Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

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Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#1 Post by Der Tor » Mon May 17, 2010 7:01 am

I always loved Journey to the West... it's probably THE most famous story there is and almost all the characters of the very first animes where inspired by it. And i always thought it was sad that in the West not many people know about it and that many Chinese movie adaptions nowadays are either parodies of the original story or have been twisted into Party propaganda tools... :cry:

Nobody has even attempted any even halfway serious adaption of it and even though there are some free English translations of it, somehow either nobody knows about them or everyone is too lazy to read such a long story as a book...

And now i think this is where Ren'Py could come in... The story would make for an incredible awesome kinetic novel... and as opposed to any movie adaption it would be easy for a "RenPy adaption" to stay true to the original work. There is also already tons of great artwork of it and most of the good ones are in the public domain by now anyway... Or we could also do some of the artwork ourselves...

What do you guys think? Would anyone be with me on such a project? We could release it chapter by chapter...
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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#2 Post by Aleema » Mon May 17, 2010 7:36 am

I admit I'm only aware of the tale from it's silly remakes like Saiyuuki. I quickly lost interest in them because they were apparently targeted to children. Not sure about the propaganda tool versions, though ..?

On topic, I think it would be an interesting English VN, but I think it's major draw would be it's production values, since it is a well-published story. It would be like releasing a vanilla version of Little Red Riding Hood; a lot of people want to see a twist on the classic instead (or at least enjoy some comic relief along the way). But, if it's really something you want to do, then that's all the reason you need to do it. :)

Also, release by chapter? Aren't there 100 of them or something?

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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#3 Post by Tsundere Lightning » Mon May 17, 2010 11:40 pm

To be flip, YES FUND IT.

All joking aside I think that a Journey to the West kinetic novel - or a VN inspired by Journey to the West - is a WONDERFUL idea.
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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#4 Post by Evangeline » Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:07 pm

"many Chinese movie adaptions nowadays are either parodies of the original story or have been twisted into Party propaganda tools... "

I DISAGREE. The 1980s CCTV version is the BEST. FREAKING. JTTW. ADAPTATION. EVER. If anything the story of Wu Kong fighting against the bureacracy of heaven is the exact opposite of propaganda tools. He's perhaps the perfect symbol of individualism and going against authority.

As for the rest, Stephen Chow's adaptations (haha) is full of silly surreal humor and as far from propaganda as you can get. They're almost unrecognizable as JttW adaptions. The ones starring Dicky Cheung are much more faithful to the original novel, but since it's a Hong Kong tv series, it has a very modern comical/dramatic take on the novels, with additions of romantic subplots, flanderization of the characters so that they're more appealing to modern audiences, etc. I'm not ashamed to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Dicky Cheung versions (it was because of these adaptations that I actually read the original novel in the first place) and that they're the best adaptations of JttW except for the CCTW Liu Xiao Ling Tong versions.

None of these read as government propaganda at all.

And the reason why there aren't "serious" adaptations of it anymore is because they've already been made. Like I mentioned, the Liu Xiao Ling Tong movie version of JttW is the most honest, faithful, classic movie adaptation of Journey to the West.

That said, I do agree that a serious kinetic novel version of this book would be freaking epic. (I... am ashamed to say that I once attempted to write a BL version of the arc where Wu Kong going to study with Subodhi... let's just say it's good that I scrapped that idea.)

But yeah. If you do want to make this project, I suggest that you start out with the aim of adapting just the "Monkey wreaks havoc in Heaven" arc, which as everyone knows, is the most epic part of the book. You don't necessarily have to make it a kinetic novel either; having story branches that results in different ends to the story - alternate character interpretation - exploring potential relationships that were never explored in the original novel -

I think something like this would entice someone who's already familar with the original story (i.e. most Chinese/Japanese/Koreans, some British) to play the game, while allowing people who aren't familar with it to experience the true flavor of the original text.

