NOTE: This review does not contain any sexually explicit content, but some hyperlinks lead to example photos of fashion models in NSFW attire.
90% of R18+ otome games come in three narrative tones: somewhat serious, moderately serious and deadly serious. The most well-received and beloved titles are all serious. To name a few examples: Tsuki no Hikari Taiyou no Kage (2006), Chou no Doku Hana no Kusari (2011), Koezaru wa Akai Hana (2012), Sakuya (2013) and more recently, Yoshiwara Higanbana (2015). The bestsellers with critical acclaim are the beautiful elites who can’t even crack a smile at you even after you paid approximately $70 for their time.
So that’s why the silly, gag-filled, almost hyperactive Bocchi Musume x Produce Keikaku. (“Bocchi“, from here on out) is quite surprising. To compound my surprise, Bocchi is nothing like Kalmia8’s first title, the darker and maturer Torikago no Marriage.
Torikago no Marriage (ToriMari) went down the same road as the aforementioned 90% of R18+ otome games; an elite wannabe that kept things serious. Kalmia8 appeared to not want to deviate from the norm and even enlisted the very popular Hiyo– a story writer well known for her darker adult otome game writing- to direct their maiden title. And boy, does the “Hiyo-ness” show (without getting into spoilers) even though an unknown was in charge of the scenario.
The Bocchi trial was about 625~650mb, and according to Kalmia8 themselves, coverd 1/10 of the full game. It was very wise of them to give players a decently-sized trial, since Bocchi is the type of game that chooses its players. It’s not gross, it’s not gory, it’s not offensive nor is it particularly unique as a whole- it’s just a departure from the typical adult otome game. Really, the best way to describe it thus far is a “male-targeted gag comedy eroge with its setting and characters tweaked for a female audience.”
But the all-important questions: Does this work? Will it work? Will Bocchi prove that even us ol’ girls appreciate humour with our porn?
Full game release date: D/L Edition: 18-3-2016; Package Edition: 25-3-2016
Age rating: R18+
Developer and publisher: Kalmia8
Artist: Otogi Yougi, Izumi Makoto (SD artwork only)
Scenario: Kazama Bonanza, Yamagen
Official website: http://kalmia8.jp/bocchi/
VNDb link: https://vndb.org/v18690
Song title: Bocchi Musume x Produce Keikaku. (ボッチムスメ×プロデュース計画。)
Vocals: Kuroi Isamu (Shirai Yuusuke)
Composer: Not disclosed
* Cast *
+ Main Characters +
~ Tachibana Ema – Kaibara Elena (Yokote Kumiko)
~ Hiraizumi Miki – Kuroi Isamu (Shirai Yuusuke)
~ Shinjou Saito – Yotsuya Cider (Okitsu Kazuyuki)
+ Supporting Characters +
~ Hiraizumi Makoto – Camembert Juuendou (Shirakawa Shuusaku)
~ Marin – Seiryou Hijiri (Inamura Tooru)
~ Sumire – Tsuruya Haruto (Ozaki Miku)
~ Mao – Haruna Ren (Jinbo Tomoe)
~ Risa – Misonoo Mei (Koyama Sahomi)
* Plot Summary *
The protagonist has been all alone since she was little. This is because she’s tall for a girl and she has a nasty look in her eyes. Even though she hasn’t done anything wrong, people around her become afraid…
As she advanced through school, that didn’t change. She accepted the situation and planned to quietly go through her school years until graduation.
However, two guys had spotted her.
“She’s the one we’ve been searching for!”
Her height and sharp gaze are seen by the world as fantastic qualities and strengths for a fashion model. The duo, composed of an aspiring producer and designer, was to kick into gear to showcase her talents. They were to transform her; this “raw material”, into a presence that will influence the world…!
…Such was their idealistic tale.
But the pessimistic protagonist ran away.
In spite of this, the two won’t stop trying to produce her into a model.
Even though she refuses, they definitely won’t stop.
They won’t stop pushing her into becoming a model.
Their first goal is to shoot a video of her and unveil it all over the world.
How will the duo’s transformation of the protagonist change her?
What is the future that awaits?
The “Lonely Girl Production Plan” lead by the two handsome, yet disappointing(?) duo now begins!
Story, Setting and Writing
As a whole, Bocchi can be summed up as “hyped up on some illegal stimulant”. As expected of a comedy with plenty of gags, everything from the characters right down to the background music are energetic and larger than life. The pacing reflects this too- being on the faster side- but I found it to be not so fast that I wasn’t able to keep up or information was being missed. It was more like since Miki and Saito (more Saito, but anyway) are so driven towards their goal, they won’t stop pushing Ema onwards… Because the story is told from Ema’s persective, it inevitably has to stick to her pace. The narrative viewpoint may be through Ema, but it’s Miki and Saito’s forceful actions that actually drives the story forwards.
