(Full title: “I want to create something that will provide solace for people who can’t find solace in mainstream media.” — The Caligula Effect, filled with the thoughts of a young producer, aimed at people living in the “estuary” where their hearts can’t find solace in either mainstream nor niche works”)
A translation of this interview with The Caligula Effect producer Takuya Yamanaka from May 31, 2021, regarding his intent in the creation of The Caligula Effect and the at-the-time unreleased The Caligula Effect 2.
Has there ever been a time when you felt “this game was made just for me!”?
And on top of that, wouldn’t it make you feel great if that game were actually a popular game that everyone around you was hyped about?
But on the other hand, maybe you’ve also felt that feeling of alienation, “everyone else is enjoying this, but I can’t get into it at all…” For instance, when you watch the the movie everyone has been talking about lately and think “I don’t get it,” but when you read the reviews, it’s a whole storm of rave reviews.
It’s relieving to feel the sentiment of “this was made just for me!”, but you can also feel quite a bit of pain at feeling that everyone’s saying such good things about something that “isn’t made for me at all”.
The The Caligula Effect series is a series made based on the idea of seriously facing that concept of “suffering based on not being able to get into what everyone else likes”: “I want to create something that will provide solace for people who can’t find solace in mainstream media.”
The first game, The Caligula Effect, was released in 2016. Many popular Vocaloid producers and illustrators were brought onto the game’s development, and it became a cult hit among teenagers. In 2018, its remake The Caligula Effect: Overdose was released, and it was also adapted into an anime series.
And finally, on June 24, 2021, the new game The Caligula Effect 2, a sequel to the prior works, will be released.
For the fourth part of our “Ask the New Generation” series, where we focus on the next generation of game creators, we’ve interviewed Takuya Yamanaka, the producer for the The Caligula Effect series. Yamanaka majored in psychology in university and was aiming to become a counselor, but was rejected because he was “too soft”. After joining a game company from the position of an outsider, he quickly reached up-and-coming status and has been leading the production of FuRyu original games since being only in his twenties.
“I personally get the impression that games, anime, and manga don’t tend to reach people who are in a very ambiguous position. I want to create media for people who live in the estuary between the sea and the river, who seem to be conforming to society’s demands on the surface, but somehow don’t feel quite right in it.”
Yamanaka says that he makes these games to provide solace to people in an offbeat position whose hearts can’t find solace in mainstream or niche content. Through his words, you can feel the unmistakable markings of the new generation.
Interviewers: TAITAI, tnhr, Jitsuzon
Photo: Yuusuke Masuda
* We took all possible measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, including disinfection, ventilation, and usage of acrylic panels.
- Aiming to be a counselor, but rejected for being too soft. From his days as a student as a psychology major to producing games
- “A lot of taboo topics?” How to overcome FuRyu’s low brand value and budget
- How have “young people’s personal problems” changed? From the 1990s to the 2020s
- Having to eat from your lunchbox in the bathroom is scarier than being attacked by a dragon
- I want to create something that will provide solace for people who can’t find solace in mainstream media
- To those people who seem to fit within the world, but have some kinds of doubts and are in a delicate position
- How to have The Caligula Effect make its way into people’s daily lives
- Deliberately avoiding stock symbolism in order to convey “the pleasure of figuring out something that’s difficult to understand”
- Depicting discrimination requires depicting the people who are doing the discriminating
- “I definitely want to keep my main focus in games”
Aiming to be a counselor, but rejected for being too soft. From his days as a student as a psychology major to producing games
–Yamanaka-san, you majored in psychology in university, right? Firstly, we’d like to ask what motivated you to go from psychology to having a job at a video game company.
Hm, thinking back on it, I wasn’t originally planning to make games, but rather, I wanted to become a counselor.
I majored in psychology at university and I was even licensed as a psychologist, but when I talked to my professor, I was told “you’re too soft, so you won’t make it here” (laughs).
I strongly empathized with every person I worked with, and got too close to their own mental problems. I think this is a good thing, but if you don’t handle it with a bit more detachment, you end up crushed by it.
–That would be a very difficult career for you, indeed…
Well, I realized that I wasn’t fit to be a counselor like I’d wanted, and it was at around the same time when I needed to really figure out what to do and start job hunting…
At that time, one day, I saw a video game company at a job fair I was attending. Up until then, I’d only thought of games as something to play, and I’d completely ignored the possibility of making it into an actual profession.
I thought, “I don’t really have anything I want to do anymore, so I should at least do something I like,” so I immediately sent in an application, but I was rejected on the first try…
But I was actually frustrated about it, so I applied for a handful of different game companies while writing proposals based on examples I’d seen, and eventually I was picked up by Yuke’s, a game company in Osaka.
–So you hadn’t actually made a game or written any programs yourself before that point.
Right. I’d thought of video games entirely in terms of being a fan.
–I don’t think game companies would usually have much of a reason to actively hire people who never got involved in game-related matters when they were students, so how did that happen?
I think it really was just the timing of things. As many people imagine, video game companies will usually hire their staff from game-related vocational schools. But in this case, it seems Yuke’s happened to be interested in hiring for the sake of future talent and potential.
–What was your impression of entering the game industry as a complete outsider?
For the first six months, I really didn’t understand a thing. From my perspective at the time, the lingo used by programmers and designers seemed like they were from another world entirely, and their way of communicating was also completely different, so I had a hard time.
At first, it got to the point where I ended up breaking down and crying in the bathroom (laughs), but as I continued working with them, I gradually started to get a feel for it. The lingo they use in game development and the mechanisms that people find interesting have very strong logic to them, so if you can remember them, there’s nothing you can’t do anymore. So I thought, “if I can just learn how to verbalize sensation-based things, I can really do this.” At Yuke’s, I learned everything I needed to know about game development.
–When you moved from Yuke’s to FuRyu, did you start off as a producer?
Well, FuRyu doesn’t have an internal development department, so they train up producers by having them direct an external development company, even if they’re a recent graduate.
That’s the kind of company that just happened to be hiring at the time. My own experience as a developer was probably helpful there, too. You could say that I was in the right position to judge what they needed, so it was a meeting of perfect conditions.