By the way, I haven't watched Forbidden Kingdom yet, and I don't plan to because. WTF? TRIPITAKA IS A WHITE BOY?! I feel that it completely disrespects the original Xuan Zang, the real Buddhist monk who made the actual journey to India to fetch the scriptures.

But yeah. I'd love to work on a project like this. I have other commitments right now, but if enough interests builds up, I'll definitely pitch in as a scripwriter.

As for my qualifications, I'm the author of this website on JttW, so you know that I definitely have the passion for the subject.

www.vbtutor.net/Xiyouji/journeytothewest.htm

But yeah. I think that we will definitely need artists for this, because stealing artwork from the internet, even if it's public domain, will result in inconsistent artstyles. Also, it'll be more troublesome for us to edit the images until they're usable as character sprites. I think I'd enjoy watching how people interpret these characters from a fresh angle.

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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#5 Post by MaiMai » Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:17 pm

That just reminds me that there is an otome game for Journey of the West... Where the priest is actually a girl, and you have your main guys going with you on your journey. Just a thought.
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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#6 Post by LVUER » Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:23 pm

There's a Turn-based strategy game about Journey to the West in PS1. You are the priest and you could choose the gender. Perhaps a VN where we could also choose the gender would be interesting. If the priest is a male, then the rest of the party are females (and vice verse).
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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#7 Post by Evangeline » Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:23 pm

Isn't that a hentai game though?

But otherwise that sounds epic! :D Link please?

EDIT: I think it's a Japanese convention for the priest to be gender-reversible. I blame the movie version (known as "Monkey!" in Western circles, if I'm not wrong.), which has the priest being played by a woman.

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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#8 Post by LVUER » Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:34 pm

The PS1 game is not a hentai game. It's a pure turn-based strategy game. Not even fanservice... not wait, perhaps there is one or two, but it's a clean game. I don't have the link since it's been such a long long time ago...
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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#9 Post by Lucifiel » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:42 am

Would be a great idea. It does sound really ambitious, though: meaning it'd take a ton of writers to actually pull it off(for plot, scenario and so on) and it'd take a lot of effort to maintain the psychological aspects. Plus, you've got to think about how to "make the story" understandable for an audience that might not really grasp certain concepts like Buddhism concepts of karma, Chinese concepts of sin(not Christian), that Buddhism and Chinese culture have plenty of "gods/deities" and no singular "god"(like the Dalai Lama, if he ever appears 'cos I don't recall, belongs to a certain sect of Buddhism and is not a centric figure to Buddhism) and so on.

And also, please do not try to "dumb down" the plot like Saiyuki(manga) did which really cheapened the plot by a lot 'cos the characters in the JTTW weren't outright good or bad like in "certain shounen/shoujo/seinen/josei series" but "very morally greyish" and with actions that may or may not be acceptable. However, in the end... they were all rather human with very complex characters. And please, don't try to add in "conspiracy" overtones either. =P

I may or may not have read the novels 'cos it's been a long time and I don't recall anymore. But if I did, it was probably the abridged ver of the Chinese novels.

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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#10 Post by Evangeline » Tue Jun 15, 2010 8:49 am

Oh, sorry LVUER, I was referring to MaiMai's post about the otome game:

"That just reminds me that there is an otome game for Journey of the West... Where the priest is actually a girl, and you have your main guys going with you on your journey. Just a thought."

I know of the PS1 game and have been contemplating buying a PS1 just to play it. Haha.

Lucifiel: I don't think that the Saiyuki manga were attempting to be faithful to the plot at all. The Saiyuki manga was just "inspired by" the original story; I don't see it as an attempt to actually adapt the story. You need to understand that in East Asia, the story of Journey to the West has already been integrated into the collective cultural consciousness. Everyone knows the original plot. Faithful adaptations of the plot have already been made countless times in countless forms. At this point, people are naturally more interested in spin-offs or adaptations "with a twist" than actual adaptations - in East Asia at least.

