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Published March 29, 2016

Are sexual emotions really that hard to write?

Yes, I know this is me saying this and my particular inhibited frigidity is well known by now. But on the whole, it doesn’t seem like that hard of a subject. Challenging yes, but not hard. You’re writing pure emotion and human senses: sight, scent, tastes, etc. So even if the concept is slightly foreign, most can probably imagine the enrapturing heat of someone’s skin on their own, the sweetness of their perfume pouring off their body and pulling you closer until you fall into the bliss of their embrace: desperately trying to keep your mind together as they wrestle your heart into submission.

See? I can do it (barely) and according to two-thirds of the EVN community I hate sex and have no heart.

So what’s the deal? Ironically, I believe Catch Canvas from Unwonted Studios has the answer, but it makes us work for it. What is Catch Canvas? Well, a few months ago Razz (Starlight Vega) and Unwonted Studios (No One but You) announced that they would be teaming up. It makes sense since both came under the Sekai umbrella at the exact same time and both have a similar aesthetic with their games. They decided to go for something fitting into the growing trend at Sekai and opted for a bit of ecchi romance. And thus Catch Canvas was born and crowd-funded to the tune of $13,481: especially impressive since they were only asking for three thousand dollars. Along with this campaign came an alpha demo of what we can expect and while it cannot give of the full gist of the game, it can establish the tone and characters we are looking to interact with.

So, how did the demo go? Let’s examine, shall we?

In a secluded town lives a world-renowned artist. You, his niece or nephew depending on your choices, have traveled to the town with the promise of studying under your uncle and gaining the knowledge you need to become a famous artist yourself. Unfortunately, when you arrive, the old man’s nowhere to be found. His current students, however, are still there. Nachan, an aspiring manga artist, Dawn, a shy girl who does her best work alone, and Estelle, a spoiled brat who would rather sleep in all day than apply herself to any real work. Your Uncle has tasked you to help them finish an assignment before he returns, but are they willing to even give a total strange the time of day?

The premise of this game is, as presented, bland as Hell. While the set-up is unique, it complicates the narrative by trying to force in Light Novel archetypes. Everyone in the house should be an equal, yet the story is setting up the protagonist to be a slightly higher rank than the girls and your character uses that as a platform to look down on them. This is especially glaring as we get into their motivations and you realize the only one who may actually want to be there strictly in the name of improving their art with no strings attached is the Shy One.

You get the sense that the other girls don’t mind having no motivation at all. Nachan gleefully lounges around all day and works on manga-style while Estelle preens and avoids touching the canvas at all costs. To be fair, the protagonist isn’t exactly safe from this either. While they put all of the attention into cutting deals and trying to manipulate the girls into doing what their Uncle wants, they don’t bother practicing their own skills either when, if you really want to attract the attention of a bunch of ‘art students’, that would probably be the easiest way to do it.

But the protagonist must be awesome and the supporting cast must be needlessly difficult because drama, I guess. The far more interesting route seems to be to just have them all (protagonist included) be competitive art students on the same level tasked with finishing the same project with the goal of exclusive tutelage on the line. Hell, the girl’s tropes fit much better into that scenario than as a bunch of bored millennials easily distracted by any little whim. The rich girl who knows she can be obnoxious, but wants to prove she’s not as vapid as she looks especially fits Estelle more than the brat that we have now that has to be drug through her well-worn developmental path. Throw in some sniping at one another’s perceived flaws as they go and boom: sniping creates tension, tension creates the real drama and also puts everyone in a pressure cooker that leads to more…creative outlets.

Catch Canvas Demo Screenshot 1

Speaking of, might was well touch on the fanservice. The fanservice here is Winged Cloud levels of groan-inducing. Why does Nachan strip down to her panties even though she knows she’s not going to be alone in her room? For the Event Graphic of her ass! Why does Estelle allow you to continue gawking at her half-naked after you accidentally walk in? For the eventual Event Graphic of her even more half-naked than usual! Again this is a very early demo, but they’re hoping this will be done by June: two months from now. They stumble upon a literal, gift-wrapped premise with steamy fanservice built into the idea; you and a bunch of hot girls in the same house in the middle of damn near nowhere…and this is all they’ve got? Guys, I know what the reaction to this part of the feature is going to be, ‘There goes JP hating boobies again!’ But this is literally the easiest part of this entire game to get right.

