The Tsukihime Remake and the Database Animal

If you read my recent little report about the Type-Moon Fes you will notice that there was one very important piece of news I made no commentary on. That was the unveiling of the Tsukihime Remake preview video. As of when I write this article I have not found any footage from the event of what was shown but when I find something I will edit it in. What is important is that when I started reading the info dump from people who were scanning Twitter for news there was no video footage at all. All we had were a few brief descriptions from people who attended the event. While most people seemed very impressed by what they saw of the preview they mentioned one thing above anything else. Ciel was radically redesigned. That news came as a shock to me. As one of the few Ciel fans I was a little worried about my favorite Tsukihime heroine.

So here I am picturing a totally redesigned Ciel. Since she is the least popular of the main characters it would not be too hard to believe that they would give her a major overhaul. So I was fully braced to see something like a pink drill haired goth loli character. But since there were no pictures flowing from the festival I just had to wait. And then I found that while first hand pictures had no come out there was some fan art floating around.

So I finally saw the RADICAL NEW CIEL! She had different bangs and a jacket. That is it. While it was clear that she was not the same Ciel that debuted in December of 2000 she was also easily identifiable as Shiki’s sempai. She still has her Masami Kurumada inspired sideburns. Her signature glasses are still there. Her age, face, and body-shape are completely unchanged. There was no indication that she was anyone but the #7 of the Burial Agency that we know and love. (Well that I know and love that is.)

The odd thing was there was an unusual amount of positive reaction to her. People seemed to think she was now super cute and adorable. It is still Ciel so a few people had to chime in that they still hated that curry wench but it seemed like just a few cosmetic changes utterly flipped quite a few people’s opinion of her. You make her haircut a bit cuter and all of a sudden she is someone new.

At the same time I discovered there was another INSANELY MONUMENTAL OVERHAUL! Apparently Arcueid has been completely transformed because now she had black miniskirt instead of her original long purple skirt. There was an outcry that Type-Moon had ruined their beloved White Princess of the True Ancestors. She has gone from a modest women to a tramp.

The blatant misogyny of that reaction aside (which could all too easily derail this conversation into a different rant) how does the length of her skirt in any way change who she is? This is the same fandom that happily buys up Beach Queen figures of said vampire without batting an eye. She is a character in a eroge for goodness sake. It is not like no one could ever imagine her pure virgin soul ever doing anything naughty. In fact Arcueid’s pleasantly flirtatious nature has always been one of her charm points.

It is hardly uncommon to find well read anime or manga fans throwing around the term “Database Animal.” After Hiroki Azuma’s book was translated his theories entered the English-speaking fan’s lexicon. Bloggers, podcasters, and reviewers love to pepper their speech with points from the book. It is one thing to hear people talk about such terms in the abstract. It is easy to say that modern anime fans have a habit of breaking down characters into easily digestible fetishistic parts. It is not that hard to say that the otaku heart that once craved an emphasis on complex personality and rich story arcs has now favors the details of character design and one word descriptors. But it is another thing to blatantly see the effect in action.

There is absolutely nothing in my mind to indicate that Ciel and Arcueid will be any different then how they were presented in the original release of Tsukihime. Arcueid will still be a flighty princess that can be a terrifying monster when the situation calls for it. Ciel will still be a serious business church assassin who slowly becomes more in-tune with the mask she wears.Their back stories seem to be intact and their general personalities are unchanged. Or at least nothing says that these things are different. The only thing that has changed is the artwork has been redone for a game whose original iteration is now approaching 12 years old.

But it is clear that for a vocal segment of the modern fandom the small stylistic details are king. A superficial tweak here and insignificant twirl there and database animal brain changes a phantom change into reality. Change the hair from short and straight to a wavy pony tail and apparently you have a new person. Throw a jacket and a new pair of boots on someone and you alter their very soul.

Does anyone know if there was any similar reaction when they changed Touko Aozaki from her old look to her present incarnation?

I guess I am disappointed because I thought Type-Moon fandom was better than this. I assumed that as a rule the fans coveted narrative, world building, and rich personalities over the superficial points of design and simple moe reactions. But apparently I was naively optimistic.

I’m not saying all of Type-Moon fandom is like this. There are plenty of people I have met that come to the table for the filling main course that is the more concrete and complex parts of the universe. But to see the vocal reactions of such base database animals is slightly disheartening.

But then again I have to deal with the whole Sakura Matou rigmarole so I guess I am used to it by now.

10 thoughts on “The Tsukihime Remake and the Database Animal

  1. omo says:

    Type-moon fandom is one of the broader scenes among anime/manga/related scenes, so it’s not really much of a surprise at all. Especially since it tends to be male-centric that much more so, with a healthy overlap with the F.G.C. to boot!

    • reversethieves says:

      It was just an interesting way to examine a larger trend. Consider it a attempt to opening a broader dialog.

      As an unrelated note I find it amusing that certain Type-Moon fans seem to think that Fate/Zero has opened up their precious franchise to some grand fujoshi conspiracy machine when they are still clearly the controlling majority of the fandom.

      So very odd.

      – Hisui

      • omo says:

        Well, that diversity counts for something. I think the great thing about it is that you get some strange ideas from one group but some pretty neat ideas from another.

  2. Pontifus says:

    Well, I’m not going to defend a certain kind of fan behavior, i.e. the “wearing a skirt makes you a whore” kind. But I think you’re oversimplifying things by blaming the conversation surrounding the new Tsukihime on the database.

