What are we reading? Test Run

So this is a new post format we’re trying out to see if it will stick. Every other week or so we’ll have a collaborative post by various contributors to the blog discussing what we’re currently reading – the format is designed to be a bit more casual than full reviews, so that we can just get our thoughts out in a more immediate manner on whatever we’ve been spending our time with.

Do let us know if you’d like to see more in this format; I’m not quite sure it has enough meat on its bones in the current iteration. I would like do to at least one more test post with more authors… hint hint.

Anyway, this week’s posters are sacred, Wahfuu, and myself (Moogy).

sacred

sacredgeo here reporting for duty. I finished 3 eroge since I wrote about Itsusora – Hanachirasu, Akatsuki no Goei ~Principal-tachi no Kyuujitsu~, and Bengarachou Hakubutsushi. I was originally going to include a big write up of Bengarachou here, but I am exceptionally bad at planning so it ended up entirely too long and turned into something that would probably work better as a standalone post, so that’s coming soon.

Anyway, I’m currently reading Rui ha Tomo wo Yobu, which is something I’ve had an interest in since around the time I started learning Japanese, an interest that was compounded by the power of Wahfuu-sperging and a perverse interest in cross-dressing characters. Ruitomo is written by the Akatsuki Works team of Hino Wataru and Shuudou Joo, who are probably most widely known in the western audience for writing Coμ – Kuroi Ryuu to Yasashii Oukoku –, which was translated to English (poorly) relatively recently. They also wrote Hello Lady! and it’s fandisc not too long ago, along with  ‘&’ -Sora no Mukou de Sakimasu you ni-, which I actually read a year or two back. However, ‘&’ is mostly Shuudou’s thing and while I enjoyed it for what it was, Ruitomo has the far more cynical Hino in charge and appears to be something quite different.

Unfortunately I can’t comment much on what the game is about or even give a satisfactory plot outline considering I’m not even through the common route yet, but from what I can tell the story focuses around the male protagonist, Tomo, who’s (now dead) mother ordered him to live his life as a female for unclear reasons, which he does. This puts a damper on forming any serious interpersonal relationships because, well, he is misrepresenting himself in a huge way and can’t let anyone find out about it. He doesn’t exactly want to be doing this and the personal conflict it creates for him is engaging, I’m pretty much just glad to see this isn’t just played entirely for fanservice or laughs or whatever.

Nevertheless, he befriends several other girls by what can only be described as sheer chance and in the midst of a silly bath scene, they discover they all have the same birthmark in different places. These birthmarks are eventually referred to as the byproduct of 呪い, or curses, and it seems like exploring the mystery of what exactly the curses are and how they relate to each character will be the major basis for the story. It’s kind of unlikely how everything has come together and it feels a little heavy-handed so far, but thankfully the author is self-aware and makes no hesitation to poke fun at that aspect. The narration even comments on how it feels like a third-rate novel or something so I’m interested to see how it surprises me, and I’m confident it will.

I’ll cut right to the chase and say there’s quite a bit of shady horsecockery going on linguistically – the letter near the beginning of the game borders on complete nonsense and while the rest of the text is nowhere near as outlandish as that, it’s a good indicator of what’s in store. Various wordplay and Hino turning the Japanese language on it’s head makes up a great deal of the text, you kind of have to be on the same wavelength he is or you’ll miss a lot of the weirder humor. Conversations generally range from “Ok, well that was kind of weird” to “What the actual fuck. How did he even write these lines of dialogue?”. As such, it’s impossible to passively read even the most unassuming parts of the game since you simply end up lost in no time.

Narration wanders heavily and covers a wide range of subjects, often feeling out of place and making it somewhat difficult to follow any given scene. For example, dark musings on the oppressive nature of society and quips on delightful things like words being nothing more than fundamentally untrue placeholders for vague concepts are inserted into unsuspecting scenes without hesitation. I might have made this sound like kind of a mess, but it’s honestly not – it manages to come off surprisingly poignant and well executed most of the time.

