PC Engine

PC Engine Creator Memories

No Memories Left Behind

When you think about the subject of game preservation, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A lot of people view it as amassing huge game collections. I should know because I used to think about it that way myself.

Here’s the problem with that mentality, though: if game preservation is defined purely in relation to game collecting, then what criteria should be used to determine which games make the cut and which don’t? When I first met Joseph Redon, the chairman of the Game Preservation Society, I asked him just that, about how we were supposed to decide who would pick the games to preserve for future generations and how would they would then make those calls. The answer that he gave me really stunned me.

“Every game should be preserved,” he answered. “After all, there might well be games that aren’t well regarded today that will go on to be better appreciated and understood in the future. That’s why it’s also important to not just preserve the games themselves, but also their packaging, their manuals, even the techniques and memories of people who played them during their heyday.”

I remember thinking it was a really tall order trying to preserve literally every game, albeit one worth pursuing. If such a vision was ever going to be achieved, it certainly couldn’t be done alone; it’d take the help and support of a lot of dedicated people to make it a reality. Knowing that, while I didn’t have anything special to contribute in terms of skills or even just the games I owned, I decided to join up with Joseph and his team anyway to try and make some sort of difference.

My Senior Coworker: Designer of the PC Engine

Years and years ago, I used to work at NEC Home Electronics and just by chance, I happened work with someone who was involved with designing the PC Engine. It’s not every day you meet someone who helped bring about such an iconic piece of video game hardware and it’s been something of a lingering dream of mine for a long time to be able to talk to them about their involvement.

I first learned about the connection soon after joining the company. Back then, however, I had no published experience as a writer, let alone conducted an interview before, so I sat on that desire to interview them for a good 20 years or so. But after Joseph told me about his mission to preserve every game to such a definitive degree, I felt it was time to act and make that interview happen, seeing as how, again, preserving memories about games is just as important to us at the Society as preserving the games themselves.

The timing for doing so couldn’t have been any better. This coworker of mine recently retired at long last and while attending their farewell party, I finally summoned the courage to ask them if they would be willing to discuss their history with the PC Engine. Luckily for me, they graciously accepted. The main thing I decided to focus on in the interview was how the planning and design process went for the PC Engine from NEC’s side. Much has been written over the years about the technology that Hudson contributed to the system and while that’s all well and good, I thought it was important to also discuss NEC’s side of the story as a collaborator, too, while the people involved with it are still around to talk about it.

I sat down with my former coworker one chilly autumn day in Shibuya in 2015 to discuss times long past, the clouds above threatening to rain. The text of that interview follows below. One thing to note, however, is that this coworker wanted to remain anonymous, so for the duration of the interview, they’ll be referred to simply as “K.”


■ K’S Involvement with PCs and Games

Numa: Were you interested in computers and games as a student?

K: I was, yeah. I first came into contact with NEC working part-time for them writing demo programs and technical manuals designed for programmers. After I graduated from university, I ended up joining NEC full-time and from there, I was assigned to their PC division.

Even when as a high school student, K was really into computers. He’d read all sorts of magazines about them, not just ones published in Japan, but from around the world. And after they started going to university, they joined a research society that was dedicated to amateur radio and computers. Not long after they entered that school, NEC released the PC-8001 and they went out and bought it immediately.

Numa: So you were already interested in PCs just as they were starting to take off.

K: Somewhat. If we’re being technical, I wasn’t exactly there from the very beginning. I missed the first generation of them, I guess you could say, by about three or four years.

Numa: What about games? Were you into those at all? What did you think of arcades back then?

K: Oh yeah, I was really into games, too. I used to go to arcades a lot to play stuff like Space Invaders. Those games could really eat into your wallet if you let them, so after buying that PC-8001, I actually made my own block-breaking and mahjong games, which was a lot of fun.

■ The New Guy at NEC

Numa: What sort of work did you do once you joined NEC full-time?

K: Like I mentioned before, I was initially assigned to work in their former PC division. I wanted to help make hardware, so I’d go around talking to third-parties about a variety of things, like what architecture we should go with next, whether the sound needed a boost. Things like that.

Numa: What about sprites? What did you think about the limitations and how to improve those capabilities?

