Arrangement of Omission

Fire Emblem: Awakening


Writers mystify their craft like no one else, but writing is a technology as much as an art, the same way that there’s no limit on what you can draw but it helps to know how to make a straight line, or how you can program anything you dream as long as you know the code. As someone who has taken enough creative writing classes to become unbearably cynical about the whole affair, I am in a good place I believe to talk about how games use writing in a way that’s not cool or magical or celestial, just a clumsy thing cobbled together by humans more or less competently. There’s a lot you can’t teach about writing and can only talk about in a lofty or theoretical sort of way, but there’s also a lot you can talk about in technical terms for other people to unpack and copy. In the case of prose-based game narratives, much of the craft in them goes into presentation, pacing, and the ability of the player to arrange this narrative(and the restrictions placed on players with said arrangement). Fire Emblem: Awakening ends up borrowing quite a bit from the techniques of pulp potboiler fantasy to create a structure for hanging a character driven and player arranged story of friends, lovers, parents, and children.

The skeleton of Fire Emblem’s story is rooted in pulp fantasy, and its mechanics are well documented, such as in this brief summary of pulp writer Michael Moorcock’s writing process, which outlines the process he used to write swords and sorcery fantasy in 3-10 days in the 1960s. Honestly, it’s probably more important that you read that blog post than this essay. Reason one is it leaves no doubt that as true to the heart the most flowery and existential descriptions of the writing process you have read are, it is just as true that it has rules and conventions and formulas you can figure out and master, and here they are all laid out for you. Reason two is this is a serious discussion of how the craft of pulp and genre fantasy works, genres which respectable creative writing programs treat with such contempt that its techniques themselves are regarded as craft failures. In literary fiction they would be, but the craft and art of things that don’t fall into the contemporary definition of literary fiction are still mediums with craft and art to them. The third reason to read that article is, for better or worse, the vast body of video games are written like genre fantasy and borrow a lot of their narrative techniques, and it would be excellent if they could learn to not suck at them. So understanding how a potboiler works and what makes a good one is a pretty good thing to do if you want to write a game that does more or less the same thing.

They don’t teach you this in CRWR 400 because you’re supposed to be better than that, and to be fair almost all the critiques you learn of genre fiction are 50% true. Follow Moorcock’s advice to the letter without anything of your own and it’ll be kinda hard to not write a ‘page-turner,’ which I like a lot for being the most backhanded compliment it is possible to give a book, as bad as “addictive” for games, like there’s a more minimal compliment to something than that you’ll want to continue experiencing it. But if you’re going to write to entertain anyways, you might as well be really good at it, and learning how that structure works can serve you. Nothing in Michael Moorcock’s advice help you to write something that feels like it’s a true thing about a human being, but it will give you a framework to hang something true on, and that’s the best you can expect from writing advice.

The final reason for reading that article is Fire Emblem: Awakening hangs on a framework that is exactly those pulp stories. Fire Emblem isn’t any more or less designed than any other narrative but it is designed with respect to the technology of a video game. It has all the important story beats—there’s a mysterious rival, there’s a Maltese Falchion, there’s an ancient evil, and reasons to get involved keep piling up. Everyone’s trying to prevent the war, but something keeps pulling them in at the last minute. You can even see how narratively important it is to have the Avatar character, how they are able to make the commentary and observations and ask the questions that Chrom and the others can’t. Fire Emblem’s plot is bare bones, so much so that the sparseness of it it is noticeable. A villain appears, is defeated, leaves a clue to what they’ve got to do next, etc. It provides enough hook for the player to be genuinely interested in what’s going to happen in the next mission. There’s building drama and high stakes for the characters involved, but it’s skeletal, and only a few characters are actually at any point present in it.

That is on purpose, and it’s also barely noticeable in practice, because the characters are so very present in their support conversations. What Fire Emblem gets to do, as it is a game, is write a fairly bare bones, page turner plot as vehicle for an enormous cast of individual characters, the interactions between which comprise far more of the game’s word count than any of the events that they actually star in. This is what the game is “really” interested in, what the game is about, and the specific choices of the plot revolve entirely around supporting that emphasis. Fire Emblem: Awakening is actually a super neat case study—like if someone completely dissected the character development from the plot and rearranged it in four dimensions.

It’s not necessarily a problem in an sense that Fire Emblem: Awakening offers only a selection of predetermined interactions between various characters than (for example) giving the player agency to determine what happens in those interactions. Each character relationship plays out as a short character-driven vignette, and it will be the same every time. I don’t mind this sort of thing—in fact, as a writer, I’m kinda okay with relinquishing narrative agency because that is most of the work that I do and I don’t mind paying for someone else to do it for me every once and a while. When you write characters, it’s a matter of putting two people in the same room and seeing what happens. Not that there are no surprises, not that there aren’t different ways it can play out, but when two people walk into a room they don’t define themselves as people through their actions there—their actions are a result of the people they were before they even walked into that room. They may grow and change and the circumstances they’re thrust into may change the way they relate to each other, but it’s a discernible outcome of the way these two people relate because of who they are.

For this reason, the personalities of the cast of Fire Emblem are kept simple. Stone butch Sully, optimistic murderer Henry, in-character anime convention attendee Owain, preciously precocious Morgan, the characters usually have a single strong character trait. This is the sort of thing that if left like that would make characters flat and uninteresting, but it also gives a very clear establishment of the character when they walk into a room with another character, which makes them easy to write, and that’s important with the dozen or so supports each character has. It doesn’t matter if the archetypes for the characters are extreme when they have that many conversations to lend nuance and subtlety to the characters. For the player, the archetypes help identify how interested they are likely to be in letting the characters hang out with each other. It’s important to give each character enough of an introduction to let the player decide their curiosity.

Henry, a pretty little cheerful blood crazed dark mage is the sort of person who acts so inappropriately I paired him with almost everyone just to watch them try to deal it. I paired him up with people because I knew it would be hilarious, even if I didn’t know exactly what would happen—and it’s that mixture of familiarity and surprise that makes watching the characters so much fun. It’s also something you can drop as soon as a support gets awkward or annoying or uncomfortable. You don’t have to see the relationship continue if you don’t want to. They’re not hard to raise, but they raise slowly enough there’s a steady drip of them. If there’s a misstep here, it’s that the compulsion to collect all the conversations and relationships may overwhelm one’s actual interest. A neat engineering problem I’d be interested in solving is a way that games can maybe reign in that impulse so players don’t get burned out or overwhelmed.

