Romeo Tanaka’s New Visual Novel: Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu – An Insider Look at the Visual Novel Industry

Kouya_MainRomeo Tanaka is best known in the English-speaking anime fandom for writing Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, one of the better light novel series out there. He’s also a visual novel writer, and two of the titles he’s worked will be getting anime adaptations next year: Rewrite and Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu.

Today, I’m here to hype up Kouya. The full version of the game hasn’t actually been released yet (it’s coming out on the 25th March 2016), but a trial version came out a couple of days ago. I played it and I have opinions. I feel it is my God sworn duty to hype up the game and its upcoming adaptation for all you visual novel fans out there.

For those of you who don’t care about visual novels, there is no hype. The anime will be shit. I guarantee it.

Here’s the synopsis (courtesy of vndb):

Buntarou doesn’t know what he wants to do in the future, he does not have any kind of dream that he wants to pursue. So currently he just spends his days hanging around with his friends. When one day his classmate Sayuki asks him if he wants to help with development of a galge. She says that she had become interested in his help after she read one his works intended for the drama club.

Buntarou doesn’t know anything about gal games but Sayuki claims that she has the ability to make it a success. Can they make the game and will it be a success like she claims it will be? This is the story of youths taking a daring step into the unknown…

And here’s the anime PV:

This PV is a very good representation of the Kouya story. “What story?” you ask. That’s the point. The VN is almost pure slice of life in its presentation. It involves a bunch of high school kids making a visual novel, a la Saekano, and just like Saekano there are no real stakes nor tension – at least, not in the 5-6 hour trial version I played. It won’t be an interesting anime, visually speaking. Most of the interest will come from the story’s insider perspective on making visual novels, written by a guy who clearly knows his stuff.

Our heroine Sayuki is an interesting girl. Her brother works in the VN industry, which explains how she has access to so much insider knowledge. I also suspect (although it wasn’t outright stated in the trial) that her obsession with creating a pro-level visual novel while she is still in high school is driven by a desire to reach her brother’s level. Whatever her reasons, she knows what’s commercially appealing and what’s not. When Buntarou samples a romcom visual novel and says he finds all the slice of life content boring, she explains to him that high-profile visual novels are expected to have more padding in them in order to justify the high price. Considering that Kouya will cost ¥9,800 (and the limited edition will cost ¥12,800), I can’t help but wonder if the game is making a meta-commentary on itself.

Sayuki also helpfully explains all the roles involved in creating a visual novel. The game tends to explain every little detail, but some of this stuff I genuinely didn’t know. I’ll just translate the important stuff for you:

How to make a visual novel for dummies: The visual novel production team

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The person who writes the scripts for a PC game. They can also double up as producers, and plenty of them are directors as well.

While some write the script alone, there are also cases where a number of people write each scene separately. Since there’s a demand these days for scenarios in PC games to have a lot of content, it’s difficult to write an entire route by oneself, but nevertheless it’s quite common for scenario writers to want to write it all themselves.

To become a game scenario writer, you can simply submit your script to a company, and if they think it’s good, you’ll get the job on the spot.

There’s a lot of variation among scenario writers when it comes to output and speed, and many writers get paid between ¥500-2000 per kilobyte of text. 1 kilobyte is approximately 500 Japanese characters, so while some people get paid ¥1 per character, others are paid ¥4.

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Ducer (short for “producer”)

The person who holds all the real power over the production of a PC game.

In most cases, power over the production process is given to the director while the producer is in charge of the production costs, PR, sales etc., but in PC game production, the same person often assumes all those roles, so it’s an extremely important and taxing job.

Since they’re going to the workplace, talking with various people and accumulating information, knowledge and a desire for more money, they need to be able to get money together for a budget, a strategy for spreading the word across town, and the ability to communicate with potential benefactors… they’re pretty much managers.

Not only is their skill set somewhat unusual, it’s extremely rare for people to aim for that position from the start of their careers, so they receive a considerable remuneration. However, while they might be able to keep their position if they do the job properly and the game sells, they will be replaced by someone else if the game doesn’t sell, so it’s an extremely high-risk job.

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Genga (Illustrator)

The person in charge of the key illustrations in a PC game.

While some illustrators join the team after studying basic drawing skills at an art school or technical school, others may attract a company’s eye by uploading their illustrations on an online art community or their homepage, but most of them start off by submitting their own work and doing small jobs selling their art for money.

Though it’s preferable to work on-site, many illustrators enjoy working from home, and in those cases the illustrator needs good concentration skills and self-discipline since they have to keep strict control of the schedule and budget.

Since colouring is the next step of the illustrating process, it’s necessary for colourers to have a detailed meeting as early as possible to make the job easier.

Many illustrators are paid per drawing, so it’s necessary for them to balance their workload and profits to a certain degree. Since they are paid purely by the amount they draw, it is possible for a quick illustrator to reap huge benefits.