Also, I protest! Saiyuki's characters are the epitome of morally grey. The antagonists (Kougaiji etc) at times seem more good and human compared to the protagonists - who explicitly state that they're on "their own side" - chaotic neutral, in essence. I wouldn't say the plot is dumbed down from the original, because (1) it's not an adaptation of JttW anyway, just inspired by it, and (2) the plots of both works are so completely different in style and content I don't think you can really compare it. It's like comparing Robin Hood: Men in Tights, to the original stories of Robin Hood.

"Would be a great idea. It does sound really ambitious, though: meaning it'd take a ton of writers to actually pull it off(for plot, scenario and so on) and it'd take a lot of effort to maintain the psychological aspects. Plus, you've got to think about how to "make the story" understandable for an audience that might not really grasp certain concepts like Buddhism concepts of karma, Chinese concepts of sin(not Christian), that Buddhism and Chinese culture have plenty of "gods/deities" and no singular "god"(like the Dalai Lama, if he ever appears 'cos I don't recall, belongs to a certain sect of Buddhism and is not a centric figure to Buddhism) and so on."

No... the Dalai Lama does not appear. LOL. He's the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, which has nothing to do with Ming Dynasty Chinese conceptions of Buddhism. Wu Cheng En himself was Taoist and really had a very flawed understanding of Buddhism (for example, he misunderstood the title "Tripitaka" as being a title bestowed by the emperor while in fact in Buddhism it's a title given only to the most learned of monks, those who have attained understanding of a certain number of important scriptures) - he only used it because he wanted to use the source story of Xuan Zang, who just happened to be Buddhist.

Also I think you're underestimating Western audience's abilities to understand other cultures. As long as the world is depicted in a coherent fashion, and the "rules" of the universe and the cultural norms are portrayed clearly, I don't see why this should be a problem. After all, the English translated version of Journey to the West has a significant following in the West too, I believe, just not nearly as widespread as in East Asia, that's all, so clearly Western audiences are able to appreciate some of the cultural differences.

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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#11 Post by Der Tor » Wed Jun 16, 2010 10:17 am

Things like the the ancient Chinese and Buddhist and Taoist concepts shouldn't be a problem. Even if people where to really not understand it we could just add a glossary or something. :) Besides most people in the west now understand what Karma etc. is anyway, right?

The only thing which might get tricky and which makes me a little concerned is the way to present it. Because if it is to be done right the typical Japanese manga / anime style Visual Novel format isn't appropriate. It would have to be a more serious, book-like approach. Because if you do it and take it seriously, you can't change the narrative and you can't change the angle from which the narrative is told. (and besides re-writing the the way the narrative is told, would take, way, way too long in this case)

I am actually thinking about this issue anyway, cause my wife wrote a novel (a real novel that is) and now i am thinking about making it into a visual novel. But i can't rewrite everything she wrote just so that it fits the format of a visual Novel (you know cause in a Visual Novel the player gets to play one of the characters instead of just getting the story told). So i would have to rewrite everything... but she would kill me if i touch it. :mrgreen: So instead i am thinking of just leaving it the way it is... let it stay a narrative and just use the text as it is... so it would be more like a real book, but with the advantages that the technology offers, like background music, sound effect, drawings, animations, visual effects etc..Also it could be voiced... and voicing something that you present in a narrative would be way easier, since you don't need voice actors... you would just need someone to read the narrative. And so at the same time the narrative is read, the text appears so people can decide if they wanna read along with the text or just listen to the narrator...
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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#12 Post by Lucifiel » Wed Jun 16, 2010 10:58 am

