12 Days of Japanese Feminism: Towelket: One More Time

A few months ago, I went through the entire catalogue of Towelket, a RPG Maker game series. I’ve always wanted to talk about it, but writing it is another story and I want to talk about the series as a whole. Maybe there will be another chance for me — a sudden spark of inspiration — where I can talk about the series as a whole but I want to introduce the world to a bit of the Towelket magic in my 12 Days of Japanese Feminism.

Japanese feminism in the fiction I’ve read, to me, has always been about the idea that the role of women might disappear someday. This is in contrast to Western feminism which is all about strengthening women and seeing the sexist narratives beneath the surface. Empowering is the message here. Japanese feminism doesn’t do that. The entire opposite. It’s negative, fearful, almost “paranoid” if we can allow such a word.

Men will never be able to save the women they love. They are pathetic. Women, on the other hand, are just going to wither to their deaths.

And Towelket is a whole RPG maker series about all of this. Written and created from scratch by a possible bipolar woman, the series explores the role of women in RPG settings. This isn’t unusual: Drag-on Dragoon has examined the concept of how weak the damsel in distress is. But Towelket goes further as you always play as a boy and never achieve the masculine power fantasy of saving the heroine. The heroine in every game becomes corrupted (raped, prostituted, killed) and obsessed about being pure and clean. The hero aka the player character can’t do anything. The whole series is an exercise of weakness.

In the worlds of Towelket, there are no happy endings (save Towelket 1 which actually gets criticized in a later game). Instead, characters have no glorious deaths. Romanticism from such tales is squashed. The world is ending. Characters go insane. Corpses are everywhere. Vomit and blood scatter the screen. And bestiality is a recurring theme: in one ending, a human woman gets impregnated and gives birth to animals.

It is disgusting and abhorring. And sensible because this is how the logic of the Towelket world works. There is nothing pretty outside the cute, cuddly graphics. It’s all about sex. Everything is all about sex. Rape. Sex. Prostitution. Bestiality. All of that to create an oppressive insanity of the characters. And all this suffering is infinite because there is an eternal recurrence going on in the universe of the games. They are connected, reversed, and explored in each other’s games. Fan favorite and unlikable characters are reinterpreted in each new setting, often being worse versions of themselves. There is no way to run away from this depression when you’re in the Towelket world. It’s live or die.

I can imagine people not getting into this. Especially Western feminists. It’s not a game series for everyone. But that is the picture being painted today through the brushstrokes of some Japanese feminists. It’s a cruel world, according to Murata Sayaka (the writer of コンビニ人間), that we haven’t advanced since the tribal period of Japan. There is no place for women and men have a diminishing place in society as well.

This type of feminism isn’t friendly to anyone. It questions the concept of purity and corruption — and how obsessed we are with it. We go mad over this quest to be pure, so we can proclaim that this is the new “human”.

The Towelket series just puts this into the context of video games. You feel powerless to stop anything from happening, a cruel God just makes awful shit happen, and there is no end to the gore or suffering throughout the works.

Maybe it is telling that the best game in the series, Towelket Fury, is pulled off any websites. You can feel the misanthropy of the creator as you play through the second half. There is nothing worth saving in the entire game. All you do at the ending is just walk through a city that has been enveloped by a womb and defeat the final boss.

It feels wrong to play (and enjoy) the entire catalogue of the games. Sure, there are some problems with the games, especially with the newer ones since it’s trying to dive into the “lore”. But I feel satisfied with this strange exploration of the woman condition in this video game world. It feels right because it makes sense.

Women are always on the thin line between life and death. It makes sense for them to discuss their metaphysical condition in a manner-of-fact way. There’s no reason to feel empowered when they’re talking about shit like this.

It’s difficult to have a positive worldview where you have to compromise the facts with ideals. Maybe it’s good that there is a series that traumatizes you without even saying sorry.

Tomorrow, we will look into how Ono Fuyumi explores characters in Twelve Kingdoms.

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