But no matter what happens, I know that at the end you’ll definitely come for me.
If I’m with you, then I won’t be scared even if the world does happen to end.
Owaru Sekai to Birthday
September 29th, 2012.
According to rumours flying about on the internet, it’s the day that the world is going to end. Of course, Kazu doesn’t believe in such factitious rumours. Why should he? It’s hardly as if a meteor is going to crash or an ice age is going to happen in the space of a month. Shrugging them off, he’d much rather look after his beloved sister Ili, making sure that she’s alright.
But events begin to shake up the town where they live, and soon Kazu has to face the possibility of the world actually going to end.
They say you should never judge a book by its cover. But with Owaru Sekai to Birthday possessing such an unusual one is it any wonder that my interest couldn’t help but be roused? In a no doubt intentional nod to Alice Adventure’s in Wonderland, you see a girl tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole, down the side of a building that looks like a cross between Tokyo Tower and the recently finished Tokyo Skytree. The sun distractingly shines on the border between full colour and monochromatic, rising further questions. After taking in the cover, you finally see the title and oh, what a title it is: Owaru Sekai to Birthday, or The End of the World and Happy Birthday. What a bizarre combination. But it’s certainly one that seizes your attention and refuses to let go no matter what.
Although Kazu is living with Ili, they aren’t blood related. But the relationship isn’t just that simple, it goes even further than that, back to when they were younger. Kazu, Ili, and a boy named Chigasaki were the best of friends. It just so happened that Chigasaki was Ili’s brother. Two years before the VN’s beginning, Chigasaki dies in a motorcycle accident. In order not to cause Ili any more grief, Kazu swiftly takes the place of Chigasaki. He essentially throws away his self and who he has been up until that moment to look after one of the only two people in the world who he’s ever truly cherished. From very early on in OwaSekai a conflict is shown in Kazu as he struggles to deal with his affection for Ili. Rumours regarding the world ending appear on the net as early as the first of August, but the topic begins to gain momentum and in just over a month, on a certain message board over a 108 topics have been devoted to it, each with over a thousand replies. Who knew that people could easily buy into such an absurd rumour? Someone going by the name Cassandra is one reason. They appear on said message board one night, making a prophecy. It details an accident involving a mother and their child… And, lo and behold, it happens. People aren’t sure what to think. But it could have been a fluke. Car accidents are common incidents. Cassandra could have just gotten lucky, or maybe even caused the accident themselves.
The second prophecy Cassandra details happens in the very school that Kazu and Ili attend. Someone takes a knife to twelve people, taking Ili hostage. As Kazu steps in and stops them from creating a thirteenth victim, they falls to the death. Ili is understandably quite shaken from the incident, but Kazu is too. It looks like he’s going to have to face the possibility that maybe, the world really is going to end. Coming into contact with several people, they decide to form a countermeasure group in order to prevent further incidents from happening – if they can. But as time slides by and the dates quickly change, the knowledge that the 29th is drawing ever closer hangs over their muddled heads. For Kazu, it’s not just the day the world is supposedly going to end. It’s also the birthday of the one person in the world who he cares about, as well as the two year anniversary of the other. Surely they can’t all be connected… right?
Our hero is Kazu, fiercely loyal and valuing Ili above all, to the point where he’ll abandon his family and move to a different town to be with her. No matter what he does or who he comes into contact with, it’s Ili’ safety and well-being that’s first and foremost on his mind. But despite that, he is hopelessly attracted to her. It’s a fascinating conflict to see rise in him, unlike most incestuous relationships presented in this medium. He is torn between the promise he made to Chigaksai about looking after her and continuing their easygoing daily life under the guise of her brother in order not to disturb her psyche further, or confessing that he’s the childhood friend who she’s so evidently in love with. But due to Ili’s obvious mental instability, he can’t just come out and say it, even though he does find himself on the verge of it. His world begins and ends with Ili. At the very least I have to hand it to him for not just forcing himself on her and taking advantage of the situation, like I’m sure many other skeezy protagonists would have. Within the group, he can be trusted and relied on to get shit done.
