Fate/stay notes

fsn-whereloyaltieslie

Personally I'm all for priests who serve God first, but 'whatever'.

I was tempted to use a Slowpoke as my initial image, but given how late I am to this party it wouldn’t fit – not even a Slowking would fit. Slow-God-Emperor-of-a-Million-Worlds, perhaps? Anyway, Sir Lancelot, the Wife of Bath and Anne Hyde have combined in a dastardly conspiracy to take away any free time I might have had to produce something thought-out, so I offer you this succession of impressions, followed by some musings about violence, instead. (Just in case there’re any readers out there who don’t already know that Servant Archer is Soylent Green, I think I’ve avoided giving away any significant spoilers.)

fsn-languagematters

Language Matters

I’ve noticed this before with other visual novels, but here – possibly because the text is ‘in front’ of the images rather than segregated from them – it’s more prominent: the sentence is king. At any given moment there’s never enough text on the screen to build up a really meaty paragraph, which means there’s little opportunity for the constructive, building-block hypotaxis I expect from modern prose. I wonder if it’s fair to call this prose at all – but whatever we’re going to name it, this form of writing relies on the well-tempered sentence.

I wonder if this is noticeable in the original Japanese. I know nothing about the writing of Japanese, beyond some dimly remembered suggestions that light novels have very short paragraphs for easy comprehension. I would be interested to know if this is something similar. Presumably visual novels are written to be comprehended by people who aren’t necessarily voracious readers, though I recall Moogy saying something about Nasu using rare or archaic characters.

I wonder what a visual novel with sustained, rather than occasional, narration in the third person would be like? I’ve never read one, though I’ve not read many visual novels at all. The first person is being put to fairly good use here, but I find the tendency of the narrators (especially Rin in the Prologue) to speak as if aware that they’re addressing the reader rather wearing. It might be necessary for the rather intricate explanations of magic and geography, but the prevalence in fiction of magic which is too detailed and too comprehensible is itself something of a bugbear of mine, so I don’t consider that an excuse.

tis-an-insult-to-metaphors-everywhere

‘Let’s you, me and her fornicate.’

The sex is a clumsy business, and – sad to say – that’s not because the writing’s embodying Shirou’s own clumsiness, it’s because it’s clumsy writing itself. I’m tempted to mercilessly mock a selection of particularly choice periphrases, but I’ll restrict myself to singling out the moment (doubtless it suffered in translation) when one character’s ‘hand goes down even further and reaches the place tightly closed off’. Oooh yes. Touch me in my place-tightly-closed-off, like I’m a room having my nadgery nooks dusted by a particularly conscientious cleaner.

This is a common fault, though. How often do you read a sex scene that’s even half-decent? Many authors would do well to take the Chrétien de Troyes approach, and

let it remain a secret for ever, since it should not be written of: the most delightful and choicest pleasure is that which is hinted at, but never told.

Mind you, I suppose Chrétien never had to write in Fate/stay night‘s genre. I’d make some kind of witty remark about a hypothetical visual novel which reconfigures various famous medieval romances to jam h-scenes in (not very hard with Le Chevalier de la Charrette), but since the form has already covered curling and submarine warfare there’s a good chance it’s already been done. Speculating about its existence might make it exist, so let’s not go there – it is a silly place.

fsn-hilt

‘I saw the dream of a king.’

Speaking of Chrétien, it’s convenient that I’m studying a few Arthurian texts at the moment. Does Fate/stay night fit into the tradition? At first sight, no – this is, after all, a story set in something like modern-day Japan which is more about a everday young dolt man named Shirou than it is about Arthur. (You’ll note I’m carefully not saying quite how Arthur is present in F/sn.) But I am a literature undergraduate, and if there’s one thing we specialise in it’s shoehorning incompatible feet into impossible shoes.

In part, this Arthur harks back to the pseudo-historical ‘chronicle tradition’ of a martial, national leader who fights on foot, and the game even manages to subordinate the story of Arthur’s dubious death to its own purposes. The fact that this involves several diagrams is eloquent testimony to the problem of fictional magic that’s too detailed.

The Grail is kicking around too, though, and interestingly it’s the more secular Grail of Chétien’s account, an object of mystery and (restorative) power which is not necessarily connected to the Crucifixion story. Indeed, it probably isn’t the Grail, so that ‘Grail’ begins to assume its metaphorical meaning (as in ‘a perpetual motion machine is the Holy Grail for many cranks with too much time on their hands’). This is actually a pretty good example of F/sn‘s concern about imitation: if you exactly copy A Certain Magical Sword, is it as good as the original? What if the original itself turns out to be a copy of something better?

