We’re going to finish these before the end of the year, watch and see.
The late 2000s saw a boom in western dating sims — now adults, developers who’d been influenced by Japanese visual novels, eroge, and dating sims began making their own forays into the genre. Given the explosive success of Dream Daddy and the romance elements of latter day Bioware games, it might be hard for younger gamers to imagine how niche the market was less than ten years ago. Barring a few translations by small companies like JAST USA (which started in 1996 and primarily focused on pornographic titles), the bulk of the VN genre was shared peer-to-peer or sold at convention booths.
Hanako Games (founded in 2003) was one of the oldest indie developers to take elements of this style, usually incorporating them with “raising game” (focusing on the development of the player character’s stats), RPG, or adventure game elements. They developed their first dating sim in 2008 with Summer Session and ventured into the otome game model with 2010’s Date Warp. The team continued to develop and experiment within their chosen genre, and 2011 saw the release of Magical Diary, one of the company’s most narratively thoughtful if visually unremarkable games.
We left off at a dire moment for Our Hero: the inevitable had at last come to pass, and Lestat’s first love Nicolas had immolated himself (with more than a touch of help from Armand). We return you now to that moment as things continue to get worse. Way worse, because we have to finally contend with The Worst Character in the flesh.
As of 2017, we now officially have two series about sentient queer rocks. But while there have been too many variants on “Land of the Lustrous is anime Steven Universe” to count, the similarities more or less end with the basic premise. LoL’s rocks are not small gems with manifested forms made of light, but actual bodies made out of rock whose ability to take a hit is influenced by the Moh’s Hardness Scale; and while both touch on the issues of societies mired in stasis, their worldbuilding is wholly different. And finally, both series were in production in 2012, making it a true coincidence at least on a conceptual level.
A group of children all meet and decide to play together. One kid takes it upon himself to assign everyone roles, and the other kids agree to it—Tim’s the best at coming up with interesting stories. So one little boy becomes a knight, and a little girl the princess, and another boy a dragon; Tim watched a fantasy movie a few weeks ago, and the ideas are in his head when he makes up his story. They have a good time.
One day, the little girl shows up with a super rad toy mecha. Everyone is very admiring of it, and they get back to playing pretend. At some point, Tim declares that the princess has to give the hero (him) her Mega Holy Ultra Robot so that he can defeat the bad guy. It’s the only thing with enough power. He gets to play with the robot for the rest of the day.
Hypotheticals are something of a cheap trick, I know—they inevitable reduce complicated situations to brief sketches that fail to fully take complex situations into account—but in this case, I thought it might help illuminate an issue that many find difficult to pin down. In spite of the free and frequent use of the word “meta” in internet discourse (usually for fourth-wall breaks or format experimentation), meta-criticism as it relates to narrative is often excluded from common understanding.
And just so we’re not speaking entirely in abstract terms, let’s also talk about a perfectly imperfect series that’s been dear to my heart this season: Land of the Lustrous.
Doki Doki Literature Club, the latest indie game to light up the internet, attempts to combine elements of exploitation and psychological horror with surprisingly grounded depictions of teens grappling with mental illness. Despite what I suspect are the best intentions, this combination proves to be far more damning than any one factor would be on its own.
[warning: full game spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club, discussion of suicide and self-harm.]
[I ended up with some surprises on my watchlist this season–things I didn’t think I’d like but ended up sticking with, and things I was excited for that wound up being a disappointment.]
Given the sheer number of promising new titles as well as the limited nature of a premiere review, we’ve decided to try a new, informal “check-in” roundtable to talk about the currently airing shows and our thoughts three episodes into the season. Amelia, Dee, and Vrai got together to talk (and talk!) about the many shows in their queues and how they’re doing a few weeks into the Fall.
Like we do in our check-in podcasts, we started from the bottom of our Premiere Digest list and worked our way up. If we didn’t watch a show past the first episode, we skipped it, and we’ve used nice big headers to help you quickly jump to the shows you were interested in. Let us know your own thoughts on the season so far, as well as what you think about this new type of post, in the comments below!