Indieview #11: Jun, Director & Artist

Welcome to the eleventh week of Indieview! Indieview is an interview series where I speak with a special guest who works on personal or business projects related to games, whether they’re an artist, a composer, a streamer, a writer, or otherwise.

Today I’m joined by Jun! Jun is a lot of things — artist, cosplayer, and hardcore Otome fan being among them, but she is also working on her very first visual novel, Neko No Sentouki, which is live now on Kickstarter! Jun does this whilst also creating merchandise which she sells on her store — they say there’s no rest for the wicked, but they must mean the wickedly cool!

Want to try the game out before reading on? You can download the demo right now!

Mitch: How’s the above? Anything else you’d like to add that I might have missed, or anything that you’re particularly proud of that you’d like to touch on?

Jun: Actually, I’m quite flattered to read so many good things about me. You almost make me look like someone important, haha!

Mitch: Your game will make people happy, and I consider that important! However, I do have to ask this first… what does Neko No Sentouki mean?

Jun: This is kind of embarrassing. When I named the story, I was in my “anime phase” — we’ve all been through it, at some point — so I chose a Japanese title. It literally means “The cat fighter” and refers to the fact that in the story there are both fights and something related to a cat — maybe it has something to do with Aiko’s hat? Who knows! The only way to find out will be playing the game…

Mitch: Are we ever truly through our “anime phase”? The Kickstarter for Neko No Sentouki is live right now! Could you give us a run down on what the game is about?

Jun: Of course! First of all, I’d like to point out that it is not an otome game. I get questions like “Can I romance that character?” fairly often — people are in love with Minato, but don’t tell him or he won’t stop bragging about it!

The story revolves around Aiko and Hikaru, the two protagonists. The first thing you’ll notice is how different they are: Hikaru is cynical and grumpy; he never smiles and always looks dissatisfied. Aiko, on the other hand, is energetic, carefree and very, very touchy. Things happen — I won’t tell you exactly what or you won’t play the demo anymore! — and the two of them end up meeting and becoming a duo. The thing I like the most about their dynamic is they don’t quite know how to define what they are themselves. Are they friends? Teammates? Acquaintances? They support each other without even realising it, as if they were necessary to one another.

Getting back to the plot, we find out that Aiko is taking part in a tournament. There are many questions about it: why has it been organised? What’s the price at stake? And why does everyone look so obsessed with winning that they’re ready to give it their all?

It’s up to Hikaru and Aiko to find those answers. During their adventure, they’ll meet different characters — some will be friends, other will be foes. They’ll explore their reasons to fight, as well as their personal stories.

Mitch: You’ve a very passionate Otome and visual novel fan. What games would you say have inspired you the most when it comes to creating Neko No Sentouki?

Jun: I played a lot games last year and each of them has been a great source of inspiration. My Nintendo Switch is filled with videos and screenshots of scenes whose composition left such a striking impact on me that I thought “wow, I really want to try to emulate this effect!”. I’m particularly grateful to Collar x Malice: Unlimited and Piofiore: Fated Memories for this. Actually, I can’t wait to play a lot of new titles this year — it’s always good to study other games and learn how to improve!

Mitch: Very good picks, to say the least! The game will be available in English and Italian, as well as feature partial Japanese voice-acting. I’d love to hear more about how this all came together!

Jun: Well, being Italian, writing in my native language was inevitable. However, I knew I couldn’t stop there: I wanted to find a way to reach a wider, international audience. Luckily, I met Ali, who’s lending me a hand with the English translation.

When it comes to the partial Japanese voice acting, I got the idea while browsing the many resources available for Visual Novel Maker, the software I’m using to develop the project. There are many voice packs among them: after studying them very thoroughly and testing them on the characters to make sure I had at least one suitable pack for each main character, I decided to add them to the visual novel. I must admit that they are a great alternative when you don’t have the budget to pay for professional voice acting.

