CAGE -OPEN-

“Starting tomorrow for a duration of eight days, everyone here shall partake in a game.
Its rules are quite simple – make use of your luck and power…
As a prize, fifty million yen shall be bestowed upon the winner.
So first off, everyone place your hands within your pockets.
If you happened to have found a coin, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations.
For that, is a token which happens to be worth fifty million yen.”

CAGE -OPEN-

It’s a regular old day for our hero, Konno. Once he finishes up with work he stops at the usual supermarket. Greets his family on returning home, and heads to bed. He has a most pleasant dream… Although, something seems off. An unusual feeling envelops his subconscious. Once Konno rouses, to his surprise he isn’t in own his bed after all. His mattress has become the rough, dirty ground – his duvet the crisp, uninviting air. Surrounded by black body bags, once he takes his surroundings into account he notices that he has unexpectedly found himself in the long since abandoned theme park known as Kumazawa Family Land. Had he even made it home in the first place?

In a peculiar space devoid of any laws or morals, Konno and 47 others like himself lose consciousness and are transported to this sinister place. The reason? Each of them have an equal chance at obtaining fifty million yen. No fancy collars are used to keep them in check, for this game exposes a more raw and feral side where anything goes. It’s do or die time, and to get through this working alone simply won’t cut it. In order to survive, he has no other choice but to partner up with someone.

If you were presented with the chance to obtain an absurdly high amount of money, how do you think you’d fare? Whereas many would dive in without the slightest hesitation, those more wary would hang back, leaving the monkey’s paw gingerly where they found it. A wise decision, for plots like these always have some sort of catch to them. CAGE‘s take on this is nothing special, so far (for OPEN comprises but half of the tale) – the reader is presented with a large group of people, all who have an equal chance at obtaining this large sum. Its catch is, that they must brutally slaughter each other in order to obtain it. Unlike other VNs which dabble in this sort of thing, the morality of what they’re doing doesn’t play a large part. We’ve no pacifistic childhood friend in order to keep the protagonist grounded, no young character tagging along in order to keep him from losing his innocence, and no reluctant acquaintance who chooses to refrain from indulging in such vulgar games with plans for reformation. Instead, what we have are a group of regular joes who are more than willing to get their hands dirty.

All 48 participants have been supposedly chosen at random in order to eliminate the possibility of people behind the scenes showing bias. In order to obtain the grand prize, they must utilize the power of their own luck. That is something which above all is key in this game that takes place somewhere which once hosted children’s dreams: now adult’s nightmares. The sum is represented by a token which one unlucky man has been graced with. For just over a week, everyone lives their lives but once dusk falls, are all knocked out and dragged there no matter how much they refuse. It doesn’t matter where they are – they will be found. With such an intricate set-up, it may come as a surprise that there are very little rules when it comes to this particular game, which in turn exposes a more savage side to each of the characters once they let their instincts take hold. That’s not to see the overseers don’t get involved, however, with each of them providing nightmare fuel being dressed as Kumazawa Family Land’s lovable mascot, Kibatarou. Lovable for being armed with a gun, that is, one which they won’t hesitate to use. Said rule breakers are executed in sight of everyone, flippantly. There are no silent jobs here of snuffing someone who betrays them out.

The big no-no here is surprisingly simple; people searching for the coin in the daytime, and fighting each other for it. You think they’d have a better chance at night where that thing is allowed instead of during the daytime surrounded by others, where you have much less of a chance to draw attention to yourself and the game. But if something has been dangled in front of someone and they’re explicitly told not to take it, they will. It’s human nature, and as early as the second day someone breaks this one rule. After causing a scuffle earlier that day, it results in him being hung. His body creaking with every swing as ‘Auld Lang Syne’ bleeds through the speakers – a sign that the nightmare is over… At least for one night, for they all must relive it for the next week. In the midst of this, we have a regular guy Konno whose only chance at survival lies in partnering up with someone.

