Staff Writer Masayuki Kibe’s Russia Diary: From Russia with Game Love

Magazine: Continue
Date: 08/24/2020
GCCX Kibe Diary - Rollercoaster

It’s Arino’s first overseas trip in four years, and this time it’s to Russia!! We’re bringing you a big feature which contains the first published photographs of the making of “Game Center CX in Russia ~Symphony of a Northern Land~”, as well as Masayuki Kibe’s “Russia Diary”!!

Article: Masayuki Kibe
Photography: Shinya Arino, Tsuyoshi Kan, Ryou Osuka, Kogawa Yuuki, Iwahashi Tasuku, Kadosawa Seita

I’m one of those indoor types that hasn’t at all gotten sick of being at home all the time throughout the stay home period that’s been going on over the last two months. That said, I’ve visited five different countries so far in my lifetime. Just hearing that someone’s been to Asia, North America and Europe may make you think that person is quite active. However, I only went to all of those places for location filming. Furthermore, I went for the purpose of foreign games, not sightseeing.

This time around I set off for another country that I never dreamed that I’d ever go to.

“We haven’t done an overseas location shoot in awhile, so we’ve decided on our next one. It’s going to be…Russia!”
“Huh!?”

I let out a cry of surprise when our producer, who loves surprises, announced this at the beginning of a meeting. Of course I was surprised that he was being so bold as to go on an overseas location shoot for the first time in four years, given that the budget for TV stations is getting smaller every year. But even more than that, I was surprised at the location itself.

Starting with the Cold War that I read about in text books, the image I had of Russia was kind of a scary one. Not only are they a major military power, but hearing that the t-shirt of President Putin riding half naked on a horse is a popular souvenir is also kind of scary in its own way. The fact that two infrastructure-based puzzle games themed around the former Soviet Union’s General Secretary Gorbachev, “Ganbare Gorby” and “Gorby no Pipeline Daisakusen”, came out for two separate Japanese consoles is also kind of scary.

“Scary Russia” (“Oso Roshia”: “osoroshii” is the word used for “scary”, and this is meant to be a pun based on putting that word and “Russia” together) is a popular slang phrase used to represent the country online. It’s a 1-star pun, but it perfectly fit the image of the country I had in my head.

I was afraid, and thought “Maybe I should sit this one out and just wait back here…”

“We booked you a ticket Kibe, since you’ll be appearing on the show for this!”

It seemed as though my trip to Russia had become an unskippable obligatory event, without me ever having had a chance to enter a command to “Go?” or “Not Go?”. Ahh, “Scary Russia”…

Of course I was grateful to General Secretary Kan…I mean Producer Kan…and told him “Thank you for bringing me along overseas!”.

The day of departure:

There’s a certain “strange conclusion” that’s associated with this overseas location shoot for Game Center CX.

“Hey Kibe, over here!”

Our producer beckoned to me from inside of the restaurant. As I quietly rolled my suitcase packed half-full of things I probably wouldn’t need (since I’m such a worrier) over, I saw that sushi, tempera, and for some reason fried chicken cartilage, were already there on the table.

“Good morning.”

“Good morning. How about you eat something too?”

The man sitting next to our producer urging me to do this as he put spice into his soba tsuyu was wearing a workman’s uniform, and was none other than Arino Kacho himself.

That’s right, eating a big meal at an airport restaurant before getting on the plane for location shoots overseas for Game Center CX had become an established custom.

The same doubts that I felt during last time’s location shoot in Vietnam collided with Arino slurping on his soba noodles, making the same lively sound that a rakugo story teller might to convey that collision.

“Don’t they give you a meal relatively soon into the flight?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“But if you eat now, won’t you be too full for it?”

“I’ll be fine. I eat six meals a day during these overseas location shoots anyway.”

Six meals? Somehow…it seems like even apart from the soba, there’s still one meal that’s out of place there.

“Anyway Kibe, we’re running out of time so how about ordering something?”

I hurriedly scanned the menu.

Saying “Alright, I’ll have the udon”, I ordered my favorite dish as my last meal before leaving the country.

It was approximately 10 hours to our destination of Saint Petersburg Airport. I couldn’t exactly say it would be a pleasant flight, being in economy the entire way. But I did really love the time spent in flight.

“Kibe, what’s that?”

Looking over at my bag, Arino Kacho asked me this question the second after he finished the udon I ordered.

“Ahh, this is a PS Vita. I was thinking of playing it during the flight.”

After I board the board and turn my phone to airplane mode, I’m physically unable to respond to work phone calls and emails. In other words, I’m able to play games the entire time, uninterrupted. It’s a very happy time period for me during flights.

And then Arino Kacho said something very surprising in a completely normal tone.

“Ahh okay. Let me use it.”

“Huh? Let you use it?”

I thought I must have misunderstood him. But then that same phrase echoed in my ears once more.