Special attention should be payed to how the Avatar functions in all this. They are able to get some of the closest looks at the cast, not only because they have the ability to support everyone, but because they are the one allowed to not have such a strong personality as to get carried away when talking with others. The avatar is a quiet, introspective geek, a listener, and the person that everyone opens up to. This allows the player to get insight into every member of the cast, and it also sets up the ending—that the player, is, in fact, a vessel for an ultimate evil, and will need to resist this for the sake of their friends. You wouldn’t care about this at all if you hadn’t spent the entire game creating friendships with all the people in your army. Saving the world is an abstraction, but the thought of killing your friends, especially Chrom, who you can’t help being at least BFFs with (if not his wife). The framework counts on the player spending enough time with supports to become attached to something they really care about.

Your gift is to put the story in whatever order you like, and to ignore the stories you don’t care for. That is the extent of player involvement. That’s ‘it.’ Arranging and choosing the narrative is still quite a bit of power and makes quite a bit of difference, and you know, if that’s a disappointment it’s only a disappointment when the standard by which narrative design is measured is by the player’s degree of control over it, not the kind or control or the quality of what they are controlling. There’s a way in which solving the problems of narrative design, its limitations and nuances, gets reduced in critical discussions to an problem of invention. That we need to create something new, a new form of technology, a new program, a new system, in order to truly unlock the possibilities of narrative design, in much the same way that graphic, physics, or procedural generation are treated.

It’s not that the idea of technical advances in narrative design wouldn’t be interesting to me. It’s just that like graphics and physics and all of that ever-advancing junk that piles on and on as time and money goes on, you don’t actually need any of it to make a game in the first place. It is possible to accomplish a great deal with simple tools, in part because the only part of it that matters if in the end unless all of this work ends up meaning something to another person. Rather than wait for some kind of technological ‘solution,’ why not continue to work on the craft and skill and technique of rearranging narrative fragments? This technology that powers Fire Emblem is the same as a visual novel and twine games and choose your own adventure books, and nothing will make it obsolete; more than anything, it’s proven only to grow the longer people spend time with it, independent designers or corporate interests aside.

The player can’t control what kinds of relationships arise between the characters, only trigger which ones arise. That is not a bad thing, I think. There’s no reason that making them more customizable by the player would make them more interesting, and if anything, it might undercut those characters. Fictional characters don’t have agency because they are fictional constructs, but they should be written as if they have agency. I don’t actually want any sort of control over how a relationship proceeds, in some ways because it’s contrary to how I write fiction in the first place, in which relationships between characters are less invented and more extrapolated. The game is doing the work of making those relationships all exist and be well written. Control over this would be control for its own sake; it doesn’t really serve the primary function of the game which is to make the relationships happen that the player wants to see happen.

It’s a story of omission. There’s a big script that exists with every possibility, and the player’s power is getting to ignore the ones she doesn’t want, and focusing on the ones she does. Which is really all there is in games of narrative arrangement.

Next Story — Against Representation
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Against Representation

Here’s what I mean when I say I’m against representation:

  1. Against saying “representation” and meaning “media that has explicitly and canonically stated the identity category of a character.”
  2. Against identity as the sole and only definition of representation.
  3. Against this binary measurement of representation because it speaks to nothing of how or in what ways it represents, and our lives are in the details.
  4. Against applying a model of consumer activism designed to target the entertainment industry as a whole to individuals.
  5. Because this reading of representation is absent of context, nuance, or intent.
  6. Because representation is not an off or on switch but a full and active process: things are not “representative,” they actively represent. If the work is Representation, you should be able to answer, then: how are you representing them? Are you representing their hopes, fears, insecurities and flaws? Their individual life circumstances, the way their life has shaped them? Are you representing them as a stereotype or do you speak from experience? Are you representing them in all their flaws? Are you representing how difficult and messy it all is? What choices have you made about what is important to represent? Have you represented a limited and imperfect but honest and unique slice of a life? In these cases you might arguably be lauded for acts of representation.
  7. Because the statement of an identity category is something a corporate marketing department can do in a press release and representing the lived experience of a marginalized person is a lifetime of work even those representing themselves cannot do fully and perfectly because of the very diversity of lived experiences we struggle to represent.
  8. Because when representation is nothing but a checklist, the nuance, specificity and quality of marginalized creators’ work will amount only to receipts to be called in, while uninvested allies will only be rewarded for taking as little risks as possible.
  9. The marginalized who take risks in representing themselves must be taken seriously even when we do not agree, because the opinion of one of our own we disagree with is worth infinitely more than the bland assent of someone with no skin in the game.
  10. That critics and journalists and fans have overvalued a version of representation that is easy to quantify but does not do us justice, and we should reassess dramatically how we cover, how we criticize, how we organize, and what we model to young people just beginning to learn how to look at their world analytically.
Next Story — How To Make A Plan To Write A Visual Novel In A Month So You Can Finish It In Three And A Half…
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How To Make A Plan To Write A Visual Novel In A Month So You Can Finish It In Three And A Half Months

Postmortem: 100 Days On We Know The Devil

Linear prose is made to look seamless but it has structure and design, and so it’s possible that my claims about writing for games—that writing is design and vice versa—might be more surprising a claim about prose than games. What is radical about this claim for design is what it implies about how we treat writing as part of the design process, which is probably a bigger barrier to good writing in games than a lack of good writers (see: the treatment of narrative paramedics and writers who will hopefully do something).

The five act play, the action movie script, the detective novel, contemporary lit; these categories exist as categories because they have a structure, and the exceptions to existing structures are structured around their opposition (and eventually become their own genres). The visual novel, as a genre, has a lot of conventions (like being massively overwritten) but really the main thing is just that the writing is structured around a choices, which you can think of as the game mechanics if you’re into that sort of thing. Indie devs interested in making a concept for a game usually base their projects around seeing how much they can do with a single mechanic, and that’s actually how we wrote We Know The Devil: as the smallest implementation of a simple mechanic. We were able to figure out the structure and the word count of the project less than a week after deciding to do it, because we derived the structure from the mechanic, saw the scope of the project unfolding, and scaled it to something so reasonable that we actually had a chance of finishing it. This postmortem will go step by step for both how we came up with the initial idea, how we came up with the mechanic to implement that idea, how we came up with a structure around that mechanic, and how we came up with a word count and asset list from that structure. We were able to plan so tightly because it was such a small and simple project, and things still went way outside our expectations. Planning small gave us plenty of room to fuck up on our first commercial game project though, so I hope this will be helpful to you, too.

