Dear Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen (ZKG),
Congrats on being released! Though the truth is, my interest in you has been yo-yoing so much that I just don’t know what to do with you. Here’s what I think:
What is this? 19th century U.K? How can a school get away with enforcing such archaic and unabashed bigotry in 2020 and not attract any unwanted attention? 2020 isn’t far enough into the future to find this complete change of society’s perception on social classes believable. What a stupid idea for a story… Pointlessly long title, super-boring protagonist and boring love interests (The Arrogant Do-S™, The Perfect Princely Gentleman™, The Flirty Playboy™, The Delinquent™ and The Poor Artsy Bullied Kid™) You even have the Mysterious Principal with a Mature Attractiveness™, Laidback School Nurse™ and the Creepily Supportive of You Female (NO HOMO) Friend™ as support characters!
…but then you released your generously-sized 857MB trial on May 21st, and boy, do many of my first impressions of you seem very wrong!
Game release date:
18-12-2014 → 21-5-2015 → 28-5-2015
Price: ¥8,500 (RRP; prices vary depending on editions and which store you purchase from.)
Age rating: All-ages
Developer and Publisher: Daisy2
Official website: http://www.daisy-daisy.in/products/kaikyu/index.html
VNDb link: https://vndb.org/v13905 (also has a list of the game’s main staff.)
OP: “Anata no Hitomi no Naka ni ~First love~” (あなたの瞳の中に ~First love~) sung by Yura Mari (結良 まり)
~ Story ~
“Japan, year 2020.
The protagonist, Fujieda Neri, lives in the poor district within the “Ring Area”, which surrounds the Tokyo Bay. She lived a modest, but peaceful lifestyle. However, one day, her father- her only family- had suddenly disappeared.
“Go to Kaikyuu Academy.”
– That was all what was written on the mysterious letter left behind.
The private Kaikyuu Academy… A prestigious boarding school attended by sons and daughters from privileged families, founded upon the goal of educating them well in order to give them the tools to support future Japan. Following the letter left by her father, Neri transferred into Kaikyuu Academy, a school where celebrities gather. It is extremely luxurious, however, being grounded upon a social caste system, the academy is dominated by “social class discrimination”.
At the very top of the social hierarchy is the “Queen“, endowed with incredible political influence, she rules over the students. Superior to everyone else but the Queen are the chosen elites belonging to the privileged class, “The Roses in Full Bloom“. The commoner class in which most of the students belong in, “The Nameless Honeybees“. “The Ignored Stones“… Even though they’re fellow students, those in The Ignored Stones are regarded as having the same rights as a servant- they’re oppressed and enslaved. Finally, there is “The Resistance“, which is an organisation composed of students who oppose the social hierarchy system.
In a society far more disparate than she had ever imagined, Neri finds “love”, and gradually, a certain “truth” about the academy surfaces. What is this “truth?””
I loved the trial. In fact, I played it through twice to make sure I didn’t miss any critical info! There is just so much I want to talk about ZKG- the story, the characters and theories about both. However, since this is merely a trial review and I’ll certainly review the full game, I’ll save my breath and try to keep it at a short(er) length. Also, I don’t want to summarise story events too much because I rather readers to go and try it for themselves and come up with their own opinions about the strange going-ons.
Anyway, how to summarise my impressions of ZKG’s story in one word? Intriguing. So many mysteries and strangeness. Some have been “explained” in-story, though it always leaves you with a sense of you not being exposed to the entire truth of the matter. As a result, ZKG creates an atmosphere where you can’t really help but doubt any “explanations” of the suspicious going-ons. Yes, there’s the lightheartedness I thought ZKG would mostly focus on, but it’s clear that seriousness ultimately takes precedence. Even the very first scene wastes no time in creating an unsettling atmosphere. Not in a dark, horror type of way, but in a sense that it made me feel doubtful and distrustful over the little information you learn about future Japan and Kaikyuu Academy.
The trial wastes no time in letting you know that so many things are hidden from you. Firstly, the setting. You know something is beyond just “off” about future Japan in 20xx (note: though the website says 2020, the game says 20xx). You learn that there was some kind of political strife that resulted in Japan being compromised in some kind of way. You learn that this very strife must have created the chasm between the rich and the destitute. Then, future Japan appears to have been divided into 15 “Ring Areas”, which are zones of residence that the Japanese citizens reside in- 1~15, from the richest to poorest. It doesn’t take long for you to work out how ingrained discrimination has become. While I got fed a lot of interesting info, it isn’t enough to answer the pertinent question: Just what the hell happened to Japan?
