What's new
  • Donate and support Agora Road's Macintosh Cafe to keep the forum alive and make any necessary upgrades to have a more pleasant experience! In addition, you will be able to have "moods" enabled on your profile and have donation only awards! Update: I configured the site with Brave Browser, so you can send tips to the site with BAT.

    You can now donate directly to the forum without signing up for patreon. You will still have all of the same perks in patreon but its now one less sign up method. It will be under Account Upgrades

    This is the submission thread for the 2nd E-zine! Please use the dropbox linke for submissions and bump the thread with ideas, comments, statements, or just to bump. If you want to submit your stories or whatever you want to the second edition.

A story from my hometown on the net: Aaeru, the piracy advocate who vanished

I feel like Agoraroad is a place for internet refugees. A place we're found after having to wander across a digital desert because our previous homes have burned down. The Decameron is a famous work of Italian literature and its core premise is that a group of characters fleeing from the plague find shelter together and pass the time sharing their stories. And this has been my experience so far on Agora. The people here all seem to have different backgrounds and stories about the places on the net they used to hangout on. Stories about their fallen countries and hometowns now ruined by the rot of the modern, decaying internet. And I've found it all so fascinating. Although I've shared about myself in various threads, I feel like it's my turn to dedicate a more serious post sharing a story from where I came. So as a disclaimer I'll warn you that it's a bit of a long one.

This post won't be about me so much. Rather I want to share the story of a fascinating individual from my corner of the web in the western visual novel scene. In fact this was the person who created the chief website I hung out on during the latter half of my high school years (fuwanovel.org). But even if you have no interest in visual novels or weeb media in general, I think many people here will find Aaeru to be a fascinating individual. Because she really was a larger than life personality.

Aaeru: The Piracy Advocate Who Vanished

YIt3EqE.png

(Aaeru's avatar)

If by chance you ever torrented a translated visual novel between the years of 2012 – 2015 there is a good chance it was a torrent hosted by Fuwanovel. These torrents gained quite bit of attention for their hassle free nature. They didn't just provide you with the visual novel, but came pre-patched with available fan-translations and were even pre-installed. Once the download finished, you could immediately start the application and begin reading. The purpose behind this, and the mission statement of Fuwanovel from its inception, was to "make visual novels popular in the west". The explicit method to achieve this was through piracy, and this is what Aaeru, the site's founder became known for.

Aaeru's stance on piracy was uncompromising, and in the later parts of her activity before disappearing, it almost seemed like she cared more about visual novels as a means for advocating piracy, than she did about visual novels themselves. The ultimate culmination of this was when she chose to fan-translate the visual novel Da Capo 3 almost specifically to start a fight with a localization company, Mangagamer. The company had already translated the previous 2 works in that series, making it almost certain that they would eventually get around to 3. Unsurprisingly her efforts led to a cease and desist request. Characteristic of Aaeru, she used this as an opportunity to get into philosophical arguments about the nature of copyright with Mangagamer's lawyer. She proudly displayed as a means of her advocacy on the website:
Da Capo III Fan Translation Cease & Desisted by Mangagamer (archived link)

UWzFrRA.png

Aaeru loathed the concept of intellectual property, and she really did walk the walk. Not just was Fuwanovel dedicated to making VNs popular in the west explicitly by making it easier to pirate visual novels than to buy them, but from my understanding the software the site itself used was also pirated. And this resulted in multiple server crashes.

Now one thing I really want to clarify, is that despite the objective ridiculousness of some of Aaeru's antics, like intentionally getting into hopeless legal fights to prove a point, I genuinely respect her for this. And this is what I meant by her larger than life personality. Only Aaeru would have the audacity to pull such a stunt. Just as only Aaeru would pull the stunt of running the whole site on stolen software. Despite some obvious fallback from her reckless way of doing things, I think in the grand scheme of things her audacious, bullheaded pursuit was more successful than it was a failure. Fuwanovel really was one of the largest websites dedicated to visual novels for a while, and that was because the user friendly torrents helped a lot of people get into VNs and as a result join the site. The extent of piracy and the fact that it really was easier to pirate than to buy most visual novels at the time, led localization companies to taking more initiative and upping their game in the coming years.

Part of Aaeru's struggle was that she held a deep conviction that the fan translation scene could out compete the official profit oriented markets. A pursuit I remember really supporting her on. Probably very similar to how the fan-subbing scene for anime used to be huge before Crunchyroll basically took over everything, the fan translation scene for visual novels experienced a similar cycle. While the fan-translation scene is not dead, it no longer poses any kind of competitive threat to official localizers. But back in 2012/2013 it felt like most of the decent VNs to read were the ones that either were already fan-translated, or were in the process of getting one. Not the ones getting officially translated.

RlK0RM9.png


Precisely because Japanese VN companies did not care at all about the western market, to the extent where it was not uncommon for Japanese visual novels to display a "For Japan Use Only" sign while loading the title screen. English localization companies were very restricted in their ability to get contracts for new IPs. Furthermore, visual novels were still so niche in the early to mid 2010s that many people had never even heard of the term. Meaning localizers also needed to prioritize a paying market over translating interesting titles.

On the other hand, VNs were gaining slight traction on obscure, ultra-weeb related communities. Increasingly fans of the medium who wanted to share their experiences took to fan-translating these games. Many of them (at least officially) encouraged people to buy official Japanese copies of the VN and then to apply the translation patch. Aaeru did not comply with these wishes which is why her pre-patched torrents were very controversial to some groups. But I think Aaeru understood how bullshit this "legal" approach to using a translation patch was.