Screenshot of the finished script of We Know The Devil

This is what We Know The Devil looked like to me until a few weeks before we shipped. I wrote the whole thing in Scrivener, and I definitely couldn’t have written it in anything other than Scrivener! I can’t overstate this enough so I hope you’ll really keep in mind that most of the structure and organizing I’m going to spend this postmortem talking about were possible because Scrivener had the tools for it. This is how I write anything at all longer than a single essay, regardless if it’s game, or not, nonlinear or not, because anything bigger than a single idea needs to be broken down into smaller pieces for me to hold onto the mess of it! So I’m going to go step by step for how we built the groundwork up from concept to characters to chapters to word count.

Pitching

Mia Schwartz and I had been working on a big and ambitious project on and off for a year, and we were inspired by Amanda’s ILU game jam to make something small in a month. Mia felt strongly that she wanted the game to feel complete — not a proof of concept or prologue or vertical slice. That sounded great to me because visual novels are so notorious long and overwritten the idea of a short story/novella length game felt really nice to me. So I told Mia about a handful of little ideas I had for small games that had a story seed and a mechanic I was interested in exploring. The idea of what became We Know The Devil was originally a tabletop RPG idea, actually — but the core mechanic was “let’s explore multiple characters interacting with each other” instead of a singular protagonist, with the tension hanging on on the risk of forcing one of those characters out. It was also the most fleshed out idea since I had both a premise for the fiction and a way of mechanically implementing it.

We Know The Devil is organized around the smallest implementation of a simple mechanic: for characters A, B, C, it is possible to choose a scene with two of these characters while leaving out the third, with a different ending for each of those possible sets. The math of it is the combinations of ABC; so AB, BC, and AC, but this is just the vocabulary we use to describe the experience of repressed young people seeking companionship, in much the same way that I described “people” with the adjectives “young” and “repressed.” The math came right after the idea, and one of the first things that the math showed us was all combinations of ABC is less than all combinations of ABCD (AB AC BC AD DB DC). Because we both wanted to actually complete this game in a month, we cut the characters from my original pitch to Mia from four to three. The themes and images of sunday school and summer camp came with the initial pitch; to me they were inseparable from the whole premise. We watched a lot of horror movies and had a strong commitment to lo-fi aesthetics that would both fit the mood and our budget (preview: nearly all the worldbuilding in WKTD, including the radios, wouldn’t exist until the third draft).

Character Designing

The template I used to create the initial character concepts before sending them to Mia

This is one of Mia and my favorite things, and it’s the reason this project came together. For a year we’ve been working on and off on a high concept game with lots of characters, and we had gotten used to bouncing ideas off of each other and collaborating — I would write up character profiles, and then Mia would draw the characters. Mia works in comics and storytelling, which is part of why she is so good at capturing mood and expression with her art, and her creative choices and questions both built on my initial concepts and took the characters in exciting new directions. After we bounced concept art and character profiles we would both have such a grasp of the characters we could both write scenes featuring them; Mia would message me at like 12AM with “this vine is totally Venus” and I’d be like, yes, and also the person who smashed the glass against her face is Neptune. We literally developed this game by shitposting with our own characters, so please value that work; it’s how we came up from everything from the underage drinking to the truth or dare and seven minutes in heaven scenes.

Structure

Left: Final scene list Right: Scene list on day six of development

I asked for structure, and Mia thought that the course of a day would be the most logical, immediate, and teen-horror movie sort of premise. I moved it to a symmetrical 12 hour structure because this was shorter, and gave us a nice build up from evening to dawn.

Three characters meant three endings, meant three possible pairings of those characters. To make the scope of it even leaner, I decided that we’d only do two out of the three possible pairing for each choice. This would also mean that readers couldn’t pick the same option every time, and prevented readers from picking just whatever pairing was their favorite, and forced them to see what the other relationships were like. There were seven choices because an uneven number would mean you couldn’t get all of the pairings equally.

Obviously the first hour would be the introduction. There had to be a lead-in to the climax, so that would be hour nine. The endings were big enough that it felt like they deserved to take up three of those units, and it also let me divide the endings into rising action, climax, and resolution. The ending needs that moment right when you know everything’s going to collapse, and then the monster has to show up, of course! And finally, a moment of calm at the end. Again, the hour structure was arbitrary to this, but it helped me figure out what needed to go where. This same structure helped me a lot with creating parallels and distinct themes between the different routes.

Word Count

So there’s the technical breakdown! I hope it makes sense how we got from something very abstract and thematic to something more mathematical and crunchy as we specifically honed in what we both wanted to do and had the ability to do. It took all of that groundwork to give us this structure, but because of it, I knew I could sit down and write 1000 words each day, a thing that is easy to do if you know exactly what you’re doing, and incredibly hard if you have no idea where to start.

How To Write A VN In A Month: The Reality

Anyone who has lived in reality for a length of time probably is aware that expectations do not frequently meet it! I was way short of all of my goals at the end of the month — but I had done enough work that the skeleton of this structure was filled out, allowing me to have an immediate plan to address all of the shortcomings, and, just as importantly, it created a firmer outline of the work that the rest of the team needed to do as well, as first drafts of the scripts lead quickly to coming up with character sprite expressions, musical points, and programming scope.

The structure let us know what we did and what we still needed to do:

  1. Hold to the structure, and add in the last ending.
  2. Expand the word count, and also make the words good, not bad, because they were extremely bad.
  3. What was missing from the characters — if their conflict or tension wasn’t working, or an importantly nuanced side of their personality hadn’t come up, it was time to look for how to bring it out.
  4. Run around in the woods in the dark and take photos

Premise and Mechanics

Designs by Fern of the radios; I love how differently everyone interpreted what they looked like.

All of the worldbuilding in this game came after I had written the first draft, which may sound backwards in this era of exhaustive wikipedia based canons. These details though were all added in the second draft; I wanted to take the abstract ideas we had been swirling around and have a repeated image to anchor them. I felt like radios emphasized the backwards and out of time quality of the setting and evoked the religious radio stations I used to hear driving around in the midwest — I looked up the history of old crystal radios you can make with just a rusted nail, which made them feel really strange and magical, tapping into something huge with ordinary household supplies.