Mitch: Will there be voice-acting in any other languages? I’m available if you need an incredibly inexperienced voice-actor!

Jun: Right now — because of the budget constraints I was talking about — voice acting is sadly not one of my top priorities. However, if I could afford it, I’d really like to include English voice acting! I consider voice acting to play a key role in visual novels, making everything much more immersive. There are scenes that are still burnt into my memory thanks to the VA’s performance — how they make the character’s emotions theirs and how they give life to them using only their voice is incredibly thrilling.

I’ll be sure to take you up on that offer, if the time comes, Mitch!

Mitch: Don’t worry — I’ll do it for free! I adore your character designs — my personal favourites have to be Aiko and Kyoko — and the aesthetic of the game in general. Can you please tell us more on how the characters and their designs came to be? Also, double question, do you have a favourite character?

Jun: You’re not the first one to mention Kyoko — I’m happy she’s stolen so many hearts!

Getting back on topic, when I create characters, I usually follow a very specific process: first, I choose their names, then their backgrounds and finally their appearances. The most important aspect, to me, is consistency. Let’s take Aiko, for example: she’s a fighter and she’s always on the move, so she needs an outfit that allows her to move around freely and easily. It wouldn’t make sense to see her in armor. Maybe, this logic might seem trivial, but I really prefer a simple but consistent design to an overly-complicated one that actually goes against the character’s identity.

My advice would be to decide upon some fundamental features for your characters and start working from there: are they sporty? Well, then we won’t surely see them going around in a suit! Do they like music? Then, they probably have their headphones around their neck. These small details are what make a character design really well-thought, giving us an idea of who we’re dealing with as soon as we set our eyes on the character.

As for my favourite character, that’d be Reko. I love his personality and his way of interacting with others. He’s a very nuanced character and his background is really… heavy. During the story, he’ll change and mature a lot. Sadly, he makes his appearance a few chapters into the story, so I couldn’t insert him into the demo. But I really can’t wait to share his story with you!

Mitch: Okay okay, this is a selfish question, but one that I’m sure others will ask perhaps once the Kickstarter period has ended, but are there plans to make the charms, stickers, digital items, etc, available separately at a later date, too?

Jun: Absolutely! Charms, stickers and digital rewards — artbook and soundtrack — will still be purchasable after the Kickstarter’s end. Tote bags and physical artbooks might be available too, if I have some spare copies after the campaign. Eventually, I’d like to create new items of merchandise in the future — I really have a lot of ideas!

Mitch: Yay! I’m very happy to hear that. One of the rewards is to design a Tournament Challenger. Could you please tell us more about that?

Jun: I came up with this idea after studying other Kickstarters. I noticed that offering the chance of designing a minor or secondary character was a very popular reward. I have a great deal of secondary characters in my story, mostly tournament competitors. I had never really thought about their physical appearance, so the idea of giving someone else the opportunity of giving them a face and a name felt intriguing.

Unfortunately, I had to put some very specific restrictions to keep the characters consistent with the story, like their age, or the fact that they can’t win the tournament — sorry! haha. Backers also have to choose their character’s ability from a given list, since I’ve already written down how the fights will play out.

Aiko’s character sheet

Mitch: I look forward to seeing what the character who ultimately makes it in is like. It’s clear that this is a very ambitious project, and a lot of love and care has gone into it. What led you and the team to work on Neko No Sentouki in particular? Is it a story that you all wanted to tell?

Jun: I’m the kind of person who spends hours crafting stories and characters before falling asleep. I close my eyes and I start plotting. This is how Neko no Sentouki was born, just like many other stories. There are many reasons why I chose NNS for this project, but the main reason is that, among the many stories I’ve invented during the years, this one is the only one I had already finished writing. I started writing it in 2010 and, after keeping it to myself for a while, I mustered the courage to share it with others in 2014. My friends would read and comment it, and to me it meant a lot. They all got attached to Aiko, Hikaru and the rest of the cast, and this is also why I chose this story as the subject of my very first visual novel — everyone was very enthusiastic at the idea of working on it!

