Japanese Influence in The Silver Case

Pretty recently, we finally got The Silver Case by SUDA 51 released in English. Sadly, it comes with a bad translation, but hey, better now than never. And honestly, the game is presented so strongly on its own that it almost makes up entirely for the messy script. It's a fantastic update, and now that I'm actually playing it, I'm a little surprised how different it is compared to the rest of Grasshopper's catalog. In particular, I'm surprised by how it's so ...Japanese.

Now this isn't too rare with Grasshopper, but it is odd within the Kill The Past trilogy, a series of thematically connected games that include The Silver Case, the previously reviewed Flower Sun and Rain, and the cult classic Killer7. The later two seem to take more from the likes of David Lynch or Tarantino, with strange, dreamlike atmosphere and a focus on building tension through conversation. But The Silver Case is a different beast altogether, and its particular story screams less American surreal horror or action, and more mature OVA or adult manga. It also is one of the games SUDA's made that actually takes place in Japan, which is becoming rarer and rarer these days.

The game is about a lot of things, but it's mainly focused on law enforcement and crime. But it doesn't follow the then rule breaking cop archetype that was so popular in the west, but tries to portray the detectives and SWAT team you work with as professionals with their own frustrations with society born from seeing facets of it only possible in their work. It has a very Japanese viewpoint in that it doesn't have any of the usual commentary you see in US police stories. Race divides and abuse of authority against minorities aren't as big of issues in Japan, partly because of how secluded the country is. Instead, it's more interested in exploring how society can push people into doing horrid things, even linking aspects that make humans more than animals to our capacity for performing abominable acts. It's not so much economics or minority politics its interested in, but the failures of modern society to allow people within it to function properly.

That's not an angle that comes up too much in western crime fiction compared to police abuse or the plight of the abused. The game also shows off its influences through its unorthodox presentation, with small clips alongside dialog and character portraits. From a design standpoint, The Silver Case is very much more visual novel than anything else, but it also bases its story and look more in then modern Japanese culture than American cinema. This is shown particularly with the use of ghosts and spirits, mainly in how they influence humans and are used as a metaphor for influence. To be “possessed” is not necessarily to be “possessed,” but to be influenced by what one has witnessed. It's not about hauntings or demons, but the monsters humans can become with their actions and how their actions influence others. To treat a spirit more like a virus than a being is something more common in Japanese fiction. A spirit is not so much the spirit of someone who died, but a being that comes into existence from human emotion and thought taking on a new form of its own. It's a view born from Shinto myth, a major faith system in Japan.

I think the biggest influence at work is the OVA, or Original Video Animation. The rise of VHS resulted in a new wave of mature anime releases on video that couldn't be aired on TV, commonly called OVAs. The age of the OVA was marked by ultra violence, disturbing themes, and an open expression of sexuality never really seen before, though certainly not a mature expression. Honestly, it was mostly an age of trash, but definitely creative trash. The Silver Case's dive into heavy subject matter like sexual assault, murder, psychosis, and trauma is drenched in OVA trappings, from how often characters resort to cussing to the dark, stifling atmosphere, causing tons of moments of tone whiplash. It's even presented sort of like an OVA divided into episodes, heavily episodic and constantly making plot breaks for a neat story someone on staff wanted to share. There's also that causal undercurrent of sexism, which is sadly kind of inescapable with SUDA 51, even at his best.

You can't forget the setting, either. I mean, the game was so Japanese that a quiz section had to be completely re-written for western audiences who would have no context for the storm of Japanese pop culture trivia. The game takes full advantage of the setting, making stories based heavily on the realities of living in a Japanese city, with a mixture of political commentary and glimpses of everyday life. This is shown especially well in the third main case, Spectrum, where actual video was made in real neighborhoods Grasshopper was stationed near. It's about both growing up in these sorts of densely packed urban areas and the challenges that come about. The area presented isn't really like a US metropolis, though, as divides come from interests and lifestyles more than race or ethnicity.

The Silver Case is many things, and Japanese is definitely one of them. It's interesting seeing Grasshopper stick to their national roots here, making a story that can't get the same universal appeal their other works can get. It's an interesting historical footnote in this respect, though there's so much more there. Give me some time before I talk about the thematic meat, though, because there's a lot more game for me to play.


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