Review/discussion about: Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu
Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu features a cast creating a visual novel (often denoted as “VN”). And it’s the perfect opportunity to (briefly) talk about my first (and only) VN that I have ever completed: the famous Katawa Shoujo.
For those that don’t know, Katawa Shoujo is a VN created by a random yet passionate group of people from the Internet (mostly from 4Chan). It’s about a boy discovering life, learning about himself, and finding love along the way. The twist? He and the other girls have a specific handicap.
Without spoiling anything, I will just say that the whole experience is wonderful. In fact, I technically consider it the best VN I have ever played.
While Shoujo-tachi has some strengths and it’s not a VN, I cannot technically say the same about it.
Shoujo-tachi follows a bunch of high schoolers – Bunta, Kuroda, Yuuka, Yuuki, Atomu, and Ando – that have a single goal in mind: to create a VN from scratch that will successfully sell.
A daunting task. Making a VN is not as simple as one may believe. It requires a tight script with engaging dialogue and interesting descriptions. It needs beautiful art for the setting and its characters. The programming has to support the different animations, transitions, and routes. Voice acting has to have authenticity and passion. And everything needs to be overseen by a manager who organizes the separate parts and a producer who keeps the vision of the project alive.
The anime shows these different sides. Granted, it does not explore them – the anime neither explains the details behind the algorithms used nor demonstrates the intricacies involved in the design of a particular scene. But the precursory glance at least provides the audience with the understanding that, yes, creating a VN from the ground up (let alone in the side room of a high school) is no easy task.
To this end, Shoujo-tachi revolves a lot of its drama around the various conflicts that appear due to the stressful environment. People clashing because they envision one part of the VN differently. Deadlines causing mayhem. Skillsets creating obstacles rather than results.
Unfortunately, much of the drama can feel repetitive. Bunta unable to write anything for more than five episodes and Ando leaving the group on three separate occasions does not bode well for Shoujo-tachi on a dramatic level. Plus, the whole selling-competition conflict was rather anticlimactic.
To offset some of these issues, the anime includes comedy as a means to shake up the show and as a way to keep the entire experience from feeling too heavy. The comedy itself is subtle-yet-not-subtle. One moment will have Kuroda making an offhand comment about imprisonment, and the next moment will have their male teacher forcing Bunta against a wall with obvious sexual intent.
Surprisingly, the comedy works due to its snappiness. In fact, it is one of the anime’s better facets. But no matter how comedic the show tries to be, it cannot help its weakest dramatic element: a sloppy overarching conflict.
The group got together in the first place thanks to Kuroda’s enticing words. They join in to focus on the VN, believing that they are creating something not just for themselves but for the masses, too. However, a grander scheme underlies the project.
What this scheme actually entails, though, is only alluded to throughout the season. Briefly at that. For the longest time, the audience knows it has something to do with Kuroda’s brother. It is not until the second-to-last episode that the crux of the problem is revealed: The group was a front to get her brother out of his debt incurred by his own VN-making troubles.
The conflict basically coming out of nowhere is a problem, but just as problematic is that this all-important issue affects the crew for maybe half an episode. To be fair, when they return, it is not without choice words and slaps for Kuroda. Even so, when the entire conflict comes and goes as fast as text appears in a VN, it reduces the overall impact of the drama significantly.
If nothing else, this conflict demonstrates one of the major themes of the anime: seeing something through to the end.
It is almost inevitable that a project will encounter a snag or two along the way. But overcoming those snags, dismantling those obstacles, has to be done in order to reach the end. It takes determination. It takes correcting mistakes. It takes passion.
One can choose to give up. Sometimes that option cannot be avoided or may even be the best case scenario. But sometimes, choosing instead to push through can bring about a sense of satisfaction, a feeling of accomplishment unrivaled by anything else.
