By far, the most I’ve reflected while reading a work. It’s a masterpiece of the genre.
This review might contain some mild thematic and structural spoilers to the work. There should be no express spoilers.At it’s core, Musicus is a game about life – existence, music, and love. It’s philosophical, and obviously-so – but not overbearing. From the start, it boasts consistency, excellence throughout; its climactic, evocative moments are searing; its themes are multivarious – sowed then brought to life; its characters are complex – living, but above all else – endearing. Naturally, the music is good when it matters. Has taught (or perhaps reminded) me of the beauty of the moment.
If I were to compare Musicus to the most meaningful works that I’ve read, I’d say that it reminded me of OreTsuba, because of how much depth its characters had – both the main characters and the large, colorful ensemble cast that support the work. It reminded me of White Album 2 — not for the romance (Indeed, Musicus is not fundamentally a romantic novel) — but for the emotional heights that it brought me to, during both its happy and sad moments. Its romance is profound – but not ordinary; I’d like it comparably to the romance found in KoiNaku (not a complete match though). It’s a work that made me reflect a lot – both during the fact and after the fact – much like you would while experiencing one of SCA-Ji’s works. And surprisingly, even though it’s primarily slice-of-life, most of it didn’t feel dreary of a slog to get through; it was as compact as a “medium” or a “short” novel (i.e. few wasted scenes or lines; everything has a purpose).
Musicus isn’t just well-planned and developed – it’s well-written from the level of its prose. Setoguchi Ren’ya’s writing during the most evocative, climactic moments elevate what’s going on — so, so much. Setoguchi’s talent at writing immersive psychological profiles – and his capacity to capture the humanness behind his characters’ actions complement the scope & beauty of the work perfectly.
Note that although I compare Musicus to many great works, I want to point out that it’s not a work that just combines what past works have done — it’s in itself, unique and novel. I’m comparing it to what I perceive as greats, not suggesting that it’s derivative of them.
Musicus is a work created by musicians – and the detail shows. The work explores the rise of a rock band; when you read the work, you feel like you’re apart of the “team” — you watch them develop, mature, and grow; passage of time is a crucial element of this work. It’s essential in characterization, developing the themes, and of course, in advancing the plot. Whereas some works take many creative liberties (e.g. when a work requires a lot of suspension of disbelief), Musicus, for some reason, feels realistic and grounded.
The music in this work varies – from being “alright” to superb. Musicus’s music is often elevated through its presentation/directing; this is a work where often, silence trumps the BGM. Many of the most insightful monologues/dialogues are had with nothing but ambience in the background. This is also a work where even the most “alright” tracks turn into “amazing” tracks — not by the composition in itself, but because of its context – the associations that come with it. At first, I found most of the general soundtrack to be “alright” – but by the end, I don’t know, I started wondering whether the general soundtrack had always been as good as it was. Musicus is known more for its voiced tracks. Arguably, all of the tracks are good – either by musical standards or by thematic significance; some are uplifting, some are haunting, and one is utterly profound (talking Todokanai Koi level of thematic significance). When the music matters in Musicus – and it often does, Musicus does it well and delivers. One feature of Musicus is that during a concert, the song only plays once, even if the scene continues; due to this, a song never feels tired or overdone (Looking at you Sakuramoyu…)
The work follows a ladder structure, meaning that there’s one overreaching common/true route that starts from the beginning – you can get off the route at a few points (call this the Ozaki, Kousaka, and Bad End alternate routes). I’d heavily recommend playing through the main route up until the bad end branch point, then playing through the bad end, then the main route. I’d visit Ozaki/Kousaka after the fact; primarily because from my POV, it feels weird abandoning the main route midway through the playthrough, especially when you really get into it. And because retrospectively, the other heroine routes (Ozaki & Kousaka) contain fairly discrete storylines that provide meaningful thematic substance to the work as a whole (and of course, you’re able to enjoy the characters themselves). Having done the main route, I feel like your view is bettered.
(Full disclosure: I played through Ozaki => Bad => Main => Kousaka).
I cannot stress this enough – but you should play through the bad end first before the true/main route. The bad end is probably the second most important route in the game – and contains some of the most beautiful prose in the work. It doesn’t have the same impact if you play through it after the main.
In terms of overall quality, I’d argue that the work is very, very consistent. There’s not a lot of “bad.” If I were to find some fault with the work, it’d be that one of the heroine routes is comparatively short/surface-level — but I’d argue that this is intentional, and in fact, aligns perfectly with the philosophies of the work & the intention of that character. I guess someone could argue that some of the plot towards the end was repetitive (e.g. descriptions of concerts) — but this was invaluable for illustrating the passage of time. There wasn’t any segment of the work, or any route, where I started questioning my life choices that led me there (as much as I love White Album 2 – and still do as my favorite work, I’ll admit that some segments were beaten into me; in recent memory, Sakuramoyu caused me to suffer because of the length).
I’ll avoid talking about what the actual themes/philosophies of the work are (because I think it’s more fun for you to figure it out on your own — and more fulfilling). But, just note – it’s a work which seeks to develop its philosophy from the get-go. It doesn’t fail at posing its main question, then providing the reader with the necessary fragments to contemplate, ruminate about its message (at a point, I decided to record my thoughts/observations in a notepad while I read, and coming to an understanding on my own really made me appreciate the work).
Ultimately, this was one of the best works that I’ve read. It has depth – but it doesn’t lose the reader in its depth. It’s profound, but ordinary; gradual, but explosive. This isn’t the type of work where you have to appreciate it through effort; it tells a very human tale – it’s the reader’s curiosity & appreciation that drives its complexity. There is no one “picture” of Musicus — as it’s pretty open-ended (imo) in terms of its philosophies. The impetus is on the reader to view the work as he or she sees it — not what anyone else (including me) might see it as. At the end of the day — what is Music to you?
Musicus is a work that inspires artistry – I want to write a more analytic, reflective article (an abstraction) sometime in the future, looking more at how I was personally moved by the work. On the next page, is a few lines on what the work means to me (thematic spoilers):