‘…What do you mean, old man?’

Anon, these girls have been living together long enough to be comfortable around one another, right?

‘…Yes?’

And they have no reason to change their current comfortable situation just because the protagonist shows up right?

‘…Yes?’

…So why not just do that?

‘…’

Yes, it’s sleazy. But it’s ecchi: it’s going to be sleazy. Instead of having Nachan strip off her pants for that one particular Event Graphic that has no diegetic rationale, why not just have her decide not to wear pants that day and if the protagonist gets flustered, tease them about it? Estelle is already half-naked in this game. Lowering her state of dress any more isn’t fanservice, so either get her some more clothes or figure out a way to use her attitude in a non-groan inducing way. Again, this is a gift-wrapped scenario. No one in the house has any reason to change their pattern of behavior just because someone new is among them; especially if that someone is another female. USE. IT.

‘But JP! You said there was something here! What is it?’ I did gentle anon, and it brings us back to the Shy One. Dawn’s shyness leads to the only interesting scene presented in the demo and it comes just about at the end. The protagonist is in the shower, only to realize that Dawn was spying on them while masturbating. This has been hinted at for a while with Estelle complaining that someone had been watching her in a similar situation. So Dawn has a record of this and it gives the player a choice in this situation. You can either immediately call Dawn out or…you can play along.

It’s written as more absurd than sordid; especially because the Event Graphic for it hasn’t been finished yet. But it also represents an aberration in the current formula. Unlike the others, Dawn’s actions are not a set up to be fanservice for the player. It’s pure self-gratification and while it can be a little creepy, it can also be sewn into a steamy tale featuring a sexually-suppressed, shy love interest. It also set the future romantic path between Dawn and the Protagonist and since her interest in the Protagonist is openly sexual, it would hopefully lead to a far more interesting story than what we’ve gotten so far. Finally, it brings us back to our original question, ‘Why does it seems so hard to write sexual emotions correctly?’ Because, most sexual scenes are being written with the wrong audience in mind.

Dawn’s scene works because the audience for the scene is Dawn and the Protagonist: NOT the player. The rest of the fanservice scenes don’t work because it’s written for the player/reader/viewer: NOT the characters involved. Somewhere along the line the idea got flipped and if I have to deal with more fanservice in my EVNs, the least I can do is point it out in the vain hope that someone will consider flipping this concept back on its head. Does that mean I’ll ever like a fanservice-driven VN? Probably not. But I won’t hate it for its awful direction and for nonsensically thrusting shiny tits into my face whenever it gets bored with itself.

So class, what did we learn today? Well, if Catch Canvas comes out in two months without some serious reconsideration it’s going to be a mess. Between Razz and Unwonted, it’s going to get the polish it needs, but it’s the narrative direction that is in dire need of help. Hopefully the partners will seriously reconsider the direction the current narrative is going in. In particular, they should reconsider these three points:

  • Don’t Complicate the Narrative. Catch Canvas has a damn near idiot-proof setup that everyone involved managed to mangle with Light Novel clichés. I’m not sure how it happened, but it did. Rip out the tropes, let everyone be as normal as you can get them and then turn up the heat. The writing team will be surprised where their minds will go as the pressure builds…it can’t be any worse than where we already are.
  • Make The Protagonist Uncomfortable: I get it: The Protagonist has to be in charge and always cool and awesome to attract a harem to him. Apparently that’s how they’re writing things these days, but that doesn’t make it any good. Again, I am well aware that it isn’t kosher, but there is also no logical reason for anyone to change their flow because the Protagonist is there. It is the most fertile ground for whatever fanservice the creative team could possibly have in mind AND YET it’s being ignored. For what? Literally bringing the game to a grinding halt so I can see the hyperactive one’s ass? USE what you have!
  • The Audience Isn’t the Audience for Fanservice: Yes, I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. Most, if not all of the fanservice I’ve come across on this site was done with the player’s in mind and, because of that, it’s never actually sexy. Obtaining that level of heat means the audience has to be restricted to the cast themselves. Write the scenes just for the characters involved: as if they’re the only ones in the room and no one else can enjoy it but them. Mix a little chemistry and physiology together with some poetry and, boom; fanservice that’s actually hot.

Again, it’s challenging, but it isn’t impossible. It may never be Shakespeare or anything, but that doesn’t mean it has to suck.