Podcast ~ Sadism in Otome ~

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Episode 1: Sadism

I know I know, I should be working on translations or summaries for games, but this was too interesting to pass up (>人<;)! My fellow podcaster, Suri from kisscoma, and I have noticed the recent trend of sadistic otome games and the polarized responses from players and fans. Because of this we started discussing the topic of sadism with each other, but 140 words on twitter made it near impossible (plus we were starting to spam the timeline and so we needed to gtfo ;;).

This post will feature the outline of our podcast and the general topic headings of what we touched on. I’m sure we missed a lot of points and since Suri and I held the same view, it might not have been the most optimal discussion. So I definitely encourage anyone and everyone to comment below and add to the discussion or give feedback about our first podcast. The only rules are to remain polite and respectful.

Here’s the main topics that we discussed. Below this are other points that I felt I should have addressed but forgot to in the podcast. Not to mention the podcast was becoming so long that we felt like we needed to end it soon.

Outline of Podcast

  • Recent trends from Otomate/Rejet
    • Diabolik Lovers, BWS, Gekka
  • What is sadism?
  • What we make of the fervor of otome game fans for Do-S characters
  • Why might Do-S characters appeal?
    • Curiosity
    • Escapism
    • Indulgence
    • Forbidden Fruit Effect
    • Reality/Fiction Boundary
  • Could it just be a fad?

1. One thing I should have addressed is the implications of using games as a medium of exploring a dark, or grotesque, theme. Games are considered to be entertainment, but I feel like the entertainment differs from that given by literature. For example, no one bats an eye at literature that explores the theme of dystopia or the brutality/darkness in human nature. It’s an accepted medium for challenging thoughts and exploring what-ifs.

For example, if a person picks up a book about the holocaust in WWII they’re not going to condone what the Nazis did to the Jews but they want to learn about this event or explore this type of world and setting. Therefore, it could be that people just expect to be entertained in games and so they won’t welcome darker themes. But I think this analogy falls flat since in otome games the heroine has to go for the guy who might have done sadistic things to her. Basically, if games are a medium different from literature, are they perceived differently on a fundamental level?

2. Another point is that when a work of literature or fiction is being considered, I think that readers are expected to suspend their disbelief. Especially if the literature in question has fantastical elements or supernatural ones. So, in a way, we’re not supposed to apply our morality onto characters in the work of fiction.

ie. because there are vampires in Diabolik Lovers, even if it’s a school setting, they’re allowed to be crazily sadistic because they’re vampires and they may have different customs as vampires or something and humans are seen as slaves. In BWS, the characters are in a war-torn world set in a time before modern inventions, and the customs of the people appear to be medieval.

21 thoughts on “Podcast ~ Sadism in Otome ~

    Kookiebish said:
    September 21, 2014 at 09:00

    I really enjoyed this thoughtful coverage of sadism in Otome games. I just got into Otome since we’ve been getting them in English. I love these games and the s/d, yandere appeals to my horror side. They can be romantic, but I see them as horror/romance. I don’t think they are an accurate portrayal of s/d relationship. They rely on Stockholm syndrome too much for that. I base this on Diabolik Lovers because that’s the one I’ve played. I would love to see stronger, more assertive females in these games. Maybe some safe words as well.

      Ilinox responded:
      September 23, 2014 at 12:24

      ♪( ´▽`) Thank you so much! I’m actually a bit embarrassed when I re-listen to this because it was our first attempt at a podcast and there were so many things we could have done better (the BGM being a bit too loud for one) but I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      I agree with you about how these games aren’t accurate portrayals of a s/d relationship. In the podcast we didn’t talk as much as we should have about the heavy cultural influences in otome games because of how they’re made in Japan and how I feel that this lessens the need for them to address things like consent and basically a s/d relationship.

      But in truth I don’t think any mainstream media has covered that kind of a relationship well so far (I’m staring at you 50 Shades of Grey). I also don’t think Diabolik Lovers was actually intended to be very romantic |D;; I’m pretty sure the writers realized that a lot of these relationships in the game are troubled and I feel like they handled it well. They don’t romanticize the abuse that the boys dish out in that game.