K: When I first started, we were bound by two things: sheer cost and the limit of large scale integration technology. This meant that we couldn’t have sprites that overlapped one another. We had it by the time we got to the PC-88VA since that was a 16-bit PC, which had a modest sprite architecture powering it.

Numa: Did you play the Famicom at all when that came out?

K: Definitely. The company bought one as soon as that was out and I messed around with that, although that was mostly because it had the word “computer” right in the name, I’ll admit. (Laughs.) Of course, I ended up buying one for myself, too.

To provide additional context to these remarks, when K first joined NEC, the first half of every work year at their division was spent on product planning, with the remaining time afterwards to doing programming for systems and other related areas. In 1985, their third year at the company, NEC’s PC division was merged with NEC Home Electronics, with K subsequently assigned to their personal electronics section afterwards.

As the name NEC Home Electronics would suggest, that portion of the company was concerned with consumer level electronics, giving people like K easy access to video game consoles to play and examine during work hours. It was also around this time that the seminal Super Mario Bros. also came out, turning up the heat up on the nascent Japanese home video game industry.

K: I don’t think this has been widely reported over the years, but in 1985, in a lone room inside its old headquarters, NEC set up a taskforce dedicated to getting the company into the game console business. This taskforce was made up of four people in all: myself, a member from the sales team, and two other people. The four of us spent about three months, all told, looking into what it would take for the company to enter the console market.

During that time, we examined a lot about the Famicom, why it was so successful, what its weaknesses were, the business model behind it, things like that. In the mornings, we’d play Super Mario Bros. (Laughs.) Then in the afternoon, we’d go around talking to developers and publishers as we tried to formulate our battle plan. Not only were we trying to figure out what sort of machine we should make to surpass the Famicom, but what sort of strengths did we have as a company that we could put into this machine to really make it shine.

When it came to our business model, we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t just reuse our existing practices with PCs part and parcel. Instead, we needed to bring in developers more closely and get them to work for our platform under a royalty-based system. On the hardware side of things, the easiest way we figured the system could stand out in contrast to the Famicom was by providing superior graphics and audio hardware so that developers could express themselves better. Given that NEC Home Electronics was also involved in helping to establish CD-ROMs as a storage medium, we also decided it’d be worthwhile to have our machine support those, as well.

Numa: That’s amazing to hear you were all thinking of using CD-ROMs in the system as early as 1985. That’s really ahead of your time! Did you guys set out to execute your plans on entering the industry after deciding on all that?

K: Yes and no. At its heart, in those days, NEC was still a device and equipment manufacturer at its heart, so for us, making a console back then meant that we needed to find outside collaborators on the processor and software side of things. So after the taskforce was disbanded, upper management at the company spent about a year seeking out partners that would be up to the task.

Luckily for us, Hudson was also engaged in similar activities as us at the team, so we teamed up with them and Seiko Epson to get the job done. Once we had those two companies on board, that was when we got really serious about getting into game consoles, at which point I came back to help with more investigatory work.

Having Hudson on board in particular was important to us. They already had experience developing games for the Famicom and knew that system inside and out. We figured that by combining that knowledge with our CD-ROM technology, we could create a force to be reckoned with in the marketplace.

CoreGrafx 2

■ Planning and Developing the PC Engine

Numa: I guess now’s as good of a time as any to ask if you could clarify the meaning behind “PC Engine” as the system’s name. I know I read somewhere in an article before that the “Engine” part refers to how the console is structured around its hardware core. But does the “PC” part refer to computers like what NEC was working on?

K: More or less, yes. PC, of course, was meant to refer to personal computing. It was part of the name because we wanted our machine to be about more than just about its games, to be a big part of people’s day-to-day life.

Numa: A lot of people fondly remember the PC Engine for the quality of its arcade game ports. Was this something you guys deliberately planned for when formulating the system?

K: That was more of a consequence of everyone at NEC wanting to push CD-ROM technology than a deliberate attempt at courting arcade game developers. It was a question of how we could clearly show consumers that our hardware was superior to the Famicom without making the PC Engine prohibitively expensive to produce. We gave the system what we could to justify the CD-ROM support, which in turned happened to make it friendly to arcade game ports, as well.

Numa: It’s definitely a distinct approach when you compare the PC Engine to the Mega Drive, which was more directly based on arcade architecture at the time.