(Note: “Genga” (ゲンガー) is based off the Japanese word 原画, which is also used in anime production to denote key animation – or, more precisely, the initial drawings upon which the animation (or douga) is based. Sayuki is confident that this word will eventually be adopted into the English language, just like sushi. It’s definitely a useful word, so try to remember it.)

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Grammer (short for “programmer”)

The person in charge of the programming in a PC game.

They have a good grasp of programming skills, and their main job is to operate the game engine. The engine is a collection of programs that processes the graphics and sounds necessary for games, but when it comes to ADV* games, a lot of emphasis is placed, not on complex functions and machine power, but on sophisticated 2D graphics and reducing the number of bugs.

Again, since many of them develop the system in teams, they need more than just programming skills – communication skills and managements skills are highly sought after as well.

A lot of problems come up during the scripting and debugging sessions, so most programmers panic and get nervous at those times.

The overall number of people who can do programming work is low, so the pay is stable. However, programmers who are confident in their skills can take part in multiple large projects at the same time, so it is possible for them to make a significant profit.

* ADV = Adventure, as in “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. This is the Japanese term for the kind of visual novel where your choices affect the ending.

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Phicker (short for “graphicker” or “graphics artist”)

The person in charge of colouring the illustrations in a PC game.

Their main job is to use CG (Computer Graphics) and colour the line drawings produced by the illustrator. Many technical schools offer CG courses, and it is possible to learn the specialised knowledge necessary to handle painting software, so this job is easy to get. Not only do they need technological know-how to use CG tools, they need the creative power to grasp what the illustrator was trying to express with their drawings and convey it in 3D.

There are many cases where graphic artists take up a part-time job colouring and then join the company after they get recognised for their skills, as well as cases where they are judged according to the approach they took to the chosen title. Plenty of illustrators double up as a graphics chiefs, but in those cases, they work concurrently on illustrations and graphics, so they need stamina, willpower and concentration.

When the work is done in-house, it is possible for graphics artists to work and do retakes at the same time, but when the art is outsourced, most of it is done on a unit-by-unit basis, so it is quite likely that retakes will be a major source of problems.

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Ripter (short for “scripter”)

The person in charge of the script of a PC game.

They carry out the job of making the game more colourful and fun to play for the user, which they achieve by fiddling with the scripting language provided by the game engine. They figure out the game’s theme and clarify how to get from A to B. From there, they prepare and gather the materials for the finer details. They are directors sought after for their both their creativity and technological prowess.

They piece together all the separate elements like graphics, sound and text into one cohesive game, which means that their workload is huge towards the latter half of the game production – not to mention they cover a lot of different jobs.

While they might be an extremely necessary part of the project, they do not actually have much to do until all the materials are gathered, so it is difficult for them to get a high wage.

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The business of dubbing for anime, Western films, commercials, narration in television shows, and, last but not least, games.

There are also cases where they are asked to perform a wide range of activities: event performances, singing, and so on.

When it comes to games, they voice act according to the script. Through their acting, they bring the characters to life, and so plenty of users are delighted with the voices.

There are many cases where prospective voice actors enter a technical school and audition for a seiyuu production. It is one of the occupations admired by many young people. For that reason, it is highly competitive.

And finally, here are all the CGs present in the trial version:

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kouya 4kouya 5kouya 14 kouya 15 kouya 16 kouya 17 kouya 18There you go, now you don’t have to play the trial yourself. If you do want to, though, there’s a download link here. It’s only in Japanese for now, so have fun waiting years for this to get translated. On the plus side, it should be relatively easy to translate, although there are lots of pop culture references that should probably go over your head.

The preview at the end of the trial hints that the full game will involve dealing with a VN company. I’m not sure if I’ll have the time or patience to play the full game, but I’d appreciate it if someone could play through it and share the juicy VN industry knowledge, as I’ve done here.

So what did I think of this game overall? As a game, it was a bit of a disappointment. Romeo Tanaka is well known for his powerful, poetic prose, but it was mostly absent from this game. He does make up for it somewhat by creating likable characters, and the story convey the MC’s restlessness with his life very well. But it’s still pretty cookie-cutter VN writing overall.

There are some great scenes, though. I think my favourite part was when the MC’s friend, who has up till then been such a sweet, self-effacing guy, suddenly flips his shit about his ex-girlfriend and declares that 3D girls can all go suck a dick. Sayuki applauds and tells him, “Your hatred of the 3D realm will be useful for making a game,” and lets him join the team.

There’s also another amusing part where one of the girls (Rias Gremory with glasses) argues with Sayuki because she wants to make a BL game. I personally thought a bishojo visual novel about making a BL game would be really interesting and unconventional, but alas, Sayuki shoots down the idea straight away. This causes the two girls to have a major fight… only for it all to get smoothed over two scenes later.