I first encountered CAGE per a most enthusiastic recommendation of someone over a year ago. While the art looked like it came courtesy of someone who learned anatomy through nonchalantly eying bargain bin BL manga – I was willing to overlook it. So, I proceeded to download the trial (which consists of the prologue). I wasn’t exactly blown away by what was presented, with it coming off very much like your regular battle royale scenario but with more shoddy intricacies lying at its core. Yet, there was something about it which managed to strike a rusty chord with me. What can I say, I’m a sucker for atmospheric closed circles with something bubbling under their gloomy surfaces, and CAGE fits the bill quite nicely.

Characters

For better or worse, our hero Konno is a normal kind of guy. He’s of average intelligence, in his early twenties, and still lives with his family. Adding to that, he works at a dead-end job as a delivery man with little variation throughout his grey coloured life. He stops at the same supermarket after work everyday, and changes into comfortable clothes once he reaches home. Perfectly normal in every respect, so why would someone like him get chosen to partake in a most dangerous game? Upon being thrown into this life altering situation, he questions what the hell he’s been thrown into and dislikes it, sure, but isn’t extremely moralistic about it. He’s not some do gooder shounen hero who proceeds to swim against the tide and valorously goes about seeking the way out, roping in adoring members to his merry band. It’s survival of the fittest, so he adapts. If Konno has to, he will fight.

Upon waking up in such a hellish place, Nitta is the first person that Konno meets, snarkily telling him that the ground isn’t a futon. A scruffy yankee who needs a haircut with his mouth in the shape of an へ never getting enough sleep, he awkwardly tells Konno to look out for himself. While he may appear surly and downright icy at times, he is conscientious to a degree. Picking up Konno’s dropped cola and calming him down somewhat after first waking up, it’s clear that he isn’t just the unfriendly guy he appears. However, he does have a darker, more vicious side to him. Having no interest in the prize at stake, Nitta has a more personal reason for his involvement in the game – and that’s to search for a close friend of his who has seemingly disappeared. But as to what kind of person he is, Nitta won’t let the information slip so easily. After joining up with Nitta, part of their deal is to search for his friend, and Nitta is the kind of person who takes that deal very seriously…

The most overtly batshit out of the cast is the iron pipe wielding Yoshimoto. Animal-like, he’s the guy Konno takes the longest to warm up to. It makes you wonder when will those instincts of his will kick in. He gives off the most feral impression, some sort of cognitive dissonance thing going on with him giggling while smashing people apart. You can tell he’s not all there, leaving Konno likening him to an alien. You can’t really blame the guy for all the dehumanizing impressions, for when there’s serious shit going on all Yoshimoto wants to do is play a game of tag, with viewing things like machine guns as toys to him. When Konno ends up vomiting over something early on, Yoshimoto laughs in response, telling him what an ugly face he has and that he’s an utter riot. Destruction follows in his wake, with him bathed in ugliness. For if an ugly thing cannot be loved, then…

Yagasaki may be the least capable out of the lot when it comes to physical work, but mentally, possesses the most prowess. It comes as no surprise then, that he fights his own battles in an entirely different way. And oh, he can fight dirty. Very dirty indeed. He comes off as a smooth, relatively easygoing guy from Osaka who speaks with a regional accent. But like many of CAGE‘s characters, once his route progresses, that view of them also gets flaked away – bit by scritchy bit. His route above all the others will keep the reader guessing until the final moment.

A fabulous hairdresser who takes great care in his appearance, Kujo’s compassion for Konno lies deeper than the sea. He’s easily moved by the most minor and trivial of actions, leading him to lavish praise on Konno – much to his obvious embarrassment. Unsurprisingly given his profession, Kujo’s weapon of choice are pairs of scissors. He’ll use them effortlessly in order to protect the fellow who he’s been besotted with for only a few days. After all, what’s a few dead bodies when it comes to the safety of his beloved? As you can imagine he’s something of a yandere, suffocatingly dere towards Konno. A real softy. I found his routes to probably be the most dull, a bit milder than the others. But that’s not to say he wasn’t as brutal, with at one point him ripping off someone’s fingernails. One by one – ouch. Kujo here has more of an appeal for those who favour the ガチホモ types.

