Sunday, August 7, 2016

Why I didn't buy If My Heart Had Wings

MoeNovel censored If My Heart Had Wings to circumvent the porn stigma in Western culture. I cut through the hyperbole and explain the opposition stance.

[This is an update of my original article on Fuwanovel. Some reference links were removed because the sites are no longer online.]


In June 2013, MoeNovel released their highly controversial adaptation of Kono Oozora ni, Tsubasa o Hirogete (or KonoSora), which they titled If My Heart Had Wings.  MoeNovel appears to be a subsidiary of Will and is also connected to Active Gaming Media (who worked on Demon Souls).

KonoSora is one of Pulltop’s most successful story-driven eroge, and won 3rd place in the 2012 Getchu Bishoujo Game Awards and 1st place in the 2012 Moe Game Awards.

The problem

Unfortunately, to appeal to a wider audience in the West, MoeNovel and their partner Pulltop decided to remove a wide swath of mature content.  No, not just H-scenes.  They’ve altered kissing CG, removed sexual humor, covered up panty shots, and even redrew a wet shirt to hide the bra underneath.  They rewrote an entire route (Ageha’s) because it revolved around the theme of progressing from sexfriends to lovers.

Below is an example of the rather unnecessary CG alterations MoeNovel made (original on top, altered image on bottom).

To put the scope of the cuts in perspective:
  • H-content: The original game had 17 H-scenes: 3-4 per heroine.  Obviously these were cut entirely.
  • Written content: The localized release has 12% fewer lines, reflecting a considerable content gap that was not filled.
  • Art: An estimated 50% of the CGs were discarded or modified.  This is based on a breakdown of ero / non-ero CG in the original, and includes small variations on the same CG.  Take it with a grain of salt.
The translation quality is also not very good, and reportedly it’s downright awful in certain sections.  I won't dwell on this, but you can see examples of ubiquitous translation issues here and route-specific quality control issues here.

My response

I’ll be blunt: this is basically 4Kids all over again.

MoeNovel has taken a pervy Japanese love sim and tried to rub out all the pervy elements so its primarily American audience won’t be turned off (hard copies of its title were only available in the US at the time of release).  While its actions alone are enough to raise ire, MoeNovel has added fuel to the fire with careless quips like this:
For example, we want 12 year old French girls who like anime to know about [our title] as well, and make it so that there is no problem appealing it to these girls.
12-year-old French girls?  You expect 12-year-old French girls to:
  1. Buy a game from an online shopping site
  2. in English
  3. That’s a text novel (in their 2nd language, assuming they know English)
  4. That puts the reader in the shoes of a male protagonist, and is
  5. About falling in love with one of several high school girls
That – doesn’t – make – any – sense.  On one hand, it suggests MoeNovel is completely clueless about who their target audience should be.  Even worse, the implication is that MoeNovel has aggressively altered content, beyond what was necessary to get their target rating, just to make the game appropriate for the tween demographic.

I’m angered by these changes for two reasons: censorship and the loss of content itself.


The censorship argument has a moral foundation.  As a free society, we believe that information should not be suppressed simply because others disagree or find it distasteful.  As a society, we have also decided that sexually explicit content is taboo.  Upstanding adults are not supposed to admit they’re into it.  We’ve created a vast shadow empire that deals in erotic goods, out of the condemning eyes of the public, all because we’ve decided That’s the right thing to do (TM).  Ok, that sort of psychological repression is bizarre and creepy, but no harm so far, right?