Honestly, that’s probably the biggest problem with the game. The plot works entirely in service of the meta-narrative about making a visual novel. The conflicts and relationships between the characters take a back seat whenever the visual novel explanations become a focus. For example, the story is set into motion when Sayuki asks Buntarou to go on a date with her out of the blue, but Buntarou’s romantic feelings are never mentioned again after Sayuki convinces him to make a visual novel. It’s also a bit jarring to see Buntarou transform from “visual novel noob” to “addict” literally overnight.

These issues aside, I think visual novel fans should find Kouya an entertaining read. So, yeah. If you have any questions about the game, feel free to ask. While I don’t know everything there is to know about the game, I can look up any information you’re interested in, hopefully.



  1. That was an interesting look at the team components required to put together a visual novel. It’s not something i’ve thought much about in the past but you’re absolutely right that communication is critical for putting together a work for which each of the separate features mesh well together.

    As for Romeo Tanaka…i’ve -tried-, really really tried to like his visual novels and I simply can’t (having played through four of them fully). Perhaps the writing itself is more enjoyable in Japanese but the fact of the matter is that his scripts lack impact, consistency and sometimes even sense. This one certainly looks nicer than his others at the very least (not that that’s why I disliked them), but at this point in time I have no confidence in his writing ability.

    • This might sound funny, but I’ve never actually played any of Romeo Tanaka’s visual novels. I’ve only read his light novels. I did hear Cross Channel was really good, though. Did that not impress you?

      • I’d also heard it was pretty good, being ranked 21st on VNDB. Partially due to the translation (no hard feelings toward Amaterasu’s work, from what I can tell Tanaka’s language simply doesn’t translate well) and partially due to the fact that many of the tropes explored have been done to death since and done better, and partially due to the characters being dull, inconsistent and unrelateable…it’s just not very good.

        Sometimes when it comes to reviews I play up just how bad something is if it’s bad, though if I do that i’ll mention the fact somewhere within the review and a final score prevents misunderstanding, but with Cross Channel i’m not making anything up when I say that I have absolutely no idea why it’s so popular XD

        Kazoku Keikaku has an incredibly interesting premise, though it fails in execution, and Yume Miru Kusuri is simply average without realizing its true potential. Cross Channel, however? It’s pretty darned bad (in my opinion, anyway).

        • I translated a scene from Romeo’s Visual Novel Saihate no Ima here with commentary. The first one is the version edited to fit English, while the second one is the scene with the Japanese for every line included as well as some comments on how I translated some lines.

          Anyway the method I outlined that Romeo uses is balancing microcosm with macrocosm. In Japanese, he’ll use the shortest possible pitch perfect sentences to build poetic tempo, and then lay you with a good one by showing how the poetic movement links to a larger picture, usually a soliloquy or meditation on society, science or the world. In the example above, he starts with a description of a ruined factory, transitions into a simple scene of two characters talking, adds a layer by having a psychological analysis of one character, then expand it into a commentary on modern society’s degradation, all in the span of about 100 lines. Of course that’s just one of his many tactics.

          That higher poesy, I think, is more or less bulldozed over in the Amaterasu translation, but, for example, when Taichi first meets Misato on the roof, looking at a distance its otherwise a scene that you think would appear in any other kind of harem/anime setting: The pervert protagonist calls out to the glasses wearing student president and makes sexual jokes about being able to see her panties. Yet the mood is completely different simply because of how it’s told.

          For reference, I’ve transcripted the Japanese with the English here:

          Also, there’s this playing, which already does a lot for the atmosphere:

          The problem with English, which is actually one of its strengths elsewhere, is something called the ‘double register’. English takes Latinate words mixed with Anglo-Saxon words. This means you can speak in two ways, one which is longer and ornate Latin, and the other which is shorter. Example would be “Obscure” and “Dark”. Besides that we steal a lot from everywhere. What this means is that sometimes the words we want are just too long or varying in tone because English is a massive melting pot language.I’ll show how this screws the translation process with some Amaterasu choices below.

          Because you can excise stuff like the subject etc… in Japanese, you can cut short a lot of the sentences and still have the same meaning. You can also do this in English, but it’s more limited because it’s very casual and super specific. Romeo seems to always excise as much as possible to create sentences that are like hyper-short statements describing exactly what is needed to be described. This is quite hard to capture in English without sounding detached.

          If you look through the translation choices from Amaterasu, there are some very questionable translations.

          The most glaringly ruinous one is “her expression had become senile” which is just a straight mood-killer. While in Japanese (惚けた) one of the words meanings is that, it also can just mean having a blank look. Why the heck Amaterasu even chose that word out of all other possible word choices is probably because they wanted to link it to their translation of the second line of ‘fading away’. They wanted to have a direct transition in meaning from the first line to the last line even though in Romeo’s text, it was more subtle

          Direct translation without connectors would be akin to:

          A strong wind took her shimmering hair into a fierce stream.
          Misato, befuddled, cut through the flow of hair with her hand, and peeked through.
          Misato: “…”
          A sudden increase in the strength of light, and a blank expression.
          The dimming summer days.
          That’s why, with that, in a moment I knew how it melts and falls away.

