You know, producing a visual novel during this pandemic wasn't actually a wise decision.
In fact, as of this writing, the news about the Omicron variant are pouring in and I'm mystified how we've come to accept that pandemic surveillance is part of our normal life now. I barely got my two shots after quarreling with a foreign government and now I'm back in my home country of Indonesia that's likely to be wrecked by the upcoming waves.
It's a really stupid idea to even attempt setting up a yuri visual novel collective with friends. Everyone, myself included, is bound to be busy and working other jobs to keep themselves fed. Surely, there are better things to consider during this pandemic.
But that's the reason why I am drawn to this project. We started Prof. Lily in 2020, when the SARS-COVID pandemic officially began.
I had the idea of creating visual novels since 2018-2019. I was still studying International Relations in a top-rated but shitty UK university when I just had it. The stress of studying distressing subjects finally got to me and I hadn't touched a single piece of otaku media, so I wrote a bunch of crazy notes on a visual novel I'd like to write.
That work, unofficially titled Necro VN, was heavily inspired by 装甲悪鬼村正 and お前ごとき. It featured my immature thoughts on capitalism and zombies. There's copious notes about its lore and how the world had been changed by the technological singularity of zombies. In my mind, I was kinda making a zombie version of Baldr Sky with a hot nun that's prejudiced against zombies. A bunch of my friends liked it and I ended up considering how fun it would be to write visual novels while working a day job or something.
In 2020, I was coincidentally approached by an English-language yuri visual novel studio and ended helping them out a bit. While observing their activities, I started thinking about the kinds of titles I could make if I had the money and talent. It was all just a fun daydream to have while in school, but I was getting inspired by some media written by queer people in Japan and going "Hmm..."
When I finished my studies, I focused on my current work obligations. I was looking for employment in Europe, talking to my family about the future, and perhaps studying in Japan to acquire some networking opportunities and even pursue a PhD there.
Then, COVID struck.
I looked at my plans, all thwarted and in a mess. I tried to peer into the future, but all I could see was me sitting down on the computer and wondering when COVID will be over. It felt all hopeless. But as I fumbled around the rubble, I began reconsidering what I really wanted to do.
What was I really after? Where do I want to be in my 30s? What do I want to picture myself doing in the near future?
I suddenly remembered: I learned Japanese to read eroge.
What if I could write eroge in English?
That question raises another question.
Okay then, what kind of eroge would I like to write?
And so, the seeds of Prof. Lily were sown.
I knew that I wanted to write yuri shit.
For starters, I was already inspired by works like リズと青い鳥 and SeaBed that explored the subtle relationships between women. But a major work that really got me going with the very idea of a visual novel collective was Musicus.
Musicus is the last Overdrive visual novel written by Setoguchi. It tracks the life story of a band named Dr. Flower and how they persevered in the face of the cursed band scenes and the music industry. The work also explores some taboo subjects that even most eroge wouldn't touch with a pole. I was in love with how the work expressed the pains and traumas of being a creative in a very commercialized art world. But most importantly, the ending of Musicus was what sparked me into creating this group.
I obviously can't just blurt out the spoilers, but anyone familiar with the ending would recognize the symbolic meaning of this collective taking its name from the band Dr. Flower. Even when I was doing my social science degree, I could not stop thinking about writing fiction and pursuing the arts. I feel like I was, for better or worse, cursed to be in the arts because that's just my aptitude. The ending of Musicus basically confirmed to me that creatives cannot do anything but do cursed creative shit.
It's a bit corny to write about how an eroge inspired me to write eroge, especially since Musicus was the last title for Overdrive. But I cannot stress how hopeful the title is for the passion of creatives even under the duress of capitalism.
So, if you hate the output of Prof. Lily creating and producing all these weird ass titles, you can blame entirely on how inspiring Musicus's ending is lmao.
But at the same time, I didn't just want to write yuri; I wanted to bridge Japanese cultures with the world because they are utterly inspiring to me.
It's true that I'm a manchild in love with eroge. But eroge (and visual novels as a whole) explore the world in ways I did not realize was possible in fiction. Titles like Cross+Channel, 素晴らしき日々, Rance X, Dragon Knight 4, and so many more infected my brain with their new radical ideas on what fiction could be. They provided me tools and maps to imagine a new world altogether.
And that imagination is important. People have spilled ink on the purpose of art, but I think the main point of it is to encourage people to conceive the world differently. Think of science fiction writers who wrote optimistically and cynically about the future, fantasy writers exploring the past and present through familiar tropes, and just the entire breadth of fiction. Everyone wants things to change and they imagine it in their own words. The reader, facing these walls of text, is asked to think about these worlds and ponder critically about the strengths and limitations of these settings.
If we don't engage in much art, we stop imagining possibilities. We subscribe to what is already stated: capitalism. There is no alternative, so says the economist. Just live with it, so says the politician.
But none of that crap is true.
Karl Marx once famously said that "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." We have to imagine possibilities and seize a future, so we can politically fight for it. The imagination provoked by fiction is one of the utopian drives to break away from the lame status quo "reality" of capitalism.
And I see that in eroge and queer identities. Everyone wants to imagine a better world, a better version of themself. We should be thinking what's possible, not what's "realistic". Letting ourselves roleplay and simulate that "alternate" reality might give us ideas on how we can better ourselves and the world.
I also feel the weight of eroge's prestigious history before me and wonder if I could carry the torch to the finish line too.
I've been playing PC-98 titles like ようこそシネマハウスへ and being utterly impressed how ... different it was from anything I've read. I'd like to write about it on this blog someday.
Likewise, the works of Hiruta Masato (Elf) and TADA (Alicesoft) especially have struck a chord with me. Finishing 臭作 and 鬼作 made me rethink how we play eroge and the behemoth project, Rance X, totally confuses me with its grand storytelling and deep gameplay. These works should not have existed because of technical and monetary limitations, but the staff saw these ambitious works to the end and we're able to play it today.
I wonder if it will be childish to dream of making an eroge as incredible as these works. As much as I like working on Gay From Translating, I have to admit we're nowhere near that level. We'd be lucky to get something out, let alone produce a gigantic work as influential as YU-NO. Hell, we're still nowhere close to the uniqueness of the Furyu console game Caligula Effect 2.
But I want to try. I want to write something as daring as these great works that I'm obsessed about. My affection for Japanese subculture media has tempted me to mimic their forms. Most times, I get frustrated at my own crappy attempts. But I'm also one step closer to understanding what these creators are doing and perhaps feeling about their own works.
Their drive to impress upon us their visions is perhaps the thing I want to most emulate.
That said, I sometimes feel guilty writing and producing eroge for Prof. Lily precisely because it is fun and I'm not exactly making money from it. It isn't really a job. However, it is an artistic enterprise that I'm very happy to pursue. I don't know how long Prof. Lily will survive, but I want to see how far it can go.
There's many ideas our team has that we want to explore, the Necro VN project included. Of course, money is an issue... But we all want to see Prof. Lily succeed. We like eroge and we want to make eroge. It's even better if it's gay. I could make Saori write happy gay girl relationships while I conjure up cursed plots that cause everyone to get pissed at how I scope creep all the time. Eroge development is the funnest I've had in a long while.
So yeah, is producing eroge when we're still in dire straits a good idea? Not really, especially considering the health of the market and how oppressive distributors can be against adult media.
But man, is it fun.