Instead of contributing to society in any shape or form, I have been spending the last couple of days playing a BL visual novel called DRAMAtical Murder. I looked into my crystal ball and foresaw that the anime (which is airing this season) would be full of QUALITY like the above image implies. So I decided to cut the middle man and just play the game instead. Here are my spoiler-free thoughts.
DMMD (as it shall henceforth be referred to in this post) is the first BL visual novel I have ever played. I had played VNs targeted at female audiences before, but none of them featured adult content. DMMD did. While I enjoyed the story, the PLOT (if you know what I mean) left me mildly traumatised.
If I were to assign an arbitrary numerical rating to the game, I would give it a 7/10. The technical aspects – i.e., the art, the voice acting and the music – are faultless. The storyline, too, was interesting, though it suffered for cramming in too many ideas and not tying them together cohesively. The character routes are a good deal less interesting than the common route, and they suffered a lot for being repetitive and rushed. The homoerotic romances were handled tactfully enough, but one route was basically rape porn, which kind of soured my impression overall.
Still, it’s a well-constructed game. I would recommend this to pretty much anyone older than eighteen, male or female. Playing it pushed me out of my comfort zone – in a good way, for the most part. I always imagined myself as being highly tolerant of BL. Sometimes, I’ve participated myself in yaoi shipping, mostly for a good laugh. But I’d never actually seriously attempted to engage in the genre, so playing DMMD was an eye-opener in that regard.
I’ve been told DMMD is a good “gateway” VN for BL newbies. I can corroborate that. The story is almost entirely plot-driven and the hardcore BL stuff happens only towards the end when you’re already invested in the characters and story. Other than Mink’s route, the relationships depicted in DMMD felt pretty tame. The power dynamics between the protagonist and his love interests were fairly equal outside of intercourse, though of course it’s still clear that Aoba is meant to be a stand-in for the female player.
I found Aoba’s character design to be really interesting in the way it toys with and reflects feminine and masculine imagery. He’s dressed entirely in blue, which is a masculine colour, and his jacket makes his shoulders seem broader than they actually are. You don’t actually notice his long hair at first glance, since they’re cleverly obscured by his jacket and headphones. When he takes them off, you can see very clearly how slender and feminine he appears.
He’s easy for female players to identify with, I think. He maintains enough masculine assertiveness to be desirable in his own right as a man, but he’s also the submissive uke. During the sex scenes, he looks almost indistinguishable from a woman. The most interesting thing about DMMD is how it deliberately blurs the line between femininity and masculinity. Aoba came off as a very respectable hero for being open-hearted and expressive but also physically and mentally tough.
Personally speaking, I had no trouble roleplaying Aoba and making choices according to my own gut. On my first playthrough, I got Koujaku’s good end. Koujaku is the childhood friend character. I decided to trust him over the other random weirdos I met, even though he wasn’t my favourite character. Trusting Koujaku to the end was what got me the good ending, although on retrospect, many of the choices I made were naive, passive and overly trusting. Hmm…
The H scenes
I hate to admit it, but I found the sex scenes to be so disgusting and awkward that I resorted to closing my eyes and mashing enter until they were done. (You can’t skip H scenes in this game.)
My experience gave me pause to think. Was my reaction homophobic? Was I a hypocrite for endorsing gay romance but despising the physical aspect of a homosexual relationship?
Thinking about it more, though, I came to the conclusion I was just overthinking it. I’ve never cared much for sex scenes in visual novels. And it would be ridiculous to equate a lack of fetish for gay porn as a sign of homophobia. I didn’t have a problem with the guys kissing or touching like in the images in this post, so I suppose I was turned off by how long, drawn out and gratuitously kinky the sex scenes were. Like, one guy had piercings on his penis. Wouldn’t you get an infection from being penetrated with a penis like that, to say the very least? (The other thing I was wondering as I was playing this game was what if my parents walked in on me during that scene. Not sure how I would theoretically talk my way out of that one.)
What were the best routes?
[SPOILERS FOR CHARACTER ROUTES]
In terms of my subjective enjoyment: Clear > Noiz > Ren > Koujaku > Mink.
The best character was Clear. He was funny. Except for when he took off his mask, at which point he turned kind of lame.
MC-kun probably had the best chemistry with Noiz. Noiz had some weird fetishes, but he was all right I guess.
Koujaku was a boring childhood friend with an angsty past. Yawn.
Ren is a Bro with a capital B, but unfortunately I’m not into best bestiality, or twincest, or whatever the hell their romance was meant to be.
Mink was a wifebasher and an asshole. In his route, MC-kun gets stoned and begs for the D, so Mink does him against the wall in a nightclub. When MC-kun does the sensible thing after he comes to his senses and tries to run the fuck away, Mink catches him and anal rapes him. Stockholm syndrome ensues. Blergh.
The bad ends in this game are pretty horrifying as well as kind of hilarious. MC-kun loses his legs, gets his head ripped off, and is raped by two guys, a lion and a giant cobra. I can’t make this shit up.
This game is rated R-18+ for a reason, kids!
