“Butterfly Soup” Review
Developers: Brianna Lei
Verdict: 3/5 stars. It’s not the most tightly – written novel, and your enjoyment of it depends mostly on how much you like the characters and seeing them piss about for great portions of time. It is quite funny, though, so saving grace there!
Oh, Brianna, how we’ve met before. I was such a young and naïve frog, then, to think that expressing a contrary opinion on an Internet forum would result in discussion as mature and adult as what I would find in real life. Now because I gave Oblige, a shitty game, my lowest ranking, I am being ostracised from those who have nothing to do whatsoever with the creation of the game and are all insulting me because I have different tastes from them. Huh? I could understand the developers being pissed. In fact, the developer of that other shitty game, Things that aren’t Real, took my review in a way that continues to show how little self – confidence some artists have, despite still publishing their work in the public arena where the public can comment on it however they please. Well, don’t be an artist if you can’t handle the audience, am I right?
The accusations against me in Brianna’s post are… well, they are slightly more creative than any of the usual rude words you can call me, but pretty much every point she makes can be immediately discounted or removed entirely with even a basic familiarity of who I am and what I do. The silliest part about her post is that it exists at all. I wonder about the type of person to not only lurk other people’s work for comments and then get so offended by those comments you spend a non – trivial amount of your own time in order to make a series of ad hominem attacks with very little logical content within it. What was she expecting to accomplish out of this? Am I supposed to say “damn, she’s right, I do have a bizarre mindset that has stunted my growth as a writer and a human being”? Please.
One of the challenges of being a critic is learning to separate the author from the work, to appreciate the textures that they have added onto the work through the means of their own existing, understanding the worldview that they possess, and not demonising them solely because they did some dumb shit. I think Brianna’s comment here is some pretty dumb shit, but it would be incredibly petty of me to make a review solely to diss her for this one smarmy blip in the whole of her career. That’s for the article I’m publishing later. It’ll be a nice, casual roast session with a line – by – line breakdown of all her accusations, and I’ll try not to make the execution too painful, as that would be a waste of my time.
I’m forced to bring up this pettiest of petty beefs (or is it beeves?) for the sake of disclosing a potential bias, to allay any fears that I would use this review as a blunt fist, and to make it clear that, no matter what a select group of commentators on Itch.io says, the only justification I need in order to make a review of a work is for that work to exist at all. Freedom of speech, save for bigotry and hatred, has never recognised the right to have an opinion be censored because someone is offended by its content. I have discussed before the benefits to the arts of my criticism, the benefit to my audience of the categorisation of my criticism, and the benefit to upcoming artists about how to make great work as I see it. But there is only one justification I have ever needed, and that is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I hope you can accept the virtues of democracy, Ms. Lei.
I saw Butterfly Soup sneaking in on the front page of Itch.io for several weeks. I viewed the novel page on the first day it was finished and thought “neat”, downloaded it, and then forgot about it for several weeks. I returned staring into the November backlog and thinking “well, after all these video games, might as well read a good book and take my mind off things”. So I sneaked my own ass over to the Butterfly Soup box art and I saw — two hundred ratings! A hundred and fifty comments! Four hours long! Baseball! Clearly this was one hydra I would need to bring the proper equipment to tackle, and by proper equipment, I meant piss about for two weeks before relenting and grinding through this game before November ended and Saint Nick looked at me with a sultry wink.
And, well, I don’t know what the hell I expected out of this visual novel, but whatever it was, this isn’t that. From the outset of the novel, I wanted to hate it. The first half – hour… it’s bad. Chop it off, cut it out, you’re not going to need it. It had all the warning signs I’ve come to expect from indie novels: one – dimensional archetypal characters, “lol random” humour, a plot where nothing really happens, too – obvious gay foreshadowing, style – over – substance such as the camera moving with your mouse and having a lot of sound effects in order to disguise the lack of interesting prose, and using bisexual symbolism to such a large extent in the GUI that I had to look over my shoulder to see if nobody was collecting evidence in order to rip me out of my transparent closet.
But when we get past all that garbage (at which point, it may be too late for guys like me who ain’t got time for that), I started to like it a little more. And then a little more. Somewhere along the way I started to like it a lot, and then I started to love this novel. That was the point where the novel ended with an abrupt cutscene, I thought to myself, “Huh? Is that it?”, and then I got literary balls bluer than the flavour the pretty Tamilian lady enjoys (a fact I had to verify using the game’s script — thank Tom for Ren’Py being free software). I then started to think more and more about this novel, all that it is, all that it could have been, and I just feel like a part of me is empty for having seen it. I have broken my Stoic ways and now desire more of this novel — a desire that will never be fulfilled.
Looking over at the sheer amount of, for lack of a better word, reception that this visual novel has received, combined with a length that even made yours truly break it up into two long – ass playing sessions (including breaks to digest what has been presented before me), I decided that the best way to approach this review is to break it up into discrete sections, tackle each topic on their own, and analyse the steps and missteps this novel has taken to make me both endear and fear it, respectively. I also felt that my typical snarky review structure would fall flat, seeing as you can’t be snarky and make fun of someone whose work gets dozens of pieces of fan art, is mentioned by major newspapers, and is one of the hottest projects released on Itch.io this year. The joke of much of my writing is how I’m a pathetic figure who has nothing better to do than make fun of game developers who are in the same pool of mediocrity that I am, creating a scenario akin to two toddlers having a slap fight in the kiddie pool. Butterfly Soup has graduated to the big boys pool, so I’d really just be slapping myself and end up looking like a bitter and envious figure full of pent – up rage. More than usual.
Also, as someone who has been called a cult leader by a My Little Pony bestiality porn artist with a hell of a lot more followers than I’d expect that title to come with, I’d avoid the “cult” label like an actual cult. You’ll be fine within the insular community you have created for yourself. Outside of that? You’ll never be trusted again. So think it over, Brianna.