Not only did it demand somebody to buy a product that the company had no interest or expectation of them buying, but the "Japan Use Only" status of many VNs made it very difficult to buy a VN and have it shipped over to you. I never bothered with this process, but essentially you either had to have a friend in Japan who had an address that you could ship it to and then they would forward it to you. Or there was some convoluted proxy process that I never cared to understand. But they would not ship to addresses outside of Japan, even if you were willing to pay the extra cost.

I would like to say that things have changed... But recently I bought a digital version of a VN on a website. And despite having a Japanese IP address (because I live here now), and running my system locale in Japanese, the software refused to run because I wasn't running an exclusively Japanese version of Windows. Perhaps the most infuriating thing is that I already paid for the damn thing and there was no way to get a refund. Thankfully some code crackers in China already solved the problem and I used their cracker to bypass this feature. That's right, I had to crack a game I PAID FOR!

In any case, that was all a long way of saying that the Japanese VN market really doesn't give a shit about non-Japanese markets. And essentially the only reason they started to care is because they noticed enough of their stuff was getting pirated that they figured they might as well agree to contract official licenses to localizers. In other words, just as Aaeru said in different words, piracy literally helped the western market for VNs. Since without piracy, these Japanese companies never would have agreed to have as much of their IPs localized as they have recently. Piracy also helped get VNs popular enough where even if fairly niche, they are at least known about enough where localizers have become increasingly able to snag any IP of interest. Whereas before they were mostly relegated to porn games to make profit.

In some Fuwanovel torrents for a while, two additional files unrelated to the VN were included. One was "You must not be ashamed of piracy.pdf" (link here), and the other was a video of John Perry Barlow (vid here), a musician and a free information advocate arguing for why antiquated notions of intellectual property don't work on the web. As a teenager downloading VNs from Fuwanovel, I never paid much attention to these files. And I suspect that was the case for many. At least for me, I thought it was funny to find a "You must not be ashamed of piracy" PDF inside a file I already pirated. If I felt morally opposed to pirating, I wouldn't have done it in the first place. That said, I've gained some new appreciation for what Aaeru was trying to do with this.

pL5elZe.png


All of us here have seen what the internet has become. How censored it currently is, and how draconian the copyright algorithm has become on YouTube. Aaeru was a free speech, free information warrior. Perhaps above everything else, even her desire to spread the popularity of visual novels. She wanted information to be free and I think many in this community would find that admirable. Which is why I wanted to share her story.

This post is getting long and so I'll focus on wrapping things up. But there is one more thing I have to address. What happened to Aaeru? The last bit of activity I can find from her is from September 2013. Over the years (long before she even made Fuwanovel) Aaeru had accrued a reputation of being a bit of a flake. It was not uncommon for her to disappear unannounced for a while, and then abruptly return. Only to repeat the process. At the time I didn't think too much of it. But recently I've been very curious about what happened. Since unlike the other times, she never came back after her disappearance at the end of 2013.

Digging through her old blog, I discovered this post, (My Life as an Eroge Enthusiast (link here)). She begins the post by apologizing for her absence and for leaving a translation project. But the real relevant bit is here, where she writes:

"The truth is, I have been in hospital for the past one month and it appears I have picked up a condition that guarantees that my life span will not exceed that of 40 or so (I am 25 right now.)"
~03/12/2010

It's certain that the internet persona of Aaeru is dead. Not even her account on the very site she founded, Fuwanovel exists anymore. She is a deleted user, and in 2015 Fuwanovel dropped all its torrents and adopted a stance against piracy. So even the site she founded to be a warship in the battle for free information ultimately sided against her desired legacy.

But knowing that she could literally be deceased by now makes things much more bitter. Aaeru was a person who had a profound impact on me. My own attitude about intellectual property was very much influenced by her, and she was also the person that convinced me to learn Japanese. Which ultimately led me to moving there. So in a real way, she did kind of touch my life.

For those who enjoy reading old forum posts, and who want to get an idea of who Aaeru was like for themselves. Here are some interesting archived posts of her I've found.

1: Aaeru shills a website idea and immediately gets into a fight about piracy (link):
If I may add some side commentary, I think many of the people arguing against her were wrong. For reasons I already explained, piracy paradoxically helped the VN market by increasing the attention on the medium. Even if she was poor in communicating it, this was something Aaeru understood.

2. The effort to Kickstart an illegal fan translation (link):
This quote from the guy running the Kickstarter perfectly captures Japan's attitude about a western VN audience:
"I decided to drop the devs a line about it, link to the KS, some sample work, etc. Mostly expecting mostly to be ignored, mind you. To my surprise, I got back a response quite fast saying that they had no interest in selling their games in the west because of piracy, what I was doing would promote piracy, and that if I wanted to play their games, I should move to Japan."

3. Aaeru arguing her right to fan-translate which morphs into an argument about intellectual property(link):
Most of the interesting stuff is her argument with the user Sanahtlig on page 3.

Although I think Aaeru's rhetoric could have been a lot better, and she might have been borderline crazy in some aspects. She really did accomplish something, and her heart and ideas were in the right place. And her actions reflected this.

If Aaeru merely shed the digital skin of that identity and is still alive, then I wish her the best. And if she has passed away, then I hope she rests in peace. This a story from my neck of the cyberwoods, and I hope you've found it interesting. If people are genuinely interested in my stories about the western VN scene, please let me know.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Nov 15, 2021
Messages
378
Reaction score
1,319
Awards
107
Virtual Cafe Awards