Evangeline wrote:
Lucifiel: I don't think that the Saiyuki manga were attempting to be faithful to the plot at all. The Saiyuki manga was just "inspired by" the original story; I don't see it as an attempt to actually adapt the story. You need to understand that in East Asia, the story of Journey to the West has already been integrated into the collective cultural consciousness. Everyone knows the original plot. Faithful adaptations of the plot have already been made countless times in countless forms. At this point, people are naturally more interested in spin-offs or adaptations "with a twist" than actual adaptations - in East Asia at least.
Apologies! Really lengthy post... crud, I tend to really go overboard in my thinking and answers. =P

Oh I see. :P I keep forgetting that it's old news in parts of Asia... lol.
Also, I protest! Saiyuki's characters are the epitome of morally grey. The antagonists (Kougaiji etc) at times seem more good and human compared to the protagonists - who explicitly state that they're on "their own side" - chaotic neutral, in essence. I wouldn't say the plot is dumbed down from the original, because (1) it's not an adaptation of JttW anyway, just inspired by it, and (2) the plots of both works are so completely different in style and content I don't think you can really compare it. It's like comparing Robin Hood: Men in Tights, to the original stories of Robin Hood.
Meh... Robin Hood wasn't too bad but I was reading that in elementary school and so, it was a bit deep but not that deep. :p Now, "deep" would've been Lord of the Flies which I tried to read in elementary school but failed to comprehend, much of. Even though... there were other
children who were capable of not just reading but comprehending it in-depth.

Ah I prefer far, far more layers for characters to really be "morally greyish". The writing has to really prove it and drive it in, via a complexity of characterization, character interactions, plot layers, etc. and most/all of the characters have to be really well-done. And the plot has to carry literature-like symbolism(where certain things require a lot of thinking through) so that the characters can shine through because "show, don't tell" works better than just "giving it all to the readers". And for the cast, there have to be no "evil" or "good" characters but people driven by their own motivations, desires and so on. That is: "evil characters are capable of doing good, if it suits their motivations" and vice versa. And they must be flexible... showing a range of different morals and value systems and not "evil 'cos they must be evil", "good 'cos they must be good".

And there have to be true ethical dilemmas in order to "truly test" the characters and there must be no "right or wrong answers", only "the weight and impact of the decisions and actions", "a chain of consequences"(small/big) and the realization that "there is little free will, only choices that you can select/make". And if dealing with historical works: the characters and plot must possess the understanding that the etymology of a certain word/phrase can evolve over a few hundred years, thus meaning an idea/concept will change and thus, that could lead to mis-interpretations of literature/of concepts, conflict between classes/groups of people and so on.

So, my idea of "ethical dilenmas" and "morally grey" is more along the lines of "A cruel god reigns in heaven", "Cesare", "Say hello to black jack", "Vagabond", "Himitsu" and so on. As in: really really in-depth type of plots that truly push the reader to think about the issues involved.

For me, the characters in Saiyuki came across as a bit too "black and white" for my tastes. I could see who the "villains" and the "heroes" were within the first few pages(because of how the plot presented them as such) and how the plot would be like, within the first half of the first volume or so. Well, whether it was an adaption or "inspired by", didn't really matter 'cos I usually pay attention to "how and what the plot is like". Though I'll admit that my expectations were a bit higher 'cos of the name "Saiyuki" but nevertheless, I was willing to set them aside to see what the manga was like and so I could read it without much prejudice.

However, it was... well, not that interesting and I thought that the "name" was more like some sort of "selling point" for marketing purposes(blame me... yah, for me cynical with the Japanese publishing industry where manga with real plots often get suspended 'cos they don't "sell enough like Naruto/FMA/etc." or 'cos they aren't "dumbed down enough" for the audience.) . I was actually hoping it would be very different but deep and preserve a certain amount of psychological depth from the original work. =P But oh well. :)

