While reading through the Emi route, a feeling of recognition crept up on me, as if I was reading about myself. Except I was suddenly called Mutou! While the list of similarities is undeniable, I don't actually teach. Which is probably good for any potential students. However, it is my predominantly scientific nature that makes it difficult for me to formulate a coherent opinion about KS, which is essentially a work of art. So I decided to try it a bit different and relate it to my rocky relationship with VNs as a whole.
I have only had limited interest in written works of fiction. I generally don't rely on my imagination much and tend to respond better to visual media. Which is why my interest for visual novels traces back to the nineties. The idea to have the mood set by visuals and music while still reading a story appealed to me. However, what was nice in theory never panned out. Between the crappy translations, the horrid sexual content and annoying character stereotypes, I came to the conclusion that VNs weren't for me.
It wasn't until nine months that I looked back at VNs again. For no other reason than the fact that the art looked great and it was freely available, I downloaded and read Act 1. I was enormously impressed and very pleased with the fact that it seemed to lack all the things I hated about the previous experience. With renewed excitement I even tried a commercial one again, Yume Miru Kusuri. It came highly regarded and had a good English translation. Big mistake. About halfway into the first path I decided I'd rather see all main characters die in a tragic accident and concluded that I should stop torturing myself. Neither great art, nor good music could make me care about what I was reading.
[obviously spoilers after this point]
However, KS Act I proved that it could be different and I was still looking forward to it. When the time was there, I ran straight into Shizune's path. With my underused imagination not providing me with any expectation, I started reading while only hoping that Shizune's confidence would fracture somewhere in the story. Things appeared to start of very slowly, but when things finally started falling apart I got reminded of the first time I ever got emotionally involved in a work of fiction. It too took a while of business as usual without me noticing it was something more. But when the shit finally hit fan and emotions take over, I realised that the time was used to get the characters under your skin. I must admit that I never expected KS to be able to do something on that level. At the end I only found myself missing two things. A spark of humanity in Jigoro which I would have like to make the huge effect he must have had on Shizune's character more real. And even though the long time skips left plenty of hidden opportunity, I also missed some attempts of Hisao to get some romantic time with Shizune after she agreed to be his girlfriend. However, that these things were minor compared to the excellent characters was demonstrated when I tried the bad end. I was fully prepared to indulge in a minor Misha route (I blame Silentcook for wanting it ) and take the heat for it later. But the fight with Shizune never came. Instead it was a series of subtle missed opportunities to make things right that finally led to the end. Which came down hard. The feelings of shame and guilt were so strong that I must have forgotten about my third person perfective for a while. It really made the whole story shine for me.
Hanako's story, although quite different, was equally engaging. What stood out for me was the scene with the panic attack. The combination of excellent artwork and fitting music made this part very emotional. This demonstrated exactly what I always wanted to see in a VN, the use of visuals and music to enhance the emotion of a story so it can deal a proper punch. Another thing I find noteworthy is that while I was getting closer to the end, I got increasingly worried about the potential sex scene. It just didn't seem like it would be right. Eventually I was proven right, reading it felt wrong on multiple levels. What I hadn't considered before it, was that being wrong could also be right for the story. It raised the effect of the end scene to such a level that I found myself in tears. Which I think is the first time for what was effectively a good conclusion to a story. It does have a small drawback though. In the two weeks since I finished that, I haven't dared to try and complete the bad end. I will though. Eventually.
I have played Emi's route since and it left me equally pleased and I have no doubt that the two other routes will not disappoint when I read them in the coming weeks.
To finish this long post a small anecdote. Earlier today I was doing my usual exercise and found myself cycling against strong winds when it started to rain. I found myself remembering Emi's story and the determination that her character shows. And I realised how relatively minor my determination has to be compared to people who really have to live with disabilities like that. The fact that I even thought about things like that means that KS managed to make me a bit better than I was before. I have no trouble believing that anybody that reads KS without preconceptions will come out a better person. That is the biggest compliment I can imagine. Thanks to all involved for your hard work and thanks for showing me that a VN can indeed be everything I expected it to.
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