Impressions

CAGE takes place in late winter, showing us days devoid of warmth with colourless skies. It marks a complete contrast to the pitch black ones the characters fight under in Kumazawa Family Land, their screams and blood stains fading away into the night. During the day, Konno can’t escape from his responsibilities. He still has a job to go to, and a family to interact with. After the night is over he’s thrown in front of his home, and if he’s lucky, might even make it through the door. Naturally this carry on worries his sister, Shizuka, who’s enough of a fusspot as it is. As well as her, other residents of their home include their parents, another two sisters, and a little brother. Having witnessed someone’s head being smashed apart hours beforehand, he tries to pull himself together at breakfast when it comes to not letting his siblings know what’s getting to him… With little result. The world stops for no one, and time isn’t automatically frozen once the characters are hurled through the gates with normality giving way to abnormality. Things like his youngest sister telling him the latest gossip from nursery, his mother goading him about chores, or the TV fuzzily delivering its news, are all minor things which bit by bit create a world he can’t leave behind. Duties, you know?

What goes on in Kumazawa Family Land stays in Kumazawa Family Land. He sucks it up and goes about his life until the other participants’ lives tangle with his. There’s no real sense of romantic love to be found, instead a sense of mutual respect sprouting from a bed of unhealthy fixation. Save for Kujo’s route who’s very open with his affections, you have to read between the lines when it comes to other character’s feelings. That’s not something I dislike though, as it gives one more to think about. Our protagonist and his chosen partner acknowledge each other for who they are, often begrudgingly. Konno isn’t some holier than thou saviour who goes around preaching about how horrible the game is trying to make as little sacrifices as possible healing broken boy’s hearts along the way – he knows what he must do to survive, and so does everyone else. He acts how most people would in such a situation. And, so do the others.

CAGE‘s Engrishy but affecting tagline is ‘Only you and I have to know my feelings all of the world‘, which succinctly sums up its core. In each route, the concept of forging bonds in the midst of a savagely inhumane world is shown, where it would be too easy to betray one another. Trust is a major issue here for if Konno and his chosen partner lack it, how can they progress, let alone win? One character is willing to stick with Konno even if it means he’s about to lose fifty million yen. Another just wants to find someone, having no need for things you can place a monetary value on. These characters who initially come across as being the dregs of society are thrown together, and all display a tenderness that perhaps you wouldn’t expect. But like people tend to be, none of these guys are honest or decent. In that respect, it reminds me of FKMT’s Kaiji with all these ill-fated people scrambling for something, desperate to reach greater heights when they’re almost predisposed to fail in the game of life.

So you get that it’s a character intensive game, but what about getting into the real meat of a set-up like this – its plot? The intricacies of this most dangerous game? It’s a shame, but nothing like that gets revealed in this, for OPEN only tells half the tale LOVE&DESTROY have planned. Whereas this focuses on Konno and the rest of the players struggling and accepting their fate as a result of being thrown into this, CLOSE shifts towards those hooded figures gleefully pulling the strings. Will there ultimately be a thread which does manage to connect everyone, like these plots so often do?

Kumazawa Family Land used to be an extremely popular location for families and couples alike and everyone in between, often having a fifty minute waiting time for its rides, just like Disney Destiny Land. How did it grow to become dilapidated, warping from a place which once hosted children’s dreams to one hosting an adult’s nightmare? With its location deep within the mountains and awkward traveling prospects, perhaps its days were numbered from the beginning… Like the characters partaking in the game. Throughout OPEN, glittering fragments of truth shine through the darkness. Konno and the reader are never really told anything about what’s going on, which is to be expected considering the focus on the participants. But you can assume. Piece your own evidence together as you go along, taking note of things. How were all of these characters selected?

