Due to the subject matter today, some items may be NSFW. In fact, let this serve as an outright trigger warning for sexual material, rape, rape via magical insects, workplace sexual coercion, and just all sorts of stuff that is traditionally not discussed on this blog. This is confirming that today’s article is rated M for Mature, even if the game itself is not. Also: general spoilers for various TYPE-MOON franchises. Also also, this article is weirdly long! Guess there is a lot to say on this subject…
Let’s talk about feminism, Joss Whedon, and at least one cooking videogame.
I suppose we should start with what has been on my mind lately: As a point of fact, I enjoy strong female protagonists. Nine times out of ten, I prefer a female protagonist to a male protagonist. If I am in the mood for noir, I like Veronice Mars. If I want to see some cheesy action, I’ll take Xena: Warrior Princess. I vastly prefer K-On or Azumanga Daioh to any male-centric anime comedy I could name. And when we are talking about ensemble casts, I do often gravitate toward the women (who are usually relegated firmly to “supporting cast”). And, in some randomly introspective moments, I have wondered why that seems to be the case. If I am being generous, I ascribe to the simple theory that I have been watching men’s media since I was a child, so I am tired of hearing about Optimus Prime, and would like to move on to Arcee for a change. I have also never been a particularly masculine man, so it is possible I more readily enjoy characters with arcs that involve less punching and more introspection (Spike has a shootout to solve his problems, Faye gets to reckon with a VHS tape). There are all sorts of reasons that I, a cis white male, would more readily enjoy a woman’s story.
It also might be because I have always wanted to have sex with a solid 90% of those protagonists.
I want to be clear on my terms here: I have never wanted to force sex on any fictional character. That is not in any way something I find sexy in and of itself, never mind the significant “that’s rape, you dumbass” factor. My imagination always created some situation wherein, ya know, time travel and stuff, and I’m totally in Ancient Greece, and despite being 14 and not speaking the same language, Xena would be like “omg ur so hot” and then we would totally start dating and then one day we would have relations and oh man I wouldn’t even mind if she left that chainmail on because I am sure we would all have a really fun time. And, if I really think about it, I am moderately sure this kind of thinking applies to every fictional heroine I have mentioned thus far (and many, many more). And that statement should be no surprise to longtime readers, as this whole Wankery Week thing kicked off with the admission that I would have jumped the extremely fictional bones of a Wild Arms character if given the chance (we’d go out for hamburgers). Why wouldn’t that apply to fictional heroines played by real live women? Look, I’m a man that is attracted to women: of course I am going to want to reach the… er-hem… logical endpoint of finding someone attractive. I am not going to be ashamed of my own biological urges.
But this simple fact has always given me pause in my own status as a feminist. The definition of feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes”. I believe in that! I make decisions based on believing that! I genuinely think that women are just as entitled to any job, position, or activity as a man. I believe in equality across the sexes. But when a friend once suddenly asked me “As a feminist, why do you…” I immediately recoiled. Me? A feminist? Oh my no. I think women should be treated equally to men, but do you know what happens to women in my imagination? Do you know how many different ways I mentally undressed my female classmates during high school? Do you know what I would have done during my college years if I had even the slightest bit of power over my female peers? Do you understand that I am a rolling ball of hormones that would have sex with a particularly alluring tree if the tree was into it!? Do you have the slightest concept of how much I am trash!?!
While we’re on the subject of trash, let’s talk about Joss Whedon.
Joss Whedon has recently been publicly revealed to be a generally vile individual. While it is difficult to ascertain exactly what happened when, the long short of it is that it is confirmed that Joss Whedon has been abusive to staff that was coincidentally not the same race or gender of said Whedon. Additionally, if statements from his ex-wife are to be believed (and, to be clear, I do not doubt her), the infamous “casting couch” was in full effect on the set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other Whedon-helmed programs, and it is likely that more than one of the gorgeous stars of WB dramedies wound up in Joss’s bed. There is no indication that any of these dalliances were anything but consensual, but what is consent when you are a young woman being hit on by a man that could make or break your career? It is unlikely Joss Whedon got into video production to get laid, but once this third-generation television writer was being lauded by the public as the ideal feminist icon, it sure does seem like he piloted that power with a direct route to his johnson.