          Amaterasu narrowed the meaning to create a link specifically to her expression, starting with that bad usage of ‘senile’. Romeo allows for a couple of possible approaches, allowing it to exist both as her expression and as a general meditation. Good writers are those who know when to specify, and when to hold back in order to create a mood through a mere subtle inference, but never actually touching upon.

          But my version, although closer to what actually appears there, probably sounds over-weird in English. How a writer in English would get a terse mood is, like Hemingway, to cut it with full stops a lot. If I were trying to get that tone I may have to cut some of the descriptors that Romeo can keep because Kanji allows for much shorter syllables than English speak so it can carry on smoothly without being too purple E.g.:

          A strong wind blew her hair into fierce streams.
          Misato was troubled. She cut the flow with her hand. Her face peeked through.
          Misato: “…”
          A sudden increase in the strength of light. A blank expression.
          The dimming summer days.
          That’s why, with that, I knew how it could fall away in a moment.

          Another questionable translation is “I screamed while thrusting both hands in the air”. The word ‘thrusting’ creates too much jankiness and force. Totally unsuited when the original was “両手を突き上げて叫ぶ。”

          Once again, closer to the tone, it goes more like:

          Responded grin
          Taichi: “I’m cooooming.”
          Misato: “Peke-kun”
          Two hands raised in a scream.

          Edited I would probably do:

          A grinning response.
          Taichi: “I’m coming” (italics if possible, rather than stretching out the letters)
          Misato: “Peke-kun…”
          With two hands raised, I bellowed.

          (One of the things that may trip people up is probably tense, since you have to fix yourself into one tense in English, but ability to translate the poetics is severely limited if you stick to a single tense. One method to translate Romeo, or other Japanese that cut out the subject, is something I’m experimenting with, to try and mix present tense and past tense if you don’t attach the sentence to a subject or time frame and ‘float’ it, getting something close to Japanese tone in general. Other things I’m trying includes playing with parentheses, colons and dashes.)

          Anyway, you get the point. A style that focuses on being able to consistently strike at exactly what is needed for the scene becomes ruined when you overdo with either wrong word choices or over-ornamentation. The scene in the original is this poignant scene charged with a summer’s atmosphere and deftly subtle poetic guides to the notion of trying to communicate with others (like how the wind muffles the voice but he can still read her lips, or the whole antenna motif) and ruminations on the fragility of their daily life. Amaterasu’s translation places a tint of their own interpretation into the text, which kills the parts where it’s left purposely ambiguous or lingering to create an emotional effect.

          Now imagine that ability spanning a whole visual novel, intermixed with parts where Romeo can go the OPPOSITE direction and write comedic scenes with highly varying tones and puns (like the joke that comes exactly after that extract above) or long soliloquous psychological meditations. One scene in Saihate no Ima involves just the protagonist walking to school. In the process he meets up with his 6 other friends one by one on the street and they walk together. The entire scene has this light-hearted guitar tone in the background and it literally strikes to the atmosphere of just fucking around with the people you know. Furthermore all 6 other characters have their own personality traits, running gags, voice styles, and what occurs is this crazy mix of voices in banter. Because Romeo is Romeo, he also throws in legalese and satirical jibes in the conversation, yet is still somehow able to keep it in terse sentences and exchanges to create this constant witty-gag momentum.

          I guess the main off-putting thing to some may be his ability to create crazy tonal changes (though, usually with a purpose). Sometimes he can write a scene that is poignant, but swaps into high comedy. If you analyze his structure at a deeper level though, Romeo’s comedic slice of life scenes peters out usually once the primary conflict comes in, and furthermore, he usually has the importance of joy and daily life as his primary themes, and creates characters who significantly seek those moments because they’re usually separate from them. Taichi’s erratic zaniness, and the whole cast’s interactions in general, is in contrast to the deep alienation and lack of connection between them. Rewrite even has a character commentate on how immature joke-slinging banter falls away simply because people will eventually attune themselves to what they want to do, and they’ll be able to connect on the level where each one respects the other’s space – the sign of maturity and hard experience. That, to me, is pretty much like slapping Key hard in the face. Romeo always places a dagger between modes of possible calmness and enjoyment, and the people on the fringe who are farthest away from that state, and how they cope with it. (I think the only other series that provides both sides of a coin is the Monogatari series or Oregairu, in both with the second season being the counterbalance to the naïve elements in the first season)

          Also he is intensely logical in writing the plot although his tone will vary with his variety and density of comedic scenarios. Look at Rewrite for example and see what he does to Key clichés in the routes he writes. He conjectures correctly that the stupid ‘forming a friendship club’ trope will immediately dissolve once shit goes down simply because the characters have no proper depth of connection with one another. Then he stomps on Key romance clichés by having the plot expand beyond human connection into a greater connection with the world and a higher intelligence in general. And the way the whole scenario ends provides no easy answers, but wraps up nicely.

