Magic, Magi, and the Mundane – Mahou Tsukai no Yoru

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There is a mansion on top of the hill, and within it live two witches.

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Fate/Extra CCC: A Love Story, A Story of Love

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Let’s start this post by talking about Type-Moon.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this blog – nay, my entire presence on Twitter – would not have been possible had I not discovered Type-Moon’s VNs. The first ever eroge I played was Tsukihime, more than 6 years ago. It’s been so long now that I barely remember how it all went; all I know is that it became my gateway to this niche hobby that’s now pretty much inseparable from my online identity. Over the past few years, I’ve immersed myself in the Type-Moon community – I read and watched pretty much every translated Type-Moon thing from the original Fate/stay night VN to the very obscure Angel Notes short story.

At some point, I stopped. You could say I grew out of the obsession – all that was left to do in the T-M community were power level arguments and wait for translations to come out of thin air.

Fast forward to July-August 2015, when Fate/Grand Order got released. At first, I was planning to play it only for Sakurai Hikaru’s portions of the scenario. But there was no escape from the moment I installed the game on my phone – I fell hopelessly in love once more with the dumb memes, the quirky but incredibly fun characters, and the vast setting that the franchise is known for. But on the other hand, coming back to the Fate/ franchise after a long absence also led to a realization:

No one in the English Type-Moon community knows what they’re talking about.

Spending my time lurking /vg/’s and Reddit’s Fate/Grand Order threads, as well as seeing various opinions on the recent Unlimited Blade Works anime has only reinforced that opinion. Much of the opinions I’ve seen on Fate/stay night – and by extension, Kinoko Nasu as a writer – are based on horribly twisted “common knowledge” and endlessly-parroted memes on Nasu’s knowledge of sexual intercourse and proper writing – both of which can be blamed on sub-par translations and adaptations of his games. (As a side note: criticism of the original work’s prose based on a poor translation is a whole other can of worms to open, but that requires an entirely different post so I won’t dwell on that here.)

But I digress; I’m not here to talk about my opinions on the Type-Moon community. I’m here to talk about Fate/Extra CCC – the sequel (kinda) to a game that sits on the fringes of the Fate/ franchise. As you can imagine, there is little to no information about the game that makes it to the English community; even I knew next to nothing about CCC before I played it. If you follow me on Twitter, you should have already seen me spam your timelines with heaps of praises about the game. So let me spend the rest of this post explaining just what Fate/Extra CCC is, and why this game will perhaps be the most memorable work I’ve experienced from Type-Moon thus far.

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Revel in Life: On Subarashiki Hibi and Obtaining Wonderful Days

cool girl smoking on the rooftop

(Author’s note: Huge thanks to @SeHNNG for helping me compiling this post and sharing his thoughts on the game.)

Subahibi is a very difficult work to write about. Out of all the posts I’ve had so far on this blog, this is probably the most ambitious one I’ve done. Not that I did anything creative with it like Kastel did for his post. There’s just so much to say about the game that I took more than two weeks just to pin down exactly what I want to say. And there’s probably a lot more to talk about than what I put on this post.

So let’s start this post with a basic question: what is Subahibi?

I’m sure that, if you’ve read enough VNs and stuck with the community for a while, you’d have heard of the name at least once. Subahibi is a baffling work; it’s reputation even more so. Some people might talk about how fucked up it is – and it does have a lot of, shall we say, problematic content ranging from futa, to exhibitionism, to incest, and bestiality. But despite those rumors, many people in the eroge/VN community still praise it as a masterpiece; people who actually finish the game would cite Wittgenstein and other philosophers, giving other people the impression that it’s a pretentious game for pretentious people. And with vvav’s translation coming Soon™, there will only be more people voicing out their opinions – informed or otherwise.

So first, let’s give a short background of the game. Subarashiki Hibi -Furenzoku Sonzai- (Subahibi for short) is an eroge written by SCA-JI (Ebiten, H2O –footprints in the sand–), released under the KERO-Q label in 2010. It’s a reimagining of SCA-JI’s 1999 work, Tsui no Sora, apparently a denpa game which got an OVA release that can be found here. If you do end up watching the video, you can see that it’s quite… unpolished, further putting the hype for Subahibi into question. But it’s been more than ten years since Tsui no Sora; although many of Tsui no Sora’s elements still show up in Subahibi –including the eponymous “Tsui no Sora” – Subahibi is far and away the more polished work, to the point that you might wonder how the latter came out of the former.

