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Old 02-16-2016, 08:57 PM
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Introduction, Pt. 2

- It's interesting that the rise of lesbian manga took maybe about 20 years to reach a really sizable audience, because there's been an interesting lesbian visual novel series that started in 2006, closer to like 12 years since the first major otome games came out.

- That series is called "A Kiss for the Petals". Which is, well, a double-entendre.

- You see, this is a series that's what they call a "nukige". Which is probably short for "nookie" "game". It's all about sex! There's plot, but it's almost entirely to contextualize the sex scenes. And it's all girls!

Mangagamer and Steam have one game from the series out, and it's also the one that's designed for all ages (as in, no sex), Remembering How We Met. While I haven't played it, it's probably pretty good, since even if the games' plot is otherwise mostly used to string along sex scenes, it's still not done thoughtlessly. In fact, on the Mangagamer blog, the director has a multi-part series on how the game was conceived and made.

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, and part eight.

- The summary is -- don't make it secretly about a boy, don't grow penises, and don't use toys!

- There's also another important note they have, which is to make it so that the people around the couples of interest are almost all girls, with the exception of a few family members; and also, make them supporting of the main characters' relationships, rather than suspicious or unaccepting of lesbianism. Not just girls loving girls: girls loving girls loving girls!

- I can certainly see why they would want to be conscious of the way the people around them treat the relationships. I'd rather a story try to stay away from negative sentiments about the relationship, even if it would make the work more true to real life. Even in the summary it reads as microaggressive, and the presence of that sort of dialogue certainly keeps me from being able to relax with the media I'm engaging with. It's the same sort of problem you might see with the way low-level enemies' dialogue dealt with Catwoman's gender. Parts of those ground rules sound unfriendly to trans women, but there are also a lot of stories (at least in manga) where those sorts of things happen, and sometimes seem to be done for the sake of authors and artists who can't seem to conceptualize the idea of sex between two people where neither one has a penis. In that regard, I'm glad they took up the creative challenge with the rules they did, though reading more detail about that reasoning puts me off.

- The games are short, and take maybe an hour or two to play through. But there are a lot of them. People really want their lesbian porn game series! Including the one already in English there are 15 main games, another 4 spinoff games, something like 14 light novels, 4 drama cds, and an anime OVA. Keeping track of it all...

- ...Well, it's ridiculously hard! And also difficult!

Jesus, T-Rex.

- The concept the games have, of a private girls' academy that serves as a lesbian paradise, is one that had some precedent. The most notable example of a story like this is probably Maria Watches Over Us, which was originally a light novel series starting in 1998 that became pretty big with manga and anime series adaptations starting in 2003 and 2004. It's a series that seems to represent high school romance in an authentic way, in that there's a lot of drama and tension that would be cleared up immediately if the characters knew how to express their feelings for each other. I still think I'd recommend it, but it's not what you'd turn to if you want an adult romance.

- Between the time frame and some of the specifics of the setting and characters, the Petals games especially start out feeling like the Cinemax porn parody version of Maria Watches. Character interactions can still feel pretty contrived, even if it's fun to see their feelings for each other develop over the course of the game. It's still definitely not a game selling itself on the strength of its narrative, and none of the games have what you'd think of as a branching narrative. It's really always a focus on a single couple.

- The game is apparently pretty popular outside of Japan, too. Not that it's hard to find people who are really rabid about getting to play games with teenage girls and sexual themes.

I think this is where one of us makes a snide comment about the variety of games available on Vita?

- The Petals games probably had a major influence on Liar-soft making this game. While this one is by accounts a significantly longer title -- Liar's games tend to sit in the 10-30 hour range for playthroughs -- it still has a lot of the same structure and feel, which you might have noticed if you've played some of the demo. It's still set in a high school, it focuses on about as many couples as the entire Petals series does over the course of its many games, and once again there really isn't a lot of branching to be had in the game. The tone of the series pushes a little more humorous than a lot of the other Liar games we've seen, and visually it matches with the lighter style and real-world settings of Petals. There's also the main conceit, which I don't want to get into before we even start the story, but which seems to be about finding ways to make the contrived scenarios in the Petals games feel a little more grounded and plausible.

- Plus, the nature of the relationship of the two characters in the first scenario of this game is built around a similar dynamic to the couple in the first game, to the point where the similarities really don't feel coincidental. I think that Petals had a significant influence on this game, to the point where this one almost certainly couldn't have existed if it didn't prove there was an audience for it. But given the similarity and the nature of opinions on the internet, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a Cola Wars-style dynamic over rival fandoms for this game and the Petals series, especially given the way the concept was so thoroughly appropriated. I guess if there's any real distinguishing factor, then, it's going to be in the way things are executed and your personal level of comfort over lots of explicit depictions of high schoolers having sex.

- Speaking of which, there is no sexual content in the Kindred Spirits demo.

Unofficial translations of the Petals games are out there if you're that interested in checking them out, but I definitely agree with the idea they're really not games you play for the plot. I certainly don't think a let's play of one of them would ever be in the cards for me. You'd basically be left with maybe a fifth of the game, and these are already quite short games to begin with.

They're still better than Sakura Spirit, though. For one thing they don't pussyfoot around play wink-and-nudge with sexual themes in a puerile manner the way Sakura Spirit does, and aren't trying as hard to appeal to inane fetishes. No foxgirls tripping into the vat of chocolate.

Relative to its contemporary peers, the art in this game is pretty restrained. It's by an artist by the name of Peg (or, sometimes, Peggy), whose works are mind-blowingly difficult to find. But I started following her on Pixiv probably around the same time the game came out in Japan, early 2012, likely from some art in the game becoming popular. Of course, not knowing much Japanese I didn't realize that she was doing art for a girls' love visual novel; by the time the game was announced last year I wouldn't have even remembered it as a thing. But, honestly, she's done some of my favorite art on Pixiv, and so I'm sorta happy in a bewildered way that it's her art that's in the first unedited Steam VN release. Sort of the way you might feel to find your favorite band on the radio and everyone you know who listens winds up liking the song too.

I'd like to tell you more about Peg's work, but there just isn't much to point to outside of this series: illustrations for two light novels and four drama CD spinoffs. There's also a little more art for the packaging of some manga spinoffs, but not the art for the mangas themselves, which were done by other artists who do more longform work on the regular. Given the lack of any public persona and a fairly small body of work, I'm left unable to figure out just how she wound up working on the project in the first place, but I'm certainly glad that it happened. I'm also happy enough to leave it there, because even one stalker of Japanese gamedevs is one too many.

I think I'm starting to near the character limit of part two here, so I think this is as good a place to sign up. I think we've learned a lot here about visual novels, romantic manga, and the culture surrounding them.

- You also learned probably way more than you ever wanted about my porn reading habits! So thanks for sticking this far in.

- That's the phrasing you chose?

- Yes, please end this post now.

Next time we'll actually get into this game! Won't that be fun?
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