          (Incidentally, yes, I did read your review – my method of reading Rewrite was to read only Romeo’s writing and skip the other routes, and then everything came together quite nicely and I was able to see his full message. You have zany comedy stuff to tie in to that theme, Kotori’s route as Romeo showing Key that he can pull a better Key route than they can though it suffers because of that, Akane’s route as touching upon the main theme of what it takes to save the world. Moon is my favorite route because its like a surreal mix of hard science fiction that ends with a Shounen battle as a mood piece. Terra is the best part exactly because none of the heroines are really involved. It’s the part where Romeo really hammers home the message that, when you’re involved with the act of saving the world itself, what you have to do is to go beyond those idle pleasures from the past, yet you do it precisely because of the joy you earned from those moments, and by sacrificing that joy, you buy into future possibilities. Also why I love the ending because it puts a nice bow-tie on that message.

          You have to look at Romeo’s perspective as a freelancer roped into a Key project, and being forced to work on Key’s terms, which is the lengthy comedic side route mixed together with heroine routes written by other writers, and forced to write in Key’s style which is highly melodramatic. Yet, somehow, he was not only able to be on-point with top shape comedy for the entire common route, but he was able to take those limitations and the guaranteed fact that he would not be able to control the cohesive tone of the arcs due to the two other writers, and use that disjunction in tone to create his own message by transcending those cliches in his own way. Rewrite is incredibly flawed, but once you see through exactly what Romeo is doing, you suddenly gain insight into the whole structure. Also helps that I love the common route because I went into it knowing that the entire first part was like that, so I just took it as a long running comedy series written by Romeo that was separate from the rest of the game. Probably if you went into it expecting a more cohesive story, you would be less able to context-switch like that. I think, though, that Rewrite is cohesive, but in terms of its message rather than its story. If you abstract the content from the structure, you’ll realize the brilliance of the structure.

          When I ruminated on that fact, I came to love him as a creator. His illimitable love for writing simply allows him to be work on his own small little niche games in a niche industry, with a writing style that not everyone can get used to, and he’s perfectly okay with throwing himself into these kinds of projects and he’ll strive to do something with it to communicate his own message as much as possible even though everything works against him. He mixes up all sorts of themes and styles from his favorite writers, like SF writers, comedians, and even Japanese drama script writers. Also he’s made his own name simply through word of mouth and people being enamored with his stories.)

          Now imagine that ability spanning beyond just Cross Channel into his other light novels and visual novels, consistently hitting the mark exactly when he wants to hit, and you have one of the most consistently powerful writers out there with an entire oeuvre that seems to cut deep into profoundly human themes about loneliness, youth, alienation, human relationships, science etc… that is able to be all parts funny, heartfelt, and thrilling.

          And that’s why more work deserves to be put into fleshing out and understanding this whole entire world of writing he’s created. Of course, having good translations is the first step.

          • This is an absolutely amazing comment that deserves way more exposure than it would get on this old post. I’d like to repost it on my blog (and link to your site of course). Would that be okay?

          • I was incredibly surprised to see such a lengthy reply to an older comment, but despite what I have already said about Cross Channel and Romeo Tanaka’s writing and what I will go on to say when I eventually post my review of Cross Channel, I think it’s absolutely fantastic to see such an enthusiastic and educated fan of his style of prose and subtext. I’ve had to re-think my approach to commenting on his work.

            However, I -do- have to make the observation that what we seek in visual novels (and most likely other works of fiction as well) is different and because of that my articles and reviews are written from an alternate perspective with differing priorities. I’ll try to be brief with this since i’ve discussed my thoughts on this particular difference in taste previously, but if you want me to elaborate on anything please let me know.

            First off I completely accept that a great deal of the…well, artistic power behind Tanaka’s technique is lost in current translations. I think the skill and understanding required to adequately comprehend the goals of his writing (those including a sort of poetic rhythm as well as implicit commentary) and translate them as you are attempting to are significant. That said I still wonder whether a comprehensive translation would have changed my opinion had that been what I had experienced when first encountering the work of Romeo Tanaka.

            I’m a fairly straight-forward kind of person. Literature from an academic standpoint does not mix with me at all and trying to evaluate that aspect of a text completely drains any enjoyment from the experience for me…so I try not to do it. Writing that flows well is always enjoyable but many of the individual style techniques that you have outlined are simply accessory when it comes to what I seek from my entertainment media. I highly respect the people that have the ability to pick those aspects out and enjoy doing so, however. For me, such things can only contribute positively to my enjoy once I have identified the story as appealing and well written on a macroscopic level (in my opinion, anyway). For instance, while this doesn’t necessarily relate to the literary skill you have praised, the Muv Luv series features an incredibly detailed set of lore, rules and schematics that back up its heavily-featured mecha. While for some fans that may add an extra layer of depth to the story that captures their attention that much more, for me it’s simply an interesting addition with little impact on the score I would give to the production.

