Kimi ga Nozomu Eien
It is summer, and the emotions of three characters have reached a fever pitch. Shy Haruka has a crush on the eternally oblivious Takayuki and is more than content with watching him from afar. But nothing can possibly happen between them if she keeps that up, so it’s up to mutual friend Mitsuki to fix that. After a rocky start the pair eventually overcome their issues, and so spend the rest of the summer enjoying each other’s company. Everyone’s happy, right?
Yet for some reason, the usually animated Mitsuki becomes withdrawn to the point where she isolates herself from the happy couple. Perplexed by her uncharacteristic actions and the appearance of an unknown boyfriend, Takayuki can’t help but become increasingly preoccupied with what has happened to her, at the expense of his girlfriend. As tensions inevitably rise something has to give and it isn’t long before an unforeseen tragedy rips the lives of the three friends asunder; permanently staining those summer tones before they can resolve their feelings. As the sound of sirens fills the air, they can at least be sure of one thing: their lives will never be the same again…
Translated to ‘the eternity you desire’, age’s heavyweight Kimi ga Nozomu Eien is a work which perhaps needs no introduction. Although it would be considered to be one of the medium’s more infamous romantic titles, in recent years there’s been a rise in people seeking it out not on its own merits, but due to a connection with a work on a different scale. To the 1% of readers who mightn’t know what I’m referring to, ask your average fan about KimiNozo and a work which features a cast battling outer space eldritch abominations instead of hormones surging within will come to mind: the impossibly cutesy sounding Muv-Luv. Although I had heard of KimiNozo first, age’s very small tale of love and courage was where I, like many readers, first experienced it. Muv-Luv has earned a mixed reputation in recent years due to seemingly everyone and anyone having read it, very much divided between a particularly overzealous fanbase and those that snootily say its popularity is undeserved. Despite this polarization that only worsens by the year I would still quietly count it among my favourites.
Yet after all these years I still didn’t care about checking out the works it crossed over with, content with the spin-off. Quite the bold claim, but having read many embittered comments about the quality (or lack thereof) of KimiNozo’s anime over the years I expected it to very much be the medium’s take on those excessively broody teenage dramas which feature characters staring off into the sunset while having their weekly life-changing epiphany. Although the anime or VN would have offered crucial context regarding Haruka and co., keeping the above in mind I slid right past it. But after checking out a certain title last year which involved a love triangle I was curious what else the medium had to offer and what may have inspired it. After experiencing another thematically similar work my interest had finally been piqued and I was lead to the summer before White Album 2‘s winter. KimiNozo‘s reputation precedes itself so I had in, in retrospect, unrealistically high expectations before starting it. While age is a fairly prolific company I had only experienced the original Muv-Luv trilogy, and so expected a work along the lines of Muv-Luv Extra but with generous heapings of Muv-Luv Alternative’s pathos and intensity.
As I have mentioned in other entries, the real draw in works that deal with a love triangle is its characters. If there’s a limp in the herd it falls apart before every really beginning and threatens to drag everything else down with it. KimiNozo’s limp would be its protagonist Takayuki, a loathsome milquetoast who all too easily infuriates. During the early stages our Yuuji Everylead treats one of the girls interested in him so shamefully that you’re left stunned at how the side characters don’t rip him a new one. His foolishness transcends expected VN protagonistitis levels, safely earning him a place in the unholy trinity of Everyleads along with School Days’ Makoto and the original White Album’s Touya. Fans may give Haganai‘s token Everylead-kun shit for that one stunt he pulled, but these guys wrote the fucking book on obliviously destroying everything they touch. A character berates our slimeball over where his loyalties lie, and he melts into a pile of wobbly jelly before she rushes off to confirm elsewhere since she sure as hell isn’t going to drag a coherent answer out of him. A heroine has to actually ask ‘you’ve chosen me, right?’ – Takayuki’s inner thoughts are ellipses, followed by shaky assent. He’s not convinced, and neither are you.
But, were you ever?