Naturally, Kaikyuu Academy itself is full of mysteries as well. Okay, so after getting a glimpse at future Japan’s current state, it’s not surprising that classism made its unwelcome return due to the economic inequality going on. How classist each student is appears to vary (you get the super-bigoted like Riku all the way to those who loathe the social caste system like Touya), but overall, very few of them appear to oppose the school’s enforced social hierarchy. Which leads me to talk about its headmaster, Kaburagi Souichirou.
Now in my view, he’s the most mysterious and suspicious character after The Queen. He knows the blatant classism going on (and the fact that it’s hurting a good portion of the student body), but he’s perfectly okay with this, going as far as saying it’s required. The Queen may appear to be the most powerful, but short scenes with just the two of them says otherwise. Souichirou clearly has the upper hand over her- and even knows what she looks like- though their relationship doesn’t appear to be sour. He became beyond just “suspicious” once I started to find many parts of him “off”. Any remotely odd/unusual things (which were many) he said were brought under my microscope, and made made me doubt his honesty.
A key theme- or even the main theme- of ZKG is classism, or more generally, discrimination. Of course, the rich look down upon the poor to varying degrees of openness and severity, but it’s not just the rich who’s classist. During the introduction part of the trial in which Neri is still living in Ring Area 10, you learn from her that the citizens living there looked down upon Areas below them quite openly. You know, even though they’re not really in the position to discriminate the Ring Areas below them for being poor (well, since it’s called “The Slums”, “poverty” is more accurate).
Granted, on the citizens of Ring Area 10’s part, this may be also a product of fear as The Slums, or Ring Areas 13~15, are sticken by poverty, crime and overall no-goods. Both interestingly and rather worryingly, the discriminatory tendencies of future Japan’s inhabitants don’t appear to come from mere cruelty- they appear to be ingrained. They don’t use classism merely as a tool of oppression and cruelty- they seem to honestly think it’s fine and normal for those of a higher class to look down upon those in a lower class… As though it’s the most natural thing in the world. Isn’t that unsettlingly similar to how racism perpetuates in our world?
So after praising ZKG so much so far, do I have any reservations about the story? Well, yes, I do, though minor. While ZKG’s story is undeniably intriguing to me, because of the many possibilities of what the twists are, I’m nervous they’d be clichéd. Neri’s little flashbacks at the beginning stinks of her having her memories altered, and I’m in agreement with some 2channers about this also reeking of the possibility that the Queen is Neri’s clone or secret relative. If these things happen, does that mean ZKG will be a bad story? Of course not, it’s all in the execution. However, I’m really hoping for something less common than these typical twists.
~ Characters ~
A miracle has happened here, folks. I like all of the main male characters (to varying degrees from character-to-character), except for Kaji Ichiha (don’t get me wrong, I don’t loathe the guy. I’ll go into more detail below). This is an incredibly rare event- sound the horn; the world’s end is nigh! Another thing I really liked was how nobody- not even the sub-characters- are useless. In fact, at this stage, I’d even contend that the supporting characters have a lot more going for them story-wise than the love interests so far. This doesn’t mean that the love interests have nothing of interest to offer, to be clear.
(Unfortunately, not voiced. Only her first name is changeable. Last name is set, and the characters voice the “Fujieda” portion of her name.)
Our mysterious protagonist of Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen, she’s 17 and a second year high school student. She’s a half-orphan has her mother died in an accident when she was very young. Ever since, her father, only intriguingly known so far as “Professor Fujieda”, raised her all by himself. As soon as I read her character profile, I was immediately critical. She ticked pretty much every box of the type of protagonist I’m sick of- “plainly attractive”, naive, innocent, quick to trust, saintly kind, hardworking, etc., etc. Again, I’d like to reiterate that these things are not bad, it’s just merely overdone.