“A lot of taboo topics?” How to overcome FuRyu’s low brand value and budget
–FuRyu is a video game company that we hear the name of quite often, but from the player perspective, they’re considered quite niche.
Right. Among all of the game companies out there, FuRyu is somewhat overly specialized, and when you talk to others in the game industry, the name FuRyu doesn’t really come up.
I’m being a bit blunt by saying this, but FuRyu has a public reputation for putting out games with “a lot of taboo topics”…(laughs). So when I started off, it was at a huge disadvantage when it came to branding.
–And it still had its own original brand games, too.
Right. I think brand power becomes more important as the unit price of a product gets higher.
For instance, this probably depends on the person, but when you buy sweets, you’re probably not caring all that much about “where it was made”. But when you buy a car, the company that made it becomes the most important thing.
On top of that, around the 7000 to 8000-yen arena, so-called “full-priced”, it becomes important to judge “where it was made”. So when we’re talking about that kind of price, there’s a huge deterrent to buying a game from a company you don’t know.
–In that case, you need a considerable amount of impact and appeal during the promotion stage. When you started planning The Caligula Effect, what did you first consider?
In terms of promotion, it was too much of a difficult task to get people to understand the company of FuRyu, so I started off with the idea “I want people to understand me as a person.”
I’m not asking them to understand the FuRyu company. For now, I wanted them to understand my own personal confidence in this, so in other words “if you can trust in me, then please try this game.”
If my games don’t hit well with you, my games will probably never hit well with you, so if that’s the case, I’m very sorry about that.
But if people understand what kind of person I am and the kind of games I grew up playing, then I’m sure they’ll be able to connect with people who have similar tastes and feelings. I think believing in that is what got me to be able to make games.
–So you started with self-promotion. How did you have that play out in particular?
For example, I’d actively go out on social media and send out information. At the time, I thought developers seemed pretty cool when they expressed themselves only through their works and never talked about them. But that would mean that the only people who would understand that would be the people who accidentally came into contact with the game, so I decided to communicate with people more about it myself.
Beyond that, I also talked about the kind of media I grew up with, and if there’s something new that I liked, I actively went out and praised it. I didn’t use a particularly formal way of talking about it, I was always very frank about it. At the time, I was in my late twenties, but I was thinking about how to speak in the same way as blogs and other essays would, to convey the point “I’m not any different from everyone else.”
Whenever I went out on live broadcasts, I did as much as I could to not make myself look imposing. I’m actually a pretty young person, so I was constantly thinking about how to convey the idea that “someone who is like you made something that you’ll like,” and that I was working from the same position they had.
–I feel it’s rather rare in the game industry to make games with that kind of focus on self-promotion.
It really is. It’s hard to do self-promotion unless you’re the top person on your projects, and, particularly in the case of console games, it’s a field where waiting for the judgment of the higher-ups like the producer or director can end up taking a lot of time. In many cases, the people in charge of the project will be in their late thirties or forties.
But as I said earlier, FuRyu recruited me as a producer to begin with, so I think the fact I took a shortcut up to that point ended up being a good match for my own personal workflow.
–FuRyu doesn’t have a lot of brand value, but I also imagine the budget must have also been a big issue. How did that work for you during the development of The Caligula Effect?
Hm, well, The Caligula Effect was also a low-budget game compared to its competitors, so I had to get clever with several things.
One particularly representative one was the BGM. We wanted to produce an effect that gave off “getting caught in the world of the enemy during the moment you enter battle,” so The Caligula Effect has a standout point where the BGM plays as an instrumental track while you explore the dungeon, and the vocals come in once you enter battle. But that’s not an incredibly amazing thing to pull off; we had two music lines, one with only the instrumental BGM and one with the vocals isolated, and we implemented it by having the vocals muted and turning them on and off.
But it’s because the budget is so tight that we can come up with more and more of these simple ideas that nobody would have come up with otherwise, so even if we don’t actually use up that much money for development, it can create an even bigger impact on the player experience. It’s a very interesting moment when you can come up with these kinds of things.
–So the game becomes full of many different ideas that come from being in a difficult situation.
How have “young people’s personal problems” changed? From the 1990s to the 2020s
—The Caligula Effect has the theme of “modern psychopathology”, but it’s interesting that it specifically says “modern”. You were a teenager during the 1990s and 2000s, right?
Right, something like that.
–How do you think personal problems and frustrations among young people, or in other words “modern psychopathology” among young people, has changed between back when you were a teenager, the 2010s when The Caligula Effect first came out, and now in the 2020s?
In terms of psychopathology, back when I was young, I think people always thought “people who get themselves involved with anime, manga, and video game nerd culture must have some kind of darkness in their hearts, and have the potential to become criminals.” In fact, back when I was in high school, even I had to live an effective double life, hiding my media nerd identity when I was outside the house and secretly drawing art at home.
But nowadays, ever since I became a full-fledged member of society at the end of the 2000s, public understanding about it became deeper, and being a media nerd was no longer unusual. I think there was a movement a few years before the release of The Caligula Effect when people started actually paying attention to it and understanding that it was something that merited attention.
So because of that, even though “spreading across the Internet” is such a simple phrase, it really does mean that the concept of empathy has spread further, so that it’s more common to connect with others and share things with them and think “ah, I’m not the only one who likes this thing.” Thanks to the Internet, people can now see and compare the full picture than they could before.
So in other words, by the 2010s when The Caligula Effect was first released, I think we ended up in an era where we could say things like, “surprisingly, this isn’t something to be embarrassed about.”
Even in terms of the game itself, I think it was made for an era where it was already popular to express that kind of thing. So within that state of affairs, The Caligula Effect was targeted at a more narrowly specific audience. I think that’s how The Caligula Effect interacted with the era it was released in.
–Personally, I’m from the generation who barely got to see the world before the Internet existed, but prior to the Internet, information was only communicated through real-life contact, wasn’t it? So because of that, subcultures like “liking anime” were suppressed down as outlier minorities. But on the Internet, people from those subcultures could connect to each other, so it seems like those minority groups could be said to no longer be a “minority” in the same sense that it was before.
Well, when you’re online, your entire space is filled with similar people, so there’s no longer any more concept of a minority or majority (laughs).
