Wake Up My Music and an Idol on Mother’s Day

Wake Up My Music and an Idol on Mother’s Day

I wonder if you’ve realized that I change a bit every day
I’m at my most beautiful when I sing by your side
– Wake up my music

One of the main conceits of Aikatsu, and most other Idol anime series by extension, is the pursuit of glory in holding the coveted title of top idol. The apple of everyone’s eye, the spotlight of the entire world shines upon a single girl, bestowing the opportunity for her to open her heart on stage and live out her dream for everyone to eventually follow. In episode 31, “An Idol on Mother’s Day,” the cold open introduces Masquerade, a legendary idol group whose statues grace the halls of the Starlight Academy, acting as a guidepost for Ichigo and her friends to pursue in their respective careers. Continue reading “Wake Up My Music and an Idol on Mother’s Day”

Update #6 – Rin and Other Things

The first draft for the Madoka route is complete, which means all that’s left for the prologue is the draft for Rin’s route. I still haven’t fully outlined what’s going to happen here, as the approach that needs to be taken here is naturally going to differ from the previous two that I’ve written so far.

Writing for Madoka and Juri affords more freedom in the creative process simply due to the lack of any pre-established canon between the two and Sumire respectively. There’s so much space to explore different aspects of their relationships with Sumire, especially with regards to Madoka. While Rin is also somewhat shafted in spotlight opportunities in the same vein as Madoka, her involvement in Dancing Diva naturally lends to more screentime by virtue of being within Sumire’s immediate sphere of social interaction as far as idol activities are concerned.

Out of the three (four, if you count Fluffy Sweet Nadeshiko) units in the Akari Generation, Dancing Diva not only gets the most screentime by virtue of being the first unit formed, but they seem to be the de facto unit to showcase outside of the Unit Cup. Following the group’s loss to SkipS, DanDiva seems to be the only pair to be seen doing any sort of idol activity. Akari and Hinaki both favour pursuing their individual endeavours leading up to the Starlight Queen Cup. Naturally, Juri is absorbed in her actress gig.

This leaves us with Rin, whose identity in the show as a dance-oriented idol provides little opportunity to explore her character outside the acquisition of her Dance Fusion premium dress. Between her history with Minami in episode 158 (I Want To See You, Okinawa) and her friendship with Madoka in episode 171 (Best Friend), it’s clear that Rin’s character is best served when exploring her relationship with other idols. As Sumire’s partner in Dancing Diva, we end up seeing a lot of Rin, and there’s a lot to go off of, but that also means that there’s not as much to explore that hasn’t been done already.

Which is why we have to look beyond the series to see Dancing Diva’s career trajectory. In Aikatsu! Photo On Stage!, players are treated to a bit of a hint through the recent DanDiva event, specifically the various skits showcased throughout the duration of the event. Interestingly enough, showing a skit through the mobage storytelling medium lends incredibly well to what could be expected in a visual novel like Hikami Project. The skits are short, but speak a great deal on both Sumire and Rin’s motivations.

Rin Ramblings aside, there’s also a couple other things to talk about as far as this project is concerned. I just realized that Yuri Game Jam is a thing that started recently this month, and as much as I’d love to participate with this project specifically, it’s just not the right fit  for the event. There are a few things that don’t line up with the nature of this project.

  1. Hikami Project is already well underway as far as progress is concerned. ~20,000 words of a script is a considerable amount, and while the jam allows some amount of pre-panning and outlining, having almost an entire script ready goes against the spirit of the event in my eyes.
  2. The jam emphasizes the relationships between queer women and the queer experience in general. While the nature of ships in Aikatsu heavily skew towards perceptions of yuri, I still feel that the canon leaves the relationships between its idols wide open for interpretation. Hikami Project is more of the same, and while these girls’ friendships are an important thing, it doesn’t properly touch on said experiences. This is easily the most important factor in not qualifying for the jam (best of luck to everyone participating though!)
  3. This is not an original work. All of my assets will be taken from the show proper, in the form of photoshop modifications of screenshots, and samples taken from the OST to form the game’s bgm assets. Most important of all, the story is based on existing intellectual property that I don’t actually own. The discourse surrounding fanfiction and IP is interesting, but I’m not learned enough in it to make any claim of ownership of anything I’m doing as a part of this project.

That being said, even though I will not be associating this project with the game jam itself, this month provides a great opportunity to work in a similar sort of time constraint as everyone who’s participating in the jam proper. National Novel Writing Month is also less than a month away, and I fully expect to be participating in that, which means that Hikami Project will be put on hold during that time. I want to finish as much as I can before that time, so I do expect to make a big push on that front and hopefully make earnest progress comparable to those who participate in YGJ2016. Best of luck to everyone participating!

