Shunga

Japonism of the 21st Century – Eroge is Culture too! (Part Two)

“Dirty” Cultures Swept Under the Rug

It isn’t only the old things, Japan also tends to reject cultural activities that relate to certain themes. These include creations that have strong political themes or violent scenes, but especially “ero” (the Japanese short for eroticsm) is especially well-known.
Those that are accepted as artistic expression in other places may not be treated in Japan as such, and may even be rejected from art museums and centers of research or preservation. This is in a country where adult magazines are placed on the shelves of convenience stores at every corner. An absolutely baffling situation from the perspective of a Frenchman.
The recent “Shunga” (春画, Ukiyo-e with erotic themes) exhibition is a good example. Shunga is treated as a form of art for its unique expression and is an object of admiration. But in Japan, this form of expression from a century ago is treated more like pornography, a taboo of sorts, rather than a form of art. This makes large-scale exhibitions nearly impossible because of the difficulty of finding sponsors and the fear of complaints. This time, after much difficulty, an exhibition will finally be held in September. At the same time, within the film industry, we have movies like “In the Realm of the Senses”, which haven’t been able to be aired fully in theatres because of their sensitive content.

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Shunga Exhibition at Alte Pinakothek in Paris (2014-2015)


“Ero” as Merchandise, “Ero” as Art

Walking around in Shinjuku we can find signboards of brothels and such. At the same time, the shop windows of convenience stores of streets where children often pass by have magazine covers of semi-nude women lined along them. Yet in art museums, cameramen and artists who take their work seriously have their work censored, and movie critics are forced to go to Europe to see certain movies in full. This current situation in a whole is absolutely mind-boggling.
In France, we separate sexual content into merchandise and art, a very clear distinction. Merchandise is kept out of plain sight, but in galleries and similar places, we respect the creators fully to allow for criticism and research. Furthermore, even if something was treated as merchandise, once it has been brought to the realm of art, it will be treated as such from then on, open to admiration and discussion in artistic terms.
We treat this sort of platform as a matter of fact and, of course, sensational works invite their share of criticism. All of that included, this kind of discourse is required for the creation of new works.

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One of the Shunga available for viewing at the National Library of France (online digital archive)


Losing Cultural Treasures

Japan hold “common sense” and “order” in high regard, so perhaps art has to be reduced to a position where those can function properly. The preservation of shunga from the Edo period and erotic movies from the 80s have faced resistance because of the taboo on them. Even if we consider other kinds of content, such as products developed as merchandise, or art that has a limited number of audience, or creation that is not recognized as art, the exhibition or research of them is difficult. Game preservation is the ultimate example.
In other countries, games have already been recognized as art and research on the preservation of them has begun. The government and universities of Japan are, slowly but surely, moving towards the same direction, but there is still a strong sentiment that games should not be treated as art. Even Ukiyo-e was originally produced as merchandise. Even some of the works of da Vinci and Bach, whose works are now considered, undeniably, art have some that were ordered, and therefore are merchandise.
If Europeans thought of these as merchandise and not art and discarded them throughout the years, what would be left in our world now? Cultural treasures should not be preserved “after” they are considered a treasure. Japan has lost many of its treasures because of this. It is about time we change this.

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The Movie, “Madam Black Rose” (団鬼六 黒薔薇夫人) by Oniroku Dan of Nikkatsu Roman Porno (1978)


Let’s talk about Eroge.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan has announced a consumer game database called the Media Art Database this year. This was a movement to acknowledge games as a part of the culture, along with manga etc., but it excludes information of the eroge of many platforms, including the NES.
I am honestly glad that the country has moved towards accepting games as art but, as with shunga, sexual content being excluded from lists for research and preservation purposes is, I think, wrong. Eroge as a genre is very intriguing as it is unique to Japan and not seen anywhere else in the world. Eroge is different from pornography elsewhere, exhibiting a variety of creative effort, making it display uniquely Japanese characteristics. The eroge of the 80s, especially, did not get introduced overseas because of platform issues. They are so unique and creative that if they were reappraised, I wouldn’t be surprised if an exhibition would be held for it in somewhere in Europe.
Since Japan is exporting anime, manga and other material under “Cool Japan”, they should also do the same for the eroge of the 80s. Instead, they exclude them from their lists and seem to feel a sort of embarrassment of treating eroge as a part of the culture.

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The label of the Game “Do Dutch Wives Dream of Electric Eels? ” (1984)


Let’s Act Now, for the Future

Quite often we are told “Don’t tell me you preserve eroge as well” The answer to that is yes we do because we feel that any kind of material may be reviewed in the future and its value rediscovered. More so for material that is ostracized by many other organizations.
I always say that if Japanese games of the 80s degrade and are lost, that would mean they would be erased from history forever. The Japan-made PCs of the 80s only exist in Japan, and the floppy disks from that time are already starting to grow mold and their data are lost. Even if they were made as merchandise, or if they contained erotic content.
These contents are endemic to Japan and are very vulnerable. So Japan should prioritize their protection, shouldn’t they? To entice the world with more Japanese culture, Japan should be cool with preserving and researching erotic content. In that way, Japan can truly be “Cool Japan”. I too love Japan as one of its people, and I will continue to support this country in the field of game preservation so that it can become a cultural power in the world.