            So where you see Kotori’s route as an example of Tanaka’s ability to take advantage of a disagreeable situation, I see it as an rushed and poorly concluded tale that had far more potential than it realized. Where you see Cross Channel as a beautiful example of prose and social commentary, I see it as a confused mess of plot with bland and inconsistent characterization. Your set of values creates one truth, while mine creates another, which is what I seek to share with my target audience; them being other people with similar values.

            But I have also said before that it can be beneficial to present other arguments and points of view when reviewing so that the reader can determine which opinion best aligns with their own set of values, and your comment is by far the best argument i’ve seen for Romeo Tanaka’s skill as a writer. Would it be alright with you (and Froggy, of course!) if I were to link to it when I post my review?

            • I appreciate the reply!

              I also accept the fact that people have many different approaches to a work and many things they look out for in a work itself. There’s a writing movement in Japan called the New Orthodox Mystery movement, for example, whose works are a revival of the old school whodunits of the English Golden Age of Detective Fiction. They absolutely don’t care about things like characterization or prose and write solely to present as complex a mystery as they possibly can. The anime adaptation The Perfect insider was an example of this. When you scroll through the reviews of that show you can see the divide between people who thought that the story was absolutely ludicrous, and people who were completely in love with it. To me, that was just two different mindsets at play. The people who liked how the crazy mystery unfolded didn’t care at all that the main characters were basically like philosophy spouting robots that made constant metafictional comments about the genre (and, in fact, when the New Orthodox Mystery writers first published their works, those were also the criticisms that they received).

              Yet, because I knew what type of vein The Perfect Insider was written in, when I watched it I was able to ‘refocus’ my brain onto those aspects to derive the most from the show itself. I agree that everyone has their own kind of style to read, but before I watch something I always try to look for the ‘frame’ that its situated in so that I can get the best out of it. Just because I went on about prose and all that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy stuff like the Muv Luv series for its crazy action. Also I felt that the ending of Kotori’s route was horribly done, but it was still much better than anything else I’d seen from Key. I do try to approach something in a way where I can get the most level of enjoyment from as many things as possible.

              I would also go against the characterization of it as ‘academic’. For me, Romeo’s prose emotionally affected me directly just upon viewing it. I only analyzed exactly how he achieved that effect afterwards. Then again, I was only probably spontaneously susceptible to that effect because I’ve read so much poetic things before that already so it was intuitive parsing for me. Incidentally your criticism can probably be applied to a person like Shakespeare as well, whose plots can be considered as complete rubbish (only in Elizabethan England would people believe that a girl can crossdress so easily and get away with it), but who is able to dig into certain core essences of human nature simply by the power of his writing. Romeo cuts his prose minimally, but it also doesn’t make it an easy read because of how packed with density everything is.

              But, because of the above, I would really really disagree with the part about the characterization, although I would say that it’s definitely more ‘archetypal’ than psychological. Half of the reason why Romeo has his following is because he’s able to cut very deeply into certain kinds of mindsets, like the outsider-mindset or how people connect to one another through relationships, then he takes those aspects and places them into bigger than life situations. If I were to give an analogue it would probably be the manga writer Inio Asano, or even Eva. The social commentary or macrocosm soliloquies that he uses would not work if he didn’t link it to the microcosm, or the character aspects (also, what he writes as person to person interaction and loads of jokes can have a lot of subtext underneath). Likewise people who watch Eva and were expecting a Mecha story with all their questions answered instead got this psychological profile of tortured adolescence, which is why the show is so polarizing. Or people commenting on Shakespeare’s characters etc…

              Trying to separate the characterization from the prose is like trying to watch a version of Toradora where all the characters were played by elderly people. You just can’t buy that it’s a great melodrama of adolescent romance because you can’t see the great style of art that makes it easy for you to buy how these two misfits would fall for each other. (Although, personally, I think that Romeo has waaaay better characters than that)

              I would say that, personally placing a lot more faith in the work than in myself is a key to enjoying greater things. I aim to write reviews and analyses that can show those missing aspects and teach people how to view those things. Sometimes I come across things that I initially really really despise, but then somehow I hear some things about it and then I go back and it manages to ‘click’ for me. I think that Cross Channel may be a work where it structure seems haphazard on first glance, but then when you return to it, it somehow opens up into vistas of knowledge and character. And because Romeo leaves quite a number of ways to approach the work, you can have people placing their own vision upon it. There was that guy who made the second translation, George Henry Shaft, who wrote like a dunno-how-many hundred page thesis on Cross Channel and had a Christian interpretation of it. While I think that most of what he wrote was bonkers and narrowed the meaning of the text, the very fact that he was able to draw so much from it at least goes to show how much is going on underneath.

