The Untold Backstory of The Untold History Of Japanese Game Developers

By Marcus Estrada


untoldbook[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Untold History of Japanese Game Developers was a Kickstarter project formed to bring interviews, retrospectives, and more about Japanese video games to a Western audience. Many classic developers are much loved, but left without much historical documentation for English-speaking audiences to look into. Lovers of Japanese games flocked to the project and saw that it was funded 140% over its goal. Project coordinator John Szczepaniak had a lot of work ahead of him on his trip to Japan, but with supportive backers everything was assumed to go off without a hitch.

Unfortunately, the project did not work out as anyone had hoped. Yes, The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers book is still incoming. In fact, proofing copies of the book are already out which means backers are nearer than ever to getting their hands on a copy. It was during the Japan trip, wherein John would conduct the bulk of his developer interviews, that things turned sour between himself and the hired translation team.

Although I was not a backer of this project, I did discover these goings on as they are posted publicly on various Kickstarter updates. This is simply a synopsis of the goings on, and not an attempt to cast myself on either “side” of the story. Both deserve their stories told, as well as comments where they may have acted out of turn. First is John’s side of the matter as he was the first to discuss everything in a public setting.


November 21, 2013: “Dealing with Unethical People”

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s John explained in his first of a series of posts detailing the events and fallout of his Japan trip, the translation coordinator Hanako Abe “…had officially sabotaged the project.” According to the information given, she was very difficult to work with. These problems related to her hiring a close network of translator friends who provided poor quality work and failed to refund him for work they didn’t complete. There were also many notes pointing an unprofessional attitude on Hanako’s part consisting of berating John, changing her mind constantly on self-imposed rules, and that her sister Agness Kaku was posting ‘warning’ messages on the Kickstarter campaign. Since these Kickstarter comments have since been deleted, it is impossible for me to verify what they did or didn’t say. If nothing else, it’s obvious that something riled him enough to provide a very serious update with such an accusatory tone.

It is very easy to sit back and say “John should never have written this update”, as some backers noted, citing it as unprofessional to call the interpreter out in this fashion. However, one must take into consideration the immense stress that comes from any Kickstarter project working towards completion. With over 1,500 backers and big money in play many of us would probably be unable to act as we envision we would. Unfortunately for John, placing statements such as the original update and ones that followed laid the groundwork for Agness to pursue a case against him.


January 17, 2014: “Telenet, Falcom, Game Arts, and Quintet tears”

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n a second post, one of the problems brought on by Hanako’s crew of interpreters was expanded upon.  Here John provided a piece of evidence in the form of a 26 second video which demonstrated a poor translation by one of the staff, and explained how there were hours of great content harmed by this poor quality work. From only the video clip presented it certainly appeared that the translation was far more general than expected when interviewing someone with specific questions. Again, this post was impassioned, as one might expect when a passion project is further impinged upon.

One thing to note is that John hammered heavily on the concept of exactly how underwhelming the translation effort was. Between calling the work “gibberish” and “pure garbage” it is easy to see why Hanako would feel her professional name being raked over the coals for everyone to see. Her sister Agness, also a translator, may have begun to feel the ripple effects too.


March 13, 2014: “Hanako Abe adopts scorched earth policy”

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s unfortunate as the situation already was, at least it seemed as though things were over now that John was back from Japan with interviews in hand. This was not the case, as detailed in a third postwhich stated that Hanako, Agness, and her husband Peter Daimu were in a calculated effort to sabotage not only the project, but also John’s career. He received word from a few of his associates that they had been contacted. It is impossible to say whether everyone involved with John, from interviewees to friends, were contacted or not, but some people were.

Of note in this post is the cause for a return to escalation in tone. John was apparently forwarded a copy of the email that Hanako sent out to at least one interviewee. The email showed her side, which she communicated to others, and posits that John had been defaming her online via libelous Kickstarter updates. She mentioned the possibility of pursuing legal action – which may jeopardize the book’s publication. This was the big news. Beyond that statement, the rest of the email was not noteworthy to backers but provided to show the complete context of the remarks. Although most of the email is name-calling free, it did end on a jabbing note with “[We] hope that… [the project] will be accurately communicated to the world by a competent person.” Ouch.