The plot structure of Butterfly Soup, which I’d like to abbreviate to “BS” without making any obvious jokes, is peering into the perspective of four different Asian girls at different points in their lives and how they all got to know each other as a bunch of schoolgirls who are forced to be around each other because they’re really all they have. The nationalities of the girls are relevant because of one of the story’s themes being how minorities in a society forms insular cultures and have to face passive discrimination from the reigning majority race, understanding that you can never leave your culture behind despite all the “opportunity” that immigration brings. Like all the story’s themes, it’s brought up once or twice and then hardly spoken of again, but I’m jumping the gun here.
I’m going to have to be didactic here because the story jumps all over the place from person to person and date to date. The main character of this story is most likely Millennial in 2008 “Diya”, and I really wish there was an all – encompassing Wiki for every indie game out there so I didn’t have to relaunch the novel to make sure I’m spelling all these names correctly, who is obviously and obliviously in lesbians with her best – friend formed through force – of – will, Min – seo. There’s also Akarsha and Noelle, the Sans and Papyrus characters, who hang around the Gays in order to provide moral support and Jokes. I’ll talk more about these girls later; I just have to go through their motions first.
The story starts out from a prologue from Diya’s perspective, and we immediately take a dive into Piss Lake when we see it’s all kids in the third grade, all the piss coming from these characters pissing about, as it were. A significant portion of time is spent in one of those make – believe battles that kids always had, though from the perspective of an outsider, so it boils down to kids just talking and screaming. As somebody who doesn’t really like the buggers unless I’m forced to put up with them and lend them as much passive joy as I can, I found this whole section to be grating for a whole set of reasons. What it boils down to, if I may rip off some writing advice from another critic who I blatantly rip off in everything I write, is: “Is this the most interesting period of our character’s life, and if not, why aren’t you showing us that?”. I would not mind if this section was interesting, but c’est la vie.
There is also a section featuring a baseball game that Min – seo and Diya attend, which does foreshadow some of the baseball antics later on (and taught me more about knuckleballs than I ever wanted to know), though what’s fascinating is how little of a core concept baseball plays into this novel, despite it being so important that it’s in the first sentence on the box art: “A visual novel about gay asian girls playing baseball and falling in love”. All true, technically, though the actual involvement of the sport appears to be providing a crutch for the rest of the plot to lean on and just sort of exist to make stuff happen. Which is for the best, because I regard Baseball with the same enthusiasm as Douglas Adams regarded cricket: extremely poorly, and with far less killer robots.
Baseball isn’t the problem though. If you can get past the initial alienation of all Statesian sports being as boring as they are inexplicably popular, you’re able to find a Freudian fascination in the deepity of the game where one throws a ball at a stick and the stick hits the ball and some guys run away. Taking even a cursory look at the baseball Wikipedia article will quickly suck you into a black hole of glove sizes, pitching tactics, famous players (like Ty Cobb being the world’s most British – looking Statesian), and fanspeak so dense that it’s like peering into a Super Smash Brothers bout with none of the testosterone – fueled manchildren getting salty over a children’s party game. Also there’s a line later on that says, “She sounds like Fox falling off the stage in Super Smash Bros. Melee”, and I hate how I recognise this exact sound effect from description alone.
But the prologue seems to exist as a benign tumour on the rest of the game, in that it’s not needed, though it’s difficult to operate and so I believe the author left it in for the sake of releasing the work without spending too too much effort on it, Chaos forbid. It’s supposed to introduce Diya and Min – seo (Sans and Papyrus have an absence made noticeable once you’ve read the novel proper) and how their relationship was before they re – met in the ninth grade as a — wait for it — out – of – town transfer student. But Diya is such a stoic character that her third – grade depiction is mostly reacting to those rare instances where she’s addressed directly, and being a quiet and socially awkward nerd the rest of the time. Min – seo herself is shown to be the hyper – aggressive get – it – done type who just don’t give a damn, and most of her character is being hyper – aggressive and bashfully in Lesbians with Diya.
All these characters are far more interesting in the novel’s present day — the ninth grade around 2008 — when they’re allowed to show more maturity and depth. It’s not like the prologue is showing off in a “look how far they’ve come” way. They’re pretty much the same characters now and then, barring a few attitude changes. I understand that third – graders do tend to piss about, as I believe kids are wired to be like bipedal dogs until they hit puberty, and I believe there is supposed to be a “charm” to this section that I didn’t get many hints of, probably because I’m a grown – ass man who doesn’t get his kicks from watching kids piss about, because that would be Wrong. But the dialogue is so banal at this point and relies so much on that particular type of Millennial, edgeless humour that prides itself on non – sequiturs that it felt less like a prelude and more like a bad omen.
Now, this is a comedy book, so much of the dialogue here is alleged to be “funny”, though the whole tone up to this point is deliberately over – the – top to the point where I never got a chance to rest. It’s impossible, if not just difficult, to make a comedy that only features one tone of voice the entire time. A master jokester knows to mix his antics up, to manipulate the Clown Arts to bring in the slapstick and burlesque, and to borrow from the Mime Disciplines and have a heartier chuckle with dry wit and sophisticated satire for the more refined palates of seasoned Funnymen. This prologue is all Clown, and it takes until we get past all that in order for us to appreciate the Mime that the dialogue reliably brings in to mix up the jokes. If you’re still with me.
We only get that mix – up in the later sections of the novel, and as they exist here, it feels like a flatline of bum jokes, interspersed with some alright ones due to the Law of Averages (after all, if you tell a hundred jokes in an hour, at least one is bound to be funny), all put through an awkwardly – paced segment that feels disconnected from the rest of the novel. The story told through this prologue could have just as easily been separated into its basic tenets (the relationship between Min – seo and Diya, introducing their family and friends, that knuckleball marriage bit, the moving – away bit, the dog) and then sprinkled across the present – day ninth grade portion in a series of flashbacks. In fact, that’s what the story does, featuring many references and windows back to the third grade fleshing out the relationship between the two girls. They’re short, they’re sweet, and they actually are charming because we get to see kids being kids without having to see them for too long, and without the expectation of being 100% funny.
My theory for the existence of this prologue is that the author produced it first for the sake of having a strong opening, which backfired in many ways because the opening paragraph is your uninspired Medieval fairy – tale acting as a modern allegory trope, and then just made up much of the story in relation to the opening. I can’t presume the author didn’t have a mockup of the plot before she started constructing the novel, because there are many call – backs and instances of foreshadowing that could only come out of natural brilliance or a disciplined hand, but it certainly feels like this portion is more slapdash than all the other portions — including the flashbacks to the third grade.
