Grow Up!

September 19, 2013

A common complaint against many of Age’s works is that they are too preachy, that players have to sit through hours upon hours of other characters explaining what is wrong with them.  Kouki Yoshimune offers a very simple explanation for this: all of his lead characters are actually based on himself, when he was younger.  When he writes a wall of dialogue criticizing the main character, he is not lecturing “the player”, he is lecturing his younger self.  This is something I sensed subconsciously when I first played Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and became a fan of Age’s, but it wasn’t something I fully understood until much later.  Yoshimune’s stories are intensely, almost painfully personal, in a way that is very rare in otaku subculture.  All of his stories are drawn straight from his own life experiences.

The common thread throughout Yoshimune’s full-length stories – Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, Muv-Luv, and Total Eclipse – is that each of their main characters starts off as a brash, immature young man.  However, over the course of the story it becomes clear that he is completely unprepared to deal with the difficult decisions that await him in the outside world.  I’ve mentioned before how, in most anime stories, youth is considered an asset and immaturity only means that the main character is not weighed down with old ways of thinking.  Yoshimune’s stories have none of that.  Here the main character is constantly surrounded by people who are waiting for him to grow up and take responsibility for his actions.

Once you understand that the main character is supposed to be Yoshimune himself, it’s actually quite shocking how angry his scripts sound.  Yoshimune is clearly furious with the person he used to be, and with every story he writes it seems like he is almost literally trying to reach back in time, grab his younger self, and slap him across the face and tell him to grow the hell up.  Whenever I describe his stories as “mature”, this is usually what I mean.  It’s not that I am trying to pass off his writing as a complex work of art.  What I mean is that most anime stories (and especially most manga and light novels) are written by young people, so of course they celebrate youth.  Many push the idea that one is “special” – that one is better than those around him, that one is capable of changing the world.  Yoshimune writes from an older perspective (he’s 46 as of this writing), and he’s mature enough to look back and see youth as a series of grave mistakes that one hopefully learns from and grows out of.  So a character like Yuuya spends much of his time being told that he is not special, that he needs to get his shit together and join the rest of society, and it is a major source of satisfaction as we watch him do so.

Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and Muv-Luv were conceived of at the same time, and at the core their stories both focus on the theme of “nostalgia”.  After a series of emotionally brutal events, the main character begins to look back on and wish for a simpler era – his school days set in peaceful times, without any adult pressures or burdens.  A way opens up for him to return to that time, and he flees from the present day to live in his memories of what once was.  However, his selfish actions only cause even more problems for him, and ultimately even the world of his memories is affected.  In the end, he chooses to stop running from his problems, and leaves behind the world of the past in order to live in the present.  It was interesting to see the same theme told in two different ways – one as a metaphorical modern-day story, one as a more literal science fiction story – but so much time had passed since these two stories had first come out that I really wanted to see what else Yoshimune was capable of writing.

Total Eclipse definitely showed, from the very beginning, that it would not be a retread of his earlier stories.  There is, after all, not much in Yuuya’s past to get nostalgic over.  While I want to keep this post free of game spoilers, I will say that the theme of Total Eclipse is “family” – perhaps, specifically, the relationship between different generations.  Because of his father, Yuuya was shunned by those around him, and grew distrustful of people.  Because of his mother, he became obsessed with the need to prove himself and, in a sense, redeem her for his father’s mistakes.  Yui is the opposite: she was raised completely in accordance with her country’s long traditions, and adheres closely – perhaps too closely – to her parents’ ideology.  Total Eclipse is, in many ways, about how their parents shaped these two characters and how these two are supposed to relate to their parents in turn, particularly as they grow older and begin to approach the age their own parents were when they were born.

All of these stories are told from a “mature” point of view.  Nostalgia is, almost by definition, a mature theme.  People do not get nostalgic about something until many years have passed.  Very few teenagers can really understand, emotionally, what nostalgia is.  Writing about it convincingly is even harder still.  As for Total Eclipse, it too deals heavily in how the passage of time may change the way people see things – Yuuya, for example, coming to understand how his mother kept working all her life to make sure that he had some sort of connection to his Japanese heritage, or Yui coming to understand how Iwaya wanted to broaden her horizons.  All of these stories are written from the viewpoint of an older person who can reflect on the way he changed throughout his life.  There is always something in Yoshimune’s works that is almost impossible for a younger person to write.  And that, in turn, may unfortunately make it difficult for some younger fans to understand what he is trying to say.  But it’s that quality that attracts me to his stories so much.

After Muv-Luv Alternative came out, I spent years thinking about the story, really digging into it and discovering the complexities of it.  I’m very happy to have started that process on Total Eclipse now as well, being able at last to analyze it as a complete story instead of in bits and pieces.  I look back on this blog and it amazes me how much I’ve written about Total Eclipse – including over 5000 words just on these final “review” posts alone.    And I still feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface.  Unfortunately, past this point, all of the things I want to say involve spoilers from the game.  I always intended this blog to be readable by new anime viewers, but I think that for one post I will break that rule and put up a discussion of the themes of the entire story, including events past the end of the anime.  That will probably go up in 1-2 months.  If you haven’t played the game and don’t want to be spoiled, then please skip that post.  Thanks for reading what I’ve had to say over the past 1 1/2 years.