Much as people claim to desire originality above all else, you just can't deny the allure of what's familiar to us. Whether it's our own personal nostalgia or just something rooted in the cultural consciousness, like Batman or Snow White, it's always nice to be able to come "home" to things like that, isn't it?
"Yes"? "No"? "Zetta, get to the point already before I hit the back button"?
Okay, okay, give me a minute! Golly.
Now, I should probably mention first that though I am going to talk about them for a bit, just a bit!, this blog is actually going to have very little to do with Compile Heart or their products. In fact, the main subject of discussion is in the title, so bear with me while I tell a brief story to get the ball rolling.
With that said, guess what! Compile Heart has a new Vita game coming out. Hold your shock for a second, please. This one, though, is a collaboration with Dengeki Bunko and Dengeki PlayStation. The former is a publishing company that handles magazines and light novels, and some of you probably have seen or heard of adaptations of some of the latter, or at least played or heard of the crossover video game starring some of the heroines starring in some of said light novels.
Dengeki PlayStation, meanwhile, is a related magazine that focuses on PlayStation products, and often promotes Compile Heart and Idea Factory's in their pages. This is now to the point that there is even an official character based on the Dengeki magazines and brand that went from NPC to playable character in the Neptunia series, making her one of the first two to be based off of magazine publications rather than a game console, game series, or game developer.
With the introductions out of the way, let's talk about the new game so we can then talk about how it relates to the bigger picture here. The game is called Kankoukutou Mary Skelter, or Divine Prison Tower Mary Skelter, and seems to be about a bunch of Dengeki-slash-Compile Heart versions of fairy tale characters all trapped together in an asylum. It's toeing a peculiar line between seeming like it could be really dark and like it's probably going to be about as dark as some of the works in Dengeki Bunko tend to be, despite the visuals and setting appearing fairly grim and spoopy.
And to be fair, these works could be anything from Sword Art Online or The Devil is a Part Timer to Durarara!! or Baccano!, so who knows what audience they might be aiming for? Well, setting aside the lone male protagonist and the girls, anyway.
I've been following Mary Skelter with... mild interest, I guess? Of Compile Heart's upcoming titles, the only one that I think I'm really particularly interested in is Black Rose Valkyrie, though the new Neptunia spinoff about MMOs might finally get me back to that series, depending.
That changed today.
There I was, perusing Gematsu for news this morning as I headed out, when I came across the following headline.
Suddenly, just like that, before I knew it, nay, before I had even opened the article... I had transformed!
Well okay, not really.
But when I saw that the game was going to have a Rapunzel in it, I did actually have a reaction to that piece of information, which surprised me, since I'm not really the waifu type or anything like that. Even so, almost instinctively, before I even so much as saw the character or read her profile, I knew that that one would be my favorite character. Even if I never played the game (which is in all fairness a very likely scenario), I understood that in Mary Skelter, Rapunzel was best girl simply by nature of being Rapunzel.
How did I reach this conclusion?
It's probably thanks to...
Yup. We just went from Compile Heart to Disney.
This is happening, people.
Now I admit, I missed out on a lot of Disney stuff when I was younger. We only had access to the Disney Channel when up to when I was like, three, and I only got access to the channel again when I was past the point of interest. I saw some of the movies in theaters but most outside of a few (save the Pixar ones) didn't stick with me for long, and so my appreciation was more akin to the same longing I have for not having grown up with Nintendo's core franchises... or even Sony's, really.
Over the past two or three years, though, I've come to actually really enjoy some of the movies I missed out on or don't remember. I finally saw Aladdin again for the first time in probably 20 years a couple of months ago and thought it was pretty great, and I watched Mulan and Bolt again a while back as well, though the latter has less to do with the topic I'm aiming for today.
See, while I haven't seen Tangled since it came out in theaters, clearly it left an impression on me.
That impression being that Rapunzel is best girl.