Unfortunately, this repression has led to the polarization of sexual entertainment.  It’s either porn, or it’s not.  If a work contains sexually explicit content, it’s automatically porn.  And if it’s porn, it exists solely to satisfy the sexual appetite.  Porn cannot be art.  Art cannot have porn.  See the disconnect?  Enter eroge.  Suddenly you have a form of entertainment that doesn’t fit neatly into one of two nice bins we as a society have designated.  But that doesn’t stop people from pounding the round peg into the square hole.  Sure, you have some eroge that are little more than porn with a little more context (the nukige).  But then you have titles like this one where the ero is integrated into the story and illustrates the progression of a romantic relationship.  You can like it or dislike it–but it’s an element that’s there, just like some visual novels have gameplay and that gameplay is part of the work.  But again, we have people determined to pound the round peg into the square hole.  It’s porn, or it’s not.  The people who don’t want porn won’t buy a porn game.  This is frustrating behavior based on a fundamental misconception, but still not a problem.  But the issue is that it’s a taboo.  It’s insidious.  In theory, you could satisfy both sides of the fence (current eroge fans and the sexually repressed majority) by releasing two versions.  Sadly, that disregards the fact that this is a TABOO.  If the game becomes associated with porn, it’s a porn game.  Mainstream media won’t cover it.  Mainstream channels won’t market it.  Mainstream outlets won’t carry it.  Mainstream buyers won’t buy it.

This circles back to why this is fundamentally censorship.  To appeal to the moral majority, an official release in English CANNOT have sexual content.  Period.  No menu options, no alternative versions, no ero patches.  MoeNovel was forced to make a mutually exclusive choice: market this as a porn game, or market it to the mainstream.  By caving to the mainstream’s demand to dissociate their title from porn, they’ve deprived the English audience of the rightful opportunity to experience the work in its original form, with its original content.  They’ve remodeled their work to appease Western political sensibilities.  They’ve committed censorship.

Loss of content

I’ve already discussed the particulars of the content losses.  As for my personal opinion, I’ll be honest: I play eroge because they’re pervy.  I also played the Ar tonelico series because it was pervy.  Eroge offer an experience I can’t get in any other medium: no other medium provides the same seasoning of ero content without being just about the sex.  I want pepper on my meal.  I don’t want my pepper taken away, nor do I want a meal of pepper.  Yes, the meal is still edible without the pepper, but it doesn’t taste as good.  However, I’m sure others would prefer the same meal without pepper.  But since most of us belong to the Spice Club, and pepper is the most widely available and used spice, a lot of us are rather partial to our pepper.  And if you prepare a meal for me and replace the pepper with salt–I’m not going to pay for the meal you just ruined, and I’m certainly not going to tip you (and I’m going to go back to the Spice Club and tell everyone there not to go to your restaurant).  Pervy content (including ero) in Japanese media is much the same to me, and probably many others.

Looking forward

MoeNovel has stated that they have close ties to Pulltop, and have no plans to work on non-Pulltop titles.  Pulltop’s entire lineup is eroge.  Shirokuma Bell Stars♪ is the only Pulltop title with an all-ages release in Japan, and that was for PSP.  Thus If My Heart Had Wings is only the first step in a long journey down the path of censorship.

Despite my personal opposition to MoeNovel’s chosen path, my broader stance is more ambivalent.  I want the visual novel genre to grow in general, and eroge to gain popularity in particular.  But would MoeNovel’s success help or harm the English eroge market?  On one hand, attracting people to all-ages visual novels could eventually trickle down into more interest in eroge.  On the other hand, MoeNovel’s success could undermine the eroge market by convincing Japanese developers that censorship is the path to profitability in the Western market.

Fan restoration patch

A fan group led by RusAnon has released a restoration patch that reinserts the H-scenes and reverts the content edits in the English release.  VNDB user pabloc is working on a retranslation patch that fixes the subpar translation.

I support this effort and similiar efforts, and I encourage others to do the same.  However, release of this patch does not affect my decision to not purchase If My Heart Had Wings.  As long as MoeNovel ignores the existing fanbase and continues down the path of censorship, I refuse to support them.

About my anti-censorship advocacy

This article was my first experiment with anti-censorship advocacy, and was well-received by both MoeNovel supporters and opponents.  Spurred by this success, I made anti-censorship advocacy one of the primary focuses of my blog, and it is a cause I continue to fight for to this day.

Check out my coverage of censorship in other titles, including:
Eroge with a censored official English release, a comprehensive list
Why I endorse JAST’s censorship of Shiny Days
Baldr Sky: Rallying for an uncut version of a landmark eroge
Nutaku caught abusing DMCA takedowns to censor evidence of censorship

If you support my efforts , please follow me on Twitter and consider purchasing eroge through my affiliate links.

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