(18+) The Ins and Outs of Eroge: An Interview with MangaGamer

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

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Yesterday we brought you an interview with MangaGamer talking about Visual Novel Localization. Today we bring you another interview we conducted with them, regarding the often controversial topic of Eroge. We asked why the would even localize these titles? If they really are just porn or if there’s something more? What’s the difference between how Japan and the West view sexuality? We also talk about the impact Kindred Spirits on the Roof has made as well as Yaoi and Yuri in general. Finally we’ll close with some thoughts on Western Developed Eroge and some recommendations incase you’d like some suggestions as to where to start when it comes to this fascinating genre.

Please be advised that due to the nature of the topic at hand and the images below, this article is NSFW. Reader discretion is advised.

By:  Benny Carrillo (Questions/Interviewer/Image Editing), William Haderlie (Questions), Quentin H. (Formatting and Layout), Azario Lopez (Questions)

Operation Rainfall: ‘Eroge’ are often compared to and labeled as just “porn”. So, why would you take on the intensive task of localizing these titles? [OR Note: Eroge is a broad term that applies to any Visual Novel which contains sexual scenes.]

MangaGamer: Well, the idea of labeling all eroge as “just porn” is rather discriminatory and prejudiced from the start for several reasons. The first of course, is the judgmental assumption that featuring sexuality and sex as one element of a story devalues the entire work or product, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Sexuality is an important aspect of human nature, personal relationships, and character development. Being able to include those elements only furthers the depth a story can offer. The second, of course, is the mistaken assumption that there’s something inherently bad or wrong with pornography or any work created with the goal of arousing and exciting readers. Sexual expression is just as important to our culture, our individuality, and our needs as people, so there’s no good reason to be dismissive of it.

Part of why we localize eroge is for those reasons. Our company was founded by a collaboration of eroge developers, so the freedom to tell creative stories and to include sexual expression in those stories is a key element to their identity that we continue to uphold. The world needs creators willing to tell mature stories and create mature works for mature people. Those works all have merit, and are just as worthy of being shared with the world at large as any other. So we take pride in being one of the few companies willing to venture into this realm of storytelling and share those stories with the English speaking world.

MangaGamer | Kindred Spirits on the Roof

Matsuri and Miyu from Kindred Spirits on the Roof (2016)

OR: To follow up from the last question, are ‘Eroge’ [titles] just porn, or is there often a deeper romantic element to many of these stories?

MG: As I mentioned briefly before, there’s a difference between Eroge and Nukige. Nukige, which focus primarily on arousing and stimulating readers, may have less romance and character development like traditional Western pornography, but that’s not always the case either. Often times even Nukige will feature a quality story, complex character development, or romantic elements.

On the other hand, Eroge that aren’t also Nukige will always place a strong emphasis on the characters, story, or other narrative elements, creating a deeper experience for those who enjoy them.

“…[S]ome of the most interesting aspects of these two different histories on sexuality is how Japan’s has started changing due to interactions with the West.

Despite Japan’s historically open sexual background, ongoing cultural, social, and political pressures from Western nations have been pushing Japan to grow more closed in its sexuality.”

OR: What are some historically important ‘Eroge’?

MG: Well, one of the interesting facts about the history of Visual Novels and Eroge is that they’re actually some of the very first PC games ever made. Back in the dawn of the 1980s there was a platform that’s little-known in the West: the PC-98, a computer created long before Mac and Windows that gained 60% of the PC market in Japan as an alternative to Atari and Nintendo for gaming. The PC-98 featured the highest graphic resolution of its time: 640×400 pixels—a design choice made to accommodate Japanese writing that also led to an incredible impact in gaming, allowing developers to create very visually oriented games. So when adventure games met the graphical capabilities of the PC-98, Visual Novels were born. And even publishers like SquareSoft contributed to Visual Novels on the PC-98 with Alpha. As the graphical capabilities of PCs evolved, Visual Novels continued to evolve from their early pixel days to the wonderful presentations we see now.

Some of the turning points were Dokyuusei by ELF and Tokimeki Memorial by Konami, both released around 1992. Both of these titles strayed away from typical adventure gaming to actually focus solely on relationships with characters—making choices, spending effort, doing things to better oneself and woo the girl of your dreams—creating the first of what some might call “Dating Sims.”

