The process to create a video game starts with an idea that is built taking in consideration different sources of inspiration. These sources have to be thoroughly researched to develop an interesting and consistent concept. The Otome aren’t the exception since it has to offer along with a good and consistent story, sceneries and characters that complement her. A good example of an Otome that has the qualities said before is “Code: Realize”. This Otome has the characteristic to gather not only historical but also fictional elements that are part of pop culture as are the steampunk movement and some made up characters of books. This is the reason why it has an extensive literary base.
In order to address various topics, I’m going to focus my writing on the graphic design that the five male protagonists have in the first game of the series. This time the topic will be divided into more than one post due to the length of the descriptions. So, without further ado, let’s begin!
Code: Realize – Guardian of Rebirth (コードリアライズ Code: Realize ~創世の姫君~) is an Otome visual novel developed by Otomate released in Japan in 2014 and in North America and Europe in 2015. As said before, the game is inspired in the steampunk culture and the characters came from literary and historical figures.
The main character is a young woman called Cardia, who lives day to day isolated from the world in an abandoned mansion in order to fulfill the promise made to his father. She has the curse of having a body that carries a deadly poison that rots and melts anything that her skin touches, causing the locals to call her “monster”. This is why, before disappear, her father told her to stay away from people and avoid falling in love.
Everything changes when the Royal Guards break into the mansion with the objective to capture her. This attempt is frustrated by the chivalrous thief Arsène Lupin, who rescued her and takes her on a journey to find her father.
The graphic design of this visual novel is inspired mostly in the steampunk aesthetic. Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy which its origins are sometimes associated with the cyberpunk genre.
Steampunk is a fantasy version of the nineteenth century Victorian England in which the 20th century machines made his appearance in an age of steam power. Its stories are often set in a dystopian London. Although it’s considered that the genre was born in the 1960s and 1970s, the term is a tongue-in-cheek variant of cyberpunk, which was coined by K.W. Jeter in 1987 and it’s used to describe not only literature and film but to denote a retro-future design.
Steampunk often adopts the style of the scientific romances of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley, and Edward S. Ellis.
Searching steampunk symbols, the one that will be recurrent is the gearwheel. Although there are other objects that form part of the steampunk aesthetic, this is the most recognized. This is due to the great appreciation that was given to the craftsmanship of engineers and to how the internal components, such as gears and cogs, of the mechanical devices they made were often exposed instead of being hidden in casings as they are today.
Another possible reason is that the rise of steampunk culture happened in an era where the ecological mentality of saving and rescuing old and discarded items to repurposing them in creative ways emerged. Then, the use of discarded gears in objects, clothes, sculptures, etc. it’s very common in steampunk, making them one of the signatures of this culture.
It’s true that steampunk is not only toothed wheels, but in the visual novel “Code: Realize” is a recurrent item and that’s why it was necessary to talk about them in a particular way. However, when describing the character design, the other symbols of this movement are going to be explained.
As said before, the five main male protagonists in this visual novel are inspired by characters from literary works or by historical figures. Throughout the following paragraphs, the history of these important persons will be made known in order to understand the different visual elements (like clothes, accessories, etc.) adopted for their design inside the game.
Arsène Lupin is a fictional character created by Maurice Leblanc and known for embodying the figure of the gentleman thief who has a double life: worldly and respectable during the day, and illicit at night. This is the reason why he’s the only male character who wears two different suits in the Otome about which this post is spoken. Arsène Lupin debut in the literary world was in July 1905 in the story “The Arrest of Arsène Lupin” published in the magazine Je sais tout. Although in an Otome the protagonists have to be handsome, in a way the original Lupin also is shown as an attractive person since is a gentle, moral and athletic man.
The objective of the creators of “Code: Realize – Guardian of Rebirth” is to respect as far as possible the original personages therefore, following the novels, Lupin must be someone that combines France’s clothing style during the Belle Époque, since in the books his adventures are set in this time, and the one of the Victorian Era, because the video game takes place in this era. Likewise, it’s good to have in mind the words of Umberto Eco, an Italian novelist, who summarizes the impression that Arsène Lupin has in the collective memory as: “Lupin represents the traditional image of the grand seigneur in white tie, top hat, monocle and white gloves […] ”. With this established, it’s time to enter more into the game character design.
