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Froggy Plays: Grisaia no Kajitsu

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This game took me almost an entire year to finish. Ambivalent thoughts to follow.

In the end, I remain very torn about Grisaia. I want to look back on my experience with the game and say it was worth my time; I did pour over 60 hours into it, after all. But so much of the story was padded and superfluous. It only made the beautiful artwork and prose feel like hollow, pretty nothings.

Perhaps some of the effect is purposeful; the game’s motif is a shiny fruit with a rotten core. But though the underlying ideas were genuinely compelling, the game ultimately failed to follow through on them effectively. Instead, the focus lingered on self-consciously witty jokes and, in its darker segments, crude shock effect.

To sum up, it’s an intelligently written game, though not nearly as intelligent as it thinks it is. I think Silvachief had it down pat with his own review of the game:

Grisaia is a production that knows objectively what makes a good story and includes a whole bunch of the right ingredients but just doesn’t cook them together with the right spices and ends up presenting an average meal overall.

I think what made playing Grisaia so frustrating for me was that I could see its promise. Some individual scenes gripped me, though I invariably found myself disappointed by how the storylines chose to resolve themselves.

I noticed this most particularly with the routes written by Ryuuta Fujisaki (Common, Amane, Makina). Fujisaki’s prose is more noticeably verbose than that of the other scenario writers, and while the dialogue is snappier, every character seems to share the same snide and sarcastic worldview. The combination of these two things made the often rambling conversations feel even more self-indulgent on the author’s part. Yet in Fujisaki’s routes, the redemption theme takes a solid shape, along with tantalising hints of a larger, more complex narrative.

The other routes follow the more conventional “white knight hero solves the heroine’s problem” visual novel template. While inoffensive in their own right (sexist tropes aside), I feel that these routes misunderstand how deeply dysfunctional the main character is, along with his relationships with the heroines. For better or worse, the heart and soul of Grisaia lies in Fujisaki’s writing.

Theme and Character Route Analysis [SPOILERS, OBVIOUSLY]

When I say that the relationships in this game are dysfunctional, I mean it. Our protagonist Yuuji is no audience stand-in. He’s a mysterious and enigmatic character in his own right, whose logic is often baffling and even batshit crazy at times.

Though all the heroines in the game are Yuuji’s fellow students, because of their unusual circumstances, they end up in highly unequal relationships with Yuuji if you choose to pursue them romantically. Yuuji becomes Amane’s mental abuser, Makina’s “father”, Sachi’s master, Yumiko’s bodyguard and Michiru’s gravedigger. The girls willingly agree to and even impose these relationships on Yuuji.

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Makina’s route is the most interesting in this regard. The unequal power dynamics are even more exaggerated. Not only does Makina hire Yuuji to become her “father”, he takes it upon himself to teach her the ways of the sniper. Yuuji obsessively protects Makina from potential assassins, to the extent that he becomes violent and even bloodthirsty.

What this route makes clear is that Yuuji’s feelings are motivated by his hidden guilt and vulnerabilities. He takes on the role of the teacher and pseudo-parent because that’s what his own master did for him. Thus, the story is as much about Yuuji’s quest for redemption as Makina’s. It’s a real damn shame that the ending takes the easy way out.

Grisaia’s big mistake was to romanticise its dysfunctional relationships, even as the dialogue made it sound self-aware. It makes sense for dysfunctional individuals to have dysfunctional relationships, though the good ends are too saccharine; redemption comes too easy. The girls only face their problems through coming into contact with Yuuji.

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Now this is a common problem in bishojo visual novels. In character routes, the focus is on the individual girls and their oh so tragic pasts, so you don’t often see an organic relationship develop. Grisaia squanders all its potentially interesting relationships by adhering to the formula.

Grisaia no Kajitsu also lacks any sense of closure. The game itself functions as the first game of a trilogy. I sort of understand what this franchise is trying to do. In the first game, Yuuji is supposed to save the heroines. In the later games, they’re supposed to save him. That’s all well and good, but as a standalone game, Kajitsu is lacking. It doesn’t fill me with eagerness to try out the other games in the trilogy.

Final Thoughts

I should make it clear that I didn’t find the entire game lacking. In fact, I thought the Angelic Howl subsection of Amane’s route was Grisaia at its very best – silly and preposterous, yet oddly compelling and full of tension. Still, I can’t recommend Grisaia to any but the most patient of visual novel fans. In my eyes, the payoff is simply not worth it.

The game is popular among English-speaking VN fans (with an official English release currently in the works), so many will likely disagree with me. For those of you who haven’t played it, you have to remember that Grisaia is a long game and there’s no guarantee that it will grow on you like it has for the fans who have already dedicated many hours to it.