The narrative showcases this well enough. All of that drama and difficulty tests the characters. Whether or not they have the perseverance to make it past every hurdle thrown their way to see their creation from start to finish. They set aside differences, they camp out overnight to support (more like intimidate) their friend, and they run at full-speed to reach that last train. All instances that prove their commitment to see their VN to the end.
And when, at the end, they choose to do it all again, they demonstrate what they have gained in the process. A tighter bond between the group. A better appreciation for what they have done and want to do. A greater understanding of what perseverance brings.
Everything told, this theme is not complex, but it is nice to see the show put some care into the idea throughout the season.
One final note about the narrative. Shoujo-tachi attempts to include romance, going so far as to have a kissing scene between Bunta and Kuroda (while he sleeps). But the romance ultimately goes nowhere. It does cause a kink in the proceedings when Yuuka gets jealous of Kuroda, but Yuuka’s feelings towards Kuroda as well as her feelings towards Bunta are never explicitly made known. The same can be said of Kuroda with Bunta, and Bunta himself never appears to lean one way or the other.
Unfortunately, Shoujo-tachi runs into multiple problems with its art and its animation.
The short of it all is that the art fails to impress. The long of it all is that the art contains boring backgrounds and locations visited, unimpressive lighting, and various artistic hiccups – such as disproportionate eyes and bodies – as well a distinct lack of cinematography or other challenging perspectives. The show does introduce caricatures or comedic reactions on occasion, but the other obvious holes in the art make these positives hard to spot.
One of the stranger decisions that the anime went with was refusing to showcase much of the actual VN that the team created. Some of the main character’s different poses as well as a few of the backgrounds were shown, but they were not enough to give the audience a true sense of what their game actually looked and played like after completion.
Actual animation also does not receive much attention. While the beginning episodes can have their moments, like Yuuki running away from Bunta or Bunta getting really into his writing, the later episodes see a downgrade in the amount of nicely animated sequences. Characters start to only have mouth movements, and, when they do move their bodies, the missing frames and awkward shuffling are too apparent to ignore.
Even the character designs are not without issues. Their drab, grey school outfits do not invite much in terms of style – although that may be due more to the realistic setting. Nevertheless, Bunta and Atomu are too plain. Ando’s long red hair does not mesh well with the setting. And Kuroda and Yuki are respectively beautiful and cute with their hair, stocking, and figures, but lack any impressive features.
Yuuka is the only one to have an argument. Her short, brown, and frazzled hair gives her more of a boyish look to complement her more tomboyish behavior. Still, one nice trait out of the entire cast does not make up for the other egregious errors.
Shoujo-tachi does and does not approach its cast in the same way that a VN likely would. I.e., having multiple routes that each focus on one specific character (in this case, one of the girls).
This common choice happens for both Ando and Yuuka.
Ando is a gifted programmer and a known boys-love enthusiast. She is also surprisingly not confrontational; she opts to leave a situation rather than pursue further arguments. In the beginning, Ando is reluctant to join the group mostly because she butts heads with Kuroda. Indeed, her natural instinct is to ditch the issue – which she does on more than one occasion.
The first time she leaves comes from Kuroda not understanding that fun is an integral part to any work (let alone VN) project. The third time comes from Kuroda’s lie. The second time, however, is all Ando. Essentially, she took charge by altering parts of the script and the art without letting anybody else know. And in order to make these unfair changes, she sacrificed doing the work that she needed to do. When confronted, she does not view her selfish behavior as a problem. Since the rest of the group does, she chooses not to fight and instead quits.
Bunta takes it upon himself to get her back (again). He enlists on her family’s boat to get near her (since she kept running away) and to demonstrate what camaraderie can do (which is to say a lot). Their tiny conversation afterwards signifies her purpose: Small spats are natural in any working environment. It’s how one handles the situation that matters. Granted, she leaves for that third time later on, but, for the most part, she learns this lesson well.