If I have to tell the truth, to me the most exciting thing is seeing how different the current script is from my first draft from 10 years ago. It has become a much more mature story — we could say it has literally grown up with me.

Mitch: I have a lot of admiration for you for fleshing out your story to the point you have — genuinely, I think it’s incredible of you and the team. Is there a particular message or anything that you’d like the player to take away from Neko No Sentouki?

Jun: I think the main message of the game is… never judge someone by their appearance. We are all drawn by circumstances to wear a mask and the same happens to the characters in the story. No one is as they look — they are all trying to be someone else, for their sake or the sake of the people they hold dear. Even the most positive character hides a negative side, and vice versa.

There’ll also be a particular event in the story that will make players ask themselves: were I in their shoes, would I have acted the same? Is it a morally acceptable behaviour?

I’d really want the audience to question what’s right and what’s wrong — whether the end justifies the means. I’m curious to see which side you’ll take!

Mitch: “Whether the end justifies the means” is always an intriguing theme to tackle — I’m excited to see what questions you make me ask myself when playing! Hey, Jun, can you share a sneak peek at a CG scene with us?

Jun: Sure! This CG depicts a key scene which happens quite early in the game, during our protagonists’ unconventional first meeting. You can already find this illustration, as well as another one, in the demo. You have no idea of how excited I was when RedTaiga finished the CGs. Seeing certain scenes that you could only imagine come to life is truly an incredible experience!

I also found out about CGs starring chibi characters and I immediately jumped on that train, since chibi illustrations are my specialty. So, rest assured: you’ll find a lot of them in the game, haha! I find them an adorable way to depict those scenes that don’t require a detailed illustration, but still deserve their own visual representation.

lovehearteyes.jpg

Mitch: This is a big visual novel with over 40 hours of gameplay, 14 possible endings, and several choices to make. What mechanics will be in place to make these easy to keep track of and attain? Of course, for very curious players, there’s a demo out right now that you can check out!

Jun: First of all, you’ll be given the choice to play as either Aiko or Hikaru. It’s a very important choice: even if from the demo the two routes don’t look so different, going on with the story they will diverge more significantly.

Finishing one of the routes will unlock a handy screen from which you’ll be able to easily reread the chapters you’re interested in and change your in game choices — especially if you haven’t got the ending you wanted.

Generally speaking, you’ll always be able to save your game: during narration, dialogues, CGs; before choices and even during fights! And, if you miss something, you can always reread the text through the log.

I’d also like to introduce some kind of notepad, where keywords that can help the player make the right choices are automatically registered.

Mitch: Yay for easily being able to track what you’ve done and haven’t done! Can you tell me more about the team behind Neko No Sentouki? Also, hi Ali — I know you’re reading this!

Jun: I have a wonderful team by my side.

First of all, Ali. I could literally write down a wall of text about her. I won’t say she’s the reason why Neko no Sentouki is a visual novel, but… she actually is. Even if we had known each other for a couple of years, we really became friends last year. We talked a lot and found out that we had many things in common — including our wish to share our stories. I love all my friends, but I had never met someone like Ali. In her, I saw my ambitions and my love for visual novels reflected. I found a sort of affinity I hadn’t felt in ages. That’s why I really wanted to have her on board. She’s smart, capable and wise. While it’s true she should be in charge of the English translation, she actually helps me a lot with everything — especially providing moral support!

When it comes to graphics, I asked RedTaiga for help with the background illustrations and the CGs. I’ve always considered her role model: I love her style, the way she colours, her talent in turning my ugly scribbles into stunning drawings. I really can’t thank her enough for agreeing to be part of the project.