–That phenomenon had great influence in the 1990s and 2000s, and, conversely, from the 2000s to the 2010s, I feel there was a trend that made that kind of subculture into pop culture, but to be honest, I don’t really understand how that part happened.
Although at the time, I personally wasn’t a young man anymore, so my perception of it may be poor. How do you personally see it?
Back when I was in university, Haruhi Suzumiya1, Hatsune Miku2, and Nico Nico Douga3 were getting fashionable, and they’d even often be featured on TV. But even then, in the end, you’d still have a lot of people with cold reactions at the time, saying things like “only losers do things like this.”
They were allowed to make a statement, and that much was accepted, but it wasn’t seen as smoothly as it is now. I think people saw it as being like some kind of circus.
–Video sites, in particular Nico Nico Douga, were becoming explosively popular around that time, but in the end, it was a fitting place for expressing media nerd culture, or, more accurately, subculture.
Right. University was the first time I had my own personal computer, and that was what made me feel my world was opening up, as if to say “if I become familiar with computers, my world will become more fun.”
But in the end, I had to keep hiding it. At the time, I wasn’t expecting that I’d end up joining a game company, so I thought, “having media nerd hobbies will put me at a disadvantage if I want to connect with society.”
But even while that sentiment was going on, I think being into anime, manga, or video games was still considered a subculture from the 2000s to the 2010s. After that, I became a full-fledged member of society and gradually started going into the game industry, and started to feel that media nerds were a type of “pedigree”. Nerds are people who have no choice but to live as nerds, who only accept nerd hobbies, and who don’t have any other particular things they like.
So in that sense, I think I was also one of those nerds. But now that we’re in the 2020s, “nerd” is becoming more and more like a kind of style, or a sort of stance you can take. “There are many kinds of styles you can choose from, and among them, being a nerd is one kind that you can choose and wear.”
–It became something rather like a fashion trend.
Right. Also, in terms of nerd theory, the final boss of The Caligula Effect is someone much like Hatsune Miku, but the reason we had it be this way is that if you were to put Hatsune Miku up on TV and say “she’s a super popular trend right now,” I thought, “when the general public sees this ‘group surrounding Hatsune Miku’, from their perspective, they probably think she’s some really scary thing because they don’t know what she is.”
At the time, I think the general public’s point of view would see a group surrounding something technically empty like that and idolizing it like some kind of scary cult. So because of that, we had her be the final boss.
For me, what connects myself to the game’s theme is that there are always two perspectives: one that comes from looking directly at the contents yourself, and one when you pull back and consider what the general public will think of this.
–In the 2010s, when The Caligula Effect was first released, that was one type of psychopathology that was relevant. For the upcoming The Caligula Effect 2, how have you analyzed the psychopathology of the 2020s?
My personal impression is that, in the 2020s, young people are suffering under the idea of “their personal problems being forced into a stereotype.”
For example, when you say “LGBTQ people have these kinds of problems” in the hopes of getting outsiders to quickly empathize with them, it actually means that you’re categorizing them by seeing them through a uniform perspective. It may not be a huge, drastic mistake, but it’s very different from something like being talked about as a single element of potential knowledge and feeling that you’ve actually been properly understood.
You’ll have to forgive me for expanding the topic a bit, but I think that, while the understanding and diversity of the darkness in one’s heart and modern psychopathology became much deeper in the 2010s, the 2020s saw a contrary trend of suffering from “only being superficially understood”.
I think misunderstandings, or perhaps rather, the feeling of suffering that you’ve only been “understood” in the sense that someone barged into your heart, is an issue that’s been occurring in the 2020s as a result of our better understanding of diversity.
While there’s an understanding that “we have these kinds of mental health issues and people have these kinds of troubles”, being “understood” in this way actually leads to worry and being “understood” in this way is actually painful, and that’s the ground we’re covering in The Caligula Effect 2.
–There’s now a better overall understanding of modern problems, but that understanding has been turned into something uniform. Has there been a sense of resistance against that kind of forcibly labeling, thoughtless trend of “please, just put some proper thought into this?”
–A lot of young people tend to be resisting something all of the time, but the important question is “what are you resisting?”
For instance, I think the recently super-popular song “USSEEWA” became such a hot topic because it was an easy-to-understand way of conveying the feeling of symbolic resistance.
Right, I feel that “USSEEWA” is a very easy-to-understand song that reflects the era very well. As part of my job, I often get involved with a lot of Vocaloid producers, but they’ve got a very good grasp of the era they’re in, and they’re very quick to react to things.
In the end, I think the real reason for that is that “you can remove the personality of the singer from the equation”. Although in “USSEEWA”‘s case, the singer Ado happens to be a human.
But when the singer’s personality is actually the symbol known as “Hatsune Miku”, the writer’s personality and the message of the lyrics become more prominent. They don’t have to think about the fact that they’ll be the creator reduced to the background, so Vocaloid producers can take the direct route in places where ordinary artists would make detours, and you can feel that they have a sense of speed to them because of that.
Having to eat from your lunchbox in the bathroom is scarier than being attacked by a dragon
–Taking a new approach to the same question, do you think something has changed from between back when you were a teenager and modern teenagers? Or, if there’s a difference, what difference do you think that is?
Well, first of all, we’re in a world where more things are being recognized properly. I think the word “diversity” has started to permeate, and the environment around us has gotten a little better. No matter what your circumstances are or what your way of life is, you’ll be accepted to some extent as a part of diversity.
I think my generation was one that mainly worried about being too different from others, but now things have really changed. Even in my generation, it was starting to disappear, but now the sense of values based on “if you study super hard and focus, you’ll be a greater person” has disappeared.
If you think about the anxieties that society as a whole has, there’s now a feeling that it’s possible to flip it all over in one shot on a completely different scale. In particular, I think YouTubers especially give off that sense of the world. When you look at the people of this generation, you might really think “no matter how you live, you’ll be able to make it through life.”
–I see. Hearing what you said, I remembered something from my interview with Kazuma Kamachi-san, the writer of A Certain Magical Index. “In the past, I used to depict people working hard and got catharsis from it, but nowadays, people don’t want to read the entire story to wait for it, so I write their success first and then only after words do I write how they got to that point. That way of thinking is based on a modern writer’s ingenuity, isn’t it?
I might be going off-topic a bit with this, but when I heard that just now, I thought that “the image of a protagonist” was especially prone to that kind of trend.