      Unfortunately, I can’t think of a game off the top of my head that has a stronger and more assertive female other than the QuinRose heroines (but their definition of “stronger” and more “assertive” from what I’ve heard seems to be a bit problematic as well).

      I think it all comes down to the fact that so far the games involving sadistic characters are just full-out abusive and there’s no skirting around the fact. It makes it so that it isn’t a consensual s/d relationship where both parties have equal amounts of power. It usually ends up that the heroine is pursued or placed in a situation where she is under the power or needs to rely on the male and that in turn forces her to have to adapt and accommodate his personality.

        Kookiebish said:
        September 23, 2014 at 16:28

        Ah, don’t be embarrassed. It was a good first attempt. I hope you’ll do more! Maybe this could have a continuation?

        I refuse to read 50 Shades of Grey simply because I feel I’ve read better things in the past(Story of O, 91/2 Weeks, etc). The closest thing I can think of that at least portrays the lifestyle in a sensitive manner would be the movie Secretary. It’s not a glossy look, but it moved me.

        I will keep hoping for stronger female protagonists. I know it can work! She doesn’t have to be a badass/man in a womans body type. I think Nanami(Kamisama Kiss)is a strong protagonist and she’s very soft and feminine.

        Ilinox responded:
        September 28, 2014 at 20:07

        Ah! I’ve heard of “Secretary” in relation to how it’s a way better movie than “50 Shades of Grey” |D.

        I’ll keep a continuation of this in mind! I think it’d be neat to revisit this topic too since it’s been two years and, well, the do-s trend still seems to be going strong and I’ve definitely changed my view on it too.

        Suri and I did have another podcast idea in the works but it’s just been difficult in trying to find a time for us both to be available and record when we’re on different halves of the world and are being interrupted by work and life /o\.

        Oh! Have you heard of Sayo from “Shinigami to Shoujo”? It’s a PSP otome game and I really enjoyed her as a protagonist! She’s a bit more reserved than other heroines and firm on her beliefs but that doesn’t make her unduly cold or rude. I definitely recommend this game both in terms of its story and for a strong female protagonist /o/.

        Thank you again for your lovely comment and it really is motivating to hear from people taking a look at these podcasts of ours and not minding more ;w;.

        kookiebish said:
        September 30, 2014 at 05:45

        Secretary has heart, that’s why I love it. It’s not for everyone, but it spoke to me. I would definitely love an update especially if your view has changed. I would love to check out Shinigami to Shoujo, but if there’s no English translations, I can’t. =( I’m having a hard enough time tracking down translations for all the Dialovers routes I’m slowly going through.

        I did like (for the most part) Christine in Second Reproduction. She was very strong and sassy. Her being completely oblivious to her knights love was annoying and cruel at times though.

    sweetlysongbird said:
    May 25, 2013 at 23:44

    I think game companies are finally realizing that there is a niche for dark and sometimes taboo themes in otome games. It’s understandably difficult for some people to understand why a woman would enjoy fantasies which possibly include sadomasochism, non-consensual sex, yandere, incest, etc, but many women do find such fantasies exciting, and I think it’s lovely that their tastes are being catered to.

    Am I saying that everyone should like dark-themed otome games? Of course not! Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. But I think it should be acceptable for a fan of such things to be able to express their fandom without being labeled as anti-feminist, or dismissed as a pervert.

    It’s fun to be a helpless victim now and then. I recommend that everyone experience it (through games, CDs, or other such things) at least once. Who knows, they might like it!

    Just my two cents. Feel free to correct me if I’ve been in any way offensive.

      Ilinox responded:
      June 3, 2013 at 15:41

      Mm, it makes you wonder how they started realizing it or if they were just making a risky venture in developing games like these. But yeah I would agree that as more and more things become acceptable in the real world, niches like these become more commonplace. ie. 50 Shades of Grey has become a popular read for a lot of women.

