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The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki o kakeru shōjo) Part 7: The Anime in the Age of the Visual Novel

Warning! This article contains spoilers for HOSODA Mamoru’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Glory of Heracles III, YU-NO, Mother and World Destruction/Sands of Destruction.

The third movie adaptation of TSUTSUI’s novel from 2006 was the first to get some recognition in the West, thanks to it being an anime. It was also a sequel rather than a remake like the second movie, with Kazuko’s niece Makoto becoming the new heroine. The fourth movie from 2010 returns to the live action format but follows the anime’s sequel approach and had Kazuko’s daughter become the next heroine. In HOSODA’s anime, Kazuko is apparently still single and works in a museum, taking Mr. FUKUSHIMA’s function of explaining the strange power to the young girl.

Again we find the heroine in a triangle relationship with two boys, Kōsuke and Chiaki. They’re 17, one year older than the characters in the first movie who were in turn one year older than in the novel. They play baseball instead of basketball and start out as inseparable, as they were in the novel.

I won’t do a detailed analysis for this movie and instead again recommend you watch it for yourself. As opposed to the other versions it is widely available, I even caught it on local TV. What I’m going to do is I will pick up a few core elements of the narrative and put them into our larger context of video games influenced by TSUTSUI’s story.

If you compare this 2006 movie to previous versions the most notable difference is how Makoto is using the power. Kazuko hardly used it at all, wanted to get rid of it and be normal again. Makoto on the other hand finds plenty of uses for it and alters time to her liking, something which the original novel warned about, even claimed it were impossible.

Another notable difference is the nature of the accident. In the original Kazuko and Gorō were careless but still followed traffic rules when they were trying to cross the street as pedestrians. The reckless truck, while appearing similar to Gorō, was an outside force that almost killed the two. Makoto on the other hand is alone, on the street riding her bike and it’s her broken brakes that endanger her life. She is going too fast and is unable to stop, as opposed to the speeding male truck in the original.

Gorō’s new version Kōsuke becomes part of the same accident though when he borrows Makoto’s bike and rides it with his new girlfriend. Again it is Makoto’s responsibility but it isn’t even her who is injured but the girl she helped to get together with Kōsuke. These changes reflect the changes in society, Makoto is a more confident and emancipated girl than Kazuko was, not afraid to use the power and an active participant of street traffic.

But the heavy rewinding and branching of time lines also reflects certain new game genres, something which might have influenced HOSODA and his script writer OKUDERA, who later demonstrated an interest and deep understanding of video games in their 2009 movie Summer Wars.

Continue

When TSUTSUI originally published his novel in 1965, video games didn’t even exist. Still, his story was a prophetic description of game structure: Die, but return to an earlier point in time where you still live, retaining knowledge of what will cause your death. In games we have restart and save points and in a way the player’s experience is similar to that of Kazuko when she escapes death in a likewise manner.

But this kind of “time travel” is usually only part of the player’s meta plane, not of the game’s narrative. When you restart from a save point the game hero isn’t aware he’s doing things again for the umpteenth time. Yet there are games that bring this player experience explicitly into the game world. A prime example would be Ico, in which you save by taking a nap on stone banks. If you die, it will be a dream of the future the hero had and the knowledge of which he can use to avoid it the next time.

Ico incorporates this aspect into its game narrative beautifully but it wasn’t the first to do so. Mother also interpreted the events leading to the game over as a bad dream when you decide to restart from an earlier save. But Mother being a Dragon Quest type of RPG, it included an even better option. Return to the place where you last saved but retain experience and items you picked up. Glory of Heracles III also is a member of the Dragon Quest school of RPGs and since your heroes are immortal they can restart from save points without losing anything, not even money.

NOJIMA admitted to using motifs from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in Final Fantasy VII, but he also already connected the novel with video game narratives in Glory of Heracles III. This is a major spoiler but a certain catastrophe is undone in this game by means of time travel. NOJIMA must have felt that TSUTSUI’s story was a perfect fit for video games and ITOI might have too, as it wouldn’t be surprising if certain shared motifs in Mother originated in TSUTSUI’s story also.

Despite all the inspiration NOJIMA takes from TSUTSUI, the time travel aspect itself he rarely uses explicitly. Final Fantasy VIII is one of the few examples, also showing NOJIMA’s particular interpretation of video games as time machines. Squall and his party several times find themselves in the past, taking over the bodies of his father Lagoona and his party. But they aren’t able to change anything, only experience the past events. This stays true to the explanation of TSUTSUI’s Kazuo, that history cannot be changed. Yet learning from his father’s history, Squall can make his own decisions in the yet unwritten future.

