‘Will ‘Fanservice’ ever be executed correctly?’
It’s a question that is usually the last thing to ring through my head after slamming my face into oblivion on my desk. Despite my often-well-earned reputation, I do not blindly hate ‘fanservice’. If I did, then most of the anime I grew up on would have been on the chopping block a long time ago. I love characters like Faye Valentine, Aisha Clan-Clan and Ryoko Hakubi and I’d be lying if I ignored how they’re often presented sexually. But the fact that most anime fans remember these characters beyond those titillating moments means that the writers successfully executed a level of complexity with these characters: allowing them to be interesting to the plot beyond how much of their skin we can see.
Now, what in the Seven Hells happened since then?
A few weeks ago, I played a piece of the demo for Onee-Sama Production’s Alpha’s Adventures for my Twitter audience. While I’ve been informed that it was entertaining at the very least, it served as a damn near immediate reminder of why I’ve dropped so many fanservice laden titles over the past year or so. I stopped the social media playthrough just as the demo was beginning to insult my intelligence: a red line for most titles I review here at VNs Now. However, when I dropped it, it was done with an assumption: that someone else with a thicker skin re: fanservice will take it up and discuss its flaws. It kind of happened? Well, an admitted fan of yuri talked about it some, but so far that’s it.
So, as simultaneously a glutton for punishment and a bloodthirsty sadist, I went back to the demo to complete it quietly. And, color me surprised, because I thought I had hit the bottom of the demo when I was playing it for everyone on Twitter. I had no idea how much further it could fall. But I’m already burning clock, so let’s stop my bitching and explain my issues with this thing.
The biggest issue with Alpha’s Adventures is that I think it’s confused on what it’s trying to accomplish. Each romantic route has its own genre and narrative plot unique to that romantic partner. On the surface, this looks like a unique idea; as the larger mystery of how such a multi-verse would work could pull the audience in. The key to it working, however, is that the main character be both relatable and consistent and Alpha is neither.
I have cut my teeth on a lot of terrible visual novel protagonists in my day, but Alpha may just take the cake. While there are a handful of character traits that carry over between the three scenarios, Alpha is essentially a different woman each time: constantly changing her identity to fit the situation. So, instead of one crap character, we get THREE bad characters rolled into one. In Iori’s (Captain Booberton for those who follow me on Twitter) route, she’s a strong-willed pervert who stops at nothing to get into the captain’s pants. That is discarded in Jaylah’s route where she is a submissive brat who enjoys bringing out her little sister’s yandere side. THIS is dumped in Ara’s route where her character is basically a scrambled egg: only existing to play off the demure and noble princess and be won over by her innate purity.
Speaking of her targets, all of them exist mainly to eventually fold to Alpha’s prowess. Despite having different narrative themes to play with, neither Ara or Iori are gripping enough on their own to justify Alpha’s attraction to them or vice-versa. I wasn’t expecting fully developed characters by the end of the demo, but something concrete to latch onto that would help explain Alpha’s desire to collect them all for her sexual trophy case would’ve helped. Actually, in a truly twisted joke, the only one who defies this trend is Jaylah: Alpha’s honest-to-God, blood-related little sister. And the only reason Jaylah defies the trend is that she has a psychotic episode during her route when Alpha refuses to be fed and Jaylah tries to outright kill her. No, I’m not joking: that actually happens.
This particular relationship highlights the biggest roadblock for Alpha’s Adventures moving forward: what it considers sexually attractive. It may just be my own hangups, but I have a hard time finding a girl going through a clear psychotic episode hot, yet this VN does. Same with Alpha molesting Iori in that route. Ara’s is the most ‘vanilla’ as it were: it’s ‘hottest’ scene featuring blood fetishism…although something a bit darker is hinted at down the road, of course. And these pale in comparison to its hidden route, but it does throw red flags onto the field thanks to both the content shown and the handling of said content.
I’ll be the first to admit none of the fetishes this game will focus on do anything for me. That doesn’t mean there is no audience for it, as the mere fact it made its crowd-funding goal and more suggests. And I’m certainly not here to ‘kink shame’ anyone…today. But, if you’re going to feature this type of kink, a little restraint goes a long way. The developers here are exactly the opposite: gleefully drooling over every moment in the demo it enjoys and ignoring any opportunity to build an attractive cast in the demo. I mean, why would they? As long as said kink hits the screen in just the right light, everybody will think its hot right?
I know this is hard to believe, but you are reading this on the Internet. Please, contain your shock. Us being on the Internet means there is a great chance that the audience for Alpha’s Adventures can find plenty of material on every kink that game thinks up for free somewhere else. Hell, they can probably find most of them on freakin’ Crunchyroll. In that case, what would make these kinks attractive is not the kinks themselves, but the characters. And none of the characters here are given the time to develop said attraction. Again, Ara gets the closest, but she’s so flat as a character (not in that way) that it goes nowhere. Everyone else is twisted into their own flavor of fanservice no differently than any other ecchi title in any other medium.
And as I’ve already said, if I can get that from somewhere else better, why do I need this?
There is one more observation I’d like to make before I check out here and that’s on the hidden route which could hint to the connective tissue of the game proper. Apparently some omnipotent figure has had a crush on Alpha for some time. What denotes ‘some time’, you ask? At least since Alpha was a child. Why do you always think I’m kidding when I have evidence?
Anyway this figure, called ‘The Mysterious Guardian’ in promotional material, wants to bang prepubescent Alpha, but because the Guardian exists on a different realm of existence neither can communicate with the other. From there the main storyline seems clear enough: Alpha is able to form her ‘harem’ across different genres of fiction because this creep is somehow altering dimensions to make it happen. It’s an admittedly inventive take on the romantic visual novel, but considering the context of that plot line I can only give it so many kudos.
Also…I just realized the potential plan for the Guardian is the same as Douchegod’s plan from that Cross Ange anime from a few years back. I’m just going to leave that one there.
I think it’s pretty obvious I’m tapping out on this one, guys. If me rage-quitting halfway through the first route wasn’t an indicator of quality, then the sexual violence and latent pedophilia certainly is. The only thing I can really take from this is to try to hammer home to this audience is that developers who want to do works like this need to start putting more effort into making their characters attractive enough to ease a skeptical audience into whatever lewd ideas they’ve got.
This isn’t new to Alpha’s Adventures. Nearly everyone who has decided they wanted to do an ecchi or outright pornographic visual novel has run into this problem. All of them are so wrapped up in getting their sexual fantasies into the public eye, they forget that it’s the characters who are into whatever they think up that makes it interesting/exciting. If the cast is non-existent, then there aren’t enough lewd ideas in the world to make your work anything more than a momentary thrill at best.
But hey, that might be enough for Onee-Sama Productions. As for me, the hunt for the elusive ‘good’ ecchi/adult VN continues. JP3: OUT.