      You haven’t been offensive at all! My blog is a place for free discussion and it’s interesting to hear different views! I think rather than people finding it fun to be a helpless victim, it appeals a lot to throwing away societal restrictions and indulging in things that might normally be looked down upon. I forgot if I mentioned this in the podcast, but for example a lot of women indulge in rape fantasies but it doesn’t mean anything in real life.

    […] Ilinox and Kisscoma’s Suri actually have a podcast up where they have a really informative conversation involving this emerging trend, so check it out if you […]

    Tiffany said:
    May 1, 2012 at 20:52

    The only complain about this podcast was the pronunciation of sadism, haha. It was very distracting for me. It’s pronounced say-dism, the same way that sadist is pronounced say-dist.. But it didn’t detract from the points you both made, no, not at all!

    I had a lot to say in response, but now that I finished the podcast and sat down to type…everything just left me.

    What did strike me was a conversation I remembered a while back with a Japanese friend about how, sexually, the Japanese have a tendency to be a lot more extreme because of how repressed as a people they are in society. She said that often it is a sort of release, the extremity of what you can find in the AV industry and the hentai industry.

      Ilinox responded:
      May 1, 2012 at 21:04

      Ack! I’m sorry for how distracting that must have been if you’re used to saying and hearing it that way. Apparently the word “sadism” can be pronounced two different ways though, according to a dictionary. It can be “sey-diz-uhm” or “sad-iz-uhm”.

      I know how that feels! When you have everything in your head, but when it comes down to writing it out it suddenly disappears or comes out all weird and funny sounding Orz;;.

      That’s a really interesting point! I’m still not all that knowledgeable on Japanese culture and so any points I bring up about that is conjecture. So, the concept of sadism or sadistic characters would basically be an extreme version of the dominant/possessive kind of man that girls might be interested in? Hmm..

        Tiffany said:
        May 2, 2012 at 09:53

        Ah! Now I feel stupid for assuming you pronounced this wrong. I’m sorry! m(____)m

        That has become, to me, the most likely answer.
        You see this in R18 games the most. Most games seem to have rape even in the routes heading to good ends. It’s not particularly sadistic, but still probably a little towards the extreme side of the spectrum.
        This kind of mentality towards that sort of behavior as a response to being repressed does make a bit more sense.

        I still feel that sadism, specifically, is aimed at a very specific demographic of people, though. I can’t speak for the two otome games mentioned because I haven’t played them, but for Diabolik Lovers’ drama cds the interest in them as far as the western world is concerned doesn’t lie in the sadism factor. It’s the dummy head mic and how absolutely ero the cds are.
        /this made a lot more sense in my head hahaha

        Ilinox responded:
        May 2, 2012 at 15:28

        Noo, don’t feel that way! I’m the one who should be thanking you for making me check it ,because if it turned out that I had been saying it wrong all my life then I would die from embarrassment, (๑→‿←๑).

        You would think that the western world would find these types of drama CDs to be more offensive though, since women are more equal over here? It’s an interesting thought if the novelty of these kinds of things outweighed that, but the fan reception has an equal mix of people who hated it no matter what and people who liked it regardless of if they heard these things before.

        I definitely agree that these things are targeting a specific demographic. After all, all things that are created have a target audience in mind xDD, which is why it’s interesting to think of what kind of audience they’re reaching out for since I don’t think it’s as simple as “I’m a masochist!”

        Tiffany said:
        May 3, 2012 at 09:59

        Something else that comes to mind when thinking of sadism in otome are the Ai aru Batou–the name is from my fuzzy memory so please take it in a grain of salt–drama CDs in which the whole purpose is that the seiyuu sadistically punishes the listener. There was a particularly…interesting…track >___> in which the seiyuu is addressing a slab of meat, and is talking to it, you, while cooking it.

        I really think it’s a matter of taste, but the western world seems to react when it’s simply too extreme. I can’t find anyone who found Raito’s CD enjoyable–and it’s easy to see why. It was sadistic to the point that it left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.

