WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BUTTERFLY SOUP

In this month of romance, let’s talk about how love is present in all sorts of forms and cultures. BUTTERFLY SOUP is an indie romance visual novel game. The creator, Brianna Lei, released the game in 2017 and has become pretty popular. Both PC Gamer and Kotaku wrote extremely positive reviews. It’s no wonder why! BUTTERFLY SOUP is viscerally relatable on a personal level to many people who aren’t often represented in mainstream media.

BUTTERFLY SOUP in a Nutshell

In short, the game is about “gay Asian girls playing baseball and falling in love.” The game goes through the perspectives of four Asian-American girls in their freshman year of high school in 2008. The four girls, Diya, Min-Seo, Noelle, and Akarsha, all grow closer through baseball. By spending time together, they are able to bond over their personal difficulties and mutual care for each other, although not all of them get along.

BUTTERFLY SOUP is more of a story than a dating simulator, which doesn’t detract from it at all. The player can make certain choices that affect the story slightly. For example, Diya can teach Min-Seo to say, “Hi,” or, “I like to fart.” However, the choices still feel meaningful because they reveal each character’s personality more.

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Primarily, the game centers on the romance between Diya and Min-Seo. However, it also reveals each character’s life from their point of view. So, the player gets an intimate understanding of why each character acts and believes what they do and how that affects their relationships with the other main characters.

The Characters

Diya

The first character the player encounters is Diya. Diya is an Indian-American girl with social anxiety who loves baseball. She’s athletic and physically powerful, but extremely shy. In her childhood, she was close friends with the rough and tumble Min-Seo. However, she had to keep their friendship a secret because her parents disapproved of Min-Seo.

While she couldn’t tell at the time, their bond went beyond platonic interest. Even when Min-Seo’s family had to move away, and Diya would have no way of contacting her, the two meet up again later in life and pick up right where they left off.

Noelle

Noelle is a Chinese-American girl who is best friends with Diya. She and Diya had also been friends since childhood, but she disliked Min-Seo greatly. However, she cares fiercely for Diya and is willing to put aside their differences to make her happy. Noelle is also the stereotypical overachieving Asian student, but not without substance.

Her parents are the classic emotionally abusive immigrant parents who callously force her to succeed without reward. While many people wouldn’t view this as abuse, her mother’s emotional manipulation can hit home hard. Because of her parents, Noelle has an extremely difficult time connecting with other people her age. However, she is able to form meaningful bonds through baseball with the other girls. In fact, she and Min-Seo learn to respect each other because of their difficult family circumstances.

Akarsha

Akarsha is also Indian-American like Diya. However, her personality is opposite. She is a ball of chaotic, zany energy at all times. She and Noelle have an extremely comedic rivalry. The two of them often share slapstick exchanges that end with Noelle failing to keep a straight face.

She is the primary comedic factor of this game that will call players back to their high school days. Akarsha is also openly bisexual. However, because of her jokester personality, her friends don’t realize that she’s serious.

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On the inside, Akarsha is secretly depressed.While looking for Min-Seo and Diya before a baseball game, she ends up in an empty gymnasium and decides to shout the truth: that she uses humor to mask her insecurities. This helps her grow closer to Min-Seo, who identifies with her frustration.

Min-Seo

Min-Seo is a Korean-American person who is non-binary but uses she/her pronouns. She is incredibly aggressive, violent, overbearing, and open-hearted. She never falters in her love for Diya. Ever since childhood, she knew she wanted to pursue Diya romantically and never doubted herself. She constantly questioned gender roles and fought against tradition because she holds a strong sense of right and wrong.

While her violence is off-putting and frustrating, it makes sense given her upbringing. Much like Noelle’s parents, Min-Seo’s parents are extremely traditional and abusive. Her father is a physically abusive person. For example, Min-Seo mentions to Noelle a time when her dad chucked the toilet seat at her because he remembered how angry he was with her. She was raised with violence and has learned to retaliate with violence.