And I take this personally, because I was one of the people praising Whedon as a feminist icon. In fact, likely as a result of being a teenager when Buffy the Vampire Slayer first premiered (Buffy’s own in-universe, canon tombstone puts her at a mere two years older than I am) I would venture to say that my own image of a “strong, female character” is wholly and 100% formed by Whedon protagonists. A woman approaches! Are you a Buffy, Willow, or Cordelia? Are you a River, Kaylee, or Inara? These are archetypes that were drilled into my brain by one author, and it causes me distress to consider that said “archetypes” only existed because Joss really wanted to sleep with “a Buffy”. What’s more, I spread the gospel of Whedon, so I can safely issue an apology to literally everyone I knew for 15 years when I say that maybe you don’t need to watch Firefly, and seven seasons of Buffy plus five seasons of Angel is maybe time better spent elsewhere. And, yes, this absolutely applies to every woman I dated during that time, regardless of whether or not I complimented them by saying “oh, you’re such a kickass Buffy”. It turns out that was a bad thing! I apologize profusely!
But to defend my thinking in the slightest: how was I to know? I was steeped in the Buffy fandom, but the only inkling of any of this happening (that I can dimly recall) were random rumors regarding Charisma Carpenter (the actress who played Cordelia Chase on Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel) “screwing up” Joss Whedon’s sacred writing plans by being (real life) pregnant, and she was removed from the show for this transgression. I was aware of this rumor, and I remember being sympathetic with Whedon. Silly actress, you messed up a decent plotline by wanting to have a family! Lame! Aside from that “rumor” that was easily dismissed and/or justified (you can still be a feminist and disparage a woman’s right to choose motherhood, right?) the places where I was getting my Whedon info never provided the slightest hint that something might not be kosher. I enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there were literally feminist conferences occurring with noted professors recognizing that Buffy and Spike hate-fucking was somehow the greatest thing to happen to women’s lib in twenty years! How could anyone know that something was wrong there?
(I mean, ignoring the legions of women that were saying all of this all the way through, and the even more people [usually women] that did not have a horse in the game, but also plainly stated that we should not be basing our entire cultural sexual identity on a couple of television shows. Aside from all those people that were ignored until the very moment Joss Whedon became unprofitable. Apart from them!)
And after a solid 1,300 words of sexual meandering, this brings us to at least the parent franchise of today’s game. You wanna get all “how did we get here”? Let’s talk about Fate.
TYPE-MOON is a Japanese game company that, after the unexpected commercial success of Melty Blood, released the visual novel Fate/Stay Night in 2004. It was a runaway success practically from its inception, and remains one of the most popular and well known visual novels of all time. And why shouldn’t it? Fate/stay Night stumbled onto what might be the best premise for a videogame story in all of history. In short, there is a war for a magical McGuffin, and seven (or so) masters fight with seven (or so) magical servants. Masters are always contemporary mages with all sorts of fun proficiencies (Master Kiritsugu Emiya of Fate/Zero has the magical power of “gun”), while servants are historical or fictional (or sometimes both) heroes and villains from throughout history. This allows for all sorts of whacky hijinks with hidden identities (could that knight hidden in armor really be… Lancelot’s second cousin!?), marginally justified hidden abilities (“I am blessed by the Lady of the Lake, so I can walk on water, I guess”), or even just lore apocrypha (“Oh, see, you wanted Gilles de Rais when he was a noble knight before Joan of Arc was killed. You got Gilles de Rais from after. This one mostly just murders children.”) that can keep an audience guessing even with familiar characters. In short, when you have a universe that can involve Abraham Lincoln wrestling Socrates while their mundane counterparts flip sick wheelies off a waterfall, you know there is something special there. And it all started as a visual novel, but the Fate universe has progressed from there as a fighting game, warriors ‘em up, and whatever was happening in that one PSP game with the chibi characters. And the mangas! And animes! And movies that are also animes! You can do damn near anything with the Fate universe, and if you want the heroes to be time travelers bopping around Camelot in an effort to sell cell phone gatchas, you can totally justify that, too.