Game Preservation Society, Joseph REDON
Translated by Ming TEE

Read part one.

※The copyright of images belongs to their rightful owners.

Zipang

Japonism of the 21st Century – Eroge is Culture too! (Part One)

The Legend of Zipang

Europeans have had a strong sentiment and respect for Eastern culture since ancient times. We listen enviously to the stories of friends who travel to Japan on vacation. The modesty and sensitivity of the Japanese were a breath of fresh air for boorish Europeans.

The legend of the golden Zipang had been known throughout the western culture since the beginning of the 16th century. But it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century, when the World Expo was held in Paris, that the popularity of Japan exploded. Famous artists like Manet and Van Gogh were mesmerized by Ukiyo-e, while Debussy and others were taken away by exotic melodies. The traditional arts of Japan, such as Ukiyo-e, Noh, and Kabuki, produced many fans amongst intellectuals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even now, in the 21st century, many people are still being inspired by them.

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Vincent van Gogh, “Almond Blossom” (1890)


“Grendizer”: a New Japonism?

Now, a shamisen placed in front of a Japanese folding screen might make a pretty picture, but there are new aspects of Japanese culture that haven’t been introduced to France in this age of air travel. Yes, that would be anime.

The movie “Grendizer” aired in theaters around in 1978. This was when I was still a child. For whatever reason, the 3rd in the “Mazinger Z” series, which wasn’t even that popular in Japan, was a big hit in France. Even the tv series got aired almost immediately. And with that, the French dubbed version of “Grendizer” was available in the households all over France. Even I, who was a kindergartener then, got so absorbed in “Grendizer” I shouted out the names of Grendizer’s signature moves so much I had to be taught a lesson by my teacher. And actually, “Grendizer” had developed a cult following in France leading to the sales of the French-dubbed version of the movie theme reaching 1.35 million, one of the JASRAC(Japan’s music copyright group)’s best-selling records. By the way, “Grendizer” is known as “Goldorak” in France.

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“Grendizer”, the French movie poster


Showa Era Heroes Enter Europe

The popularity of “Grendizer” did not end there. Since “Grendizer” was popular, other works should have the same popularity. And so one after another, Japan’s anime series were dubbed and aired in France. “Candy Candy”, “Captain Harlock” and a variety of other series were among them. “Harlock” was especially popular enough that the creator, Reiji Matsumoto, became a famous figure in France. In fact, his fame sparked a collaboration with Daft Punk in “Interstellar 5555”. In addition to that, “The Mysterious Cities of Gold”, “Ulysses 31” and others were titles which were made in Japan, by request from France, for France airing.

The exporting of heroes and heroines popular with kids in Japan did not end there. It went so far as to include sentai titles that make you think “There’s no way people outside Japan would like this ! “. And yes, even those were big hits for some reason. “Choudenshi Bioman” still comes up as a topic, “Space Sheriff Gavan” was equally popular, “Message from Space: Galactic Wars” is known as “San Ku Kai” and enjoyed nation-wide popularity.

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“The Mysterious Cities of Gold”, French label


The Secret to a Hit is the Gaijin Perspective!

Just like how Manet and Van Gogh’s popularity began in France, so did the popularity of the new Japan craze of Showa era anime and sentai titles. There is one thing I would like to emphasize, that is the majority of “cultural exports” of Japan are actually the result of active and enthusiastic importing by the western cultures. These titles are not titles that the Japanese think would sell overseas. It is we, the “Gaijins”, who just thought they were interesting and decided to bring them over.

Today, Japan is using “Cool Japan” as a slogan to export its culture, but it is us, the consumers, the “Gaijins” who actually have an idea about what will sell. What the Japanese consider as “interesting” about Japan, may not necessarily equal to what foreigners consider as “interesting”. If we look at the lineup of anime hits post-1970, we can see that titles that were popular in Japan (Lupin the Third, or Osamu Tezuka’s works) did not get the same reception in Europe. It is those titles that were unpopular in Japan that somehow gained popularity.

The Japonism from a century ago also originated from pieces of Ukiyo-e, which sparked a craze regardless, even in spite of, the evaluation it received in Japan at the time. History repeats itself.


Parts of Culture to “Keep” or to “Discard”

From Ukiyo-e to anime, things that were not regarded that highly within Japan become objects of high-value as an expression of that which is Japanese upon arriving in Europe. This pattern has been repeated over centuries. Items that are generally discarded as things of no value in Japan which are in turn valued by Europeans and kept as art pieces are not uncommon.