The branching path adventure

In the same year as Glory of Heracles III a new type of game established a radically different approach to game narratives in Japan. Although we find limited time travel at the structural core of pretty much all games, it doesn’t really allow to change the plot for linear games. For all the interactivity, the plot remains fixed by linear design. Chunsoft, who had brought adventure games and RPGs to the Famicom and thus to mainstream Japanese audiences in the 80ies, adapted the gamebook as a video game format with Otogirisō in 1992.

Like pen and paper RPGs, gamebooks were an earlier attempt at interactive storytelling before the advent of electronic games. Apart from throwing dice, branching paths were the only interactivity that made the usually linear print medium a game. In Japan gamebooks existed since 1984, when video games were already established. It comes as no surprise that there were many gamebook tie ins with video game franchises, Enix published several for Dragon Quest, Mother and Fire Emblem. Since these tried to recreate the RPG experience they made more use of dice throwing and battles than branching paths.

With their first Sound Novel Otogirisō, Chunsoft attempted to create a game that limited its interactivity and graphical presentation in favor of a high quality written narrative. Gamebooks often lacked literary refinement, yet offered complex branching stories not found in other books and curiously also not in most video games. Sound novels sought to realize the full potential of novels and an underutilized potential of games in high quality electronic gamebooks. Its great success resulted in more installments and many imitators, the birth of a new genre.

The time travel aspect remained on the meta plane at first but became linked explicitly in later examples of this new genre. One of the first and still most successful RPGs to heavily feature time travel, Chrono Trigger, applied a different gameplay style than branching paths but still felt similar enough that its sequel, Radical Dreamers, turned out to be sound novel style game. People clearly felt that branching path games constituted a sort of time traveling game.

This became more pronounced when developers of erotic games for PCs in Japan discovered Chunsoft’s sound novel format. In 1996 Leaf published Shizuku, the first of its Visual Novel series. This term was a clear rip off of Chunsoft’s Sound Novel and followed the format closely, yet used anime style visuals as opposed to the more realistic ones in Chunsoft’s efforts, who even switched to photographs for most of their novel games on optical drive-based consoles. Chunsoft trademarked the term sound novel and other console novel games only were unofficially called so. Leaf on the other hand didn’t trademark their term and it became a general term for this type of novel games leaning towards the anime visual style.

In terms of interactivity, novel games were a downgrade to the preexisting command based point and click graphic adventures. Some might see the appeal of novel games more in the branching path aspect and when Elf, another developer of erotic games for PCs, took inspiration from Chunsoft with YU-NO later in 1996, they dropped the novel part and just made a regular adventure with heavily branching paths. When these type of branching path adventures were ported to consoles they were often also called visual novels because of the common new gameplay aspect. In the broad sense the term came to also refer to such otherwise traditional adventures utilizing branching paths to lead to different outcomes, despite the lack of a novel narrative.

More important for our subject at hand, YU-NO reflected the time traveling aspect in its narrative, featuring some SF mechanics in its story that allowed the protagonist to return to earlier points in the narrative and even making the branching paths visible in diagrams that look like a level select map.1 For this reason, YU-NO is cited by AZUMA Hiroki as a prime example illuminating the database view of the world that otaku have according to him. Refer to Azuma 2001. Published in English translation in 2009 as Otaku. Japan’s Database Animals.

The A.D.M.S. time selection screen from YU-NO. Thanks to 疲れっぱなし for the screenshot.

Later more mainstream games on consoles featured the same two aspects, time travel and level select screens for branching path stories, two prime examples of which would be Shadow of Memories and Astro Boy: Omega Factor. The former is a console style adventure which incorporates time travel both to explain how the hero can start over after death and to travel to other ages as in Chrono Trigger, but from a diagram screen as in YU-NO. Changing the past leads to new story branches becoming available and to new endings.2 Note that opposed to YU-NO in Shadow of Memories only the path currently traveled is visible in the time select screen. Footnote added on 12/03/13.


Thanks to cubex55 for his longplay of Shadow of Memories on youtube.

The latter is a platforming shooter based on the classic manga hero. It starts out linearly, the levels being like chapters in a story. Then after the end of the game a level select screen is unlocked of which the game hero is aware and which he can use to change the past and bring the story to a different outcome.3 Note that there is no heavy branching involved in Astro Boy Omega Factor but rather the player can change events in a number of levels/chapters to unlock one different ending path. Footnote added on 12/03/13.

astroboyomegafactor
Thanks to cubex55 for his longplay of Astro Boy: Omega Factor on youtube.

These games showed that the appeal of branching path gameplay was transferable to any genre of video game, and that it was a logical evolution of themes evident in all kinds of Japanese popular culture, like manga, novels and most recently games. When HOSODA made his version of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time the updated story reflects the new type of gameplay represented by visual novels.

Together Forever

Together forever

In the 1983 movie Kazuko says Gorō will eternally be without a lover. In the 2006 anime, Makoto would prefer to stay with her friends together forever, the prospect of one falling in love with another girl, or even her, threatening to destroy the group she is used to be in. She plays cupid for Kōsuke, she would rather forsake normality in favor of the power, to use it to not become anyone’s girlfriend.

It is worth pointing out that in Glory of Heracles IV already the same constellation of a girl and two boys is threatened by the girl having to decide between the two. She also voices the wish they could stay together forever. So NOJIMA and HOSODA both develop the original notion from the 1983 movie very similarly.

As for the influence of the visual novel, the anime even features a scene with a branching path for the two ways to the homes of the boys. Choose Kōsuke, the boy with the clearly male name, the one who gets a girlfriend, or choose Chiaki, the boy with a name that can also be female, the one who wants to be with Makoto and is really a visitor from a future with a dwindling population. The future with a dwindling population is also another key motif from the original novel that NOJIMA picks up for one of his games’ scenarios in Black Rock Shooter.

YU-NO had an interesting solution to the following time paradox: If someone travels back in time to kill their parents before their birth, they won’t be born and thus not be able to go back in time to kill their parents. Who will in turn survive and give birth to them, again trying to prevent their own birth. So time travel shouldn’t be possible. YU-NO‘s stance on this matter is, time can be changed but history cannot.

According to the game’s logic what will happen is this: When someone goes back in time and changes something, time splits up into another path, the former history retained but a new timeline started. So the person will just not be born and not exist in the new time line, the alternate reality.4 http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/この世の果てで恋を唄う少女YU-NO#時は可逆、歴史は不可逆 That is the kind of time machine that is the branching path game. It allows you to go back and create an alternate reality.

Kazuo coming to our time did save Kazuko and Gorō from death, the opposite of killing them. But his presence makes Kazuko fall for him, frustrating Gorō’s chances to become close to her. The result: a future with a dwindling population. Kazuo was Kazuko’s mirror, her male avatar. She is the player, he the Mario.

In part 4 I showed you a page from the Mother Encyclopedia saying that you the player are Ninten. The game itself tells a slightly different story. In one town the hero’s father acknowledges that the player is a separate entity from the hero, asks for their name and thanks them for taking care of his son, developing his abilities. The RPG player is more like a mother to the hero than the actual hero.

A key scene in HOSODA’s anime version. Thanks to kirai for the screenshot.

So Makoto as the visual novel player has to decide between a real boyfriend and a virtual one. This sounds like an either… or… kind of choice. Destroy the real world or the game world. But Chrono series writer and director KATŌ offers a third option with his game World Destruction. Morte is out to destroy the world. She thinks it’s a bad world and should be reset a.s.a.p.5 The world in this game is ruled by anthropomorphized animals who oppress the common people. Compare AZUMA’s description of otaku, Azuma 2001. Published in English translation in 2009 as Otaku. Japan’s Database Animals. Game hero Kyrie on the other hand is lacking Morte’s determination, questioning their task. Yet he seemingly can’t escape his fate as the hero, to bring the story to a conclusion. He promised his mother that he will end the world, like a child that promised to put away their toy after they finished playing.6 Compare Ultimecia’s hold on Squall and his courage, represented in Griever who Ultimecia can summon, in Final Fantasy VIII. Only by defeating the mother’s rule7 Compare defeating Ultimecia in Final Fantasy VIII or Yunalesca in Final Fantasy X., Kyrie and Morte can avoid destroying the world8 Compare waking from the dream in Link’s Awakening and all the game characters disappearing, only remaining in the player’s memory. and instead recreate9 Compare the Shin Megami Tensei series, in which usually the male hero creates a new world alone. Or recreate the previous world which usually allows him to be with the girl. and improve it together. Without losing the people who existed in it before.10 Compare Chrono Cross, in which the fellow party members bid you farewell because you won’t remember them after the reset. In World Destruction they are part of the world after the game is over.

Why not enjoy games with a real significant other? The generation Wii plays together, with game heroes that look like the players, uniting the virtual and the real. And if games are virtual significant others, players are conditioned to move on to a new one frequently. This is why Final Fantasy is doing real sequels now, so players grow accustomed to a world and its characters and want to stay with it. Because if there aren’t sequels to continue the story, at one point there won’t be any new players to buy the games either.

And thus in the second sequel to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Kazuko finally has her own family.

