As a sort of tangential follow up to a post I wrote months ago, I’d like to highlight recent developments in the otaku culture. I wrote a bit about this before, but here’s some repeated notions as a reminder. Like it or not, a large portion of the otaku culture is visual novels, which are nearly all sexual in content. Despite containing such R-18 material, this is not a quality which discounts the VN medium from being able to produce meaningful stories. Indeed, it can be argued that some of the best stories in VNs have the most forced, out-of-place sex, because creators are trying to appeal to the larger otaku audience. As such, VNs are arguably the hardest area to get into as a Western – and Christian – otaku because almost no one wants to have to deal with the adult content just to get what is supposedly a good story. It’s understandable, even admirable, that such people stick to their beliefs and know where to draw the line. But if you want to minister to otaku, you can’t simply ignore such a huge part of the culture. You can try to read the clean ones, and there are a few, as listed on our very own visual novel recommendations page. But there are still many more which are so great yet have certain content which immediately stops any interest – again, for good reason.
Visual novels have a very niche market in Japan, and while there are console exports which results in removal of sexual content, these were thought never to be marketed toward foreigners. Recently, the company Sekai Project announced plans to release the entire Grisaia trilogy in English. Visual novels have historically had a proportionally small market in the West; Mangagamer and JAST have released a number of popular titles, so it’s wrong to say that official VN translations and sales are unheard of. However, the issue of Christians not wanting to deal with the sexual content remained unchanged – or so I thought. Grisaia is planned to be released as the all ages version. Perhaps it is not a huge surprise they chose Grisaia; it is after all, the current best selling VN on Amazon Japan. To clarify, Grisaia is still very sexual in tone, containing a large amount of sexual jokes and language, which may very well result in people responding the same way they did to the anime despite my (now dead) hype. But there is something to be said about specifically bringing over the all ages versions – they are clearly demonstrating that they want to expand the readership to those who are offended by sexual content.
Initially, Sekai Project mentioned they would be bringing over only the first game’s all ages version. A large number of people questioned the need to remove sexual content (to be fair, partly misunderstanding that all sexual jokes would be removed, which would be quite absurd indeed; it seems only the very extreme ones will be altered) and in fact, a small number of people were outraged at losing out on sexual content (at least they’re being honest). While I as a Christian disagree wholeheartedly with such thoughts, I can sort of understand why people questioned that the all ages version is being brought over. We are talking about something from the most otaku of the otaku culture – not anime, not manga or novels or fanart, but visual novels which are made almost universally with sexual content. Is there really a need to bother with what is arguably a non-existence market of Westerners who are both 1) interested in visual novels and 2) greatly offended by sexual content? Even I don’t think so, but Sekai Project thinks otherwise.
Or rather than thinking there is a market, perhaps it is more accurate to say they are trying to create the market. With official importations of visual novels which have their sexual content removed, the two largest barriers of language and sex are completely gone, meaning Christians now have far less reasons to refuse to at least try out these amazing stories. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s no certainty this will spark a huge importation of all ages visual novels. At the same time, it is promising and surprising, and to me, exciting. I once mentioned how visual novels were a major problem with ministering to otaku because Christians aren’t going to read VNs with sexual content. Japanese love it, and we’re repulsed by it. Narrowing down Christians who want to minister to otaku, to those who actually will read the clean ones, to those who don’t mind discussing such sexual content, to those who will actually read the R-18 ones means the population of Christians who can really effectively communicate in a loving manner to these people (and when I say loving, I am referring to love of the same interests, but of course the Christian sense is needed too) is effectively zero. But if Sekai Project can really establish an actual market for all ages VNs, and both old and new VNs start getting all ages English releases, then suddenly the blockades, which I just recently complained about, will all fall away.
But maybe this is less about Sekai Project, and more about steam, the platform with millions of users worldwide and which is also restrictive of sexual content. Sekai Project already released Planetarian on steam, and their recent Clannad kickstarter reached its goal in about 14 hours, but both of these were all ages to begin with. With the popularity of steam, marketing VNs becomes easier and definitely appeals to the population of people who are more on the fence about purchasing VNs. In fact, Mangagamer has plans to bring the Higurashi series to steam as well (actually, these plans started out as early as 2012, when it was first greenlighted on steam), despite already having established its own market in the West. In other words, it can viewed that the success of steam is being utilized by VN localization companies as a way to broaden their sales, and it just so happens that steam won’t distribute things with sexual content, so compromises are being made. Maybe I’m wrong and there are probably many other factors that went into this decision, but all I want to focus on is that a big name VN is specifically and officially getting its all ages version released in English.
Sekai Project is kickstarting the Grisaia translations which is said to begin sometime in November. Honestly the costs of voice licensing are really expensive, but I sure don’t mind if that means I get Aoyama Yukari. Then again, after seeing how fast Clannad reached its goal, there is zero doubt in my mind that the entire Grisaia -all ages- trilogy will be translated to English. This is, hopefully, only the beginning of bringing over specifically the all ages versions of visual novels to the Western market, most likely via steam. It is also important to note that Japanese visual novel companies historically have had no interest in exporting their games to the West. The relationship between unofficial fan translators and the Japanese companies has had its up and downs (*coughagecough*), but the important thing here is showing that there is actually a profitable market outside of Japan, much like we have done with anime. And while I don’t think the market of VNs will explode or anything like that, I would simply like to see the availability of translated, all ages VNs increase to the point where Christians can easily read these stories without having to worry about the R-18+ content, because that will be a very helpful thing in bridging the gap between Japanese otaku and Christian ministry.