When East Meets West

Aug 19, 2021
Aug 19
Janet Hsu

Hi, everyone! It’s Janet Hsu, localization director of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, back again for one last blog about the history and literary culture of the Meiji and Victorian eras.

It’s been three weeks now since the release of the game – how are you all finding it so far? As some of you are wrapping up your first playthrough (of many, I hope!), I thought I’d share a little bit about the background of the era and point out a few literary references you might have missed. There might be a few small spoilers in here, but I did my utmost to avoid the big ones! Also, I’ll be using the Japanese order of surname, first name for any real life Japanese historical figures I discuss.

Finally, please remember that while The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles draws on historical events and situations, it is by no means a historical game. Many of the portrayals are only veeery loosely based in history, and even things like the names of certain treaties are different in the game to reflect the fictitious nature of our in-game world. Also, this blog article is all based on my own research, and as much as I try to be accurate, I may not hit every point exactly on the head. So, uh… no angry tweets from history majors, please…?

Now then, I guess for a lot of players the first question is: What is the Meiji era? And what does it represent to modern Japanese people?

The Meiji era was kicked off by the external forced opening of Japan to the Western powers by US Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 and the internal political struggle that resulted in the Meiji Restoration (明治維新) or the Meiji Revolution, which culminated in 1868. One of the reasons why these events were so big is due to the technological gap that had developed between Japan and the Western powers during the long period of self-isolation known as ‘sakoku’ (鎖国 / lit: closed country), and the sense of danger to Japan itself that the Japanese felt as a result of that display of power.

No, it’s not this Ieyasu’s fault! I swear!
(Tokugawa Ieyasu from the ‘Sengoku Basara’ series)

During the Edo period (1603 – 1867), which started after Tokugawa Ieyasu unified all of Japan, the country closed all of its ports (with the lone exception of Nagasaki and a few other designated ports in Kyushu) to outside traders (with the lone exceptions of the Dutch, Chinese, Koreans, and the Ainu). This closure led to internal political stability and peace, but it severely limited the free trade of ideas and technology, in addition to goods and people. Japanese people were not allowed to leave to learn from other countries, and foreign nationals were generally not allowed to come into Japan to set up trade or to share knowledge. So, when Commodore Perry and his Black Ships arrived in modern-day Tokyo Bay, it was a huge catalyst for change.

Most modern Japanese people look back on the Meiji Era as a time of great social change and modernization. New ways of thinking in all areas of life were being discussed and codified. This included not only political things like their system of government, but also the legal system, which was updated to be more Western-like, and less reliant on the whims of your local daimyo (大名 / feudal samurai lord) and his interpretation of ‘the law’ (let’s just say that Ryunosuke’s joke about a samurai cutting a person down to test his blade’s sharpness is a version of something that was officially outlawed, yet was still somehow allowed if a commoner was being rude…).

Part of the reason the ruling class of Japan were so motivated to modernize was the hope that by doing so, they could raise their standing enough to nullify the unfair treaties they had been forced to sign initially. In The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, our Japan has just signed a treaty that has been in the works for a long time (though whether it was one of the renegotiated treaties is left up to your imagination), and as Kazuma and Auchi’s verbal sparring shows, not everyone was in agreement on how Japan should proceed in these sorts of political negotiations with the West. This was one of the great internal struggles of the era.

Of course, many other areas of society were undergoing modernization as well for a variety of reasons. One of these was in women’s education. Until the Meiji period, compulsory education for boys and girls was not a thing, so one of the ways in which Japan revolutionized was to provide primary and secondary education for all children. Despite good intentions, women were unfortunately not always afforded the same chances as men, and this was especially true in higher education. The first women’s institutions for higher learning weren’t established until 50 years after their male counterparts in 1900 – 1901, and women weren’t admitted into men’s colleges until much later. Now, I’m not saying that’s exactly what Susato and her best friend’s situation was since this series takes huge liberties with history, but this backdrop shows how special these two young ladies would’ve been had they lived in our real world during that time. Certainly, to attain such high levels of education, they might have had private tutors, or in Susato’s case, we know she learned alongside her father and Kazuma.