However, after I played the trial… while I’m not totally in love with her like I am with Arisu Yurika from Taishou x Alice or Tomoe Nakahara from Sanzen Sekai Yuugi, I like Neri-chan a lot more than I wagered. While I find that many protagonists that are described as “not afraid to say what they’re thinking” never really deliver on this more than normal. However, Neri isn’t even described like this and she does deliver in this regard, much more than those so-called “girls who can stand up for themselves”. Neri stands up for herself and those in trouble bravely. She might not be perfectly equipped to face adversity like the sharp Yurika or strong Tomoe, but I love how she does the best she can, all the while getting her point across without falling to her opponent’s low level.
She never intentionally instigates fights from what I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean she’s a spineless girl who’d swallow her true thoughts in order to escape. Doesn’t matter who you are, if she thinks you’ve wronged her or another person who didn’t deserve it, she won’t back down regardless of consequences. She won’t take part in any unethical activity, even if this means she may face trouble. Especially evident when it comes to the school’s social hierarchy, she seems to truly believe that it’s too extreme and that people shouldn’t be judged on their status alone. Maybe this might change throughout the story depending on how much agency the player has over Neri’s opinions and choices regarding the social caste system. That would be very interesting indeed, though I think it’s necessary for the story for Neri to be how she has been presented so far.
(VA: Namikawa Daisuke)
One of the two central heroes of ZKG. I’d even argue so far that he may be the main love interest judging by how much exposure he gets over Rei (it may also have to do with the fact that Riku is probably the most popular character out-of-universe). Anyway, Riku is a 3rd year student in The Roses in Full Bloom social class. Alongside Rei, he’s much more special than a mere Rose- he’s referred to as “Lord Red Rose”, and has some clout in deciding who rises or falls in class during the Queen’s tri-monthly tea parties (see the Queen’s section for more details). While pretty much all students attending Kaikyuu Academy are members of rich, elite families, Riku is considered particularly special due to being the heir to the Takamine Zaibatsu (put very simply, big business conglomerates). To say he has “lots” of wealth, political power and social influence is very much an understatement. Moreover, “apparently” his family are one of the largest financial contributors to the academy.
Aside from his good looks (IMO, the best-looking out of the lot, though Toya-brah isn’t too far away), mountains of ca$h and enviable social influence, he has numerous other highly desirable traits: he’s extremely arrogant, bigoted, insensitive, rude, short-tempered, stubborn and worst of all, he’s gonna be one of those guys who inexplicably goes dere-derezzz for the protagonist at the last 30 minutes of his route, amrite?
OK, now that you’ve grasped how much of an untouchable elite rich boy Riku is, here’s the thing: he’s one of the most childish douchebag dumbos I’ve come across in otome games in quite a while and his interest in Neri is about as “well-hidden” as a pot of black ink spilled across a snow-white sheet of paper. I found this entirely endearing. He’s childish, immature, emotional, innocent, gets flustered (not only in a romantic sense) in 0.01 seconds, quickly outwitted, hopeless with academics… Furthermore, he tries to parade around like he’s invincible, but it’s clear from his kind and innocent heart, as well as his breakage of stoicism when even slightly pushed, that he’s not capable of following through with his “I’m an Untouchable Super Elite Red Rose Who’s Out of You Unworthy Plebians’ Reach” aura he tries to front.
Maybe he has hidden insecurities and hides behind this persona, maybe his family
brainwashed raised him to truly believe he’s the best and he tries to meet the “Takamine” expectation. However this attitude came to be, it’d be interesting to see its origins. It’s also lovely how quickly the players’ notions of him are spectacularly ruined- he gets his feathers ruffled and totally outwitted by Neri during her first meeting with him. Whatever the case, I’m glad Riku isn’t the “untouchable prince” character he seemed to be, because that’s just boring! I don’t know if I’ve been so out of the otome loop lately that this is common now, but honestly, I found this refreshing considering how ZKG pushed the “I-Can-Do-Everything-Do-S-Proud-Perfect-Prince” impression.
The tiny hints of his childish nature were there: his favourite food, omurice, is popular amongst Japanese children, his least favourite being capsicum (which is again, common when associating a character with juvenility) and seeing a sample of the Up Mall tokuten in which his rebuttals to Touya calling him “Bakamine (LMAO, by the way. I refer to him as such every now and then affectionately)” are about as well thought-out as an angry primary school kid.
Overall, I’m the most interested in Riku. I’m thoroughly amused, ZKG- you tricked me good.