Character Revisions

If their conflict or tension wasn’t working, or an importantly nuanced side of their personality hadn’t come up, it was time to look for how to bring it out. Mia didn’t always follow my exact visual designs, but that’s because she knows better than me! Mia looked first and foremost at bringing the character’s personalities out through their visual designs (like making Jupiter shorter to give her a cute contrast with Venus and Neptune).

What wasn’t okay was when the characters didn’t actually have tension or nuance! At Mia’s suggestion, I made Venus meaner — it was hard to balance Venus being subtly cruel with wide eyed innocence, but I think I hit a balance strong enough that ppl reacted strongly? When characters didn’t have enough tension, something was wrong. Characters are defined by their actions in the final text, but to have an interesting final text, we had to make good on the promises we had made for ourselves. Though we outlined histories and backstory for all the characters, it just wasn’t needed anywhere in the final project. We thought about what might have shaped them, but once those personalities were in the game, the reader didn’t need to know them.

Structure and Wordcount in Practice

What do you do after you hit the word count goal? My favorite thing in the world is to hit delete, because I always write terribly when I write my first drafts, and the more I hit delete the closer I get to something I’m happy with. I hit my daily word count goals, but not always — you can look at this math and think, why, she could have written a 30,000 word VN in a month in that case! But considering how much else was going on in my life, like a full time job, conferences, and being a functional adult (not to mention not starting until a week into the month) it was good to set the goals more conservatively.

I had a little room to grow for the second draft, but mostly, I had space to hit delete. Mostly in the second, but also in the third month, I was so grateful that I had the ability to take care making the script stronger rather than filling up files. In order to write some good words, you have to write a lot of bad ones.

Controlled Unpredictability

After this first month, though, I was really excited about what we had, and reached out to Jo and Conrad at DateNighto.com, which changed things a lot! But we wouldn’t have had that opportunity if we hadn’t also planned this so far in advance. I don’t want to give the impression that this came out of nowhere as much as it seemed, so even though this isn’t the focus and I don’t want to spend too much time talking about it, it’s important to note that even though neither Mia nor I had created video games outside of very small experimental projects, and this was by far our biggest and certainly first commercial game, we were both experienced and well connected artists in our field (I as a games writer and Mia as an indie comics artist/writer), which is how we were able to approach Date Nighto a month into development and suddenly have access to a programmer, project manager, and startup capital. We wouldn’t have have gone from nothing to character designs and first draft of the script in a month if Mia and I hadn’t been collaborating on an unpublished idea for the last year. That’s not to be intimidating, just to not be hard on yourself if you don’t have it yet! But to think about how important those skills are to develop alongside this sort of thing.

There’s so much more that went into making We Know The Devil, but I’m going to end it here, because this is the part of it that I know the best. I can definitely talk about scoring the game, inserting character expressions, last minute editing—but I’m going to keep this article focused on the writing work and planning. If you have any other questions, please ask me on Twitter!

Next Story — Dignity and Animality
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Slept-In Comics: Dignity and Animality

Four Funny Animal-drawers Talk About Funny Animal Cartoons

[This panel was funded through Patreon under Slept-In Comics, an imprint of the ZEAL project. ZEAL aims to provide high quality criticism of rarely discussed games and comics, and showcase the talents of exciting new writers and artists. For details and information on how to donate, please check out patreon.com/mammonmachine!]

Jen Lee makes Thunderpaw, a sad dog boys webcomic with limited animation. She lives in Idaho. Her illustrations and other work can be seen here.

Michael Jewell makes Go Ye Dogs!, a homoerotic fantasy comic. He lives in Colarado. He speaks his mind and posts his artwork here.

Geneva Hodgson is an animator living and working in Los Angeles. She makes Teenage Spaceship, which is just charming. Her other work can be seen here.

Rory Frances [moderator] is a forest imp who lives in Washington. He makes Big Teeth and it’s coming back in the Spring, whoo! He’s over here.

Rory: We’ll start with Jen — Thunderpaw does something pretty neat in that you’re using animal trauma to explore and parallel human trauma — Your characters have this really unhealthy codependent relationship, you had mentioned you’re really into Plague Dogs.

Jen: Hey yeah, Plague Dogs is really great because Richard Adams is real keen on animal behavior. Which is something I wanted to go into myself, mainly with doggies, because I’m really into dog training… Everything dogs react to is based, really, on fear and safety. so when something is spooky it’s REALLY spooky. this is something I always keep in mind when training, and is interesting to try and represent in my story.

Rory: Your little dudes are definitely given more human traits than Adams’ tho, with their cute little track suits…

Jen: Haha! I’m trying to think if I have a real reasoning for that other than I just like to draw clothes, Ollie is in a hoodie-onsie and has a hat- he has like two safety blankets, Bruno’s bandana is very All American Hero Dog/Boy Scout and his bag helps him keep things organized and structured. I think it’s cool because, well, I get to draw what I like to draw (fashion animals) and people can relate easier but I definitely want to be a little clearer that they’re actual dogs ha, I try putting in a lot of dog jokes, like Bruno rolling in the grass, so I dunno!

Geneva: I’ve always been under the impression that they’re dog-dogs, for what it’s worth.

Jen: Whew! This is good to hear! It sometimes makes me nervous because Ollie obviously has some anxiety, but I’m writing it as a dog with anxiety… I don’t want to overstep any boundaries with people who struggle with that stuff, I think.

Michael: Starting out with them in the back seat was a very elegant communication that they are dog-dogs, I think.

Geneva: yeah! that was exactly what I was thinking of., and nah Jen— I think that’s why it’s so effective. His trauma feels real but in a broad, relatable way, like a dog’s emotions in real life, haha.

Rory: You make it work, I think — being forced into a situation where the world feels unfamiliar and your environment has changed too quickly can be really traumatic, when I moved to a new state last year I had kind of a freak-out about it! I felt like your lil critters. But now I feel like my lil critters, for better or worse!!

Jen: Oh nooo Rory! Yeah, I grew up in Florida, when I first went to NY I was freaking out because apparently there was snow and how do I drive through snow? Nevermind I wouldn’t ever be driving there but the What If’s are scary!!

Rory: Your stuff definitely has a streak of anxiety that’s different from our stuff — that kind of thing feels really compelling though, like, I always liked Bluth movies better than Disney movies as a depressed gay child and wasn’t sure why — that felt real though, the worlds were always SUPER unpleasantly alienating and confusing, you aren’t just warmly invited into them like in Disney movies where the worlds are lovingly art-directed to look livable or whatever.

Jen: Oh GOD, BLUTH. Yeah! And the characters always found comfort in others who were usually really bad for them — All Dogs is obviously a biggy for me.