I also have to thank Izumi a lot. She helps with the sprites: what you see is actually the work of two pairs of hands. Anatomy is not my strong suit and Izumi has been lending me a hand with that. I sketch the character on her base, then she does the lineart and, finally, I colour. Izumi was by my side during all my university years and she was also the reason why I got back to drawing. I had given up on that back then, but seeing Izumi always coming to classes with her drawing table really inspired me to take up the pencil once more.

Crescendo is in charge of the OSTs. I met her this year when I reached out to commission her the main theme. Actually, I already knew of her work from our mutuals, but I’m a damn introvert and, as you can see from my team, I only feel comfortable sharing my ideas with friends, with whom I know I can be myself. Luckily, Crescendo turned out to me not only an incredibly talented person, but also a very friendly one. I think we’re incredibly lucky to have her on board!

Finally, Bisc8, alias Giacchan. She’s been putting up with me for 7 years now. Since she’s literally spent years listening to me talking about my characters and their stories, I really wanted her to take part in the project. I really care about her opinion and that’s why she’s helping out with the Italian script, also helping me get rid of all the typos I make out!

Mitch: I wish you and the team all the best — it definitely sounds like you’ve got the team for success! I really like your Kickstarter page and how easy it is to find all of the information I needed. For people in future who may want to kickstart their own project, what advice would you give to them, as both a creator and in terms of managing a Kickstarter?

Jun: Oh, it’s really reassuring to read this. You have no idea how much time I spent on the Kickstarter graphics, and how many times I changed it. I think being clear on everything is the most important thing. You should define some key points and start from there, making sure that anyone can easily understand them. Obviously, before launching my own Kickstarter, I viewed almost every other project on the site, and I’m not exaggerating! Don’t be afraid to study other people’s work — there’s so much to be learnt from them.

Mitch: Well, I definitely feel like you’ve nailed it, so your reseach has certainly paid off in my eyes. So far this is scheduled to release on PC. Would you consider other platforms in future, the Nintendo Switch in particular?

Jun: It would be a dream. I hate playing on PC: in addition to being lazy, I’m also short-sighted, so those consoles that allow me to lie down on my bed and play with the screen close to my eyes are my best friends. One step at a time, though. We’ll conquer PC first, and then we’ll land on handheld too, hopefully!

Mitch: Fingers crossed! Is there anyone or anything you’d like to shout out?

Jun: I’ll take the chance to give a shout out to my wonderful team. Here are their Twitter profiles, if you’ll ever want to work with them or simply follow them!

Crescendotto — https://twitter.com/crescendotto
RedTaiga — https://twitter.com/RedTaiga_art
Izumi — https://twitter.com/izumisen_art
Alister — https://twitter.com/_alister_

Mitch: If people want to follow you and your work, where can they find you?

Jun: You can find under the nick Skred or Skredjun on a bunch of socials.

Twitter — https://twitter.com/xxnuj

This is my personal profile and I post a bit of everything — drawings, cosplays, thoughts on the game I’m playing — so follow me at your own risk!

Instagram — https://instagram.com/skredjun

Instagram, on the other hand, is all about my drawings. My posts there usually come a bit later than on Twitter, but I update it reguarly.

Tumbrl — https://skredjun.tumblr.com/

On Tumblr you can find cosplays, drawings and memes. Especially memes.

We could say that none of my profiles is entirely normal…

I hope you, the reader, does not feel that the above dialogue reflects this Indieview!!

Mitch: Okay, one more — what’s your favourite visual novel?

Jun: Gosh, this is probably the hardest question to answer. I hold dear all the visual noveles I’ve played — for a character, a CG, a story, or a even a small detail. If I think about it, the one I’d replay more gladly is Code: Realize.

Want to support Jun and Neko No Sentouki? You can check out the Kickstarter and all of its rewards here, the free playable demo here, and Jun’s personal store here!

I hope you’ve enjoyed Indieview #11 with Jun. I’ll be back with another Indieview in the near future, so thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all again soon!

Writing a novel | Communications Assistant at Funimation UK | Hang around for #Indieview, Otome, and maybe a little more!

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