Honestly, I think I’d be a lot kinder on Kajitsu if it was a lot more accessible. There’s an anime adaptation, although it cuts out so much material that the story is nonsensical. Fortunately, Angelic Howl (episodes 10-12) is left mostly intact and also has the benefit of being a standalone story. If you want to know what the big deal is about Grisaia but don’t want to invest the time to play such a long VN, I suggest you watch those episodes.

To finish off this review, have a picture of Yuuji’s square butt.

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Posted on March 20, 2015, in Reviews and Impressions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Hmm…
    Yes, that is my thought. A “Hmm”.

  2. I was thinking of getting it when it comes out to steam later, I think this will more then likely depend how the next season goes in compared to the VN, and what people think of it in comparison. The anime did feel like there was some stories that could have been expanded upon more, but I do not know if there was more in the VN for story over the others.

    • Well, I heard that the adaptation of Meikyuu will only be an hour long, so a loooooot will get cut out. I say if you enjoyed the characters in the anime, you should definitely buy the game.

      • I have been thinking about that. I really did enjoy the anime. It was a lot better then I really expected. In all honesty I would probably put it in my top 25, from where the anime is right now, it more depends how it concludes. If the next part finishes and I do not like it, well I probably will not get the game. If I do, then I would consider it.

  3. Although I’m definitely still interested enough to play the sequels, I admit that I’m also not too big on Grisaia, and wonder why it’s such a popular series in the English VN community, lol. I definitely agree that the whole VN is literally a squashed potential. And yes at Angelic Howl, seems to be Grisaia at it’s thrilling best, even if it’s oddly misplaced.

    And hng, that ass.

    • I think one of the main reasons Grisaia is so popular with the English VN community is because the translation is the cream of the crop as far as fan translations go. When even great VNs get crappy translations, a great translation is a godsend.

      It just goes to show that a translation really does make or break a story, and visual novels are no different.

      • And it was a fantastic translation, I agree. Along with Comyu, Corpse Party and Danganronpa, it stands up against the best of the best. Having said that, I have yet to play a visual novel with a prohibitively poor translation job…Kira Kira was probably the closest and I still managed to have fun with it.

        A lot of people have identified Angelic Howl as Grisaia’s most enjoyable segment. In my own experience, however, I felt that the time spent on it didn’t add enough to the novel to be justified. That was partially because of my feelings about extended flashbacks and their limited impact on current relationships and partially because I didn’t find it to be particularly novel. Most of that is just my opinion of course, though I was wondering whether you could comment further on what made that portion so enjoyable for you and whether my own complaints hold any weight from your point of view.

        And thanks for the mention ^_^

        • What I liked about Angelic Howl was that it focused on things that really interested me, like Grisaia’s larger plot. I also happen to enjoy survival stories (though Angelic Howl is obviously not the best of its kind and is full of inconsistencies/stupid logic). It also uses dramatic irony very well. You know broadly what’s going to happen, but when Kazuki’s character is introduced and you come to realise how exceptionally gifted she is, it casts the future into doubt.

          Also, Angelic Howl goes back to the basics with its storytelling. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and there is constant conflict throughout. On its own, it’s a well-told story. I agree it’s not well-placed, but it’s also much more interesting than whatever else was going on in Amane’s route.

          Anyway, you’re welcome! I much appreciate hearing your thoughts.

  4. Haven’t played the VN, don’t intend to, dropped the anime after 2 episodes…but I can still admire that chiseled tush.

  5. I’ve seen VN readers complaining about how the anime adaptation completely butchers the story, but my reaction from the anime seems to be similar to most reviews: intriguing, sometimes even a bit brilliant, yet overall average. Not something that makes me look forward to checking the original, which seems to be largely the same thing, but maybe with prose better than the anime’s cinematography and additional content (that I’m not interested in) between the scenes. I didn’t really feel like I was missing anything important.

    • I wouldn’t say the anime is very well directed in its own right (the VN is much better crafted on a technical level), but if all you wanted was a Cliffnotes version of the story, the anime suffices, I guess. I think it did an adequate job with Angelic Howl, but other than that, you don’t really get a sense of the characters and why they act the way they do. The anime isn’t that great at what it’s supposed to do – advertising the source material. And I’m saying this as someone who didn’t really like the VN too much either.

  6. You know Froggy, I’ve always like it when you’re doing serious analysis post like this. I don’t quite know why though.

    I’m quite surprise that while you’ve found Grisaia ultimately aren’t very good, you still find several positive things about it. I do know about Grisaia’s rep around VN community, but several critic that I found aren’t so pleased with its writing and sexist tropes.

    • Thanks! I appreciate the compliment.