    Moe or no moe, visual rhetoric is critically important to any visual medium. It’s not at all strange to be affected by the tiniest design elements — people who design logos and ads take advantage of that, and logos and ads certainly aren’t niche Japanese consumer subcultures. The database is really just a critical lens; it happens to be quite good at revealing and describing our appreciation of discrete parts, which is probably why it gets blamed for that appreciation. But visual rhetoric has been around much, much longer than moe fans have, and I’m skeptical of the notion that any viewer at all could divorce any design element from narrative and character and other grand things when those very elements, each and every one of them, by sheer virtue of being there, are the language by which the grand things are conveyed.

    It is not that hard to say that the otaku heart that once craved an emphasis on complex personality and rich story arcs has now favors the details of character design and one word descriptors.

    My point is that both kinds of fans exist, and they’re the same person. It’s possible to like both twintails and lengthy meditations upon life and death, and people do. I find the database exceedingly interesting, but it’s not some all-consuming movement or the key to understanding the modern nerd psyche. It’s just one step. Hell, we’ve already put one foot on the next one.

    (I do, in fact, appreciate the supreme irony of my criticizing a blog post for making too much of moe.)

    • reversethieves says:

      I’m not saying that minor points of design don’t matter. We all have our little fetishes. Visual cues invariably catch our attention. Everything from obvious and major things like hair color, body shape, and uniforms can immediately attract our attention to a character or even buy them a bit of slack that another character would never receive. But the little details like hair clips (in girls or guys), levels of zettai ryouiki, epaulettes of a uniform, or heterochroma could easily sway your interest. I myself am usually more forgiving or female characters with pink hair, swordswomen, and punsters of all stripes.

      Most of the people I have inordinately long and deep discussions in real life and online have very clear database quirks that I could name. And they all value some of them in plainly fetishistic ways. The things the ones I enjoy talking to the most know when it is time to revel in one’s base quirks and when to put those things aside and focus of the other details of a property. Narutaki might LOVE LOVE snarky handsome blonde boys but she does not make that the be all and end all of her analysis of a character. There are snarky handsome blonde boys she does not care for because she can easily see beyond the database.

      I am just upset when the database is the whole conversation. When the elements are all that is important. Not how them come together to add into characterization. Not how and when they are separate from things like story arcs and character development. When they are whole of the discussion I think that it can lead you down a dangerous path. It can easily create a fandom that puts out characters solely defined by one one word gimmicks or simple elements of style.

      It is not that shows that do that can’t be entertaining. I do like Galaxy Angel. But there has to be more than just that.

      – Hisui

      • Pontifus says:

        This is reasonable, and I can’t fault any of it. I may well have made something out of nothing; I just wanted to move the conversation beyond the usual way of thinking of things, the idea of “big narratives then, moe now.” I don’t think we ever get rid of movements/trends; we add to them. So I absolutely agree that the database shouldn’t be the whole conversation — that’s what I meant to get across, really. I think we miss a lot when we talk about the database mindset as though it consumes the entire fandom.

        It must also be said that I have no experience with the particular Tsukihime fan activity you talked about. I can see how it might’ve been frustrating if everything you heard/read revolved around a single topic. But there must be Type-Moon fans out there to balance out the ones you ran into. Er, I hope.

  3. Son Gohan says:

    I think the problem with Ciel’s old design was the big round glasses that made her look mousy and quite frankly, unattractive. I appreciate what they did with the new design. She’s not one of my favourite Tsukihime heroines but at least I like her better than Akiha.
    OTOH I am sad that they removed Arc’s long purple skirt because it was so iconic of her character.

  4. spammy says:

    Arcueid’s redesign is ridiculous. Her skirt had already become a part of her character. Removing it is more or less the same as removing a major trope from her character (being a vampire, for example). But Takeuchi isn’t stopping there: he cut her iconic hair, and gave her a crucifix. Yep, she gave a True Ancestor a fuckin’ crucifix. I remember that in the original Arcueid made a fuss over the cross Ciel gave to Shiki in Ciel’s route, and it is a universe fact that that the Church is against the existence of the vampires, so it really doesn’t fit there. But the hair redesign still hits me the most. Now she’s just another Saber clone.

    It makes me really sad, actually. Arcueid has been my favorite Nasuverse character for a long time, and I always though her Melty Blood design was perfect. Why did Takeuchi have to change it?!

      • Nanaya Family Assassin says:

        Actually, I sort of agree with the crucifix point. Only that one really. If we’re talking /purely aesthetics/ here, I do prefer her old hairstyle–I could care less about the skirt really, since both do look nice on her. Something about the new haircut just to me. Not sure what it is, just sort of seems uneven.

        Now looking past skin deep, yes I do believe they are more or less all going to be the same characters..but given this is a remake, the visual redesigns are pretty much going to be the main attraction factor. Now don’t get me wrong here, I am /not/ saying that minor changes to the character design make them brand new people or something like that–all I’m saying is that aesthetically I find the new designs mostly pleasing in comparison to the old one.

        Ciel for example, I can’t say I cared much for the style of her old design, mainly the large round glasses and how her hair was sort of tomboyish in its cut.

        Of course, I still loved all of the heroines of Tsukihime in their personality, regardless of how visually appealing or unappealing I may have found bits of their design.

        I guess what I’m very, very poorly trying to say here is:
        For a remake of something, making something visually appealing to a degree far above its predecessor is pretty much key since you can only tweak the story so far. Outside of that the only draw would have been the Sacchin route.

        Hitting back on the crucifix point, yes I do agree with that only on the inworld logic behind it. Unless of course there would be an equally inworld reason in the remake that would have Arcuied carrying a crucifix, even if the idea seems a tad silly to me–mainly as she is a True Ancestor.

        -Nanaya Family Assassin

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