She’s quite a simple creature, Ili. Would smile good-naturedly and serve tea rather than partake in the group’s discussion of the Mayan calender or the pole shift hypothesis. But she does try her best, in her own way. Even though she can’t quite follow the intricacies of what her friends are discussing, she’s not one to sit home quietly while the rest of them are hard at work. In fact, she’d rather join them, despite Kazu being against it more often than not. But it’s not because he sees her as a hindrance, it’s because he cares for her that much that the thought of her being harmed in any way horrifies him. Since birth Ili hasn’t had the best of sight, verging on total blindness. Even so, she’s a deft hand around the kitchen, cooking for herself and Kazu. Due to her disability and living with no one but her brother, how much she relies on him, it goes without saying. While she does cherish her actual brother, it’s Kazu who her heart truly lies with. With all the qualities of being the kind of girl one would want to protect, it’s unsurprising that she came first in CS’ OwaSekai popularity poll.
Kazu meets Mika in cram school, shuffling about awkwardly over dropping something in a bid to grab his attention. Coming across as hyperactive, she’s truly a paranoid little shit whose writer can never quite decide if she’s pushing too much of her ツンor デレside forward. I’ve never particularly found tsundere characters appealing, but Mika has to be down there with the worst of them. But at the very least, she’s not a physically abusive tsundere, constantly hitting Kazu over the most minor of reasons. Although of course she does have plenty of eye roll inducing lines befitting of her archetype and she’s the most hesitant out of all the girls to admit her feelings, although she is the most obvious about them. Believing in all sorts of paranormal activity and the first to jump to conclusions, Mika has difficulty making friends and communicating herself properly to people. One reason is due to the name her parents lovingly gave her (pronounced Michael, written as 大天使, or archangel), while another is deep rooted in her past.
The genre savvy Fujishirou is the resident otaku heroine who can usually be found sighing dreamily over a light novel in Kazu’s class or the library. Despite loving LNs, she’s one girl that has her feet firmly on the ground, reasonably pushing hypotheses forward and calmly thinking things through while other members of the group are panicking and saying frankly ridiculous things. She’s sensible, and is willing to stand up for what she believes in. She will even defend trashy LNs when other people casually dismiss them as being perverted. Now that’s dedication. She lives on her own in the middle of town, and has complicated family issues.
Since the death of Chigasaki, the only person who Touya could really call his friend was a longtime NEET and hikikomori known as Naru who he often spoke to over Texi. Little did he know, this ‘Naru’ character with their mannish speech pattern and openness about topics such as fapping was a woman in her twenties who lived in the floor above him. Unabashedly lecherous and peppering her conversations with net lingo, she makes her younger brother parade as a girl in a maid outfit, doing the shopping and cooking while she drinks and plays games all night and sleeps all day. While the rest of the scooby gang go inspecting public places for any signs of something stirring, Naruko keeps a close eye on the net for any new prophecies or hints of changes to come. She absolutely refuses to go home back to her parents as they’ll no doubt ask her the questions which sends the spines of NEET far and wide shivering – when will she get a job or get married.
With the exception of Ili and two other periphery characters, the cast as a whole were downright appalling which unfortunately, extends to the main heroines. Mika in particular proved to be exceptionally irritating no matter what part of this disaster I happened to be trudging through, and it certainly felt as if she was designed with your run-of-the-mill tsundere in mind, right down to the twin tails. As a testament to this frustrating genre-savvy bent characters kept hammering in what a tsundere she was being, as if commenting on conventions somehow makes it perfectly fine to continue using (or in this case, abusing) them. Fujishirou is into LNs, so apparently that gives her the go-ahead to keep commenting on how Kazu resembles a harem protagonist ripped right out of one of her LNs. What does that say about his character? What does it say about the rest of them? Given the nature of OwaSekai it honestly says a lot about how the main characters are developed when you happen to like the concept or execution of their route more.
