Ok in case anyone was wondering, games I liked this year were Utawarerumono 3, Tales of Berseria, Ys VIII, Baldr Heart, and Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. I barely put any time into Persona 5 because it’s a 100+ hour monster so I decided to leave it to later. So far it’s pretty cool. The rest of this post probably has little to do with video games.
So on New Year’s Eve of 2016 I started Gyakuten Saiban 6, which lead me to think about when I first discovered the Ace Attorney series at the tender age of 13. I instantly fell in love with the wacky courtroom antics. I was also in Air Cadets and signed up for some field trip during March Break to watch trials in a real court. Growing up as a rather…poorly-behaved child in a Chinese family, I was always taught to draw a strict distinction between fiction and reality so I knew very well that the silly characters and comical scenes in my beloved video game were solely a product of fiction. The real courtroom is dry and serious and probably boring, full of legal talk beyond my comprehension and little entertainment value. It was the adult world where people had to be serious and professional about their jobs. A professional environment had to guarantee that its participants were competent, I thought.
I was with several other cadets, discussing what drill commands were like in French on the bus. It was like a normal field trip with a bunch of young teens, except we were all in uniform and talked about boot polishing techniques. When we got off the bus and lined up before the courthouse, we were ordered to be quiet when walking into a trial and never speak a word or create any distractions during trial. After all the standard behavioral stuff I was led, along with a few fellow cadets, into a trial. I don’t remember the contents of the trial too well, but I do remember that it was exactly what I expected — dry, serious, and boring because I walked in in the middle and couldn’t follow what anyone was saying.
After watching for a while and getting bored, our leader told us to leave and took us to observe another trial. This one was about some international smuggling case, with a Chinese defendant who didn’t speak English so he had to have a translator.
The prosecution asked the defendant what he was carrying with him. After talking to his translator, the defendant answered, in Chinese, “八枝筍” The translator proceeded to translate the defendant’s testimony for the court:
“The defendant was carrying 8 bottles of bamboo shoot”
Then the defendant added, “ 。。。还有芝麻糊。”
“…and…sesame glue…that you eat.”
For the record, the judge and the prosecution were both white and didn’t know a lick of Chinese. The defendant doesn’t know English. The defense attorney visibly appeared to be East Asian so he probably knows Chinese. Maybe.
The court went silent. Everyone around me who knew Chinese were trying to hold back their laughter. The translator panicked as something was obviously not right. At this very moment, the scene that played out in front of me overlaid with the the long shot of the courtroom in Ace Attorney. The defense attorney looked like Phoenix Wright. The judge…did not have a beard but he looked as clueless as the bearded judge from the game. The prosecution was a white middle aged woman, but her expression was like the real life middle aged female version of the shocked Miles Edgeworth expression.
枝/支 is the discreet counting unit for long, thin objects. It’s often used as the counter for tree branches, flowers, pens, that sort of thing. It could also be used as the counter for bottles, although in Mandarin the proper counter would be 瓶. In conversational Cantonese, it was perfectly acceptable to use 支 as the counter for bottle.
芝麻糊 is this Chinese dessert known in English as black sesame soup. 糊 refers to some edible matter in the state of a thick liquid made from mixing some finely ground powder and hot water, and I frankly have no idea how the translator got “glue” other than a sudden brainfart.
Ok so back to the case. The judge and prosecution were going into some kind of false cultural shock as they wonder what the fuck a bottle of bamboo shoot or edible sesame glue were. I’m not sure if the defense attorney knew Chinese, but he didn’t correct the translation so I’m skeptical. The trial went on, with the prosecution reluctantly trying to question the defendant on what an edible sesame glue was and why were there bottles of bamboo shoot. The judge looked like he was done with the world and wanted to go home. The translator kept trying to awkwardly and incorrectly translate back and forth. At some point this lengthy Chinese conversation on the defense’s side occurred and the judge and prosecution could only stand there, staring blankly as they try to keep up with where the trial was going. Wait, so does the defense attorney know Chinese or not?? Nobody, in the time I was observing the trial, tried to correct the translation. Here was a bunch of professional men and women, dancing like clowns in a courthouse backdrop over a line of bad translation. We had to leave before we got to see the rest of the trial, but every single one of us burst out laughing as we left the room.
Have you ever played Ace Attorney and immediately spotted a contradiction, but the entire court overlooks it for a good five minutes of debating and being shocked over glaringly wrong conclusions before allowing you to object to the witness’ testimony? Have you looked at Phoenix and thought why the fuck do you not see this obviously wrong statement, why are you standing there looking like you have no idea what you’re doing? I know that feel. In real life.
I was a kid living the delusion that I was mature and knew what I’ll be getting into, because I believed in the clear distinction between fiction and reality. No matter how good and entertaining stupid situations in fiction are, they will never happen in real life because people in a professional environment have to be competent and composed. In the March when I was 13 years old, I realized that the professional world where everyone knew what they were doing was an ideal that Asian parents wanted to see.
Was Ace Attorney actually mimicking real life, or did the piece of fiction invade my perception of reality? Maybe I would start thinking about the art imitating life, life imitating art stuff if I didn’t have a ゲーム脳. All I learned from this trip to the courthouse was that the real world is stupid and absurd, just like my video games. Behind the civilized cover of professionalism was a foolish and fun circus show. I honestly believed that I touched upon the hidden truth of the world.
For the next few years I lived a carefree life and managed to casually ignore all my parents’ lectures about getting good grades and acting like a responsible adult. I thought I was set for a chill and successful life.
Then the boss at my first internship told me not to use memes and bad jokes in future job interviews and I had to reevaluate my life. My voice became monotone and my expressions were stoic. These days my employers tell me I need to show more emotion and express my feelings properly because they can’t read my character.
Happy New Year
(thinking about it now, I feel pretty bad for everyone involved in that trial but human empathy is hard)