The audience can appreciate poor Ema’s strong sense of uncertainty. Coercing an introverted, insecure and socially anxious girl like Ema into becoming a model is beyond “mean” without knowledge of the circumstances. Not only that, but she’s hardly given time to mentally or emotionally prepare for the things that have been coming her way. This sounds quite cruel and even has some unfortunate implications regarding the two boys (again, it’s much more Saito than Miki). However, given Ema’s personality… Miki’s insistence and Saito’s domineering nature are absolutely necessary in order for Bocchi to even exist. There’s even some comic self-awareness about this, with Saito saying “Without a tsukkomi (the “straight man” in a comedic duo), the game won’t advance” when you turn his voice off in the game’s option menu.
Additionally, it becomes clear that Ema is not completely unwilling to participate after a short while into the prologue. The first time she models Miki’s fashion creation- while of course, she was pushed a lot until this point- in the end, she made the decision to do so on her own, with Miki even saying he didn’t want to force her (he didn’t appreciate Saito’s method of “convincing” Ema). More importantly, Ema was very moved by the way she looked- even stating that she didn’t hate the person staring back at her in the mirror. A chord was certainly struck.
At the very least, she understands that their willingness and determination are the real deal. She then even agreed to help work with them during the summer. From then on, she still has to be pushed into things like catwalk practice or managing her horrendous diet better… though it then felt more like a strict mother pushing a lazy child to do some chores; which is distinctive from Saito’s very first method of “convincing” Ema to go to Miki place to try on the first outfit (he genuinely apologises for it later on).
In terms of structure, Bocchi is very obviously a character-centric game rather than a plot-centric one. Other than Ema’s reluctance and fear of becoming a model, the trial only hinted at the potential conflicts that could arise in the full game- for Saito’s route, there’s a mean girl named Sumire that basically warns Ema to not get too close to him, and for Miki’s route, it’d probably deal with his stern-looking father whom doesn’t approve of his son’s fashion design “hobby”. Nothing new at all, nothing too interesting.
The bigger point of interest is what the “big plan” that was mentioned a couple times towards the trial’s end is, and how it will affect Ema. While it’s understandable why Miki is enthusiastic about getting Ema well-known, it’s not the same for Saito. Saito seems genuinely invested in (perhaps a bit too aggressively so) supporting Miki, but it sounds like he has additional motives that weren’t explored in the trial. I can’t lie; I’m really curious as to what they are because I like the characters, plus the story hasn’t even implied why Saito would care so much.
Particularly on 2chan, I’ve noticed that some players have given Bocchi a half-jokingly hard time for not getting some facts straight. Some are legitimate critiques, others, well… the 2chan goers fail to notice the irony in chastising Bocchi for their supposed lack of research, even if they don’t mean to be snide.
The first one is how Miki notes that girls of Ema’s height are “rarer than you’d expect” even in America. Ema is currently 173cm (5’8″). She’s definitely very tall for a Japanese girl, but for an American? While I wouldn’t say it’d be rare, per se, it’d likely be uncommon, since the average height of American women is 162~165cm (5’4~5″). It seems to be a similar situation in Australia (where I’m from). I’m about 170cm (5’7″) and the national average is around 164cm (5’4″). I’m taller than most ladies I meet. While it’s not “rare” for me to encounter women that are taller, it’s not frequent, either. I’d say I’m taller than 60% of women I’ve met.
Another instance is how they said it isn’t believable that Miki was picked on in the U.S. due to his fashion design hobby being seen as “gay”. They’ve obviously never been to a Western school before! Yes, the younger generations tend to be more accepting of homosexuality. Yes, studies such as the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project 2013 survey on homosexual tolerance indicates that U.S. citizens are more tolerant of homosexuality than a handful of the surveyed nations.
However, homophobic bullying is still a regular occurrence even in the more accepting countries. There are countless studies on not only bullying as a whole, but homophobic bullying as well. In the former, one of the most common reasons is non-heterosexual orientation (perceived or factual), and homophobic slurs are a dime a dozen even when the user isn’t intending to be offensive. Even if Miki weren’t bullied, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to be presumed as gay due to the “effeminate artsy guy = gay” stereotype. Saito added that it may have just been the people Miki happened to be around, but really, a man interested in fashion being called “gay” didn’t start happening yesterday.
