Japanese RPGs, Anime RPGs

I came across a free magical girl RPG from Japan called “Witch Quest,” though it’s over a 200 pages of Japanese text, so it’ll take me a long while to read through it. (This while I have a copy of Beast Bind: New Testament on the way…) OTOH it seems to focus more on witch-style magical girls; the introduction starts off saying:

Haven’t you ever wanted to use magic?

You could transform into someone else…
Or climb on a broom and soar through the sky…
Speak to plants and animals…
Make people smile…

This book, this “Book of Magic,” is for you.

You know, learning Japanese takes a lot of work, but for me it’s been totally worth it. TRPG.net (the main portal site for Japanese TRPGs) actually has a ton of good info and neat stuff — it’s just that it’s mostly dense Japanese text. In the English pages there’s a section on free games (and a more frequently updated Japanese version too of course). There’s one called Cute Sister TRPG (or CST for short); as far as I can tell the PCs are all girls who are around a single NPC guy. It’s entertaining to read just for the special abilities; there are classes like “Clumsy Girl” with special abilities for inadvertently causing damage or being really persistent and “Animal Girl” for stuff like having cat ears. I just wish it wasn’t 172 pages long… ^_^;

If I keep this up I’ll wind up being “the other guy who’s into Japanese RPGs” on the internet (the first being Andy K), though at the moment I don’t have the funds to do stuff like take a trip to Japan and drop $500 on RPGs (the $50 it’ll cost to order Beast Bind is more than I should be spending). From what I’ve seen so far (which I admit isn’t all that much) it seems like Japanese RPGs aren’t more or less innovative, but they are grounded in a different culture and evolved a little differently. Tenra Bansho Zero sounds especially intriguing from what I’ve heard about it, but I think I’ll hold out for the English version. Of course, being able to explore an entirely different RPG subculture is an intriguing idea, to the point where I kind of wish I knew a third or fourth language (German has the coolest word for RPG — rollenspiel) to see what’s cooking elsewhere in the world. But, being a sucker for cool manga-style art, taking an interest in the Japanese ones works for me. I need the practice anyway; I’m pretty sure I didn’t quite pass the Level 2 JLPT (and I still haven’t finished reading NHK ni Youkoso).

I was somewhat aware of this already, but another thing I’ve noticed is that there’s no “anime” RPGs in Japan in the way that we have BESM, RandomAnime, and OVA. (Though Mekton was in fact the basis for the Japanese Gundam TRPG, coming out in English some time this century). To the extent that even stuff with anime/manga style art consciously imitates the original medium, it adopts a narrow focus. This is not unlike how in Japan there aren’t any TV or radio stations devoted to anime; there’s not much need when it creeps into everything (there’s this new phenomenon of moe guidebooks to things where cute anime girls tell you all about English phrases or kanji or WWII military vehicles and no I’m not making this up). Anime takes a different shape in the American fan’s psyche, as something special and exotic rather than being a part of the landscape.

As a wannabe game designer, I’ve given up on the idea of doing my own universal anime RPG (before people start using the term “anime heartbreaker“), even though I got relatively close to finishing an anime flavor of Fudge (“Chocola Anime”) at one point. This is partly because I’d rather use my energy elsewhere, and partly because there are already some very good ones on the market. The most anime-like campaign I’ve run used Fudge, and between the existing universal anime RPGs and the numerous normal universal RPGs there’s more than enough stuff to work with. (I should know; I wrote an anime sourcebook for Open Core). Instead, my model is to take a more specific genre and come up with a carefully tailored game for it, or if I don’t feel that’s necessary, simply pick out a suitable system and write a sourcebook for that. For Tokyo Heroes I have very, very specific ideas about what I want out of the system, so it has to be built from the ground up. Mascot-tan and Thrash are likewise along those lines, though Thrash is a little more mainstream in its style, reminiscient of Interlock and Unisystem with a dose of Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game tossed in. For Angel Soul (a Scryed-esque mini campaign setting) there’s no great need for an original system, though at the moment I’m not 100% sure what existing system I’d use. I was originally thinking of going for Anime d20, but now I’m leaning more towards OVA.

Where BESM mostly tries to enable anime-style gaming by not getting in the way, OVA does actually have a few options that IMO fit really well with the typical melodramatic mainstream anime, to the point where there are a lot of times reading the book where I asked my self, “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?” It’s still mostly a rules-light universal RPG reminiscent of Risus or PDQ (Risus also kicks ass for the right kind of anime gaming BTW) but with just a little extra crunchiness. On the other hand zillions of people seem to be doing fine with online free-form anime roleplaying every day, so while the system plays a part in roleplaying, it isn’t actually necessary per se, much less a particular “anime” RPG system. Conversely, it wouldn’t hurt for people to stop assuming that an “anime RPG” has to cover everything from DiGi Charat to Grave of the Fireflies. Personally, if a system can do (off the top of my head) Bleach, Slayers, Air Master, Tokyo Underground, Scryed, Trigun, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Galaxy Angel, and Vandread, I’ll be really happy with it. Though come to think of it, a Ghibli RPG might be– Nah.

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2 thoughts on “Japanese RPGs, Anime RPGs

  1. “Personally, if a system can do (off the top of my head) Bleach, Slayers, Air Master, Tokyo Underground, Scryed, Trigun, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Galaxy Angel, and Vandread, I’ll be really happy with it. Though come to think of it, a Ghibli RPG might be– Nah.”

    I’m tilting at windmills, doing a writeup on a general anime RPG, and I’d like to make sure it CAN handle just this sort of thing. Is there a particular episode or scene you had in mind for these?

  2. Not particularly. Keep in mind that this post is from about 2.5 years ago, and my thoughts on anime RPGs have evolved somewhat since then. (Look at the more recent posts on “Anime and Roleplaying” and Fighting Shonen Manga/Zero Breakers).

    I’m increasingly thinking that by far the most important thing in that style of anime is the epic conflicts. In Bleach it’s things like when Ichigo fights Byakuya. In Nanoha’s first season it was Nanoha and Fate taking on Precia. The conflict–which is about the characters’ powers and ideas clashing–and the buildup before, the fallout after, and some silliness here and there to occasionally break the tension.

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