DRAMAtical Murder is a good game with some bizarre tropes and fetishes, but overall manages to be entertaining most of the time. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, actually. It also gave me a few interesting things to think about with its portrayal of gender and homosexuality.
Would I play another BL game after this? Maybe. It probably depends on the amount of sexual content. I probably won’t play Re:Connect (DMMD’s sequel), since I heard it’s mostly just fanservice and sex.
If any of you readers happen to be BL game fans (or just visual novel fans in general) feel free to recommend me some games to play in my free time! I should probably finish Grisaia before the anime comes out.
Depending on how you feel about Urobuchi Gen, you might enjoy Song of Saya. It’s fairly short, so it’ll be no great loss even if you end up hating it. It’s a pretty horrifying story, but also thought-provoking.
Fate/stay night is actually pretty relevant to your interest in the role of feminism in anime, since the MC starts out ultra-chauvinistic and… gets… better? Different? Stays the same? The story is pretty awesome.
And speaking of awesome, I have to recommend Tsukihime. First VN I ever played, and still my favorite.
I’m not much of a nasu fan, but I have been thinking about playing Saya no Uta for some time. I do like most of Gen’s work.
Thanks for the recs!
Color themes with regards to gender are interesting. Blue is kind of considered masculine now, (especially with the “cool Blue” second-in-command image spread by the likes of Spock and sentai) but historically has had strong feminine ties as well, with masculinity denoted by hot-blooded red shades, instead. Not going to make the “it used to be pink for boys” claim just yet, as I find conflicting information online, but the link to red assertiveness is definitely there.
Of course, there are some feminine links still to red, through the fiery redhead stereotype. (and then the tsundere. F/SN Rin’s sweater a subconscious shorthand, anybody?)
So the choice of Blue for a BL uke is indeed fascinating to consider from a gender standpoint, as it more calls to mind old feminine connotations of passivity, submission, and purity. (from the association with the Virgin Mary) As the previous male examples of Blues also point out, perhaps blue carries a sense of stability and moderation, which would fit with a proper family caretaker in a maternal figure. Perhaps that’s why girl-colors are dominated by pastels now, as muted versions of colors, with similar connotations. It’s not until chaotic teenagerhood that they get to join the boys in loud neon-colored clothing with slight punk undertones.
But gender associations or not, blue was probably picked to contrast with the other characters with more active attitudes and color schemes. (Especially red, hence Red vs. Blue being a visual motif for rivalries since forever.)
I think it’s interesting to consider how in that picture of MC-kun, the blue is offset by pink pen, headphones, phonelight, and brains. (No comment on the splashes of yellow on his jacket.)
It’s interesting how the pink in Aoba’s outfit is used to emphasise the blue. Personally, I saw a “blue vs pink” contrast in his outfit, which does bring to mind the whole “blue is for young boys” and “pink is for young girls” thing.
But now that you mention it, the use of the colour blue probably is linked as much to Aoba’s calmness and stability – at least at the beginning of the game. In fact, the colour blue is used widely in the game’s interface and the setting in general. The setting is a technologised future, and blue is a common motif in those kinds of settings.
In a heist show DVD commentary the writers once talked about how they use color shorthands as well to denote technologies. There was a “bomb” that was actually some stacked woks, but light it the right way, put some blinking LEDs on it, and the audience buys that the contraption is a hi-tech explosive. They have a specific blue lighting color that they use to denote “server rooms.” Again, just have a room of shelves and random plastic boxes on the shelves with wiring, have some blinking LEDS, add the color lighting, and audience buys that they’re hacking into advanced computers. (And then switch to red lighting to denote intrusion and danger, of course.)
I would recommend Katawa Shoujo, it’s well-made (albeit somewhat simplistic/arbitrary at times, one might argue). I found the characters enjoyable, the music fitting, etc.
Reluctantly seconding Saya no Uta (not my cup of tea, but it is legitimately thought-provoking in that Urobuchi™ way).
As part of a deal/trade with a friend, had to play Morenatsu, I’d recommend it I guess, in the context of this post at least.
Morenatsu looks… interesting… is my heart ready for another BL game already? This time with furry porn?!
You may enjoy Lamento: beyond the void once it’s out, it’s also a bl game and a pretty long one in a fantastical setting, it only has three routes and is a fun read overall. It has catboys though, idk if that will turn you off from it.
I knew something was missing from DRAMAtical Murder. I just knew it. I can’t believe they didn’t have catboys. Truly, I didn’t realise how much my heart desired it until you brought it up.
(On a serious note, though, I guess I should try Lamento sometime. Same game company, after all.)
Very interesting! I’ve never played a BL game before – in fact, until this past week, I had never played any Japanese visual novel/dating sim before. The one I’ve just finished playing was… interesting, and basically an experiment born of curiosity on my part. I’d review it, except I don’t really have any idea yet where to start.
If I may ask, what game did you play?
Oh hey, that was pretty much the first VN I ever completed too! It’s kind of an old game, but I do hope you write about it.