I don’t personally like to feel the sense of “because it was convenient” when going through a piece of media. So, this is my own personal habit, but I often make things in such a way that “it was actually just a coincidence that you happened to be chosen as the main character, and it wasn’t like you had some kind of special talent or anything.”
You just happened to be chosen that way, and you became the protagonist because it happened to be the time for you to become one, but if you do your best with what you have, you’ll pull through.
I really like that attitude, “if you do your best with what you have, you can do something as if you were the protagonist of something.” It’s also the antithesis to that whole “LOOK HOW STRONG I AM” thing like those stories about being reincarnated in another world.
So in The Caligula Effect, once they escape that world, the protagonists will still be bearing many negative things.
Achieving things doesn’t mean that their life will suddenly become completely positive. They became happier in the ending, but it’s not like they’re living happily ever after, and maybe the rest of their lives will even get worse later.
But although they were still in a negative position, the player reaches that ending by working very hard alongside those characters, so it feels like things really may look up from there. I think the best way to convey the ability to have such expectations by being someone who can use their creative works to interact with them and say “please do your best in reality.”
–Certainly, I felt that The Caligula Effect was made with a focus on those kinds of opportunities. We’re talking about a world that isn’t made of something like crime and punishment, or karma.
For example, when you fight against “Shadow Knife”, who was a bullied child in the original world, there’s a scene where the question “is it really okay to just respond to crimes with punishment?” In other words, it’s not a story of just “attacking the bad guy and considering it solved.” When you take action, you won’t always get results, and there will always be alternatives.
I felt it was a very good scene that conveyed the attitude of how you won’t be able to change the whole world at once, but you might be able to figure out some kind of approach.
That’s really high praise…Thank you very much (laughs).
How do I put it, I think there might be something shameful about “being too extreme”. There aren’t actually that many things a single human can do, and what they can do only really changes things little by little.
I feel it’s very irresponsible to portray the world in such a way where things can go “there was a huge plot twist, and now everything’s fine.”
Even to the very end, maybe something will change or maybe nothing will change at all, but the goal for The Caligula Effect is to have the players get the feeling that something “could” change, and bring that sentiment with them back to reality.
–For instance, RPGs made to make you feel “in reality, I’m an ordinary working man, but in games, I can be a hero who saves the world” used to be considered fun, but nowadays it’s true that it’s harder to feel any sense of reality when playing.
Right. I’ve personally always been very into more modern things such as Megami Tensei4 and Tokyo Wizard Academy5. Because I honestly can’t understand “the feelings of villagers being tormented by some dragon” (laughs). The dragon isn’t particularly relevant to my own personal life, so I can’t really think of it as scary.
Rather than that, I’m more afraid of being in a situation like “it’s embarrassing to have to be seen eating from a lunchbox by myself, so I end up eating from my lunchbox in the bathroom,” because that’s something that could have actually happened in my life.
But depicting that kind of personal horror is not something you can really do in games at all. Even so, I think that kind of thing really does leave a much stronger impression on me, so for me, it’s better to make something that makes you feel “this kind of person exists, too” and “this kind of situation can still make good entertainment,” and doing that kind of thing suits my style and feels more meaningful.
I think The Caligula Effect has the role of taking those kinds of personal horrors that you can find in your own daily life and forcing it to become a setting that can work for an RPG.
I want to create something that will provide solace for people who can’t find solace in mainstream media
–When you make a game, do you ever have a particularly strong focus on “the reason you’re making this game”?
Well…I apologize for being about to say something strange, but recently I’ve actually started to be very conscious about this feeling. This is something that tends to really set me off with anger, but I hope you’ll hear me out (laughs).
The other day, there was a tweet on my timeline from a certain VTuber that said “I bought five sets of clothing today. How many sets of clothes did you guys buy this winter?”
That VTuber was probably a pretty popular one, and the kids who were their fans sent back all kinds of replies, but one person said “I don’t have any interest in clothing at all, so I didn’t buy any at all.”
So in response, the VTuber replied, “oh, really? You probably are more the type to treat individual things with more gravity,” but I actually got really irritated at that (laughs).
–What do you mean by that? (laughs)
To put it simply, my frustration came from the feeling “when you’re in this kind of powerful position, there are other things you could be saying, aren’t there?” I’m sure that person probably hadn’t changed their stance on clothing no matter what anyone else told them.
But if, for example, a VTuber they really liked told them “so then why don’t you take this opportunity to try taking an interest in clothing? You might have fun with it,” I feel it would have been a good opportunity for something new to come out of it.
–So in other words, they weren’t really thinking about the way they were approaching their fans, and simply just trying to be nice to them for the sake of it.
That’s how it felt. Aren’t they just giving them the answer they wanted to hear? It’s true they’re saying “good things”, and maybe that’s the right thing to do when you’re an idol, but even so, I thought, I really don’t like this! (laughs) I think when you’re in that kind of position of power, rather than just making things that are nice for them to hear, it’s better if you could give your fans a new perspective.
This is just my own personal opinion, and it’s something I personally value, but in terms of the way media interacts with its fans, I want to give them a new perspective on life, I don’t want to pamper them, I want them to make them become more aware of new things.
–I see. I’d like to ask more about what you think about the role of fiction, media, and the creative works made within them.
For me personally, I’ve always thought that fiction should be something that “touches on one’s real-life surroundings further and does something to help change it.”
Among the roles that fiction plays, I think one is to be like a supporting pair of wings that allows you to live out fantasies in a magnificent other world. There are many wonderful stories that can be those kinds of wings, but there are already many creators who are able to make things like that.
I don’t personally want to be that kind of creator, and I want my fictional worlds to be closer to reality, and to have a relationship with it that makes it easier to bring something back with you.
–So you’re placing more importance on the relationship with reality than you are on fantasy.
Right. Even if it’s fictional or imaginary, even when you’re in some kind of other world, I want there to be some kind of closeness to something you can empathize with, and I want it to be treated with the same sentiment of being able to encounter things and people that you wouldn’t normally encounter in your usual daily life.
So you can obtain a new perspective from fiction and return to reality, and when you do actually meet someone in reality, you can think “come to think of it, I saw this kind of character before, so maybe they’re having this kind of problem.” I think my ideal situation is being able to create something that makes way for that kind of opportunity.