CAGE for the most part, was surprisingly well written. It was a little more difficult to read than the average BL, I felt, but the pay off was worth it. After a little mishap involving saves (see what I wrote in the system portion), I went ahead and read the common route portion again earlier this year. And, I didn’t mind it. The writing is decent enough to guide you through the repetitive music and poor art. It offers a sense of liveliness, and each character has their own certain flare. Props go to the writers for not making all the characters more or less apply to that well worn ‘b-but we’re guys!’ trope, with several of the characters being gay, and not making a big deal out of it. Casual fuck buddies are spoken of, and while Konno isn’t much of anything he doesn’t object much either. It’s refreshing.

The guro scenes were written quite decently, enough to make one feel squeamish, make you wince a bit. The kind where you’d think, ‘oh jesus he did not just do that/cut that off/insert that there’. It gives a real strange sense while reading, but it’s not unwelcome. It adds to the atmosphere, creating a sense of tension. The characters are in a game where they’re encouraged to beat the stuffing out of each other for several million quid, it’s expected that there’d be depraved happenings! To compare to a more popular BL work, if Keisuke’s infamous screwdriver scene in Togainu no Chi made you iffy, you shouldn’t even touch this. If you enjoy a bit of guro, you’ll enjoy this – and believe me, no detail is left spared. Such scenes even make our protagonist wake up only to find out he threw up bile all over his bed.

Overall, there’s something bitter about this. Bitter, but not unwelcome.

Graphics

The art is easily the weakest aspect of OPEN, as you can quite evidently see. It’s distractingly bad, featuring dangerously sharp chins which would fit comfortably in Gakuen Handsome. If this were a parody of sorts or had any ounce of humour outside of a dry remark here and sporadic manzai routines there then these chins would have been used as weapons. Those things need a hazard sign and could easily be summoned as a hero’s individual weapon during a holy grail war. The anatomy is an absolute shambles with torsos being literally twice as long as they should be, giving the impression that the cast’s average height is between nine/ten feet. While in this industry across all mediums it’s a given that characters have deliberately elongated bodies, but there’s no excuse for making it so obvious.

Let’s take Steins;Gate‘s Kurisu as an example of this. With her gazelle-like legs she looks about seven feet, despite being officially touted as 5’2. But despite that obvious visual contrast, nobody fusses over it because she looks good. As much of a problem I have with huke’s art in general, it fits. The characters in CAGE on the other hand, do not look good. They look ridiculous. With Nitta’s introduction I got the impression that for the first meeting L&D were pushing him as a mysterious and possibly intimidating character, with eyes obscured paired with an unreadable expression. Instead I found myself not taking him at all seriously due to his looking about twelve feet. In cases like this I get over any qualms with the art after about an hour, half an hour, but all throughout Nitta’s route I kept wondering if he had strayed from the Captain Tsubasa team in a sleepy daze. He makes the rest of the (named) characters not look as bad. Various characters have even less effort put into them, with all their hands clenched in fists (I know what you’re up to, artist) or left intentionally off the screen, and a black gradient taking up their face.

At the very least, if the characters were drawn competently their designs wouldn’t be half bad. Generic, sure, but nonetheless not entirely awful. Nitta dresses in dull colours, Yoshimoto wears a tracksuit, and the other two’s outfits are normal enough too. One of the higher ups looks like he’s hosting an entire chicken coop on his shoulders, once again lessening any possibly intimidation. Along with their chins, their hair may very well be used as a back up with their jaggedness reminiscent of icicles with how brittle they look. The backgrounds are blurry affairs and out of everything has the least amount of work put in. Kujo works as a hairdresser, and his saloon was represented as a blurry, zoomed in shot of a tiled floor. All throughout there’s a portion in the top left which shows the reader which route they’re on, and what day it is. While this can certainly be helpful as the routes tend to slide by quickly, it does take up a sizable portion of the screen which the artist, for the most part, didn’t take into account.

