A Dystopian Bildungsroman of a Visual Novel, Sharin no Kuni

I don't typically pick up visual novels; but then again, I don't typically expect fascinating dystopian fiction in visual novels, either. That is the reason why I am most surprised a story like Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo (Wheel Country, Sunflower Girl) ended up being a visual novel as opposed to more popular media of fiction. As my longest experience with a visual novel, I was surprised at how committed I became to finishing it. In the order of 20-30 hours, I ended up marathoning this over the course of four nights. I even picked up a fandisc for the sole purpose of reading through the backstory of the antagonist, which actually did tie in with the overarching plot nicely.

Before this, my only other experience in the genre was G-Senjou no Maou (produced by the same company, Akabeisoft2). I especially appreciated it for its story of crime and intrigue, with the protagonist overcoming most of his obstacles with quick wits and competent detective work, but I digress. From G-Senjou no Maou and how much I appreciated it, I ended up reading more about the company that produced it and how they wrote another visual novel in which the first "heroine" you meet gets shot dead two lines after she is introduced. I was obviously entertained by this idea and eventually decided to finally pick up Sharin no Kuni just to find out why that would conceivably happen in a visual novel. It turned out to be much more than I was expecting.

Essentially, the dystopian aspect behind Sharin no Kuni, which the protagonist makes clear from the very beginning, is the fact that there are no prisons or capital punishment in the setting's society – instead, criminals are punished with "obligations," handicaps placed on their everyday life in order to compel them to rehabilitate from their wrongful ways. It sounds like a romantic ideal at first, but crimes in that setting are a little more ambiguous with punishments that are much more severe. For example, one of the heroines you encounter accumulated a debt that stemmed from her gambling problems and inability to find employment. Her "obligation" is a day reduced to 12-hours by means of a pill that will "stop" her mind and body for a 12-hour period she is required to take on a daily basis (and it doesn't come with benefits of sleep, either; she has to do that in the time she is not stopped.) Also, despite the lack of prisons and capital punishment, people who don't follow their "obligations" are shipped off to concentration camps, a fate worse than death that stresses the incentive of following one's obligation.

This is the heroine with the 12-hour obligation. (Oh and by the way, there are definitely points in this visual novel where the language gets vulgar more so than pictured, but justifiably so.) The protagonist's self-introduction to his class was a little ridiculous, prompting that response.

At this point, I have to say the concept of obligations was a clever means to justify the fact that this is a visual novel. The protagonist is starting his final exam to be among those responsible for administering and overseeing the obligations and rehabilitation of others (the prestigious title known as "Special High Class Individual"), and the premise is set up with the revelation that in order to pass his final exam, he must rehabilitate three girls with different obligations in monitoring their everyday lives while compelling them to change the behaviors so that they may be considered rehabilitated with their obligations revoked. It is much easier said than done, however, because these girls have real problems that aren't even necessarily their fault (hence how the society of the setting is dystopic and inherently flawed)! The protagonist isn't in the best situation, either, with two of the three girls being from a regrettable point of his past causing him to assume a different identity in the game's present.

Between the protagonist's objective to rehabilitate the girls and him trying to make up for his greatest regret, I would call this a story a dystopian bildungsroman with themes of redemption and sacrifice. I would actually go so far to say that I was not as compelled by the protagonist as I was with the development of the heroines, but I feel like that is to be expected with this genre of games. Nevertheless, Sharin no Kuni features a surprisingly deep story that I would recommend to anyone interested in the visual novel genre or willing to pick one up for the first time.

This also has me wondering about other great stories uniquely contained in the form of visual novels or other niche genres.

13 Comments
14 Comments
Posted by EquitasInvictus

I don't typically pick up visual novels; but then again, I don't typically expect fascinating dystopian fiction in visual novels, either. That is the reason why I am most surprised a story like Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo (Wheel Country, Sunflower Girl) ended up being a visual novel as opposed to more popular media of fiction. As my longest experience with a visual novel, I was surprised at how committed I became to finishing it. In the order of 20-30 hours, I ended up marathoning this over the course of four nights. I even picked up a fandisc for the sole purpose of reading through the backstory of the antagonist, which actually did tie in with the overarching plot nicely.

Before this, my only other experience in the genre was G-Senjou no Maou (produced by the same company, Akabeisoft2). I especially appreciated it for its story of crime and intrigue, with the protagonist overcoming most of his obstacles with quick wits and competent detective work, but I digress. From G-Senjou no Maou and how much I appreciated it, I ended up reading more about the company that produced it and how they wrote another visual novel in which the first "heroine" you meet gets shot dead two lines after she is introduced. I was obviously entertained by this idea and eventually decided to finally pick up Sharin no Kuni just to find out why that would conceivably happen in a visual novel. It turned out to be much more than I was expecting.

Essentially, the dystopian aspect behind Sharin no Kuni, which the protagonist makes clear from the very beginning, is the fact that there are no prisons or capital punishment in the setting's society – instead, criminals are punished with "obligations," handicaps placed on their everyday life in order to compel them to rehabilitate from their wrongful ways. It sounds like a romantic ideal at first, but crimes in that setting are a little more ambiguous with punishments that are much more severe. For example, one of the heroines you encounter accumulated a debt that stemmed from her gambling problems and inability to find employment. Her "obligation" is a day reduced to 12-hours by means of a pill that will "stop" her mind and body for a 12-hour period she is required to take on a daily basis (and it doesn't come with benefits of sleep, either; she has to do that in the time she is not stopped.) Also, despite the lack of prisons and capital punishment, people who don't follow their "obligations" are shipped off to concentration camps, a fate worse than death that stresses the incentive of following one's obligation.

