While researching how big the Call of Cthulhu game is in the Japanese Tabletop RPG hobby market I wondered, and not for the first time, what other American made TRPGs are popular in Japan. That got me thinking about one game in particular...
I was curious how one of my favorite subjects for an RPG fared in the Japanese market - Star Trek and the current Star Trek Adventures TRPG by Modiphius. Do the Japanese play Star Trek Adventures? How popular is it or isn't it and why?
This simple question lead me down a Wormhole of mixed opinions, contrary information, and some wonderful discoveries. I'll break in down like a Transporter doing an Emergency Beam-Out!
Art by Life Form 2602
I started my research by asking if anyone in either of the Star Trek Adventures or general Star Trek RPG Facebook Groups were aware of whether or not the game had sold in Japan, how well it had done/was doing, and if any member of these groups was running or playing it in Japan.
For the most part, responses were few at first. Very few people knew the answers to these questions and didn't want to speak on a subject they weren't familiar with, which is admirable in and of itself. There were a handful of members in one group, the Star Trek Adventures group, who did have some insight.
One fellow, who is currently living in Japan, said that Star Trek is not a major franchise of interest to the Japanese at this time. Star Trek Adventures and Star Trek roleplaying is, and I quote, "A niche within a niche of a niche". Another confirmed this to some extent by noting that he lived in Japan and played the game with four other players, all of whom are Americans.
A reason for this, and a logical one at that (no pun intended) is the lack of Replays for Star Trek Adventures. As noted in previous posts, Replays are the entry way into the TRPG hobby for most Japanese people.
Searching the internet for more information, I found few references to Star Trek on Japanese entertainment sites and of course even fewer mentions of the Star Trek Adventures game. What a different this was to my memories of Star Trek in Japan between 1988 and 1991. That's when I was starting college, working at the uptown Forbidden Planet in Manhattan, and Star Trek seemed like it was everywhere.
We had movies, a new TV show, models, toys, books, magazines, and of course the FASA RPG. According to some people I knew and the ads I saw in Japanese magazines, Japan had all that as well.
Around this time I had a few Japanese friends, all of whom were Star Trek fans. One of them was a girl named Rina, whom I dated for a time. She would spend her Summers in New York City taking classes at NYU and in the Winter she would return to her home in Kyoto. On a few occasions she would show me Star Trek Doujinshi she had picked up in Japan. Some were parodies, some fan fiction of the TOS characters, and one was a kind of Light Novel/Manga combo featuring original characters on an original starship set in the Wrath of Khan to Undiscovered Country period. She was a huge Trekkie and so apparently was her father.
My attempt at re-creating the Star Trek
Doujinshin vessel design
The popularity of Star Trek in Japan would apparently continue as another friend years later - the brother of another young lady I was dating - was eager to trade Manga, models, and other Anime related paraphernalia for anything TNG or DS9 related. I got the impression that Star Trek had a smaller but even more die hard following over there at the time.
Warping back to the present, I was about to give up and write the experience off as a good try that just hadn't panned out. That's when, low and behold, I found something. By searching for 'スタートレックアドベンチャー TRPG' instead of 'Star Trek Adventures RPG Japan' or 'Star Trek Adventures in Japanese', I came across one Japanese fan's blog and then, somehow, the floodgates opened to yet another hidden world of gaming.
I am reminded of my earliest days in the Anime/Manga hobby, seeking out Japanese language magazines that comic book stores had ordered by accident, checking for TV shows and characters no one I knew had ever seen or heard of but which fascinated me to no end. Gaming was the same in the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s, when you'd mention a new RPG to dumbfounded stares of those who thought that D&D was the only game that existed.
Where was I? Oh yes, thanks to Yumesai Haruka, a female TRPG blogger with an interest in Star Wars, Star Trek, Call of Cthulhu, and other games, I managed to find how-to videos, reviews, a Reddit thread, and much more. All of it was dedicated to or at least promoting in some way, Star Trek Adventures by Modiphius. It would seem that the fellows in my Facebook Group were not a perfect picture of the games popularity in the land of sakura trees and everything-available-through-a-vending-machine.
Of course, the true test of popularity of anything in Japan is how much fan art it receives. On the online art community pixiv, the Japanese equivalent of deviantart, I found over 30 pages, 1,837 entries, under the tag 'Star Trek'. A sure sign that the Japanese youth to middle adults of today do have a love for the Final Frontier.
A good portion of the [possibly renewed] enthusiasm for Star Trek in Japan at this time appears to come from the newer productions. While Japan received many of the prior TV series after they originally aired in the USA (though TNG and DS9 didn't air too far behind America), movies and modern shows like Discovery and even Lower Decks are coming out nearly simultaneously.
USS Cerritos from Star Trek: Lower Decks
Art by 'NCC-80602'
Lower Decks in particular seems more popular than I would have expected, since the art style is very us and a lot of the humor requires some knowledge of past continuity. The fact that the Japanese seem to enjoy Lower Decks tells me they do indeed have a general familiarity and appreciation for Star Trek.
As for the game itself, from what I can tell, the Japanese play Star Trek much the way everyone else does with perhaps two slight differences. There seems to be a greater focus on the interpersonal relationships of the characters - personal drama, romance, etc. - and a bit more humor (which again might explain the popularity of Lower Decks). A Star Trek Anime Rom-Com? Sign me up!
Art by Yukikaze
I also imagine that the characters skew a tad younger as that is common in Japanese pop culture but I can not confirm that at this time.
Well, that's all I have for the moment. Looking to get more information and maybe even run or play in a game through one of my Japanese friends who doesn't play STA himself but knows some people who do.
Until then, Nagaku ikiru to han'ei...I mean...Live Long and Prosper!
PS: One point of interest I have not yet focused on is that Japan seems to have a fairly large percentage of female TRPG fans. While the demographics have improved in the US steadily over the years, it seems Japan might be way ahead in that regard. Likely the entry into gaming, Replay manga, is a big reason why. TRPGs are marketed differently than their Western counterparts.
A quick final thought: I have mentioned the Japanese Edition of Traveller before, which came to Japan in 1984. It was very popular and remains popular to this day in a way that I think American fans might find curious. I may do a Traveller Japan deep dive in the near future. Let me know if you'd be interested.