But a pliable setting alone does not make for a healthy franchise. What you need are memorable characters. And, right from the beginning, Fate/Stay Night managed to birth some heroes that are still enduring into every last bit of TYPE-MOON output. In fact, forget the “heroes” bit, the best players in Fate/Stay are all heroines. Rin Tohsaka is a confident young mage that practically defined the tsundere archetype for a generation (and she wrastles). Illyasviel von Einzbern is the right level of creepy little girl that turns out to be vaguely sympathetic (and she has her own magical girl spinoff). Even incidental characters like tiger-themed teacher Taiga Fujimura are memorable. And the marquee heroine? Saber, the Excalibur-wielding echo of King Arthur? There is a reason that stalwart, tragic, and kickass heroine has made hundreds of appearances to fight everyone from magical servants to characters from Senran Kagura.
Except… Saber might be better off with the Senran Kagura cast. They might have issues with clothes exploding, but they sure do get raped a whole lot less.
The Fate/Stay Night franchise as a whole has some amazing women in the cast, and it even goes the extra mile by including a vast swath of characters with non-binary gender choices. As a quick example, there are at least two obviously genderqueer protagonists in Fate/Apocrypha. One is the posterchild for that spinoff, and the other is the last person standing after an entire war. I literally cannot remember the last time that happened! Fate/Stay also has continued the trend that started with Saber herself of “revealing” that any given big, bad man from history/fiction may have actually been a woman. According to Fate, It was only thanks to the norms of a bygone era that we remember the likes of Francis Drake, Leonardo da Vinci, or Jack the Ripper as male. In a way, this is the most feminist take a story can have on history, as it confirms that there were an equal number of powerful women to match the usual count of powerful men. No “power behind the throne” interpretations here: women are the throne.
Except… Saber was an accident. In the original story, Saber is revealed to be King Arthur, and the only reason Artoria Pendragon was ever remembered as “king” is because of myth, legend, and the fact that she managed to impregnate Guinevere (magic!). But even though the old stories got it wrong, Saber knows and proves she was just as accomplished and powerful as any telling of the Once and Future King. But why did the creators of Saber make this king a secret queen? Well, because the original script included a female POV main character, and King Arthur was just King Arthur. When the protagonist’s gender got flipped, it was time to grant the King of Knights a skirt, and call it a day. Oh, also? The whole gender flip thing is obviously a big part of why she has to have sex to live.
The original Fate Stay/Night was an eroge, plain and simple. This has led to more than just “gender flips can be cool” becoming part of the Fate canon. First and foremost, Shirou Emiya, the POV character of FS/N, is an apprentice mage for two very important reasons: one, because a neophyte has an excuse to have the plot explained to him over and over again; and two, because it means his untrained “magic circuits” have to be refreshed through more physical means. If Shirou needs to transfer some magic power to Saber, it is going to require more skin-to-skin contact than any other master/servant relationship. If Shirou needs a magical boost from Rin, they are going to share power in an extremely intimate manner. And while these rapey situations (the women of the piece are always willing, but if you are literally in a life-threatening situation, and you have to have sex to survive, that sure sounds like “rape, but with extra steps”) have been excised from the series from the Playstation 2 “clean” edition on, they are still the bedrock of the Fate Stay/Night canon. Never mind that a “master/servant relationship” being so essential to the franchise sounds like a BDSM wet dream on its own, so many of the most prominent rules of this canon came into existence in the first place to get Emiya laid. And that is even before you get into things like the Fate Stay/Night Heaven’s Feel Film Trilogy unflinchingly retaining all the “my brother 100% literally rapes me, and I am also metaphorically raped by grandpa’s bugs nightly” backstory that reminds you this whole dang thing was an excuse to get some very particular people off. And, oh yeah, that movie trilogy? It wrapped up two years ago. This is not Fate Stay/Night’s ancient history.
