Wizards of the Coast Shares the Worldbuilding Behind Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
With refreshing insight into the cultural consulting done.
One of the most interesting planes in Magic: The Gathering history, Kamigawa, is returning in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.
Not only is this a return to a plane, but it is also a chance to correct some of the problematic elements of the previous trips into this realm that took elements of Japanese culture, but never seemed to fully understand a lot of the cultural nuances. Not to mention that the developers behind the project were white and lent to a lot of very … cringe to seriously problematic ideas behind the scenes.
On the latest trip to Kamigawa, in a video hosted by Jimmy Wong, we get to hear straight from members of the Magic creative team, including one of the cultural developers, James Mendez Hodes and Emily Teng—worldbuilding design leads.
Neon Dynasty takes place 1200 years into the future of Kamigawa, but initially, the series was just inspired by a design vision to create a futuristic “Japanese-inspired” plane.
As a fan of Magic: The Gathering who has been lucky to get insight into other parts of the development of a series, I really enjoyed this roundtable. It allows for more discussion of the creative sidem and I think as fans who sometimes wonder “why this?” that level of transparency is much appreciated, especially when it comes to the cultural aspects.
Mendez, who is Filipino American, spoke about how the role of a “cultural consultant” means working to ensure that companies present marginalized communities and cultures in an affirming way. Mendez comes into this role from an academic perspective, specifically about Asian and Japanese culture. So not only is he from the Asian community, but he does work tied to culture, as well, which is a fantastic thing to have in a company that has been rightfully called out for its whiteness.
Mendez also explains that ethnically Japanese consultants were also part of the conversation and development to cover aspects that were not part of his own intimate background—again, saying the things that really make me excited. That extra layer of care is something we should expect, but rarely comes to fruition.
Diversity in the background has led to a new storytelling direction, diversity of Japanese weapons (with care not to mix and match from other cultures when this is specifically touching on Asian culture), and making sure kimonos are worn properly.
My true hope is that we will see this care going forward with different sets, because I love being able to see different cultures explored in fantasy. It is about coming into it with respect, a desire to affirm, and a knowledge that bringing in knowledgeable people from those communities will only make your work better.
I am excited for Neon Dynasty and very pleased Wizards took the time to show us how it came together.
(image: Wizards of the Coast)
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