Despite all this, or maybe because of it, I find the game to be an incredibly unique experience and consistently entertaining to read in terms of text. Every time I pick it up I find some new writing quirk or play on words to marvel at. It makes me worried for the inevitable writer whiplash when Shuudou takes over since he and Hino are two very different writers and I hear he is at his worst here, but at least I’m prepared for it.

All things considered, the common route has done an alright job of introducing the general setting and cast so far, with several interesting characters entering the stage. I’m a big fan of Megumu and Yenfei personally, I hope to see much more of them throughout the game despite their positions being outside of the main circle. As expected, Tomo is sinfully cute and the heroines aren’t too bad themselves. Everyone is fleshed out and has distinct personalities, leading to a nice dynamic with plenty of great dialogue. If I had to pick a favorite out of the main group, it’s probably Akaneko because she is so wonderfully absurd. Seriously, just about everything she says is screencappable.

Why did I laugh at this…

Well, that’s about all I’ve got for the time being. If you want to see something of actual substance on the game from somebody who truly loves it, check out Wahfuu’s great review over here. Hopefully I’ll get a little farther into it over the next few days, I’ve been progressing slower than usual due to the Bengarachou 残照 and lots of other distractions, but what else is new. Will have more on this either in the next post like this one or on Twitter in the days to come!

Wahfuu

Folks reading, I must confess something to you. I am a broken Canadian. I sit here, shell-shocked, wondering about things and trying to figure out how to best to put those things into words for you lovely people to read. How does one even begin to explain a game like Natsukuru, or even Harukuru? Where do you even begin? The extremely raunchy humor? The hardcore sci-fi plots and settings? The cracked out heroines? Maybe even the Buddhist elements? I feel like you’d need to take a trip into whatever blackhole Watanabe crawled out of to try and understand the things he does and why he does them. And after being subjected to the maelstrom of lolis, physics and sex jokes that is Natsukuru, I am left amazed at not only how cool eroge can be, but how an absolute madman like Watanabe can exist and be able to make it.

Anyways, yes, Natsukuru was great. It was interesting to see in essence the ‘evolution’ of the presentation of Harukuru into something a lot generally better. The pacing especially, as Harukuru’s pacing isn’t really bad but there’s so much weird and irrelevant shit happening for so long you feel like it’s a lot worse than it is. But Natsukuru’s pacing is not only good, oh no, it’s some of the best you’ll find! Every scene has something to make you laugh or think about in regards to the plot and setting. And every route feels really fresh right away, too, with tons of obvious, visible changes to everything happening in the story for each route you do, since all the new information you discover in each route carries over. For reasons, of course.

The cast is a bit more balanced this time around, too. Only two of the heroines in Harukuru were really interesting and felt like they contributed, those being Shizuka and Fuyune. In Natsukuru, while none of the heroines are quite as memorable as Shizuka was, most of them are consistently entertaining in some way. Favorite being Rine, which if you disagree with, you’re wrong. They even added a male character into the main cast mix with Shun, who is… uh, seriously something to behold. The game legit opens with him threatening to masturbate in the same room as the protagonist if he doesn’t leave. I wish I could be him.

But alas, as great as Watanabe is, Natsukuru has a couple problems. Ones that mostly all fall into the last route, unfortunately. See, there’s something to be said about the big reveal at the end of a game. It’s satisfying, getting that “ohhh” moment when you get all those pesky questions answered, but often when this happens, it doesn’t really give you much time to interact with the new information/setting elements; the consequences of what you’ve learned have happened and have been happening the entire time. Worse, it comes in the form of an enormous infodump, which just slows any sense of momentum the story had going for it, regardless of how interesting the information is. And Natsukuru is this at its complete worst. Not only is it a giant game-changer, and NOT ONLY is it a big infodump, its basically 80% of way through the last route. The situation that’s revealed to you and what you’re doing with it all is cool, but by the time you learn it, you’re basically headed towards the ending of the game already. You barely get to interact with that part of the game at all; everything’s been accomplished already.