Yuuka is the other VN route-related character. In short, Yuuka bounces off the walls. She runs around, she yells a lot, and she is usually as peppy as can be. Her contributions to the team in the beginning are minimal as she waits for the other members to finish their portions – her acting skills are top-notch – but, while she waits, she makes sure to keep the environment lighthearted and the audience laughing.
Her character encounters two conflicts: jealousy and low self-esteem. As she watches Kuroda getting closer to Bunta, she lashes out to an extent, creating a rift between her and her childhood friend. It is not until a date between the two allows them to mend the small tear in their relationship. From their fun and talking, she realizes that it is her, not Bunta, that is making her feel this way.
Her most important conflict, however, comes slightly later. When everything but the voice acting is complete, Yuuka finally finds her chance to shine. But when she hears the professional, she gets flustered, performing subpar when she would normally nail the rendition and hence demanding do-overs that ultimately hurt the final product.
Her reasoning for wanting perfection makes sense. While her backstory is given as a way-too-quick flashback, it showcases how, from a very early age, Bunta and Atomu believed in her acting abilities. That is, she did not want to let the group down after all that they had done. It takes more encouragement from Bunta and reaffirmation from Kuroda, but Yuuka begins to believe in herself again.
Kuroda, Yuuki, and Atomu unfortunately do not receive as much attention. In other words, they do not get the VN treatment. Instead, they are mostly relegated to certain tasks.
Kuroda gives wisdom for the whole crew in order to help guide them along.
Yuuki does have her small aside where she overworks herself, but it is her overcoming her overbearing shyness through working together with the others that matters most. That, and she acts as the cute character to follow – much like the art she draws.
As for Atomu, he is almost exclusively a comedic relief character. His nice guy persona juxtaposed with his vengeful “normie” vision achieves this handily.
Bunta, though, brings it back around. He starts the anime not knowing exactly what he wants to do. So, as he somewhat phrases it, he flits back-and-forth between jobs and prospects without ever really putting his heart into any of them.
Que Kuroda. She entices him to conquer the “wasteland” that is bishoujo-game making. He accepts (perhaps partly due to the allure and partly due to his current listless behavior), joining the team as a writer. Something that he has never seriously done before.
And it shows. He struggles immensely with creating a plot, strong characters, and pivotal scenes. Yet he does not give up. Rather he gets help from those around him. Blooter, the eccentric VN writer, provides simple advice amidst his craziness. Kuroda, Atomu, and the others support him in whatever way they can. And the rival VN script writer demonstrates that Bunta still has a long way to go.
In the end, Bunta realizes that, for the first time, he has found something that he is truly passionate about. He focused on this talent, the group, and, perhaps most importantly, himself. His final employment plans – “I’m still looking for one” – indicate that he is exactly where he wants to be: as a writer with Rokuhara.
And it is Bunta’s newfound outlook that highlights the major theme that runs through the cast: Everyone has a role.
As their VN, 24 Hours with Asamori-san, comes together, each group member realizes that they are important to the team. What is vital to their success, to their eventual development, is understanding that the team would not, could not be the same without their individual and personal contributions.
Atomu kept the group on track as best as he could. Nobody else but Yuuka could voice the main heroine. Yuuki’s art perfectly captured the feel of their characters. Ando’s expertise made the art and the writing seamlessly flow as one. Bunta’s writing nailed the down-to-Earth, high-school setting. And Kuroda was the magnet that brought them all together when nobody else could.
To be fair, the development of the cast and their underlying theme are not exactly deep. Even so, the wasteland became the playground in which they all expressed themselves. In which they all found themselves. And in which they all made something that brought pride to themselves.
To put it differently, their VN was both a financial and personal success.
Two notable issues with the sound pop up throughout Shoujo-tachi’s run: gross reuse and lame sound-effects.
As far as the anime is concerned, it only has one track in its original soundtrack rather than the many it contains. The piece gets used constantly. For sad times, for happy times. It doesn’t matter. The anime reuses the track to the point of insanity. It would have been acceptable if the track itself was stellar, but, because it is only passable, it gets tiring to hear again and again and again.