Update #5 – Imitation vs Reiteration

Part of my writing process involves getting into the writing groove, so to speak, when tackling large prose projects like this one. When I participated for NaNoWriMo for various manuscripts that I have successfully completed over the years, I always used some sort of outline based on an existing narrative structure or premise. For the Juri route, which I completed some time ago, I went back and watched a number of aikatsu drama audition episodes for reference; plot beats from Naughty Detectives (ep14), Stylish Thieves Swallowtail (ep21), and Aikatsu’s Hot Wind (ep109) all came into play when working out the general structure of Juri’s portion of the prologue. With all of the different episodes coming together in different angles, this section in itself feels somewhat distinct and unique.

For Madoka’s route, however, something different happened. Due to the relative lack of screentime and spotlight that Madoka received, I had very little reference to draw from with regards to her characterization. I looked at Hello New World (ep133) and outlined the Madoka route 1:1 with the episode itself. To compare:

Hello New World (ep133)
– Akari tells Sumire that she’ll act as a stand-in mentor for Madoka
– Madoka receives a job offer to participate in a high-profile concert for new idols
– Akari and Madoka discuss over lunch and conclude that Madoka should get a premium dress
– In Akari’s room, Madoka recollects her experiences with her grandmother and how that informed her decision to become an idol
– Akari and Madoka train together in preparation for the event
– After jogging, Akari tells Madoka not to fret about lacking confidence, tells her she’s ready to ask for a premium dress
– Akari and Madoka climb Angely Mountain
– Madoka asks her grandmother for a premium dress, Asuka says yes
– Madoka performs Hello New World with a rare dress that Asuka designed for her

Hikami Project (Madoka Route)
Sumire discovers in meeting with Headmistress that Madoka is aiming to become a brand designer for an upcoming New Designers contest.
– Sumire visits Madoka in class, Madoka asks her to be her “muse,” even though neither fully understand what that entails.
– Sumire and Madoka announce at lunch that they’ll be working together for Madoka’s new brand.
– In Madoka’s room, Madoka recollects her experiences with her grandmother and how that informed her decision to become a designer
– Sumire and Madoka spend time together, observing each other’s aikatsu, and even train together
– After jogging, Sumire apologizes to Madoka about not being a better mentor; Madoka confesses that Sumire is her biggest inspiration as an idol and designer
– Sumire and Madoka climb Angely Mountain
– Madoka submits her brand proposal to Asuka, Asuka says yes
– Sumire performs Hello New World with a rare dress that Madoka designed for her

Scene by scene, there is a much closer connection between the two parts here, almost to the point of straight-up copying; but there is a distinct difference between the two events from a narrative standpoint. The reiteration of the pattern here reinforces the cyclical passage of time that takes place throughout the course of the entire series and beyond, heading into the timeline of this story.

By circling back to a familiar event, it’s easier to take note of everything that has changed since the events of episode 133. So much has happened: Madoka teamed up with Akari to form SkipS, beating out Dancing Diva in the unit cup; Sumire’s unit Luminas places higher than Madoka’s unit Vanilla Chili Pepper at the Great Starlight Festival; Madoka and Sumire place fourth and eigth, respectively, at the Starlight Queen Cup.

The two girls have grown considerably since Madoka’s first year at Starlight, and at this point in time, despite there still being an age and grade difference between the two, the senpai/kouhai dynamic has shifted somewhat, even more so considering the Starlight Queen Cup results. This interesting turn of events has opened the two of them up to new and unique perspectives, both explored in the Madoka route of this project.

Having taken this approach and consideration to both Madoka and Sumire’s character development in relationship with each other, I have been able to make much more rapid progress with this route, and am already about 70% done with writing the script. Once I’m done, I will go back to the Juri route and make revisions, and then proceed to putting the script into ren’py code. I look forward to the results!

Update #4 – Oops

I figured as much that it would come to this, not having updated for a long while. I’m still working on this project and I’m still incredibly interested and fascinated by Aikatsu’s story as well as Sumire’s narrative. A number of things got in the way of making strong progress on this project, namely the doldrums of summer and a few IRL things.

I took a brief anime detour and watched Haruhi Suzumiya and have since locked my account because of, well, I don’t know. I also took up DM’ing and have started putting more time into preparing for my tabletop sessions with my 5th Edition group. I notice a lot of differences and similarities in running a campaign as a DM with that of telling a story through various narrative mediums like plain prose and visual novel scripting.