              Anyway, I myself am one of those who wants to try my hand at a translation of it eventually, although my Japanese is incredibly lackluster now. Translation in general though is a mountain to surpass and a lot of people underestimate what needs to be done to get into it properly. With World Literature, a good translation is usually either done by a person with the poetic skill who can approximate very well the meaning of the text and has enough tricks up his sleeves to find alternatives to convey the sense of it, or a scholar who makes up for his lack of poetic skill by years of research, or, for the best, a person who does both. At the very least, I want those under the radar writers to have a better chance in the public eye than what they currently have now, and I also want to discover writers who have that thing that’s worth spreading.

              Also I don’t mind you linking the comment. Thanks!

          • WordPress wouldn’t let me reply to your latest comment (presumably because they’re getting too thin), so i’ll reply here instead so you still receive the notification.

            I’m glad you’re open to other viewing “strategies” (which is a term I think i’ll start using more often) as I often find others dismiss conflicting views as unintellectual and shallow-minded. I’m always intrigued by those divides in opinion when they pop up because I’m usually firmly entrenched on one side or the other rather than in the middle. I’ll have to look up The Perfect Insider (though from your description I can already imagine those examples of criticism you’ve shared will become my own), though I would be interested in hearing whether you’ve read Umineko and, if you have, what you thought of it. While I found the mystery/fantasy conflict explored by Ryukishi07 to be fascinating it was another example of a production that was let down by its macrostory. I would hazard a guess that it would be right up your alley, however.

            I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that you didn’t enjoy Muv Luv or similar productions (though I -am- glad to hear you enjoyed it XD), and academic was merely my way of gathering all those aspects into one place, so I can appreciate your assertion that it was slightly off the mark. You hit the nail on the head with your other examples; my experience with Shakespeare is limited (Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) but “complete rubbish” or at the very least “utterly tedious” would certainly align with my view of his work. That said, I also appreciate the appeal of his plays at the time of their writing and his contributions to the English language. Incidentally, Eva was also not my cup of tea for reasons similar to the one you have identified, though i’ll leave that for now.

            I’m also aware of that second translation (and it’s reputation), so I get what you’re talking about there. The stuff about Cross Channel’s characters, though….is harder for me to accept. If you’re around when I post my review i’d be more than happy to talk about them then. In any case, if you were ever to attempt a re-translation i’d be willing to give it a shot, so that at the very least I can get a handle on what Cross Channel is to real fans.

            So, basically, good luck! We may have different views but your arguments identify yours as valuable to me, so i’ll poke around your blog a little and see if I can’t broaden my horizons a little to better cater to my own audience.

  2. Graphicker is Best Girl definitely go for her route

    Or she is Worst of Worst Girls

    (Because then you can use the phrase Phicker Fucker. Phucker, for short)


  3. “There’s also another amusing part where one of the girls (Rias Gremory with glasses) argues with Sayuki because she wants to make a BL game.”
    Always thought she looked like she was gonna be Best Girl.

    It’s really interesting the types of jobs that exist in visual novel development…. I didn’t even realize the person that drew the CG may be different from the one that coloured it, oops.
    And I didn’t realize what Producers actually do…. that sounds incredibly fun and difficult, really. Even if Romeo’s writing the script and Takahiro’s planning the thing, you still need to get it across that Romeo’s writing the script and Takahiro’s planning the thing…. (Although maybe you have a liiiittle more leeway if you’re Minatosoft in that case…) And the eroge market in Japan is shrinking so their job can only get more difficult… And they have to make sure the final product is good and on point with the vision and that everyone is on task….
    It also makes sense that people become writers just cause their scripts get read, although I think I’d be just as hard to become a VN writer as it is a novel writer…

    Although I find the demand/supply information even more interesting…. Would that mean that programmers wouldn’t get fired cause of some bugs, if there’s a low supply for them? Would that mean that, for example, the School Days series is infamously buggy cause they kept the same guy around for all the games…? It’s an interesting thing to think about, although I think in that case he’d get fired, it sounds like the type of job environment where I’m not certain that’d happen….

    Thanks for the post, Froggy! It was very interesting, and now you’ve got me thinking….!

    • Thanks! I’m glad you found the post interesting as well. I don’t know much about the VN industry so it was a learning experience for me.

      The VN industry definitely sounds taxing. Even the characters in the game refer to it as a ブラック企業 (lit. “black industry”), which is a popular term used to describe businesses that work their employees like slaves. Like the other otaku industries, VN creators put in a lot of hard work for little reward. It’s pretty much entirely passion for the art form that drives them.

      It is difficult to become a VN writer these days, I imagine. They probably also don’t make enough money to entirely sustain themselves these days, which is why we’ve been seeing more and more VN writers branching out to other mediums.