“Yeah, let me use your Vita. I’ll give it back when we get there.”

No, no, no…there’s no way I can let you use it! If you take my games and my udon away from me, what’s left!? At best I can just sleep the whole time!

When I refused his request with all my might, Arino just grinned and said “I see, not going to happen huh?” as we headed toward the boarding gate. This was another case of “Scary Russia” before even getting to Russia.

I had 10 hours to play this game console that I’d so desparately defended. After that the plane landed in the fifth foreign country that I’d ever visited. And that’s when my long preconceived idea that Russia was “kind of scary” was completely betrayed, in a good way.

Russia was an extremely beautiful country.

In contrast to the disorderly shopping areas of Tokyo, you hardly ever see signs for businesses in the city. Lined with colorful buildings that have a real historical presence to them, the streets present themselves in a beautiful way. With a cool and pleasant climate, just walking down those streets filled me with delight to a surprising extent.

And our major destination here in Russia was a performance at an orchestral concert.

These orchestral concerts themed around anime and game music are held periodically as a bridge of friendship between Russia and Japan, and Japanese artists are frequently invited to them. The lineup this time around was quite splendid as well, featuring Megumi Ogata, the voice of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s main character Shinji Ikari herself. And Arino Kacho was also invited as a famous Japanese gamer, to play retro games along with the orchestra in front of an audience full of game and anime fans.

And of course Game Center CX can turn anything to its advantage. Using this as an excuse to also film some TamaGe segments overseas, this was all dependent upon visiting planned locations in Russia.

“Believe it or not, this time we’re in Russia!”

GCCX Kibe Diary - In front of church

The location shooting began with Arino Kacho giving a greeting in Russian from a cheat sheet in front of the world famous sight seeing spot, The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.

All manner of different types of tourists were lined up at the entrance to the church. A gorgeous and luxurious structure that’s over 100 years old, of course I wanted to see the inside as well. But this was a recording for a TV program about games, after all.

“Alright, we’ve filmed the opening so now it’s on to the next location!”

No matter how famous the spot, in general we tend to just pass through any of them that aren’t game related. Thinking that there’s no way around it and with painful reluctance, I got back onto our bus in the parking lot. But now matter how badly we wanted it to, the bus wasn’t leaving the lot.

“$X&?#!!!”

The Russian man driving the bus was angry, slamming on the steering wheel. However there was no way I was going to understand what he was saying: I only passed the english proficiency exam at the third level, and my Russian extended only to “borscht”, “pirozhki” and “Zangief”.

“It looks like the bus can’t leave because of an illegally parked car”.

It was going to be a few dozen minutes or so until the offending car could be removed. We were just going around the parking lot like a carelessly piled up bunch of Tetris blocks.

(Looks like we could have done some sightseeing in the church after all…)

These kinds of troubles are the epitome of filming in overseas locations.

Having finally escaped the parking lot, the mood naturally got better at our next location after the bit of trouble we’d fallen into.

“Now we’ve arrived at our next destination! It seems there are a lot of old Russian games here!”

As far as our program is concerned, this is an alluring spot that won’t be outdone by the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It’s a museum that has playable Soviet-era arcade games on display. It’s not uncommon for old Japanese arcade cabinets to be lined up in arcades in Asian countries. But here there were nothing but Russian made games that I’d never seen before in my life.

This is purely my own opinion, but since the socialist former Soviet Union didn’t have much cultural exchange with other countries, their game culture is extremely unique. Also the fact that a lot of them are gun games is representative of their national character.

“What’s this? It’s another game I’ve never even seen before!”

Watching Arino Kacho play with such interest from behind the camera, and I prepared myself to be called in by him at any moment. That’s right, I’m not necessarily included in these things. As the staff writer for a TV show about games, I appear briefly when game knowledge is required and to support Arino Kacho.

Attempting to put aside my pride, my time quickly arrived.

“Kibe!”

“Yes!!”

But I wasn’t called in front of the camera by Arino Kacho for explanations on foreign game machines, but rather to try some mysterious foreign juice.

“Jeez, this machine sounds like it’s having diarrhea!”

An old vending machine emmitted an unpleasant sound, and dispensed so much green liquid that it overflowed from the cup.

“Give it a try.”

GCCX Kibe Diary - Drink Machine

And though the cup full of liquid was handed to me, I wasn’t too crazy about drinking it. By this I mean…is this vending machine ever actually maintained!? How long has this liquid been in there? This is going to make my stomach hurt for the rest of the time I’m here, isn’t it? These are the kinds of worries that popped into my head.

And as soon as I steeled myself and put that green liquid in my mouth…

GCCX Kibe Diary - Drink Reaction

“Whoa!”

It definitely felt like something was happening in my stomach…

“Even though it tastes so good! You don’t have to drink anymore!”

When Arino took the cup away from me, my first job on foreign soil had come to an end.

For the rest of our time at that location, my game opinions were basically never asked for.