        I was on amazon.jp yesterday night and I thought it was interesting that Raito’s cd got better reviews than Reiji’s. I haven’t read the reviews yet though, but I thought that was really interesting when you consider that Reiji’s toned down a lot in comparison, although that was for all aspects, not just the sadism. So one can argue that there wasn’t enough ero content haha.
        Reiji was super well received as far as tumblr is concerned though.
        So I wonder if there could be a correlation traced, the reception of these games/CDs.

        Sorry for the rambly, incoherent thoughts. I’m just typing down the things that pop into my head that might be somewhat of relevance, or not, or something.

    suri said:
    April 30, 2012 at 00:56

    To Yume–I can’t “reply” and add to our ever-growing wall of tl;dr lmao.

    I would argue that the setting plays a role in characterization; the two aren’t mutually exclusive as you are trying to imply. Personal feelings arise as a response to how the environment treats you. Makoto’s build up of emotions was a direct response to his circumstances, i.e., his feelings didn’t just emerge from a vacuum.

    Moreover, inner, human conflict is what you seem to focus on and derive value from, but the characters’ circumstances in themselves are a dimension with which people can empathize with. For example, I’m sure there were people that identified with Hope (FFXIII)’s circumstances of losing his mother at a young age, and observed differences in his reactions vis-a-vis their own – leading to either overly critical reception or acceptance of his character. I disagree that the setting simply “stops there” and does not affect how one approaches the characters in a story.

    Anyway, I don’t think we’re even talking about the same point here. I was saying that sadism isn’t out of context in BWS. You’re saying that these sadistic characters lack depth. Neither of us has played the game to confirm if the characters have compelling reasons to act the way they do or not, so the latter is up in the air.

    And of course, there’s nothing wrong with refusing to play the game. \o/ Bloody Nightmare is targeted specifically towards the segment that finds sadism appealing, and I understand that. I was just expressing personal frustration regarding people characterizing these games as for people without common sense (to put it nicely).

      Yume said:
      April 30, 2012 at 08:17

      Adding to the wall of text… /cough

      I agree that the factors can influence each other which was why I brought up Makoto. But the thing is some games make good use of that setting to link to the characterisation while others don’t… …why I can say this is ‘cos I’ve examples in mind already and they were disappointing. They had that setting to back-up certain events but then that was it, didn’t find the characters etc. compelling. It’s like omg a brothel setting! Excuse for sex/rape (as much as the setting itself can validate this act) vs. a possibly heart-breaking romance story depending on how they handle all the game elements. Both outcomes can happen and people may be okay with both/either, or/none depending on what they want.

      Idk if I didn’t explain myself clearly or not, or whether we’re talking separate points as you said. You’re saying that the setting can validate the acts; but I’m saying that you may understand that in your head, but that alone may not move your heart.

      Umm I did not mean “stop there” as in that the setting exists alone from the other elements of the story, as I mentioned above. I meant “stop there” as in if the setting isn’t tied together with other elements properly in the game and they use the setting as the sole excuse; I probably won’t connect with the characters based on experience, and so I won’t emphathise with them. And I’m guessing that our definitions of certain concepts vary. The circumstances of Hope losing his mother isn’t a setting imo. I view setting as the game world setting, not a character’s personal background.

      Idk if I sounded as though I was brushing off Bloody Nightmare’s audience as all masochistic people or not to make you say that initially – but I wasn’t. I would even say some of them probably have more guts than I do to still go for it. Then others would say I have guts to like someone who ate another’s guts. /lame joke, oops sorry. Everyone draws their own line of what to play or not – you drew your line at that level and I drew mine at this level – and I can understand that.

        suri said:
        April 30, 2012 at 10:55

        All I was saying was that the setting cannot be divorced from characterization, and in some cases it might be just as important – hence my Hope example. I defined setting as everything that “sets up” the characters to be where they are as the story starts. FFXIII starts in media res, hence why I counted Hope’s loss of his mother as a setting. Maybe our disagreement just stems from that. \o/

        I think we would both agree that the setting, or even the characters themselves, cannot substitute for a “good” story, though they are all intertwined. The setting can make a story “good” – from your example, a story set in a brothel might be heartbreaking because of the restrictions the floating world places on one’s freedom to pursue relationships with whomever one wants. I think you’re saying this combination is necessary for you to appreciate a game. For me, I can take either one or the other, if one of these elements is stellar. It comes down to differences in personal opinion, like you said.