As I say this, I sort of feel... Yeah, I feel kind of dirty here. Not for the reasons you might expect though. I mean, seriously, Rapunzel is goddamn adorable, people. Ain't no shame in saying so, and you're a liar if you say otherwise and I'll have none of it in these parts.
So what's my deal then, you ask? Well, I feel dirty be because it's Disney we're talking about.
Why is Disney "dirty" to me? And what does this have to do with video games, besides for being tangentially related to Rapunzel's Disney-inspired status as best girl?
It's what Disney has seemingly done to public domain works in the US. I mean, that's what I'm here to talk about, at least, but if you're unaware, I doubt it will take long for you to find out all the other reasons they're bad news.
Enough about that, though. Let's talk public domain.
In 1790, it took a mere 14 years for a work to enter public domain, but this was mostly for stuff like maps. Later on it became 28, but when Disney entered the picture and then was at risk for losing rights to a certain mouse and his adventures on a certain boat, it kept escalating. Before a bill passed in 1976 (which became active in 1978), the time was actually all the way up to 56 years maximum.
Now, I don't want to bore you guys with the details, but to put it into perspective, right now we get this amount of time before anything can enter the public domain:
Translated, this means that before the act from the 70s, this year we would have had access to content as recently as 1959. Instead, thanks majorly in part to Disney, that got upped by nearly 100 years. And guess what, we're not talking little stuff, we're talking things like Starship Troopers here. You can read more about it here if you'd like, or just by Google searching.
Now before I start trashing all of this any further, I will say I'm not against an extension beyond ye olde 1790's 14 years. I mean, I think it's perfectly fair and reasonable for a creator to own and have the rights to their product for an amount of time so that they're able to enjoy it, especially in this day and age where we should be able to live off of that kind of thing and maybe have a little for our kids too. That's not unreasonable, I think, especially if they want to, you know, do sequels and stuff. That's fine. The 50 or so years we used to have didn't seem all that bad, for starters.
On the other hand, particularly for a huge, tyrannical company like Disney that got where it is today in huge part thanks specifically to public domain characters like Rapunzel, the way they so adamantly fight this, the way we all know they're already preparing to fight so that they can extend it again, strikes me as something that I can only call very close to genuinely evil.
It really is frustrating to me. I don't know how many products I've enjoyed over the years, and will enjoy in the years to come, that use characters and stories born from the public domain.
If I could just have a minute here, then I'm just going to say... I absolutely goddamn love the ways public domain characters have been used throughout and before my life. Whether it's upcoming cases like Mary Skelter, the demons in Umineko, the folk and fairy tales in Soul Sacrifice, the way the Megami Tensei series uses all sorts of cultures and stories, the way Type-Moon has incorporated history and fiction into its visual novels, I love it all.
And did I mention Kamen Rider Kiva, the vampire Kamen Rider (Kiva is literally short for King Vampire), had forms based on Frankenstein and other big Hollywood monsters? Though they were more akin to references and shoutouts, I can't imagine it would have happened if not for the exposure the original works had gotten thanks to the public domain.
If you aren't familiar with the titles I just listed, then I'll say this: They uses these things pretty differently for the most part, or seem like they're going to. They're hardly the only things that use public domain properties either.
The worst part of it is that consumers, as well as some creators and critics alike, seem to have bought right into it. We're turning into a culture that both rolls around in nostalgia like pigs in filth, but one that also desecrates on "ripoffs," regardless of the quality of said "ripoffs," like those same pigs doing their business after feasting on whatever leftover morsels they found rolling around in the nostalgia mud. As if there's something actually wrong with ideas and so on being shared or used differently or again. A lot of the things a lot of us probably love dearly came from this sort of thing.
Most of Disney's most famous works came about this way, as a matter of fact!
No one benefits from this kind of thing being dragged out to this extent except for huge coprorations like Disney. No one. Don't trick yourself into thinking you're getting better or more original content because of it. Do you really feel that's the case? Do you feel like the people who own these copyrights aren't at all milking them or using them in any way to extend their ownership of the rights? Are you positive that doesn't happen? And do you really think that the little creators are all able to make better content every time thanks to this? Every time?
