Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth’s Sub-Quests, Kouji Watanabe’s Fusion of Digital and Occult

A translation of this Famitsu interview from March 10, 2015, with Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth‘s producer Kazumasa “Habumon” Habu and sub-quest writer Kouji Watanabe.

(Producer and director interview | Character designer interview | Eater designer interview | Sub-quest writer interview | BGM composer and sound effect producer interview)

Drafting the sub-quests from a mutual understanding with Producer Habu

The PlayStation Vita game Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth will be released on March 12, 2015. This work, which is aimed towards fans of Digimon who have become adults, having inherited its elements of adventure, training, and battle elements, has upgraded its game system and visuals significantly from that of previous works. In addition, one of the charm points of this game is that some of its sub-quests are drafted in collaboration with the novelist Kouji Watanabe. We conducted this interview with Mr. Watanabe in the café he manages, the “K-CAFE”, in Nakano Broadway1. We asked about the sub-quests, but we also asked about the appeal of Nakano Broadway. Producer Kazumasa Habu (hereinafter, Habu) also participated in the interview.

Kouji Watanabe (hereinafter, Watanabe): Novelist. Other than his work as a game writer, he enjoys popularity for the serialization of 1999′s Game Kids in Weekly Famitsu. Currently, he works in serialization for Front Line and 2013′s Game Kids.

The real world and the fantasy world connected at “Nakano Broadway”

–We’re informed that Watanabe-san is working on the draft for the game’s scenario.
Watanabe-san’s not writing the whole main story, but he’s writing some of the stories for the sub-quests. We believed that he would be able to create an arrangement that aligns with this game’s view of the world, entwining its cyber and occult aspects better than we could, without worrying about the story and making it Digimon-esque. The scenario isn’t as simple as “evil Digimon go on a rampage”, but it ties together the cyber and the occult, and gains a sort of horror-like feel to it.
Watanabe: When you want to write things about the occult in a logical and reasonable manner, you need to establish the relationship between the things like that world and this world, or reality and fantasy. When I heard about the story draft from Habu-san, and that the theme revolved around Digimon’s “real world” and “cyber world”, I thought, “this’ll be a very good theme to combine with the occult”.

–I see. So in what circumstances were you asked to do the draft?
On the “Premium Cafe”2 program, when we were introducing Digimon Adventure for the PlayStation Portable, I met Watanabe-san for the first time. During the program, I appeared with the director of Digimon Adventure, Kakudou-san (Hiroyuki Kakudou. Worked as the director for the TV anime Digimon series), and at the time he said, “strictly speaking, Digimon can only exist through electronic devices, so youkai-like3 or spiritual existences could actually have been perception of Digimon.” Following up on that, he said, “I think you’ve been writing about that kind of theme in your novels, Watanabe-san.”
Watanabe: It’s been around two years since then. I remember we also talked about things like “Nakano Broadway is an interesting place.”
Habu: We did. Back when I was a student, Nakano Broadway was where I went to find hobbyist imported figures of characters from American comics. And I really like that crowded feeling that comes from Nakano Broadway. It’s really nice that the shops and trends there change with the times.

–It really is a very interesting place.
We were saying t’d be interesting for some episodes in the game to take place in Nakano Broadway (laughs), and that “it’d be interesting if it were to appear in a game”. At the time, we were consulting with Watanabe-san, who was on the board of directors at Nakano Broadway, and asked him “is it okay to set our game in Nakano Broadway?”, so he transferred us to the executive office. And after we went through some amount of consultation, we wanted to reproduce the worldview of Watanabe-san’s novels in this game, and because we thought it would be consistent with the “digital motif ghost story”, we asked him to write for us.

–So you could have Nakano Broadway appear in the game mainly because you’d met with Watanabe-san.
I’ve been going in and out of Nakano Broadway for about 30 years now, and I think it’s a suitable location to be a point of contact between the real world and the virtual world. So I thought it’d be interesting for it to be the point of contact between the real world and the digital world in Digimon.