Rory: THE ONE WHERE THE BAD BOY DOGS EXPLOIT AN ORPHAN FOR MONEY, like holy crap Bluth.

Jen: I always cried when the little girl overheard Charlie talking shit about her.

Rory: I feel like the anthropomorphization makes it even more fucked up, like, befriending talking dogs would be the dream when you’re like 5, but these are creepy grown men dogs who will fuck you over!

Jen: Right?? And she’s like scared and alone and talks to animals, it’s so sad.

Rory: Wasn’t that all of us, haha, all of us here right now, hands up y’all! Paws up!

Jen: Totally. I was bullied by peers, for some reason didn’t ever think my friends really were my friends, and adults? Fuck em!

Geneva: Yes very same, I didn’t even identify with the kid in All Dogs, I don’t think I understood the story when I loved it the most, I just wanted to hang out with Charlie and Itchy hahaha. I thought Itchy was so comforting but actually I think I just liked that he was small and wore clothes.

Jen: I thought for an embarrassingly long time that Charlie’s and Itchy’s friendship was OK! It’s really not.

Rory: It seems like Bruno and Ollie’s friendship is kinda tenuous too.

Jen: Yeeeahh their foundation is pretty unstable, it wasn’t really something I was planning, but since I wing it it seems like it was gonna happen. just working with the characters you eventually get to “oh well, if A acts like this and B wants this then C will eventually happen.”

Rory: There are so many people who kind of put themselves in unsolicited caretaker positions.

Jen: Totally- it’s something I’ve definitely done in the past and it’s just creepy and very unfair. Taking care of another person to make yourself feel important gets into very selfish territory, even thought that person may think they’re being selfless.

Geneva: Yeah, same. it’s terrible for both you and the person you’re trying to solve everything for.

Rory: It seems like a lot of talking animal stuff kinda works with the idea of a fractured ecosystem and puts it in a more human social context, so in your case their fractured ecosystem has given them an unhealthy relationship.

Michael: We could move laterally along bluth territory and talk about Mrs. Frisby.

Jen: Oh my god Michael, I live on farmland and when they harvest I do not do well seeing rodents running out of the fields.

Rory: I haven’t watched NIMH in a while. I remember crushing on the evil rat who bullies everyone. That is my contribution to this discussion.

Geneva: NIMH in conjunction with An American Tale had probably the biggest impact on me out of the Bluths. The idea of small mouse societies got me big time.

Michael: BIG TIME.

Rory: Small mouse socieities RULE.

Jen: Small mouse societies are perfect! Everything is HUGE but a wonder, also I love when they use a sewing needle as a sword or whatever.

Geneva: Something about it being miniature and faithfully parallel but also completely hidden from and nothing to do with people. A tiny banal mystery.

Rory: Little do people know how silly their own world is.

Geneva: Hahaha yeah. We don’t know we’re all small and cute.

“Rory: I’ve had a lot of conversations about this but talking animals are projectable in weird ways, you don’t get hung up about bodies when it’s just an alligator or something — and by that I don’t mean that they’re like, an acceptable substitute for writing about very specific human problems and DEFINITELY not an okay way to avoid writing marginalized characters, not at all, they are a cop out when used in that context — but what I mean is like, I got hella freaked out by human bodies as a kid — which isn’t a problem -now- obviously, oops — so it was a thing that I could watch without body image issues?”

Geneva: Definitely, it’s a succinct way to abstract a physical presence and broaden them for relatability.

Rory: I think that because it has that kind of broad appeal a lot of people mistake it for being simple to pull off, if it were simple you wouldn’t have real stinkers like all those Blacksad short stories.

Michael: I’ve written before about how funny animals can be a really clumsy and stupid way to frame a message about human race relations, and all that.

Jen: YES, I remember you wrote about that on Blacksad!

Geneva: Yeah, I’m not into species as a vector for race.

Michael: It’s such a beautiful comic but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Jen: The Siamese cats in every cartoon every always fucked me up as a kid, like all the kids are laughing but they are definitely laughing at me too.

Geneva: Aaahhh nnoooo.

Jen: Cartooooons.

Rory: Cartoons are bad.

Rory: I was always really into the scenes in older talking animal movies where the gentleness of the world is disrupted by something more abstract — I loved that part in Bambi with the buck fight, I would rewind it constantly, it’s really loud and violent and exciting haha.

Jen: That part was great, the music plays a big part of it though so I reckon you have to push the visual language when you can’t have things like that in a comic.

Geneva: I think a lot of Bambi’s central thesis is acclimating to a fucked up event, getting comfortable, but then life throws another wild curveball and you acclimate to that. Forever. It never ends, starting with your dad abandoning you and ending with you doing the exact same shit, haha. I love Bambi, it’s the most devastating but subtle text about the indifference of nature and life.

Rory: The scene where the pheasant has a panic attack and gets killed fucked with me so bad. I watched that a lot too though. The scenes of peril were always the parts I fixated on the most so I guess I just want to make a comic where I get to do that a lot, I’m indulgent and predictable, moving on. Wind in the Willows. It’s really gay and I love it and I wanted to make something like it but with northwest critters. And also with more wolf peril. I’m the most indefensible one here and we should move on to Michael I think.

Michael: Wind in the Willows is. My. Shit. I could go on about it.

Rory: I KNOW it is, I will not stop you.

Michael: There’s a lovely, brief aside that’s very much about connecting to the natural environment, when they enter a dream sequence and pass under the care of a pagan god — the ‘piper at the gates of dawn’ sequence, but for the most part they are animals going about human being affairs — and it’s funny because they ARE humans, they live in a big people world and aren’t quite as hidden.

Jen: Hmmmm!

Michael: Toad steals a human’s car and gets tried in human court and goes to human jail.

Rory: Toad is such a fuckup.

Rory: Anyway uh Big Teeth. I like the idea of a world where the animals eat each other and are just now figuring out that that’s kind of fucked up.

Jen: HAHA I love how you’re writing that so far. They mention it casually in conversations, but its not jarring at all, I think.

Rory: Gail protects Felix despite any instinct they’d have otherwise and it’s totally gross, I love them, cry and die my babies. I want their animal qualities to make them unreal to eachother, I guess, which’ll become more apparent as I have more space to actually develop them.. I need to hustle! In particular with Paula, foxes are cast as tricksters but also they’re hunted for being so fashionable — she is unreal to everyone else and being cast as having to always be strong and unflappable hurts her more than anything, if that makes sense..