GCCX Kibe Diary - Kebab

Having having ordered boiled gyoza from a restaurant that specializes in them and telling the waitress “I’m a Japanese super star” in Russian…which forced her to smile bitterly at the reception of such fake news…I ended up at an amusement park with VR goggles on. It was a very analogue VR rollercoaster attraction in which an employee actually manually moves you around to simulate the rollercoaster movement, and the manner in which I was shouting as this was happening made a passing old Russian man laugh. And then the large chicken skewer that I ordered at a restaurant afterward shaking in my hand due to my weak grip made everyone laugh. They really had a lot of fun with that one in editing…At any rate, the jobs in which I’m left by the wayside and am not really sure if I should add them to my resume or not just keep on coming.

GCCX Kibe Diary - Cosplay

But I wasn’t the only one left by the wayside during this location shoot. When boarding the sleeper train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, Director Osuka (dressed as Oboro Samurai) and Director Katayama (dressed as Katayama Police), both in incredibly cheap cosplay, explained the train ride to Arino Kacho at the station. But since you can’t really easily find a public toilet to use in Russia, the two of them weren’t able to find a place to change. They had no choice but to use the fancy cafe they were killing time at before the train left to start changing in. Stripping down to their underwear and putting on clothes from a foreign country that the surrounding Russian people had never seen, they get plenty of dubious glances. The annoying part is that each of the characters had accessories: Oboro Samurai had a katana, and Katayama Police had a pistol. Even though they were both toys, I was worried about getting into trouble from anti-weapon laws.

The highlight of all this was after going through all that trouble, the lady conductor didn’t laugh at any of it. So it was very unfortunate.

But afterward on the train, they all pounded down some vodka saying how good alcohol tastes after finishing work. So I guess to them it was a big success.

And then it was time for Arino to appear at the orchestral concert, the reason we were there. And when it was time for the climax, we witnessed something completely unexpected.

The program staff was planning on being let into the venue early so they could stand-by for filming, but upon arriving at the venue…

“No unauthorized persons are allowed in”.

We were refused entry. No matter how many times we explained our situation to the receptionist, they persisted in telling us that they hadn’t been told anything about it.

The performance time was getting closer by the moment. Not able to be of any help with my level 3 English proficiency, us staff members sat in silence, irritation mounting.

“They finally got ahold of someone!”

“Thank god!! Let’s hurry up and get ready to stand-by!”

After having been kept waiting for an overwhelming amount of time, we finally got permission to enter the venue. However since it seemed like there was some kind of communication breakdown, since the console we asked to be setup ahead of time wasn’t setup at all.

But that wasn’t all: Even though rehearsal had begun, there had been equipment trouble and the musicians were having difficulty timing their music to gameplay in this unprecedented performance. But we were running out of time, and the performance was about to begin.

Not a single person here is going to know who I am…ahh, I’m scared!”

The audience was made up of nearly all Russian people. And with our undeniably insufficient amount of preparation, a veteran entertainer with nearly 30 years of experience under his belt was complaining unconsciously.

And so Arino Kacho finally took to the stage, without any sort of home team advantage.

And as I looked on nervously from the wings, unexpected voices rose from the audience, along with a large amount of applause.

“Kacho!!”

It seemed as though Arino Kacho had fans in Russia as well, but not just one or two of them.

“Is there anyone here who knows the Kacho?”

GCCX Kibe Diary - Orchestra

When Arino asked that question, several hands rose in the audience. The feeling of losing that home team advantage has completely disappeared.

“Game Center CX, Kacho…”

“Onnnn!!”

When Arino Kacho and the Russian audience both shouted out at the same time, the voltage in the venue shot through the roof.

“Ahh, no way!”

“Whooo!”

“I can get it! Ahh, It didn’t work!”

“Kachooo, Kachooo!”

The crowd was really excited over Arino Kacho’s unpredictable play. Also, the orchestra was extremely professional: There wasn’t enough rehearsal time for them to get things down, but they managed to synchronize their performance perfectly to this bewildering development during the actual performance.

“I did it!”

And so the concert in Russia was a huge success, ending in massive applause.

“I’m so glad I got to be a part of such a wonderful event.”

Arino Kacho said this earnestly as he headed back stage in this prestigious concert hall. His expression was one of a man who had done his job, with feelings of fatigue and accomplishment mixed together.

GCCX Kibe Diary - VR Rollercoaster
Kibe’s VR Rollercoaster experience

And looking at that expression, I also earnestly felt that I was glad I’d come along on this trip.

TV station budgets are problematic, and nowadays you’re not easily able to travel overseas anywhere. If we do shoot overseas again though, I’d like to come along.

Whether it’s for a food report, a rollercoaster ride or fighting with a crayfish, I promise to do whatever it takes. So please take me along next time, oh benevolent Arino Kacho.

But I’m still not going to lend you my game system.