Right, I’m tired of writing the word “prologue”, so I’ll just zip ahead to the next section.
Plot 2: Electric Boogaloo
After Min – seo has a Dramatic Breakup with Diya over her having to move away to Florida (the nation of golf and dying people), in a scene where Diya seems to be cool with what is probably her best friend going away forever (unless she has Genre Vision and knew, from a tender age, she was destined to be in a gay visual novel), we get yanked forcefully to the present – day, and find Diya being a sleep – deprived lazybones slumping over to her PC and getting a message from Sans, I mean Akarsha, I mean YAOI SEME, and getting joked on involving a sad Pringles potato – like chip sitting on her front porch. Is it fair to say “how do you do, fellow kids?” when the author of the novel is, herself, a fellow kid? Thinking face emoji, finna hit the Quan my Spicy Memebois! Yeet!
This event then starts us out on a whirlwind adventure with Diya and the Cool Kids Club, in a series of events where they… mostly piss about and talk to each other while occasionally making some social commentary or references to old memes. I’m having a hard time raking my brain for exactly what in the world happens in this novel, and though I have a hard time remembering anything that really happens in media beyond the lessons I’ve learned along the way, I’m having a tough time remembering this novel that I spent significantly more time thinking about than all the other crap, I mean lovely pieces of art, that crosses my way.
For what it’s worth the main thread of the novel takes place inside a California high school, so the stakes can’t get any higher since we’re already in Hell, around 2008 – 2010 judging by the references to Justin Bieber, Proposition 8 (an example of the United States’ continued systemic bigotry in the modern era), and the GameCube, even though you would be hard – pressed to argue all of those things got popular in a single ninth – grade year. This also allows us to peer into Anime Hell and go back to a time where everybody was a proud weeaboo and enjoyed such things as Lucky Star and Bleach. Some of the characters have anime avatars. I hope Brianna doesn’t get fucking sued.
Diya and Akarsha then quickly meet up with Noell, who is as stereotypical a Chinese girl as you can depict while still being realistic, and is one Min – seo away from spelling out “DAMN”. They piss about for… what is a shocking amount of time, talking about various subject matters and being pals who happen to be gals and it’s all still what you would expect ninth – graders to piss about around, which is mostly annoying each other. And it really is charming in the way they piss about, because as Brianna writes in the very end of the novel: “I miss high school”. I sure fucking don’t, but as long as we’re believing in false nostalgia, this is a pretty great representation of it and how you whiled away the hours while you were stuck waiting to get out in the world and be an actual, you know, adult instead of being treated as a grown child for five years.
It takes until the second day of high school, interrupted by a coy flashback which makes Diya come down with a case of the Gays, for her to remember what the visual novel was supposed to be about and then comes across, by chance, a flier for the Baseball Club. Of course the other girls are part of this novel too, despite having no athleticism whatsoever, and so Noell and Akarsha join in as well. I find it astonishing how the club would have existed if not for the efforts of three weebs, four girls who actually play baseball, and Noell having never done any athletic in her life — not even the thinly – veiled child abuse of ballroom dancing. Given how there are four main characters in this novel, I wonder how Brianna is handling having all these lovely designs for the other girls and finding she can’t make the very most of them.
But wait, that only makes eight players, and despite having never needed this knowledge in my life I am aware one needs nine players for this particular bastardisation of human athleticism. It’s almost like the novel is leading up to a… PLOT TWIST! Oh, shit, it’s transfer student Min – seo, what up my homie!! So of course Diya gets another case of the Gay, singular, gets tackled by her homie in the locker room, and thinks “KGJFGK!!! FDJFDSFDH!!!!!”. Yes, I went back and typed out the exact string of gibberish as was written in the novel, because the font kerning on those exclamation marks made me upset. The typeface supported kerning two exclamation points (or “bangs” in the typographer’s slang, sad there are none in this novel) and making them closer to each other for dramatic effect, but rarely do you find a typeface that supports kerning more than two, so when you have five bangs in a row like on the “FDJFDSFDH” string, you have two sets of close – together bangs, and one little stray all by itself. You can view the effect on this very website if you have Linux Libertine Display O installed, and if you don’t, shame on you for not having such a beautiful typeface.
In the future, I think the modern trend of writing out dialogue like “DSFHJFKSFJS!!!!!!!!” and having single text boxes with content like “?” and “!” will be met with the same fascination as we have with Ernest Hemingway’s laconic prose, much like how Hemingway had a fascination with Mark Twain’s deliberate simplicity. The beauty of language and the symbols we use to represent it is not that it’s the construction of those symbols into meaningful syntax which expresses meaning. It’s that the symbols exist at all, and we have evolved to a point where even nonsense like “/”, “fjajk”, and “#5d” have powerful meanings when put into the proper context. So I’m not disparaging the trends, no. It’s just that I’m curious to see how long it will be before it leaps out of the ghettos of our youth and into the hands of the older generations who will use it for great works of art.
So the nine girls all play some good old baaaaasebaaaalllll, after that bit where Akarsha fucks Min – seo’s shit up through the magic of menstruation and Noell has to relive her shitty childhood in relation to her shitty adolescence (not at the same time as the shit – fucking fortunately), and then there’s a fire, some more baseball, uhh… baseball. There’s a lot of baseball at the end of it all actually, but not the very end, where the two girls kiss and are gay and then it all abruptly ends like the series finale of a 90s sitcom. Oh, sorry, spoilers, in case you couldn’t derive the two main characters of a lesbian romance novel — of which there is actually very little of, which is sort of refreshing — were going to kiss at the end. It happened with Starlit Flowers. It happened with Spooky Soiree. And it happened with Essence Hunt, which is a Yaoi novel, but Yuri is just boneless Yaoi.