Some Showa era anime series have disappeared from Japanese TV studios, whether it is to free up some space or save film costs, and when they want to republish it as DVDs or rerun it on TV, it seems they often reimport it from Europe. A culture that “Discards” used items and a culture which has a sense of duty in “Keep”ing old items, I feel that this might be the difference between Japan and Western cultures.
Europeans feel that anything that is made and enjoyed by people has to be respected and preserved. When one person recognizes something as art, then there is every reason to preserve it as a piece of art. Even if there is no consensus on the value of a piece of art, the act of preserving it for generations to come is essential. Old films, old paintings, and old buildings are all things that people in Europe have preserved over the centuries. These are now the power of the countries in the form of tourism and culture.

Japan replaces the old with the new, and as long as the majority does not identify the cultural value their creations, there will be no action taken to preserve them, especially the originals. The discarding, without mercy, of items that did not have a chance to be acknowledged, whether on its own or as a cultural symbol, is more common than it should be allowed.

Read part two.

Game Preservation Society, Joseph REDON
Translated by Ming TEE

Galactic Wars 1

Preserving Nihon Falcom’s First Game

As our name shows, we are a group working to preserve games. Our target includes a wide variety of games including arcade games, home video games, PC games etc. This time, we will be showing how we preserve our games using a game from the dawn of PC gaming – “Galactic wars 1”.

■ The History of Nihon Falcom

Nihon Falcom has its base in Tachikawa, Tokyo. It was founded in 1981 as “Computer Land Tachikawa”, a computer shop selling mainly Apple products.  The following year, they produced and sold their first PC game. 1984’s “Dragon Slayer”, 1985’s “Xanadu” and 1987’s “Ys” and “Sorcerian” being big hits of the time established Falcom’s status as a powerful competitor in the world of PC gaming. They are a time-tested company still making popular games such as the “Trails of Cold Steel” titles under “The Legend of Heroes” series.

■ What is “Galactic Wars”?

One of Falcom’s memorable works is “Galactic Wars 1”, a Sci-fi simulation game.

The creator of “Galactic Wars”, Yoshio KIYA, was a regular customer at Computer Land Tachikawa. He was famous later for making the “Dragon Slayer” series. The PC gaming magazines of the time called him the Star Programmer.

“Galactic Wars 1” was a product of Kiya’s hobby, programming. Falcom, a computer shop at the time, decided to publish it. And that was how it debuted. “Galactic Wars” was not the only one, Falcom’s early games were almost exclusively made by their regulars. They only started making their own games when business picked up around 1984.

“Galactic Wars” was written in BASIC. Kiya developed it on an FP-1100 by Casio which was rented to him by Falcom, and so it was sold as a game on FP-1100.  Even though it was later sold on NEC’s PC-8801 and PC-9801, it was ultimately published by a small, obscure shop. Which meant that there was only a limited supply. Because of that, it is almost unseen on second-hand shops and internet auctions, making it very, very rare.

■ Stumbling Upon an Actual Copy

We at the Game Preservation Society had the luck to stumble upon this very, very rare piece. It all started because this author had a chance to come in contact with Mr. Kiya.

Unbelievably, he had a copy of almost every game he made at Falcom, all of them unopened. It seems he only had it for sentimental purposes, but these games are very valuable in terms of preservation

After numerous conversations with Mr. Kiya, we had the opportunity to explain and convince him about the importance of preservation. When we explained how important his collection was, he generously placed an unopened copy of “Galactic Wars 1″(PC-8801 version) in our care, for preservation.

■ Saving Floppy Disk Data

This is the package we received from Mr. Kiya.

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Summer in Japan is hot and humid, which means the first problem we face is “mold”. If there is moisture, the magnetic disk of a floppy disk is a healthy environment for mold. Not only are we unable to read a floppy disk with mold, the disk is also at risk of being damaged.

Opening the package. A nervous moment.

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The floppy disk sleeve and manual that came out looked mold-free and clean at first glance. But under further inspection, we found that there were wrinkles that were a result of water drying off, evidence that they were exposed to moisture.

The floppy disk. This looked to be in good condition at first glance, but look at it from the side we found that it was slightly bent. There was uncertainty that we would be able to read the data. We spun the magnetic disk to check for mold and sure enough, there were some, not large patches, but they were there.

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Before we start preservation, we need to clean off the mold. We dab a special cloth in 100% isopropyl alcohol and wipe off gently the mold.

Once we have wiped the mold off, we check the condition of the disk. For this disk, there are only 40 tracks used, so we read the 41st track and see what happens with the disk, physically.

Fortunately, the magnetic disk was not damaged and did not peel off because of the bend. Since it was perfectly readable, we move on to the preservation phase.