The premise of The Caligula Effect in that “the appearance of the character doesn’t match how they actually are” makes it seem very cartoonish, but I think this is very common for humans too. So if, after playing, people gain a bit more awareness that “someone’s appearance may not reflect who they actually are” and bring that into their daily lives, I think that would be the real meaning of creating this game called The Caligula Effect.
–So you’re hoping to create media that allows you to bring something back with you to reality in that sense. How did you make The Caligula Effect in such a way that one could have that feeling?
So for example, when we’re discussing psychopathology and the worries of the heart, we put particular care into the fact that “there are very many different motifs that are individualistic and concrete”. We’re targeting such a specific audience that there may even be people who go “I don’t get it,” but that’s fine. Normally, you’d think of trying to make a ton of characters that people will personally empathize with, but we’ve already thrown out that idea.
In actuality, I think a lot of people wouldn’t really get the fear of “having to eat your lunch in the bathroom”. They’d probably wonder “why would you worry so much about something like that?” But if you’re willing to go to that level of intimacy, people who wouldn’t find any solace in any other games would find solace in that exact point. So that’s why we’re putting focus into narrowing it down into something that specific.
In the end, RPGs are very fashionable. Every RPG is very fashionable, but I feel there must be many people who are left behind because of how fashionable they are. So I feel that I want to make a kind of story that conversely shows a lot of unfashionable things.
–When you try to sell things to a mainstream market, you end up having to focus on the greatest common denominator, so you don’t end up choosing to take routes that will hit directly home with a smaller group of people. Would this be something similar to what you said earlier about how current young people have a sense of “resistance against being stereotyped”?
Well, I was probably only able to do something like this because I’d started working for the company FuRyu. I learned to twist my way of thinking in this manner because we didn’t have money nor branding power, so I took this sort of guerilla-like stance of fighting in the market.
Of course, it also works perfectly well with myself because I also have those feelings of “resistance”, but I think it was more like our “survival strategy” in terms of dodging the most optimized solution and making things mainly just for those who can’t find solace in today’s mainstream media.
As far as Vocaloid goes, the momentum has been recovering nowadays, but back when we were talking about making The Caligula Effect in around 2014-2015, the mainstream opinion was “Vocaloid is a dying fad, so forget it.”
At the time, Vocaloid was only considered usable for games if it meant rhythm games. And on top of that, no game was ever really touching on something like the more literary aspects of Vocaloid culture.
So perhaps it may have been true that the momentum was declining at the time we were planning the game, and maybe it really was becoming less relevant, but in the end, we wanted a game with this kind of scale to be made for those kinds of people, and I feel that there was a sort of survival strategy-esque element to that, too.
–Moving the topic to the actual contents of each game, are there any obvious changes between the first The Caligula Effect and The Caligula Effect 2?
When we were making the first The Caligula Effect, I had basically nothing to use, so I had the feeling “I’m just going to make what I like, no matter what the company tells me to do.” (laughs)
–What kind of games do you like?
I usually call it “PS1-like games”.
During that era, all kinds of companies were releasing all kinds of games, and I particularly liked games like Tokyo Wizard Academy and Gunparade March, or whatever the Dengeki PlayStation magazine would recommend.
If I had the opportunity to make my own kind of original game, I wanted to make a game with that kind of atmosphere, that is to say, not a game that necessarily hits everyone deeply, but rather “a game that aims to become someone’s own ‘number one game’.” I felt that I wanted to make a game that someone would deeply remember and want to tell others about.
From those feelings, The Caligula Effect was a game made with that kind of “hardcore” atmosphere.
After that, thankfully, the fans accepted the game to some extent, and we entered the step of how the FuRyu company would handle The Caligula Effect as an IP.
In other words, in order to continue selling the game, the perspective of “a company that has to think about its popularity” came into play. I understood the reason the company was saying those things, and I understand that there was meaning in the company continuing to make this series.
However, I ended up falling into a dilemma when they asked me to make the remake of The Caligula Effect, The Caligula Effect: Overdose. I think the company saw it as a profitable game, or perhaps they even really saw it as an excellent game, but from my perspective as a creator, there were now times when I felt I couldn’t fight against structure anymore…
–When it comes to the game medium, there’s that particular problem where development costs are high, so you have to sell a lot.
Of course, all media needs to make a profit, so it’s inevitable for this to happen, but as far as I’m concerned, I’d personally like to be more on the side of the integrity of the creation.
Should I have to fight against the system for the sake of the creation? I had these ambiguous worries that if I didn’t have a position where I can actually fight back against the company in terms of discussing what to show and how we should sell it, we’d end up moving away from what the original fans and supporters of The Caligula Effect wanted in the first place, and it eventually wouldn’t really be The Caligula Effect anymore.
So in order to make the game in a way I really wanted it to be, I thought, “maybe I really do need to become someone who’s repelled from the gears of society.” As a result, once we started making The Caligula Effect 2, I quit my job as an office worker and went freelance.
As I say that, well, if we were to make a game with around ten times the budget The Caligula Effect had, it’d be very easy to catch the eyes of customers. You’d have beautiful graphics, tons of content, and lots of detail. So I think the reason why a game with The Caligula Effect‘s small scale can still sell is that it has a “pinpoint target”.
We don’t need to sell a million copies. We don’t even need it to be popular. We only really need to sell 50,000 copies or so to recoup our budget, so we only need to make a game that’ll be accepted by that many people, and we don’t need to think about huge numbers even when we take into account casting and personnel, and that suits my personal style best.
—The Caligula Effect also features some artists who were unknown back at the time, but have since become very popular.
Nowadays, he’s become famous enough to be on Kouhaku6, but Ayase, from the YOASOBI music duo, is also involved with The Caligula Effect 2. At the time we first invited him onto the project, he hadn’t had his big break yet.
But I think we were still able to say “but we think he’ll really help it sell well, so we want him to join” because this wasn’t a game that needed to aim for selling a million copies.
To those people who seem to fit within the world, but have some kinds of doubts and are in a delicate position
–You mentioned earlier that you wanted to “bring solace to those who can’t find solace in mainstream media,” but on the contrary, what do you think people who find solace in mainstream media are finding solace in?