Accurate depiction of Subahibi shitposters.

Accurate depiction of Subahibi shitposters.

And so we get to the messy question: what is the game about? It’s so easy to give a quick summary of the game’s story: Takashima Zakuro’s suicide triggers paranoia throughout her school, with a character named Mamiya Takuji further compounding it by declaring that the world will end on the 20th of July – “the Last Sky (終ノ空 / tsui no sora)”, and the reader gets to see the days that lead up to it in different perspectives. I’m sure there are a lot of reviews and summaries that are floating around out there that can describe the game’s plot better than I can.

But giving a summary and a review isn’t what I want to do with this post. I want to talk about Subahibi’s messages, the meat of what the game tries to convey to the reader. Yes, Subahibi does talk about Wittgenstein and his philosophy in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and it’s no stretch to say that the entire game is SCA-JI’s interpretation of the Tractatus. This post is for anyone interested in Subahibi’s themes, and I will be talking about my thoughts on those themes. This post will contain huge spoilers, so if you don’t want to get spoiled, turn back now. I highly suggest you just read the game in Japanese, or wait for its fully-translated version. If you just want my overall opinion on the game, click this.

With all that said, let’s start at the beginning and jump into the rabbit-hole called Subahibi.

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Ourai no Gahkthun: Primer and Impressions

ss (2014-09-21 at 05.30.37)輝きを持つ者よ。尊さを失わぬ、若人よ。
O, brilliant one.  O, young one who lost not your splendor.
お前の声を聞いた。ならば、呼べ。私は来よう。
Your voice has been heard. Call, for I shall heed.

The year 1908. The 20th century had only started – the age of steam-powered Engines holds a lot of promise for Europe. Exported from the faraway world of Kadath, the Engines started a technological revolution – all the world’s great cities have embraced this new technology. As a result, the once-blue skies are now shrouded in grey, and the once-clean oceans are dyed with a putrid black.

In the Kingdom of France lies the Marseille Offshore Academia – a city of learning which stands on an artificial island. It is a bustling city with its own culture, founded solely by the students who live and study within its walls.

A young lady – a poor student of the Academia – once again goes to her job at the Dropout District. Every night, she works as a helper at a restaurant until right before dawn. Overworked, fatigued, and helplessly lonely, she looks up to the tower Chateau d’If. It is whispered that at its summit, there is a bell that grants the wish of any student. As she looks at the summit with her golden eyes, what will she wish for?

In the middle of April 1908, for the first time in the school’s history, a transfer student arrives. Proud and haughty, on his first day he declares to everyone in his classroom:

ニコラ・テスラ。72歳。転校生。
“Nikola Tesla. 72 years old. Transfer student.
マルセイユ洋上学園都市10万の学生諸君。運命に呪われたお前たち、全員。
Students of the Marseille Offshore Academia. My hundred thousand friends who have been cursed by Fate.
私が、この手で、救ってやる。
I will, with these hands, save all of you.”

At the top of Chateau d’If, the Bell of Gahkthun rings in celebration. Thus begins Ourai no Gahkthun, the sixth entry to Hikaru Sakurai’s Steampunk Series.

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On eden* and the Beauty of Impermanence

ss (2014-08-05 at 12.30.25)いつか、全ての物は終わりに向かう
All things will meet their end someday.

A scholar named Motoori Norinaga gave the name mono no aware (物の哀れ) to the feeling of beauty evoked by the impermanence of things. No term better describes the feeling that eden*there were only two, on the planet – or eden – evokes from the reader. eden is the story of people seeking paradise – the Garden of Eden promised to mankind – to avoid the inevitable end about to befall the planet.

eden takes place far into the future, when an ominous red star appears in the sky to signal the destruction of the Earth. Within a century of the star’s appearance, human technology efforts were poured into the survival of humanity past the Earth’s destruction. A race of genetically-engineered humans with superior intellectual capability – the Felix – were created to manage the Earth Escape Project – the research and development of emigration space ships that will allow humanity to escape Earth.

