Game Center CX: Staff Writer Kibe’s Challenge

  • ゲームセンターCX 作家岐部の挑戦
  • Written by Masayuki Kibe
  • Released 10/12/2018
  • Published by Kadokawa

Masayuki Kibe chronicles the trials of moving to Tokyo to break into the entertainment industry as a writer, helping to get Game Center CX off the ground, and the reasons he feels that it’s become such a popular show.

Masayuki Kibe is the staff writer for the TV show Game Center CX, and has been since the show began. He’s instrumental to its success, and has many fond memories of the show which he shares in his book “Game Center CX: Staff Writer Kibe’s Challenge”. Kibe begins by talking about how nervous he was during the recording the first episode of the show in its current incarnation (during the first season it was a program where the primary focus was interviewing notable game creators, with Arino playing through a game as a distant second). He was the most knowledgeable person on staff about games by far, and was the one responsible for choosing the retro games that would be the most interesting for Arino to play on the show. He also highlights about just how new of a concept this all was: A man doing nothing but playing through a game on a TV show?! Nothing like this had ever been done before, and there was absolutely no guarantee that it would be successful at all.

Kibe's Challenge Book Cover

But we quickly flash back even further in his life: Having graduated from university in Gunma prefecture, he left his hometown at 23 years old for Tokyo. There he planned to pursue a career in writing for TV, but of course you can’t just walk into a job like that right away with no experience. So Kibe found himself working part-time at a supermarket, stocking shelves to make ends meet…and he was miserable. Not because of the job itself, but because his manager had decided to make his life hell since he didn’t have as much training as the rest of the staff. He was told day in and day out that he should know how to do things he was never taught, and that he clearly didn’t want to be there and should just quit. One day he was called out back by his manager, who was blowing cigarette smoke in his face and giving him his usual dressing down. When Kibe apologized and mentioned that it was due to lack of training, he was told not to talk back, and was actually struck and knocked to the ground.

Kibe couldn’t remember actually getting home that day, but he could remember what he did afterward: Turning off his cellphone and vowing never to leave his apartment again. Now jobless and depressed, he was faced with having to feed himself on an extremely low budget once the food he had on-hand ran out: That is to say, he ate a lot of cheap milk bread from the convenience store. But there was another problem he hadn’t considered: Boredom. He had no friends in the area, and no spending money to go out and do much of anything anyway. Seeking any sort of thrill he could get, he rode the train two stops over (the furthest that the lowest ticket fee of 130 yen could get him) and got off to see what he could find. And as luck would have it, he found a used game shop.

Along with reading mystery novels (he’d long since read all of them that he had on hand), games had been Kibe’s other hobby ever since he was young. But he certainly didn’t have the cash to drop on the hot new PlayStation 2 console, and didn’t even have enough to spend on a still reasonably pricey used game for the N64 (which he still had the hardware for at home). The same went for Saturn and Dreamcast games. Unable to be happy with just looking, he stumbled upon a blue wagon full of dirt cheap Famicom cartridges. Bringing back memories of his childhood where he didn’t end up getting a Famicom until it was so old that one of his friends was going to throw theirs away, he was very excited at the prospect of being able to potentially buy five games that seemed so unobtainable to him during childhood, even on his current meager budget. One of the games he bought was a title he had never played before, and would be very important to the early days of Game Center CX: Atlantis no Nazo (The Mystery of Atlantis, played during the first episode of the second season of the show).

For as maddening of a game as Atlantis no Nazo is, it gave Kibe something to be excited about again. He decided to start writing down interesting and funny observations that he had about playing old games now, and also began regularly going back to that used game shop to revisit the blue wagon. He was excited by the idea of picking up old games that he didn’t get a chance to play when he was younger, and by revisiting those he wasn’t able to finish back then too. He’d found something that gave life meaning again, and this made him remember why he moved to Tokyo in the first place. He started writing things like comedy skits, and even showed up to a new comedian audition to present his material. He was told that it wasn’t very good, but he did get invited to come help out at an upcoming show. There was no pay involved, but since it meant potentially getting his foot in the door, Kibe accepted.