There’s also an interest here in the potential conflict between heroism and heroic power on the one hand, and emotional life on the other, a conflict that runs through the catastrophic last two books of the Morte and therefore wound up infecting most subsequent Arthurian literature in English. (Malory is a bit of a bottleneck in the English tradition: writers of Arthuriana tend to look back to him, but not further.)

Finally, the legend of Arthur is a good example of one of this game’s key ideas, that of the story with the staying power and adaptability to survive, and even absorb other stories (so, for example, Tristan winds up being part of the Arthurian tradition). Another, much longer-lived example of this sort of story is ‘the siege and the assault [. . .] at Troy’.

Anyhow, in Fate/stay night‘s setting All Heroic Legend Is (apparently) True, though the characters’ statements on the exact mechanics seem somewhat contradictory: relatively early on it’s suggested that the popularity of a hero’s legend directly affects his or her power (in quite a local way: an Irish hero in Japan is less powerful than he would be in Ireland), but then it turns out that a certain particularly old hero essentially has an ‘I Win’ button just for being the oldest. Or something. Since I haven’t really read that much of the game yet I’d better not come up with any Big Theories.

fsn-action

Hyper Midnight Action CLICKTHROUGH

The action is surprisingly engaging. Perhaps I ought not to be surprised. I think the surprise is because I went into this thinking ‘with only static images and text to work with, how can action in a visual novel match the excitement of a good animated fight?’ This was, of course, stupid, as I’ve gotten sweaty reading purely textual descriptions of (for example) snakelike Pyrrhus battering down the doors of Priam’s palace with a double-headed axe, or the Continental Op accidentally-on-purpose cleaning up Poisonville.

So I found the fighting exciting. There’s a real sense of immediacy. My best initial explanation for this is the extremely limited flow of information.

Let’s invent a gamut for action to run. It’ll be a shaky system of categorisation, but it’ll serve. At one end, we have action-porn in which, while we don’t see everything, we see everything we could reasonably want to see. This is where most of the confrontations in Gundam SEED and Ong-Bak sit. The porn metaphor comes with a miasma of disapproval: this is too easy, we want to say. Well, perhaps. Incidentally, somewhere beyond this is the money shot in which we don’t just get all the information we want, but we actually know it beforehand because it’s a stock attack. This still works for me, but that’s probably a topic for another time.

At the other end of our proto-gamut – leaving aside the sort of thing Aeschylus would do, as I’m not sure how to approach entirely reported violence – is terrifying incoherence. A fanboy match-up – Balsa vs. Kusanagi, perhaps, or Artegall vs. Guyon, or something – seen only through a keyhole. This is Flag‘s approach, and it’s also what Fate/stay night achieves, accidentally or not.

With only sounds, a limited array of visual effects and dramatic-yet-positionless sweeps of coloured light to rely on, I find myself gripped. The frustrated desire to know what’s going on, and what particularly gruesome kind of wound Shirou will sustain this time, drives me through the text. At the moment, oddly, I think this is the aspect of the game I’m most impressed with. Perhaps this is a case of ‘the most delightful and choicest pleasure’ done right?

34 responses to “Fate/stay notes

  1. I haven’t played their translation of F/SN yet, but is it full of, misused, commas and, stilted by, overuse… of… ellipses like Tsukihime was? I had a massive argument with one of the Mirror Moon guys over that – I was on the beta – and it still jars me right out of the game when I see it. I don’t care if there were commas in those positions in the Japanese text. They’re wrong, dammit.

    Also, what is that ‘Jesus, I’m blind’ shot from? Any chance of grabbing it without the bit at the top pasted in? It looks like prime material for my image macro collection and one step closer to my life goal of trolling some random anime forum by only ever posting image macros.

  2. A few facts (and opinions) about Kinoko Nasu:

    1. The guy has several good ideas

    2. He can only write well about these ideas half of the time

    3. He can’t write natural exposition worth crap

    4. He can create memorable female and male characters. Trust me, Shirou is the exception, and he’s pretty acceptable by Heaven’s Feel

    5. He cannot write sex scenes and more often than not falls back on odd seafood metaphors to describe the act. I blame this more on being forced by socio-market forces to write about sex than his own ability.