I think people get a huge kind of happiness when they feel from mainstream content that “this was made just for me.”
It’s very fortunate when things that are popular in the world are things that are suitable for you, but on the other hand, it’s important to remember that there are many people for whom these things won’t work.
For my generation, PC games7 and erotic games were considered the complement for that kind of thing. They had things the mainstream ones wouldn’t discuss, and it was a place for creators to do things that mainstream things couldn’t do. I feel it’d be nice to have those kinds of things, except for an audience of all ages.
–Do people who like mainstream media still have a feeling of “finding solace”?
Well, I wonder. For instance, maybe you’ll see a movie, and you’ll think “wait, what about this?” or “this bothers me”, but when you and look up the reviews for it, everyone’s raving about it.
–That kind of thing does happen.
I went to go see a stage reading that I was invited to go see, and I thought “this story is kind of horrid, isn’t it?”, but when the lights went out, everyone around me was crying (laughs).
I’ve had those experiences quite often. During times like those, I remember feeling very alienated.
On the contrary, as a creator, I’d probably be dropping that kind of story at the self-checking stage, so I do feel a little sad when I think, “I won’t be able to make those kinds of people cry.”
I myself understand the pain of feeling left out from what everyone else is enjoying, because I’ve felt the same way.
–You think, why can’t I get into it the way everyone else is?
Why indeed? But it’s not like you asked to be that way, and it’s not like you can do anything about it.
But that means when I’m doing this kind of job, I end up having some kind of personal pride being someone more on the niche, and I think there’s an aspect to it that makes it very fun.
But I’m sure there are people who are very stressed to be the niche type. “My friends are enjoying things I hate” is a pretty painful thing to feel.
–I think there’s always something niche, or rather “a place hidden in the shadows.” For instance, things like video games, anime, and manga used to be that kind of place in the shadows. But now that they’ve moved out into the light, we now have the problem of “where’s the place in the shadows?” That still hasn’t been resolved yet.
Even then, I think video games or anime still have some leeway in terms of the “darkest shadows”. It’s easy to imagine what the darkest shadow is, and you understand that there are some people in there, so I think there’s still more media for them and some solace to be found there.
But on the other hand, there are people in an ambiguous position because they can’t completely shake off being in the darkest shadows, and I feel that video games, anime, and manga don’t tend to reach them very much. So I want to create media for those who seem to be more accepted by society on the surface, but somehow don’t feel quite right in it.
The characters in The Caligula Effect have their own kinds of troubles that you wouldn’t understand unless you were taking an active role in society, so in other words, we’re making this game for “people who have some ability to work out good things in society, but are still feeling some kind of pain.”
–So to speak, a person who’s working to “pretend” to be socially acceptable.
Right. The truth is, I’ve actually made my own indie comics before and had to hide them (laughs).
But the people who live in the estuary where the sea and the river blends can’t really fall fully into either, and it feels like both sides are their enemy.
–When you put it that way, you don’t really hear about much media that’s so clearly directed to those who have to pretend to be socially acceptable. Hearing that, I get the sense that The Caligula Effect is targeted at a somewhat older age group.
How to have The Caligula Effect make its way into people’s daily lives
–When you speak of entertainment, it’s generally something akin to immersing yourself in the moment and thinking of yourself as being like the hero or being involved in the event you’re seeing.
In the past, if you were told “you’re the hero,” you could project yourself onto that. However, nowadays, there’s a problem where you can do less and less of that kind of project, and the things you need to do to get people to think of it as “like oneself” has diversified a lot.
So as you said, I think there’s now an idea that “we have to split this up.”
–But on the other hand, I think that division ends up creating a disadvantage in which it becomes so individualized that nobody can empathize with it anymore. Beyond just dividing things up, what other gimmicks or approaches do you use to help people empathize with it?
This probably isn’t quite the answer that you’re looking for, but even though games are supposed to be something you play, I think nowadays it’s very important to have the factor of “having fun even before you start playing the game”.
For example, prior to the release, we put out information about the characters, we show details about the designs, we drop little clues here and there. Depending on how we put out that information, I think the audience can still enjoy things like “I wonder if this character is that kind of person?” or “when this person transforms, this kind of flower blooms, so maybe that means they’re this kind of person.”
It’s very important to have that kind of loose communication with the audience up until the game is actually released.
–It’s certainly true that there’s lately been more and more games that communicate with their audience even prior to release.
People can only enjoy so many pieces of media at one time, right? And the slots are all getting filled with mainstream popular media like Fate/Grand Order, Uma Musume, Hypnosis Mic, or Twisted Wonderland.
So in order to fill up those remaining empty slots, you need to make sure people are always aware of your work, and you have to make them feel that “this game feels kind of different from other games.” I focus a lot on that part of my work where I talk with and continue to talk with the audience.
Since I focus so much on that, in spreading information, I put out little mysteries that are easy for them to consider, and do a little more and more each day.
In the end, if you think of media as just standalone products, you won’t be able to succeed in this industry, so I put effort into how to have The Caligula Effect make its way into people’s daily lives and have them use their brain capacity to think about the game.
–From that perspective, it seems that continued-service model games, such as smartphone games, certainly do have an advantage. On the other hand, The Caligula Effect is a one-time purchase game. How specifically do you have it make its way into the audience’s daily lives?
In the case of The Caligula Effect, I think the fans see it as something akin to “the feeling of aggressively showing up for a less popular idol”.
It came from somewhere nobody had heard of, and it felt like “this company I’ve never heard of is working really hard.” And so they thought they were the only people who liked this, and then it ended up becoming adapted into an anime, and then even a 2 came out, and I think it feels the same way as “they put out a photobook for this idol that I’m a huge fan of, but it’ll be such a shame if it doesn’t sell, so I should buy it to show up for them.”
At the same time, The Caligula Effect is very different from other games, so I think it’s “very easy to spread the word about”. I feel the audience is getting the word out there and aggressively recommending it by saying “this game is very different from other ones.” I think there are many people who enjoy The Caligula Effect with that kind of aggressive recommendation.
–Describing it as “aggressively showing up for a less popular idol” makes it very easy to understand. It’s not well-known, but it makes you want to support it because you know how good it is.
