you can still portray innocence or naivety as a legal adult. I'm sure we all know someone who managed to get through high school still able to be shocked by anything explicit.

Now, if people disagree with me, I'd love to have them comment below with their reasoning. And again, I'm not saying that all series should have the changes implemented. Just ones where people might think the boundary of "good taste" might be getting crossed based on our country's principles and standards.

No comments: