Hey everybody, Tay here. In this edition of “Community Spotlight” I had the privilege to interview Clephas, a voracious VN reader who is well known for his frighteningly-long VNDB profile read-list, and among the Fuwanovel community for thoughtful topics discussing VN fandom and authorship (also, he runs a fascinating personal VN of the month thread.) I hope this interview will interest you, too: I found it very interesting to peek into the brain of one who has read and seen so much of the VN world. I still laugh when he refers to the “Prophet’s Disease” in response to a comparison with Keima (The World God Only Knows).
As usual, some minor formatting has been done to the interview (my lines are in bold, Clephas’s lines are in normal print) and a few of my commentaries/one question were edited or removed, but the interview is otherwise untouched.
Tay: Well, first of all, I’m interested in hearing how you first found VNs, and what it was that kept you interested in them.
Clephas: Mmm… well, when I first got into VNs, it was through the editor Rika-chama at m33w, the fansub group I worked with the most consistently when I was still doing that. He suggested I try Tsukihime, and within a few hours I was completely hooked. I devoured my way through all the translated ones – including the nukige – within a matter of two months and dug into my first Japanese one – Jingai Makyou – shortly after.
What kept me interested was the medium’s unique combination of a written story, visual aspects, and audio to create an experience that differed radically from books/lightnovels and even manga. I was always the type that preferred rpgs with more story and less combat, such as Xenosaga, and so it clicked quite well with my personal tastes.
This was 2008, I believe.
Is that mixture of elements (word, image, audio) what still draws you to the genre today?
Mmm… to an extent. However, as I drew deeper into the world of VNs in general, one thing I noticed was that writers of VNs – other than moege – seemed to have a great deal more freedom to write than anime and manga writers for large companies seemed to have. In particular, the concepts of morality/amorality that are tackled in games like Devils Devel Concept are ones that were unlikely to be tackled in mainstream otaku media such as rpgs, anime, or manga. This is because Japanese tend to prefer a slightly more optimistic or surreal approach to problems, with rare exceptions such as anime series like Fate/Zero standing out a great deal.
(I think there’s something to be said about VNs — and all written mediums, perhaps — having the potential to treat themes and concepts normally constrained in other mediums. Good point.)
Have you been able to keep track of all the VNs you’ve played?
Mmm… VNDB helps a great deal. Remembering each one I’ve played by name is pretty much impossible. If I see the title screen I can usually remember most of the story, in general. With the ones I liked most, I remember more detail, and I usually can recall the emotions I felt at the time I first played them with relatively little difficulty.
I actually have a question submitted by a user in the Fuwanovel Forums:
Do you ever experience Keima (TWGOK) moments in VNs? You’ve played so many of them — is it even possible for you to be surprised in a VN’s plot now that you’ve seen every possible archetype?
Mmm… with your standard moege/nakige it is very rare for me to be surprised. To a lesser extent, this is also true with story-focused VNs. However, I have learned how to not let such experiences let me get bored (though it is admittedly harder with moege) and detach myself to a degree from my ‘prophet’s disease’. If I hadn’t learned to appreciate games and stories for what they are (with the exception of series or games by a favorite company, which inevitably carry certain expectations) I wouldn’t still be a gamer and bibliophile after more than twenty years.
I do complain when writers/companies fail to properly utilize their cliches and settings though. A lot.
Do you have any personal “favorite” examples of “cliches” or “settings” being especially well-utilized?
Hmmm… for settings, Devils Devel Concept did a wonderful job in creating a unique mythos and utilizing it properly. Each heroine path revealed more aspects of the world and the protagonist’s and heroine’s relation to it than the one before. As for the proper use of cliches… Komorebi no Nostalgica – one of this year’s few kamige – comes to mind. The heroines are a pretty standard set for a modern VN – an android, a little sister, an osananajimi, etc. – and it looked at first as if the story would be character-centric. However, the cliches in the story were used as they should have been – as tools to enhance the plot. The android was used to explore the growth of a self-aware AI through interactions with humans, and the other routes all had their own unique paths and endings that left me both intellectually and emotionally satisfied. Throwing out a few cliches to draw interest from moe-fans and newbies is easy, but making something that feels fresh despite using those cliches is the work of a master.
You mentioned m33w earlier. Tell us more about your history with fan subbing.
I started with Mayu-subs, when their translator for World Destruction (also known as Sands of Destruction) vanished on them. At the time, I frequented the Baka-Wolf forums, and I took on the job without much thought. I quickly came to realize just how hard the job could be, and I’d chosen a series that was a pain in the rear to translate in any case. Nonetheless, I completed my translation of the series, before stealing the best members and forming our own group, Batsu-Geimu. Our first project, Shikabane Hime: Aka, was a serious pain. We got good reviews for our work on it, but no one in our group wanted anything to do with the series by the end. It was about that time that I helped with the last two episodes of the second season of xxxHolic for the Baka-Wolf fansub group and was recruited by m33w to help with Telepathy Shoujo Ran, where I ended up being mentored by Xess, who is the best raw translator I’ve ever come across. Unlike me, he was a meticulous researcher type, rather than a ‘I know it, now I transform it’ type. As such, I found myself learning a great deal from him, and I was left in awe of just how much work he could get done in a short time. I had a wide knowledge of fantasy terms in Japanese from my obsessions, so I was able to serve well as a tlc, simply correcting terms he got wrong or couldn’t figure out, and under his guidance I found myself improving rapidly in both understanding and translation skill. It was about that time that Basaka entered Batsu-Geimu and we began the translation of Koukaku no Regios, which we never quite finished (incidentally the last major project for the group as a whole). At the time, I was with about six different fansub groups, tling or tlcing about four to five episodes a week. This lasted for about a year, before I burned out and reduced my intake to one or two series a season, as a tlc only. My last anime series was Dantalian no Shoka, a delightful little fantasy series that really, really needs a sequel.
Are you still involved with subbing?
I occasionally advise on difficult lines when asked, but I’ve refused all requests to take on new projects for the past two years I’m more or less forgotten… not an unusual fate for a burned out translator Not as much of a point to fansubbing with crunchysubs everywhere.
I know you’ve done some work in translating VNs. Is there a significant psychological difference when translating a full-length VN as opposed to shorter anime episodes?
Yes. The biggest difficulty is the sheer volume of work and the sense of isolation a translator inevitably feels when he begins his work. Of course, with big groups like Amaterasu, I’m sure there is a huge difference, but with the abortive groups I’ve worked with, that is the biggest obstacle for a translator to remaining. More than once, I’ve found myself a thousand lines into a VN, only to find the rest of the group gone. It is virtually impossible to get up the will to continue a project that was once dissolved. At least for me.
Do you ever see yourself getting burned out of Japanese culture, or Japanese cultural products (i.e., anime, Visual Novels, etc.)?
Mmm… I can see my enthusiasm cooling somewhat someday. However, I love Japanese culture, even aside from otaku culture. There are many unattractive aspects to their culture (such as the incredible peer pressure they experience), but I find it fascinating to examine just how even those aspects form the basis for the actions of individuals and groups within the culture.
Outside of these products, what other hobbies and passions do you have?
Anthropology and history are two of my major interests. I like studying how cultures develop over time and how the past affects the formation of present mores and standards. I also read voraciously. I will read just about anything, though I have a distinct preference for fantasy, sci-fi, and the like that is also reflected in my tastes in VNs. I have also made a hobby of creating settings, world-building, and occasionally even writing stories and novels (though I haven’t had the free time to challenge writing an entire novel in the past year).
Do you have a favorite VN? If so, why is it your all-time favorite?
Mmm… I have a lot of VNs that compete for that slot, but the one that has had the most lasting impression on me was Evolimit, by Propeller (a subsidiary of Will). Evolimit combines all the best elements of a fantasy/action vn (cool action/powers, capable protagonists and side-characters, and a grand story) with quick humor and occasional emotional blackmail (seriously, if you don’t cry at least once during each path, you are heartless). Not only that, but the game manages to be inspiring… something that is oddly rare in VNs in general. Games might draw out emotion from me, but it is rare for me to come out of a game feeling uplifted, with even my cynicism gone dead for a few hours. I don’t always recommend it, because it does have parts that might be hard on newbies, but it is the one VN I know for a fact will never be toppled from the top of my list (probably because I can still enjoy – and cry like a baby for it – it after playing it five times
Alright. Well, those were the main points I wanted to ask about. Anything else I should ask, or that you’d like to talk about?
Hmmm… Those on the forums know my opinion on the difficulties and pitfalls of being a translator, for the most part. However, I would like to restate my warning about redundancy in VN translation projects. Having only a single translator serves as a beginning, but most projects that don’t obtain more won’t last. It is better to have a dozen translators working on a single project, with one or two translation-checkers fixing the less-skilled translators’ mistakes than to have just one or two translators trying to dig their way through a mountain of text with a teaspoon.
And there you have it.
Clephas: VNDB Profile
Clephas: Fuwanovel Profile