As a follow up to last time’s editorial, I don’t believe there is a harem stigma. However, I do believe that there is a clear case of visual novel stigma. Even if a visual novel adaptation was entertaining, regardless of how well-constructed or enjoyable it is, the anime adaptation is still hounded by what it is.
In the last few years, light novel adaptations have been popular in anime. Iconic shows like Shakugan no Shana and Bakemonogatari all trace their lineage from light novels. Even school anime like Boku wa Tomodachi ga Nai or Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu have been very popular, despite having a similar setup to a visual novel. One main male, a handful of varied bishoujo eyeing him, and all the tropes and character archetypes that come bundled with every visual novel made in the last five years.
A common criticism of visual novel adaptations is the sincerity of its source material. Mashiro-iro Symphony is an example of a recent anime that has faced such criticism. Yes, we all can acknowledge that a story where you essentially get into a bunch of cute girls’ pants is probably not going to be the next Slaughterhouse Five, but there’s simply no chance when you get an English description like this.
“When boys suddenly get into places where they’ve never been allowed before, some girls tend to get upset. So when the decision is made to merge the elite Yuihime Girls’ Private Academy and the coeducational Kagamidai Private Academy, everyone wants to take extra care in avoiding trouble while bringing the two Privates together. Therefore, rather than just sticking the Kagamida boys into the Yuihime girls all at once, a plan is concocted in which a group of test males will be inserted into the Girls’ Private Academy first. Thus it is that poor young Shingo finds himself being thrown as a sacrificial lamb to the lionesses of Yuihime, who aren’t exactly waiting for him with open arms. Will Shingo manage to survive the estrogen soaked death pit that is Yuihime? Can the girls learn to be more receptive to the boys? And just how long until something involving panties will cause emotions to flare, sparks to fly and the battle of the sexes to explode? It’s a desperate battle to turn discord into making sweet music together in Mashiro-Iro Symphony – The color of lovers!” – Sentai Filmworks (via Anime News Network)
The description is so horrid and inaccurate that even the game, at its highest potency of ecchi levels, cannot ever sound so bad. Actually Mashiro did not even have any panty flashes other than one scene with a flying kick, which actually made sense to flash. In fact you probably saw girls without clothes on more often than panties. I suppose Sentai Filmworks put huge emphasis on most and least important aspects. Speaking of Sentai Filmworks, recent news on August 29 shows that Sentai Filmworks also licensed Koichoco.
“In Japan, participation in extra-curricular activities is as fundamental a part of an education as chalk and gym shorts. However, not all students are overachievers, and for those like Yuki Ojima, groups like the Food Research Club are welcome havens in which to slack-off. But what’s a slacker to do when the radical new candidate for Student Council president announces her intent to get rid of clubs like the FRC? Well, getting the help of the current Student Council president is a good start, but HIS suggestion is so counter-intuitive that it’s crazy: Yuki should run for the Student Council himself? And yet, it’s SO crazy that it just might work! Especially when Chisato, the chocolate-adverse president of the FRC (and Yuki’s best childhood friend,) and members of other targeted school clubs start to join the swelling FRC army. But can this army of goofs and goof-offs coast all the way to political victory? Or will someone have to step up to the plate and take one for the term? They may savor victory, they may taste defeat, but you’re certain to eat up Love, Elections, & Chocolate!” – Sentai Filmworks (via Anime News Network)
It’s Oojima, not Ojima! I’ll give credit for Sentai Filmworks for making this description less horrid, but it’s still pretty bad as it uses the same quirky context. Actually I don’t even remember seeing gym shorts on any of the key characters. Kind of slow to the party on summer show licensing. Additionally, am I the only one that finds it ironic that visual novels are criticized for being “slow, lengthy, and boring” while light novels run rampant despite being 96% text, and being semi-infinite (e.g. popular series like Shakugan no Shana made it run for over 20 volumes)? Finally, visual novels do not get much of a chance. Because of older series that went 26 episodes that blew it, such as Da Capo, made a studio stigma to only run 13 episodes for majority of future series.
To the light novels’ credit, it hit the nail right on the head. It correctly utilized stronger drawn art to attract visual attention, while invoking an interesting scenario to work a story on with some linearity. It even gains the flexibility on adjusting to reception as it is an ongoing series, and has the capacity to do just about anything while being easy to read and try out. In fact some of the cover art for various light novels are indeed drawn by some of the best artists I have seen draw for visual novels. The only major things light novels lack in general are animation and voices, so naturally its transition to getting an anime adaptation can be quite smooth. Light novels are far from perfect, as they too vary from bad to good, but overall as a medium they sure caught the market’s interest properly and gained a worthy popularity surge in recent years. As long as a studio captures the awesomeness in a popular light novel and executes well, it will receive positive reception. Visual novels actually do not have this luxury.
Visual novels instead suffer from something called adaptation decay. Such decay always exists in any adapted work, but it is extra bombastic on a poor adaptation of visual novel. Although visual novels too had its popularity surge back in the day in a different century, it neither at the time had the luxury to have an animation level nor the quality on par with the original game. Hence, common trends of decay such as character spamming, blatant ecchi fanservice, or using all the characters at some beach related event like a harem ended up running rampant and ruining everything. In all honestly most of the time in a visual novel you don’t actually have such a big group that often, as there is far more one on one interpersonal communication than an actual harem. Unless the original game adequately sucked, such as having no plot to speak of, usually something occurs in the game that actually justifies the girls’ preference of the protagonist. This is why I am always looking for the opportunity to see a visual novel adaptation break the mold and be adapted adequately, one that does not have a large pre-existing fan base. I had been largely disappointed in recent visual novel adaptations until Mashiro showed a subtle but different equation, but also had the lack of a cohesive plot. When I see Koichoco, I quickly see Koichoco’s positive merits which ward away a lot of toxic and has far better potency, to animate a visual novel in a much better way.
