If there is a single video game that may be the first and best description of “cult-hit art-game” it was Ico. An atmospheric action/adventure title before the was such a thing, Ico was released in September of 2001 for the PlayStation 2 to little fanfare and sales, but slowly grew a great reputation, earning accolades and increasing the frequency of not only the localization of the more esoteric Japanese titles, but expanding way stories could be told in games.
The new success was so great that a novelization, Ico: Castle in the Mist, was released in Japan, an investment in time and effort that is usually only reserved for blockbuster franchises. Now after ten years Ico: Castle in the Mist is coming to the west August 16th in a translation by Viz Media. Newsarama recently spoke to Viz Media Editor for Trade Books, Nick Mamatas, about Ico: Castle in the Mist, the challenge of bringing to English-reading fans and how the novel and game interact.
Newsarama: Ico was something of a cult hit in the United States, how would you rate its following in Japan?
Nick Mamatas: It certainly is a significant game in Japan, and part of that is revealed by who wrote the novelization, Miyuki Miyabe, who is incredibly popular in Japan, both as a fantasist for juvenile, children and young adults but she also writes mysteries and thrillers for adult audiences. She’s huge in Japan, her writing [Ico: Castle in the Mist] is roughly analogous to [124-time New York Times bestseller] Nora Roberts writing a novelization of a video game.
Nrama: What brought a writer of that stature to this project?
Mamatas: She really embraced video gaming as a hobby when she wasn’t working, and fell involve with many different games. Some of her other novels, like Brave Story, are very reminiscent of playing a video game. So when the opportunity [to write Ico: Castle in the Mist came up, she jumped on it, as an enthusiast of the form and a fan of Ico in particular. So it’s not quite the traditional novelization.
Nrama: Why bring Ico: Castle in the Mist to the west now?
Mamatas: For one, it’s a superior product. We’ve published two of Miyuki Miyabe’s books already, Brave Story and The Book of Heroes, and she’s had many other books published in English, she’s an excellent fantasist. Of course there are commercial considerations, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are being remastered for the PlayStation 3, it made economic sense as well as ascetic sense to bring the book across now.
Nrama: Because of the vagrancies of translation, is there a break between the experience that reading the original Japanese version would deliver that would be absent in the English adaptation?
Mamatas: No, not in this particular case. That certainly is an issue in other translations that we have done. Some novelists that have tried to use the ‘double meaning’ that a Japanese kanji character might have to create a thematic resonance. This novel, being a video game novelization, is fairly straightforward as far as translation goes.
Nrama: Any rumblings about a Shadow of the Colossus novel?
Mamatas: I have no information about that, as far as I know there isn’t one out there now. Miyuki is very busy, she’s one of the most prominent writers in Japan, so she’s very busy.
Nrama: How does the book interface with the game experience?
Mamatas: Again, Miyuki is a big fan, she doesn’t go ‘off the rails’ as it were and change things around for her story. What she did was find suggestions in [the game’s] story and flesh them out. She creates a significant back-story that goes back hundreds of years to explain the state of the castle and the nature of the sacrifice of the Ico character himself. I don’t think fans will be upset by the novel or feel it betrays the spirit of the game, seeing how the novel was received in Japan. To certain extent [Ico: Castle in the Mist] runs though the game, when you’d reach a certain spot or perform a certain action, it gives a strong motivation for those actions.
Nrama: The main characters, Ico and Yorda gained popularity in part by their simple but deep interactions in the game how is their relationship handled in the novel?
Mamatas: It expands on that connection between Yorda and Ico, making it very deep, almost telepathic in some way. Their whole world is fleshed out in a way only a novel can do. The novelist has a very tragic view of fantasy, a tragic view of magic, so there’s no obvious happy ending necessary. There’s always an element of tragedy that goes into these things. The setting and pacing of the game influences it, there’s a certain darkness and slowness that [Miyuki Miyabe] captures perfectly. It don’t over explain things, things are kept enigmatic for a long time in the book. […] It holds the mood of the game very well, despite having more information about their interactions with each other.
Nrama: Speaking of enigmatic, how much is the ending of the game elaborated on in the novel?
Mamatas: There is actually very little after the end, it ends a little after the moment the game ends. The drama rally comes from what happened before, what led to the situation in the game. The novel goes back hundreds of years, filling in of information about the setting, the castle and the characters. There isn’t much going forward in time, the author ‘backfills’ the world and that’s where the revelations are.
Nrama: Is the novel considered canon to the game?
Mamatas: I don’t know, but I’m sure that [the author] was very careful and that fans of the game wouldn’t find the book a betrayal, confusing or detracting.