(VA: Kimura Ryouhei)
The other central hero of ZKG, though he is overshadowed by Bakamine out-of-universe. A 3rd year student, he’s known Riku since the two were in junior high school, and they consider each other long-time friends (not that Riku will straightforwardly admit this of course, that child). Much like how Riku is viewed as special even amongst The Roses in Full Bloom, Rei is also viewed in-universe in an equally special light, since he comes from a royal bloodline and is also from a noble, wealthy family. As a result, he’s dubbed “Lord White Rose” and also has some level of influence when deciding ranks in the Queen’s tea party.
A serene blue to Riku’s fiery red, Rei is calm, refined, kind, diplomatic, considerate, gentlemanly, intelligent and an excellent student. Simply put, nearly the complete opposite of Riku. While Riku has legitimate flaws, the real Perfect Prince of ZKG, Rei- Rei has no real flaws from what I’ve seen, which isn’t something I really like in a character. So far, anyway. Some have mentioned worries that he might turn out to be your stereotypical haraguro character, or his route would go down the “rich perfect boys like me have it hard because we’re too perfect we intimidate everyone, wah, wah” angle, which I really hope won’t happen, because I like Rei and the trial, hence, I expect better than that. I don’t want Rei to be just another highly stereotyped character.
I observed in the trial that he seems to care about what people think of him in a different way than Riku. While Riku wants everyone to acknowledge his superiority, Rei appears to want to match up to others’ preconceived notions of him, as he hides his “unfitting” hobby from almost everyone, as well as what he really thinks. This “unfitting” hobby of his is his love of tinkering with machinery (and programming as well). He’s very passionate about this too- so much, that he can’t help but ramble on if triggered, though he has more than enough social awareness to restrain himself when it gets “too much” in his view.
I’m starting to wonder if Rei is a total otaku! Which would be another thing I’d enjoy about his character, since it’d not be the stereotypical “anime” otaku but a different kind of one. I really get the feeling that Rei’s aptitude with mechanics will very much come in handy. At first, I thought he was just the boring gentlemanly prince. Which is true to an extent. However, he does- very politely at that- defend his stances clearly and is surprisingly quick to chastise in spite of his mild-mannered nature (though never rudely). While I’m already gunning for Riku, I hope Rei can match up to Riku and show us what he’s got!
(VA: Kakihara Tetsuya)
A 2nd year student, he’s in The Nameless Honeybees class. Very popular with women and the talented star actor of the academy’s theatre club, Ichiha is an (in)famous playboy; said to have broken many, many hearts. Overall, Ichiha is the weakest character, and that’s including the supporting cast. Do I dislike him? No, not at all. He’s just really uninteresting. ZKG is painting him in the “playboy with a kind heart and serious side” light, which has been done more times than there are insects in the world, Japanese media or not.
However, I did find one thing that could be potentially interesting about him- how much of what he says or does is an act? What is real? The website also mentions that he’s the socially savvy type who can be calculating. Will he be the token haraguro? When on a “date” with Neri, Ichiha talked very lovingly about his younger sister, whom he didn’t even name or show a picture of. He sounded very convincing, but given Moeka’s warning to Neri about his reputation and his excellent acting skills, can you really trust him? Moreover, is it OK to trust him? Is he a lot more important than I’m giving him credit for? I hope ZKG changes my negative impression of him and make me really like his type of character for once!
(VA: Maeno Tomoaki)
A 2nd year student, a member of The Ignored Stones class and the leader of The Resistance. He used to be a member of The Roses in Full Bloom (which explains why he still has the Roses coat), but something happened and he fell right to the bottom of the food chain. The first guess most would make is that he was (and still is, by the way) unflinchingly vocal about his suspicions and dissatisfaction with the school’s hierarchy and was kicked down a few notches.
Though he is undoubtedly the “token” delinquent guy with a rock-bottom reputation (even the Queen isn’t above deriding him), it’s quite intriguing how the academy appears to care very little about his rebellious actions- the headmaster Souichirou even calls it “interesting, amusing” or words to that effect. Also, Souichirou explained to Neri that it’s useless to continuously try and crush the seeds of rebellion, because they’ll always been sown one way or the other; that students like him maintain some kind of “balance” within the academy… If you believe him, that is.