Rory: Actually. Michael! Something you said a while ago really stuck with me, which is like, how cartoon animals are themselves a statement of unreality, and how they can never be fully depicted as human beings or express the fullness of their inner lives.

Michael: Something like that, yeah! I was thinking about like, The Great Catsby by Do Ha, and how the main cast are animal people, but there are humans interspersed, kind of as extras — and how each of the characters is incomplete or missing something, all their interactions with each other is “you’ll do, I suppose” — maybe they’d be drawn as human once they’re more complete, but we don’t get to see that. But it’s a reminder to me, if I think of it that way, that I can never truly make my characters whole, they’re always going to be a filter for like… me expressing myself.

Rory: Oh no I totally do that. Or at least did for a while, it’s easy to oversimplify people and I’m an arrogant dumbass!

Jen: Me too. “Oops, I guess I’m Asuka and you’re Harry Potter, we can’t get along BYE.”

Geneva: Ahahahah.

Michael: Comics that are just directly communicating an idea to the audience with pictures don’t appeal to me.

Rory: “We’re going to place this central character in a world that agrees with their actions and moves towards a really straightforward goal, that goal is letting you know Batman owns and if you commit crimes it’s because you’re fucked up.”

Geneva: I’m not really into stories with one central protagonist anymore really.

Rory: Everyone I know always related to secondary characters more, it’s been discussed to death why that is exactly but I guess it’s not making much of an impression.

Geneva: People keep thinking Avrit is my protagonist and I’m like… calm down.

Rory: Haaaa I totally wanted to play that up, like because Felix is the first character you see and also a man you think he’s the protagonist and then NOPE.

Geneva: I liked sidekicks most, but always boy characters. Simba was like the only main protagonist I liked. I think because he was…. hot.

Rory: It’s ok Geneva I had a crush on the stupid Kevin Bacon wolf in Balto. I don’t anymore, though, my taste is more refined. He can go to hell. I would swipe left on him.

Jen: You all seem pretty good at organizing things! How do you go about it exactly.

Rory: Oh god I’m anything but, I just have a loose skeleton I work from and kinda ad-lib everything else, I make messy thumbnails and ink directly over them.

Michael: I have a very specific ending, everything working up to it is kind of a soft pudding.

Rory: but ANYway, speaking of saucy gay animals, Go Ye Dogs! I love it. Talk to me about it. Yours is definitely the most unambiguously human-looking society out of any of ours.

Michael: They’re definitely people-animal people. I don’t think I could really do a comic without abstracting toward animals in some form or another.

Rory: The animal part is still important! Though, I like that you don’t really typecast any of them.

Michael: I’m a huge Star Trek fan but it’s emblematic of everything I’m pushing against as a fantasy writer, monocultures, all that stuff. Almost every interaction has a leak in it, saying “things are more complex” — because that’s what the real world is like! So my coyote character is part of a specific group and religious tradition, and in his community it’s mostly coyotes, but that’s not a generalization or a limitation to the setting — I’m generally against the concept of “worldbuilding” — you write your characters first, the world will form around them in the form of the circumstances that shaped that character.

Jen: I just sighed a breath of relief, I thought that was the ‘wrong’ way to do things, ha!

Michael: I created the comic at a time in my life when… hm. I had just come out but still very lonely and didn’t know my place, so it’s very much a meditation on that, or maybe wish fulfillment.

Rory: We’ve talked a lot about m/m comics, boys love is a lot more generous in its characterizations but again you still run into these gross relationship dynamics I’m tired of seeing.

Jen: Writing stories can definitely be a great way to cope, it’s like a therapy session sometimes haha.

Michael: I’ve changed the tone so much since I started, it wasn’t originally supposed to be nearly as erotic as it is. This may get some -giggles- but I consider Omaha the Cat Dancer a primary inspiration. I think it’s a terrible shame it’s had such problems keeping in circulation, and it’s somewhat become a footnote. If you’re interested in the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) you come across it, but it’s easy for the lay reader to just dismiss it as a “furry” thing, because “furry” is this separate thing now.

Rory: Dude Omaha is amazing.

Michael: It’s worth mentioning that I’m a capital “F” furry. There used to be more of a blur. Some furry cartoonists back in the day were working cartoonists, maybe categorized as funny animal cartoonists. Kim Thompson, bless him, worked hard to publish a lot of this stuff, Critters, the Adventures of Captain Jack, Omaha… Omaha is really important to comics, historically, legally, but it’s seen as cheesy now. Blah! When I was an interning at Fantagraphics, I read their first printing Zap!s and was just like… “this is ghastly, I hate this!” but Zap! has legs, it has longevity and an unshakable place in our history. I read all of Omaha almost right after and thought it was just so lovely and humane and honest and sexy… AND really cheesy. I loved it. But we don’t talk about it. Maybe because it’s erotic people will look for any excuse to footnote it, or sweep it under the rug. Or the wrong kind of erotic, because gritty exploitative sex gets celebrated as honest and daring and adult in comics all the time. But Omaha, not Zap! just emboldened me to push the erotic element in GYD! because that can be a component of making your comic vital. Even pulpy stories can be a little personal.

Rory: They can be! I started Big Teeth after I was starting to get stressed out acclimating to a new environment, aah.

Jen: I started Tpaw after I realized I had some personality flaws, aah.

Rory: All y’alls comics are very you, I love Teenage Spaceship, it’s very Geneva!!!!! Very exclamation points!!!!!!! It makes me so happy.

Geneva: Aaww shucks y’all.

Michael: How many cartoonists have told you “Avrit is me?”

Geneva: Surprisingly few! But Avrit is me, Avrit is everyone. Just maybe the most embarrassing parts of them.

Rory: I want Avrit and Gail to be horrible, ill-fitted bunrab friends. Let’s do a crossover. Pimb and Paula can start a tire fire. Felix is being made to butt chug by your rowdy wrestler boys. It works out a little too well.

Michael: Avrit and Gail and Cricket in the corner at a party waiting for the other to say something first.

Geneva: Haha oh my god Gail and Avrit spiraling out together.

Rory: This is what you came for, Slept In readers: Our fucking crossover fanfics.

Geneva: Everyone is in love with and fighting everyone.

Rory: (In posh intellectual affectation) Truly, that is the microcosm of the talking animal. Everyone is fighting and fucking.

Rory: ANYWAY. Everything in Teenage Spaceship is super round and pleasant and I love it.

