As a transgender person, it's easy to feel like you don't exist. The most common sort of violence I experience as a white trans woman isn't outright prejudice, or literal threats—it's being ignored. It's the sense that most people around you, those you know and those you don't, fail to consider your distinct perspective and the humanity associated with it. It's the violence of sensing that, even though you make up a meaningful, albeit small, fraction of the American population—roughly 0.6 percent in conservative estimates, roughly as many people as the population of Philadelphia—the world isn't built to even acknowledge you. Let alone accommodate you.
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This problem isn't unique to the United States. Trans people exist globally, and our experiences, of exclusion and ignorance, are nearly universally felt. Some countries have it better than us, and some have it worse, but no country, including America, has it particularly well.
Last Day of Spring is a game by npckc, a Japanese developer who specializes in, per their own words, "cute LGBT+-friendly games." Along with its prequel, One Night Hot Springs, it tells a story about a Japanese trans woman, Haru, and her personal struggles to achieve a sense of stability and selfhood in her everyday life. The games are about, in other words, the problem of not existing. When I play them, they sting with familiarity.
Representation, as a concept, is a loaded one, and it can (and has been) easily co-opted to support all sorts of things that don't actually affirm the perspectives or talents of marginalized people. But, at its core, representation is this: a mirror held up to you to remind you that, regardless of what society tells you, you do exist. Your experiences are real, which means art can be created about them, which also means they can be rendered poignant, and powerful, and important.
Last Day of Spring does this in a simple, charming way. It's a visual novel, a game largely about talking to people and making simple narrative choices, told from the perspective of Haru's friend Erika. Erika wants to do something special for Haru's birthday, and so she decides to plan her friend a spa day. This proves challenging, as the spas she reaches out to aren't accommodating to trans women, and Erika has to reckon with her own privilege as a cisgender person while also figuring out how to best care for a friend she loves dearly.
Last Day of Spring feels like an honest look at Haru's struggle to find safety in a society built to exclude her from the very concept.
The characters are written deftly in Spring, and the focus on Erika as a viewpoint character, rather than sidelining Haru's experiences, ends up giving them a sounding board. Haru is regularly encouraged to voice her experiences to Erika, and as the game goes on, Erika's perspective, and the perspective of the player with it, is continuously reset in order to more closely align with the realities of Haru's lived experience. Haru comes across as an anxious, uncertain protagonist, but not in a fetishizing way that paints trans women as frail. Instead, it feels like an honest look at Haru's struggle to find safety in a society built to exclude her from the very concept. Haru's experiences are realistic, and her uncertainty and frustration at the world makes her more resonant as a protagonist, not less.
It's easy, in articles about games like this, to perform surprise at such a trans-affirming game coming from a clearly Japanese perspective. There is, in many Western LGBTQ+ communities, a knee-jerk Western chauvinism that takes the form of an assumption that affirming queer perspectives are exclusively or primarily the purview of subcultures in the United States and Western Europe, and that anything produced outside of that bubble must be an exception to a rule. But games like Last Day of Spring and SWERY's The Missing gesture toward active LGBTQ+-affirming voices as ongoing presences in Japanese games, while the lack of such voices in the mainstreams of both Japanese and Western game industries points to a more global failure, one that Americans certainly have no room to act smug about.
Last Day of Spring and games like it make me feel more real, my experiences more visible. I recommend it, not because it will help readers who are not trans "get woke to the transgender experience," nor solely because I think my trans readers will like it. I don't necessarily believe in games as empathy builders—as ways to educate outsiders about marginalized perspectives, as though empathy is something that can be forced upon someone with an appealing presentation. What I do believe, instead, is that trans people are a part of the continuity of humanity, that our experiences are fundamentally human ones. In order to see most clearly what it means to be a person, our experiences, along with the variety of experiences of other marginalized groups, need to be seen. I recommend Last Day of Spring because it sees us, and because I wish you would, too.
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