It doesn’t help that what is explained, isn’t really explained all that well, either. I’m not sure if Watanabe wanted to keep this part vague, or if there was something big I missed and I just got lost in the gravity of the situation, but one of the biggest parts of the setting is… I don’t want to say explained poorly, but not explained much at all. I guess I’m a bit of a babby, but I like having concrete explanations for stuff. And all this is basically the complete opposite of Harukuru, which… for better or worse, contains one absolutely fucking enormous infodump that shatters everything about the setting in one route, but gives you best and most rewarding route right after, and everything that happens is done whilst the reader knows the context. The only extra information gained in Shizukas route is stuff that enhances known knowledge, instead of changing it. Also, Harukuru doesn’t have anything :too: unexplained, at least in comparison to Natsukuru, so it has that going for it. I guess to put it another way, Natsukuru is a game where the experience of thinking and wondering about all the questions in the story is a lot more fun than actually getting the answers to them, and Harukuru a game where getting the answer and then playing the game is where it truly shines.

But regardless, Natsukuru is still one of the more unique experiences I’ve had playing eroge. The true setting of the whole game is really cool, and it has pacing that’ll always keep you engaged in what’s happening, where you always feel like you’re in a new situation. It’s a game that people who like sci-fi and loli’s (or better yet, both) should play. Gaze into the oculus of Watanabe’s mind.

As for what I’m reading now: Gay Ghosts, of course, in celebration of its English release. Not a ton to say, since I’ve barely gotten a toe in the door. Early signs are fairly promising, though. Kawashima is great playing Yuna, as expected, and the overall aesthetic of the game is very… soothing, I guess you could say. Though there’s no real sense of urgency to make me want to play it, but that’s fine, it’s not really that type of game anyway. Shouldn’t take me too long to read either way. Hopefully I’ll have something more concrete by the time next post comes around.

Maybe I should work on that Asairo post too.

Moogy

For the past week and a half or so, I’ve been slowly venturing through the behemoth that is Kanishino. Kanishino is one of the most popular eroge from the “golden age” of the mid-00s, maintaining an 85 median with over 2500 votes on EGS. It is perhaps most notable for being two almost completely different games, by different writers, jammed together into one product. Depending on which dormitory you choose to stay in at the beginning of the game, you will be either sent into the side of the game written by Marutani Hideto (possibly best known for France Shoujo) or the side written by Takehaya (known for Konata Yori Kanata Made, this game, and Soshite Ashita no Sekai yori). You will find almost nothing but rave reviews for Takehaya’s half (well, his part is 1.5mb and Marutani’s part is 2.2mb, but let’s call it a half) of the game, and having been impressed by Konakana recently, I chose to proceed with it first.

I was not disappointed. Many people on EGS describe Takehaya’s contribution to Kanishino as essentially perfect, and I’ll do my best to explain why.

Kanishino’s premise is, if not tired, then perhaps best described as trite: It is the story of Takizawa Tsukasa, a new teacher fresh out of college who is assigned to Ouka Jogakuin’s branch school, an institute designed to contain the daughters of rich families whose circumstances – internal or external – mandate their separation from greater society. We are not exactly breaking new ground for eroge with this setup, and I’m sure everyone can think of at least one or two games with similar settings. What distinguishes Kanishino, then? To put it simply, Takehaya’s fervent, nigh-religious dedication to his message; his concentrated focus on rich thematic elements elevates the game to a level which few eroge can aspire to.

The front gate of the branch school is adorned with an engraving of Dante’s famous quote, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate,” (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here“) and it is from this bit of scenery that Takehaya drew the inspiration for his side of the game. He set out to weave a tale of faith and salvation, and wasted no breath in doing so. There is nothing on Takehaya’s side which would constitute the traditional “common route”; the player is simply presented with a choice to pursue Miyabi’s route after a brief chapter developing Tsukasa’s relationship with her and the school and allowing us a glimpse into the hardships she faces as the branch school’s acting administrator. Should the player decline to pursue Miyabi, they are next given a chapter developing Tonoko, a girl determined to seek refuge from her parents’ obsession with tradition even if it means living her life in a prison. If the player refrains from involving Tsukasa with Tonoko’s situation, then they are immediately sent to the route featuring Shino, a girl with severe social anxiety who cannot interact with anyone except Tonoko, who happens to be her friend from childhood. Even just from this basic overview of the scenario structure of Takehaya’s side of the game, I think his approach to storytelling should be apparent – he has neither the time nor the patience for posturing and seeks to set his plans in motion immediately.