In the end, this creates a weird kind of dichotomy for anyone that enjoys some of Fate’s finer points. Saber is an amazing, kick-ass woman that is multifaceted and even presents an interesting interpretation of Shakespeare’s classical “uneasy is the head that wears the crown”. And she was also literally created for the express purpose of titillating straight men. From there, it is difficult to say if this now-sanitized version of Fate is creating “female versions” of historical characters, or if they are just trying to court an audience that gets horny for Mrs. Frankenstein’s Monster. Those wildly compelling trans characters mentioned earlier? Love ‘em. They’re great. It is also impossible to determine if they were created as legitimate characters with a deliberate look at how gender norms have changed over the centuries… or if TYPE-MOON is just trying to exploit a fetish market.
And, another 1,300 words later, we are finally ready to address today’s ridiculously titled game: Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family.
Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family is… probably not porn. But I am having the damndest time saying that for certain.
Let’s start with the objective facts. Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family is a cooking game. The actual gameplay has a few different modes, but, by and large, a lot of this feels like a rhythm game that forgot to include matching music. Press X with the proper timing to dice the celery. Tap up when the bars align to cook the noodles. Work out a sort of “timing puzzle” to figure out when exactly to flip the pancake (my personal favorite). All basic cooking tasks have been transformed into “microgames”, so there is something active for you to do while you learn how to make an omelet.
And, in case you are wondering, this game absolutely wants you to learn how to cook. Someone on the staff was obsessed with getting a bunch of Switch gamers to make strawberry parfaits, so meticulously annotated recipes are included for every dish, characters talk up the various meals like they are nibbling fried rice out of the Holy Grail, and the basic gist of everything is a Ratatouille-esque lesson of everyone can learn to cook like a master chef/rat. The reward for playing Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family to completion is a digital recipe book filled with gorgeous pictures of the most succulent meals available.
And, oh yeah, the other reward is three different women that really want to have sex with a master chef.
Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family features Shirou Emiya, the usual protagonist of Fate/Stay Night as the chef that knows exactly how to make munchable meals. Then there are three routes that feature the three main women of the Fate/Stay Night series: Saber, Sakura, and Rin. This mirrors the original visual novel and its three routes to winning (or at least surviving) the Holy Grail War. But there is no war this time around. There are servants and magic floating on the periphery, but said servants were apparently summoned just to hang out and purchase vegetables from the market (an actual plot point!). This entire “adventure” takes place in the claustrophobic interior of the Emiya household (mostly the kitchen, natch), and (without DLC) the only human models that exist in this world are Emiya and the three women. This is an incredibly sparse interpretation of a universe that has every right to include a gigantic Alexander the Great riding an enormous chariot through the skies at any moment.
But, like the lovingly rendered fried dumplings that appear at a stage clear, what is included in this world is… a bit over the top. This is a game that started decades earlier as little more than text and a JPG or thirty, but all conversations that happen in the Emiya household now are fully voice acted and “model” acted. No static dialogue boxes for these heroes and heroines (eat it, Persona) the cutscenes of ETMFEF are indistinguishable from your average anime (albeit an anime that is dimly polygonal and extremely adverse to action). Similarly, all dialogue is laser-focused on accomplishing one of two goals:
- Explain the (real life) history/lore of today’s menu
- Further establish how every woman loves Master Chef Emiya, and that is somehow the most omnipresent thing on everyone’s mind
And that second point comes up pretty often. Couple this with how you are technically playing as “the girls” during the cooking sections (Emiya is handling all the hard parts that do not fit into rigid minigames), and thus your final score is a grade for the featured lady, who will then distinctly blush at the camera for being complimented, and it is pretty easy to see what is going on here. This is a harem anime videogame with a mendacious veneer of wholesomeness. There doesn’t need to be inexplicable nudity or outright sexual dialogue like in some other cooking videogames, but there is still an appreciable feeling that much of what is happening here is for the gratification of the male gaze. Hell, there even seems to be the implication that if you learn to be a master chef like Emiya here, you are going to have women with purple hair showing up at your dingy apartment for “cooking lessons”, too. Maybe they will even want to see your fried shrimp!
