A certain miss Fukumoto Nobuko moves to the great big city. What heart thumping ventures await her…?
萌えろ！ざわざわ青春日記 (as much as I want to type ざわざわ each time I drop the title, for the sake of convenience I’ll be using the less impacting and nowhere near as catchy ZZ) focuses on the protagonists of Fukumoto Nobuyuki’s works. For those that aren’t familiar with him, his most famous work to date would be Kaiji which so far, has received two stellar anime adaptations courtesy of Madhouse (pls make a third soon guys thanks) and two live action movies, which weren’t so stellar. Then there’s Akagi, the more typically suave, cool-headed hero compared to Kaiji bursting into manly tears approximately every five minutes. Most people who haven’t touched any of the FKMT canon will at least recognize his highly distinctive art style, featuring noses and chins that would poke an eye out and stubby KyoAni hands. His works have garnered much praise for deeply going within the psyche of fellows as they’re faced with life risking situations, from geniuses who manage to turn Japan on its head to middle aged losers in the midst of a midlife crisis.
…And those courageous men have been placed into an otoge.
I get it, sure. Alright. I know what you’re thinking. How are any of those guys worthy of being candidates in an otoge, a genre safely reserved for wispy bishounen types? Well, they have their own certain charm. People who end up frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of K-ON! seeing it as some blasphemous blobby mess which brought about the very downfall of anime as we know it with its moe and disregard for noses are ludicrous. The same kind of people who think moe is a genre and fujoshit stretches to otoge and your everyday shoujo then. Moe is a personal thing and can be used to describe anything, really. I think Kaiji is possibly the most moe thing out there. If you watched the series you’d 99.999999999999% end up coming to that conclusion as well. So don’t be fooled! I was once one who wandered through that vast barren land, but I too ended up chasing the light.
The title of this translates to ‘BURNING UP! Diary of a ZAWA ZAWA Springtime of Youth’, a project devised by a group of people over on 2ch three years in the making which was finally released on October 5th of last year. Eight people worked on ZZ, which may sound disastrously uneven but it manages to work. Everyone gets a chance to work on a character they like that way. The website boasts that there are twelve heroes, aged between 13 and 75. They certainly aren’t kidding with youngest being the more 31 than 13 teenage version of Akagi and the oldest being Washizu. While our protagonist is nameable, her default name is Fukumoto Nobuko. Although we never see her face, I imagine she looks a little something like this~
Our darling Nobuko is a girl who’s just after moving to the city attend university. She’s out on her own for the first time, and while she may be nervous she’s eager to explore the world around her and get in touch with her neighbours and the people living close to her. So far, so good. A normal girl, if slightly afflicted with dense harem protagonistitis. Early on in Kaiji’s routes, if you choose to make her probe a bit into his life Kaiji will unreservedly start babbling about what has happened to him, and Nobuko will think that he’s a spy or a stuntman. New Year’s features a younger Akagi and Kaiji duking it out over who’ll accompany her to a shrine visit, making use of the infamous tissue box trick. Who’ll emerge victorious, in this intense battle of wits?! All throughout, Nobuko remains relatively oblivious to what’s really at stake.
I went with Kaiji for my first route, and his character wasn’t the least bit compromised. He still acted very Kaiji-like. Awkward, excitable, slightly silly in his marvellously moe manner. He acted how you’d expect him to act. On first encountering Kaiji, Nobuko’s first impression is that he’s an unapproachable guy with sharp eyes. At first, he’s as gruff as you’d expect. Through a series of zany events both cringe and coo inducing, he eventually warms up to her. Taking the prospect of attending the sales with her, he grimly states that it sounds like a zawa zawa fuelled battlefield, evidently coming to the conclusion that it’s similar to what he usually encounters with various appendages at stake. Once he and Nobuko attend the summer festival together, if you choose to send them to shooting practice the tender will remark that they look like a couple. This leads to KUYASHII MISUNDERSTANDINGS and it’s all so very adorable to watch.