Let’s review episode 5 and 6 of Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate. I thoroughly applaud Aniplex for running a two episode premiere after the Olympics, as Koichoco has been a series suitable for consecutive adventuring where the protagonist actively resolves various girl’s issues during the duration of the story. It mimics the way visual novels play out, and in anime they stack the routes one after another in the typical “omnibus format” as seen in Amagami SS and Kanon. Up to this point we have very much been in the common route, mixing in route specific scenes to keep a linear core point: the election. However, not everything has been smooth up to this point.
A specific distaste of mine is the accuracy of the cosplay at the festival in episode 5. In the game, the characters were cosplaying as the Vocaloid characters, probably because of the popularity of Vocaloid at the time and the relative ease in getting permission from Yamaha. In the anime, they were cosplaying as characters from Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. While I agree that the timing and location of this reference, I’m personally appalled at the decision to do so. Madoka was a 2011 release. Koichoco was a 2010 game release. If the idea of the Koichocoanime being adapted was meant to promote Sprite’s next game Ima Sugu Oniichan ni Imouto da tte Iitai! via cameos and Koichoco PSP I find it seriously backwards to be cosplaying as Madoka, Sayaka, Kyouko, and Homura. It wasn’t until someone else explained to me that Madoka was also an Aniplex production, so naturally getting access to cosplay from Madoka would be significantly easier if there was some acquiring rights that needed to be done. Still, I recall in terms of the vocaloid makers that a cosplay within an anime shouldn’t be a problem particularly when it’s already done so in the game. This isn’t like the Umineko no Naku Koro Ni anime deciding not to sing “Tsurupettan”. That decision made sense because of the lyrics, but guess what, Umineko’s anime adaptation was even more disregarded in general, so it probably didn’t even matter.
Madoka itself is not the problem, but I felt more like the Koichoco anime was selling itself short. It didn’t develop itself as a series that does cameo quirks or cosplay, so the input appears a little random. Also, story-wise if Madoka really caused the influx of the votes, then it’s also putting even more moot the efforts of the club members. This is easier to get the wrong impression of when the anime already truncated the early section of the game by significantly reducing idle club chatter as well as Satsuki’s actual club analysis to determine the club cuts in the first place. As a popularity choice there’s nothing wrong with the decision of cosplaying Madoka characters, but Koichoco, being a top selling game itself in Fall 2010 at one point, should be earning value for what it is. Unlike other visual novel adaptations in the past, the series so far has done very little that actually deviates from the game. There has never been a unique luxury to start off a visual novel adaptation with the same single focal central point: the election. I can’t think of a visual novel that is in a school setting, that has no supernatural powers of any sort, that does this, and has reasonable base writing to boot. The girls are likable and the characters have been creatively utilized, showing their strengths with some creative intellect and teamwork instead of flaunting assets and abilities.
Another reason why I believe using Madoka was a poor choice was because of what the opening implies. As you can tell from the Koichoco opening, it does a good job reflecting general things you would see during the course of the anime, but none of what was put on there occurs in the same fashion. However, the music portrayed there does reflect accurately what the anime would like to show. Now you think of music and the vocaloid cosplay would match the flavor of the opening pretty well. I mean, our protagonist Yuuki is seen singing on the opening and gaining confidence. If you think of how the opening (or ending) runs in relation to Madoka, I don’t feel it meshes well other than potentially dark elements and hidden evils. If the Koichoco world was far more supernatural, or provides much more dark elements, or even has magic of all things, then it wouldn’t seem so out of place. Vocaloid makes sense because you’re emphasizing promotion, with high energy and teamwork.
Well what’s the irony in all this? While there is credit given for some of Koichoco’s unique quirks, as well as it being noticeable that it is not truly just another crappy visual novel adaptation, ironically some viewers wanted more indication of love and chocolate. Now, visual novels suffered from adaptation from the mere existence of branched out routes that are both parallel in existence and that the route quality of each main heroine can vary from bad to good. Koichoco already had a problem with its mere name: splitting evenly between love, election, and chocolate. Had the anime gone ahead and try splitting all three evenly, the show would suffer from being too diluted. Since the anime has clearly done a core central event, the election, ironically there is some frustration on the love and chocolate front which took the back burner for early on events.
This too is also caused from the visual novel stigma. There’s been so much ecchi and variants flying around in other series that there were probably expectations of it to occur on this anime before it even aired. And yet even after it aired, with the reduction and near elimination of usual stigmatic trends, it was still subject to being conceived as being subject to all the typical uninteresting tropes you see. This was also why I highly disliked the anime’s Chisato introduction with the lengthy dress up time, as it merely fueled the stigma further, ruining the clever intelligence used in political strategy because the series was subject to being dropped before it even got there. What is the series supposed to do? If it strays so hard to become a series that warps all the characters, it completely loses its identity. If it retains core components but still runs a similar formula, it’s subject to full stigma. If it does love but without good direction or plot, it’s questionable at best. The worst case would be a series where it does not matter what anyone does as nobody cares.
The existence of the stigma is only natural, as in the history of visual novel adaptations, viewers have been subject to getting hounded by excessive fan service or other undesirable traits that simply turn people off. Due to factors like adaptation decay, which already reduce the strength of the base game, you end up with a watered down version that turns out uninteresting. I just find it unfortunate when studios finally got the picture that this stigma was wearing out the market that they tried new things to make it work. I found this glimmer of hope in Koichoco as well as Mashiro for exhibiting a formula that centralizes the common route, and then goes in a route. However, this may stem more from promoting their PSP version of the game. Regardless, the stigma will continue to exist until such adaptations no longer exist.