Timetable

Date Title comment Author(s) genre platform time travel? structure Possible to change past? multiple outcomes?
02/03/1984 Paper Adventure first gamebook in Japan TEZUKA Ichirō gamebook book no branching yes yes
11/29/1985 Portpia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken ported by Chunsoft HORII Yūji adventure Famicom no mostly linear no no
05/27/1986 Dragon Quest developed by Chunsoft HORII Yūji RPG Famicom no loosely linear no no
1988 Game Book Dragon Quest III first gamebook by Enix ? gamebook book no loosely linear no no
07/27/1989 Mother ITOI Shigesato RPG Famicom no loosely linear no no
03/07/1992 Otogirisō Chunsoft creates the novel game and the branching path adventure NAGASAKA Shūkei sound novel Super Famicom no branching yes lots
04/24/1992 Glory of Heracles III NOJIMA Kazushige, NONAKA I. RPG Super Famicom limited to one event mostly linear one time no
10/21/1994 Glory of Heracles IV NOJIMA Kazushige RPG Super Famicom no linear no no
03/11/1995 Chrono Trigger KATŌ Masato RPG Super Famicom portals connecting ages, select age loosely linear yes many
01/26/1996 Shizuku first novel game for PC, establishing the term visual novel TAKAHASHI Tatsuya visual novel DOS no branching yes lots
02/03/1996 Radical Dreamers sequel to Chrono Trigger KATŌ Masato sound novel Super Famicom (Satellaview) no branching yes many
12/26/1996 Kono yo no hate ni koi o utau shōjo YU-NO first non novel branching path adventure KANNO Hiroyuki adventure PC-98 select point in time on path diagram branching yes lots
02/11/1999 Final Fantasy VIII NOJIMA Kazushige RPG Playstation become your father mostly linear no no
02/22/2001 Shadow of Memories KAWANO Junko adventure Playstation2 start over on death, select age branching yes some
09/26/2001 ICO UEDA Fumito action/adventure Playstation2 no linear no no
03/13/2003 Final Fantasy X-2 first actual Final Fantasy sequel NOJIMA Kazushige, WATANABE Daisuke RPG Playstation 2 no loosely linear/branching yes some
12/18/2003 Astro Boy Omega Factor OKANO Tez platformer/shooter Gameboy Advance via level select linear, then loosely linear yes few
07/15/2006 Toki o kakeru shōjo Third movie, first sequel in the franchise OKUDERA Satoko SF anime leap freely through time yes
09/25/2008 World Destruction KATŌ Masato RPG DS no mostly linear no no
08/01/2009 Summer Wars OKUDERA Satoko SF anime no linear no no
03/13/2010 Toki o kakeru shōjo Fourth movie, second sequel KANNO Tomoe SF movie leap freely through time yes
08/25/2011 Black★Rock Shooter future with humankind going extinct NOJIMA Kazushige action RPG PSP no linear, then loosely linear yes few
07/12/2012 Time Travelers Unofficial sequel to 428, a sound novel by Chunsoft KITAJIMA Yukinori novel 3DS, PSP, Vita select point in time on path diagram linear/branching yes lots (mostly bad ends)
  1. For this reason, YU-NO is cited by AZUMA Hiroki as a prime example illuminating the database view of the world that otaku have according to him. Refer to Azuma 2001. Published in English translation in 2009 as Otaku. Japan’s Database Animals. []
  2. Note that opposed to YU-NO in Shadow of Memories only the path currently traveled is visible in the time select screen. Footnote added on 12/03/13. []
  3. Note that there is no heavy branching involved in Astro Boy Omega Factor but rather the player can change events in a number of levels/chapters to unlock one different ending path. Footnote added on 12/03/13. []
  4. http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/この世の果てで恋を唄う少女YU-NO#時は可逆、歴史は不可逆 []
  5. The world in this game is ruled by anthropomorphized animals who oppress the common people. Compare AZUMA’s description of otaku, Azuma 2001. Published in English translation in 2009 as Otaku. Japan’s Database Animals. []
  6. Compare Ultimecia’s hold on Squall and his courage, represented in Griever who Ultimecia can summon, in Final Fantasy VIII. []
  7. Compare defeating Ultimecia in Final Fantasy VIII or Yunalesca in Final Fantasy X. []
  8. Compare waking from the dream in Link’s Awakening and all the game characters disappearing, only remaining in the player’s memory. []
  9. Compare the Shin Megami Tensei series, in which usually the male hero creates a new world alone. Or recreate the previous world which usually allows him to be with the girl. []
  10. Compare Chrono Cross, in which the fellow party members bid you farewell because you won’t remember them after the reset. In World Destruction they are part of the world after the game is over. []
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