Butterfly Soup | Me, But Not

Hello, it has been a while. I suppose I won’t overlook the elephant in the room and acknowledge that yes, it has been approximately a year since I last posted. Oops, so sad, my bad. It was a great year though, so I’m not apologizing.

I’m here to jot down and process my thoughts after playing an excellent, excellent visual novel called Butterfly Soup. If you haven’t played it, I don’t care what gender, race, or alien species you identify as, GO PLAY IT. As the itchio page I linked so eloquently states, it’s “a visual novel about gay asian girls playing baseball and falling in love.” Like, come on, how could you pass that up? And it’s free, so you really have no excuse.

*Minor spoilers. Read at your own risk.

By the way, this creator’s first game, Pom Gets Wi-Fi, is equally delightful. It’s more of a traditional game, in that you use arrow keys to guide Pom, the main character, around and interact with the various characters. But Pom is such an acerbic, irreverent weeb and the game’s sense of humor is so on point that it’s much more about the characters and the plot than the actual gameplay. Also 10/10 would recommend. But we’re not here to talk about Pom Gets Wi-Fi.

Reading Butterfly Soup was such a strange experience for me. The main characters are all Asian and living in the Bay Area while attending a school that is majority Asian. Exactly like me. At one point, a classmate speaks to one of the main characters, claiming that he read a newspaper article that says that America is only 4% Asian. At the time the children are only in elementary school, and they scoff and laugh at the boy, insisting that he must have read the newspaper article wrong. They simply cannot fathom the idea that the majority of America does not reflect their present environment.

I had to take a moment to pause and gape. That was exactly me. That was exactly how I grew up.

Growing up in the Bay Area, you know that you’re a “minority” because you only ever see white people on TV, and because in the history books the Pilgrims came from England and not China. But it’s hard to know that when your classmates all look the same as you, when your friends all eat rice for lunch, when it’s completely normal to take off your shoes when you go to your friend’s house to play. For me, the whole Asian American identity was never a problem or source of insecurity; I would fling it around casually in jokes with my friends, and people constantly would complain that our high school was so academically rigorous because of all the Asians. It was something that everyone around me understood. And that was something I’ve never seen portrayed in media.

Butterfly Soup intimately understands this experience. Everyone in the school is focused on grades, and schools that are “less Asian” are viewed as “easier.” The game doesn’t beat you over the head with it and doesn’t ever explicitly address it, but it’s there.

As familiar as it was, the game also felt foreign. Though I related to the experience of school, the girls’ personalities were all so distinct, their banter so sharp and bizarre, that it felt like I was watching a type of friendship that I could never have. This is probably more specific to who I am as a person versus a typical Asian American in the Bay Area, but I and most of my friends were never like these girls. We were silly but careful, always nice, never stepping out of bounds, smiling and eating lunch together peacefully. In Butterfly Soup, one of the girls sews a library book barcode to her friend’s backpack so that she’ll trigger the library scanner every time she leaves the library. Said friend uses her period blood (her!! period!! blood!!) as a weapon in order to ward off another girl who actually HAS a real weapon. They join the baseball club, they lie to their parents, they brandish knives, they hack into the school’s fire alarm, they fight and yell and scream and break so, so many rules.

They have fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I had friends, great friends. Initially I spent most of my evenings at home mindlessly surfing the Web and watching anime, and it wasn’t until senior year that I started hanging out with people, that I started realizing that there was more to do than just going home after school. I learned that friendship was more than eating together every day and going to the bathroom together and writing HAGS in yearbooks at the end of the school year.

But I never learned how to experience. How to step out of all the typical, easy answers and just go for what you want. How to enjoy what you’re doing. How to have fun.

Usually when I read books or movies about characters living their lives, I can rationalize the differences in our lives. “They’re not Asian.” “They grew up in a different place.” “They learned how to banter because they actually talked to their parents.” But these girls grew up just like I did. Heck, Noelle, who’s also Chinese, has parents that are much stricter and harsher than mine ever were. I found that I couldn’t justify the difference between these girls and me like I usually could.

It made me think. It made me reevaluate what aspects of my personality I could really attribute to my identity as Asian American.

But it also made me realize how important it is that Asian Americans are represented in media. Race is not one-size-fits-all. I am different from Diya and Akarsha and Min and Noelle, just like my Asian friend is different from me. We are all Asian, but our friendships, our personalities–they all look different. Just like it’s narrow-minded of me to assume that all those book and movie protagonists’ lives look different because, well, they’re not Asian like me.

Just a side note: the writing in this game is so snappy, sharp, weird, but humorous. At times I found myself actually laughing out loud, which I rarely do when I’m by myself, at the absurd situations the girls got themselves into. The camaraderie and banter is on point, and the friendships felt so easy and real. Brilliant character writing, really.

I think the only thing approaching criticism that I would offer of the game would be about the portrayal of Noelle’s mother. While I definitely know people whose parents are equally strict and career-focused, Noelle’s mother felt like a caricature. I don’t want to discredit Noelle’s experience and I hope the creator intends to delve more into Noelle’s relationship with her mother in the sequel (yay sequel!!), but in media, it’s so common for Asian parents to be portrayed as harsh, unemotional, and extremely strict. I think even my peers and I were affected by this; it was so easy to blame everything on our strict Asian parents, but when I actually thought about my parents and my friends’ parents, I realized that slapping a label of “typical Asian parent” really discredited the love and care they poured into us. Just because my parents are Asian and care about my grades and schoolwork doesn’t mean that they are emotionally unavailable tyrants. I’ve only realized in college how unfair it was for them to have to bear that label. Especially considering that there is so little Asian representation in media, I would have liked for Noelle’s mother to not be such a perfect replica of the type of Asian parent that is already well-known. But I do acknowledge that certain parents definitely do exist and that Noelle’s experience is not over-exaggerated, and I understand the creator’s decision to bring that aspect of being an Asian American to light.

There is honestly so much more I could say about Butterfly Soup, but I’ll end here, because it’s 3AM and I was supposed to sleep a few hours ago. I haven’t even touched on the whole sexuality aspect, which was not as personally applicable to me but I’m sure will resonate with a lot of readers, or other parts of the game’s plot. It was just such a pleasure to read and evoked so many thoughts and self-reflection within me that I had to process them somewhere. (So of course I chose here, cause no one reads this blog anyway.)

Please, do yourself a service and play this game. It took me about an hour, tops, and it’s free to boot. It’s so raw and real and unfiltered, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s littered with anime references (I saw that shoutout to Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood). I can’t recommend it enough.

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