We use KryoFlux for preservation. KryoFlux is a device that can read the source data on floppy disks. It was co-developed by our current president, Joseph REDON, for the preservation of Japan made games.
The floppy disk of “Galactic Wars 1” is already 30 years old, so we could not expect to be able to read it as many times as we needed. It would be ideal if we could save all the data in one reading. But as we proceeded with the process, we found 1 spot that was unreadable and 1 spot which possibly was not read properly.

Galactic Wars Gamepres

The image above shows the surface of the floppy disk, the formatted sectors looks light green and the parts that look a darker green is where the game data is written. Parts of the section that should be dark green appeared to be bluish and could be the cause of problems in the process.

We removed the disk and cleaned it of mold, again, and repeat the process. The section that was unstable the last time showed the same result so we concluded that it had been read properly.

However, the part that could not be read the last time also showed the same error. It could be that mold wasn’t the reason after all and the disk is just damaged. We remained hopeful and cleaned it for the third time and repeated the process.

And the result of our third try is…….

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Success!

The part that was bluish in the previous image had been turned dark green. All of us at the scene were filled with excitement and relief.

With that, the preservation of “Galactic Wars 1” had been a success. Once the data has been preserved, it is available as a disc image to play on emulators.

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This game is set around the planet “M23” of the Galactic Alliance which is under attack by the Third Empire. Players are in control of the alpha fleet which is charged to protect the planet. The difficulty can be set from 1 to 3. The player commands scout ships from the planet (PLANET-M23) and 2 ships (FALCON and UNICON), a total of 3 scout ships, to search for enemy ships. The command phase has a time limit. A clock with just one hand measures this. Once the hand has made one round around the clock time is up. Commands have to be completed within this time so there is a certain element of real-time strategy in it.  This is something in common with “Dragon Slayer” which came after. The fleet and scout ships can be controlled by direction (24 directions on a 360-degree surface) and speed (1~50). If any of them encounter enemy ships, battle will commence using predetermined attacking and defending ships’ stats. The player clears the game by destroying 3 ships. The game required strategic decisions in a semi-realtime environment, and by standards of the time, it was considered “playable”.

By the way, “Galactic Wars 1” deletes part of its booting sequence upon starting the game and rewrites it when you start gameplay. What this means is that if you don’t follow proper procedures after booting the game, the data will be lost forever. This is thought to be an anti-piracy trap and a pretty “evil” one at that. Because of this, even if we had a used copy of “Galactic Wars 1”, we have no guarantee that the data is intact. So it is vitally important that we found an unopened package.

■ Preserving the Jacket and Manual

We don’t only preserve the data on the floppy disk. The jacket and the manual are also subjects of preservation. So the next step is to digitally scan the jacket and manual.

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While doing this, if the paper is not completely flat, there will be space between the surface of the scanner and the paper, making the quality of the scan less than ideal. To prevent this, we remove the jacket from the box and file it while stretching it out flat.

The actual scanning process only starts after over 6 months. Compared to 6 months before, the bent paper will be almost completely flat.
We then prepare to do the scanning. Firstly, to prevent any dust from getting onto the scanning surface, we use a special cleaning kit to clean the surrounding area, as well as the scanning surface. If we use auto-correcting functions of the scanner, we might get unexpected distortions in the resulting data, so all these functions are disabled to get a completely raw image of the jacket.  To ease the process of repairing the image after digitization, the resolution is set to 800dpi.

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We place a ruler beside the scanning surface where the jacket is positioned for scanning. By doing this we can get a measurement of the scanned image. We also use a grey-colored board for the background of the image. Grey because it has minimal interference on the colors The board also has a dedicated calibrated color palette which tells us if the color on the original image has faded.

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We use Photoshop to mend the image, Any damage or dust on the image is removed. We were lucky this time because the jacket had minimal damage so large-scale mending was needed. In cases where that is needed, such as when the jacket is torn or severely faded, we need to prepare several copies.

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The result is this.

The original paper that it was printed on was orange, so the image itself is black and white.
Back in the days, Falcom used different kinds of paper (in color or otherwise) for different computer models. So the FP-1100 version and PC-9801 versions might have different packaging colors.
What this means is if we print the image on the same paper, we can recreate the jacket.

■ Ending Comments

With this, we are very lucky to be able to preserve a piece of very rare software.

Members the Game Preservation Society have contributed a lot to our collection of games, but even so, there are many valuable games that we do not possess. As they all require a lot of work to successfully preserve, and we only have limited manpower, our progress is very slow.  If anyone out there is interested in preserving this part of Japanese culture, please do consider working with us. Every little help is appreciated.

Our organization will always be working towards preserving all games.

Game Preservation Society, Takeshi KANAZAWA
Translated by Ming TEE

*Package and game images belong to the original copyright holder.