For as to why I think baseball as a sport doesn’t have too big of a presence in the novel, it’s because of how casually the topic is brought up into the novel and how little the characters seem to care about it outside of when they have their practice sessions and matches. It doesn’t feel like the sport of baseball is inexorably tied into the fates of all of our main characters; two of them just show up for the ride, and the two who do care about baseball don’t seem to live, breath, and exist a part of it as you would expect a novel like this to focus on. On the upside, there are no super – obscure statistics and in – depth lingo of the sport. But a good sports movie, book, anime, whatever shouldn’t need that background information in order to be enjoyable, unless you’re making a book for the die – hard fans who want to know each and every detail. I don’t feel like this even fits into what you would expect a “sports novel” to be. It’s a novel, there are sports, and that’s pretty much how deep the involvement goes.
I don’t like saying that “if you remove one theme from this novel and replace it with another theme, it would end up being exactly the same”, because we know it’s not going to be exactly the same, and in most cases that criticism is implying the author should rewrite the entire novel for no good reason. But I feel like if you replace baseball in this novel with an entirely different sport and change the references around, then the rest of the non – baseball portions of the novel, which are very much numerous and end up being many of the most memorable parts because it’s mostly dialogue and little action, would still follow pretty much the same structure. You were interested in sport as a kid, you go to high school and see a flier for sport, you play sport with your friends, and you end up winning your final match against another sport team. The “sport” here just so happens to be baseball.
I’m going to use an easy reference you all probably have heard of: Emi from Katawa Shoujo. In her character arc, she’s known to be a track runner, and ropes the protagonist Hisao into doing exercise with her each and every morning. If that was the full extent of her character, being athletic, then you could replace much of what she does with something equivalently athletic, like organised sports. But it’s not even close to being the full extent of her character. Running was chosen because it’s a single, concentrated, solo activity that you can do automatically, clear your head entirely of, and do without any distractions whatsoever. The head – clearing properties that require little thought is core to Emi’s character because of how she uses it to make up for the tragedies of her past, being a single concentrated things she can do in order to — metaphorically and literally — run away from her memories. The specific sport of running is central to not only Emi’s character, but her entire story. You would have to rewrite her entire route if you wanted to swap out running for anything else.
A contrast to Katawa Shoujo would be the segments with the Body Improvement Club in Mob Psycho 100. Mob wants to get fitter to impress a girl he likes because he can’t use his psychic powers to earn her attention. He joins the Body Improvement Club after being motivated by one of the Student Council members to give up the lackadaisic life that the Telepathy Club has decided to live. Their activities are as simple as weightlifting and doing runs around town, but do they have to be weightlifters and runners? No, not at all. You could replace their activities with any other sort of sport and the series would remain more or less unchanged. The specific form of exercise isn’t important to the overall structure of Mob’s character development. It’s just there, and it’s fine because the anime doesn’t need to show a specific discipline in order to get its self – improvement point across.
And even for other hobbies, there is a difference between a hobby that is and isn’t essential to the plot of the novel. In Bakuman, the fact the main characters want to be successful manga creators is absolutely essential to the manga proper, because the analytical insight into each and every aspect of the anime and manga industry can only be explored through characters that want to be a part of it. But in Welcome to the N.H.K., where the main character wants to make a breakout hit in order to stop being a NEET, it isn’t essential that he teams up with an otaku eroge game developer — you could replace eroge with any sufficiently nerdy hobby, like visual novels or dirty magazines, and still get across the desperation that the anime provides. Also, don’t watch that show. It’s good for the first six episodes and then nosedives in quality immediately after.
The characters in Butterfly Soup aren’t so attached to the game in this way. They don’t live, breath, and die by baseball in the same way as other athletic characters do. We don’t even know the reason why anybody enjoys baseball in this novel. They just sort of hang around baseball and baseball gets acquainted with them in the same way. The first time we see Diya and Min – seo, they’re doing something completely unrelated to sports and are shooting each other with fake guns. Then they are privy to a professional baseball game, but they’re just sort of there. And the first time Diya ends up playing the game is in the second grade… and there’s no reason for her to be there beyond being a accidental inspiration to Min – seo, who also just happens to be there. In short, I feel like the sport was sloppily integrated into this novel, and as a result, it feels like the passion has whimpered away.
Where the passion is most apparent is in the littlest details of the novel, where the characters sometimes say something shockingly wise, or the story stops joking around for a minute to get serious, and where you see a hell of a lot more depth to the story than is apparent on a surface level. The most striking part of the novel was when Akarsha looks at her own reflection and has a small sermon to herself about what it’s like to be attractive, and how she just wants to look slightly better than average so that she doesn’t have to be a mini – goblin that nobody has a crush on, saying that “being ugly builds character”. It’s that sort of Stoic thinking and mature discourse that you never see in today’s work that made little moments like that stand out in this one. But once you come across a moment like that, it’s with the knowledge that it’s going to be a long, long time before you come across another.
And there is a lack of consistency in this novel overall in moments like that, where one moment you could be making a joke about how fascinating it is to stare at a bush (in that fourth – wall breaking type of way where you have to click on the bush to inspect it), and the next Akarsha is talking about how depressing her life is and how she uses humour in order to mask that pain. But then after the story drops a bomb like that, it’s never brought up again and we’re back to good old Jokes. Tonal shifts like these is one of the surest signs of an amateur writer, where they don’t know how to structure their work in a way where they talk about one thing, and then they talk about another, so they just dump topics into the fray and have them fight each other for space. It’s like how old rap songs would have a comedic skit before and after getting into the rap track you wanted to listen to. At best, it’s unnecessary. At worst, it’s jarring and very difficult to get past because of how out – of – place it is.
I do, however, appreciate the instant messaging online conversations that pepper the novel. It’s fun to see how the characters get to know each other in the Internet Arena, and it’s a classic trope to look at how each character types. A bit of an obvious technique, yes, but when you become a writer with experience such as I have, everything is an obvious technique. The challenge, you see, is in figuring out how best to implement them. Also, there’s a segment where the baseball weebs form a furry role – playing group and Diya’s to Min – seo like “I don’t know how to talk to the baseball team. They’re being …….weird”. And Akarsha (or… “albret einstrong”) is like “SAD NYA”, which is such a totally unnecessary thing to include in the novel, yet it’s really hilarious to see that the mind of Brianna has managed to include this in the novel without dying from the cringe we all faced in our teenage years. Kind of like the rest of the novel: hilarious, very much so at times, though much of it need not be there.