You may expect the heroines to at least be of interest to make up for how truly awful he is but it’s not as if they prove to be that much better, especially during those crucial early stages where the reader should be warming up to them. The gruesome twosome instead morph into irritating staples, a far cry from the valiant members of the Valkyries putting their lives on the line in Muv-Luv’s Betaverse. Haruka possesses a timorous nature, fumbling and bumbling around Takayuki to the point where it’s clear to all (except the man himself, of course) that she’s smitten. She’d like to major in child psychology, our Haruka, for she holds the grand dream of… drawing picture books? What a noble cause! At the opposite end of the spectrum lies eternal second choice Mitsuki, a spunky member of the swim team destined for great things. She gets along with everyone – but gets along with Takayuki a little better than most. Despite constant bickering they’re joined at the hip and banter flows easily. As a mutual friend of Haruka and Takayuki, Mitsuki pushes them together despite awkwardness on their behalf, smirking and making excuses to leave as Haruka blushes while Takayuki whistles on, oblivious. After the couple finally overcome their awkwardness it seems as if Mitsuki’s plan is going off without a hitch…Until it’s clear that Haruka isn’t the only one who has an interest in our milquetoast. You can see where this is going. Or can you?
In similar works which effortlessly capture our imagination predictability is rarely an issue as it truly is all about the execution. For an age (no pun intended), I have no doubt that KimiNozo certainly was the best thing the medium had to offer in terms of dramatic love triangles. But it has been well over a decade since it was unleashed on the slobbering masses and things have changed. Despite lingering doubts and a dislike for the trio which deepened the further I read, I nonetheless persevered with the best of intentions. It was quite a shame then, that my tepid reaction took a turn for the glacial once the lengthy prologue finished. A game-changing twist quite literally crashes into the lives of the trio and it’s out with the old and in with the new before you have time to adjust and take in what the hell happened. The distastefulness astounds, with shock value being more central to the narrative than constructing believable characters.
It’s all about upping the salacious scales, the ‘characters’ hollow shells to project the drama onto. For such a well regarded work it places more of an emphasis on the shock value that comes with the twists, and that’s really disappointing considering what its legacy otherwise suggests. Once the inevitable fallout hits you’re left wondering who they are, really. Have you been given any real reason to care about these simulacrums? Now, I don’t have an issue with melodrama once it’s competently handled (one of my guilty pleasures is shoujo full of starry-eyed oujo-samas howling into Dezaki sunsets, after all) but the trio are so overwrought in everything they do that they end up lacking in psychological realism and at worst, feeling cartoonish. You may argue that given what the characters have experienced their intense responses are justified and I would agree if the writing was skillful enough to back it up. But it’s not, painting its successor in stark tones. Although Haruka & co. were initially presented as mere eroge heroine expies in Muv-Luv, they became fully realized characters of their own with what ultimately happens to them leaving a profound loss.
Tellingly, once I naively boarded this trainwreck no one mentioned (what I assumed to be) the rich psychological portrayals of the characters and how they faced the difficult situations fate had hurled them into. It was all a joke, gleeful oh-boy-just-wait-until-you-get-to-this jibes aplenty as if it had nothing else going for it. And they were absolutely right, for it’s a breeding ground for everything I loathe about the genre and everything which WA2 actively avoided despite sharing vaguely similar premises and plot points. While I had much to enthusiastically discuss after finishing the latter’s prologue, I struggled to say anything meaningful about the former’s because that’s not how it’s intended to be experienced. You don’t tune in next time because you’ve grown attached to its cast, but out of morbid curiousity to see how the last shocking reveal can be topped.
This review may be taken as a bilious overreaction, rich even considering that I’d count WA2 among my favourites. After flipping through far too many teeth-rottingly sugary shoujo manga I grew to loathe fictional love triangles with the outcome obvious from a character’s introduction, the first chapter, or in truly egregious cases the very premise. However the word of the day is ‘execution’ and WA2’s handling of such a stale model made me want to reconsider it. And so as the last vestige of winter faded, I was eager to move onto what reigned atop of the pure love throne before WA2 forced it to abdicate. Little did I know, eh. The final nail in KimiNozo’s poorly constructed coffin was its almost offensive handling of a coma patient, the character in question displaying no cognitive deficiencies as such and being in control of their faculties – except when some ludicrously over-the-top scene required otherwise, of course! She is constantly described in sickly terms, all emaciated with sharp corners digging into Takayuki; wringing claw-like hands. Yet in CGs and tachi-e she looks as fresh-faced as they did pre-incident. Drawing her without the ever present rosy complexion and round cheeks clearly wouldn’t be ~moe~ enough. Who are you trying to kid, age?