The other grievance, the lame sound-effects, happens during a few scenes. More specifically, whenever the cast attempt to have fun, it feels more like they were instructed to act in a jovial manner rather than let their natural happiness take over. It is jarring to say the least.
Thankfully, the voice acting performances help to (slightly) alleviate some of these issues. Haruka Chisuga as Kuroda almost never raises her tone above a stern whisper. Satomi Sato as Yuuki delivers cuteness with her extremely shy way of speaking. And Kana Hanazawa as Yuuka gives the girl a rambunctious attitude, continuing to prove why she is a veteran of the voice-acting business.
What remains are the opening track and the ending track.
The OP is surprisingly lofty given the direction that Shoujo-tachi takes. Not that the OP refusing to go melancholic or comedic is a negative. After all, creating a VN is as fast-paced and cool as the piece itself. As for the actual song, the vocalist does the majority of the work – contrary to the group mentality that the show pushes. Regardless, it still stands as a nice track to listen to.
The ED, by comparison (and using some VN lingo), goes down a completely different route. Multiple singers and a more relaxed beat make the piece a fun way to exit each episode. The song somewhat ends abruptly, and it is a bit forgettable, but a couple of catchy lyrics at the beginning and in the middle keep the track, well, on track.
While not a deep, personal relationship, I do have a close connection to this one. More specifically, I can relate to Bunta and his struggles.
As a writer myself, I empathize with Bunta’s difficulties completely. Writing is way more difficult than some people may realize. Like Bunta, I’ve had my slumps. I’ve had my procrastination. I’ve had my troubles in getting a certain paragraph to sound right. So when he was experiencing those same issues, I found myself nodding my head since I have been there before (and will inevitably return to in the future).
Blooter gave Bunta some really solid advice, though. Advice that I was lucky to get as well along the way: just keep writing. Whether that one sentence is an absolute stinker or one literally cannot think of something to put down on paper, push through and write. It seems simple in hindsight, but knowing that some writing is better than no writing at all makes a big difference in the long run. I appreciate the anime echoing this sentiment.
Besides connecting with Bunta, I also found myself laughing at many different scenes thanks to the fun characters. Atomu “spiking” the volleyball because his “normie” detectors went off. Yuuki saying to Kuroda, “I’m sorry, but please apologize!” Yuuka acting babyish when Bunta didn’t accept her compliment right away. Kuroda wanting to play “ha ha, tee hee” at the beach. And Ando treading into pornographic territory in the bathroom stall. They each had their moments that made the season a lot of fun to watch.
My biggest complaint (and it is a sizable one) is the romance. I would have liked to have seen Bunta pursue either Kuroda or Yuuka, and, in turn, I would have liked to have seen either one of them be more open about their feelings towards the boy. And just because they slightly hinted at the possibility, an Atomu and Yuuki pairing would have been swell. Truth be told, the VN had higher importance, but that does nothing to quench my thirst for more romantic material.
Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu may have tons of trouble when it comes to its art and animation. Not to mention the lackluster drama, the inability to give all of its cast adequate attention, and some glaring sound problems. Nevertheless, the thematic presence with both the story and the characters, as well as the nice comedy, give the show at least some clout. But certainly not as much as a random Internet VN that came before it.
Story: Fine, a precursory look into VN creation makes for poorly handled drama, nice comedy, and a theme on seeing a project through to the end no matter the odds
Animation: Terrible, bad artistic direction, multiple errors, below-average actual animation, and lame character designs
Characters: Fine, Kuroda, Yuuki, and Atomu are weak, Ando, Yuuka, and Bunta are fine, and their theme on having a role threads through them all
Sound: Bad, some notable and negative design choices, okay OP, okay ED, and slightly above average VA performances
Enjoyment: Good, Bunta’s struggles were relatable, the comedy and the cast were fun, but the unpursued romance was sad to see
Final Score: 4/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3