I suppose, to sum up the plot, is that things happen, and you’re just along for the ride. So I hope you enjoy your slice – of – life visual novels because… this is it.
There are a great deal of characters here, all of which represent some different type of personality in the great literary tradition of never having two characters with similar personalities interact with each other, despite how reality gravitates towards relationships between similar people. Four of them are the main characters — Diya, Akarsha, Min – seo, and Noelle — and the rest of them waffle between having a real presence and just sort of being there. We got family, friends, strangers, acquaintances, side characters, extras, and uncanny human – looking audience members at the baseball stadium contrasting against the Nu – Anime art style.
The DAMN Squad
Diya is who we are subjected to first, who is what I believe to be a Tamil – speaking South Indian girl with an unexplained penchant for athleticism and who happens to be excessively good at baseball. Like all stereotypical Millennial, she has zero idea how to adopt a proper sleep schedule, has to deal with the fundamentally broken and archaic infrastructure of United States high schools, and enjoys dogs. In all likeliness, she represents the type of person who would want to read this novel. She appeals to the kids these days. I would say she’s a corporate shill, but this isn’t a corporate product. As a bonus, she’s a character and not just a brand to manipulate emotions with, unlike those “trendy” cunts at Wendy’s.
She’s one of those quiet types with a bit of bite to her dialogue, which shows she’s a step up from the typical socially – awkward teenager in that she doesn’t make you glad you’re not her, but she still suffers from the smarm that coats the 21st century and kills old – fashioned notions of honour, chivalry, manliness, vigour, and other traits of what we used to consider good human beings, as opposed to bipedal wastes of protein and calcium. She sure does have vigour in her, though we never get to see her training to create that vigour, to the point where she just seems to be naturally good at baseball and whatever studies she can bullshit her way through. Human beings, typically, have to practice in order to sharpen their skills. Showing a character who just happens to have those skills takes us out of the verisimilitude and reminds us that we’re reading a work of fiction.
She also wears a neon sweater with flowers, like that Flume album, though one that could only exist in the United States at that time period, because Canadian fashion always lags ten years behind whatever the Statesians are doing due to our cultural bias towards being inoffensive and conservative… some of the fashions I see down south today are just unreal, where most of us are happy in our single – toned hoodies and rain jackets. You know what a Vancouver winter is like? Instead of snowing, it rains, and it always rains. When it’s not raining, there’s fog, and if it’s not foggy the sun beats down in five degree wind chill as a cruel parody of what our too – hot summers are like. It’s been described as having either the world’s worst or best weather depending on who you talk to — the neighbouring Semiahmoo area translates to “hole in the sky” because of how different the weather is to the rest of the British Columbia province. Of course, carrying an umbrella in Vancouver means you’re either a tourist or a pansy.
She suffers, like the rest of the crew, in that she doesn’t have an “arc” per say, in that she doesn’t have any real motivation for being, or any desires or topics of intrigue that we are privy to. She goes about her day, and we are but witnesses to that, her reacting to stimuli and we just coming along with her reactions. I remind you that she joins the baseball club solely because she saw a flier that advertised the club, and in fact walked right past a recruiter because of this disability known as “social anxiety”, which is certainly a trendy thing to write about but doesn’t make for very sympathetic characters when they react to strangers with all the courage of that dog from Courage the Cowardly Dog, who wasn’t very courageous and was in fact quite cowardly. As much as we love to fetishise mental illness nowadays, we must understand that there are plenty of healthy and responsible workers of the world who do not suffer these inhibitions, and I happen to be one of these gentlemen. I presume including this trait in modern fiction is designed to be “relatable”. I cannot relate. I find such people incredibly prickly and frustrating to deal with.
Oh, there is some change, in that she starts out the novel not knowing she’s a lesbian and then ending up as a lesbian, just through being hugged by Min – seo (and kissed, at the end, more spoilers yare yare daze) and without much other thoughts or revelations about her lesbianism, making it just sort of be revealed. Typically the thought process, as I have experienced it, would be “I’m not gay” to “I’m only attracted to specific types of guys” to “It turns out I’m gay after all” and finally ends with “we must purge the heterosexuals”. In contrast to Min – seo’s character, who has always seemed to hate everything girly and figured out quite young that she was gay as hell, Diya just kind of has the revelation dropped on her. In sum, if you were expecting a coming – out story, you’re not going to get a good one.
Min – seo, speak of the devil, is a Korean girl who dresses up in that particular Asian fashion that’s very flashy and with clothing lines that you will never, ever find at your local Walmart; you know the fashion. She has a twin brother, but he sort of just appears as the plot desires, and is kind of a wimpy and uninteresting character. Her dad is an abusive fuck and her parents are kind of just… bad. I find it upsetting that there is a living generation of people who still believe in such a strict gender binary that men can only do men things and women can go fuck themselves, but I take pleasure in knowing they are all going to die.
She’s angry all the time but with a noble spirit towards her Gal Pal Diya, who she met in the second grade after watching her play baseball with the boys, and then stole away to ride to the Home Depot lights section, I mean an abandoned sewer pipe, and then got to play with some dogs. I’m guessing Brianna has a dog fetish? I mean, not like my dog fetish where I want to fuck the dogs, I mean the fetish where you have an appreciation for them and without fucking the dogs and where has my life gone where this is a relatable sentence to me? I actually know Brianna’s previous work, Pom Gets Wi – Fi, through out – of – context screenshots on Tumblr from a game I never bothered to play. Pom (the dog) actually gets referenced multiple times in Butterfly Soup, though my frog friend said of Pom she’d “probably give it a negative score”. I hope that informs your opinion.
I like Min – seo because she showcases the spirit of a youngster, though at the same time she’s really a punk with low intelligence whose reaction to things is to either fight them or call them fake. She seems to showcase some honour, in the same way there is honour amongst rogues, as she was sufficiently impressed by Akarsha’s period – blood slap in order to respect her enough as a dirty skank. She’s one of those characters with too many knives, and it is always knives with this type of character. I wonder if she’s the type to look up the specs of her blades before purchasing them, or if she just gets them because they look cool. Personally I’d just pick up a KA – BAR and call it a day. You can’t beat the classics!
