Hey Hey Blerdy Tribe, I’m back with another Behind the Games post! For those of you just joining the party, Behind the Games is a segment where I interview the folks ‘behind the games’ I review. Giving you guys a chance to get to know the developers and publishers that spend so much time carefully crafting the games you enjoy.
Last time, I spoke with Roxie the co-founder of Aikasa Collective—the studio the team behind the the yuri romance game, Mizuchi—which is loosely based on the Chinese folk tale, Legend of the White Snake. This time around, I had the chance to catch up with Raz and Belen the founders of Moonchime Localization, a small joseimuke publisher and localization company “for fans, by fans”.
As a publisher led by women, we strive to expand joseimuke in the west by connecting fans to Japanese creators.
I sat down with Raz and Belen, the co-founders of Moonchime Localization, to talk about the growth of joseimuke in the west and their experiences working as a women led publisher in the largely male dominated gaming industry. There are a lot of great things coming from the team in the future, and I am so excited to have gotten the chance to get this exclusive with Raz and Belen!
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me! Moonchime Studios is a relative newbie to the localization scene, and I want to give my readers a better feel of who you are as a team. Could you tell me a bit about yourselves?
Belen: Thank you for having us! I’m Belen, a joseimuke—specially otome—fanatic and translator, and the CEO of our little start-up. I’ve studied linguistics, translation theory and law and have about 8 years of experience as a video game and multimedia translator, and I’ve also participated in other roles in the industry, such as project management and testing. I also do law-related stuff sometimes. I’m Spanish but fluent in English and Japanese, and translate from the latter to Spanish, and in Moonchime Studios I’m in charge of administration, licensing, localization production, and all that buzz. Nice to meet everybody and sorry for the infodump, haha.
Raz: I’m Raz, and I’m also a joseimuke fanatic! I specialize in drawing characters and doing graphic design. I’ve studied illustration, Japanese, and animation in school and I now work in the Japanese game industry as a graphic designer. I began doing Japanese to English translation of visual novels around four years ago as a hobby but began doing it professionally recently. I’m in charge of translation, graphic design, and Japanese communications in Moonchime.
Before I dive into your work with Moonchime Studios, tell me a bit about when your love of games developed. What were the titles that sparked your love of games?
Belen: I’ve always loved games, and I actually can’t remember not loving them because my first game was Pokémon Yellow on a Game Boy I got for my 5th birthday, so I was very young. JRPGs are still my favorite gaming genre other than VNs, and I did start reading VNs when I was older. It was in the late 00s—when a lot of us discovered joseimuke—and for me it was through games like Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side, Togainu no Chi, Hakuoki, Starry Sky, La Corda d’Oro…
Raz: My first game was Super Mario Bros for Super Nintendo, but the first game I got obsessed with was Pokemon Red on Game Boy, and in high school, Kingdom Hearts became my life! It sparked my love for JRPGs. After that, Togainu no Chi caught my attention and became the first visual novel I attempted to read. I could only read a little bit, but it made me fascinated with the genre. After I properly studied Japanese, I succeeded in finishing the Dramatical Murder series, then got into otome games such as the Uta no Prince-sama console games and Shinobi Koi Utsutsu, and here I am!
Since your debut late last year, Moonchime has been working hard to connect Western gamers with some rather interesting titles. How has the experience been for your team? What are some challenges you’ve faced? What are some successes?
Belen: I think the biggest challenge that we’ve faced—and that we’re still facing—is gaining trust from the fandom because we’re still a very new company. And really that’s valid, especially considering the history of joseimuke in the west. Then, there’s also the lack of resources and of a reputation in the industry, because we’re in the initial stages, so we can’t do everything we want to do or license everything we want to license, but we’re doing our best with what we have. We do have successes too of course, we’re growing an audience at a rate we’re very happy with, it’s still small but everybody has been amazing to us. We’re also working with some Japanese creators we love, and that’s so exciting. And finally, the games we’ve announced and released so far have been well-received, which we’re very happy about.
Raz: Pretty much what Belen said! I am based in Japan, but it has been a wild ride contacting different companies and negotiating licenses remotely and in a second language. The creators and companies we have the pleasure of negotiating with have been incredibly understanding and supportive of us. Juggling that with translating and managing a team while working a day job has been a struggle, but it is satisfying to see everything come together in the end!