This might not be the right thing to say, but I think this kind of atmosphere is tied to the fact it’s an IP that “isn’t necessarily trying to force itself to become a big name”, and it’s doing everything it wants to make now. Although it does result in a clear division in people who like and dislike it.
For those who truly do like The Caligula Effect as an IP, I always want to communicate with them by showing them how far we can go.
Deliberately avoiding stock symbolism in order to convey “the pleasure of figuring out something that’s difficult to understand”
–Incidentally, beyond just branding, is there something you’re firm about holding fast to when creating works like The Caligula Effect?
I always call it “rawness”. For instance, I don’t have them speak with conversations that wouldn’t actually happen very often in reality.
This is an example I use often, but I really hate lines like “those eyes wouldn’t lie!” Wouldn’t you just end up thinking like “wait, which eye’s supposed to be lying!?” (laughs)
–That’s true (laughs).
It’s common to force those kinds of lines into the script even though you wouldn’t hear them very often in reality, but I’d like to put a stop to that.
Another easily understandable example is that I don’t really like expressing things in ways like “hair color corresponds to a character’s personality”. I don’t think a person should be as simple as “a redhead is a hot-blooded person.”
–It’s convenient to use because it’s easy to understand, but it makes it harder to feel any realism out of it.
Normally, it’d be character design common sense that “you should be able to understand them even through just a silhouette”, but I don’t like that, either. So even if that rawness puts it at a marketing disadvantage, I still want to follow that direction when it comes to my creative work.
I’m in the so-called position of a supervisor, so I’ve been trying to subvert all of that. Colors, silhouettes, and other stock symbolic representations don’t mean anything for the characters in The Caligula Effect. We might repeat colors, and we don’t evenly distribute colors between characters.
Normally, things are produced to make them easier to understand, but I personally will never forget “the pleasure I feel when I understand something that’s difficult to understand” in my lifetime. I want this to have that level of importance, through “establishing a connection so that people understand how hard it is to understand something”.
It’s not easy to notice, but even within the story itself, we don’t use stock symbolic ways of expressing things. We try not to cut out the noise from breathing and talking as much as possible.
When you’re human, when you talk, you might stutter, and the sound might get fuzzy. But what comes from that is the feeling of taking in breaths, the feeling of swallowing saliva, and the feeling that the character is really alive.
–I see. It seems like your core motivation involves not being comfortable with certain templates or stock symbolism.
–Since you know that this will probably narrow the reach of the game, do you think it’s worth it in the end? What particular value comes out of it?
Basically, when I’m asked why I would make something like this, I think it’s because I already think “there’s nobody in this world who has something that they like 100%.” I have a lot of things that I really like, and my ideal ones are the particularly wonderful works that satisfy me around 90%, but I tried to find something that I liked 100%, unless I’m the one making it myself anyway, such a thing doesn’t exist.
So in the same way I myself am not going to find solace in something 100%, there are definitely people out there in the world who aren’t being 100% comforted by currently existing works. Maybe it’s just something peculiar to myself, but I think my way of life involves just making things honestly for those who are there.
–When you say “this work is my favorite” and recommend it to others, in some ways, that ends up being a certain kind of self-expression. And it’d naturally be amazing to see someone pick The Caligula Effect for this.
I’m from the mixi8 generation, and on mixi, they had a function called “My Community” on the home page, and you could see nine thumbnails lined up there that listed the communities you were part of. Right there, you had “what I want to show other people” on there, right?
The Caligula Effect is the kind of game made in the hopes of having someone put it up there. I would really like it if there were people who would pick The Caligula Effect in the same way they would talk about movies they recommend, in order to make the statement “I’m this kind of person.”
Depicting discrimination requires depicting the people who are doing the discriminating
–One of the themes in The Caligula Effect is “committing a taboo”, but what made you decide to depict such a thing?
In psychology terms, the Japanese word for “wanting to do something exactly because you’re not allowed to do it” is referred to as “the Caligula effect”9, and that’s the overall concept behind The Caligula Effect.
In games, it’s natural for people to do things like “betraying someone you’ve been friends with for a long time,” but when you’re making a game that’s meant to be so close to reality, I think it hits harder if you make them feel the proper sense of “I’m doing this like it’s nothing, but I really shouldn’t” or “in reality, this would be a taboo.”
I wanted to include those things that one wouldn’t do if it were already normal and safe, as much as possible, within the story. So in the first game, there’s a scene where a character named Mifue made some very horribly offensive remarks about a fat person, but normally it would absolutely be the kind of scene you should be avoiding.
–It really is dangerous to do something like that.
As a creator, it would absolutely be better to avoid this kind of expression. In fact, it really is simply just dangerous. But in the end, if you want to depict discrimination, you’ll have to depict the person who’s doing the discrimination. It’d be a very roundabout kind of lie to say “discrimination is bad” without bothering to actually cover it.
So, after all, no matter how you try to do it, if you’re going to be depicting discrimination, a discriminatory person will have to appear. But in the case of The Caligula Effect, such a person is on the side of their allies.
Normally, when you make a story, all of your allies are expected to be likeable, but in my case, I felt that you didn’t necessarily have to like them. I suppose “having a character on your side who’s doing bad things” may be my own way of taking on the concept of taboos.
–So you’re intending to depict not only the side that’s being discriminated against, but also the people who are inflicting that discrimination.
Right. Because I think it’s a lie to claim “all of the people on your side that you’ve gotten together are good people” (laughs). And on top of that, I also think it’s a lie to say that once you’ve realized your mistake, you’ll never make that mistake ever again. Just because you were reprimanded for it once doesn’t mean you’ll become a true and perfect human being right after that, and I’m sure you’ll keep making mistakes over and over again.
–When it comes to having those kinds of aspects, The Caligula Effect is pretty harsh on its players (laughs).
It’s harsh (laughs).
–The characters in the story say “I don’t really want to go back to reality,” and even in the game slogan, you’re told to read the word “reality” as if it were the word “hell”10. And yet in the end, they’re all still trying to return to reality.
There are creative works that exist for the purpose of letting the audience simply have fun, and many people are perfectly satisfied with that, but The Caligula Effect tells the player to “please try to properly communicate in reality.” Why is that?