    6. The guy is slow. He’s only written, depending on how you look at separate games, 3-5 games in a decade. Comparably Nitro+ has done about twenty in that time frame, but I’m not sure how many of them were by the same writer.

    7. Despite his faults, Nasu is probably still one of the best contemporary writers of atmospheric horror, which is what makes Tsukihime the superior game in my opinion. Now if he would only move on from games and write actual books in life then we could truly judge how good he is.

  3. That’s got to be Area 88… but that’s just my guess.

  4. Demian:

    He already has written some books, actually. Before he and Takeuchi teamed up to form Type-Moon and make games, he was writing about his ‘verse in more traditional media. Printed on paper, as luck would have it. Kara no Kyoukai, DDD the J, and the one Aozaki sisters novel. There’s some others, I forget what they’re called. I think some count as short stories, though.

    I wonder if there’s a good translator for those lying about.

    I wouldn’t be able to judge his ability as a writer due to a lack of exposure to his work in its original language as well as a lack of ability to comprehend said language, but as an internet nerd magnet I rate him rather highly.

  5. EDIT: Wait, I think the DDD serial is actually more recent. Whoops.

  6. Only skimmed the post after the sex part because I’m not too far into the game yet. Only about day 8 of Fate.

    Still, you have it more or less spot on.

  7. “Relatively early on it’s suggested that the popularity of a hero’s legend directly affects his or her power”

    Just noticed this. While it might be suggested in the game, the events that follow basically indicate that this isn’t the case at all.

    I always thought it was interesting to see that they’d managed to put the Gae Bolg and Excalibur in the same game, given that they have very similar origins (Excalibur deriving from Caliburn which was spelled in Welsh as Caledfwlch and is thought to be the same sword as Caladbolg, the sword of Fergus in the Ulster cycle – where Gae Bolg also originates). It’s a shame that the other ‘heroes’ in the game are nowhere as well integrated with each other as those two (trying to avoid spoilers but by now surely anyone remotely interested in this knows who those two characters are?)

  8. Nasu’s style boggles the mind sometimes, and it makes me wonder if that’s his intention all along, or if he just puts down things as he goes. :P

  9. Funny that you make a post on the game the day after I installed it.That’s an interesting coincidence.

    So far I am not convinced by the experience.I have two problems:
    -I already watched the anime so I already know the main plot points.
    -The writing annoys me.

    Generally, I find visual novels boring, you click and watch pictures that are not even that pretty.It’s not very fun.And the fact that there’s no mystery for me only makes it worse.

  10. I too thought the action scenes were extraordinary… Ah well. Looks like you enjoyed it.

  11. I never really got your ‘Soylent Green’ reference, is that a /m/eme?

  12. @ NegativeZero: I haven’t played the Tsukihime translation, so I can’t guarantee there isn’t some hideous mistake in both which has passed completely over my head, but as far as I can tell the F/sn translation is not plagued by commas and ellipses, no. That said, I’m of the ‘if in doubt, jam it in’ school of comma use myself.

    There are lots of things I would complain about in the translation – beginning with the lack of an ear for pleasant variation (producing ‘that unsuitability is unbearable’, for example) – if it purported to be a professional piece of work, but I don’t find it yanking me out of the game.

    I couldn’t say where that ‘I’m blind!’ image comes from, since I acquired it from /m/ myself, but I’ve put up the biggest version I have here. (See below: Haesslich suggests it might be from Area 88.)

    @ Demian: Congratulations, you’re now the prime candidate to write Nasu: A Very Short Introduction. I agree on the memorable characters – one of the things I’m looking forward to in the other routes is learning more about the people who are peripheral to Fate.

    The sex thing is, in my view, pretty universal: lots of authors are forced by ‘socio-market forces’ to write sex, and most of it’s terrible. Socio-market forces don’t excuse it from the point of view of aesthetic judgement (as with the problem of the music in the Kanon anime), but they’re a good reason for sympathy with the writer, I suppose.

    You know more about horror writing than me, and I’m inclined to agree. I would have demurred until I reached the crypt scene, but that scene – while it might have had rough edges – definitely worked as horror in my book.

    @ Haesslich: Thank you.

    @ Dorian Cornelius Jasper: Now you mention it, isn’t one of Nasu’s prose works being serialised in Faust? I’m sure I read Moogy complaining that the reviewer on ANN didn’t appreciate the man’s prose style.

