Meeting 07th Expansion

So the other weekend I went to Anime Central, where I finally managed to meet 07th Expansion in person. I had meant to write up a post sooner, but time flies, huh. Anyway, first thing’s first: my signed Umineko merchandise!

umineko signed Meeting 07th Expansion

And of course, most importantly, a signed copy of the Kinjo portrait!!!

kinjo portraits signed Meeting 07th Expansion

I attended all three of the 07th Expansion panels, which focused on:

  • The history of 07th Expansion
  • Writing characters and story
  • Q&A and Trianthology

All of these panels were worth going to, and are especially relevant for indie EVN developers just starting out. Although certain other blogs have already covered the panels in detail, I thought I’d highlight the most interesting parts:

  • Ryukishi advised having a job while also doing your writing. This way you can draw inspiration from your daily work and put it into your stories. Interestingly, it seems a lot of EVN developers don’t actually have jobs (being mostly highschoolers or full-time devs), which might explain why most EVNs lack originality, in my opinion. You need to actually experience life in order to write about it. You can’t just sit in front of a computer and come up with a good story; you have to live it and know people who lived it.

  • Rather than seeing the story as a chronological 1-2-3 writing process, Ryukishi sees it as a game of chess. He sets up the rules and then watches the games play out as an observer, where sometimes white wins and sometimes black wins. Additionally, a lot of plot twists were added just for the sake of messing with his friend BT (such as Rika’s darker side, because Rika was BT’s favorite character). In other words, a lot of things were improvised or made up on the spot, mostly for the sake of shock value. I find this really interesting because it’s more like he is simply watching his own stories, and allows his readers to contribute to the outcome of the story. Each game is an exploration of the characters he has made, and so they all gain depth each time, until by the end of the series you have some very fleshed out and complex characters.

  • During the Q&A, I asked if he’d ever heard of English Umineko fanworks, and he said that he goes to 4chan (sorry, /seacats/!). It was also really awesome to see that he cared so much about what his fans thought, and that he took the time to answer as many questions as he was allowed. Someone else asked him about copyrights, and he said he hasn’t had any issues with it because his fans are passionate and aren’t faking it for profit. So, it seems that he is genuinely interested in fan works, which is good because I’ve been getting a few messages from fans of Seacats wanting to make their own games.

I’m definitely going to take all the writing advice to heart, and incorporate it the best I can into Detective Butler. But before I wrap things up for today, I think this is a good time to write about something else, something very personal.

Every so often, I get fan-mail telling me about how reading When the Seacats Cry or Detective Butler was particularly inspirational or life-changing for some of my fans, and I appreciate every response that I get (and I always take the time to reply back). However, I don’t usually take the time to explain how Umineko itself changed MY life, and I realized that, because he does not know English, there was no possible way I could tell Ryukishi in person (I couldn’t do what my fans do for me) and then I also finally realized that even if he saw my fangames, he wouldn’t be able to read them, ahaha… So I could only thank him endlessly for making such a great story. But either way, I feel as though now is a very appropriate time to go into the details of how Umineko influenced my life. I hope I can phrase what I want to say in the best way possible, and of course I should note that this is my own personal opinion based on my own experiences, and that others can come to their own conclusions (which is the most brilliant thing about Umineko).

I found Umineko in October 2008, just as it was starting to get translated by Witch Hunt. I had seen the Higurashi anime that Spring and was interested to see that the same author was doing another story. That’s when I first discovered the visual novel medium. I quickly read EP1 and EP2, and was then hooked on the Umineko series. My favorite scene in all of Umineko is the ending to EP2, with Rosa and Maria and the goats. It had the perfect build-up, a dysfunctional relationship that finally meets a common enemy, but we know it ends in tragedy (all while playing an awesome soundtrack).