And if you think I’m making a sexy mountain out of a mundane molehill here, I will point you toward the “diorama mode” that allows you to pose the gals around the ol’ household for photo opportunities. One of the poses is called “please senpai”. There is no way that is wholesome!
In fact, I am done debating: this is porn. It is just a nontraditional kind of porn where there is a greater emphasis on the mundane daily activities and emotional connections involved. Other than that, all the same blocks are there to build up a castle of visual novel pornography. A straight, male character perfect for audience imprinting that everyone cannot stop complimenting? Three women with very different personalities so you can “choose your waifu”? Even different costumes are available for your harem, albeit “just an apron and a smile” was left on the cutting room floor. It is simultaneously true that this is a game rated E for Everybody for its sheer purity, and it is absolutely wish-fulfillment smut.
I mean, if that’s your thing, I’m not gonna judge. Just seems a little… dishonest.
Which brings us back to our conclusion for the day:
I am never going to enjoy anything ever again.
Wait… no… that’s not quite right. I currently feel hurt, and I am making rash decisions in response to that pain. I thought Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a paragon of feminism, but it was all created by a man that was using his position to throw his weight around (or at least throw his weight somewhere distinct). Saber of Fate/Stay Night is an amazing heroine and a unique take on a classic myth, but she was literally created to facilitate smoother masturbation. And, lest I claim these were all mistakes of that happened 20 years ago, here is Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family instantly reminding me like the Whedon-maligned cast of Justice League. It is easy to have a reactionary response here that the baby needs to be tossed out with the bathwater, and never trust a media franchise to ever be feminist ever again.
… Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad.
The common problem here? We are quick to give people and brands authority. Joss Whedon is no great arbiter of feminism, he is a man like any other (and evidently not a great one). Why was he promoted as such? Because he had a television show on a network that barely anyone was watching, and you better believe the advertising department latched onto the fact that a handful of lecturers were championing their dinky lil’ show about vampires. You can’t buy the kind of publicity generated by fan conventions! Unless you buy the conventions! Similarly, the feminism of the Fate series is there and certainly exists, but it has been promoted to astronomical degrees by a fandom that is anxious to recommend any anime that doesn’t pause for a panty-clad rectal exam every other scene (Neon Genesis Evangelion has a lot of important things to say about being a person in an uncaring world that is incidentally obsessed with teenage girls). And what is the connection? Everybody wants to be an authority, because it provides a quasi-objective excuse to be “good”. Buffy the Vampire Slayer might have some scripting problems, but it is “objectively good” to have a strong female protagonist on TV. Fate/Stay may have started as pornography, but it got over it! And it is “objectively good” to see strong, clothed-90%-of-the-time Saber headlining in a genre that is so often terrible to its female characters. And “objective good” is always a reason to watch or engage in entertainment. Buy those boxsets, because you want to send the message to Hollywood that you want more heroines! Stream the crap out of Fate/Stay Night because you want Netflix to know that this is better than whatever the crap is happening in Seven Deadly Sins!
And just like that, you have made a piece of media part of your identity, all because it felt like you were doing the “objectively right” thing. When it is later revealed that there are more than a few unsavory factors involved in the creation of that media, you better believe people are going to defend it and the people who created it vehemently, because if they don’t, then what was ever the point? This was supposed to be a moral slam dunk, dammit!