        And I’m sorry if I made it seem like you were one of those people hating on BWS, that wasn’t my intention. ;;;

    suri said:
    April 29, 2012 at 22:51

    OH and I’m not sure if this is accurate or not (might be, but I did find this info on the internet), but vampires have historically been associated with misogyny. If Rejet was consciously trying to make DiaLov characters accurate to this stereotype, then I will give them a standing ovation for making them so contemptuous that I want to punch all of them in the face.

    Yume said:
    April 29, 2012 at 07:39

    As much as I can understand the view of feeling detached from the events in the game, I still can’t bring myself to accept certain content. I think one reason is that the companies themselves state that the main selling point of these games (esp. Diabolik) is the theme of sadism. So it feels as though everything else (incl. justification for these sadistic acts) is built around the theme of sadism. In other words, it’s like sadism overshadows everything else and the other stuff are trivialised; they are just there to support the theme of sadism in the game. My feelings are resounded when some of the plot devices used to justify sadism in the game is just so extreme and cliche that I can’t emphathise anymore and all I can think is “wth”.

    Maybe this is just me but as much as it may be a fantasy world; AU whatever, if you want players to connect you cannot /only/ sell the theme of sadism – unless you really mean for it to be played by…that certain audience type. Yes, to a certain extent you can say that ‘cos it’s such-and-such a world, they have such cruel rules. But there is only so much a setting can do. If you want me to emphathise, it would then be up to how the other elements of the game are presented to me that I am convinced – like oh in such cases for such a character it is understandable I guess. This doesn’t just apply to how I process sadism in fiction, but any other things that seem out of the “norm”.

    I for one, did not find the drowning/branding romantic ‘cos it feels more like subordination rather than anything romantic (and I was seriously horrified when the tracks played in the podcast – I’ve been avoiding all those sadistic drama CD tracks for so long and… ;w;). Probably also ‘cos I prefer relationships to be that of give-and-take and understanding each other, rather than domination-and-subordination. This is also why I’m avoiding Bloody Nightmare. Last Hope is the last hope for me. /bricked for lame pun

    I guess in a nutshell, if you don’t want people going away thinking “this is just a sadistic game” when it is actually something deeper, then please don’t market your product that way. Don’t bridge all the plot on sadistic themes and expect those bridges to hold out throughout. Yup, sorry for the long comment. And good work on both of you putting out the podcast~ \o/

      suri said:
      April 29, 2012 at 22:37

      Hi Yume, hope you don’t mind if I jump in.

      I think regardless of whether these otoge companies gave good “reasons” to defend or explain the sadism that they depict, it doesn’t take away from what exploring it can do for the audience (which we discussed in the latter half of the podcast). With that said, I agree with you that for certain games the sadism does seem gratuitous and, personally speaking, I will never be able to enjoy Diabolik Lovers for the reason you stated.

      However, I’ll have to disagree on your point that the setting is not a make it or break it factor that makes certain themes (in this case sadism) plausible or appropriate. The setting holistically influences how the characters think and act. In times of war or an epidemic, people will operate on the absolute bare human instincts of survival. I’m more inclined to accept brutal acts in that setting versus a modern day high school one. In that vein, we can’t expect characters in dystopia to retain the moral reasoning that humans usually go through to justify committing a cruel act. Basically what I want to say is that for some settings, the brutality may be considered relevant/appropriate.