One figure who’s especially famous and well-known in the field of women’s education is Tsuda Umeko, who spent her youth in the U.S. as a part of the Iwakura Mission and who worked tirelessly upon her return to Japan to bring women’s education up to standards with the American schools she’d attended. One of her greatest achievements was the establishment of one of Japan’s oldest institutes for higher learning for women, Joshi Eigaku Juku (modern day ‘Tsuda University’), in 1900. Her story is a truly fascinating one, and if you have the time, I highly recommend giving at least her Wikipedia page a read. Starting in 2024, you can find her gracing the front of every 5,000 yen bill (around US $50).

Coming in 2024 to an international bank near you!

Another area of change was in clothing. While many men of the upper classes and certain occupations quickly adopted Western clothing, traditional Japanese clothing were still worn by women of all classes and the average citizen. Many people also mixed and matched their styles like Soseki in Episode 1 of Resolve, and as Ryunosuke and Susato’s designs show. The Western boots Susato wears stand out in contrast against the traditional hakama pants and the pink kimono she wears underneath, while Ryunosuke’s arm guard is evocative of kendo (Japanese sword fighting) and other Japanese sports against a Western-style suit.

In the field of science, the Victorians were still making new discoveries, but one of the things that Resolve touched on was the introduction of germ theory in Europe. I didn’t know how relevant some of these scientific issues would become when we were making the second game originally in 2017, but it became especially eerie when the translators and I came across lines about masks and soap just as the current pandemic was hitting its stride. The characters treating these concepts as ‘new’ ideas really makes you think about how immutable the laws of nature are, and how far our understanding of them has come.

Finally, no overview of the era is complete without acknowledging how the language and literature of the time was greatly affected by all these social changes. With gendered terms like ‘she’ and ‘he’ existing in the languages of Europe came a need to create a new word ‘kanojo’ (彼女) for ‘her’ and the reassignment of the word ‘kare’ (彼) to the realm of the exclusively male ‘he’ for translation purposes, which has since become the norm as we see in modern Japanese today. Any and all Japanese clothing, which was just ‘kimono’ (着物 / lit: things to wear), gained a new term ‘wafuku’ (和服 / lit: Japanese clothing) to go along with the equally new word ‘youfuku’ (洋服 / lit: Western clothing). If you think learning new tech words is hard now, imagine having words about anything and everything in your life constantly changing!

But the new influx of European texts also brought interesting new ideas and technology. One of the greatest cultural influences that was more broadly re-introduced to Japan at this time was Shakespeare and his plays.

I said ‘Shakespeare’, not ‘Shamspeare’!

…Ahem.

Shakespeare was so beloved by the people of Meiji Japan that he even gained an affectionate nickname, Saou (沙翁 / lit: Old Man/Elder Sa), though many may not have even heard of this name in modern times… until now!

Guess the dreaded ‘o’ wasn’t quite as disrespectful as Sholmes makes it out to be…

Indeed, the reason a Shakespeare-inspired character appears in Soseki’s episodes is because even he was inspired by and was in direct competition with Shakespeare himself! As a part of his studies into English literature (and NOT the English language as our game pokes fun at!), he studied under one of the preeminent Shakespearian scholars of the time, William James Craig, who did indeed live just off of Baker Street. To this day, Shakespeare’s works continue to inspire countless stories and anime, and even inspired the mighty filmmaker Kurosawa Akira.

Speaking of Soseki, he really is the literary juggernaut he seems to be in Resolve by the end of his career (he was even on the 1,000 yen bill between 1984 – 2004). In addition to his ground-breaking novels, his paper ‘Theory on Literature’ (文学論) is still as insightful today as it ever was on the nature of literature and why people read. It digs into these issues through the lens of then-cutting-edge sociology and psychology. But, also as shown in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, Soseki had a pretty miserable time in London, which he describes in the forward of his paper, and he also apparently really did send a blank piece of paper to the Ministry of Education as his annual progress report.

In naming the episodes of the first game back in 2014, Mr. Takumi had wanted me to come up with their English titles as well. The Japanese title of the Soseki-centric Episode 4 made reference to his novel ‘I Am a Cat’ (吾輩は猫である / Wagahai wa Neko de aru) with the word ‘Wagahai’ (吾輩). Wanting to keep some sort of Soseki reference in the title, I suggested ‘Clouded Kokoro’ (a reference to his novel ‘Kokoro’, which heartbreakingly explores the themes of cultural shifts, and ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ Japan in the Meiji era). Initially, Mr. Takumi thought the ‘Kokoro’ reference might bring a melancholy mood to the episode title, lest it drew attention to the real-life Soseki’s depression, but our Soseki was so different, and the concept of a ‘clouded mind/heart’ also fit well with the other themes in his episodes, so that’s what we went with.