While I'm now speaking here as someone passionate about wanting to make things, make no mistake, this hurts you guys too. Look back up a section where I'm gushing on about how much I've enjoyed works that make use of the public domain for my take on this thing as a consumer if you need to double check or anything.
So let us not beat around the bush here, ladies and gentlemen, the consumer loses here as well. They're stuck with what these companies put out while trained (at this point from birth) to believe ripoffs are wrong, that ripoffs are the absolute worst thing someone can make, that being original and unique is automatically superior to being similar to something else that exists... because the actual law has made it so that companies and owners of these products can destroy such similar things.
Even all of this recent YouTube drama is getting to the point where these great creators are slowly turning into the very things they take issue with.
The consumer is also stuck with the same crop of public domain material, possibly for their entire lives at that thanks to how high these numbers are getting. Imagine a game or a book or a movie featuring, say, Dracula alongside a more modern character that might have entered the public domain.
Hell, imagine a world where, instead of encouraging creators to use his mythos, Lovecraft had gone the Disney route instead. Isn't it such a damn shame the overwhelming majority of people are either going the Disney route or being consumed by the godawful corporation before they have a chance to do otherwise?
If your immediate response is to defend this system, or worse, to get defensive and immediately feel the need to accuse me or people who feel similarly that they just can't think of anything for themselves and want to rip off others, then congrats. This is snarkier than usual for me, but to you, I've got this to ask: How's the brainwashed life treating you?
I'll be the first to admit, I am ignorant about much in the world, so I'm sure there's legal stuff I'm missing (though I do know the TPP changes some things, particularly in other countries, and I know this isn't quite how it works elsewhere at that too), but you know what? No matter what else, this still isn't okay, people.
I can get being upset over being ripped off. That's one thing. I absolutely understand that feeling. It's terrible. The action you take over it is... potentially another. I have mixed feelings about how people approach "joke thieves," for example. Extremely mixed. So so mixed. Like I was saying before, I feel like if people weren't brought up with these kinds of things in place in the first place, then how we approach them and feel about them might be completely different to begin with. Might, anyway. I don't know.
And what's more, from the perspective of a consumer, I get being frustrated for more legitimate reasons over ripoffs. If something does something worse than the original product and seems to just be only doing them because it's something that is liked or they couldn't think of something else to do, then I can see that. I've made these same complaints myself at times, in fact. Even a 1:1 "ripoff" can still be enjoyable if it's executed well within the piece of media it's being executed in.
At the same, as far as this topic is concerned, I don't think someone being ripped off is... entirely relevant. We're talking about a situation where works may now have to wait over one hundred years before being able to enter public domain. The majority's relevancy will be gone and forgotten, all for the sake of a few like Mickey Mouse.
So what is my point here? To talk about this, I suppose. I'm sure, I'd like to hope, at least a few people here are aware of it, but if not, then hopefully I've brought it to the attention of a few more people.
Just think about the different games that could be made, could be inspired, once more modern content is able to enter public domain in the countries where it's not able to. Where it won't be able to when the TPP goes into effect and makes it an even longer amount of time. With the laws as they are, no matter when it does, nothing will be considered even a little "modern" by the time it enters the public domain, and its relevancy and impact will likely be gone. Do you think anyone in the 2050s or whenever will be able to appreciate Starship Troopers becoming public domain like people today might have been able to? Do you think they'll even care with what will probably be made in the time between now and then?
Whether you want to make something completely new or just a little different with what the public domain has been denied, or whether you'd like to see content likethat or even just see content like Mary Skelter and other properties, like all the live action movies and shows and cartoons we're getting lately, that use some different characters for a change rather than the same ones Disney made popular, isn't all of this just so... sad?
Surely I can't be the only one that finds the state of all of this just miserable.