Speaking of critique, the only real one I have is how Ema’s reason for getting ostracised to the extent she has been is not really believable. Maybe her abnormally sharp gaze isn’t drawn “scarily” enough, or maybe because it’s quite obvious she’s a very attractive girl, but she just makes plain fashion choices. If anything, it’s probably her very introverted personality that would make people want to disassociate from her (which probably developed as a result of years of negative social interaction to begin with), but this much? Is it just me, or is this aspect quite the stretch?
Aside from that, I really enjoyed what the trial had to offer, so I’m looking forward to seeing why Miki and Saito are so driven and how Ema will develop.
Portrayal of Fashion
So how does Bocchi deal with one of its main themes- fashion?
First of all, I feel it’s important to understand that Bocchi doesn’t deal with “conventional” fashion. Miki’s designs are eccentric, to put it simply (as you can see in the Artwork segment of this review), and are closer to an art form rather than everyday clothing. In terms of their unconventional appearance, the fact that they’re custom handmade and not intended for sale, Miki’s designs gear towards haute couture or high fashion. Apparently, it came as a surprise to Japanese players that Bocchi fashion didn’t deal with “everyday” designs; in their words, creations that look more like “cosplay”.
Miki’s fashion designing does seem to have a specific term in Japanese. In the scene in which his creation is first revealed to Ema (i.e. the audience), Saito basically explains that Miki’s designs can be classified as mode-kei (モード系) fashion. He then goes on to explain that mode-kei designs influence fashion trends and how the eclectic creations are eventually toned down for the general public market. This is where things could get a bit confusing.
The confusion could arise from the term, “mode-kei” itself. Japanese Wikipedia’s article even states that mode-kei is a vague term. To summarise the definitional parts of Wikipedia, definitions found on other online articles that deal with the term and after some advice I received from my fashion-savvy sister, I found that:
- It refers to garments and hairstyles appearing in the latest designer brand collections; the ones that set fashion trends. Comes from the French word, “mode“, meaning “fashion”. This is the origin of the term.
- In the modern Japanese lexicon, it’s used to refer to “unconventional fashion” in general.
- It is a term used to describe decorative clothing composed of many colours (that are calculated to work in a stylistic manner) and/or matched up gaudily.
- Contrary to the previous definition, it can refer to a style emphasised with simplicity and monotones, possibly producing a unique “silhouette”.
- It refers to a Japanese men’s high fashion subculture in which its followers dress themselves from head-to-toe in as many of the latest designer garments as possible. Considered to be “a more expensive and gaudier” version of a similar fashion subculture kireime-kei (きれいめ系); the latter being a clean, conservative and minimalistic style similar to what a male prep would wear.
In my personal understanding of the above definitions, I think it’s safe to say that Bocchi’s use of mode-kei refers to definitions 1, 2 and maybe even 3. The closest English equivalent term I can think of is haute couture/high fashion (as mentioned previously).
The next thing that one may ponder is how accurate Miki’s creations are with real-life high fashion or haute couture. Of course, since the full game isn’t out, nobody can say for sure. However, being revealing in high fashion is not rare nor is it extremely common. It’s not hard to find high fashion ads in which models show quite a bit of skin, not to mention the actual garments themselves. I found all of these images with little trouble while looking through some articles and pics of haute couture and high fashion.
There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with how Bocchi is dealing with the term “mode-kei” and they’re not wrong about the eccentricity of high fashion design. So my overall opinion so far is that Bocchi is perhaps exaggerating the revealing aspect, though this seems to be for comedic reasons to play up Miki’s “makes skanky clothes but isn’t a pervert” angle.
Tachibana Ema (name changeable) (CV: Kaibara Elena)
Ema is the protagonist of this story, and is described as a gloomy, airheaded 1st year high school student. Gosh, these kids are so young. It’s making me a bit uncomfortable… But anyway, Ema isn’t a common type of otome protagonist. The best comparison I can think of is the “introverted Akane Rin” of Ayakashi Gohan. The key difference would be that Rin willingly pushes people away and chooses to be alone, whereas Ema has resigned to being on her own and her somewhat paranoid ways (likely wrought from years of bullying) makes her afraid of getting close to people. This all being said, Ema is timid and docile, but she isn’t afraid to frequently complain or make her dissatisfactions known.
Not counting her physical appearance, Ema is written to possess the exact opposite personality traits one would imagine a successful model as having- she has poor social skills, is timid, unconfident, unambitious and conservative. I’m guessing her poor exercise and diet habits will change… But let’s say Ema’s no natural. Gourmet pizza practically every night for dinner? Snack breads for breakfast and lunch? In a sense, it’s a miracle Ema has such a hawt bawd.