–Why do you think Nakano Broadway is a suitable location to be a point of contact for the real world and virtual worlds?
The sense it gives you, the sense of the imaginary world and storytelling, has made it become a “sacred place” by many “otaku”. It gives off the image of standing in the boundary between reality and pseudo-reality.
Habu: Nakano Broadway isn’t an everyday sort of place.
Watanabe: Exactly. That’s why I moved my own creative space to Nakano Broadway. In this game, the protagonist sets up their base of activities in Nakano Broadway, and, in the past, whenever I’d written novels with the protagonists as detectives or killers, I would set their detective offices or killer hideouts in Nakano Broadway. When I was writing documents in the café, whenever I hit a wall, I got the feeling that the protagonists of my novels and the Digimon characters were there. It’s very easy to foster the image where, because of the development of the Internet and computers, the virtual space has eroded into the real world, that world and this world have begun to fuse.

–So it’s the best place to do your writing activites.
As far as fantasy goes, or as far as connecting a fabricated world with the real one goes, many writers have presented different methodologies. For instance, in the works of Haruki Murakami, you’ll often have things like “passing through walls”. In my case, working here allows me to come up with these things fairly smoothly.

At the K-CAFE, Mr. Watanabe brewed us coffee with his interview.

–Habu-san earlier said that “there are some interesting things that have also happened in the building itself”, which seems to be useful for your writing activities.
I’ve only heard rumors of this, but they say the rooftop is full of wild creatures, and that people who live upstairs have been going ahead and remodeling the veranda so that they can make little rivers and forests there. Also, there were people who blew out three rooms and made a movie theater out of it (laughs).

–They really just did whatever they wanted! (laughs)
There’s a lot of things I could say about those kinds of anecdotes, but it’s said that if you go underground in the middle of the night, you can hear the gong of a bell. There ended up being a sort of urban legend about the underground of the Broadway being like a temple, but when they looked into it, the bell sound turned out to be an outbreak of bell cricket cries.

–Bell crickets, as in those bell crickets? You wouldn’t normally hear the sound of a bell4 in their cries, but…
Normally you wouldn’t when it’s just a small cry, but when all of them together produce that familiar ringing sound, and you have tens of thousands of them together, you can hear the gong of a bell. On top of that, there was a time when, on the Nakano Broadway office veranda, fish fell from the sky. It was eventually revealed to be an illusion, caused by a heron on the roof from the pond that had dropped fish on its way, but I think that idea of “fish falling from the sky” is interesting. Also, there was a frog swimming in the office bathroom, and we couldn’t figure out where it came from (bitter laugh).
Everyone: (laughs)
Watanabe: When I moved my base here and joined the board of directors, I looked deeply into the old blueprints, and I realized it was full of that old sort of “science-fiction” feeling. Nakano Broadway made full use of state-of-the-art technology relative to its time, and was designed with the intent of making it a building for the “future”. It was 1955, yet it had full air-conditioning management and security cameras. It even has functions that make it useful as a nuclear shelter, which were first utilized in the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011.

–I imagine the residents must have been surprised, too…
In response to that earthquake, the lead fire shutters, which are built into the wall, pounded right down with a bang, eventually cutting off the corridors every few meters (bitter laugh). The younger people who were there didn’t know about this function, so everyone was very surprised, but there was an old man of around 90 years old, who had lived there for a long time, and he said that the shutters not only prevent the spread of fire and cave-ins, but also prevent the spread of the effects of radioactivity. Since it was built during the Cold War era, “nuclear war” was a very real fear.

–I see.
I don’t know how much it would have really worked, but if a nuclear war were to break out, the residents of Nakano Broadway would survive by being shut off by the lead, and live there for a few months with food in the basement. It also had a number of hidden passages in case of emergency. Because it would be a waste to close them off without anyone knowing of them, there are some of them that are currently open.
Habu: As you can expect, there were elements that we couldn’t express in the game, but ever since I heard about this kind of thing from Watanabe-san, I really thought it would be an appropriate place for mysterious characters to gather (laughs).