But did you know? The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is actually not the first crossover between the great detective and Soseki. In fact, there are a number of Holmes pastiches, including the arguably most famous one available in English, a Japanese story from 1953 called ‘The Yellow Lodger’ (黄色い下宿人) by Yamada Fuutarou where Holmes solves a case thanks to Soseki’s help. Another famous Japanese story is Shimada Souji’s 1984 novel, ‘Souseki to Rondon Miira Satsujin Jiken’ (漱石と倫敦ミイラ殺人事件 / lit: ‘Soseki and the Case of the London Mummy Murder’, which doesn’t seem to have an English translation yet(?), and is currently running as a serial manga!) sees the two solving a mystery like no other. The story is written from both Soseki and Wilson’s perspectives, and you could not read more disparate depictions of the same great detective in one story! It’s funny to think that perhaps the reason people are so easily able to imagine Soseki as a fictional character is thanks to Soseki himself – he’d actually written a series of short stories about his adventures in London where he is the star character in them! Soseki’s writings and Mr. Yamada’s ‘The Yellow Lodger’ pastiche are available in English in ‘The Tower of London: Tales of Victorian London’, translated by Damian Flanagan.

Of course, Soseki and Sholmes aren’t the only literary references in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. The Victorian era is known for bringing the mystery genre to the fore. People have long thought (and conducted research into this) that as police departments and detective work became more established as an institution during the Victorian era, so too did the public’s fascination with grisly tales of crime and murder grow. People wanted to read fantastical stories about the police and detectives who solved crimes similar to the ones they saw as headlines in the newspaper. In a sense, these fictional detectives were the superheroes of their time. As a reflection of his great love of the genre, Mr. Takumi included references and pays homage to quite a number of mysteries and their famous detectives from the Victorian era and the ‘Golden Age of Detective Fiction’ of the 1920s and 1930s. These homages include, but are not limited to:
・‘The Hands of Mr. Ottermole’
・Monsieur Lecoq, and his creator Émile Gaboriau
・Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke
・Solar Pons
・the Black Widowers and the club waiter Henry Jackson
・Baroness Emma Orczy, who wrote what was considered at the time to be the rival of Holmes, ‘The Old Man in the Corner’

And my favorite reference of them all: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective by Shu Takumi! *wink*

Basically, anything that seems awfully specific and not a pun, well… that just might be a reference to something!

In Escapade 6, we also talked about a contemporary of Soseki’s named Mori Ougai, who was a real-life contemporary and rival (but only in the sense that their approaches to life and their writing were due to their circumstances at birth). But he’s not the only literary figure to make an appearance. In fact, there’s a little hidden appearance featuring Mark Twain and his adventures in bicycling that Iris and Susato refer to…

‘Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.’ – Mark Twain, from ‘Taming the Bicycle’

The Meiji and Victorian eras were a time of great change and societal introspection, for no segment of life was untouched by the great internal struggle. In Japan, it was keenly felt in that push and pull that tugged at each person’s heart over the questions of how Western was ‘too Western’ and what traditions were worth keeping or were integral to the core of Japanese identity. And in London, a similar struggle was taking place due to the industrial revolution and everything it brought to the lives of the average citizen – from moving into cities from the countryside to overcrowded working conditions indoors and in mines. Regardless the period, these themes of change are always relevant, though it is felt stronger in some eras by some people than by others. Still, it seems especially relevant in today’s world to me, where technology has taken over a good portion of our lives, and some people wonder if we’ve advanced too quickly, or if the speed of technology’s advance has been allowed to dictate the rate at which society changes, for example. That’s what makes the literature of the era timeless and endlessly relatable, in my opinion, as life is never quite as static or as stable as we’d like to think it is.

And that brings me to the end of these dev blogs! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. I hope you’ll join me in one last ‘Thank you!’ to the wonderful people who made this game possible – from the producers and the director, to the translators at Plus Alpha Translations, our recording partners at SIDE UK, and the rest of the dev team. And, of course…

Thank YOU, the fans, for all your love and support of the series!!!

Take care of yourselves and each other!
Until we meet again!