From that point on, Umineko changed my life in two ways. First, it gave me the ability to think critically, to solve problems, to question the status quo, and to search for rational explanations where I had previously just accepted things as they were. While reading EP1 the first time, I assumed that Beatrice did indeed exist, because of what happened in Higurashi. I was then surprised that Battler would challenge the witch’s existence at the very end of EP1. I had no idea how those closed rooms could be solved! I should also mention that at the time, I was still rather religious, and reading about satanic goat demons scared the living hell out of me (no pun intended). After reading Umineko, I became quite the skeptic, and ultimately decided that religion was not for me. There are a lot of religious parallels and references in Umineko — Maria’s Bible verses, the magic circles, the chapel, the cross that Battler wears, the Divine Comedy, the ideas of sins and forgiveness, EP8′s Revelations and the seven-headed serpent, and the “red text” being the literal Word of God. It’s clear that Ryukishi had this angle in mind when writing, and from my personal standpoint, it literally changed the way I saw the world. I was able to see other viewpoints, come to a number of different yet equally valid conclusions, and even learn a bit of quantum mechanics at the same time. But my point is that I overcame a lot of my own fears this way, as Umineko tackled a lot of difficult themes and broke them down into things that were easy for me to understand.

Even now, I consider this a valuable skill, because there are many situations where people just stop thinking and accept what they are told without thinking. Particularly in this Internet Age, where information spreads so quickly, and nobody bothers to check the facts on anything before believing it (such as Tumblr SJW’s and radical feminism, but that could be its own article). I cannot stress enough the importance of questioning what you’re being told, because people who refuse to give answers simply don’t have any answers to give you. They rely on the fact that you don’t question them, you don’t bother to think for yourself. Once someone takes away your ability to think for yourself, and your ability to believe in yourself, it’s going to be very easy for them to have control over your life. Umineko taught me the value of independent thought, and how easily manipulated the truth can be. I think it’s a shame that most people don’t know that message because they didn’t want to read a super-long visual novel, because that message introduces you to an important and life-changing mode of thought.

In fact, a lot of my own success as a developer, I think, is based on this idea. In the first place, I would not be here without Umineko. I would certainly not be a visual novel developer. Some other type of video game, sure, but I owe everything I have right now to 07th Expansion. And being able to question the way people do things — I think that has allowed me to see some flaws in the visual novel medium, and put my own personal spin onto things. I’m much more gameplay and visually oriented, rather than text, so I try to incorporate a lot of programming into my games. Rather than writing a generic slice of life romance story set in a Japanese high school, I’m writing a murder mystery set in America. It’s different, I’m doing it in my own way, and I’m questioning the way other developers are making their games. I would encourage any other EVN or indie game developers to do the same, and carve your own path by questioning the traditions of those before you.

Additionally, Umineko gave me more friends than I could have imagined. I remember relating to Ange a lot during her EP4 segments, and I was horribly depressed and alone at the time. Reading about her made me feel so much better. It made me realize that if you want to have something, you need to make it happen yourself. I joined Umineko message boards, began theorizing with others, and eventually started work on my fangames (because I was a hobbyist programming highschooler at the time) and that’s when I joined /seacats/. We went on a lot of fun adventures and made a lot of memories, and they are still the closest friends I have today. Not only did my critical thinking skills sharpen, but I was able to play fun games with friends, and make games for them to solve as well. The shared bond of reading Umineko, theorizing about it together, and cringing at some of the answers is an experience that can’t be replicated anywhere, and I tried my best to convey that in the fourth episode of Seacats. Even now, at ACEN it was amazing to see people coming together to play gameboards in person, literally wielding blue and red lightsabers to fight each other. It’s simply incredible that Ryukishi has practically invented a new form of chess for people to play all over the world, and its ability to create friendships is astounding.

And of course, thanks to Umineko, and the fangames I wrote, I can inspire other people. I continually make friends because of some things I wrote five years ago. Ryukishi wrote for BT, and at the time I wrote for Meta. It appears that it has some ripple effect, that if you write for a single person, it really shows through and reaches a wide audience. There is some intrinsic value, some emotion maybe, that appears in your writing. Something personal, maybe? Your own personal touch, like it’s a love letter, or a game meant between you and the other person. Writing as an action-reaction sort of way, with author and reader taking turns, is a fascinating concept of writing a story. I’m happy to be able to inspire others just like 07th Expansion inspired and helped me. And that’s a goal that I want to accomplish with my games in the future.