So, let’s talk about Yoko Taro.
I like the man. Beyond his bizarre need to keep his face hidden, he has consistently put out damn near auteur work in his game: showing creativity and an ability to have players play through his work as many times as possible. Comprehensive is another matter entirely, but the tone and narrative themes of his work usually keeps things together while the design and gameplay does the rest. He is one of the few game developers I know of that attracts interest on name recognition alone, which is why the development of Nier: Automata got as much attention as it did and helped it become one of the top games of the year only three months in.
Something that helped Automata’s case is that Taro has been open to fanart of his work: specifically art of Automata’s poster child 2B. Upon release of Automata, Taro grabbed headlines again when asked about 2B’s design and his simple and honest answer was, ‘I just like drawing girls’: a point that even I gave him kudos for on social media. However, as these things usually go, his words have become a defense for things that aren’t his work and while I’m sure he doesn’t mind, I think it’s time to take the meme to task before anyone gets any ideas.
With that said, let’s get to it. This is the meme of Yoko Taro’s quote:
And this is my response: chances are the people spreading this aren’t trying to learn anything from him and are just using Yoko Taro as a shield. Allow me to explain.
I have a challenge for everyone reading this: search for ‘Nier Automata fanservice’ in Google Images and count how many images you see would qualify as ‘fanservice’. Once you’ve done that, count how many of those images are screen capped directly from the game and how many is fanart. You shouldn’t be surprised that most fanservice works of Automata you will currently find is also fanart. Of course, there is fanservice in the game, but it is tame in comparison to today’s ecchi standards: literally just a few panty shots over the course of the game with the option to remove 2B’s skirt for those who want to.
Anything over the bare minimum (no pun intended) is up to the player and that’s because of how Taro approaches fanservice. So, how does Taro approach fanservice? In an interview with We Got This Covered, the interviewer asked Taro directly if he was a fan of ‘lewd’ artwork. Here is his full response:
YT: I do want to edit that statement a little bit… I didn’t necessarily mean that I wanted a zip file full of fan art that features a lot of 2B’s, uh, assets. (laughs) I don’t like artwork that focuses on the butt as much as I like fan art in general — it’s not just specific to the butt area. I love pretty, cute art as well. So what I intended to say was that I would like to have all the fan art gathered, zipped up and sent over to me… but after that statement, there was a misunderstanding, so I’ve been getting a lot of butt-focused artwork. (laughs)
But with regards to people disapproving of “lewd” artwork, there are obviously many types of people out there, and some people don’t like to see that kind of sexy fan art. Even I have certain depictions that I personally don’t like, but I don’t believe artists should necessarily follow a particular person’s preference. They should focus on the things they like and follow their own desires.
This statement (or clarification) fits into the design of Taro’s work. The game that got closest to the current definition of fanservice he’s had a hand in was Drakengard 3 and the bulk of that comes from the character of Intoner Five: a slovenly brat who is not only the easiest boss in the game, but also one of the least liked characters per Famitsu. I cannot say what his specific preference of female character is because he has written and designed across the spectrum of character archetypes. However, Taro doesn’t appear to oversexualize his characters. The sexuality is certainly there, however, he’d much rather make the characters memorable through their overall personality and how they fit into the games they’re in than squeeze in as much T & A as he can.
With that said, (and with that setup I’m sure you know what’s next) how many people spreading around Taro’s quotes can say they approach game design the same way? The truth is that most do the exact opposite of what Taro does: creating forgettable, oversexualized female characters strictly to titillate and then they start to think about the world they inhabit. If their audiences remember anything from their work, it’s because they remember the character trope they liked from it: the tsundere, the kohai, the tomboy, etc. Then the game is ritualistic dropped once the momentary thrill wears off and the next title with the same tropes is out to rekindle the same, tired, familiar thrill.
Of everything I just described there, Yoko Taro isn’t ‘familiar’. He isn’t ‘tired’ or reliant on doing the same thing fifty times in a row. Everything he does is different and because he likes writing girls, he takes extra care to make sure those girls are as unique as possible. It’s why he’s a fan of fanart, since good fanart shows the different elements the audience takes out of a character. Ergo, the variety in a character’s fanart shows that character’s creator has managed something unique.
And yet, what many are taking from his body of work and from his efforts in creating unique characters is a justification for doing the exact opposite. To me that’s not only sad, it’s a shame. If you want to be like Yoko Taro, fine: be like Yoko Taro. Be unique and creative. Make something your readers will want to create many kinds of fanart and fanfiction for because of what each one takes from it. Strive to be different, even weird, with every project you take under your belt. Do everything in your power to make sure your readers and players have to make themselves put your game down because of all the content and work you put into it. And if you want fanservice, have fanservice but have it in context to the world you placed the characters into: not something that dominates the entire game and drowns out any interest outside of the most basic.
Yoko Taro is an excellent mind and we need more like him. And maybe we will get more like him one day. But that will mean all of us need to stop using him as a shield to excuse our own bad habits and learning from him as a designer. Hell, maybe then we’ll even start getting good fanservice instead of the Id-driven boob-and- assfests we’ve gotten for the last few years. One man can dream right? JP3: OUT.