While I may be tearing this apart with little to no remorse, I can at least begrudgingly attest to moments of potential, however fleeting they were. KimiNozo is at its best during Haruka’s third chapter, notably a chapter which wasn’t in the original release. It needed some downtime, and here the reader is compensated for whatever patience they have left. A chapter seven years in the making, the characters are finally pulled out from the melodrama which submerged them, giving them time to breathe and the reader time to reflect. A much needed chance at humanizing them before it’s too late. It is here and only here where they become truly sympathetic, finally arousing the reader’s interest for they no longer feel like cogs turning the grand wheel of melodrama. In true KimiNozo style however, the welcome change in direction doesn’t last long before it’s all tears blurred by train windows and gotcha! fake outs yet a-fucking-gain. All that good karma built up swiftly crumbles. Perhaps the epilogues for Mitsuki and Akane are different. Perhaps they’re not as I only completed Haruka’s section and made it halfway through Mitsuki’s before finally having enough.
Well, at least everything certainly looks snazzy, the Limited Edition release having the same impressively articulate rUGP engine on display throughout Muv-Luv. Tachi-e fluidly dart across the scene creating a sense of movement unseen in the medium, never static. This allows a generously varied range of angles and shots to be utilized, with some impressively directed scenes. Tachi-e have also been redrawn, and so have the more prominent CGs to reflect this change. Many stay the same however, and do look noticeably dated. The score is adequate, mostly comprised of MLE tier tracks (in fact, several of the more s’lifeish numbers reared their ugly head in it) with one or two nice exceptions. The vocal performance is decent enough, aside from Kuribayashi Minami sounding a touch robotic in her performance of Haruka. Mizuhashi Kaori (Grisaia‘s Michiru, Hidamari Sketch‘s Miyako, Madoka Magica‘s Mami) steals the show in what I was surprised to learn was her first role as a seiyuu. She plays a spectacularly charged Akane.
In the year 2015, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien has become increasingly irrelevant and has not stood the test of time. It is as trashy as it is aggravating, eschewing real emotional depth in favour of tasteless melodrama designed to shock. Muv-Luv Alternative features a particularly harrowing sequence which throws its protagonist into a trauma-fueled miasma, but it’s effective because the reader has grown to care about him. It is a truly poignant but powerfully executed sequence which lingers long after one has read it (if you have, no doubt certain scenes are now flashing through your mind). KimiNozo takes the atmosphere which pervades that sequence yet stretches it out for over fifty hours with only brief moments of poorly implemented comic relief to break it up. There is something new to wound the cast at every turn, and always something new for the reader to gape at slack-jawed and glossy-eyed. But it just doesn’t work because Takayuki, Haruka, and Mitsuki don’t feel like fully realized characters. Why should you possibly care about them and their experiences when you haven’t been given any reason to? Catharsis mustn’t have been in age’s dictionary during its production. As I grew increasingly frustrated with the work I almost started to understand why the BETA had invaded their universe. After reading KimiNozo anyone would.
Moments of genuine enjoyment were few and far between, something unfortunately exacerbated by the LE’s absurd length. With all the extra scenarios added in, this definitive version has the dubious honour of being one of the longest VNs ever written – not quite France Shoujo tier mind, but certainly up there. I expected a work deserving of over a decade’s feverish praises. Compelling and wonderfully subtle characterization which would leave me enthusiastically assessing every throwaway comment. I loathe to make an X of Y comparison, but if you will the Muv-Luv of romantic dramas. Having said that, I can reluctantly admit that there is a timeless quality to the most unremittingly shameless of melodrama which doesn’t care to hide the strings it’s yanking for you’re more than willing to be pulled along. It is popcorn entertainment through and through so if you’re looking for something more substantial you best return your ticket and head home. But if you’re cool with that, then more power to you. Make yourself comfortable. In the hands of the right reader I have no doubt that it would prove to be an immensely moving work for what I may take issue with, another may praise.
But experiencing it a full fourteen years after its release I really do wonder. Perhaps I have been spoiled by more recent titles. Perhaps I should have taken it as a historical piece, acknowledging its contribution to the medium and enduring impact. Perhaps I should have just kept my expectations in check. I expected anything but what I got, for the disappointment hasn’t quite subsided several months after dropping it. The word of the day here really is ‘execution’ and as I end this review on a bitter note it is something I cannot ignore. A shared adolescent pain ultimately giving way to support in a loving adult relationship is dragged down by an insufferable and clumsily written cast. What should be treated with restraint and dignity instead becomes an almost seductive target for drama. It would be a mistake to call KimiNozo the medium’s take on one of those tawdry daytime soaps, but in many ways that’s exactly what it is.