For the group itself, getting together and putting an end to something far larger than themselves is a thoughtful, if extremely naive idea. This proves to be particularly telling throughout the common route. The scooby gang lightheartedly discuss gathering rations, bickering about flavours of Umaibo and what to put in time capsules but when it comes to the more pressing issues such as the fate of the world, they’re helpless. But they don’t give up, which certainly worth something. They try, desperately, to put a stop to the prophecies whereas others would scoff, shrug their shoulders and say that it can’t be helped while viewing threads, lazily scratching their chins as they await Cassandra’s next prophecy. One memorable incident predicts someone falling to their death in their very own school, so the group sneak in and spend the night sealing every single window.
The disasters start off as small and local (but nonetheless damaging). A hit and run accident involving a mother and her child ends with the whole world. Twelve people becoming injured and one dying shifts into 40,000 people freezing to death. As the routes escalate, the scope of predicted disasters become larger, and most definitely unable to be stopped by a small group of young adults. What can someone who fully believes in the existence of ghosts yet is unbearably frightened of them do when faced with the prospect of an ice age, or someone who can’t bring herself to leave her net games or VEP board do about a virus destroying villages in the depths of Europe? The obvious answer is, not much. Try as they might to inform passers by and CEOs in charge of big name companies, it boils down to believability. After all, who would believe the words of a frantic sixteen year old girl about rapid freezing? Oftentimes, even the group (along with the reader) can’t believe what’s happening. They talk of government conspiracies and B-movie scenarios as the world continues on its path to destruction at breakneck speed.
While the slice of life moments vary in tolerability, when it comes to the last few days they grow frustrating. No, Cotton Soft, taking refuge in a school after having escaped people filled with murderous intent is not an excuse for a h-scene. Casually taking showers and baths every evening when for all they know the only water left is what’s in the tank is moronic, as is braving literally freezing, subzero temperatures in skimpy uniform skirts without a jacket or cardigan. Hearing news reports of riots and then having a character whine ‘senpai~~~’ in in a sweet voice is jarring. It doesn’t matter if it’s the character’s route, such moments are quite frankly out of place and the routes would have been better off without them.
The backgrounds depicting the world after its end were beautiful, almost tender in its treatment of bent streetlights and bridges managing to withstand whatever had happened. The usual backgrounds are nicely done too. I didn’t have any problem with the CGs until I reached the second route. From that point on, they became more messy and suspect. A character who’s relatively flat chested would suddenly have gone up about three sizes. Faces would completely warp. Slight consistency issues, but nothing too serious. At the very least I don’t recall seeing any suspect proportions outside of the general problem that all of the characters had with the heads being too big for the shoulders. Perhaps the biggest slight that OwaSekai had in the art department was the artist’s frustrating tendency to show panty shots during sombre scenes. OwaSekai is an eroge so things like that are a given, but please, there’s a time and a place!
The character designs weren’t anything to write home about. I especially disliked Fujishirou and Mika’s designs, with there simply being too much going on. Mika would have been more visually appealing if she just had the twin tails, maybe the hint of the bow at the top of her head. My head was sent reeling seeing that she had pink thigh highs. Pink, while there’s red in her uniform and ribbon! Horrific combination, made even worse seeing in the CGs when I saw those thigh highs were pinstriped. Good grief! Fujishirou’s hair was easily the worst offender, with four separate quirks. Less is more, you know? Ili being the key example here. While compared to other characters her design is a lot more simplistic, it is the most memorable. She doesn’t need several multicoloured barrettes or really, any sort of style.
The BGM was produced by several different groups. Elements Garden need no introduction and Project Lights have worked on a variety of titles, from otome to nukige. Their tracks here range from light and airy trapezing about the town ditties to ones with a more serious and darker town such as ‘Light’. The soundtrack in general is fine. Outside of maybe one or two obvious standout tracks such as the SENTIVE produced ‘re-birth’, the soundtrack isn’t anything special or memorable. Something you’d casually listen to while reading OwaSekai. The opening ‘夏の終焉り’ has grating vocals, and isn’t something I’d listen to more than a handful of times. But it fits. Another Project Lights song, ‘Happy Birthday to…’ is a beautifully fitting ending featuring vocals by KAKO and lyrics composed by OwaSekai‘s script writer that manages to pack a punch at the end. It hits you so hard that tears start to well up. While it is played in the majority of the other routes, it’s obvious that it was made solely for that final ending. And it’s a memorable, tragic one.