But with those two kinda out of the way (D&D has settled into a nice groove since the first few sessions) I can continue working on and thinking about the other items that still need to be worked on with this project. I’m about a few thousand words into Madoka’s prologue, and based on how Juri’s turned out, I expect this section to be about ten thousand words or so, which doesn’t seem much, but it adds up over the course of multiple routes. I’ve also been watching a heck of a lot of Aikatsu, especially on my commute to and from work.

At this point, I’ve seen these episodes probably 3 or 4 times already, but I’m watching specifically to capture screenshots that I can use as image assets. My goal is incorporate a mix of full shots, backgrounds with very basic forward-facing sprites, and maybe even generic stock images as well where necessary. It’ll be a visual mess, but my aim is strictly to execute a concept.

On the sound side, Aikatsu’s 4th OST came out since the last update, which is a welcome addition. There is a distinct difference in style and tone between the DreAca generation and the Akari generation BGM, which makes a considerable difference in the sound direction that I want to take. I have a list of directives on hand in OneNote that I’ll put into action when the time comes to incorporate sound.

I need to get back into practicing using ren’py just so I don’t forget everything I learned when I first tried things out, but at the same time, I want to get all of the prose writing out of the way first.

Which brings me to Madoka. She’s a really cool character, and in attempting to observe her even more closely, I realize that she really did get the shaft as far as screen time is concerned. The majority of her time in the spotlight is spent among friends and as part of various units like SkipS and Vanilla Chili Pepper. It’s fine, I suppose, but it reiterates how unfairly the last half of Aikatsu treated its secondary characters by introducing too many of them, and not affording the due time to explore them to a satisfying extent.

But alas, that’s what fanfiction and this project is for. Extrapolating her character is a great exercise in character analysis, and for the most part. I fondly like the idea of Madoka starting her own brand to further develop her self-production abilities, and I can get behind the idea that Sumire wants to start from scratch in this route. With Juri, Sumire adds a new dimension to her repertoire by developing her acting ability on top of her singing and dancing. With Madoka, however, Sumire continues doing more of the same as before, but in a new light and context. Similar to how Madoka and Akari’s world opened up when they formed SkipS, Sumire’s relationship with Madoka as muse and designer is a perfect opportunity for them to learn new things about themselves and their capabilities as idols.

Here’s hoping I can get back into the swing of things and maintain some semblance of weekly production.

To-do list:

– Script: Madoka’s prologue (in progress), Rin’s prologue (still conceptualizing)
– Assets: accumulating more sound and image files
– Planning: storyboard and outlining usage of various assets

Update #3 – Judge, Juri and Execu(ry

It’s only the prologue, but the first draft of the Juri route is done. I’ll have to go over it again in about a week or so before I start making corrections and reformatting it into proper ren’py code, but for all intents and purposes, I have a clear idea of how the Juri route is going to take shape at the beginning of this visual novel.

I use the term visual novel loosely at this point, because at this point, the branches have been implemented in the simplest way possible; the player picks an option at the beginning of the game, which singlehandedly decides which route they go down for the rest of the game.

If anything, this project is shaping up to be more of a kinetic novel, but with 3 or 4 different stories that can be read/experienced.

And that’s totally fine by me. While I initially envisioned this project to communicate a sense of decision-making and autonomy with regards to how Sumire goes about her idol activities, I feel as though there’s still a lot of narrative possibilities that could be explored within this medium that prose alone can’t accomplish. So I’ll stick with this in the meantime.

Next up is planning and writing out the rest of the prologue for the other routes that I want to explore, namely Madoka and Rin. Rin’s route feels incredibly straightforward since it will likely involve delving further into the artistic pursuits of Dancing Diva. Madoka’s route, on the other hand, is wide open as far as opportunities for storytelling is concerned.

In the show, Sumire initially takes on a mentor role for Madoka when the latter enters Starlight for her first year; however, Sumire’s sudden thrust into idol fame via Dancing Diva greatly limits the time that she is able to spend with Madoka, and as a result, their relationship fails to develop any further than friendly association. A year removed from meeting, the two have both grown considerably, and now have to decide the direction that they want to take their aikatsu.

To-do list:

– Script: Madoka’s prologue, Rin’s prologue
– Assets: sound, images
– Coding

Update #2 – Part-Time Storyteller

Writing is not my day job, and it’s starting to hit me that time is a scarce, yet incredibly valuable resource for those who enjoy pursuing side hobbies and interests. For some, the amount of time available to engage in those (idol?) activities is limited to only a few hours a week, which makes writing weekly update posts feel a bit unproductive. If I’m only writing, say, 2,000 words a week, then it feels awkward write a 500-600 word reflection on that week, when those words could have gone towards the wordcount itself.