Well here’s my point: works can be feminist, but do not canonize any person or company as some paragon of feminist ideals. People make media, and said people can have their own, rancid reasons for making the choices they make. Companies absolutely will do anything to make a buck, and if exploiting feminism is going to scrape up some extra cash, they will do it. Should you identify some works as feminist? Absolutely. But do not canonize these works; do not falsely ascribe an identity to creators that inevitably have an agenda for sucking up accolades. This will inevitably lead to heartache. Do not let little men claim they are your authorities on women.
But, in the end, this is all advice coming from a man that fantasized about Xena: Warrior Princess for a solid few decades. I am a feminist. I am also frequently horny. I think my advice is a good idea, but do not make it part of your identity. I am trash, even if I might have some ideas that aren’t trash.
And now I’m going to cook some food with my wife. She might not be a purple haired childhood friend, but it still sounds like a nice afternoon.
Wankery Week #14 Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family
- System: Nintendo Switch appears to be our only outlet at the moment.
- Number of players: For dialogue choices, you are Emiya. For cooking, you are the women. But you are always just one player.
- Could you play this with someone else in the room? You absolutely could, but I feel like there would be a lot of explaining happening. Though that does remind me…
- Watch it, Buddy: I played this (comparatively briefly) as part of a random stream the other night when BEAT had some extra Killer 7 time…
It was a wild hour and change for everybody.
- Story Time: There is apparently an accompanying manga/anime series for this game (because of course there is), and I am sure that telling gets into the details of whatever is happening in this universe. That said, the actual game offers no explanation as to the “hows” of this world where magical servants were apparently summoned just to chill out. There are definitely references to Saber being King Arthur and having a “previous life”, so these aren’t just mundane simulacrums that mimic the “magical” versions that are fighting all the time. Thus, I am genuinely curious if there is an explanation for being summoned for a Holy Grail War that mostly involves sitting around the house cooking. Also: I really want to know if Hercules the Berserker makes gyros.
- Favorite Protagonist: I can’t make an entire article about digital waifus without honestly admitting that Rin Tohsaka, the wizard tsundere of the piece, is clearly my type. Sorry, fish-out-of-water and woomy just don’t do it for me. Interestingly, this game states repeatedly that Rin is good at making Chinese food, which I thought might mean she is supposed to be ethnically Chinese… but I guess it is a reference to how she studied Kenpou? No idea what is going on there (again).
- But does it play: The actual minigames in Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family are pretty fun. Outside of that, though, a lot of the “game” involved here makes odds choices. For instance, as a likely throwback to the visual novel days, you cannot “freely” level select, and must play through the branching paths to get back to a level if you want to try for a higher score. And speaking of scores, while the games are always fun to experience, a number of them are super random, so it is hard to say a score really matches your aptitude. Or, put another way, the “find the utensil” challenge is really easy when the spoon just kind of spawns under your cursor. That saves some time!
- Other Fates: In an effort to see the state of the franchise over the years, I played a few other Fate titles (and sprinkled in a few screenshots). For the record, I played Fate/unlimited codes, which is a great PSP fighting game, and the two Fate/Extella games (Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star and Fate/EXTELLA LINK) that appear on modern consoles. Fate/unlimited is a straightforward fighting game of the PS2 era, and, more importantly, it feels like a fighting game through and through. The two Extella games feel like visual novels where you occasionally have to scoot out and play a Warriors game, and that would be fine if the visual novel was presented with any kind of…. presentation. Look, Xseed, I do not want to read a friggen book before and after gameplay that involves the verb “hammering” quite often.
- Did you know? Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, a FATE spinoff/alternate universe manga/anime, had its own 3DS game in Japan. If that ever winds up in my possession, whoa boy, that is going to make for quite the FGC entry.
- Would I play again: This is a very comfortable little game, and its bite-sized chunks of play are ideal for the often-portable Switch. If the stage select system was a little better, I would probably dip in on occasion. As it is, though, Emiya may have to cook by himself for a while.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Incredible Crash Dummies for Super Nintendo! Don’t be a dummy, please look forward to it!