Ichimura Oma (11eyes’ Yukiko, Gore Screaming Show’s Yuka) did a fine job as the soft spoken Ili, coming across as generally mild but could sound steady and sure of herself when the role required it of her. Kiritani Hana (Hatsuyki Sakura’s Azuma, Aiyoku no Eustia’s Lavria) pulled off Fujishirou with ease, having a deeper voice than the rest of the girls which suited her well. Misono Moriya (Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai’s Asuka, ef’s Mizuki) deserves a special mention for making an already awful character even worse with her shrill whine, making her tsuntsun moments comical for all the wrong reasons. Kawahara Yoshihisa’s (Sweet Pool’s Tetsuo) Chigasaki wasn’t bad at all until he had more overblown dramatic scenes, in which he started hamming it up for all he was worth.
OwaSekai isn’t linear as such, but I’d advise you to follow the story through with how it’s presented. As tempting as it may be to skip around and go with the heroine’s route you’re most drawn to initially, I’d advise against it. It’s ultimately more rewarding. The route order from the above screenshot may look somewhat complicated, but it isn’t. There are a pair of prologues to go through before the common route is reached which there are three parts to. Each of these parts is relatively short and full of slice of life moments before having the option to diverge into a heroine’s route at the end. Just think of it as one common route with branches for each heroine’s route. After the four (technically five if you count the I Am Legend scenario since that must be read to progress with the story, else it cuts off mid-route) have been completed, the final route opens up, then the epilogue.
In recent years with the growth of social networking sites, they’ve been popping up in eroge as an in-game system features more and more. OwaSekai features perhaps the most in-depth one I’ve come across, looking hella stylish and certainly believable. It even features a degree of customization with the ability to change the backgrounds, or to view portraits in SD mode. There are advertisements too which help drive the SNS thing further home, ranging from previous Cotton Soft titles to sites that one reading such titles would be familiar with, such as melonbooks. With such an in-depth system there aren’t really any flaws to complain of. When making a choice which will bring you to a route, ‘CAUTION!’ flashes in yellow. When heading for a bad end, ‘WARNING!’ flashes in red. It would have been nice if such choices were a little less predictable, as due to them you know that no other choice matters. Just to prove my theory, I quick saved before a few choices and the outcome with each choice was the same. So don’t give too much thought to such situations and go with the flow.
While in general I don’t feel as if OwaSekai lived up to what I expected upon first seeing such a memorable cover, it would be remiss not to mention that I did find the apocalyptic elements decently executed. Nevertheless I expected such a unique slant to be substantially elaborated on, with less girls blushing about and clinging onto Kazu’s arm. When compared to other well known apocalyptic titles within the medium such as Swan Song, a more realistic and bleak tone is to be expected. After a promising trial where I expected things to snowball from the second prophecy onwards, it fell into a lull, stopping and starting too frequently for my liking. Tense moments would be followed by inane conversations relying far too heavily on a manzai routine, and like I’ve already mentioned felt very jarring in comparison to the heavy subject matter.
There were several aspects of OwaSekai I had gripes with throughout my reading of it on and off these past couple of days, but towards the latter part of the story an excuse for all of those were made. It’s difficult to discuss exactly what that reason was without spoiling the entire story, but it all felt a bit too convenient. The B-movie style execution at the end of some routes were simply badly written, excuse or no excuse. It’s hard to get drawn in when characters are casually spouting lines we’ve all heard before, with time sliding by quickly. Those parts could have been written better. Certain plot points have also been much better executed in other titles. Due to the brevity of half of the heroines’ routes, it was difficult to get too involved in what was going on or truly care for them. Like, they had one problem. Once they jumped over that hurdle, everything was fine again. It was almost like that was all there was to them, and it showed.
For my first Cotton Soft title, it wasn’t half bad. I’m vaguely interested in what else the scriptwriter has written, so I wouldn’t rule myself out from never touching anything from the company or writer again. It wasn’t that bad. But it wasn’t especially good either. Something you’d knock out in a week or less, with a few memorable scenes and an even more memorable and thoughtful ending.
Happy birthday to the end of the world, and so long.
Overall score: 69%