Yet, what’s so great about ZZ is that it doesn’t forget the character’s essence or what makes each of them so likeable. Usually I find with doujin VNs based off of popular series, there’s a little something that gets lost in the process of trying to accommodate the reader. At worst, a character’s personality becomes warped, saying and doing things which you normally wouldn’t expect. Words that don’t sound right end up spilling from their mouths, carrying out actions that really don’t mesh with who they are. To give an example, I read one such VN centering around P4’s Adachi last year (not the one I previously wrote about) and it didn’t really feel like the writer had a tight grip on his character. The protagonist met the bumbling cop one evening during the year events unfurled in Inaba, where you saw him struggling with what was happening.
The scooby gang were hardly mentioned. I’m sure Dojima and Nanako, arguably the two people he even held any remote degree of fondness for weren’t brought up. It was all vague hints to this and that ultimately ending as something you’d really rather just forget. ZZ isn’t like that. You can tell how much love and care was poured into this and it comes off as fun. Like all VNs of this kind should rightfully be. They’re fan’s takes on beloved series, after all. If you’re going to put the effort in making tachi-e and backgrounds (even if you’re just slapping a filter over a quickly taken photo on your phone, blurred enough not to recognize particular bars) not to mention programming the blasted thing, you want it to be something worth showing off. Something you’d feel your chest swell with pride having likeminded fans download it. Not something clearly twisting the characters having them act the way you want them to. There’s shit like fanfiction.net for that (or whatever the Japanese equivalent is).
There are no overly dramatic declarations of love. We know Kaiji wouldn’t do that. Kurosawa continues to get kicked out of bars. Akagi remains unsettling as ever. No one changes, and that’s something worth praising. It’s pure FKMT through and through. The guys get passionate about what they usually do, even if it sometimes ends with Nobuko smashing through the plot with her dense harem protagonistitis. Can’t be helped, I suppose. One incident features Akagi and Kaiji about to have a heated match revolving around quite a large sum of money, which will possibly end up with Kaiji losing his arm (it’s Kaiji, of course he will). But just as he’s about to consent Nobuko barges in. To ease the pain of not getting to see a legendary clash, just picture Nobuko as FKMT in a little pink dress or something.
So, how accessible is ZZ for newcomers to FKMT & Chums? To be honest, not very. You should enter ZZ with at least a working knowledge of all the characters, or else you’ll be bombarded with cameos that would be a crying shame to miss out on. Even if you just went with just say, Kaiji or Akagi’s routes other characters still pop up. When I read this towards the end of March there was still a few works of FKMT I hadn’t read, but reading this made me want to take a crack at them sooner rather than later. You wouldn’t want to miss the references lovingly thrown in, a nudge and a wink to fans like the creators themselves. During a blackjack game Kaiji references his second season’s ending song (未来はオレの手の中), and throws out a few lines fans would recognize. Then he lives in the Espoir apartments.
There are two routes to every character. Picking an option towards the beginning doesn’t lead to a couple of lines changing, instead for the entire scene to be different. You pick the wrong options (like choosing to go to a trendy cafe instead of a few beers), and their date gets interrupted by enemies. At one point Ishida’s son and Otsuki show up speaking nonsense about psychic powers, trying to coax him back into gambling and it’s all a little absurd. Not that it isn’t enjoyable, of course. There’s no fixed timeline in ZZ, with everyone somehow living on the same time plane with all the previous events still having happened somehow. Kaiji managed to spend time underground, yet Sahara is working alongside him at Lawson. Ichijo walks free and fabulously. The three versions of Akagi manage to simultaneously exist despite one living through the ‘50s. Some questions are just better off not asked. The extra menu has some neat bonuses, like a checklist of who’ve you seen. If I had any gripes, it would be that there were no CGs!
It’s easily one of the better types of these VNs that I’ve read. The character designs are kept close to the originals, and so are the situations, where the setting allows. It’s a pity that there aren’t as many SUPER INTENSE MINDGAMES as you see in the series… But then again it’s an otoge. What did you expect?
It can be downloaded right here.