FGO and the Danger of Doing Too Little

Earlier today, Fate/Grand Order (FGO) announced a new event, located in the capital of Imperial Japan during the twilight months of World War 2.

I’d like to say more about the announcement before criticizing it. But I can’t. There was no other information related to the unusually precise setting chosen. The announcement page is replete with technical details and a promotion video offering nothing other than anime swordfight voiceovers over some anime swordfights.

Everyone here is working with only this much: on South Korea’s Memorial Day, a Japanese company announced a game set in the capital of Imperial Japan during World War 2.

The Crime of Omission

It’s not strictly wrong to focus a literary work on the insides of the machinery of evil. Das Leben der Anderen comes to mind. This, however, is irrelevant: FGO has never held any serious respect for history, instead choosing to ape off it for the convenient backstories it provides. Every era featured is sanitized and molded into a child’s toy, since it would take far too much effort to meaningfully deal with the complexity of history. Given the barebones nature of this announcement, we can expect the same from this event: a pivotal era of history, and absolutely no introspection on it.

I imagine the corporate heads believe that scrubbing away all mention of injustice frees them from the responsibility of speaking about injustice. But to paint over the past is only to deny a discussion of its diseases. When a Japanese company replaces the evil of WW2 Imperial Japan with a pretty portrait of swordsmen fighting on rooftops, they quietly reject the relevance of the torture Japan inflicted upon China, Korea, and the rest of the world. We instead see only a picturesque urban paradise — set in, of course, the picturesque paradise of WW2 Imperial Japan. This depiction will be free of puppet states in China, free of brutality in colonial Korea, free of Unit 731.

At best, this is moral revisionism. Japan holds serious responsibility for the terrors of WW2 — responsibility it has not fully acknowledged. Japan is still stoking resentent over its war crimes, and its right-of-center politicians often engage in the same kind of denial displayed by the National Front in France and AfD in Germany. This occurs on a cultural level too: a ranobe series was cancelled only today due to protests over its author’s anti-China and anti-Korean tweets, and MMO Junkie’s anime director stirred up controversy a few months back with a litany of anti-Semitic tweets. These are wounds yet open, scores yet unsettled. Here FGO’s treatment is the worst possible: without even acknowledging the pain of those affected, they milk the setting for money.

And at worst, this will be propaganda — a depiction of a idyllic and innocent Imperial Japan.


The most confounding aspect of this ordeal is that the announcement was on South Korea’s Memorial Day — which means that not a single corporate head involved in this conference even entertained the thought that the setting might be problematic. This kind of utter blindness is not uncommon to Japan. Visit those links once again and note how the first criticism is always international. For every The Wind Rises, there are scores of Japanese media cheaply appropriating imperialism without a thought for the evils associated therewith. I am still amazed that a game about using battleships from WW2 Imperial Japan to wage war has escaped criticism for half a decade. But then I remember — the game is Japan-only, so who’s going to criticize it?

Wrapping Up

Backlash against this event has been fairly small and mostly limited to Twitter. A few reddit threads on the r/grandorder subreddit have waved away all complaints as the mad ravings of Twitter bandwagoners. In other words, there’s been no real bilateral engagement with the problem.

This specific event is actually already written. However, this isn’t really relevant, as we’re analyzing the announcement, not the event itself (which hasn’t even been released yet). The problem here is that such a barebones announcement lends itself to the expectation that this event will be an offensive mess. Perhaps the event will actually be a thoughtful reflection on Imperial crimes during World War 2?

The Imperial Capital Holy Grail Strange Story is a divergent Grail War set during the time of the Third Holy Grail War. The Imperial Japanese Army won the war and created a new bomb that used the Holy Grail as its core.

Or maybe I’ll need to write another post about this a few weeks from now…

Software engineer, epic gamer, and Touhou developer. All my writing is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 unless stated otherwise.

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