The Setting: the Tohoku region in a real world-adjacent Japan where artificial intelligence and transhuman beings called dolls coexist alongside regular flesh-and-blood humans. Santaku is headquartered at the foot of Mount Jōbon, in the Ōmori district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, and has major facilities on Sabusawa Island in Matsushima Bay, Minamisanriku on the Pacific Coast, beside the SDF maneuver range in Taiwa town, as well as elsewhere in the Tohoku region.

On Dolls and Witches: “Doll” in these stories — kokeshi コケシ or ningyō 人形 in Japanese– is a very broad term. It is a catch-all term for all-synthetic artificial intelligences as well as transhuman beings. There are specializations within this– combat dolls, service dolls, engineering dolls– but at the end of the day, doll is doll and that’s good enough for a doll. Dolls thrive on Purpose (yōto 用途 ) and the aspiration of serene clarity of purpose called Stillness (chinsei 鎮静). For an ex-human to grow into dollhood is to Become (kasu 化す).

A Witch (majo 魔女 or masha 魔者) is a human with whom that doll is paired; a doll works as their Witch’s right hand, to further their Witch’s work. Witches who forget that it’s a two-way relationship tend to do poorly and lose their dolls entirely. Indeed, dolls do not need Witches, and you’ll meet some dolls who don’t have Witches.

(This is my own take on Empty Spaces, a loose collective of writers and artists with shared themes and motifs on Twitter that I’ve joined in recent months. For an introduction, check out Maybeelse’s graphic here.)

Doll Companies: In the world of Confluence, there are many companies in Japan that build dolls or offer transhuman conversion for humans wanting to become dolls. Often they also supply, equip, and support dolls. Santaku Group is one of the oldest companies in the field, but the other major Japanese companies in the field are Arai Technologies, Iwasaki Heavy Industries, and Agatsuma Cybernetics. Some companies that were in the field are defunct, like Satomi, Yahagi, and Nogami, and aftermarket parts and support have varying levels of availability. This is a problem for some of our cast.

Dialect: Kasu speaks Sendai-ben, the local dialect of Japanese in Miyagi Prefecture. As the language of a people who live among mountains in a predominantly rural region, who were also defeated in war in 1868, in popular depictions this dialect is usually seen as shorthand for “idiot hick.” As someone who used to live in that region, I feel strongly about wanting to educate about the region even through these stories. So, I am using that dialect in these stories– spoken by an intelligent, highly educated, driven professional– to underline that Tohoku has plenty of its own rich history of brilliance, culture, and strength.