I think it’s great that he’s standing up for what he thinks is right, and am anxious to see how his efforts will turn the tide of the story. Especially since he’s shown to be highly charismatic and intelligent. That’s a dangerous combination. Another thing: early in the trial, one of Neri’s old school friends gossips about a classmate of theirs leaving school because his family joined a cult promising its members “paradise”. I wonder if there is some relation between this information and Touya or his family? Maybe I’m thinking too hard and being too suspicious of everything.
Touya is such a pleasant guy- he’s endearingly mischievous, manly and charming with a strong sense of justice (though sometimes I think he can get self-righteous, especially in regards to the scene in which Riku demands Neri and Touya to get out of the Rose seats. Rei had a good point about the questionableness of Touya reaping the Rose rewards but not partaking in its tasks). Is his true goal to help those oppressed in The Ignored Stones, or is there something more?
To be honest, I’d be really impressed if Touya’s charismatic nature was portrayed negatively by the narrative. You know how most people describe cult leaders? Socially savvy. Charismatic. Touya, is there something you’re not telling us, or will I be sorry for doubting you integrity down the track?
(VA: Ishikawa Kaito)
The only 1st year love interest of ZKG, Haru belongs in The Ignored Stones class. While all of those in his rank suffer oppression and blatant discrimination everyday, Haru seems to get picked on quite frequently by Rose bullies. Even he wonders about this; unable to come up with a reason why he gets targeted out of everyone else. Touya, one of Haru’s friends (though Haru won’t admit it), reckons it’s because Haru won’t fight back. His only passion in life appears to be art, and according to Touya, Haru is very gifted.
Uncharacteristic of his archetype, Haru is not at a helpless, whiny victim that needs the protagonist’s saintly kindness to heal his emotional scars and fend off “da bullies”. In spite of his tacitunity and somewhat low self-esteem, Haru has quite the sharp tongue. Though not nearly as bad as Riku, Haru is surprisingly blunt and direct- even to his seniors. To me, it seems like he’s afraid of accepting others’ kindness rather than too proud or immature to admit he’s happy. This is probably because he doesn’t want to get them bullied as well. He may be artsy and cute, but Haru seems far from the sensitive personality stereotype common with his type of character. I like that in him, though so far, he seems the least relevant to the overall story. Such a shame. I hope Haru is way more important than the trial is giving him credit for!
(VA: Takaguchi Yukiko)
As her name implies, the Queen is an enigmatic lady who stands at the very top of Kaikyuu Academy’s social hierarchy. Nobody knows what she looks like (except for Souichirou) or who she actually is, though a few throughout the trial thinks she’s a fellow student. She leaves most people awestruck, and some even are totally loyal to her… Though you have to wonder if they’re sycophants or genuinely devoted to her in a cultish kind of way. The Queen has more power than anybody else in the entire academy (even overriding teachers), though one has to wonder how true that is after witnessing the two small scenes between herself and Souichirou.
He seemed to not really be in awe of her like everyone else and appeared to not really be bowing to her might, so to say. Is she just a puppet designed for Souichirou to control the school and cultivate his “goal” of creating students fit to guide the Japan of the future? Anyway, I swear you can see her face under the veil very faintly, which is actually great from a design perspective, since she’d have to see where the hell she’s going. Makes sense, though then you have to wonder why people can’t see her face. Hmm… Too many times, you see veiled characters designed with thick veils and can perfectly see what’s going on. I’ve been reading what other netizens are thinking. Some people are convinced the Queen looks like Neri, and may be her twin or clone… or maybe even Neri’s mother.
I really, really hope her identity isn’t something as boring as that. The Queen also takes an interest in Neri, which instead of being sigh-inducing, is actually a bit menacing as this occurs after she sounded rather jealous of Souichirou spending time with Neri (this conversation took place away from everyone else). As a person, I’m not interested in what she has to offer so far, but just like anybody else into ZKG at the moment, I’m more than just “really curious” who she really is.
(VA: Okiayu Ryoutarou)
The headmaster of Kaikyuu Academy, and also the leader of the Kaburagi Group (sounds like some kind of business/trade enterprise), he’s probably the most intriguing character thus far in my books. Gosh, this guy is way too strange and suspicious on so many levels, I’ve got to wonder if it’s on purpose.