Please share half of your bust size with me, thanks.
I don’t have strong opinions of her yet, but so far, good. I like Ema; she’s cute as a button, hot as an oven, reacts to the craziness around her very funnily, and I can’t wait to see her character development.
Hiraizumi Miki (CV: Kuroi Isamu)
One of the two main heroes of this VN, Miki is the fashion designer of the production duo. Like Ema, he’s a 1st year high school student. He has recently returned from America, apparently being dissatisfied with his time there. Miki and Saito are close friends and are clearly working towards some kind of common goal, though I feel Miki is more interested in expressing his fashion designer side. Apparently he’s a fashion designing genius (according to Saito, anyway) and was captivated by Ema the moment he laid eyes on her, declaring Ema as his “muse”. The reason he seems to value Ema so much is because she inspires him, which enables him to be the very best he can be- after a long while of being stuck in a rut.
Miki may look refined and the website describes his personality as “princely”, but I swear he spends most of his time ranting and raving eccentrically and obliviously without any grace. He quickly demonstrates masochistic tendencies; being a bit too pleased about being Ema’s “stepping block” (not metaphorically, literally). However, I do think that him being described as “earnest” is quite accurate. Miki is determined, straightforward and sincere, which perhaps explains why his profile states he hates sycophants/suck-ups. All-in-all, I’m interested in seeing his more serious side.
I love this guy already. When he’s raving like a lunatic, he’s hilarious, but otherwise he’s almost too kind to Ema- which is a nice contrast to Saito’s more… “strict” treatment.
Shinjou Saito (CV: Yotsuya Cider)
The photographer and leader of the production duo, as well as Miki’s sadistic childhood friend. 1st year high schooler Saito is described by the Bocchi website as a sociable perfectionist whose grades and athletic abilities are above average. Unsurprisingly, he’s been a hit with the ladies for most of his life. Unfortunately, due to his high intelligence, he can do almost anything with ease, which makes him bored and passionless. In my opinion, that type of “flaw” rarely gets explored well; it’s practically a Mary Sue/Gary Stu kind in most cases.
That’s not to say Saito is flawless. He’s aggressive, forceful, short-tempered, blunt and stubborn… To the point Ema is (even if comedically) convinced that Saito is a gang or yakuza member. Saito supposedly has a very low tolerance of wasteful behaviour and extravagance, perhaps implying he’s maybe stingy or frugal. While Ema’s family is established as being somewhat wealthier than average and Miki’s seem well-off (all those trips to and fro America and fashion is an expensive hobby. He doesn’t have a part-time job), the same can’t be said for Saito. He’s the only one working (though perhaps it may be for the sake of his and Miki’s unspecified larger goal) and stereotypes of the frugal would suggest that Saito could be from a poorer family.
While I took a liking to Miki almost instantly, I grew on Saito. Now I like him as much as Miki. At first I thought of him as a typical do-S character. However, as I previously discussed, his want to help Miki looks to be the real deal and even if his methods are disagreeable, I can’t help but be touched by his loyalty. He’s a much-needed tsukkomi to keep Miki on planet Earth. I think it’s good the trial quickly established that when he crosses a major line, he’s apologetic instead of just remaining a do-S jerk. For instance, his unsolicited and genuine, if reluctant apology to Ema when he dragged her to Miki’s . Not to mention that I find his insecure, dishonest assessment of his own height pretty amusing. I wonder how much shorter than me he is? >=)
Even for the standards of newer otome games, I think Bocchi’s system is absolutely wonderful- no complaints at all! It even comes with the newer bells and whistles like functions to make memos of saves and save specific voice clips to relisten at one’s leisure. Speaking of the save system, it’s really convenient. On the 10th page, there are six autosaves and six quick save slots, plus you can “lock” specific saves to prevent accidental saving over!
Here are some screenshots to show you what I mean:
To be clear, I’m not very specific about what I want in an otome game system- well, any VN really- except for the bare minimum requirements. In other words, as long as the system doesn’t hinder the actual reading, it ultimately doesn’t matter too much. A great system always provides brownie points, though.
Staying true to the game’s fashion theme, the interface’s actual design is based upon fabric cuts with a mix of designs and textures. The colour choices are quite minimalistic with white and various shades of blue being the mainstay. I’m more than satisfied with the text box’s design as well. All of the essential functions are easily noticeable and accessible. The box is nice and small so that it lessens how much it obstructs the visuals, but the text itself is perfectly readable. If not, you can choose other fonts that work better for you.
