Tentacle Bento And The Futility of Censorship

It was 25 years ago that Urotsukidōji was released, and slowly seeped its way over to the West, on a variety of dodgy, Nth-generation bootleg copies whose resemblance to a snuff movie in terms of quality, only enhanced the feeling that what you were watching was extremely wrong. But, it appears, tentacles and schoolgirls remain a combination capable of creating controversy, as Soda Pop Miniatures found out.

This small, independent company decided, for their next project, to make a card game called Tentacle Bento, and get funding for it through Kickstarter, a favourite site for fundraising projects outside the normal scope of business. According to the official description,  “Each game puts you in the enviable position of being a horrid, tentacle flailing, slime oozing monster from outer space.  Cleverly disguised (of course) as an adorable, and newly enrolled student at Takoashi University, an all-girls school nestled in scenic Japan.”

Kickstarter didn’t object. The project rolled along merrily, raising funds and hitting its goals. And then, perhaps inevitably, the morality police got word and, for want of a better phrase, the shits hit the fans…

Leading the charge from their pulpit were the likes of Insert Credit, with po-faced proclamations like the following:

There are, to my mind, a lot of things wrong with this. For one thing, rape is not cute. Amnesty International states that 1 in 3 women is molested, sexually assaulted, or otherwise beaten in her lifetime. I’ve heard many advocates say this number is low, due to under-reporting. And it’s not cute, and should never be depicted with such saccharine sweetness as Tentacle Bento does. It is terribly damaging to anyone it happens to.

Miss the point, much? It’s pretty obvious that the satirical thrust of the game is largely based on its combination of two genres of anime that share a high-school setting, but are radically different in tone and theme. You have the tenticular horror of Urotsukidōji, but also have a million and one cutesy, soap operas that play out against the same background. [If I remain vague on the titles of these, it’s because I’d never watch one, and indeed, the increasing preponderance of these is one of the factors that led to my departure from anime fandom a decade or so ago]. It’s basically no different from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this regard, which similarly merged genres.

Of course, in reality, rape is not cute. But we’re not discussing reality, or anything even fractionally connected to it. This is a work of fiction, and as such, fictional rape can be absolutely anything the creators want it to be, from horrific to erotic. The un-named author of the piece doesn’t quite get round to clarifying which of his (I’m assuming it’s a man, because members of the morality police usually are – with the noted exception of Mary Whitehouse) credentials allow him to dictate to an artist what they should or should not be doing with their art. I wonder what Mr. Insert Credit would make of this 1814 woodcut etching by Hokusai, one of the most renowned Japanese artists of the time:

As usual, we have an absolute failure to differentiate adequately between reality, and stuff that’s about as far from reality as can possibly be imagined. Even if the game is “about” tentacle rape – possible, but denied by the creator – and even if someone was of a weak enough mindset to be convinced by a card-game that such behaviour was okay (extremely dubious), they’d still be lacking several key factors – notably tentacles and a supply of Japanese schoolgirls. Tasteless? Probably. But posing any threat to society? Totally not. And that should be an absolute minimum requirement before you call for any kind of suppression. Not so, Mr. Credit, who is of the opinion that just because he doesn’t like something, It Must Be Stopped.

I’m not the morality police, but I’d like to make a citizen’s arrest. Do not support Tentacle Bento. Instead, write to Kickstarter (the link at the bottom), and complain about the content. Kickstarter is a big enough company that it should be filtering this sort of thing. The company should not help to facilitate the idea that rape is no big deal.

I see. So, you don’t want to censor, just yank the sole funding method out from under the project – which would, effectively, censor it. Great piece of double-think there, Mr. Credit. It’s an easy target to pick on, but the logic applied here needs also to be applied to just about every form of popular culture, from movies through TV series, comics, video games, music, and so on, which depict things in far more explicit detail than Bento, where whatever happens is almost entirely in the players’ minds. Murder “is not cute,” and is – by definition – “terribly damaging to anyone it happens to.” You wouldn’t know it by looking at, oh, the entire output of Hollywood. This isn’t even a slippery slope. By criticizing Bento, you’re already gone all the way at the bottom of the slope, and are looking up at all pop culture.

This wasn’t even the most fatuous criticisms of the game, which also included such amazing claims as “We’ve established in our culture that murder is bad. We haven’t done that for rape yet. Murder victims aren’t continually reminded of their attack through media.” Well, that’s alright then! Or even, “Because something is virtual does not mean it is fake. It exists and is real regardless of what form it is in.” Er… Reality check needed over there, stat.

Naturally, Kickstarter suddenly decided that the project which had been approved, running successfully (having raised over $30,000, more than double the amount needed) and even, by some accounts, been chosen as a “Staff Pick” for one day, was no longer acceptable. Well, no longer kinda acceptable. The project page is still up there, with the creators updating it post-suspension to let people know they’ve moved the drive back to their own site. Where a) it has already raised even more money – over $34,500 at the time of writing – and b) they won’t have to pay Kickstarter their hefty 5% “service fee”. Good to see a happy ending.

So, what, exactly have Mr. Credit and his fellow travellers actually achieved with their poorly-considered rants. They have brought a great deal of attention, funding and sales to a game that otherwise would largely have flown under the radar. A sizable number of people – including myself – won’t fund any more Kickstarter campaigns, because of them being a bunch of fucking cowards here. The resulting success of Tentacle Bento will undoubtedly lure other games creators in to the arena, thereby further “trivializing” rape, as the writers claim. And will their dubious campaign save even one woman from being raped, whether by tentacled slimebeasts from outer space or more prosaic methods? I think we all know the answer to that one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to kick back with a nice bottle of Tentacle Grape and then go find some Japanese schoolgirls to molest, because not being offended by this clearly makes me a terrible, terrible person.