  4. i don’t know if you are going to be interested in this but there is a manga called eroge no taiyou that explains a bit about the eroge industry.

    • Interestingly enough, the MC is voiced in this game. Maybe because of that, he feels less like a self-insert, even though his niceness is his main defining trait. He’s also characterised as a fairly popular guy, not an otaku or a loser. I’m still not sure whether I would call him a memorable character in his own right, though. The other characters are better defined than him, I would say.

  5. Strangely I’ve never read Umineko (I watched the anime, but that was so long ago and I wasn’t really the type to pay attention at that age), but a good review by a person who is more in the frame of mind would probably be Gwern’s here (go all the way to the bottom)

    Gwern is this anime fan/statistician that takes really strange but fun rationalist approaches to things, and is also super well-read with like 7k books under his belt. His does stuff in his reviews like using information theory analysis on Death Note to show how Light could have maximized his anonymity when using it. So, at the very least, I trust him for the ‘intellectual’ critique.

    Anyway in the critique Gwern notes that many of the uses of the intellectual devices, like Devil’s Proof, Raven’s Paradox etc… are spot on. He also notes that the depiction of magic within Umineko is actually very similar to real life hallucinations:

    “The “magic” system elaborated by Ange and Maria (for characters like the Seven Sisters or Sakutarou) may seem opaque as mud, but when one thinks about daydreams, meditative/psychological practices of creating tulpas (see references), and one looks at the charismatic Christian methods for “hearing God” described in Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back, then it becomes much clearer and much less nonsensical/moronic, and the work that much richer.”

    On the other hand he also admits that the whole work is definitely flawed, but he also states:

    “I find it plausible that Ryukishi07 may never surpass Umineko. (I would analogize Higurashi and Umineko as similar to RahXephon and Evangelion: the former is, in many respects, a more competently done and solid work, with excellence in all areas from music to artwork to plot to overall conception, without the large flaws and stylistic choices that make many people cringe away from or even hate from the latter; but nevertheless, the lightning struck the latter, those who have consumed the latter may never forget it, and it is easy to predict which will still be debated and watched decades later.)”

    Then Gwern provides a full critique of the solution to the mystery and argues the exact reason why Umineko has problems, because of its violation of the reader-author contract, and because of the parts where Umineko was not fully dedicated to the message it was providing. Needless to say I find it the fairest assessment of the work so far, because it seems to deal with the work on the grounds of what the work was aiming to offer. Gwern critiques in that ‘frame’, but even in there he still brings up how there are problems.

    Regarding characterization. The problem of characterization depends on what exactly you’re looking for in it. Does good characterization mean that the characters have to take consistent action from start to end, does it mean that they have to be likeable, or does it mean that they have to deal with human emotions in a raw way, or does it mean that they have to have actions that work in the real world?

    Likeability is subjective of course. Personally I like characters with a flawed edge to them and my personal favorites have quite a number of assholes among them. Shinji is a character that fits the criteria of being consistent, emotionally raw, and closer to reality than a lot of other character types in anime, but the aspects of his personality, like his timidity and his pathetic nature, are just so off-putting that a lot of people despise him for that reason.

    Shakespeare deals with characters of raw emotion, and he can also keep with he consistency. In fact many of his character archetypes revolve around a single theme after all, like Hamlet with his doubt, and Macbeth with his ambition. They fit within their own world as larger than life characters, but this means they don’t act on a real world calculus. Does it make them worse characters? To some, yes, but to me, not really. Because they’re so archetypal and larger than life, these characters are stolen for all sorts of other works, like the Lion King and any star-crossed romance novel out there.

    One show where all of the characters suddenly become inconsistent is School Days, where in the last two episodes things change so rapidly that the viewer is left in shock. Of course this fits wholly within the worldview of their creators, who aimed to make poisonous jabs at the harem genre as a whole. School Days is an example of a show that I feel is thoroughly un-entertaining, inconsistent, and ridiculous, but I still think that the characterization is better than quite a number of other shows of its kind out there.

    Something like G-senjou no Maou, if you put next to Sharin no Kuni, have characters that comparatively are more archetypal and move around for the sake of the plot, but both are enjoyable on their own terms because in the first you look at the plot, and in the second it deals with a wider theme of the individual set in society.

    That’s how I view the question of characters. If a character turns me off, I try to view how that character fits within the larger picture. If a character is inconsistent, I try to see whether he’s consistent with what the creator seems to be looking to provide. A lot of people who critique characterization don’t realize that they’re probably only critiquing on one type of criteria, when, even with characterization, there are quite a number of approaches to follow.

    Anyway, thanks for being so engaging! I think that multiple viewpoints and reviews can really help to delineate what may be the possible mindsets to look at a certain thing, which is why I’m always keen to grapple with other methods, like yours, or someone like Gwern’s, to critique a certain work.

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