But oh well... I assume we both have our tastes in literature. =P

No... the Dalai Lama does not appear. LOL. He's the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, which has nothing to do with Ming Dynasty Chinese conceptions of Buddhism. Wu Cheng En himself was Taoist and really had a very flawed understanding of Buddhism (for example, he misunderstood the title "Tripitaka" as being a title bestowed by the emperor while in fact in Buddhism it's a title given only to the most learned of monks, those who have attained understanding of a certain number of important scriptures) - he only used it because he wanted to use the source story of Xuan Zang, who just happened to be Buddhist.
Oh I see 'cos it's been so long since I read the books. Well, at least 1 less complexity to deal with. =P

Ooh... well, whoever the writer was... guess he's human and makes mistakes too. :) Though isn't Saiyuki simply an enhanced compilation of certain tales that'd been floating around for a long time, before it was written?
Also I think you're underestimating Western audience's abilities to understand other cultures. As long as the world is depicted in a coherent fashion, and the "rules" of the universe and the cultural norms are portrayed clearly, I don't see why this should be a problem. After all, the English translated version of Journey to the West has a significant following in the West too, I believe, just not nearly as widespread as in East Asia, that's all, so clearly Western audiences are able to appreciate some of the cultural differences.
Ahhh... I'm not talking about "The West" but about the difficulties of introducing cultural concepts to another culture without requiring footnotes, lengthy prefaces and so on. That's why certain literature adaptions of foreign works often come with a lot more pages! Or why "works of Shakespeare for students" come with lots and lots of suggestions about possible symbolisms, how to interpret a certain idea and so on.

For example: the worship of "heaven/shangdi"(monoetheism) which is possibly linked together with "filial piety" and so on. I was thinking... that it might be difficult to explain to people of modern cultures that have mainly monoetheistic faiths how monoetheism(worship of a singular deity/god/entity only) and polyetheism(worship of multiple deities)can co-exist together(harmony called "wa" in Japan and other names in other Asian cultures). Yes, "shangdi" = originally a Supreme God of some faith and it's the concept of heaven as some sort of "divine force/being" that will punish those who committed certain misdeeds or violated some sort of ethical code and so on, through flash of lightnings and so on.

But, though the practise of worshipping Shangi died out when Buddhism and other concepts/faiths came about, the concept of Shangdi still was somewhat absorbed into Han Chinese culture like folklore, sayings, mentality of the people and so on. That's why... sometimes, certain Chinese will still pepper their speeches like "begging Heaven to help us", "Heaven guide us", "On behalf of Heaven, blah blah blah", "Heaven will punish you if you do this and that", "how dare you anger Heaven and so on". I'm unsure about other cultures that were somewhat/heavily influenced by the Han Chinese like Vietnamese and so on, though.

Then there're all the things like "relations between blood ties and clans", "bloodline and blood ties", "face"(think more like the Chinese versions of "honne and tatemae") and so on... 'cos certain Asian cultures tend to like tie a lot of things together. If introduced or present in the plot(manga/manhwa/novels/unsure about VNs), they often are poorly received by Western readers 'cos these concepts tend to fly over people's heads and are often seen as "ridiculous, worrying too much, heavily hypocritical, xenophobic or whatever positive/negative label they choose to tack on". Well, unless you're talking about readers who're excellent at deconstructing and who possess in-depth knowledge of certain Asian societies(during a certain time period). Or those who're familiar enough with works from Asia to somewhat accept them and not start freaking out. :p

But then again, I'm probably thinking too much and it's probably kind of easy to throw in explanations via thoughts, narrations, riddles and other types of game/plot devices. And I know my perception of humans is rather cold and harsh. Don't mind me. :p

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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#13 Post by Jake » Wed Jun 16, 2010 11:27 am

Lucifiel wrote: Ah I prefer far, far more layers for characters to really be "morally greyish".
I'd say it sounds like you're conflating 'morally grey' with 'well-developed', and 'unambiguously good' and 'unambiguously bad' with 'under-developed'.