      Though again, the caveat to this is that there is a clear difference between a character with depth and a character that’s as shallow as cardboard. To bring my personal opinions in again to explain my line of thought, I don’t like Diabolik characters because they seem sadistic for no fathomable reason. Characters of BWS, on the other hand, has the dystopian setting going for them, and while I’m hesitant to characterize them as “having more depth” before having played the game, I feel that there is a lot more that the game is waiting to offer in terms of telling these characters’ stories. They might turn out to be as shallow as Diabolik characters (my opinion of course), but I feel more open to trying BWS out.

      I don’t see those acts as romantic either; in the podcast, we were just restating popular opinions that can be found from the “like this trend” camp, and attempting to understand where that appeal might be coming from.

      Your last point I’m going to get nit picky over marketing principles (my major lmao) so I’ll refrain from saying anything. xD;; I will say though that I wish people would hold judgment on the appropriateness of the sadism before having explored the plot of the game, because I do believe that it could potentially enhance the world-building, theme delivering – whatever other pretty storytelling terms I’m missing here.

        Yume said:
        April 30, 2012 at 00:04

        For the setting point, perhaps I wasn’t clear. I do agree that setting can play a role. But I’m saying that I’m not gonna click and connect immediately if you just give it a dark setting and that’s it. You would need to link it up with all the other elements to make me want to /emphathise/ with these (crazy) people. Yes, I can understand that if it’s a setting of conflict and chaos and people also act in a more violent manner. But then it stops there. I’m not going to feel for the characters or the acts they carry out if a good characterisation etc. isn’t brought to me.

        Example: Makoto from sweet pool. Idk if you know about the game but what he did in the really bad end is sick and crazy – and by normal standards will I not emphathise with such an act. Yet he’s still a favourite character of mine and I even pitied him (and of course Youji…) in that ending – ‘cos of the build-up of emotions and everything else that led him to that stage. It wasn’t just the dark setting that made me feel for him, it’s tying it up with everything else. And I don’t even really like yandere characters. Of course, other people may call me crazy for still liking Makoto. And that’s what it’s like, it’s all very subjective.

        Like Ilinox said, maybe the setting for Diabolik allows vampires to act in certain ways. Like you said, maybe the setting for BWS allows them to carry out these torturous acts. But you were hesitant to go further as all the other elements of the game need to come in at the end of the day. So that’s actually the point I was trying to raise. There is one part which is understanding, and then going further for me would be the other part of emphathising and feeling for the character doing these acts.

        The point about not seeing the acts as romantic wasn’t really against what you both said. It’s merely presenting my other side of the story as coming from the other camp and explaining why I’m not fangirling, as you both already explained why on the other hand these acts may appeal to people. I prefer relationships to be that of give-and-take and understanding each other. Solely a personal preference.

        As for why I’m not giving Bloody Nightmare a chance, it’s mostly ‘cos all the teasers they have given out; they don’t appeal to me and I just don’t see myself connecting. And that’s what they chose to give out as teasers, so it’s likely that the game will give me that similar feeling. I know that ideally, I should only judge when I fully know everything. But the thing is, I have to judge a game before I try it as I would prefer to not waste my time. I have to judge on how appropriate I feel these acts are based on what they have given us as a preview, and whether that will make me want to play the game or avoid it. Even more so when you’re making a buying decision. And if I don’t mind giving the preorder bonuses a skip, then I would wait for reviews after the release. This is important to me as my personality is such that, I would feel the need to complete something even if I happened to dislike it and would drag my feet through it – even if it takes my a few years. Then that would probably make me hate the game more than necessary.

        I’m guessing that Bloody Nightmare will either be a hit or miss thing for me and in that case, I’d rather give my time to my bias in Last Hope. =w=/ Long story short, I’m just presenting my side of the story on a subjective topic. No matter how I may try to reason, it comes down to personal taste at the end of the day, like you said.

        Lastly, I’m really sorry for spamming, omg what is this mass of text.

      suri said:
      April 29, 2012 at 22:42

      –but of course, it doesn’t make you less of a person if you aren’t willing to try it out. \o/ Everyone has their cup of tea, and in the end, there’s no harm done either way (aside from mild annoyances you might feelt from seeing opinions different from yours). ❤

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