K: The thing about arcade hardware back then was that it used expensive memory modules willy-nilly, but if you tried doing that with consumer hardware, it’d make the purchase price jump up considerably. When it came to the architecture behind things like how sprites on the PC Engine worked, that was Hudson’s work and in my opinion, their insight gave us the best hardware design on that front that we could ever hope for at the time.

Numa: Even still, considering the system sold for 24,800 yen, I remember thinking it was an expensive piece of technology, even more so than the Famicom back then.

K: It’s worth pointing out that even at that price point, we weren’t making any profit on the hardware. Software royalties actually helped us lessen the blow. If we had tried to recoup our research and development for the hardware directly through the console, I bet you it would have come in at somewhere around 50,000, maybe even 70,000 yen.

CoreGrafx 2

■ Post-Launch PC Engine Hardware

Numa: I think one of the things that makes the PC Engine so fascinating today is how many different variations just based on the core console there are. Were things like the SuperGrafx designed with the Mega Drive and Super Famicom in mind?

K: Not particularly, truth be told. NEC in general had a history of providing different grades of hardware from low end, entry level stuff to more high end products that were designed for enthusiasts. Things like the SuperGrafx were essentially an extension of that philosophy.

Numa: On a similar note, one thing I always found curious was why you could find PC Engine hardware embedded in things like Sharp’s X1 Twin, but not in any of NEC’s own computers. Why was that?

K: The problem with integrating something like a PC Engine into a more typical computer is that you have to develop multiple motherboards in order to properly accommodate the different hardware on both ends. Our idea to get around that was to integrate the PC Engine hardware inside a PC monitor instead and bypass the issue altogether, which we did with the PC-KD863G. In the case of the X1 Twin, I’m pretty sure Sharp had the two sides operate in isolation of one another in order to circumvent that same issue.

Numa: The LD-ROM² is also a really interesting beast. That was a Pioneer product, but I think NEC Home Electronics also put it out, too. What was the thinking at NEC behind those sorts of collaborations at the time?

K: By the time the LD-ROM² came out, I wasn’t involved in such things anymore, but generally speaking, NEC was just the sort of company that would give most anything a shot if they had the means to do so. In the post-Famicom age especially, they were really gung-ho about those sorts of experiments.

Numa: Was there a time during your work on the PC Engine that you recall as being especially exciting for you?

K: Hmm… Not that it wasn’t an exciting time to work on it, because it certainly was, but the thing that sticks out to me about the PC Engine looking back on it now is how it slowly, but surely grew up to be its own thing in the world of video games. I mean, eventually, a number of magazines were founded that were dedicated to it and it got more and more exposure on TV over time.

Numa: I’m sure you must be proud of that.

K: I am, but the PC Engine only took up about a fifth of my career. (Laughs.) The bulk of it was still in PCs.

Numa: I think most people would jump at the chance to devote even that much of their career to something like that, you know! (Laughs.)

While their work on the PC Engine might not have been their primary focus in the grand scheme of things, it’s not the only game-related hardware with which K was involved in creating. They also helped with planning on the PC-88VA and wrote its BASIC language interpreter. People who know their PC history will know the PC-88VA as a 16-bit computer with sprite functionality embedded in the hardware, making it a rather game-friendly computer.

Numa: After it’s all been said and done, do you think NEC made the right choice by getting into the game hardware business?

K: I’d say so, yes. There’s certainly a long history of turning PCs into video game hardware in general. The PC Engine wasn’t even our first real foray into that arena in a sense. The PC-8801mkIISR before it was certainly built with video games in mind.

Numa: That’s a good point. In that sense, the PC Engine is a spiritual successor of sorts, part of NEC’s computer lineage.

■ Post-Launch PC Engine Software

It goes without saying that you can make the best game hardware in the world, but it’s nothing without a good lineup of software to back it up and the PC Engine was no different. NEC wasn’t content to leave actual game development system solely to third parties. To that end, it did things like establish NEC Avenue in order to make its own mark on the platform. Nevertheless, in addition to Hudson’s significant contributions to the system, when it came to third parties, companies like Konami and Sega were also critical to the success that the platform enjoyed.

Numa: Back when the console wars were still raging, I was a Mega Drive fan myself, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous that the PC Engine had some heavy hitters like Gradius in its corner. It felt like Konami only ever put out its best work on that to a degree. (Laughs.)