Indeed, Takehaya moves deftly throughout the entirety of his routes. The three of them average out at 500kb of text, which is around what you would expect from a route in a lengthier novel game, but not even the most jaded cynic could call them padded. Every scene acts directly to develop the themes and characterization, and nary a word is wasted – Takehaya has no qualms with jumping ahead days or weeks within the same chapter and seems to actively avoid depicting any and all events which do not contribute to the plot in some way. This is an approach not often seen in novel games, and even outside of the medium extremely focused plotting like this could result in a story feeling artificial or cramped in the hands of a lesser writer, but Takehaya pulls it off with aplomb. The staccato bursts form a proper melody, and it is a beautiful one.

I will offer Tonoko’s route (my personal favorite) to illustrate Takehaya’s method. I’ve tried to keep the details vague, but there are a few spoilers below.

The central conceit of Tonoko’s route is Tsukasa’s attempt to construct a working plane from parts he finds in an abandoned military base on the school grounds. Tonoko soon joins him, but questions his dedication to this task – it is almost certain that even if Tsukasa does manage to construct something resembling a plane, it will not take flight as he imagines. Tonoko even sees the plane almost as an extension of herself, for she dreams of taking flight and escaping into the sky despite knowing that it is an impossibility. Over the course of the route, the rest of the cast slowly gets dragged into the construction of the plane, and Tonoko’s relationship with Tsukasa grows (she initially sees him as a surrogate father figure, but it quickly advances into something even deeper than that), with the culmination of it all being the test flight for the plane, which they do eventually manage to put together.

The plane almost immediately crashes. But the flight itself was never really what was important, and Tonoko’s conflict was never really with her parents. Tsukasa is undeterred by their failure because he simply never expected things to go smoothly on his first attempt to begin with. As he swims to Tonoko – something he was incapable of doing only six months prior – she realizes her only real obstacle was her own mindset. For the first time, she truly understands faith and perseverance, and thus the route’s conflict – Tonoko’s conflict with herself – is resolved.

This is where the credits roll.

I think this scene will stick with me for a very long time. The route as a whole is constructed with a rare elegance (I couldn’t put it down and ended up reading it in one sitting), but it is this finale, eloquent in its simplicity, that truly established Kanishino (or at least Takehaya’s contribution to it) as something special for me.

That said, Miyabi’s route, about the inherent value that we all possess as individuals and seek recognition of, and Shino’s route, where Tsukasa and Shino make the decision to clutch each other’s hands no matter how frightening it may be, are both meaningful, fulfilling reads as well, and I can see any of the three ending up as someone’s favorite. For the purposes of this post, though, I wanted to put the spotlight on my experience with Kanishino. If I end up doing a full review of the game, I will obviously develop my ideas here further, but I think I’ve said all that I need to say for now. (Of course, I need to finish reading Marutani’s part of the game before I think about doing a proper review.)

To cap things off, I would just like to state that Takehaya’s side of Kanishino is something I personally would consider a milestone in the world of novel games, and it should be played by anyone with even a passing interest in the medium. It is really a shame to see the reception that Takehaya’s more recent works have received, because I feel that he could have established himself as one of the most relevant writers in the entirety of Japanese subculture had he continued to produce output of the same caliber as Kanishino. I tweeted my personal scores for the routes and his side of the game a few days ago, but those numbers alone don’t really convey the depth of my appreciation for this work.

Really though, it’s basically Grisaia no Kajitsu if it were actually good.

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What are we reading? Test Run

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