While it's true that often, unambiguous characters are under-developed and often, morally-grey characters are better developed, I wouldn't like to say it's always the case by a long stretch. Is Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird) an under-developed character? He's hardly the most two-dimensional pathetic example of characterisation the world has seen. Is he morally grey? Not really. Is Frank Castle (The Punisher) [generally] morally grey? Absolutely. Is he a deep, well-realised character? Eeeeeeeehhhhhno. Last time I saw he was a seething pile of cliché excuses for a psychopath.

(I can understand how such a conflation would come about, since most human beings are selfish and ambiguous and thus characters who behave in a straightforward heroic or evil manner often feel unrealistic.)
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Re: Idea for game: Journey to the West as Visual Novel?

#14 Post by Evangeline » Wed Jun 16, 2010 6:45 pm

Jake wrote:
Lucifiel wrote: Ah I prefer far, far more layers for characters to really be "morally greyish".
I'd say it sounds like you're conflating 'morally grey' with 'well-developed', and 'unambiguously good' and 'unambiguously bad' with 'under-developed'.

While it's true that often, unambiguous characters are under-developed and often, morally-grey characters are better developed, I wouldn't like to say it's always the case by a long stretch. Is Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird) an under-developed character? He's hardly the most two-dimensional pathetic example of characterisation the world has seen. Is he morally grey? Not really. Is Frank Castle (The Punisher) [generally] morally grey? Absolutely. Is he a deep, well-realised character? Eeeeeeeehhhhhno. Last time I saw he was a seething pile of cliché excuses for a psychopath.

(I can understand how such a conflation would come about, since most human beings are selfish and ambiguous and thus characters who behave in a straightforward heroic or evil manner often feel unrealistic.)
This.

No, I would not argue that Saiyuki characters are terribly well-developed. But then again, neither are many of the characters in Journey to the West. San Zang, for example, is a pathetic, whiny, cowardly, miserable excuse for a priest who always concerned, first and foremost, for his own safety, and shows a complete lack of ability to learn from his own mistakes. He experiences zero, and I literally mean ZERO character development across the course of the series. I know it's necessary for the plot - plot enforced stupidity you might say - and I hate how he's portrayed, given how heroic the original San Zang was - but still. Not well-developed at all in any case.

Zhu Ba Jie? Archetype of the greedy, selfish, lazy, lustful bastard that's apparently in there for the selfish little bitch inside all of us to identify with. Since he's supposed to be an archetype, there's not much development or depth there, unfortunately. And worse of all, he's petty. No, scratch that. Worse than that, San Zang's willing to indulge in his pettiness. The White Bone Demon arc makes me want to strangle both the goddamn bastards. Yes, Ba Jie, Wu Kong is superior to you, and no, that does not give you the right to make petty, self-indulgent, jealousy-induced, completely illogical complaints about the validity of his assertions, and San Zang, you are a bleeping brainless dolt to believe him instead of Wu Kong. I'd flip both of you the finger but you're fictional characters. Oh, and Wu Jing. Not standing up for Wu Kong when he needs you the most? I thought you were simply bland, but you're worse than that. You're bland and a coward.

But yes, unfortunately it's true. Sha Wu Jing is a non-entity. No personality whatsoever. The goddamn HORSE is more interesting than him. Yes. Even though he's a horse for the entire book and only gets one shining crowning episode of awesome where he crossdresses, sword dances, attempts to assassinate a demon, and persuades Ba Jie to go back and get Wu Kong.

I mean he's a HORSE DRAGON PRINCE FOR GOD'S SAKE. A total waste of potential in that character, I feel.

----

@Luciel: Regarding cultural concepts, I think that if a work is strong enough, the cultural concepts should be able to come through without the need for lengthy footnotes. In the way characters act, react, talk, etc., the reader should be able to understand, at least on a gut, emotional level, what's going on with the characters and why they're justified in what they think and behave.