Yet, when I think about it a little bit more, these posts serve a somewhat higher purpose than just simply spewing wordcount. This is a passion project, after all, and while I describe the act of putting words down on paper en masse as a type of flurried mess, there are still valid ideas laid out in the work, and there is still a lot of thought put into the project. A lot happens in my head that doesn’t come out on paper, figuratively speaking, so organizing my thoughts even outside of the notes I’ve made.

Capturing how I feel is important, and right now, the most important thing to me about this project is making sure that I’m pacing myself adequately, taking my new schedule into account. I recently moved back home with my parents because of financial reasons, and that lifestyle change introduces a time constraint related to the commute I now make to get to work every day. This month has been spent getting used to it, and figuring out where I can be the most productive.

My weekly writing goal is a reasonable 3,000 words, which is way more than reasonable. I want to do more (and am capable of doing more), but for now I just want to find the groove, and I will for sure. I love working on this project so much, even if it’s for just a few minutes of each day going over notes or frantically writing down an idea that I had at work (I have a lot of them, and it’s gotten to the point where I’m likely not going to use that many of them, but I’m glad they’re there so I don’t forget).

Sumire is just a wonderful character, and easily my favourite in Akari’s generation, and I can’t wait to talk more about her specifically, and what her narrative is going to be. Hopefully, I’ll get around to that once I finish out one of the prologue routes. Hopefully that won’t be too long. I want to make time, so we’ll see.

Update #1 – Outlining and Drafting

When I told a few people that I was trying my hand at a visual novel, the reaction was for the most part encouraging: friends wishing me luck, happy for my excitement from working on a project that fascinates me deeply, and a manageable amount of hype that one would expect from waiting for a fan work to take shape.

But when I told a few others who have had prior experience working with or playing VNs, the responses were primarily healthy skepticism. They wished good luck, but more in a “you’re going to need it” sort of way, and after spending an entire week leisurely writing the script for the prologue (I admit, writing the script is my sole strength heading into this project), I’ve come to understand what kind of undertaking I’ve gotten myself into.

Yet, reading through various forums and lurking around in the VN community, the concept of a VN solo work is not entirely out of the question. For those who write these games as a passionate hobby, I identify strongly with their interest in tackling projects and working through the logistics of planning and setting expectations within the scope of their work.

For Hikami Project, the concept that I’m working out in my head requires a scope that extends beyond what I could expect myself to achieve in a short time by myself; specifically, the workload that comes with a target word count feels very much like that of NaNoWriMo. Naturally, I find myself settling into a groove of hammering out words and being productive, and worrying about the difficult obstacles later when I actually get to them.

I promised to myself, having bookmarked some pretty good coding tutorials, that once I had to cross those bridges, I’d have the tools ready for them. But for now, it’s writing time.

I spent last week experimenting with different ways I would organize my ideas, and as it turns out, I’ve fallen in love with Microsoft OneNote:

vn onenote screenshot

I compulsively purchased a Surface Book for the sole purpose of replacing my out of date Surface Pro (the original one), and as part of a very good bundle deal, I also picked up an up to date version of Office (the non-subscription kind), which included OneNote 2016. I’ve played around with the free version that was made available for Windows 8 and 10, but there were some extra features that I found I could use for other projects (like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that I’m DM’ing for some friends), but for the most part I’m extremely happy with how all the information I need is laid out in a way that I can intuitively navigate.

While I’ve had most of my ideas already in place prior to deciding to go forward with this project, the majority of my outlining was focused on the prologue, which I planned out in a way such that it would act like a VN in itself, the way I remember Katawa Shoujo was originally developed. The scope of releasing an Act One Only made it a lot more manageable for me in basically all fronts.

So I spent the entire week writing out the script, working from the outline that I had. I experimented with different ways I would go about doing this, whether I would draft directly onto the .py file via Editra or if I would work off of  a text document, and I eventually settled on using google docs. While the ren’py project folder would be on my Surface Book proper, I still like the flexibility of being able to work on the script from multiple locations, like my home desktop, as well as the desktop that I have at my desk when I’m at work.

vn script screenshot

I’m trying not to over-format the script right now, because I need to transfer everything to code anyway later on, but a simplified screenplay format suits my needs just fine for the time being.

At the moment, there’s only one branch point that determines what paths the player will take, and I’ve settled on a manageable 3 routes. I’ve written all the way up to the branch point, and I’ve budgeted about 5,000 words for each branch point leading up to the end of the Prologue and onward, which means the Prologue section will be approximately 20,000 words, with expectations that this mark can and likely will be overshot.

Which is totally fine by me. I’ve tackled much larger writing projects than this in less time, so it’s well within my capabilities to do this. I’m glad that I haven’t set a personal deadline for finishing the project, but I imagine that I won’t actually look into that until I finish the script. Manageable chunks, yes?