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Baldr Sky and Artificial Intelligence

ss (2014-07-28 at 03.26.41)I wish that I may understand all of you, and I wish that you all may understand us.-

As I mentioned in my first impressions post on Dive 1, the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) is a central concept to Baldr Sky. For a short background: artificial intelligence in Baldr Sky comes in two forms: the inorganic AI, represented by the Baldr System supercomputer in the basement of Midspire; and the biological AI, represented by Eve and her subunit in Seishuu Academy, Mother. Once artificial intelligence was discovered, a technological race began between the two AI systems, the goal being an AI possessing qualia, believed to be the mark of similar intelligence that humans also possess. By the time of protagonist Kadokura Kou’s high school days, the biological AI managed to obtain qualia, leaving the Baldr System obsolete while Eve becomes responsible for managing the daily lives of the Union’s citizens.

However, the distrust for artificial intelligence runs deep: sympathizers to the anti-AI cause have come up with “Alienist” as a slur for those who depend on AI in their daily lives. Even some those who rely on AI for their daily lives have doubts towards the AI. Things only get worse when the Grey Christmas occurs – did the AI governing the Assembler and Gungnir’s security system run berserk, leading to the tragedy in Kurahama City? Are the AI actually plotting against humanity?

If you haven’t caught on yet, Baldr Sky’s conflict hinges on a central argument in the philosophy of AI: the strong AI vs. weak AI debate. I’ll spare the details as I’m no expert myself, but the fundamental question is whether an artificially-intelligent machine can actually understand the decisions it makes – can a machine that responds to the user in Chinese sentences when spoken to in Chinese actually understand the conversation? Baldr Sky takes a step further and asks: can two completely different intelligent beings remove the gap in understanding between them?

The short answer that Baldr Sky gives is yes, humans and AI can come to an understanding. But there wouldn’t be a blog post if it was that simple, would there? What makes Baldr Sky special is how it arrives at that answer. And what a long ride it is.

(Spoiler Warning: I will be spoiling the whole of Sora’s route in this post. Needless to say, turn back now if you’re planning on reading Baldr Sky in the future.)

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Aiyoku no Eustia and Faith

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Spoiler warning: do not read if you have not finished the entire novel.

Humans are rational beings.

As proof, humans invented the discipline known as science. An entire discipline founded on the assumption that every doubt can be formulated as a question, and that every question can be solved through experimental proof. As rational beings, we are unable to accept things without an explanation. Thus we strive to look for one.

Even before science, humans believed in gods. We relied on gods, spirits, angels, devils and mythical creatures to explain what happens around us. Most of us still believe in them. As rational beings, we are unable to accept things without an explanation. Thus, we make explanations for them. We made explanations for all the inexplicable things that occur all around us.

Even when God abandons us, we pray.

Even when calamity strikes, destroying the lives of tens of thousands of people, we pray, desperate to grab on to a final hope – some sort of explanation for the absurd loss of life, some sort of salvation from despair, anything. Aiyoku no Eustia is a story of rational beings, desperate for an explanation for their existence.

In other words, Aiyoku no Eustia is a story of faith.

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Aiyoku no Eustia Eris Chapter – the Good, the Bad, and the Terrible

Don't be silly. It's just your imagination.

Don’t be silly. It’s just your imagination.

Aiyoku no Eustia was August’s first venture into the low fantasy genre. Naturally, August’s writers felt the need to experiment with many ideas and see what would work. Overall, I was impressed by what Aiyoku no Eustia had to offer – although the writing needs polishing, Chapter 3 onwards had many great ideas carried by fantastic execution through its characters.

Despite my overall positive impression of Eustia, its second chapter left a bad taste in my mouth – and judging by reactions from Twitter and IRC, my opinion isn’t unique. Still, Eris’s chapter wasn’t completely terrible – it’s saved by some neat ideas, but dragged down by clumsy and inconsistent presentation.

For this post, I’ll try to explain the good, bad, and terrible ideas in Chapter 2 of Aiyoku no Eustia.

Spoilers for Aiyoku no Eustia Chapter 2 ahead.

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On Romance and the Moon Route of Rewrite

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(Spoilers for Rewrite, particularly for the Moon route. If you have not completely read Rewrite, please do yourself a favor and get to reading.)

By no means would I call Rewrite “perfect”. One of the Rewrite’s greatest flaws is its lack of coherence between its routes. It’s bound to happen when a work has multiple authors: throughout its routes there are contradictory scenes, plot devices and characters left unused, thrown away, or just rendered unimportant in the grand scheme of the work. Rewrite, as a whole, is a chimeric mammoth of ideas which don’t quite work together.

So what is it that keeps Rewrite from being a complete mess?

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