K: You’re not wrong. Konami came on board by way of Hudson, who they were plenty friendly with and shared deep business ties. During the PC Engine days, NEC ranked and prioritized its third party developers in various ways. Konami was considered to be among the top of the heap and got really preferential treatment when it came to the contracts we shared with them and the like.

Numa: Sega also had a noticeable presence on the PC Engine with some of its tent pole titles like Space Harrier.

K: Games like that were what NEC Avenue tended to take on. If, say, we couldn’t risk putting a game out through our main brand or something other circumstantial reason prevented us from more directly putting something out, then we’d turn to NEC Avenue and have them take the project on.

■ The Convergence

While the PC Engine managed to carve its own place in the marketplace, eventually, change was in the air as the industry transitioned into a new generation of hardware. In 1991, K was put in charge of the PC Engine Duo, a hardware revision designed to be essentially the complete and total package for the PC Engine experience. After helping plan out what would come next for the system after that, they returned to working at NEC’s headquarters.

Meanwhile, in the wake of NEC’s PC-88VA, the company sought to collate its efforts in 16-bit computing with the realization of the PC-9801. For their part, K was once again involved in planning the PC-98DO, which was backwards compatible with PC-8801 programs, in turn helping the company unify the resources it had built up for its previous generation of computing hardware.

Numa: The concept of the core structure for the PC Engine had a lot of potential, I feel like. Was there anything more you wish you could’ve achieved with it if you’d had the opportunity?

K: Overall, I think we did a good job of showing what the PC Engine could offer as an expandable computer terminal of sorts for homes. But, I will admit that I’d wanted to give it additional communications capabilities, like how Nintendo managed to make the Wii an early networked device that worked within the confines of the living room.

The problem on our end was mostly one of timing. During the PC Engine’s life cycle, computers were moving away from directly communicating with one another to operating over more widespread networks and ultimately the Internet. We were just a little too early to create a machine that could both be hooked up to a TV and readily do that sort of networked communication.

Numa: This is just a hypothetical question, but if the PC Engine had fared better overseas, do you think NEC would’ve committed to making a successor to it?

K: The main reason why there was no proper successor to the PC Engine, to put it simply, is that we just weren’t able to come up with a polygonal graphics architecture and accompanying development environment for a console that developers would find compelling. It wouldn’t have been enough even to just take existing PC graphics technology and slap it inside a console frame.

We needed an external partner to make it work, but we were never able to find one. And it couldn’t have just been any old company, either. We needed a defining piece of technology for a successor that could justify its existence and hardware like the CD-ROM technology did for the PC Engine, but we just didn’t have it. We didn’t have any more secret weapons we could rely on to make that critical dent.

■ The PC Engine’s Legacy

Numa: If you were to summarize what the PC Engine meant to you and the company, what would you say?

K: That’s a tough one. There are a lot of angles you can take to look back on it. I guess I’ll say that if it wasn’t the PC Engine, NEC Home Electronics wouldn’t have existed for as long as it did for those five years.

The thing to remember is that when it was founded, the center of the home electronics business was quickly moving towards Taiwan and Southeast Asia. If the business was to stay within Japan, it had to be capable of producing something that couldn’t be made anywhere else. And in that sense, I think they made the right move for the time to make NEC Home Electronics the game console manufacturing arm.

Numa: It’s hard to ask for much more than as one of the designers behind it, I’m sure.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come talk to me today.

In Conclusion

As I put the final touches on this article after interviewing K, I’d like to express my gratitude for this opportunity once again.

Many thanks to K for sitting down with me and having this long conversation. While we sometimes got on a tangent about their work on the PC88 line of computers, seeing as they were in charge of that as well, I feel that, overall, this interview covered a lot of interesting ground about the PC Engine’s inception and progress as time went on. It’s the first time I’ve ever put together an interview like this, but I’m really glad I did now, so that these memories could be preserved for posterity.

And on that note, I’d like to conclude by asking all of you readers to think about how you, too, can help preserve game history. Big or small, it all matters in its own way.

Thank you for reading this article!

Yours truly,

Game Preservation Society, Takayuki NUMA

Photos by Eddy BRIEREPhotos by Eddy BRIERE

Translated by Thomas James

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.


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.


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.


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…….



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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