A revolutionary work – one way or another.
This article was originally written on 5/10/2016. May contain mild conceptual/structural spoilers.The strength of ISLAND lies in its world – ever-so complex and cryptic. Tells a grand tale – but as a result, alienates the reader who desires a down-to-earth conclusion. Lacks the emotional draw that its predecessor Himawari had – while also lacking the “linchpin” that holds everything together.
In many respects, ISLAND has the indications of a masterpiece. It is not a work appraisable in portions, nor a work which ‘gets good’ or ‘gets bad.’ It’s a work whose excellence is receivable only as a whole, and a work, which’ll forever be etched in the history of its genre – not for one spectacular scene or another, but for what it tried to do as a whole. Of course, this sounds a little grandiose — and perhaps misled. After all, in order to properly judge a work, moreover, a purported masterpiece, you need to not only complete the work, but understand the work to an adequate enough level. I don’t think that I’ve understood ISLAND to an extent adequate, but I don’t think that my following comments on the work will entirely be for naught.
To begin, let’s discuss some of the background information surrounding the work. ISLAND is a departure from G.O., the scenario writer’s, Himawari. Whereas the latter was praised for its character development and worldview, ISLAND is a work more likely to be remembered for how well it utilized the visual novel medium, and as a work which demonstrated a novel approach to science fiction. On one hand, ISLAND combines principles of metaphysics with scientific ones, developing an intriguing, but nonetheless, logically and empirically-motivated universe. On the other hand, ISLAND functions like a well-written mystery novel, doing its due diligence in making the work fair and comprehensible, but nonetheless maintaining its edge over the readers in being difficult to anticipate or to predict. Indeed, within the work, one of the memorable quotes goes along the lines of:
“There is a secret to the world. If someone were to figure out that secret, a revolution would occur.”
ISLAND is a revolutionary work in more ways than the aforementioned. It is a work which can lead on the reader on to accept and endorse wholly truth (t), to suddenly abandon it entirely to endorse another truth opposite to it. In this sense, the secrets of the world of ISLAND are mere premises, with each reveal of a secret, a mere ingredient to the big picture. Naturally, with the reveal of a secret (premise) comes a revolution. Normally, when works attempt to ‘flip flop’ as much as ISLAND does in its purported intent, scope, and purpose, we’d call the work out as being poorly thought out or badly written. But when ISLAND does it, G.O. is able to retort by indicating that he had shown his work, and that the reader was foolish to have questioned his design. If one were to come into ISLAND with absolutely no knowledge of what the work contained, I’d wager that the person would have absolutely no chance of predicting the course of the work. What makes ISLAND more perplexing is that it’s a fairly consistent work — it is not a work which utilizes a genre shift.
For better or worse, ISLAND’s largest strength is in its world – drawn from both metaphysical and scientific principles. While I do not claim to understand the intricacies or even the approximate timeline of the world of ISLAND, I can still sense that it’s impressive. But this leads to a weakness — namely, we’re able to appreciate the work of ISLAND meaningfully as a whole without really mentioning any of its individual aspects: say for instance, its cast. This is not due to the weakness of ISLAND’s individual aspects. In fact, I’d argue that ISLAND does a ‘good’ or adequate job of each. Indeed, in reference to its cast, it boasts a colorful, likable, and memorable cast of characters. We might even think that the work would be meaningless if certain character relations didn’t hold on some sentimental level. Nonetheless, because ISLAND is a ‘grand’ work, its major strengths overshadows completely it lesser (but nonetheless able) ones. In a way, this would be my largest qualm with ISLAND. I don’t think that I’ll remember ISLAND that well, or look back on it that fondly. The works which I remember the most are the ones that have impressed into my mind, vivid moments of profundity.
In contrast, for me, ISLAND is a work which keeps its distance with the reader. It’s a work which concerns a history inconceivable by the reader on first glance, and a work, which tells another story if you were to reread it. It’s a work which I can appreciate for what it does, and a work which I connected with on some level. But, it’s not a work that I understand fully. This is because ISLAND is complicated — while it explicitly (or insinuates heavily) certain premises and ideas concerning its full picture, piecing them together is a challenge. This is because ISLAND moves briskly, and necessarily requires multiple reads in order to fully appreciate.
Worse yet, from my perspective, ISLAND is a work which ultimately provided the grandiose, which we’re able to appraise and appreciate. Yet, as a reader, I sought a more down-to-earth conclusion. While ISLAND is a work which purports to represent a love spanning a near eternity, when the love is literally fogged by uncertainty and speculative metaphysics, it certainly becomes a lot less romantic. At the beginning of the work, I had expected the work to focus on the human: namely, like Himawari, the work would focus on natural, raw interpersonal relations. But by the end of the work, the humanity in the work lost itself, not in being destroyed, but in being mythologized into immortality. In comparison to a work like SubaHibi, which had similarly confusing metaphysics, the work ultimately amounted to a story concerning the human condition — there was nothing truly alien about it.
So ISLAND betrayed my expectations. Is it all the worse for it? Of course not. It’s within its calling card to be revolutionary after all. But, ISLAND is nonetheless a disorientating work. It lacks stability. Perhaps this is due to my ignorance of the extents of the work. I don’t doubt that it very well could be. After all, it’s a difficult work to fully comprehend. I’m left with countless questions concerning it; in the case of SubaHibi, I had similar feelings, but at least at that time, I was assured by the warmth of the more evident, outermost layer of the work. But ISLAND is not a work as kind, as it’s a work which abandons the human for the grandiose, and a work, whose greatness is mostly contingent on how well its big picture is received. As of right now, I’m still ignorant of the big picture. So, I can’t quite assess it. But of what I do know, is that the game begun by presenting a different purported goal than what it had ended on. While the new goal of the work is by all means reasonable, it makes one question why one should be empathetic towards it. We might think that there is something beyond its big picture — a more intricate, humane side to it. But in order to begin grasping at this aspect of it, it’d be customary to at least, comprehend its groundwork. This is perhaps the most daunting task.
Ultimately, ISLAND is a work with a complex beauty behind it – yet, I fear that it loses its reader, who may desire to simply feel, in its ocean of premises.