I also appreciate her boldness in showing how much she cares about Diya, although she beats around the bush a whole lot before they finally do realise they’re in Lesbians with each other, although the novel ends too abruptly for us to understand how well the relationship goes afterwards. The epilogue does show off how they adopt a dog together, so I assume things are going well for them. I’m more interested in seeing the break – up, the point in time where it is obvious a couple has not engaged in normal romantic relations for several years. There’s no drama in a happy ending! And if the ending is happy, how long does it last? I am astounded whenever I come into contact with people who have decades – long relationships. Personally, I can’t make mine last more than a few months. Some people flip, some people don’t wanna make a relationship, and some people were never meant to be.
She is a flat character in that she doesn’t change or learn much along the way of the story, although she does seriously consider killing her dad in the second grade (where in the world did she pick that strategy up?), though beyond a flashback there isn’t much thematic prudence to the discussions of domestic abuse and gender norms, which I feel is just one of several very juicy missed opportunities the novel briefly considers and then casts aside. I would like to see characters like what Brianna have brought forth in a more competently – constructed sequel, but then it feels like you would just be retelling the characters stories all over again in a way that’s slightly better and would still suffer from the basic tenets of who the characters are. Erm… eh, fine, let’s just give Min – seo a “B” overall, yeah?
Akarsha comes in hot and heavy as the joker character, being an Indian girl who is somewhat like a goblin in appearance and attitude, wearing one of those multi – coloured coats you’d see young kids wear in the 1990s. Pretty much every word that comes out of her mouth is designed to be funny in some way; for shitty writers, this usually means referencing as many popular media franchises as they can and seeing what charity titters they can extract from the Neanderthal neckbeards who considers a reference to the newest superhero prolefeed power hour to be the peak of comedy. Fortunately this only takes up, I hazard, about fifteen percent of her dialogue, the rest of which being a sort of sly silliness.
I like Akarsha because she seems to be the only main character who is having any fun. Sure, Diya and Min – seo are having their own sense of smug satisfaction with each other, and Noelle can take pride in all that she knows, but Akarsha approaches everything like a clown: with a smile and a Joke, funny or not, and I will admit that much of her jokes are as cringe – inducingly unfunny as they are laugh – out – loud hilarious. Oh, but wait, on the inside she’s actually a stressed – out and confused individual who has to suffer the mores of society and high school and plan for her future and blather blather blah. I wouldn’t make fun of her issues, but they are hardly ever espoused on in the novel, and are sort of awkwardly thrown in there as non – sequiturs that are never referenced by any of the other characters.
Out of all the main characters, she appears to be the one that is least written to be a character, instead appearing like somebody you would actually know in real life instead of a construction designed to appeal to some certain segment of the population. I feel like a lot of what this novel gets at is designed to appeal to the teens out there who also suffer from the Relatable® issues that plague our youth, but I relate most to Akarsha because she’s pretty much how I was in my senior years of high school (although I was a pussy for the first three years, so we don’t talk about that). Tell as many jokes as you can and by the time you get out of that slump, you’ll find yourself a pretty charming gentleman. Nothing hones comedy like a good old trial – by – fire, and most of the characters wish she was fired from their lives. Why do they hang out? The novel said she just sort of showed up in Diya’s life due to being forced to be around her.
No clue how she hacked the fire alarm, though, or how she got the git to play the Super Mario Brothers theme in the absence of any sort of handheld computer technology on her person. Do United States fire alarms have computers in them? Are they not just pull levers that you throw down and make the whole school evacuate? Also, there’s so much damn copyrighted content in this novel that I am surprised there wasn’t any DMCAs filed against it within the first three minutes of its existence. But Butterfly Soup is also copyrighted, so if the author gets sued, that’s none of my business, frog emoji, tea emoji.
Noelle, who is a strong candidate for the least – Chinese looking and most Chinese – acting Statesian girl in the entire realm of fiction, has most of her character defined by her parents being the same type of stereotypical abusive Chinese twats where no achievement is ever good enough for them, happiness is a construct designed to oppress hard work, and where your entire parenting style seems to be based around making your kid resent you as much as possible for as long as they live. I say “abusive” when many people would euphemise the phrase to “strict”, though I consider systemically denying your child autonomy and joy for the entirety of their childhood and adolescence to be a form of child abuse.
She seems well – adjusted enough, though, although you’d think Chinese values would place a high value on improving the human body given that’s the usual trend with totalitarian countries, though Noelle is one of the saddest examples of female athleticism I’ve ever seen, which makes me both shocked and relieved to know that there exists a plausible fictional character who has arm strength worse than mine (I can lift eight kilograms! hooray!). She instead works out at the library, filling her head with knowledge that is no doubt of zero practical use whatsoever, and also because her parents make her do it despite moving to one of the world’s most socially libertarian countries whose position on individualism is diametric to that of China’s blatant authoritarianism. Old habits die hard.
Her relationship to the other girls is either being frustrated or finding those rare times where she can relate to the others; I have no idea why she hangs around those nerds, but it’s probably because she has no friends outside of them — so more than yours truly, at the very least. Her relation to the main plot, much like that of Akarsha, is hanging around and occasionally offering advice to the two gay nerds despite the novel stating she wouldn’t understand lesbianism as a concept. So it’s implied Noelle isn’t gay, and with Akarsha being a bi girl ready to hurl (finally, a character for me!), she is supposedly the only straight character in the DAMN squad. Obviously this makes her worst girl.
The authoritarianism of her parents, much like the majority of themes in the novel, drops the ball. It’s not domestic abuse as we know it, it’s just really, really shitty parenting, leading to unrealistically high expectations of who you are as a person, forcing you to second – guess everything you do in order to find the “correct” value, and abandoning all forms of pragmatism and life experience for the sake of being shoehorned into the golden cage that is academia, for… what, exactly? So you can live moderately wealthy before killing yourself at age thirty from a lifetime of neglect and stunted emotional growth?