    @ IcyStorm: Ah, a fellow new-player of the game. I’m glad to hear that you think I’m on the right track.

    @ NegativeZero (again): Yeah, as I said in the post the broken power levels of a certain golden-armour’d king suggest that that idea is wrong, or at least only half-right. Unless that particular king’s legend is much more well-known in Japan than it is here.

    I didn’t know that about the etymology of Caliburn (my only contact with Irish mythology is via Yeats – a good poet, but a poet, not a mythology textbook). It’s nice that ‘those two’ fit together well, but it’s the product of a shared Brythonic origin, so it’d be hard to achieve the same thing for all the heroes unless Nasu chose to restrict himself to a particular cultural tradition. Also, I think the game would lose some of the piquancy of its ‘let’s put all the legends in a sack and make them fight’ approach if that happened.

    @ TheBigN: I don’t know if it’s the right question when interpreting the text, but it’s certainly an interesting thing to speculate about. I have this mental image of him as a wild, opium-riddled Romantic-poet-type figure now that you’ve said that, which I’m sure is widly inaccurate.

    @ ZeusIrae: I can’t help with the writing, but I’d encourage you to continue. From what I’ve been told, most of the anime is based on the Fate route, which is, after all, only a third of the game. I’ve seen half of the anime myself, and I’m rather looking forward to finding out the bits of information which were missing from it.

    @ omo: Definitely. There’s a lot of mud that one could throw at F/sn, but fundamentally I’m finding it an enjoyable experience.

    @ Owen S: It’s a meme from before there were memes, if you will. Soylent Green is a dystopian sf film, loosely adapting a Harry Harrison novel. In the film Soylent Green is a synthetic foodstuff, and – if I have my facts right – the trailer ominously asked ‘WHAT IS THE SECRET OF SOYLENT GREEN?’

    However, the hero’s horrified line when he discovers that ‘Soylent Green is people!’ swiftly made its way, via parody, into popular culture, so that nowadays it’s hard to watch the film and be surprised by the twist.

  13. I just started FS/N and I played through a good bit of Tsukihime. It’s true that you can’t evaluate the exact words after a translation, but I still have a feel for the way Nasu speaks through his characters. And you know what? Dude needs an editor.

    The sex scenes are one thing: I hope they never change, as his descriptions of mollusks and small animals may be awful, but they’re too funny to ever lose. What kills me is his exposition. The Nasuverse has about as many rules as a D&D manual and I feel like the characters are even less concise when they talk about them.

  14. I’m surprised there’s someone who didn’t get the Soylent Green reference. Heck, I remember laughing at Xenogears’ “Soylent System” side gag. It’s one of sci-fi’s longest running jokes at this point.

    While we’re at it, a refresher course of spoilers. Or, in internet speak, “SPOILERS:”
    –It was his sled.
    –Luke, he is your father.
    –And you kissed your sister, too.
    –Bruce Willis was a ghost.
    –Keyser Soze is his own PR machine.
    –Before Bridget, there was the Crying Game.
    –The Planet of the Apes is actually ours.
    –The Titanic sinks.
    –Aeris dies. But that apparently doesn’t stop her from making guest appearances.

  15. You didn’t post any zettai ryouiki pictures….. [you can't have tosaka rin without thigh highs and short skirts.]

  16. Am I the only one who learned about Soylent Green from Xenogears? 0_o

    Anyway, I keep telling myself that I’m going to start F/SN but I still haven’t gotten around to doing it. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the fights go, though, because you’re not the only one that’s been telling me that they’re great.

  17. There’s a difference between banging in a lot of commas, and what the Tsukihime translation had. Basically they would be stuck in at random places. So instead of a sentence like “He came, he saw, he conquered” they would have stuff like “He… came, he, saw, he… conquered”. That’s a poor example though, I have a better one saved somewhere. I’ll see if I can find it. It was a single sentence that pretty much had a comma after every word.

    Thanks for the image, too.

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  19. @ Sub: There’s a real RPG vibe to the whole idea of Classes, and there’s that mania for categorisation: we’re not allowed to observe that Rin tends to throw magic around and store it a lot, we have to be lectured on type and mechanics. I think I see what you mean about needing an editor.

    @ Dorian Cornelius Jasper: Amusingly enough, there’s one in that list that caught me: all I knew about Aeris is that she’s somehow connected to the Final Fantasy franchise. I’ve never been a console gamer, though, so it’s a closed book to me.