Geneva: Thank you. And yes, that’s definitely something I wanted to conjure on purpose. I wanted the environment to feel kinda dirty and mysterious in its plainness, like an early 30s Fleischer cartoon.

Geneva: I’ve somehow managed to cultivate a life where my furry tendencies are perfectly integrated into my public life and it’s totally okay somehow. It’s weird to have no secrets or cognitive dissonance involved. People like my stupid twitter account more than ever when i’m talking about sonic OCs so I guess the world is ready for us.

Rory: I have no idea how that happened to me, either — I tried making a dozen different Thematically Acceptable online comics and then the one I made about gay furries is the one people end up liking the most.

Jen: Geneva same, like I get my “”””professional”””” jobs from them seeing furry commissions and wha?

Rory: Same here??? How did that HAPPEN. I think I found a format that works for me, also — My friend Cate Wurtz, who does the Lamezone comics, and I would always find doing traditionally page-by-page comics kind of counterintuitive for how I read things, but the way she does comics is like, a single vertical scrolling thing that is paced a lot like a tv show, and she has this like huge cult fanbase of people who normally don’t even engage with comics at all — We want to do a piece on her at some point. But yeah, not to knock page-by-page comics!

Rory: SO, two final food for thoughts: What would you say is your personal goal in writing a funny animal story, and second of all, what was your first fursona. Spill the beans people.

Geneva: I want to provide an easy access point to people, and invite younger readers into my story. Also, I want everyone to know deep inside their hearts that they, too, are a furry. Hha.

Michael: Go Ye Dogs! is a fantasy comic, and the fantasy is a world when people can just have crushes and have sex without the interference of the world at large weighing on them, and the pressures on their relationships come from within, how selfish or generous they are with their partners

Jen: Thunderpaw deals mostly with how different dogs (people) react and cope to scary change

Rory: Gail is Daffy and I am the omniscient hand of Bugs. I will put them in a variety of slutty tank tops against their best wishes.

Geneva: Avrit is kind of like that for me, too. I love torturing Avrit. Cry and die!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rory: Cry and die!!!! Cry AND die!!!!!! I am your creator and I do not give a fuck about you.

Geneva: I am the lord, and I want you to cry.

Geneva: Anyway. My fursona was a blue fox-cat name Scribbles. She was initially created as a love interest for Tails but as I grew titty she also grew titty. I think that’s how a lot of fursonas were born.

Rory: Mine were all goth dog girls until I figured out that was wrong and drew goth dog boys instead.

Jen: Mine was that omnipresent “is it a dog or is it a wolf” thing you used to see all the time on Deviantart.

Michael: I’ve always been a mouse with a shawl and glasses.

Rory: Beautiful.

Rory: This was great. Comics are great. I hope the Thunderpaw boys are safe and go to Rally Burger at the end. I hope everyone in Go Ye Dogs and kisses everyone. I hope everyone in Teenage Spaceship ends with a Randy Newman friendship song. See you all later!

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In Searing Pink

Dangan Ronpa

[By Aevee Bee. This article was funded through Patreon under the ZEAL project. ZEAL provides high quality criticism of rarely discussed games, and showcases the talents of exciting new writers and artists. For details and information on how to donate, please check out our patreon!]

Fiction for teens is important, and the most important fiction for teens is fiction deemed unsuitable for teens. It’s an incredibly deft art of creation to make work for young adults that isn’t patronizing or trite and that’s probably why teens start seeking out stuff ludicrously inappropriate for them, because they have learned that sex and death exist and are fairly suspicious of stories that do not acknowledge them. It is hard to find anyone who will take you or your experiences seriously as a teen, and often fiction is the first place you will find it (and sometimes, for a long time, the only place). There's a lot of junk in Dangan Ronpa, and finding and talking about making art that isn’t junk is important, the most important, but we also grow up next to junk and can’t escape junk, and junk can be resonant in ways that sometimes literally nothing else is. You can't do a casual Tumblr search through the Dangan Ronpa tag and not see that this game is touching something important for a lot of young folx, and that is because not despite its melodrama, severe tone shifts, over the top characters, and bizarre backstory. Dangan Ronpa was not made as accidentally as many of our favorite games here at ZEAL, which is worth taking seriously if for no other reason (I say even though I think apologizing for taking stuff aimed at young adults seriously is really boring and unnecessary (as are spoiler warnings, so consider this here is yours right now because I’m not holding even a little back)).

If you have been reading ZEAL for a bit, maybe it is apparent by now my favorite thing is fiction that doesn’t care if things get weird. Other things Dangan Ronpa is not afraid to do: be excessive and indulgent. Make jokes in a game about murder. Genre shift from slapstick comedy to genuine violence without time for the reader to emotionally prepare. Be melodramatic. Let its characters be less than pristine. Be lewd. Have characters that are impossibly huge and outgoing with exaggerated personalities. Suddenly become a science fiction narrative about contagious existential despair spread by high school students that destroyed the entire world. Deliberately draw attention to how they are not even explaining how any of the science fiction plot devices required for this twist actually work!

We here at ZEAL have been talking about the creation of characters and worlds in games, frequently about accidental decisions with fascinating consequences, which makes Dangan Ronpa a bit different because so many of its decisions around character and world aren't emergent consequences of the game system but baked into its premise. That's why the blood in Dangan Ronpa is searing pink, because they wanted a game about teens murdering each other to be purchasable by teens, maybe saying in and of itself just about everything about Dangan Ronpa knowing its audience. Stories about hot teens dying are terribly compelling, for everyone but especially for teens. Dangan Ronpa is hugely popular among a demographic that it’s just barely on the edge of being technically suitable for, and that is not weird but exactly what I would hope and expect; waves of recession have cultivated a Japanese young adult fiction industry for teens that not only are fully aware how awful entering society is going to be and how difficult it will be to even do it.

As the premise is "teens murder each other and must figure out which one of them did it or be killed themselves" Dangan Ronpa is hugely melodramatic, a convergence of both the mastermind's plot to fill the students with despair and the creator's desires to fill the players with supercharged emotions. Throwing super intense characters in a super intense situation gets teen feelings in ways that not a lot else does—it's quite the opposite of the realism of teen experience but captures the truth that's in the sheer intensity of how dramatic and overwhelming and apocalyptic and life or death living can feel, and not just for teens.