Sound

Given that CAGE is a doujin title, it’s not really a surprise that it’s unvoiced. It’s a right shame but during my course of reading I tended to assign seiyuu with the characters anyway. Since the company’s upcoming title Psychedelic is set to be voiced (they’ve a suggestion poll open), LOVE&DESTROY have stated that if CAGE were to be remade then it would be voiced. However, considering the characters use various terminology that’s banned by various broadcasting committees a significant part of the character’s dialogue would have to be rewritten.

Most of the music was produced by SENTIVE, who you may be familiar with if you’re a fan of doujin VNs. Early on when the rules of the games were announced, a familiar track started playing. It was 朱色の回転木馬 which also, coincidentally, featured in an Umineko no Naku Koro Ni school life spin-off a few years back. Most of the music is fine, with few brilliant tracks. ‘Last Whisper (SLOS Arrange)’ played during a climactic scene in both Nitta and Yoshimoto’s routes. One sombre melody (‘Shine@ – The Work in 2000 -‘) was brutalized merely fifteen, twenty seconds after it begun introducing cringe-worthy synths which would be more at a home in an eighties cop drama set in Miami with pastel coloured suits and big hair everywhere rather than a BL title where people are forced to murder each other. The track ruined the atmosphere of several particularly tense scenes that I had to force myself to mute it and listen to another more fitting track instead which had nothing to do with CAGE. It was far more apt!

Both the OP and ED were composed by Sentive with vocals from Actuo, who some may be more familiar with as having worked on Luckydog1‘s OP. I thought each of the songs were sort of crappy, really. The OP ‘Cage-go-round’ fits showing a cool sort of stop motion effect with introducing the characters. Its ED ‘Where are you’ is a nondescript R&B thing, sounding like it was originally produced over a decade ago giving off a dated feel which doesn’t mesh with the series at all.

System

CAGE is split into two sections until the routes diverge, ‘daydream’ which takes place as Konno goes about his business during the day, and ‘nightmare’ as he’s shoved into the unwelcoming darkness of Kumazawa Family Land. The routes diverge during the third day, and you’re given a series of choices before the routes split again with love and destroy routes. Each character has them along with a total of maybe seven endings each, making a total of 29. I went in order of Nitta -> Kujo -> Yoshimoto -> Yagasaki, but it doesn’t really matter which order you go as they’re all relatively self-contained. For reference, in the ED and CG sections the order is Nitta -> Yagasaki -> Kujo -> Yoshimoto. The routes and endings all have really cool titles too which don’t mean much of anything, such as ‘Crop Circle’ and ‘Frog’s Song’.

The backlog is terrible, with its font colour assimilating into the dark backgrounds. What’s the point of even having a backlog, in that case? The system is incredibly buggy. Through my reading of the Nitta’s route last year, whenever I got to a certain point it kept crashing. I applied a few fixes but none of them really worked, until I downloaded a patch of sorts from L&D’s site. That did the trick, so keep that in mind if you’re running into similar trouble. Another problem I encountered was more recent, and it was one that made me incredibly sour for a bit. I was nearing the end of Kujo’s route (had all but one ending to see), when my computer had a minor crash. ‘No worries,’ our unsuspecting reviewer thought as she went to load everything up again, ‘I’ll just load and skip to where I was-‘. To my UTTER FURY, everything in-game had gone. All my carefully worked out routes towards endings, my save files (including choice screens for this review) – gone. Yet funnily enough, CAGE‘s folder still showed the saves. Strange, that.

With characters engaging in deathly combat, there would be a guro filter. In my opinion it’s unneeded as most of the guro visually depicted in the CGs are tame. Anything which may initially appear graphic is toned down a great deal thanks to the amateurish art. Early on a brain smashes on the pavement in front of Konno. The censored CGs were available for viewing with extraction, and there was really no need for it. In the CG I posted for Nitta above, the blood splashes were censored. Was it needed? Can you even see what’s going on there? That’s just the visual side of things. What CAGE really needed a filter for, was the writing.