For example, drugs in American culture. I come from a country where the penalty for dealing drugs is being hanged to death and I come from a small town where people go to retire. Very little crime. Drugs do not figure prominently in our media at all and the idea of substance abuse is very remote for me. But when I read a story about an American teenager abusing LSD I did not need a lengthy footnote explaining that drug use is not rare, though not especially common, amongst American teenagers, and that drugs are both cheap and accessible. The way the story was written allowed me to come to those conclusions (perhaps not explicitly or coherently), and I was able to follow the storyline and the emotions of the characters involved perfectly well.

If the characters in a story are written well enough, I believe that the readers will be able to follow their motivations and understand the justification behind them.

People will be ethnocentric and judge differences of other cultures negatively, no matter what. The important thing is to portray, subjectively, what it feels like the be in that culture, what emotions, what reactions, what assumptions and cultural norms are revealed through the way characters act and talk; I think that stories, instead of footnotes, should be able to get across those differences in a different, maybe even more effective on an emotional level, way compared to lengthy explanations.

I mean, I haven't read a single book about Japanese culture. But by reading manga, I feel like I understand Japanese culture much much more than, say, international businessmen who learn about Japanese culture through textbooks and news articles. I understand the way they think, their cultural norms, common stereotypes etc. I won't say that my knowledge is completely accurate - merely that it is sufficient for me to understand and appreciate the storylines. And even when I get outraged at, say, the sexism in a manga like Bakuman for instance, I understand that that's the way the culture works.

This doesn't even have to apply to fiction. Consider 9/11, the photo of The Falling Man. The way people reacted to it, and all the other people who jumped from the towers, made me absolutely furious because it seems that people were CONDEMNING the victims for jumping. But I know, from the way they talked, that was because they perceived it as an act of suicide, and that suicide was strongly against their religion. I knew this even without knowing a thing about Christianity apart from the fact that Christians wear crosses and go to church on Sundays and pray to a single god and Jesus is involved somehow.

It's the same thing.

Consider how people write good fantasy, for instance. Tolkien wrote tons and tons and tons of footnotes about the foreign cultural norms of Middle Earth, but do we need to read all those footnotes to truly appreciate the story of Lord of the Rings? Hell. No. The hobbits' cultural norms are clear to us by the way they act and think and react and feel.

When you're writing speculative fiction, you need to write from the perspective of an insider; as if you're narrating the story of a fictional universe to a person who was born and raised in that fictional universe, in order for your story to feel natural. If you need to resort to footnotes to explain stuff, you're a failure as a writer (unless of course you're Terry Pratchett and you're doing it for comedic effect). It's different when you're translating fiction, because there are certain terms and words that are not translatable, and you need footnotes to explain those. Even so, it should be clear from the context, roughly what the words mean and the emotional significance of those words.

In any case, Journey to the West is, at its heart, a simple action/adventure story that just happens to be in the context of a religious pilgrimage. Wu Cheng En apparently wrote it with political activism in mind (hence the rebellious nature of Wu Kong - a symbol of rebellion against the government), but, again, he was not learned in Buddhism at all, and so religious/spiritual interpretations of the text might be missing the mark. Of course, there's no reason why you can't interpret it in those contexts, but it's the same as interpreting, say, Friends or Lost or Lord of the Rings or Dragonball from a religious perspective. And a good action/adventure story should appeal to everyone in spite of culture.

Yes, I realize that Dragonball was inspired by Journey to the West as well. The only thing similar about those two works are the names. Scratch that - the main character's name, to be exact. The rest is completely original.
"works of Shakespeare for students" come with lots and lots of suggestions about possible symbolisms, how to interpret a certain idea
Symbolism and possible interpretations are different things from foreign cultural concepts.
Saiyuki simply an enhanced compilation of certain tales that'd been floating around for a long time, before it was written?
Yes, it is. But the part where the emperor bestowed the name of "San Zang" upon Xuan Zang for services rendered to the empire was purely Wu Cheng En's creation. So yes, he does indeed make mistakes once in a while.

And yes, I believe that most humans are bastards at least some of the time too. So don't worry, you're not alone. :)

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