In 1996, there was Shizuku and Kizuato by Leaf, two Eroge which finally strayed away from the more game-oriented nature of previous visual novels, and focused on the writing. These were two of the first titles to be much more text heavy than previous titles in the genre—truly “novels” in the sense of how much story they told. That helped shaped these games further away from traditional adventure games and into a genre truly all their own.

MangaGamer | Dragon Synergy

The Dragon Synergy Select Screen from Beat Blades Haruka (2016)

OR: Regarding ‘Nukige’, how popular are they in general?

MG: They’re easily just as popular as other titles. We’ve had both major hits and flops in Nukige as well other genres. Though perhaps one remarkable difference is that Nukige tend to have a much longer tail than other titles—in other words, they continue to sell fairly well even long after the initial marketing, hype, and community interest has died down.

OR: For our readers who might be new to ‘Eroge’ and ‘Nukige’. How is sexuality different in Japan versus the West?

MG: Well, one of the major differences is obviously religious. It’s impossible to separate the West from Christianity and the subtle oppression of sexuality that creates in our culture. In Western Christian culture, lust—sexual desire—is considered a cardinal sin to be completely expunged from humanity. Virginity is worshipped [sic] through icons like the Virgin Mary and all members of the priesthood being sworn to chastity. These and other aspects of that religious foundation to our culture create this cultural context of shame, guilt, and evil around sexuality that limits our ability to discuss desires openly.

In contrast, the religious backbone of Japanese culture is Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism. In their native religion of Shinto, a naturalistic or shamanistic religion, divine spirits are believed to reside in a myriad of things, and the line between good and evil is often grey and blurred. Some of these divine spirits actively encourage and enjoy sex, while others may use them as weapons for harm. Fertility gods and goddesses are still worshipped even to this day, and in the Kanamara Matsuri, the entire town parades a giant holy phallus through the streets in early April to honor the gods and pray for bountiful harvests, happy marriages, and easy childbirth.

Under Buddhism, Japan finally sees some restraint towards sex, with Buddhist teachings stating that sexual desires are worldly desires that interfere with enlightenment. So while under Buddhism, sexual desires can hinder one’s religious journey to break free from the cycle of rebirth and suffering, they’re not seen as inherently wrong—in fact, they’re viewed as natural parts of human nature, which simply require discipline to overcome and avoid being controlled by them. Moreover, in tantric Buddhism, people are taught all kinds of ways to channel our sexual desires into positive, fulfilling energy. Also, as its only censure towards sex is prohibiting “sexual misconduct,” which is socially, not religiously defined, the teachings are often fairly open to homosexuality, and so during Japan’s feudal period, they often saw approaches to sexuality that were similar to that of the Romans.

In Confucianism, actual sexual desires were less a concern, and what was important there was the hierarchy between partners. Never condemning sexual desire, Confucianism actually allowed polygamy and focused more of the roles husbands and wives were expected to fill in the homes. This idea of hierarchy in the home, though, led to a lot of practices that proved, and still prove hard for Japan to shake to this day such as arranged marriages, the ideal of the domestic wife, and the idea of women being subordinate in the home in general. Also, as far as Confucianism was concerned, homosexuality was simply discouraged because it was “fruitless”—it didn’t produce heirs—and never condemned.

Of course, some of the most interesting aspects of these two different histories on sexuality is how Japan’s has started changing due to interactions with the West. Despite Japan’s historically open sexual background, ongoing cultural, social, and political pressures from Western nations have been pushing Japan to grow more closed in its sexuality. While historically quite open to pornography and sexual expression of all kinds of sexuality, in recent years these Western influences and pressures have caused Japan to increase censorship under its obscenity laws.


OR: Do you ever find yourselves under criticism when it comes to localizing and marketing titles like Imouto Paradise, Sweet Sweat in Summer, and Euphoria, which contain potentially controversial material?

MG: Surprisingly enough, we actually haven’t come under any criticism for any of those three titles. We see far more praise from the community—the voices of those who are happy that we offer them legal opportunities to enjoy their sexual tastes and satisfy their desires in a healthy, productive manner.

In fact, all three of those titles are actually some of our best selling hits.

“[Releasing Kindred Spirits on the Roof on Steam uncensored is] a triumph for sexual expression…[and] is a crack in the traditional barrier that has long prohibited sex in Western gaming.”

More on that last quote, Yaoi, Yuri, Western Eroge, and some recommendations for new players on Page 2!

MangaGamer | Koihime Musou

Aisha from Koihime Musou (2011)

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