Some time passed, and Kibe came to hear about an upcoming TV program themed around video games from another writer that he knew, so he was invited to attend a meeting about its planning. Kibe was recommended for the program for two reasons: He knew a lot about games, and he worked cheap! The staff that was starting up would would become Game Center CX had already been working on a program that interviewed manga creators, so they were looking to do something similar with game creators. They would visit a game company each episode, and interview the notable creators who worked there. And this is exactly what the first season of Game Center CX was focused on.

The biggest decision to be made was who would be the face of the show. They initially landed on Takeshi Kaga, who in the west is best known for having hosted Iron Chef. He ended up passing, but that’s when Kibe remembered Shinya Arino of the comedy duo Yoiko. Of course Arino would end up accepting. After Arino agreed and it was time to film the first episode, Kibe was told that a previous dinner meeting with Arino hadn’t gone very well. Other staff members attributed it to Arino being something of an otaku, so perhaps he needed someone more like Kibe to get on better with. And even though a writer would not normally need to be around for filming, Kibe showed up for the first day with this additional weight on his shoulders.  Here he also met camera man Abe for the first time: Abe told Kibe that he seemed like an otaku (as he had heard), and Kibe thought Abe walked right out of the manga Be-Bop High School with his pompadour hair style.

When Arino showed up, they all filed onto the bus to head to Taito headquarters for filming. On the bus, Kibe introduced himself and tried to chat Arino up by asking him about the Yoiko game that had been released on Game Boy Color. Arino gave Kibe very brief responses though, never even really looking at him. Eventually Arino even fell asleep mid-conversation, leaving Kibe with the impression that their first meeting hadn’t gone very well at all.

The staff then arrived at Taito headquarters, did their filming, and Arino interviewed Space Invaders creator Tomohiro Nishikado. Afterward they headed to a family restaurant for lunch, where Kibe saw another chance to try to talk to Arino.  However upon arriving at the restaurant, Arino said that he didn’t need to eat and would rather stay behind on the bus. Kibe kept his distance from Arino, thinking maybe he just didn’t like him. However during a later filming at Konami, Arino appeared looking less tired and immediately began talking to Kibe about how he liked Silent Hill. Apparently he’d been up all night the previous night playing through Silent Hill, specifically for this interview. Arino also mentioned the reason he had been so tired and distant during that previous filming: He’d come right from filming on famed comedy program Mecha-Ike without having slept at all. He didn’t want to annoy or put anyone out, so he was just trying to get as much sleep as possible so that he could still do his part. Arino and Kibe would continue to have no problems getting along at all.

As mentioned earlier, the short challenge segments would turn into the main focus of the show in the second season. Kibe mentions that he feels the primary reason for that is the AD (Assistant Director) support system. Takahashi Meijin showed up in secret to help Arino through Star Force in episode number 5 of that first season, but outside guests showing up on the show was something of a rarity. The staff members who would end up always being there to support Arino (to various degrees of success) were the ADs, the first of which was Shinichiro Tojima. There would be many after him, and they continue to rotate to this day. But their assistance often creates really memorable situations, and they’ll even come out to do 2-player games with Arino sometimes.

This periodic rotation of ADs wasn’t a given at the start of the show, but of course Tojima wasn’t going to stick around forever (though he would leave and come back in a limited capacity for awhile). This ended up propelling the first three ADs to something of a legendary status in the show’s history. Those three are Tojima, Sasano and Urakawa. Kibe credits them for building the foundation of the AD support system that we see on the show today, and shares several anecdotes about their time on the show that long time viewers are probably all familiar with. There are too many to list here individually, but there’s one that’s almost certainly the most well known:  The three of them came together to help Arino get through Ninja Gaiden on the NES. Sasano and Urakawa supported Arino by helping him get through different sections of stages when he died, so that he could start back where he was previously. But Tojima’s role was getting in front of the window and bodily blocking out the setting sun from getting in Arino’s eyes while playing.