I’d think a novel about Asian girls would have some more focus over Asian issues. It just feels like the girls are incidentally Asian because that’s who they are in their design, as opposed to what overarching relevance it serves the plot. And the races are relevant, yes, and there is some discourse about what it’s like being Asian – Statesians and being a minority group despite living in insular communities where it’s easy to forget that you are indeed a minority. But the key word is “some” discourse, and although the issues are brought up, they are not taken advantage of. It feels like a novel that focuses on things happening and people talking without stopping to think why things happen and why people are talking. It walks right past topics of interest and spends too much time on comedic antics. You can’t have that duality unless you are a particularly talented writer. To be honest, despite Brianna’s charm, I’m not sure if she has that overarching talent.
Maybe it does get stale seeing the same routine of Akarsha telling her some lame joke and Noelle getting physically angry at her, but I do find it endearing in this way because of how predictable it is, where the small mutations of the jokes – frustration relationship builds up to levels of absurdity, and how Noelle is said to be the type of girl who, if someone is wrong, cannot let them be wrong. Let me tell you, that’s an awful existence to lead. There are too many stupid people and not enough hours in the day! Nobody should introduce her to Reddit. I saw somebody on Reddit actually, unironically say “I’m a Trump supporter”, and my head nearly exploded because of how much fractal wrongness your fundamental existence has to incur in order to support that cunt. And I don’t mean cunt in that nice way where you call someone a cunt because they stole your French fry at Wendy’s with a smile on your face. I’m saying that anybody, given all we know about the current United States presidency, who is a supporter of that worthless cunt, is not only a cunt by proxy, but they are so much of a cunt that the only solution to dealing with them is to cut off all contact with them and hope they die soon enough to the point where you can live the rest of your life never thinking about them again.
Anyway, I wonder what Butterfly Soup would be like if set in 2017? Well, probably the same, only instead of Christian protesters we’ll have literal Nazis… so exactly the same. Haha, obvious cheap shot. It would probably change the novel too much, because instead of Noelle’s parents being a much stronger argument against immigration than whatever the United States is blaming Muslims for nowadays, they would be the type of helicopter parents who, through stripping their child of even the most nascent amounts of independence, relies on every other aspect of society — but not themselves! — in order to regulate the success of their child, causing them to have no idea how to handle the realities of this world and causing them to grow up in an incredibly sheltered environment with no positive stressors that encourages them to grow and develop as human beings, effectively causing them to be children in an adult’s body. Given how poorly the novel tackles the themes it already expresses, I have my doubts it would be able to tackle modern issues.
And now for the other scrubs
The races of the side characters don’t matter as they do with the main characters, though I’m including them for the sake of completion (much like the Skullgirls developers showcase the measurements of a thirteen – year – old girl. for completion. obviously) and as an easy way to showcase the continually lost potential which this novel presents. One of the problems that amateur writers face is their inability to create appealing main characters because they’re too afraid to afraid to alter them, lest they be imperfect. As a result, they often offload all the interesting bits to the side characters, where they don’t have to think about them too much and don’t have to ruin their precious protagonists. They then predictably complain how the side characters are more interesting than the main characters. If they had simply given the main characters the personalities of their side characters, they would have a better novel and they would be free of the shackles of writing “characters”, as opposed to facsimiles of real people.
This novel has the opposite problem in that all the side characters, though having their own unique personalities, don’t really do anything beyond show up to play some baseball and occasionally be a fill – in for dialogue when the main ones aren’t around to talk. They have nice designs, they have nice ways of speaking, but at the end of the novel we still don’t know a damn thing about them beyond how they are immediately presented to us. They seem to be here for the sole purpose of baseball. Once again, I wonder why the novel had to be about baseball. A standard high school romance flick would have been fine, just fine, and you would already get the Asian fans being marketed to smashingly enough that they’d give you the suck for as long as the novel remained relevant, because such people who appreciate work based on their premise and not their quality are like moths fluttering to a flame.
Chryssa, who is a tall black senior (the high school designation, not saying she’s sixty – five) who projects the same passive confidence and assertiveness I would like to adopt for my own life. Like the other side characters, her lack of shenanigans means she’s one of the most realistic characters in the novel, and makes me wonder just what in the world she’s doing here. As gentlewomen of the African Persuasion tend to be, she is quite competent in the game of Stick and Ball and appears to be the main organiser alongside her Stick and Ball partner, who is, paragraph break:
Liz, also a senior, and continues the tradition of having red – haired white girls with large breasts being overbearingly nice. Seriously, I’ve met three girls just like her. There has to be a cross – cultural conspiracy, or at the very least some sort of osmosis between those of Ginger Genetics. She looks like a Nord without the traditional blonde hair, and has a gaze that can stop a rampaging bull, have it consider its life choices thus far, and join several online dating sites attempting to find that one cow who cares about him the way he cares about himself. Maybe I just like her because she’s the whitest girl in this novel and I’m a racist with no self – esteem and so must have my entire sense of self validated through mother figures as opposed to challenging myself to be a better person. Wouldn’t you believe it?
Sakura (not her real name) is a fucking weeb — the type who actually wears a Bleach T – shirt (that’s a suin’) and introduces herself in Japanese. She appears to be of Middle Eastern descent and wears a headscarf, despite the season being… well it’s never really brought up, but any religion that involves wearing a scarf in Summer clearly has something wrong with it, not to mention all the child slaves. She doesn’t really do anything, but does set up the best joke in the novel: “What, is it a crime to like anime?” Chryssa: “Yes”.
Yuki (not her real name) is also a fucking weeb, though in the sense that she wears a school sailor uniform designed for Winter, if I guess correctly that blue is a typically Winterish colour. All the weebs in my high school just had a shit – ton of buttons on their backpacks, like a code for those “in the know”, segregated like those proud homosexuals who wore flags out their backsides. I don’t know what region of the world her ancestry hails from, and some of you centrists would like me to believe that We Are All Equal and that race is just a construct. Personally I prefer to acknowledge our fundamental genetic and cultural differences as opposed to believing they don’t exist. She also does very little.