      About the sexist tropes, they’re really exaggerated in Grisaia. Besides the stuff I mentioned in the post itself, almost all the jokes revolve around Yuuji making chauvinistic observations and/or the girls acting like walking otaku stereotypes. It was so exaggerated it made me wonder if their behaviour is supposed to strike you as odd. So I was hesitant to write it off just for using tropes I didn’t like. But having played the game to its entirety, I can only conclude that the writers didn’t know what they were doing.

  7. Even for someone who never came close to finishing it, I think you hit quite a spot with this review. Grisaia has a massive amount of potential just by the character setup. My problem is that there’s just so much filler (despite excellently-written dialogue) and too slow of a story to pull audiences to the meat. It feels like reading a slice-of-life VN, except the cast appeals to those who want more serious drama yet doesn’t get it for dozens of hours. It spends too much time making a reader like the characters’ lives and not enough tackling the problems in any pseudo-realistic manner. Compare this to the famous translated works from AKB2 (Sharin no Kuni and G-Senjou no Maou — with dysfunctional characters wrapped by a driving story) and we basically have a complete disappointment from what could otherwise be a masterpiece.

    In my opinion, the sexist tropes of Grisaia isn’t nearly as bothersome as its meta. Men from special ops have a strong tendency to be chauvinists anyway — it just comes with the ‘macho’ occupation. But Yuuji comparing the girls to otaku stereotypes serves no real purpose other than otaku-pandering humor. It doesn’t even make sense given his background.

    • The meta bothers me because it makes the writing feel so bloody smug. It’s like the writer was just obsessed with showing off his own wit and cleverness instead of actually telling a story.

      The sexist tropes in themselves didn’t bother me, because as you said, it makes sense for Yuuji to be a chauvinist. But when the serious plot stuff eventually happened, they made him act like a generic white knight VN protagonist for the most part, which didn’t make sense considering the kind of person he was built up to be. And like you pointed out, the otaku humour wasn’t consistent with his character either.

  8. “Perhaps some of the effect is purposeful; the game’s motif is a shiny fruit with a rotten core.” – very snappy, and very true.

    Grisaia had a lot of promise, but failed to deliver, except for Angelic Howl, which despite being very compelling, had objective flaws in its writing and execution.

    Are there any other VNs you’ll consider reading? There are plenty out there that are far better written (in terms of characters, plot or thematics). Sharin no Kuni, in particular – they share many superficial similarities, but in all ways that count, Grisaia is inferior to Sharin, with Yuuji a 2D shadow of Sharin’s protagonist Kenichi.

    • With Angelic Howl, the flaws you’re talking about are things like consistency and plausibility, right? There were plenty of “Why didn’t they do XXX?” moments. I can see how those would break immersion.

      As for other what other VNs I want to read… well, I’ve got Planetarian lined up next. After that, who knows. I’m willing to try new things as long as they’re not too long. I don’t want anything as long as Grisaia again :P

      • Yeah, I really liked Angelic Howl – subjectively, it’s easy to get immersed in it, as long as you don’t think too hard about it. Regarding the flaws – yeah, you’re right that there are a number of plot flaws (like why not walk away from the magical magnetic cliffs and use your phones).

        But I think my bigger gripe is that Kajitsu’s fatal flaw of 1) relegating the most interesting heroine to one flashback in one route, and 2) never actually showing us why Yuuji is the way he is. His past is dealt with in Meikyuu, but that only means that Kajitsu on its own is highly unsatisfactory and flawed – I don’t think good writing allows for completely failing to characterize your protagonist; it completely breaks immersion. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the best part of Grisaia comes in Angelic Howl, where the protagonist (Amane) is one whose motivations we can understand, and whose reaction to circumstances isn’t robotic and inhumane.

        Would you consider G-Senjou no Maou? I think it’s the best there is, and Silvachief too rates it as 10/10 – it’s the VN most similar to Code Geass, albeit with less disbelief-suspending roflmao. GSM’s first chapter resembles Hyouka too, in that you have the characters going around using their wit to solve mundane stuff, and I think it’s characteristic of good writing that the author can make normal stuff feel incredibly awesome. It’s relatively short, and always attention grabbing – none of the 8073084757458934 hours common route that Grisaia had. :)

        @Silvachief – Help me convince Frog-kun to play the best VN ever written!

      • Can also try Eden*
        http://store.steampowered.com/app/315810/
        Legendary artwork, divine music — a short and intense visual novel accessible right through Steam. Takes less than 10hrs for a run-through since you want something short =P

  9. I’ve seen screencaps of this game – Yuuji’s firm and chiseled all over. He should have no shame in exposing himself to whichever girl he’s intimate with ATM ;)

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