As for how the gameplay system works… it’s just like 90% of VNs out there- Bocchi is an ADV with a choice system that leads to various preset endings. There doesn’t seem to be a way to track which choices add relationship values, but since the choices themselves don’t seem difficult, this shouldn’t be a big issue. The only difference I can think of with Bocchi in relation to other otome games is its presence of gag endings. I’ve encountered two in the trial alone, with one of them literally leading from the very first pair of choices. It would be fun to hunt them like Easter eggs, and even better if you got a bonus for finding them all!
One more thing I want to mention… If you stick to the default name, the characters will say it! OK, so it’s not a super-duper unique feature. I just really appreciate it since I’m the “observer” type of otome game player rather than the “protagonist = me” type.
Another unique aspect of Bocchi is its artwork. No, not the the actual style itself but the fact that the quite common “male-targeted eroge” artstyle- in my mind, this being the simpler, cleaner-cut colouring, unfussy clothing detail, relatively uncomplicated shading, etc.- is used for an otome audience. To be honest, I’m ambivalent about it- don’t hate it, don’t love it. This includes the backgrounds as well, which are simple and clearly just there to set the scene- the artists certainly didn’t expend their efforts there.
However, the sprites are well done, with the loads of wacky, exaggerated expressions! The picture above only covers about half of what I saw in the trial, and I’m sure there are more to come in the full game. Not only that, but the sprites themselves have many poses. While there isn’t any lip-syncing or blinking, the sprites are often shifting poses and the expressions constantly change so it doesn’t feel static. Then when the time calls for some slapstick or gags, the super-deformed illustrations step in. This is especially the case for the comically violent moments, which could otherwise be horrifying.
In terms of character design, again, I’m not super into them but I do like it. Especially Ema, the hawt babe. Unsurprisingly, the designer opted to make the two main guys very distinct from one another; basically being opposites in not just personalities, but aesthetics as well. For instance, how the domineering do-S Saito has tareme– which is usually associated with moe, innocent and gentler characters, while Miki and Ema have tsurime– typically associated with the uppity, mean and fiery types. While I’ve seen this kind of “ironic designing” thing being done before, I like it being utilised so it doesn’t really bother me. Hell, it’s way more creative than the otome world’s tendency to play every trope 100% no homo straight.
Music and Sound
First of all, even the OP, “Bocchi Musume x Produce Keikaku.” is a good chuckle. It’s nice that the composer(s) created this OP to be tailor-made just for Bocchi. Actually, most VN OPs/EDs are, but with a lot of them, you could interchange songs quite easily as long as you pick a group of titles of the same genre or theme.
I like the background music, though it’s no masterpiece. Every track that I’ve heard so far really suited the moment, even though the composers didn’t stick to a certain style. There are the more “standard” tracks like the cute, relaxing music during the calmer and tender moments, and the festive music during light-hearted comedic scenes… but the BGM gets slightly more interesting during the tenser moments. There’s a nice suspenseful track that plays when trouble’s brewing, then there’s an interesting techno pop number with female vocals that are mostly improvisations save for the occasional “shake your body now”. All-in-all, a nice soundtrack composed of varied musical styles with a well-suited track for any moment.
Finally, the voice acting! At first, I found the exaggerated-for-humour tones and acting a bit “too much”, but I soon got used to it once I started enjoying the voice actors go bananas. Great to hear Kaibara Elena cast as an otome game protagonist! While I’m not too familiar with Kuroi Isamu, I think he’s doing a great job as Miki even if he’s the least experienced of the three main VAs- he’s nailing Miki’s ecstatic, hammy yelling. Yotsuya Cider as Saito… I’ve grown on it. I don’t mean his acting ability- he can jump between smug, sexy and angry with no problems. It’s just that I usually don’t hear a deeper, angrier-sounding Yotsuya, so it took a bit more getting used to. But I think it’s a welcome change to hear him portray something different from what I normally hear him do.
* My Final Thoughts *
I’m sold! I really enjoyed the trial. Good on Kalmia8 for trying something different. I’m looking forward to enjoying something hilarious and light-hearted after a string of depressing, serious R18+ games.
While I loved it, I strongly recommend anybody interested to play the trial first. Like I mentioned much earlier, I think Bocchi is a game that chooses its players. The lack of seriousness might not be something you like in an adult otome game. The exaggerated voice acting and wacky expressions may be tiring to you. Ema’s negativity and Saito’s hair-trigger temper could be considered irritating. There’s a lot of potential things that wouldn’t mesh with some players, so completing the trial is very important, even if it’s a low price game.
I’m all for some much-needed changes in the otome R18+ industry. Are you?