Dear Ester does the least out of everyone else and at this point I’ve stopped caring about what they look like, who appears to be here because we needed a ninth character but we didn’t want to write a ninth character so we just collectively forget about her. She has a permanent scowl on her face and with overalls that look like what you would find on an elementary school kid in the early 90s. I can appreciate the fashions of this game and the variety of real – life styles that Brianna has drawn, clearly a woman of many talents, and how they aren’t so fantastic as to be alienating or too simple to be fictional. It provides a lot of character for the characters before we even get to know them, and is part of the reason why design is such a fascinating field. As much as we like to think otherwise, you can judge someone based on their appearance. Designers must make these judgements appealing, and manipulate them for great profit.
And then there are the collective The Boys, Jun – seo (Min – seos twin brother) and Hayden (elementary school friend). They show up to play baseball as who might as well be the only two members on the opposing team, given how it was hard enough making enough designs for one team, so let’s just chop off the other seven members and call it a day. They are relegated to the same memory hole that this novel enjoys using, being occasionally pulled out of in order to advance the plot along. If one’s asking me how I feel about the only two gentlemen in the novel being stuck under the oppressive thumb of the Female Menace, I will remark that I don’t base my entire self – identity around a gender. After all, ladies love that sensitivity crap!
Alright, we’ve assassinated all the characters in this novel and I’ve looked at the novel longer than I’ve ever expected or wanted to. What else is there? Writing, themes, art style… Well, I think anybody who’s read all these words up to this point probably has their brain fried by all that old bull shit I’ve subjected them to, so I think I’ll just wrap it up real quick. I’ve discussed much right now, and all that’s left for me is to discuss just a little more. For completion. Obviously.
Yeah, I’m sick of this fucking review. And, based on the fan feedback I got from a whole whopping one of you, you’re all sick of this too! On the surface, especially if you’ve only read the section headers and not the content of the actual review, you would think I’ve only talked about three things. How naïve young minds are! Within these sections I have discussed everything from writing to themes to plot to fashion to all the rest of the good things. Except for the art style. Should I talk about the art style? I don’t think I’m qualified; instead of learning how to draw, I was stuck on this baby. Thanks, Brianna.
But this is the conclusion, so let me sum up my thoughts on this work. It feels somewhat insubstantial to shoehorn the entirety of this analysis into a single byte, but given how real Persons check the description then dip, you already know that I’ve done that. I will say that, despite the numerous flaws of Butterfly Soup, there is a little something to make up for it by the time you’ve finished the thing. The side characters may not do much, but at least they have personality. The main characters may not have arcs, but they’re funny and joyous and they really have chemistry together. For every bad joke, there’s three good ones sneaking up. There may be memes and references, but there’s also a lot of not – memes and not – references, so it succeeds in comedy in this way. And even though the prologue was dick, the rest of the novel makes up for it. So, basically, skip the prologue. That is the fake start of the novel. The real start begins when the screen says “ninth grade”.
I did want to hate this novel, and I did want to love it by the end, and though re – reading the scenes I find it just as endearing the second time, I also left with a sad sense of emptiness, thinking to myself “that’s it?” after the pretty ladies kissed and got banned from the sorbet shop. I do realise it’s a solo project and thus completely unfair to compare to something like other visual novels, where the routes in them would be four hours each as opposed to the entire experience being, but I did feel that even though you could have created a very large and cohesive story if the plot was much more focused, and spent less time on distractions and diversions, the experience as a whole ended up lacking.
I like the characters, but what more will the author do with them? I like the music, in that it’s listenable, even though I forget about it all after I finished playing it, and even though they added in that shitty recorder cover of “My Heart Will Go On” that is very hip, not at all a dead meme, not at all. I enjoyed many of the jokes, and the novel does succeed in being a comedy across much of the humour spectrum, as long as you’re not in the mood for anything sophisticated or with the wit of Oscar Wilde. Overall, it does seem to be the type of novel that could only exist in the amorphous blob that is indie games. It exists, it does its thing, provides some gags, provides some thought, but is more about the gags than the thought, and in the gags works very well.
I’ve made such a long work for you today for the reason that I would like to be the longest critique of Butterfly Soup that I can reasonably muster, and though I have also made many jokes (but how funny are they? hmm…), I wrote this with the intent to take the piss out of the legions of fans who praise this novel without knowing why they praise it, who appears to react to works that appeal to them with the knee – jerk stimulation of a Venus flytrap snapping shut on its prey. We so harshly criticise total disparagement of a work even when that work deserves the disparagement, and yet we do not criticise the opposite: total praise. I would say that not saying a single harsh thing to an artist is doing them a great disservice to them, for the worst thing you can do for an artist is tell them their work is perfect, because their work is not perfect, will never be perfect, and deluding them into thinking so under a never – ending torrent of positivity is how we get websites like Fur Affinity, whose culture of never saying a rude thing causes work that is… well, look for yourself, if you are inclined.
The work isn’t perfect, it’s not bad either, but I cannot understand on a level of quality why this novel is so damn popular. I can understand easily on a marketing level why: Gay Asian romance novel! Such a large, neglected area of the population! So much positive press over the bravery of being gay in the year 2017! A functional and trendy art style! Relatable characters! Of course the disciplined mind understands these are just our zeitgeists, and what Brianna has constructed, knowingly or otherwise, is riding that zeitgeist. Had it been publish five years before, or five years after, it would have been dead in the water. Had it not gotten so much press from these groups, it would suffer the same fate. But we live in a time where this novel is in the Guardian, on PC Gamer, and in the Itch.io end – of – year roundup as one of the best free games of 2017, and so is popular, and so I rebel against it.
The existence of this review is a struggle against every content – free comment or popcorn piece of praise that has ever been delivered towards this novel, for every five – star rating that has been left without considering what that rating means, and for everyone who likes this novel and know not why they like it. My ratings philosophy is clear. My opinion is wrought from reason. And the construction of this article, though also not perfect, is a sign of my own zeitgeist: that which hustles to bring down giants for the sake of seeing what made them tall. I hope that its existence helps out my audience, and should Brianna herself read it, encourage her to create work fitting of an artist of her stature, and to take advantage of her many talents, so free in their inhibitions, and to make the work most that she would like to see, though still that most worthy of being seen.
This review is about 11,000 words long. I hope you didn’t find it too… boring.