Moonchime Studios specializes in joseimuke games and media–which for those that are unfamiliar with the term, is used to describe media targeted towards women. Joseimuke is just recently starting to come into prominence in the West. What prompted your team to choose this as a focus as opposed to one of its more well-established subgenres like otome or boys love?
Belen: Well, by going for joseimuke we’re not closing our doors to any game targeted towards women, and we thought it’d be nice for players interested in this kind of media to enjoy variety. We also want to believe that adopting the term “joseimuke” or anything like it can only be good for the western fans. At the moment people are kind of divided in the subgenres, but we’re a niche and could probably be stronger together, or at least this is a thought we’ve always had as fans before Moonchime: we have more in common than some might believe. And who knows, maybe there are otome fans that will give our BL or other joseimuke games a chance, or the other way around. Or maybe not, but we still enjoy entertaining the thought.
Japanese term for media targeted towards women. This includes subgenres like otome and BL in case there’s romance involved. Joseimuke has a very rich selection of themes and character archetypes. It’s also an outlet for female creators in Japan and we want to give them a voice in the west!About Joseimuke from Moonchime Localization
Raz: I have always enjoyed stories that have a female audience in mind, which could be non-romantic, otome, or BL, and I believe there are like-minded people out there who don’t stick exclusively to any one of those categories. That’s my simple reason!
The gaming industry has largely been a male-dominated space, so to see a female founded and run localization studio like Moonchime is amazing. What are some things that your team hopes to accomplish as a studio?
Belen: The gaming industry indeed remains a very male-dominated space, despite female gamers accounting for about 40% of the community according to recent polls. And what ends up happening is that women have to adapt to men’s spaces, and you can find a lot of misogyny there. I do think that things are improving little by little, but the visual novel scene remains especially male dominated, which in the end ends up affecting joseimuke media. We want to give everybody great, clean localizations, but it goes beyond that. Our goal is to also build a diverse community around our games, we want everybody to feel welcome. We want to be fair with people and communicate openly and transparently. And regarding stuff like licensing and marketing, we want to be open and proud of the kinds of games we’re working with. All subgenres of joseimuke deserve love and respect, because they’re all important and precious to somebody out there.
Raz: Pretty much what Belen said! There are very few places that are willing to localize and sell games aimed primarily at a female audience, especially with sexual and potentially controversial content, so we would like to normalize it as much as it is for media aimed at men.
Your first two localizations, I Love You (Suki Da) and My Dear Frankenstein are smaller indie Japanese titles, which don’t usually see much attention in the West. Why is it important for your team to bring these titles to Western fans?
Belen: We love indie games, and the cool thing about them is that those creators are willing to experiment and try new things in a way that a corporation probably wouldn’t. And that’s great because you get to see new perspectives and ideas. Bigger corporations make amazing games, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot of value in indies and we really want to bring that to fans that don’t speak Japanese, as well as helping creators in Japan get more international exposure.
Raz: What we love about indie games is that they usually are incredibly unique and personal to that one creator or small team’s vision and are done less for money and more for their own enjoyment. We believe that these games deserve recognition from overseas as well!
Your team recently announced that you would be localizing the BL game, Tokyo Onmyoji, which is your biggest project to date. What drew you to this game? What aspects of this game do you think will appeal most to Western fans?
Belen: Raz can probably say more because they were the driving force behind picking Tokyo Onmyoji, but it was sold pretty easily to me too. I do love the traditional Japanese supernatural theme; the setting is pretty cool as a mix of modern and old Tokyo. Then you have a story that has plenty of nice ingredients: drama, humor, action, romance… I love the protagonist too and personally feel like he works so well—sarcastic and blunt on the outside but with some insecurities running deep. He’s also openly homosexual and with an active sex life, which I do think western fans will like. I also enjoyed all the love interests, really, HolicWorks games are seriously amazing.
