Review: Koi de wa Naku – it’s not love, but so where near

This review is going to have spoilers. But these are spoilers that you probably want to hear. The work at its core is infuriating. If an organization needed a large supply of fresh kidney stones, they ought to subject an audience into reading this. Nonetheless, this work is worth reading at the end of the day for more reasons than one. This is a fairly unique work in that it’s easy to read as there’s never any ‘dull slice of life’; it’s consistent plot drama being developed. It’s similar to White Album 2 in this regard. Ultimately, while this work features a love that’s not quite love, it still makes a compelling argument for pure, unabashed — true love.

As a side note, among all visual novels released in 2011, this game scored 13th overall, and 5th in scenario in Getchu’s yearly poll. None of its characters placed. This is for a reason. Koi de wa naku is a compelling, but not painless work. Without further adieu, let’s begin the actual body of the review.

The work at its core, is centered around the protagonist, Norifumi Yasaka, and the heroine, Yumi Makishima. If you dislike these two characters, then you probably won’t enjoy the work. The two are members of the Photography Club, but they’re working alongside with the Digital Media Club for the sake of filming, and completing a movie. The director of the movie is a character by the name of Tasaku — he serves as a childhood friend to both Yumi and Norifumi.

The protagonist, Norifumi, at his core, could be stereotyped as being a traditional hetare. Scratch that. He’s so spectacular a hetare that even during intercourse, Yumi rebukes, and berates him for not taking any action. The heroine, Yumi Makishima, works as a professional model. By all standards, she’s a beauty — by industry standards, she’s a mid-level, but promising candidate. The game’s perspective constantly shifts between the two of them. Less frequently, the perspective shifts to the other minor characters [especially during the true route].

Structurally, this game is split into four-routes following the common route. Three, introductory routes, followed by the true, “Grand” route. The first one is centered around Ato “Acchan” Tasaku, who serves as a childhood friend to both Yumi and Norifumi, and as mentioned, the director of the film. The second is centered around Ryousuke Hayashi, club member, and scenario writer for the film. The last introductory route is centered around an alumni of the Photo Club helping out with the film, by the nickname of “Naopon.” Koi de wa naku is not a linear series. Which means, each route takes place in a ‘discrete reality’ — each route begins shortly prior to Christmas, and each route for the most part, ends after Valentine’s Day. Additionally, each of these routes center on a dramatic love triangle between the protagonist, the heroine, and the subject of the route. In other words, it’s a love triangle revolving around two males, and a female.

Within each and every of these routes, the protagonist literally urges the third party on, to pursue Yumi. He doesn’t do this without a reason. Rather, he does so for a rather profound reason. Without this reason, his romance with the heroine wouldn’t exist. This reason is so profound, that the title of the work, “Koi de wa naku”, derives from it. The official name of the game can be more romantically translated to “It’s not love, but it’s something close.” This reason isn’t a warped reason by any means. It’s a reason that defines his ‘special’ relationship with Yumi, and it’s a reason, which wouldn’t exist without his hetare type of nature. It’s a reason, which defines a special relationship, that surpasses love. I’ll list this particular reason at the end of the entry, just for the sake of it.

I don’t think it’s possible to put into words just how aggravating the introductory routes were. Actually, if I paste some Skype logs, I’ll be able to adequately show it. At the present, I find it difficult to be mad at the game, because of the true route. But let’s save that talk for later. Aside from the first route, which revolved around Tasaku, the other two weren’t that strong. To be specific, it’s frustrating, because from the onset of each route, the protagonist’s relationship with Yumi is strained as a result of three reasons. Without resolving these three reasons, the two of them are prone to explosive arguments, misunderstandings, and subsequent doubt. These side routes aren’t exactly ‘bad’ routes, because while they’re infuriating to read, each of the routes focuses on a respective reason in depth. There are no ‘favorite’ characters in this work because it’s incredibly frustrating to watch both the protagonist, and the heroine handle the situations. It’s perhaps realistic, but subjectively, it’s torture. In White Album 2, Haruki wasn’t as easily hatable because of how often he chastised himself in monologue [最低]. In Koi de wa Naku, every character has a type of inferiority complex to the other [of course, this is for a compelling reason]. So, the protagonist of this work never quite berates himself, he insists on his being right, that Yumi ought to find a different guy. So, who ultimately wins in the introductory arcs?