My personal favorite involves Urakawa’s horrible experience with Adventure Island (Takahashi Meijin no Bouken Jima) on the NES/Famicom. One responsibility of the AD is to to clear the game in question before Arino plays it, so that they’re able to effectively help him during the episode. When the rest of the staff came in the next day after Urakawa was assigned to complete his initial play-through, he told them he wasn’t able to do it even after trying the entire night. This didn’t surprise the staff members that were familiar with the game at all, but it was a problem given that it was the first time this has happened. The show had to go on, and of course Arino wasn’t able to complete it on air either. This meant that Urakawa also had to take another on AD responsibility: Clearing the game when Arino couldn’t, so that the ending can be shown at the end of the episode. Now it became Urakawa’s Challenge, as the entire staff moved to support him in order to try to clear the game. This resulted in Urakawa spending yet another sleepless night with Adventure Island, but he was actually able to clear it. His only comment afterward was “Should a game like this really exist?”.

Kibe also hits on the magic that occurred during some of Game Center CX’s bigger events. One such event was their 24 hour broadcast in the summer of 2009. One month before that took place, Arino and Kibe had a conversation about taking down the Metal King Slime in Dragon Quest IX on the DS together after the next live event. Arino also thought it would be a nice to be able to use DQ IX’s Street Pass functionality with the audience that came to the event. Fast forward to said event, upon arriving at the studio Kibe quickly realized that he’d left his DS at home! He quickly got a taxi back home to grab it, and made it back just in time. It ended up being a good thing he did too, because Arino wanted to go through a treasure map dungeon with him before the broadcast started.

The game featured for this episode was Lemmings, and one of Kibe’s responsibilities during the broadcast was to monitor faxes coming in from viewers. Later on in the program, some would be read on the show. But after Arino announced the game at the beginning of the broadcast, the outlook from the fax room was not good. The overwhelming reaction was that people were expecting an old favorite that wasn’t cleared to return for this event (Punch Out seemed to come up quite often), and that they were a bit disappointed by this choice. Kibe pushed pretty hard for Lemmings, so he immediately began to feel responsible. It also didn’t help that Arino didn’t seem to be making significant progress in the game at all.

Arino had to leave the broadcast for a bit for a radio appearance, so other segments were aired during the time he was away. When Arino returned to the studio, he greeted the fans gathered outside and did the aforementioned DQ IX Street Passing with them. He then returned to the challenge thrilled about all the new treasure maps he got, but his play showed just how tired he was. After seeing that things were just continuing to stall out, they decided to move things to the theater area of Fuji TV so they could at least finish out the program in front of a live audience. The energy brought about by fan interaction ended up being just the jump start that the broadcast needed, and the faxes coming in became much more excited and positive as a result. As a result, Arino was able to clear Lemmings. Kibe and Arino’s plans to take down the Metal King Slime were put on hold though, since everyone else on staff couldn’t really go home until Arino did.

The book is closed out by Kibe talking about how many of his dreams were actually able to come true through Game Center CX: Three games based around Game Center CX were released for the DS and 3DS. In the case of the first game, it essentially acted as a collection of brand new Famicom games in a time when doing that sort of thing was not popular. And getting to take part in that was a huge dream of Kibe’s. Another one was getting to go to America, which Kibe was able to do because of the Game Center CX In USA special in 2011. On top of his fascination with America, he also wanted nothing more than to visit used game shops in another country. The other highlight of that trip for him was the staff showing up at a Los Angeles arcade for a planned appearance, expecting there to be maybe only a couple of people. They found an unexpected number of fans gathered though, making for an experience that none of them would ever forget. Of course this is also where they first became aware of an artist named Nina Matsumoto, through an illustration of hers that was given to them there. She’s since become a regular contributor to the show and much of the merchandise that surrounds it. She even did the cover for this very book.

There are obviously many other interesting stories and topics covered here that I haven’t gone into detail on. Since Kibe is a writer by trade, this book was considerably more challenging than anything else I’ve ever read in Japanese, and took me quite a long time to get through. So while I’d caution any beginner or intermediate level Japanese learners against diving right into this and expecting to get very far, it might be a good goal to work toward for any Japanese studying Game Center CX fans. Kibe is obviously very enthusiastic about video games and where his career has taken him, and it shows in every word of his book. It’s no exaggeration to say that he’s just as important to the show as Arino in his own way, and it wouldn’t have come as far as it has without him.