    @ lelangir: I didn’t, no. To be honest, I think the cutting-edge ZR action at the moment is to be found – of all places – in Tytania, in Lira’s revolutionary trousers.

    @ ETERNAL: What’s Xenogears?

    Good to hear I’m not in a minority of one in terms of enjoying the action scenes.

    @ NegativeZero: Okay, I don’t remember anything like that in what I’ve read of F/sn. It sounds distinctly odd, and makes you wonder about the original Japanese.

  20. Apologies for another lengthy aside:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenogears

    The PSOne’s finest RPG, in my opinion. Not so much in the playing, though, as opposed to the experience of it as a whole. (Wonky mechanics but great story, music, characters, memories.)

    Interesting note: Xenogears drew more than a bit of inspiration from Eva, but in a manner much more competently than a post-Eva television show and with its own angst and inner turmoils counterbalanced by a healthy dose of “awesome,” as it were. (Let it be known that Fei Fong Wong was manly enough to try to beat the crap out of an oversized carnosaur with his bare hands.) GAINAX repayed the favor with the visual design for a character in Gurren Lagann, one Rossiu. A fellow who visually resembles the protagonist of Xenogears while actually proving his opposite in almost every meaningful way–personality, level of intelligence, priorities, problem-solving approach.

    I’m reminded of how Xenogears superficially resembled Evangelion but, at its heart, was the complete opposite.

  21. By far the most intellectual discussion of F/SN I have seen. Can someone pass me the popcorns?

    @Dorian Cornelius Jasper :

    Where was “it was his sled” from? I have been ignorant of popular culture before the 2000s, so please enlighten me.

  22. BEWARE! HERE BE SPOILERS!

    @Will of the wisp

    It is from Citizen Kane, a really good movie you should go see. The R1 DVD is great :)

  23. Ahhh. So it was that one. My friends are all raving about it.

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  25. @ Will of the wisp: Hmm. To be really intellectual, I’d discuss how Shirou’s body is constantly in jeopardy or the interaction of ‘Western’ and ‘Japanese’ elements, but I’m not sure I’m intellectual enough for that.

    @ Kairu Ishimaru: Well, normal filenames would just be boring.

  26. Western elements? Are you refering to a certain sheath? Uhmmm…. It came from the lady of the lake, so it may have some feminine element to it as well. So Shirou is also a balance between the feminine and the masculine… Wait… Is there anything masculine about him? I get it now! Shirou cooks so well because the scabbord is enchanted to increase one’s cooking skills :P

  27. +4 to Chopping checks.

    No, it wasn’t the sheath. I was thinking of the standard ‘ooh it’s from Japan’ approach to anything from Japan, where one decides that the pale, blonde characters (so Saber, in this case, and Gilgamesh, I suppose) represent Foreigners, All Foreigners, and then declare that the whole story is about xenophobia. I don’t find that a very productive way to read things, so I tend to avoid it.

  28. You could see it as a clash between the old chivalry/samurai values of protecting woman and the more western values of equal oppertunity across genders. In the western world now, the majourity of people don’t consider female fighting strange (female acting in traditionally male-gender activities such as combat is more acceptable (Kail et al., n.d.) ). However, in the game, Shirou obviously presents the traditional Japanese view that woman should not do a job usually meant for male. This has wide implications — he would probably agree, then, that Saber should also not be a doctor or an engineer, two other occupations that people usually consider male’s.

    P.S. I haven’t had that much fun making stuff up since high school.

  29. Rereading this post, I see I managed to use ‘I wonder’ three times in three paragraphs’. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF, as they say.

    @ Will of the Wisp: Interesting idea. I guess it could plug into the fact that Saber comes from a society in which ‘the chivalry thing’ held sway, hence her being a reverse trap in her original lifetime. At the same time (as you mentioned already) Shirou is a good cook, he gets beaten up a lot when he does try to get into combat (at least until UBW) and he’s the guy with the sheath (not the phallic sword). An unkind writer would call him ‘a feminine man trying to be masculine’ (in traditional terms) or something.

    And yeah, making stuff up ftw.

  30. The grain in FS/N (in the Fate route) is more akin to a device rather than the grail of crucifixion in christian legend…somehow that still all worked out for the better though.

    Got to give that Nasu his props….ehehe~

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