The protagonist is an unnamed seventeen year old boy who transfers back to the city after a seven year absence, and enrolls in a prestigious all boys school which takes pride in being the best among its prefecture. It’s the start of an entirely different life for our hero, surrounded by faces both new and old.
I first saw the Gakuen Handsome (which from this point on I’ll refer to as GakuHan) OP several months back and I found myself reeling after it. ‘Surely it’s a spoof? Oh gosh, it has to be’, I desperately thought. I assumed that it was something fanmade, and in no way was it a real game which people would actually want to play. After curiously typing GakuHan’s name into my search provider, I was quickly proven wrong, to my surprise. Not only was it a real game, but it was a popular enough with its own league of fans. Its official site has even ranked up (at the time of this post) 905,1567 views. Popular indeed!
How did something so blatantly hideous get so popular, you may wonder? Just for having ridiculous art? Well, that’s part of it. The other part is that it’s a parody of the BL genre, taking the piss out of everything you’d expect from the character tropes, to the situations, to the climaxes, even to the lines that the protagonist himself says everyday. While playing GakuHan, it’s vital that you don’t look at it too critically. It’d be far too easy to just call it ‘rubbish’ and be done with it, because this is a parody and it’s supposed to be rubbish, albeit humourously so. And every so often, rubbish can be enjoyable.
The protagonist is unnamed, but at the beginning you’ve the option to give him one. For the sake of this review and for my own amusement, I chose to call him ‘goldensneer’. Marvelous. At first it was frustrating to read events from his point of view – a painfully simplistic sort of clumsy guy who falls in love far too easily, and gets dazzled by the most ridiculous things. I was getting flashbacks to Starry Sky’s Tsukiko for a while with how helpless he was. It took me a while to get used to him, and once I realized that he too was obviously a parody I almost started to enjoy his bumbling ‘a-ah!’s and ‘let’s work even harder today!’s. Classic protagonist which molds himself around the situation or who he’s with, with a rude mouth at times.
Saotome Takuya is the protagonist’s dear osananajimi, and when he moved seven years before the story’s beginning he cried every night for a month (which he takes shame in when his parents tell the protagonist). Deeply admiring the protagonist when they were younger, in his route that admiration which remained in his heart to that day turned to love. He does terribly on tests, shrugging off zeroes. He works at an okonomiyaki restaurant, and takes his craft seriously. Is forever eating CalorieMate bars, and gets heated up if someone talks badly about them in his presence. Saotome is a play on the loyal childhood friend who just wants his beloved to be happy, and in several endings he saves the protagonist from trouble with a grin and a thumbs up.
Saionji Teruhiko is a teacher at the school who fancies himself as some sort of outlaw or renegade. He does whatever he pleases with a cheeky grin and an easygoing attitude. Has a habit of dancing crazily which can start from anything (whether it’s seeing the first snow, or cheering someone up). To show proof of how he’s the kind of guy who does whatever the hell he wants, towards the start of the game, he dons a peculiar outfit and makes the protagonist dance the samba with him until morning (on a school night, let me add). Supervises the art club and has no qualms about stripping off in front of his students for life drawing practice, and doesn’t even bat an eyelid when his pupil rings him up asking would he accompany him to the beach. Was a child prodigy when it came to art, but things began to change during his sixteenth year.
If you’ve heard of or even seen random CGs of GakuHan before, then Mitsurugi Sayaka is probably the one character that you recognize, due to that notorious CG of his elaborately pointed chin getting stuck in a student’s chest. Yes. Before going into his route I honestly expected him to be some sort of psychotic yandere character, but he pretty much turned out to be an overly narcissistic guy… Although my first impressions weren’t wrong. He did take a shift towards the yan at the end of his route, with humourous results. Famous in the school for being a problem kid, he’s on the football team, and has been playing it since he was two years old. Yeah. To push the star of the football team shtick further here, he proudly states that he became a prefectural genius at it by the age of three.
Being the president of the student council, it’s a given that Kagami Renji wears glasses. He doggedly pursues the protagonist at the beginning in order to rope him into joining the student council… So that there’ll be two members instead of the lone Kagami (he asks the protagonist a total of four times in a row, and says that he won’t permit him to not join). He’s a parody of all the stern and aloof student council presidents in BL, as well as all the rich characters that are heir to company X. Kagami takes his position as being the president seriously, and thinks that someone like the protagonist would be an ideal addition to the student council. He’s also heir to the KAGAMI corp, and when tutoring the protagonist he called his good test results the result of ‘Kagami-ism’. Cares about his grades so much that he attempts to commit suicide when he becomes second in ranking.