He says the social hierarchy needs to exist (I have many theories about why, but my main one is because it’s designed to cultivate competition as a warped way of pressuring students to strive for the upper echelons), presumably OK with making none of the students’ dorm rooms lockable (the implications of this is rather unsavoury… either I’m gutter-brained or I should be glad this is an all-ages game!), doesn’t really answer how he knows Professor Fujieda even when asked by Neri, yet is happy to pay for every last one of Neri’s expenses throughout her education in Kaikyuu Academy and on one occasion even compared his students to ants when Neri inquired about why the social class system exists (this may have purely been a metaphor and I’m overthinking the insect implication)… amongst many other things that would take way too long to mention.
I’m convinced that understanding everything Souichirou has to offer is the key to understanding the main mysteries of this game. I’m thinking he’s way more important than his “supporting character” placement gives him credit for, and would even admit I get a bad vice from him, like he’s one of the main antagonists. As I was writing this, it occurred to me that his and Riku’s eye colours are very similar, if not, exactly the same… coincidence, or ZKG has made me paranoid?
(VA: Miki Shin’ichirou)
The school’s nurse and counsellor of Kaikyuu Academy. He’s half Japanese, half Chariot. I’m still not exactly sure where and what “Chariot” is, but it sounds like some fictional foreign country of European origin. He’s very friendly and laidback so the students find it very easy to talk to him about their woes. The moment in the trial where Neri accidentally discovers that Edward smuggled in an adult magazine is quite hilarious. You don’t get much interaction with him in the trial, so it’s hard to comment a lot on him. However, there’s a good likelihood that Edward feels indebted to Souichirou, as the latter provided the resources/fees needed by Edward to treat his sick mother while Edward was still a busy uni student. I get the feeling that Edward is a lot more in the know than ZKG would like you to believe, but may be conflicted on what to do due to Souichirou’s act of kindness.
(VA: Hanawa Manami)
Moeka is a 2nd year student, and belongs to The Nameless Honeybees class. She’s a helpful and friendly girl who becomes Neri’s first friend at Kaikyuu Academy. However, she’s quite superficial, self-conscious of her reputation and unreservedly harsh on the lower class. Now Moeka… she’s an interesting one. Not really Moeka herself, but how ZKG may develop her character. She’s super-into the social class system, and basically worships The Roses in Full Bloom to worrying levels. She slaves away everyday to become worthy in the eyes of the Queen, and doesn’t break any of the rules- even the most questionable ones- in order to become a Rose someday. I’m predicting that how she treats Neri will change depending on Neri’s social class- which is totally superficial and bitchy for sure but at least it’s interesting.
The “faux friend” thing doesn’t happen very often in otome games (wait, has it even happened before?) Do I want to read the brown-nosing-to-the-player, unrealistically supportive “BEST FRIEND” character dialogue for the 1,000th time? No, not at all, really. Maybe Moeka will be bitchy at first if Neri falls from grace, and then change her ways later. Maybe she’ll stay superficial and bitchy in her pursuit to become a Rose. Maybe she’ll turn out to merely be an ambitious girl who will make the right moral choices in the end. Whatever the case, I hope she won’t be the stereotypical best friend character I’m so sick of. She’s probably the most unpopular character out-of-universe amongst ZKG would-be players, and I can certainly see why.
~ Final Thoughts ~
If you aren’t sure if you want to play the game or not, I highly, highly recommend you to download the trial. It may be big, but it’s structured quite well so you get a good feel of the setting and characters. By the time you finish it, you’ll know if you want to play the full game or not. I haven’t felt this positively about a trial since Jooubachi no Oubou. Well… since we all know how that game went, I can only cross my fingers as much as I can that ZKG won’t be the same.
I can’t wait to play the full game. Intriguing story, interesting characters, gorgeous artwork and an interesting choice system in which you can veer Neri towards each one of the three social classes. This will even change how the story ends with each love interest, supposedly! My main concern lies in how the inevitable revelations of the twists will be handled. I’m trying to not expect too much, but since I’m so looking forward to the full game, I can’t help myself! If it’s not going to be an A-grade game storytelling-wise, I’m at least hoping for an enjoyable few hours that won’t be a near-complete waste of my time.
Will Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen be the next game to join my Hall of Fame?