–It really is (laughs). And beyond all things we don’t know, there are a lot of different kinds of things in Nakano Broadway.
Watanabe: There are. Nakano Broadway is both a retro and a cyber place. It’s not just its historical or occult value, it brings together state-of-the-art computer and video equipment, and a lot of different kinds of people come to see it. Beyond people like teenagers and people in their twenties, celebrities from the 1950s or 60s and business topshots live here. And among them you have psychics and anti-psychics. Because of that, there are oftentimes a lot of fortune-telling stalls. So as far as Nakano Broadway could be a setting for a cyber detective working there and encountering mysterious things, I think it’s very appropriate.

The link with reality is the game’s way of evolving

–Have you seen how Nakano Broadway was reproduced in the game, Watanabe-san?
I’ve seen it. It’s fairly interesting, and gives me a strange feeling.
Habu: Is it because you live in Nakano Broadway and are seeing the place you spend every day in inside the game, Watanabe-san?
Watanabe: Yes, that’s it. You can move around freely in the game, too.

–It’s amazing how realistically it’s reproduced in the game. You can really walk around in it.
I think eventually, there won’t be a boundary between reality and games anymore. In this sort of future, when you capture the space of reality within a game, or perhaps when you reproduce it in a game, it’d give you all sorts of odd feelings, wouldn’t it?
Habu: When you go to Nakano Broadway in the game, and you feel “I’m having an adventure in this place”, I hope we’ll have succeeded in showing off those parts of the real world, like Nakano Broadway, as interesting.

–By linking the real world and the game’s setting, the connection between the two-dimensional world and the real world creates an interesting experience. Recently, things like games and anime have been using real-world settings.
It may be the same for this entry of Digimon, but I think it’s interesting how this fusion with the real world is like an evolution. As technology develops little by little, I believe we’ll be able to incorporate augmented reality technology, and we can move towards a more real-time kind of game. For instance, if you see products lined up in the Nakano Broadway in the game that you feel like buying, as soon as you buy it, it’ll reach your home. But that’s a conversation for the future, and for this game, I think it’s made with state-of-the-art technology, considering what’s available right now.
Habu: Indeed. I think the fun of this game is having an adventure in an extension of your everyday surroundings, so it’s very important to establish a sense of déjà vu, or a sort of realism. We made it realistic, so that when you feel déjà vu in reality and in the game, when you go to the actual place, you can have an experience like “I had this kind of adventure here”.
Watanabe: When science fiction overlaps with reality, I think that’ll be proof that the real world has become as interesting as a game would be. I wrote for Game Kids in 1999, and it hasn’t even been 20 years since then yet. When you consider that, we really live in an incredible future.

The sub-quests are a must-see for fans of Game Kids

–Continuing on, I would like to ask Watanabe-san about the story in the sub-quests that he drafted. How many of them was he responsible for?
Watanabe-san was responsible for ten of them, and all of them are in the game. However, there were some background setting elements that we couldn’t use if we left them the way they were in the draft, so we had to change things on our end for better consistency.
Watanabe: Since it was only the draft, I let them handle it as they liked. The story writers really are excellent, so I felt it’d be fine if I left it to them.

–Can you tell us more specifically about what was in the draft, or are you unable to…?
If I talk about it, it’ll inevitably turn into spoilers, I’m not sure to what extent the details can be published, and I don’t know what form they’ll appear in the game as…um, for instance, there’s a story of a high school girl chasing after a kokkuri-san5, and a snow woman6 with a death-cold body in the middle of summer.

–What kind of stories are those, respectively?
The kokkuri-san one is about a phenomenon in which a girl’s emotions have been laid bare, and she ends up in a number of successive bad things. Recently, one’s connections on the network on things like Twitter and Facebook have become very important. On the other hand, if that information disappears, your existence in reality dilutes, and you’ll wonder if people will be able to acknowledge your existence anymore. That kind of thing is ultimately what leads to how I tried to connect this to something caused by Digimon