A take on the mysterious transfer student. Suga Shingo shows up to the school a while after the protagonist does, but of course, it’s not their first meeting. All throughout the game the protagonist keeps having these odd dreams where somebody is telling him to wake up, that the world needs to be saving, yada yada yada. A staple of series where someone must answer The Call. And in typical ditsy hero style, the protagonist wakes up after every dream and proceeds to wonder what it was about for a line or two, before then skips off on his merry way never to give it another thought. In those dreams, the voices are the same as Shingo’s, so gee, wonder who could be calling him? Saionji calls him a ‘cool’ guy, and he’s fond of cats. Lurks around on the roof, because he’s obviously too cool for the school’s shit.
There are no h-scenes (bar an obscured one with cats and stars played up for laughs), which I think was a crying shame. Just think of what could have happened with those chins! The anatomy! It would have been highly entertaining, even for the non BL fan. In place of a h-scene, what we do get is an amusing kiss scene with each character. Instead of sunsets and tenderly stroking cheeks, the kiss scenes come on like that. You could be reading about someone dropping their eraser one line, and then in the next the character has zoomed in to kiss the protagonist.
The endings have an absurdly high amount of melodrama, as to be expected from the genre. One end even has the protagonist being forced to marry someone else (while in a wedding dress), and his love interest bursts into the church to steal him away. The couple then move to Miami and play golf while going to parties in their spare time. Every ending also includes the couple getting married, with each character sprite saying ‘congratulations!’ amidst a white background. If you’ve failed to capture the heart of any of the ikemen, the principal tells you so after your Christmas holidays in a single line, and that’s it. You get the option to begin a new game or go back and try again from one of your three save slots. And I don’t know if my copy of the game had a grudge against me or something, but sometimes loading didn’t exactly work out for me. If I messed up badly (happened a few times) and went to reload, I’d be back to the day I saved on, but everything would have been ruined. When going through Mitsurugi’s route, the protagonist was his teammate, and had a high amount of affection points with him. But after loading back, I was automatically in the art club for some unknown reason. Being a trollish game, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything less but I was still miffed.
The art, as you can see for yourself is fantastically bad and is what initially drew me to this gem. It’s isn’t merely a case of QUALITY – everything is drawn that way on purpose. The characters are so wildly disfigured and unattractive that they’re somewhat endearing, and their strikingly horrific designs quickly grow on you. There appeared to be several different artists working on this, which gave it a hotch potch sort of feel, to possibly give off the impression that everything was rushed. The majority of the sprites and CGs are definitely at the level of someone who just signed up with a deviantart account, listing Naruto and Death Note as their favourite series and pocky as their favourite food, but some are passable. Even in the OP for some characters you’re shown a decently drawn sprite, and then it reverts back to the pointy chin mess. The shading and gradients are reminiscent of someone who has picked up a Western produced manga 101 artbook, and at one point it’s like someone has used a crayon to scribble.
Despite all of that, it’s clear that the artists obviously know a thing or two about designing. If drawn normally, the looks of the main cast would be right at home in a random BL/otome game. In fact, some of the designs certainly look familiar.
After seeing some of the artwork I was sure that the budget of GakuHan would have been too small (nonexistent even) for the team to do anything flashy with the engine. But it turns out that everyone save for the protagonist is voiced. The seiyuu are all sufficient, and I quite liked the idea of them reading their script through a microphone while lazing about in front of their computer, their script illuminated by its screen. What made me think of that was due to Saotome’s seiyuu. He was too close to his mic for the majority of his route, and there’s an odd sort echo for a while which wasn’t just studio magic. Each character shrieked at least once, and the said shriek would bypass the limits of their microphone and make an awful screeching sound.
Continuing with the playing around of the genre, instead of saying ‘_-kun’ with the seiyuu blanking the name and just seeing ‘kun’, each character makes a fumbling ‘uh’ sound. At the start it’s just an ‘un’ or a ‘huuuhh’, but as things progress the sounds become more guttural and dissociated.
As a parody, it’s not horrifically done. It can be mildly droll with its surreal situations and awkward character lines meshed together, but at the end of the day it’s all stuff you’ve seen before and could have been executed in a much better fashion. If it weren’t for the art, no one would have even given this a second glance.