In any case, this post was a little more than just the facts and also caused some backers to take John’s side to an extreme – choosing to lash out against Hanako and Agness online. It is certain that John never explicitly advocated as such, but he did inadvertently help craft a narrative by calling the people involved “relentless mad hornets”, “sociopathic monsters”, and the like alongside posing hypothetical scenarios about how to damage careers. With his backers fully supporting him already, the further dog pile against his enemies did start to feel troubling in its unrelenting negativity.


April 15, 2014: Joint Statement Regarding Criminal Case Against John Szczepaniak

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter months of public silence, Hanako published a statement (alongside Agness, and both their husbands) in regards to prosecuting John for criminal libel. This is where the ‘he said she said’ aspect of these events really began. They painted the story as one where John was the primary cause of his issues in Japan. Of course, what else would Hanako’s side say? But then again, John pinned all the blame on Hanako previously, so their statements are both quite similar minus the tone differences. Their statement said Jon was “unprepared and under-qualified” for the job and “strained working relationships.”

The main difference is that Hanako and Agness’ side presented a large FAQ about the events, providing answers from this side of things. For the most part they appear to respond to all accusations in a factual nature (whether or not they are the truth is up to each reader). Unfortunately, there are still a couple of instances that feel unprofessional, such as where they responded to John’s description of the women as mentally incompetent with their own suggestion of John’s mental state. Overall, the story they tell is quite different from what John told and it is impossible to tell who is telling the truth. Likely, the answer lies somewhere in between.


May 30, 2014: “Hanako Kaku and Agness Kaku start false court proceedings”

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lthough John and his backers probably wished to never hear about Hanako or Agness again, this public statement prompted (as of now) one final Kickstarter update. In this post he provided a variety of partial screenshots from emails and legal documents to prove Agness as a liar. According to John, her legal statement claims she lost a contract with Square Enix due to her association and tussle with him. He showcased his own information to counter her argument although it gets much harder to parse the point as his post continues. Obviously, John is 100% aware of all that occurred, but some of the included content was never touched upon until now which makes it a bit confusing for followers to grasp.

With all that said, there is one moment of incredible irony in the post which states “…the fact that Agness has ranted and raged online about the court case should tell people that: something is not mentally right with her, and… if they had any kind of case they would have sat back and let the courts pass judgment.” Considering John has ranted (in Hanako and Agness’ opinion) online on multiple occasions to spur retaliation to begin with, this bit rings hollow.


[dropcap]S[/dropcap]o that brings us up to the current situation. A hearing for this legal case was scheduled on June 12th and neither party has provided a long-winded account as of yet. Perhaps, now that both sides have lawyers, they’ve been instructed to keep grievances offline. The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers book was officially completed on June 17th despite all these monolithic headaches. Through it all, John has persisted and the Kickstarter has nearly reached its conclusion. It’s tremendously unfortunate that all of this had to transpire along the way. Here’s hoping the groups do not go to trial and deal with a lengthy, expensive process and instead reach a settlement. They’ve both gone through enough – as have the backers!


You can learn more about The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers by reading our review of the recently released companion DVD.

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[author image=”” ]Marcus is a fellow with a love for video games, horror, and Japanese food. When he’s not writing about games for a multitude of sites, he’s usually still playing one. One day when he became fed up with the way sites would ignore niche titles he decided to start his own site by the name of Pixel Pacas. Writing about video games is something he hopes to continue doing for many years to come. Some of Marcus’s favorite games include Silent Hill 2, Killer7, and The Sims. [/author]

Marcus Estrada
Marcus is a fellow with a love for video games, horror, and Japanese food. When he’s not writing about games for a multitude of sites, he’s usually still playing one. Writing about video games is something he hopes to continue doing for many years to come.
Marcus Estrada


Writer for @Cliqist - This is my new ''PROFESSIONAL'' account. Yay, crowdfunded video games!
Glad to see the BL visual novel Sentimental Trickster was funded. How about those #Kickstarter stretch goals? - 6 years ago
Marcus Estrada