Overall…

CAGE -OPEN- has taken me over a year to read, but in case you couldn’t tell from this review – it’s not as if I dislike it. It’s the sort of title you can easily come back to after a couple of months, maybe even a year. This is not a bad thing, for it’s the kind of VN that would give you a cool nod, and offer you a drink without saying much if you happened to slide next to it at a bar. The score I ultimately ended up giving OPEN doesn’t really reflect my feelings on it as a whole, which is why you should never take scores (especially my crappy ones) as a concrete indication of how much I like something. It is undeniable that the production values are a shambles. Yet, while there are a few things that OPEN does wrong, it does so much right that it kind of smooths the flaws out. As much as I dislike the visuals, for example, I will concede that the industrialised, raw edge fits the title all too snugly.

This is probably one of the more polarizing VNs I’ve read in recent memory, only being able to pull in a limited audience Even if one is able to push themselves over the art barrier, it’s too hardcore and not romanticized enough to be recommended for fans of something like Togainu no Chi, for example, although that would technically be the closest thing in the genre to it. With Togainu you’d get the impression that someone like Shiki wouldn’t go in for the kill in fear of destroying his carefully preened hair or – god forbid – scratching his leather, but here it’s all rough and gruff, the characters being down for anything.

I’m not especially fond of Togainu, so I do apologize for referencing it. Really, they’re only similar on a superficial level with a bunch of people being thrown into a closed off area and having to fight to the death, or at least to the brink of it with a particular prize or goal in mind. It’s a well worn trope, yet it’s something that surprisingly, hasn’t been deeply explored within BL, let alone BL VNs. So in that sense, with only Togainu to pit it so closely against perhaps comparisons are unavoidable. It is unfair, for OPEN trumps Togainu at just about every level save for production values. If this were to ever be remade, I have no doubt it would beat it confidently in every aspect. Yet, it would never achieve its level of popularity. It just doesn’t have that mainstream appeal. But for only a pair of people of working on CAGE, it is a relatively impressive work.

Hot off finishing OPEN, I’m itching to delve right into CLOSE to bring the saga to, well, a close. Unless its sequel happens be drastically different I probably won’t do a review like this, but maybe a spoiler filled collection of my thoughts on the series as a whole. It’ll certainly be the next thing I start reading, but will that also take me a year to complete? Maybe. But it’s all cool, because I know I can comfortably enter the cage again and leave whenever I like, as I casually pocket the keys and proceed to walk away.

For those who can’t read Japanese, you’ll be pleased to know that OPEN is currently in the process of being translated by schwarzmasa who also, was the one who directed my attention to this. Be sure to check their translation out!

Characters: 8/10
Scenario: 7/10
Art: 4/10
Sound: 7/10
Personal Enjoyment: 4/5
Technical: 1/5

Overall score: 62%

I had viewed the last moments of a man. My heart felt surprisingly tranquil.
Perhaps because of my placing within a strange world, it had begun to affect meI wonder, will I end up dying like he did?
Just like that, with piss spilling; drool dribbling; eyes protruding and tongue extending.

Misc. Information

Company: LOVE&DESTROY (upcoming Psychedelic)
Writers: Kyuuyou Sawaame, Awaya Lychee (Ikemen Mitchaku Shuzai ~ Koi no LOVE Report)
Artist: Awaya Lychee (LOVE&DESTROY’S upcoming Psychedelic)
Release Date: August 12th, 2011
Genres: BL, action
Links: officialQ&Asvndb
Translation: currently being worked on by schwarzmasa
Recommended if fond of: battle royale situations where anything goes in locations giving off a gritty and industrial feel, wild guys doing wild things
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3 thoughts on “CAGE -OPEN-

    • goldensneer says:

      Both deal with Konno waking up in different areas of Kumazawa Family Land, with what happens afterwards shaping his future. In OPEN he ends up meeting Nitta & co and forms an alliance with them, but in CLOSE things end up going a bit pear-shaped.

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