I do plan to at some point, definitely. I’m just trying to mentally work out how to go about it – I’ve never been much of a gamer (seriously, this is probably the first game I’ve played since the earlier Pokemon stuff), and I’ve also never reviewed one before.
How did you play DMMD? I know it’s a Japan only game, so did you play it as a download, or with a Japanese imported copy?
I downloaded the game in English from Fuwanovel.org
It’s like lining up in that OreImo episode lol.
Also the “take you” question, yea that was me. Didn’t expect an answer, but I think you know what I mean ;)
Oh, so that was you, huh? The question gave me a good laugh. But please refrain from shipping me with Kirito in the future. You’ll hurt Asuna’s feelings.
Like Asuna even cares who Kirito gets shipped with, she’s too tolerant. Though I’m afraid of hurting sandwich-san. Plus there are worse things than you Froggy (SAOfanfic) xD
Interesting to see your thoughts in detail on this one, especially since I have made a deal with the devil (ie. you) and will have to play it at some point. The art looks pretty good from what you’ve posted, but I think I’ll be staying away from Mink’s route.
The last line of your post was the best line.
“,,,I have made a deal with the devil (ie. you) and will have to play it at some point.”
Have fun! :DDD
This game sounds so good.
It is! You can, ahem, acquire it from Fuwanovel.
Reminder of how painful Watamote episode 7’s last minute was, they let it drag on for 55 seconds, from 20:00 to 20:55. The mixed-tape, with mom walking in.
I’ve been thinking about playing this game as I’m watching the show as it airs and keep reading comments that the VN gives better insight into the characters (I guess its the same for most VN adaptations).
You definitely should complete Grisaia, I’ve only played a few VN’s but I really liked it, especially how easy it was to enter each of the girl routes. I find it hard to get into a VN when you have to go way back to change your direction >.<
can I ask how far you have got through Grisaia?
I’m still close to the beginning of the common route in Grisaia. Played a couple of hours into it. It seemed the last time I was saved was the second time Amane appears naked for no reason.
And yeah, DMMD is a good game. I recommend it.
I know that it is technically not a VN (it may as well be though) I strongly recommend Corpse Party. Lets not forget the ever popular Song of Saya and the slightly less popular Swan Song. I’m sure you will enjoy these games very much :D
Make sure you do not watch the shit that is called Corpse Party: tortured souls. Unless you are into torture porn (which I doubt). It’s really shit.
I was never very clear about this, but it suddenly struck me as very interesting when you said that female players identify with Aoba (the Uke). Is this a trend that you’ve noticed while talking to BL fans, or is it a random generalization that you’ve made?
If this trend is “real”, I guess I remain curious about how this ties together with sexism/feminism in anime. BL, to me, describes the interactions between a “pursuer” who exudes hyper-masculinity and a “receiver” who is stereotypically more “feminine” in behavior.
When the two participants are male, we typically throw away all questions of misogyny and feminism, simply because there are no biologically female characters present. However, if girls identify with the male Uke, doesn’t this pose a little bit an interesting conundrum?
Publicly, it’s a taboo to have an uke-like girl in a BL-extreme romantic relationship (sexist and misogynist), but is BL ultimately a loophole to this sexual fantasy?
(though, I suppose the reasons for this are rather intimately connected with the reasons why 50 Shades of Grey is apparently more popular among women than men)
Thanks for the great comment! Now to answer to some of the interesting points you brought up…
The whole females identifying with the uke thing is something I’ve noticed while talking to various yaoi fans. Often, the uke character is the more popular character in the seme/uke combo, because the fan finds the uke attractive as a man as well as identifying with him as a character. (e.g. Kuroko from Kuroko no Basuke) Admittedly, my observations are mostly drawn from yaoi shipping in non-yaoi fandoms, but if anything, Dramatical Murder seems to emphasise the fake gender lines more than fan-constructed pairings do.
I’ve heard BL described as a means to imagine one’s exploitative sexual fantasies without the labels of misogyny attached. While I’m really not fond of the hardcore stuff, I can definitely see the appeal of BL on that level. It feels as safe as it seems exotic.
I’d like to see more feminist critique of BL because while there seem to be problematic elements there, I see yaoi fandom as a rejection of the even more problematic elements of straight romances. Stripping romance of gender connotations (it’s romantic for the man to protect the woman, etc.) seems like an excellent way of avoiding the social conditioning inherent in most romantic fiction. But at the same time, BL doesn’t escape from those gender roles. Perhaps romance and gender are just so inextricably tied that we’re bound to conceive of any relationship in terms of gender roles. The dominant person in a relationship *has* to be masculine, and vice versa. Everything seems to revolve that core assumption, which is where the real misogyny lies, if you ask me.
Not sure this one aged well. If the genre itself disgusted you to the point of you closing your eyes, you might not be the best-suited to review the game. Nonetheless, besides the criticisms towards the genre as a whole that were somewhat unproductive, this is a decent review and I’m sure you’ve grown in your career as a game critic. Would love to see you revisit this with a different perspective if you ever find your stance on BL or otome has changed.