–I see. So what about the one about the snow woman?
The snow woman is about an idol who was frozen and has been sleeping since the 70s. As to why there’s an idol in frozen stasis, back in the 70s when Nakano Broadway was in its heyday, the “time capsule” was in fashion. In fact, even in Nakano Broadway, there was a plan to fill a time capsule there. So there’s a story that a beautiful girl who didn’t want to get old put herself in the time capsule, or in other words, a story of artificial hibernation. Like a Pharaoh sleeping in a pyramid. So in Nakano Broadway, like a treasure in a pyramid, there’s an idol from long ago whose gravure magazines, photographs, and videos are lined up in splendor. So inside that crevice, you get the impression of a realistic ghost. The image of the legendary idol remains untouched, without degrading, exceeding time. I’m interested in the kind of story where she actually survived and lay there frozen. There’s actually a little more of a twist to it, but if I go too far it probably actually will become spoilers (laughs).
Habu: But because that draft was a little too hardcore, we ended up changing it up quite a bit. Because we can’t use it if there isn’t a Digimon involved in the incident…In addition, because there were many elements that were difficult to represent within the game, there were a lot of parts that we had no choice but to change, so I regret that we were unable to accomplish it. Someday, I would like to get another proper try at it again.

–Even just listening to what you’re saying now, the generation that read Game Kids must really have something to look forward to. It really gives off a Game Kids-like feel to it.
It does. It’s very Game Kids-like.
Habu: For the readers of Famitsu, it was very easy to get across the idea of “it’s got a feel much like that of Game Kids. However, like I said before, there were times when it was difficult to fully reproduce Watanabe-san’s draft in the game, so it would be nice if I could be able to show you the draft at some other time.
Watanabe: I wouldn’t mind if you published it, either.

–That would be nice. I think the fans would be glad to see that, too. Speaking of the fans, I think they’ll probably end up doing a pilgrimage7 to Nakano Broadway. What kind of things would you like people to look out for while there?
Watanabe: I think the good thing about Nakano Broadway is that a 10-year-old can be like a 10-year-old, and a 90-year-old can be like a 90-year-old, and you can have a contact point with yourself there. If you ever bring along your children, they can look around in delight, or for anyone not interested in otaku culture, you could bring a woman around 40 years old, she’ll say “this is nostalgic”, and she’ll enjoy it quite well.
Habu: There’s iconic corresponding otaku culture shops for every generation.
Watanabe: Indeed. And it’s not just otaku culture; things like the audio-video equipment, the cameras, the clocks, lots of other kinds of things. I think there’s things for me, and things for everyone out there. For instance, today at Mandarake8, I was reunited with a toy for Kaibutsu-kun, referred to as a “roller coaster”. In fact, this toy was the first prize merchandise I ever won when I was little. It was a simple toy, just a frame running on top of a wire, but just seeing it made me want to cry. It was like a postcard from my childhood, making me recall the joy of when I won it. But at some point in my life, I lost something as important as that. It was about 8000 yen, so I thought I might buy it without even fully taking the time to process it (laughs).
Habu: Nakano Broadway, in itself, has become a sort of time capsule.

–It sounds interesting, to search for your own memories while exploring Nakano Broadway.
It really is fun. But before that, when you play the game, I would like you to experience the mysterious story that you can find only in this game.

Translator's notes
  1. Nakano Broadway is a rather famous mall located in the Nakano ward of Tokyo, which contains a large number of otaku and subculture specialty shops (manga, anime, card games, idols, arcades, etc.). []
  2. “Premium Cafe” = A live broadcast program held on the Japanese PlayStation Community site that features information and special programs regarding upcoming games. The one referred to is this one, featuring Kazumasa Habu and Hiroyuki Kakudou, held January 16, 2013. []
  3. Youkai = A type of spirit in Japanese folklore. []
  4. The bell cricket/bell thing doesn’t quite correlate in Japanese as their English names would sound; bell cricket is suzumushi, bell is kane. []
  5. Kokkuri-san = Refers to a sort of diviniation game similar to table-turning. []
  6. Snow woman = Also known as the yuki-onna. []
  7. “Pilgrimage”, in this context refers to a term for when fans of a work (anime, manga, novel, game, movie, etc.) visit a real-life location primarily because it was a prominent location in said work. []
  8. Mandarake is a Tokyo retail chain specializing in used anime and manga-related products. There’s a store in Nakano Broadway, and it’s also visitable in the game. []

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