To start, since the three-piece suite grew in popularity in the Victorian Era during the 1870s, it was best to dress Arsène Lupin with something white tietype, that is, a garment consisting of a vest, dress pants and coat with tails. An important detail of the coat is the horizontal cut in the front which was in common use by the upper-class men in Britain by the end of the 18th. This clothing would not be complete without the shirt, the bow show, the shoes and the gloves, essential items in a man who wears this type of suit.
Within the evolution of the character in the book, there was a moment when he adopted the dandy style: top hat, rod and monocle. A dandy is an anarchist who wanted, through the clothes, assert its superiority over the society. Then, these were the final touches for the Arsène Lupin of “Code: Realize – Guardian of Rebirth”: the top hat and the rod. Only the monocle is missing, maybe because it’s a way to appreciate better all his expressions and because there are occasions where he wears a mask to cover his identity.
Although the above is consistent for Lupin’s two suits, there are differences. The costume used “for crime” respected the black color of a white tie, with the exception of the cloak, for a more mysterious touch; the extra decoration, to add style; and the black gloves that have to be white to continue with the rule about how to wear a white tie.
The “daily” suit is the more colored and it shows more steampunk aesthetics, which is why it is decided to go deeper into its design.
As said before, the daily suit of Arsène Lupin is the one that shows the steampunk style so, let’s give the reasons. Firstly the colors. It seems the palette is inspired by steampunk pictures that contain brass, bronze, leather, and wood with lots of cogs, gears, and other machinery. Taken from the site delighfulpaths, the picture below shows the palette used for the clothes of the character: black, red, green, gold, brown and cream colors.
Remember that for a steampunk sensation, the gears cannot be missing. These can be of all sizes, including the small ones that shape the clocks and watches. In fact, this is somehow the reason why these gadgets are also within the iconic steampunk symbols.
With this in mind, it is observed that both the gears and some components of the clock are displayed on the hat’s ornament, the rod and the lapel pin of Lupin. In the Otome Art Book, the designer gives some details of how they are formed.
In first place the hat ornament. The image below, taken from the original Art Book, exposes three cogwheels, one on top of the other. The first two are eight rounded teeth gears and the last one is formed of concentric rings where the two outside are those with several cogs. A curious detail is the letter “L” at the superior part between the second and last gear. This “L” is decorated with what looks like a gear fragment.
The next accessory to describe is the lapel pin. In this, the gears form what appears to be the Lupin emblem: the key. I guess the idea is to communicate that an expert thief is the one who has no impediment to open anything because he has a key for everything.
The bow of the key is formed by three gears of different sizes. The middle one is the basis of the structure since it’s the one that helps to form a clock, another iconic symbol which has been already mentioned. For this, the hour and minute hands are joined to the gear. The design also has a gear that lacks a fragment of about a quarter to make room for the clock hands. To finish the bow composition, a little cogwheel at the left bottom corner works as the tip of the incomplete gear.
Its shaft has the wards of a typical antique key and a gear wheel as its post. The rod presents a shape similar to that of a key, thus its bow is equal to that of the chest clip. The shank is distinct, considering that it is flat and without details. It seems that the rod of the daily suit is more an accessory. However, the one in the crime suit, serves more for the battle due to its light and simple form that allows not only freedom of movement but also the possibility of hiding some tricks inside.
As finishing touches of the attire, the keys are still present in the brown belt.
And, to continue with the Victorian graphic, the ornaments on the coat follow patterns similar to the decorative designs of that era.
The end of the first part of this topic has been reached. The following articles will talk about the design of the other four male protagonists of this Otome. For now, I hope you liked this post and comment on “Code: Realize”, the steampunk movement, the Victorian Era or visual novels. See you in the next post!
 Umberto Eco (trad. Myriem Bouzaher), De superman au surhomme [« Il superuomo di massa »], Paris, éditions Grasset, 1993, 245 p. (ISBN 978-2-246-78477-7).
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