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However, Min-Seo is incredibly loyal and loving, even if she is often excessive. She cares deeply about Diya and about the other girls once she gets closer to them. At the very least, she has a strong respect for everyone in their friend group and definitely mellows out slightly because of the secure space they provide.

The Asian-American Experience

Personally, I have never played anything more viscerally relatable than this game. There is an unspoken culture of toxicity within many Asian-American communities that this game brings to light. Often, many Asian-American children of immigrant families will rationalize this generational abuse. However, BUTTERFLY SOUP doesn’t pull any punches, nor does it force the player to view the characters’ toxic households a certain way. It conveys a painful truth.

For example, although Noelle considers herself — and generally is — a mature person, she is emotionally stunted. Her parents constantly paste articles of successful Chinese-Americans in her room to “inspire” her to be like them. If she finishes studying for her school, her parents buy her next year’s textbooks.

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Clearly, they expect nothing from her but perfection and work. This is to the point where her mother begins to gaslight her. Her mother tells her that she shouldn’t trust her friends because they’re only out to beat her in school. She also says that the only people she can really trust are her family. The dialogue in these exchanges is almost word-for-word what many Asian-American kids have experienced.

Similarly, Min-Seo and her twin brother Jun’s reactions to their abusive father also ring true. Min-Seo reacts righteously, blaming their father. On the other hand, Jun says that they should just hold everything in so he doesn’t get even angrier. In my experience, these are the two ways many people of color respond to cultural abuse, especially children of immigrants.

The LGBT+ Experience

The game also does a great job of depicting the natural path of discovering one’s personal identity. While it seems Min-Seo and Akarsha always knew, Diya suddenly realizes it all at once, and Noelle doesn’t think much of it due to her traditional upbringing. Although, it is implied that Noelle has some romantic feelings for Diya.

Sexuality

None of the girls has a major crisis, nor a major “coming out,” especially due to the nature of their family situations. Diya is the one who worries the most, but she is the character with social anxiety. Plus, she has Akarsha to support her immediately. The way the characters discover their sexualities is likely how many people do in real life.

While it’s a relevant part of their lives, it’s not the defining backbone of their existence. A lot of media deals with sexuality as the driving concern of the story. BUTTERFLY SOUP doesn’t do that, shockingly, for a game centered around a lesbian relationship.

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Gender

Min-Seo also struggles with her gender identity. In the opening scene with Diya, Min-Seo actively fights against the idea of being a princess to be saved just because she is considered a girl. When the player goes through Min-Seo’s perspective, they see more of Min-Seo’s childhood and her fighting against traditionally feminine clothes. Through this, the creator establishes Min-Seo’s non-binary identity. Even though her gender isn’t labeled in the game, it’s clear that she isn’t cisgender.

BUTTERFLY SOUP is all about self-discovery. The title itself is a reference to that theme. Before caterpillars become butterflies, they become “butterfly soup,” as the characters discuss. The characters undergo difficult experiences where they have to self-evaluate and break down their understandings of themselves and their upbringings. Once they do that, they can begin to reform and emerge as new people.

Future of Representation

Brianna Lei makes this statement on her blog about BUTTERFLY SOUP:

“I was mostly inspired by the feeling growing up that there wasn’t any media out there made with me in mind. I rarely watched teen dramas because the problems the (usually white) characters faced were completely foreign to me. There were books and TV series with Chinese-American representation like THE JOY LUCK CLUB or JAKE LONG: AMERICAN DRAGON, but I could never fully relate to them because they didn’t show South and East Asian characters being friends with each other (or even interacting). Having such a big aspect of my daily life missing from those stories made them feel unrealistic and fake. So with this game, I aimed to focus on those relationships.

“A few times making Butterfly Soup, I actually thought, ‘is it realistic for that mix of people to be friends?’ even though my childhood was literally like that, in real life. It’s crazy how not seeing it in media can mess with your head.”

Mainstream media tends to lack the kind of natural representation that BUTTERFLY SOUP pulls off. In recent years, we have seen more independent creators release content with great representation. While the fight for recognition in mainstream media should continue, we’re left to wonder if supporting independent creators is the real way to establish proper minority representation.

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