This is mainly just about my own personal thoughts, but there’s this one aspect to it where I think, “Discrimination exists in this world. Let’s do our best to live as much as we can despite that.” Of course, we all admire and look up to people who are actually active in fighting against problems like occupational discrimination and misogyny, but not everyone is strong enough to do that, and not everyone has the energy or ability to sacrifice things in order to change the world.
So The Caligula Effect isn’t a story about “let’s change the whole world”, but rather a story about admitting that our reality involves this kind of world and how we’re supposed to continue living in it.
Even though it’s said that “reality is hell”, the solution isn’t “then, let’s escape to the ideal world.” Ideal worlds and worlds in fiction will only ever be places where you can take a short rest or have a moment of healing, but in the end, the only place we’re facing is reality. I think this story is rooted in the idea “I have no choice but to return there, so the only thing I can do is do my best.”
–What would make reality “hell” for you personally?
Please forgive me for saying something that’ll probably get you angry and think “that sure is a luxurious problem to have,” but my hell is that “I can’t have happiness forever” (laughs).
I’m still planning to do my best with what I have now, but when I look at myself objectively, I made a game in my twenties, and it even got adapted to an anime, so I should be happy about that, but I actually don’t feel that sense of happiness intimately. I feel like I’ve been feeling more of a lukewarm kind of hell this whole time, feeling “when is this state of mind finally going to end?”
I don’t know what’s the end point of my life that I’m heading for, and I don’t know how to stop either, so the only thing I can do is keep moving forward.
“I definitely want to keep my main focus in games”
–Since you’ve started to expand your activities as a creator outside video games, where do you plan to make your main battlefield?
I’m constantly thinking of video games as my main battlefield, and I definitely want to keep my main focus in games.
–For what reason?
I sound overly arrogant when I say this, but I think I’m actually more of the story writer type. I talk about having a story I want to make, and I feel that I want to pick the game medium as a means to put that story into.
My ideal situation is for someone to become aware of something new after they’re done reading, or to create a story or experience that changes the way they’ve been thinking, so I think games are the medium that best fulfill that. Video games are interactive, so I think they might be the most compatible medium for that kind of experience.
–Certainly, it’s true that it’s difficult to “change your mind” just by passively taking something in. It’s only inevitable that games would be how you’d want to express that.
On the other hand, I feel like it’s dangerous to do nothing but games. As far as games are concerned, I just happened to end up becoming a producer, so there’s been times where I’ve been scared of trying to get by in this position. There are a lot of pretty unpleasant producers out there (laughs).
As for why that’s the case, I think it’s because since you’re the top decision maker, “nobody will correct you”.
Nobody’s going to tell you “that’s the wrong direction,” so if the only thing you do is work as a producer, you’ll get more and more biased before you know it.
I was afraid of that happening, so I wrote some stories for the game IDOLiSH7 and the anime SD Gundam World. By getting to see how things work in another field, where people can “correct me”, I’m going out of my way to create things outside of my usual focus. By doing this, I think I’ve put myself in the ideal environment where I have two core lines, one environment created with my own personal values, and one environment created through the values of others.
In the future, I’d like to try out more anime but also live-action works if I have the opportunity, but I think there are many things I’ll be able to bring back once I return to making games. There are many creators from an older generation in the game industry, so I think the only way we’ll be recognized by the world is not by fighting them head-on, but rather by taking another direction and growing through taking more steps in more new places. (End)
How did you enjoy this fourth part of “Ask the New Generation”?
Yamanaka’s desire to “create something that provides solace for people who can’t find solace in mainstream media” was also a firm “survival strategy” in order to create games in an environment with low brand value and budget.
However, at the same time, he also showed an attitude of facing each and every player directly, thinking properly about their personal troubles in their hearts by seeing things from their perspective. Alluding to the anecdote of him having to give up on becoming a counselor from being “too soft”, I think we were able to ask about and hear Yamanaka’s own story as a person.
To play a game called The Caligula Effect, bring back the feelings that you felt there, and continue to live on. This interview reminded us that games are meant to have us seriously face our own worries and others’ feelings, and empower us all. Neither yourself nor the world can be changed in an instant. So in the end, the only choice you have is to continue living in the hell of reality. But in that case, having something “made just for me” exist in this reality will surely provide some solace. We hope this interview can be something that can be a bit of a catalyst for that solace.
- Haruhi Suzumiya = A media franchise based on a light novel series by Nagaru Tanigawa, originally published in 2003. It became heavily popularized by an anime series that began airing in 2006. [↩]
- Hatsune Miku = A character attached to a vocal synthesis software originally running on the Vocaloid engine, whose breakout popularity in 2007 led to the creation of the Vocaloid creative subculture known for its high focus on independent creativity and self-expression. The virtuadoll characters in Caligula games are heavily based on the characters associated with such vocal synthesis software, and prominent music producers and artists from the community were prominently advertised as being involved in the creation of the game. [↩]
- Nico Nico Douga = A video-sharing site that became explosively popular in the mid-2000s, becoming particularly famous for its independently produced fan content for anime and games. Its initial popularity explosion is considered a formative part of Vocaloid culture history. [↩]
- Megami Tensei = A media franchise known for mixing fantasy elements involving demon summoning and a modern urban setting. [↩]
- Tokyo Wizard Academy = A media franchise known for involving high school students fighting supernatural creatures. [↩]
- “Kouhaku” = Short for Kouhaku Uta Gassen, a yearly New Year’s Eve television special featuring a singing competition among famous artists. Making it onto Kouhaku is considered a sign that you’ve truly made it in the industry. [↩]
- PC games didn’t have a huge presence in Japan during the time Yamanaka is referring to, and were largely associated with niche indie games. [↩]
- mixi = An online social networking service that was particularly popular in the mid-2000s, based on the idea of building networks based on common interests, especially through favorite media. [↩]
- The term “Caligula effect” (カリギュラ効果, “Caligula kouka“) refers to how the 1979 erotic film Caligula was banned in several countries, which made people conversely more interested in the movie. In English psychology terms, this would be referred to as reactance. [↩]
- Since pronunciation for Japanese kanji can vary, furigana over the words will often clarify how to read it, but it’s also common for there to be a form of pseudo-wordplay in which one word is written, but a completely different word is written in the furigana. [↩]