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Thoughts on Tokyo Babel (a summary after my fifth playthrough)

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Clephas

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First, as I state in the title, I'm coming off my fifth playthrough (all paths and endings) of Tokyo Babel.  As such, I am - very obviously - deeply fond of the game.  I'm also a fan of the writer Higashide Yuuichirou (for reference, he also wrote Ayakashibito and the scenario for Fate/Apocrypha). 

However, in this post I wanted to address some of the complaints I get from those who play the game.  First, I will address the major complaints I've taken personally from those who read or have read it untranslated, then those who read it translated.

Untranslated

1.  'This doesn't feel like a Higashide game/isn't as good as his other games!'  For better or worse, Higashide went in a different direction, style, and approach in Tokyo Babel in comparison to his previous works.  Ayakashibito is the basis for most untranslated Higashide fanboys' love, but it needs to be said that anyone who has played the two games will barely see any resemblance beyond the writing style. 

Ayakashibito was about a young man struggling against the world as he tried to carve out a life for himself with his adoptive sister.  His emotional struggles with unreasonable and unreasoning prejudice, as well as the active malice of powers both great and small, struck a chord in a lot of the people who read it.  Moreover, it is by far the most slice-of-life focused of all Higashide's titles, whereas a huge portion of Tokyo Babel is fighting, preparation for fighting, and dealing with conspiracies.

2.  'I loved Dies Irae and this was recommended to me based on that, but it doesn't match up.'  This one makes me laugh.  Sorry, I'm not trying to be contemptuous, but, despite some surface resemblances, Tokyo Babel is wildly different from Dies Irae.  Higashide is not a poet.  Masada is.  Higashide is calculating where Masada is impulsive.  As such, I can honestly say the only resemblance between the two is that they both have a preference for fantasy and melodrama.  Dies Irae is an opera, whereas Tokyo Babel is more straightforward and to the point, in comparison.

3.  'Why is there no ero?  All his other games had ero, so why not this one?'  I have to wonder if anyone but me was surprised at this one being the third most common complaint I got from those I recommended this game to.  Yes, his other games have a mix of good and horrid ero (Ayakashibito is particularly infamous for its side-character scenes), but Tokyo Babel was written from beginning to end as an all-ages novel.  Surprisingly, I agree with those who think the lack of ero in Tokyo Babel had a negative effect.  To be blunt, I can't see Lilith not finding a way to shove Setsuna into Raziel's futon or failing to trap him in a room alone with Sorami... and that's setting aside several moments in her path that would have made for some great 'desperate and somber H' scenes.  Higashide, for all that his ero scenes were sometimes awful (again, Ayakashibito), always made them relevant to the story and used them to enhance its flow... something many chuuni writers who utilize ero content fail to do.

4. 'What the heck is it with this game's weird mix of styles?!'  I'm not an art bigot, so I'm not the best person to answer this question.  This game's art style differs from previous Propeller games to a significant degree at times.  Is that a good or bad thing?  Hard to answer... though I do think the decision to make the main characters look younger than in previous games (with some exceptions) was questionable, lol.

Translated

1.  'What is with the translation?!!!!'.  Aah... this is the idiot argument.  Sorry, but I've said this a thousand times before 'Japanese to English translation is an oxymoron'.  Conjueror was pretty much the only translator brave enough to jump into translating something like Dies Irae or Tokyo Babel precisely because fans of this type of game are such a-holes when it comes to translations.  Yes, it isn't perfect.  Yes, it doesn't somehow magically mirror Higashide's brilliance perfectly.  However, I would like to make a few major points for those who insist they could do better...

Japanese has numerous concepts, sayings, and even casual phrasing that simply don't translate into English without a much larger number of words to fill in the gaps in the language.  One reason I always recommend anyone who can read a game in Japanese (even if they have to use a parser and text hooker) do so is because it is impossible to perfectly replicate everything in a localization to English.  It is possible to get across many concepts with creative language and a wide vocabulary in English, but that sometimes means spending minutes or even an hour on a single line, trying to create something that can somehow retain the best parts of the original.  Chuuni translations tend to be awkward (both anime and games) because the language used requires more of this, and it becomes too easy to fall into the habit of robotically spewing out the translation instead of actually writing it into prose (look at the FGO cell phone game and you'll see what I mean).

2.  'This wasn't as dramatic as I thought it would be!'  This one puzzles me... but then, I never played the game all the way through in English (I went up through the Miyako fight in Raziel's route to get an idea of what it was like), so maybe more was lost in the localization toward the middle and end than I thought. 

3.  'The subject matter made me uncomfortable'...  Ah yes, this one.  To be honest, even I felt the remnants of my upbringing pounding on the doors of my psyche at times when I played this game.  To be blunt, to anyone brought up in a devout Christian (or even Muslim) household, playing any of the routes can be enormously uncomfortable at times.  By the nature of the process of 'suspending disbelief' that occurs when you read something fantasy, your prejudices and upbringing inevitably play into how you see the game.  To be blunt, by Christian standards, this game is blasphemous, lol.  In Japan, due to the way the divine is seen (impossible to explain if you haven't studied it, so I won't go into this here), this game doesn't feel that way.  However, this game can cause some odd reactions in some Westerners.

4.  'I don't get the humor.'  Sad to say, but a good portion of humor in Japanese VNs simply doesn't translate very well.  The funniest scene in the game (in my opinion) is the drunken party in Sorami's path... but there are several points in this scene that don't translate (think plays on Japanese wording, puns, and phone number styles) that had me cracking up every time.  Sad to say, but, for those playing translated JVNs, this is something you'll just have to live with.

 

Conclusion

I didn't really refute any of the complaints here... but I did try to address them.  Tokyo Babel is one of the few of my favorite games that have been translated (though more of them have been in recent years, including Hapymaher and Dies Irae), but it is also the one of my translated favorites that is most likely not to be mentioned when someone is asking about this type of game. 

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As someone who thought Tokyo Babel was good but not great, my biggest complaint is that the prologue had this amazing atmosphere leading up to the fight while the rest of the VN just felt like regular chuunige stuff.

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