I’ll spare the suspense — at the end of each of the introductory routes, the protagonist ends up with Yumi. At the core, the series is a pure love story. For the most part, the routes end up happily for both the protagonist and the heroine. The heroine doesn’t do anything suggestive with anybody but the protagonist. If an individual drops the work during its introductory stages, I don’t blame them. It’s that infuriating at times. Through each route, you suffer through the protagonist coming to terms with his feelings for Yumi — and the latter, for the protagonist. It’s painful, but at the end of each route, once they come to terms with their feelings, it’s very hard to stay mad at them. Whether it’d be Stockholm Syndrome, or something similar, but despite their absolutely idiotic actions at times, the protagonist and the heroine do love the other. After finishing the first three introductory routes, I was determined to write a highly-vitriolic entry, about how this work lacked the human aspect of the reading experience [in actually being fun to read]. Nonetheless, after the true route, as it was, at the end of each of the introductory routes, the reader basically forgets all the pain, and leaves with pleasant experiences. Nonetheless, the introductory routes are a pain to read, because right after the main duo finally admits their mutual feelings, you begin a new route, and the same pain repeats.

But as I stated, there’s a sense of worth in having read each route. I feel it necessary to commentate on the use of h-scenes within this novel. They feel incredibly ‘realistic’ in that the sex itself is preceded by a lot of lovey-dovey, albeit anxious talks. There’s no sense of ‘perverseness’ within any of the scenes.The sex itself is quick, and there’s probably several hundred lines of dialogue accompanying the scene, prior, and after it. The heroine loses her virginity three times [in each respective introductory route]; on each occasion, the circumstances are different. If there’s anything that I had to absolutely laud the author on, it’d be his or her attention to psychology, and to detail [in general dialogue too, not just in h-scenes]. This work is ridiculously verbose, but at the same time, it’s also rewarding in that it’s very detailed.

The average line fills up the screen. This isn’t the best work for beginners. Nobody likes reading through frustrating text slowly. Grammatically, the writing isn’t too severe, albeit it’s still a chore to read at times. There’s an entire bestiary-type of journal navigable from the menu, for cameras, and for particular jargon related to film. Admittedly, on numerous occasions I’ve saved, and ctrl’d through text in fits of rage [not because of the length, but because of the frustrating content]. Of course, I reload the save after a few moments, feeling bothered by not reading everything.

Additionally, when it comes to the art of the series, I don’t think there’re many series that can compete with it. When it comes to personal art-style preferences, it’s spectacular. The quantity of the CG is great, and the quality of it, is incredibly spectacular, of the highest caliber. When it comes to the music of the series,  if it weren’t for the opening song of the series, I wouldn’t have begun the series, nor would I have had the will to stick with it. Whereas the opening song pulled me into the world, the rest of the soundtrack worked to elevate those sentiments.

My largest qualm with the work lies within its structure. I would have preferred a linear route. The side characters within this work were particularly great; yet, they didn’t really shine outside the true route [and I suppose, the first route]. Within this review, I don’t really focus much on them, since I’d virtually be ruining the point of reading it if I did. But, juxtaposed with the main duo, some of the minor characters are absolutely affable in that they’re acerbic, and that they don’t hesitate with telling the protagonist to grow a pair. In the true route, several alluded-to, but ‘new’ characters emerge. These characters serve rather surprising, not melodramatic purposes. I’ll spare the suspense — there’s actually no love triangle in the true route. Whereas the introductory routes were focused on ‘three’ points of the past, the true route focuses more on the future, and the dynamic of the protagonist-heroine relationship.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the work’s true route, or its ‘Grand Route’, is probably where the series shines. It’s a Grand Route in more ways than one — for one, it basically ties up everything. It provides most importantly, the reason for the title of the game, it tells you about the dynamic of that relationship. It also extensively features the side characters, shifting perspectives frequently, like a grand, cinematic play. It basically happily, logically, and fulfilling ties up every loose end. It goes as far as to ‘pair’ off each character with a respective romantic interest. The brilliant part about this is that none of it seems forced; everything’s developed by the other routes, meticulously [albeit painfully] to the point where it’s difficult to remember the pain of reading it. It’s a bit ironic; at the nadirs of enjoyment, on a scale capped at 100, I’d have given the work a consistent 40-50; yet at the end, whether it’d be the shock, the relief, the absolute realization, or the simple loss of sanity, it probably approached 100 for a few moments. It’s generally not a good sign when I begin to wish for the happy ending, rather than the ‘proper one.’ But without a doubt, it’s a fantastic sign when it carries out the happy ending without it seeming out of place. In other words, everybody ends up happy. Everybody ends up content. Everything makes ‘sense.’

[Following page explains the title of the work. Contains spoilers.]

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