Raz: I believed Tokyo Onmyoji was a good choice because it stood apart from other BL games for having a strong, openly sexual protagonist and has a healthy dose of humor on top of the usual dark elements that are often prevalent in BL games. It has a good balance of poking fun at its own characters as well delving into their psychological issues. Another interesting part about it is that half the game is split into short monster-of-the-week missions, which gives it a unique, lighthearted action series feeling to it. And of course, I personally love Japanese ayakashi (can be loosely translated as “demons”) and onmyoji lore, and I believed those aspects would also be appealing to a Western audience.
So far Moonchime Studios has released one otome game title, I Love You (Suki Da). What were some of your favorite aspects of that game? Do you have any plans for another otome release (if you can talk about it)?
Belen: I think the biggest selling point of I Love You was the dynamic the protagonist had with the love interests, and the concept was developed in a way that was very funny and cute as well as romantic and emotional. You also had this protagonist that, while she’s a silent protagonist, still has a strong personality, very charismatic. Making a protagonist like that can be very difficult, I think, and the creator really nailed it, and it made for an overall very fun experience.
As for other otome games, yes, we’re actively working on it but we can’t say much at the moment. The titles we’re negotiating are also bigger, and some have console releases, and so they’re more difficult and expensive to license than other projects we’re working on. But that said hopefully there will be cool otome things to look forward to next year.
Raz: My favorite part about I Love You is that hilarious protagonist! I have never read a story with such an unapologetically tomboy protagonist and I loved every bit of it. All her romantic interests were also so charming and adorable. I respect the creator for being able to make an appealing story in such a short format. As for otome releases, that’s a secret!
As a publisher, how does your team go about selecting potential titles for localization? Is there a specific type of game that you look for? Creator?
Belen: We’re a niche publisher, and our niche is “joseimuke”, which are games created with women in mind, mostly by women. And as long as a game satisfies that requirement, we’re open to anything. Romantic and fluffy? Sure. Dark and thrilling? Sure. And of course, then we have to select the games and see if they have a compelling story, or some interesting mechanics, or art, whatever their selling point is and see if and how we can sell it. Or even if we can even license it, because sometimes that’s out of our control. So basically, we decide on a case-by-case basis, but we won’t turn down any title only because of its overall themes, genres or aesthetics.
Raz: Nothing I can add here!
What’s your team’s dream project? Is there a game or Japanese game developer/publisher that you’d love to work with in the future? Why?
Belen: I’ll just say I really want to work with Rejet, I love their games and drama CDs. There are also other developers and publishers I love and whose games have never been released in English and we’re actually in touch with some of them, so you could say I’m already kind of working on my dream project, haha. But yeah, if I can only choose one then Rejet, and no particular game really, there are a few I really like.
Raz: My dream project is localizing something filled with ridiculously silly, cute guys with laugh-out-loud fun! Of course, I do like stories with dark psychological themes, but I love humor just as much! I’m afraid I also can’t specify exactly which games for the above reasons.
Bonus: I see that both of you (Belen and Raz) have worked as translators for a few years now. What is the funniest line you have had to translate? What game was it in?
Belen: I’m going to cheat and mention an entire game that I’ll never forget because the whole time I worked on it was absolutely hilarious. I was one of the translators for “Teddy Together” in Spanish, it’s basically a Tamagotchi-like talking teddy bear game for the 3DS. You can talk to the bear, dress the bear, feed the bear—you name it. You can also teach it words, which is where translation-wise and gameplay-wise everything gets whack because you have to write everything in a way that makes grammatical sense no matter what the player inputs. Then you have a bear that is a little bit too honest with its affection towards the player and you’re constantly walking the line between cute and creepy. When a teddy bear is telling you things like “You make me feel all fuzzy!” in a robotic high-pitched voice things can get weird pretty fast.
Raz: The funniest line I had to translate was in I Love You, when one of the boys was crouching down to reach for something under a vending machine, and the protagonist had a choice to slap his butt. I translated it as, “Smack his ass” to match the crass attitude of the protagonist. I’ll forever be proud of that line!
I want to give a huge THANK YOU to Raz and Belen for taking the time to do this Q&A with me on behalf of the Moonchime team!
Below are some links to the Moonchime Localization social media pages and game related sites. I highly recommend subscribing to their pages for the most up to date news on their current and future projects.