When I posted our number two games of 2017 yesterday, you might have noticed that Tof’s choice was missing from the list. That was due to one of two things: either Tof lives about as far away from me as a human can and still have feet on Terra firma so our timing gets mixed up sometimes, or I really just wanted to use the world “penultimate” in another post title. I’ll let you decide. [Spoiler: it was the second one. -ed.]
Without further ado, let’s see what Tof’s second best game of 2017 is.
Brianna Lei’s Butterfly Soup is a singular visual novel, the only game I’ve ever played that could both be described as “yuri” and as “realistic fiction.” That is because it has an affectionate awareness of the tropes of the yuri visual novel and a pressing need to reject them. Butterfly Soup follows a group of Asian-American friends in Southern California from High School to adulthood, and as they come to terms with their gender and sexuality (one’s bisexual, the others are lesbian, all are cisgender female). Each of these characters is nuanced, breaking out of standard tropes about the sporty one, studious one, weird one, etc., and their families all came from different parts of Asia, at different times, with different relationships to their heritage – but always the “almost accepted, but not accepted” relationship Asian-Americans on the West Coast have with white culture. I grew up in San Diego, and this game isn’t just well-written and queer, with expressive art that captures difference and eschews manga stylizations, it tells a story so deeply resonant with the realities of SoCal’s multicultural climate that it simultaneously makes me homesick and a little angry. Like the comics of Gene Luen Yang and Adrian Tomine, and especially like Alice Wu’s equally singular film Saving Face, Butterfly Soup is an unflinchingly honest but kind look at a cultural experience I never had, but so many of my peers lived.