This article is split into two portions. The first portion is a review of the game and may contain some conceptual/structural spoilers to the work. The second portion discusses the game’s background information – its place in the history of eroge.Rakuen is an eroge about otaku and 2D culture. The plot surrounds the day-to-day of boku (僕) – an otaku who works in the eroge industry. The work explores the ups and downs of the industry – through its production cycle – all the while examining boku – a boy at a crossroad in life. Rakuen is clearly written towards an otaku audience – chock-full of references & inside jokes. The message which the work sets to convey – through the concept of 堕落 (“to fall”) – is most powerfully felt & understood by eroge veterans (who have similarly experienced the highs and lows). The work itself is written superbly, maintaining a delicate balance between the puerile and the somber – and is worth the read, if nothing else, for its unique artistic vision.
The writing of Rakuen is often true-to-life – characters speak casually (at times, exceedingly) – boku speaks frankly, as if directly to the reader. The events in the work are mostly everyday – intended to be relatable (often referencing actual things – like locations & celebrities). Muraji Yuuta, the scenario writer, shows his acumen with the breadth of his writing. His writing could be divided into two styles – and it’s through shifting between these two that the work consistently feels fresh and ultimately meaningful.
Most of Rakuen is written in the first style – as a briskly-moving, sketch-like comedy. The prose is extremely casual – laden with slang & otaku references; more katakana fill up the 4-line textbox than kanji. The comedy itself is written well & executed superbly. Rakuen is directed in a way that compliments the comedy of the work – be it through the ‘style shifts’ (where the ADV novel reads like a manga for a scene) – the variation of sprites between chibi and life-size – or the bullet-paced delivery of the lines. The work’s direction, which often feels cinematic, greatly improves the reading experience – animating the ‘everyday madness’ that compose the plot.
The characters are intricately developed through the writing – crafted memorably through convincing seiyuu performances and lines that bring out their individual quirks. Muraji’s writing reminded me of what Jackson did in OreTsuba at some points, where there was a developed propinquity between the reader & the characters, echoing the true-to-life vibe. The character interactions, while everyday, still get pretty wild & off the rails. Lines & events that would never past muster outside of 2D media are a dime a dozen – adding the charm of 堕落 to the work.
Working in unison with the first style of Rakuen, is a secondary layer – one that’s more profound. In the midst of the carnival of Rakuen, there are these occasional asides – moments of lucidity – where the characters are faced with a challenge that causes them to stop – to think – and to reflect on their lives. These exchanges are written – crafted, as if intended to be didactic to the reader – the otaku. During these periods, Muraji is able to use 堕落, and depressive content to capture human vulnerability, often in the form of a hard-hitting reality, to tell his story (and to speak to the otaku who might have found themself in a similar position). These moments are amplified through Rakuen‘s outstanding, atmospheric soundtrack which really hammers in the experience.
The actual plot of Rakuen is not outstanding. I would say that most of the routes feel underdeveloped (theme & characterization both). Each route generally focuses on a part of the eroge production cycle (e.g. Sae- writing the scenario; Aki-voice acting; Karen-CG art). Some routes feel more ‘complete’ & meaningful than others. But, all routes touch upon the work’s central message – which in turn, provide Rakuen with the power to move its reader – to provide a learning experience, a catharsis to its reader.
Rakuen‘s message is effectuated through 堕落 – a concept which is difficult to delineate. I’d approximate it as a concept that encompasses otaku culture – the 2D culture with its own set of socially-acceptable norms & rules. Abstractly, it represents the gamut of the culture – from the perverse, the salacious – the lowest of the low – to the grandiose – the pursuit of that grand experience, that kamige. More concretely, it refers to the gap between the ideals pursued by 2D culture – and a reality unwilling to accommodate itself to it. The routes (all with the exception of maybe one) come out differently on this concept.
The work itself is pretty deep – for lack of a better term. The title itself, Rakuen (paradise) is symbolic – the recurrent motifs of angels, devils, and a relentless God – work as social commentary for the aims of the work. Another layer is added when you consider that the events in this work reflect the reality of Muraji and TerraLunar – just mildly eroge-fied (reality becoming art). For these reasons, Rakuen is an immensely interesting work to read – I think that anyone who likes eroge or visual novels should read it. It is perhaps the most eroge eroge in existence. The work isn’t perfect – as portions feel undeveloped – but the work has heart & artistic drive. This work was made as a love song to eroge – the swan song of an esoteric studio. This work could be considered to document the life – and end of a studio that sought to make eroge as art – not for money.
For those willing to venture into paradise, there’s only one question:
“Are you ready to fall?”
Rakuen itself starts with an unskippable prologue – where you’re placed in media res to ～あいかわらずなぼく~ the game the protagonist & the characters are tasked with developing. It’s relatively short – and fun to read (especially after you’ve finished the game once).
The common route is long and branches pretty substantially throughout (the age of the system shows, where some events seem to repeat itself). There are five heroine routes – each with varying degrees of 堕落. The player can go about in whichever order – although I’d recommend doing doing Mika’s route last (her route is by far, the least 堕落 – it also seems to be written with more finality than the other routes). Ending the game on another route would seem to necessitate a cold shower afterward (oh, the 堕落…). Sae has ‘two’ endings – one is good, and the other, is less good, but is ultimately the one with the more interesting message (most walkthroughs will take you to her true, as it has more CGs). Keep in mind, it might be the most 堕落 of the routes in the game. The other routes are about the same in terms of 堕落.
The writing in Rakuen is pretty difficult to read – not because of the kanji, but because of the katakana & pop culture references. There are also segments where text flashes on the screen (where you basically need second recognition to grasp its meaning). Muraji is a very cool writer – not having a solid enough understanding of the language would lessen the impact/meaning from his more poetic lines. He’s also a little verbose.
On the next page, I provide some interesting details concerning the development of Rakuen & brief analysis on the main themes of the work. It contains spoilers for the work – so you should only read it after completion (although truthfully, there’s not much to spoil about Rakuen).