Real human beings don’t actually behave like the cast of Dangan Ronpa either, yet Dangan Ronpa still works very well at a sort of melodramatic truth beyond the truth, even because of it. It's possible to cartoonishly distort and exaggerate the texture and character of anime characters and still have them resonate with reality, no differently from how Dee Goggans plays with their physical anatomy in the title illustration up there at the top. The deliberate exaggeration works well as it’s not the point of Dangan Ronpa to provide a subtle and meditative critique in the first place so much as it is about representing how intense and awful it is to be a teen. The personalities are less realistic than the murders but they’re there for the same reason, because impossibly intense hot teens dying is very compelling no matter how clearly the seams show.

This is the exact reason why every characters is “ultimate something-or-other,” not even just a stock type like the jock or the nerd or whatever but the ULTIMATE jock/nerd/whatever. The framework for creating these super intense characters is of course equally extreme, and the game even draws your attention to the fact that they’re larger than life. There’s practical reasons for this — cliche character traits are easy starting points to build from; Fire Emblem:Awakening does this too, and believe me it is very hard to create that many characters in a plot vacuum without some kind of structure. The personalities have to be huge so that they’ll clash with each other, because that’s the place at which the characters start getting interesting and this game is noticeably more about the motives and emotional results of the murders than the logic puzzle of solving them. It’s important that the characters are at odds with themselves as much as each other, too, to give them weak spots and vulnerabilities and places for motive and conflict. So say, the Ultimate Swordswoman is played to type as this cold-eyed badass, but she has a ludicrously cute name (Peko Pekoyama). The contrast makes her interesting; you want to know why she’s like that. The Ultimate Punk Rock Girl is based on subtle nods to impossibly cute ultrafeminine anime K-on, yet she’s got dyed hair and piercings and talks at 100mph.

Dangan Ronpa’s willingness to let their characters be less than pristine is part of why Dangan Ronpa stands out compared to a lot of its anime contemporaries. The characters are very funny, but a lot of what makes them funny is a function of their emotional baggage, the contradictions between the self they show the world, and the person they really are. Mikan, Ultimate Nurse, apologizes reflexively and attracts bullying like a lightning rod and that is extremely, painfully relatable, despite that her clumsiness is played for laughs; there is an uncomfortable edge to her weakness and fear beyond the joke of it, and it's a hook the story continues to build on. Hiyoko, the Ultimate Dancer, bullies Mikan at every opportunity, and it becomes clear that's because Hiyoko is clumsy, awkward, and helpless herself, and she’s reacted to bullying by being a bully herself. She’s more merciless to Mikan than anyone else precisely because the weakness she despises in Mikan is the weakness she despises in herself, and that never needs to be said out loud because you were her or knew someone like her and you know enough about how human beings work to do the math yourself.

Mikan's arc is particularly fascinating, as she is the one character who gets back her erased memories during the course of either of the Dangan Ronpa games. In Dangan Ronpa 2, the cast are all victims of a world-wide contagion of existential despair started by their classmate Junko Enoshima, and while we know that at one time all of them were utterly enthralled with and obedient to her, Mikan is the only one who gets to talk about it.

Mikan describes how a specific person (who couldn't possibly be anyone but Junko) accepted her fully and completely and returned the love she gave her in full. It's impossible to argue that the distance and pity her classmates treat her with is equal to the feeling she's describing. Dangan Ronpa is ostensibly about hope resisting despair, but Mikan comes in as a reminder, of how compelling Junko's despair for the sake of despair was. Matthew Burns told me, while we were discussing this essay, that one of the more quietly terrifying realities of adolescence is the knowledge that one day you’re going to have to enter society while simultaneously becoming aware that society is deeply horrifying.

The most believable thing in Dangan Ronpa is that existentially despairing high school students destroyed the entire world. It is not very realistic, sure, because no one ever offers teens the means to destroy the entire world, but it is pretty emotionally believable; I mean, I sure did want it. This is a super high school level weird world building decision to explicitly make though, which I love just on principle, and I love ten times more because of the refusal to actually explain on any level how any of the process of destroying the world actually happened. Answers to how the students had their memories of the world ending erased or what the actual moment of despair so powerful just experiencing it destroyed all hope on the planet was are deliberately and explicitly not given.

That is kind of an audacious decision when way too much of contemporary science fiction and fantasy worldbuilding takes such pride in creating and detailing and expounding on the complexity and consistency of a fictional universe without remembering to give you a reason to care why. Instead, Dangan Ronpa has Junko declare she’s not going to explain the plot device, because the mechanics of how the world ended are irrelevant to why the world ended: “I could explain it, but it wouldn’t be any more believable, would it?” Junko gets it. It would be trivial to detail a science fictional device X that would make for a plausible explanation here, but that would require spending a lot of time and energy on the least relevant and important part of a story that is ultimately about sad teens dying. But why not completely forgo a logical explanation when it’s the emotional truth that’s much more interesting? If you’re going to build up continuity garbage, at least only build up the parts that we care about!

It’s a game about the characters and Dangan Ronpa could never make the ending believable without Junko. Junko doesn’t answer how the world ending, but she embodies the why; to use a murder mystery metaphor, Junko explains the motive but not the method, and in this story that’s by far the most important part. Junko is hilarious and cute and beautiful and clever and has zero inhibitions and is very believably compelling to people who are realizing that the world is not a very good place and does not love them. Junko loves them though, even if what she loves about people are their tragedies, not unlike the audience. Bad things happening feels real and she loves that. She loves it when other people feel hopeless but she loves feeling hopeless too, and because of that she’s terrifyingly invincible, and she is because she actually feels everything so strongly. She gets to have everything, the freedom to feel without ever feeling anything bad, because emotion itself is pleasant to her, whether it’s good or bad. It’s an unbelievable premise, but Junko makes the idea of the world ending due to worldwide existential despair believable because of how she makes despair seductive, makes despair disturbing, makes despair sexy — she is after all the Ultimate Fashionista, and she makes despair a look and it looks good on her, so it’s not too hard to understand why she was able to make the world over with it.

Dangan Ronpa has a different angle—please, give me more of this angle. I never ever care about how the science fiction premise works; I promise, from the bottom of my heart, to believe in the explanation of absolutely anything you tell me, even if the explanation is "I don't even feel like explaining it." Science fiction or fantasy isn't even a good way to describe Dangan Ronpa; it's just pure Anime, reality cartoonishly distorted in ways that will make feel real. My earnest belief is that science fiction or fantasy should do the same, alter reality only insofar as it brings out the truth reality can't bear. I have no use for explanations that don't offer me that.

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