I don’t quite know what to make of Umurangi Generation. It’s stylish in a way that reminds me of Jet Set Radio; a rare occurrence, and one I quite appreciate. But, while it reminds me of Jet Set Radio both visually and philosophically, Umurangi Generation doesn’t control nearly as fluidly as Jet Set Radio. Which, on the one hand, is a completely unfair comparison: there’s no reason why a photography game should control as well as a skating game! But, on the other hand, Umurangi Generation does have you clambering around the environment; I wish that platforming was a little less clumsy?

And in terms of the basic gameplay: the hunting for stuff is pleasant enough, and gives you an excuse to look at the environments, which I appreciated. I didn’t particularly care about the different filter options and what not, but they’re optional, so their presence didn’t bother me at all. The different lenses had more of an effect, and I could have done without the telesopic-lens-only tasks, since it was kind of frustrating to have a picture that would be very straightforward to take if I could use a standard lens, but instead to have to find some angle from all the way across the level where I could instead accomplish it from a distance.


So that was my take a few levels in: stylish, with basically pleasant gameplay, I was glad to be playing the game but also wasn’t sold on it. I suppose I should put in a spoiler warning here, because I’m going to talk more about some of the stuff that unfolds in the world as you progress through levels.

Because the game certainly presents social themes: the presence of soldiers, the fact that those soldiers are from other countries (a U.N. force). And the fact that the game depicts some of the have nots of society, which is of course going to interact with a miltitary presence.

I was definitely getting more curious about this as the game went along: I was assuming that I’d see some sort of subtle commentary about how the military forces its way into situations, about imperialism and how it gets whitewashed through the United Nations, or something like that.


And maybe the game is commenting on that! But, the thing is: as far as I can tell (admittedly just from one playthrough without looking at the game super hard): the military is there to fight off Kaiju. And, well, if somehow Kaiju were appearing in the world, I feel like a military response is not an inappropriate way to react to that? And having that military response coordinated through the United Nations would probably be a good thing, too?

Now, I would still expect that military response in such a situation to lead to bad things, exacerbating existing inequalities and what not. And yay for Umurangi Generation for showing that. But it still didn’t feel right to me: if you’re going to talk about the negative effects of the military, then why start from a completely artificial / fantastical situation where at least the basic presence of military action is justified?

Like, the real world is full of situations where people are beating the drum of justified military action against an other that we can’t hope to understand; but, in the real world, that other is made up of people whom we actually can understand, who typically has some aspect of their motivation that ends up being uncomfortably familiar to us once we dig into into it. And even in those situations in real-world wars where, ultimately, I feel comfortable saying “yup, that side is the bad guys”, you can still ask how things got to that state.

And, to me, it seems like Umurangi Generation is cutting off that sort of questioning, by presenting a situation where the enemy really is an other that we can’t hope to understand. (Or maybe there are hints somehow that we can understand the Kaiju, that they’re a misunderstood antagonist? I didn’t see any such hints, though.)

I dunno, maybe I’m being too literal, and maybe both the Kaiju and the military are metaphors for something else: maybe the Kaiju is actually global warming, and the military is, um, some hypothetical actually-serious transnational response to global warming? I can’t come up with an interpretation along those lines that works for me, either.


Anyways: neat game, I’m glad that it exists, I’m glad that I played it. But, as much as I normally really like fantasy and science fiction, I wish Umurangi Generation leaned a little less in that direction? Or maybe I should have been paying closer attention, and/or should have been approaching it more metaphorically…

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