This is the heroine with the 12-hour obligation. (Oh and by the way, there are definitely points in this visual novel where the language gets vulgar more so than pictured, but justifiably so.) The protagonist's self-introduction to his class was a little ridiculous, prompting that response.

At this point, I have to say the concept of obligations was a clever means to justify the fact that this is a visual novel. The protagonist is starting his final exam to be among those responsible for administering and overseeing the obligations and rehabilitation of others (the prestigious title known as "Special High Class Individual"), and the premise is set up with the revelation that in order to pass his final exam, he must rehabilitate three girls with different obligations in monitoring their everyday lives while compelling them to change the behaviors so that they may be considered rehabilitated with their obligations revoked. It is much easier said than done, however, because these girls have real problems that aren't even necessarily their fault (hence how the society of the setting is dystopic and inherently flawed)! The protagonist isn't in the best situation, either, with two of the three girls being from a regrettable point of his past causing him to assume a different identity in the game's present.

Between the protagonist's objective to rehabilitate the girls and him trying to make up for his greatest regret, I would call this a story a dystopian bildungsroman with themes of redemption and sacrifice. I would actually go so far to say that I was not as compelled by the protagonist as I was with the development of the heroines, but I feel like that is to be expected with this genre of games. Nevertheless, Sharin no Kuni features a surprisingly deep story that I would recommend to anyone interested in the visual novel genre or willing to pick one up for the first time.

This also has me wondering about other great stories uniquely contained in the form of visual novels or other niche genres.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Brass Restoration was the only visual novel I ever tried, but it was surprisingly good. I guess anything like this will likely have the stigma of the fetishistic fiction Japan is inadvertently famous for, but they wind up being more varied than that, even if I personally don't have a problem with porn. Brass Restoration was more about the lives of the students, and yeah there was some affection involved but it grew naturally from the story and never seemed uncomfortably exploitative.

The weird thing in games like this is more about how much the player character is inserted into a given story. The more a cipher they are the better they can be a proxy for the player, but the harder it sometimes is to WRITE for that character; if they are supposed to represent everyone at once, you might find yourself writing unnatural choices to please whatever random person you think MIGHT be playing.

The title of this contribution has been "WRITE makes MIGHT." Thank you for your time.

Posted by McGhee

yeah, but does it have naked cartoon pussy?

Posted by niko555

I have always been intrigued by these visual novels.

But i always get pushed away from it when most of them have that "japanese charm" if you know what i mean.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

But does it have porn? *sigh* If only were here to tell me the answer.

Posted by Bocam

@McGhee: @ArbitraryWater: It certainly does have naked cartoon pussy as well as incest.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Bocam: So do you want to start blogging about visual novels and start making mashups of popular songs with My Little Pony? Because I feel like that has been lacking lately on these forums.

Edited by Mcfart

I just finished reading Houzuki's storyline too! I thought it was great. The dystopia (and the interesting protaginist) was what kept me reading too.

BTW: Is it worth replaying it to get the other endings? Is there anything there besides eroge?

(For the naysayers, the eroge is saved until the end really, and although I don't like it being there, remember that there's actually an audience for cartoon porn =P)

EDIT: Also, I skipped over your spoilers of G-Senjou, as I just started reading it hopefully expecting another gem, but so far it seems kinda...generic. Both the society and the characters. Is it as good or better then Sharin?

Posted by EquitasInvictus

@ArbitraryWater: @McGhee said:

yeah, but does it have naked cartoon pussy?

Man, I'm totally not down for contributing to the relevance of Giant Bomb in terms of search results for that phrase on Google, but to answer the question, yes it does. It seems that this question has been answered before I could address it personally, however.

@niko555: Good visual novels will give the player the option to subvert them altogether but I will have to say that there was one sort of awkward scene of that nature in an early chapter that had to do with the protagonist's past so it couldn't be avoided by matter of choice. In terms of the best visual novel without that type of stuff I've encountered, I'd have to say Key's Planetarian is the best I've read.

I really wish Japan would make original VNs All-Ages first instead of making straight-up eroge, considering how many original eroge ended up being ported to other platforms as All-Ages from the popularity of their actual narratives instead of the ero aspect of eroge.

@ahoodedfigure: That's an interesting point; I've never really thought about the significance of player choices beyond the means of enabling certain ends/certain types of scenes.

I really don't read that many visual novels, but if I did I'm still certain this along with another of Akabeisoft2's works, G-Senjou no Maou would be up there in terms of narrative quality.

Posted by Bocam

@ArbitraryWater said:

@Bocam: So do you want to start blogging about visual novels and start making mashups of popular songs with My Little Pony? Because I feel like that has been lacking lately on these forums.

Considering most of the visual novels I read are only in Japanese I don't see how I can be of help to anyone. Though I'll think about it.@EquitasInvictus said:

I really wish Japan would make original VNs All-Ages first instead of making straight-up eroge, considering how many original eroge ended up being ported to other platforms as All-Ages from the popularity of their actual narratives instead of the ero aspect of eroge.

Eroge sell more. For example, Key's "Little Busters" was first sold as an All Age game but was later released as a 18+ version. The 18+ version sold at least twice as many copies.

Posted by EquitasInvictus

@Bocam: Interesting! I'm not very well informed about the Japanese economy's perspective on these games so I appreciate your insight, thanks!

@Mcfart: There might be something significant if you go all the way with Sachi and decide to settle down at the very end instead of change the world, but other than that (which I'm not even 100% certain about) it's practically all eroge at the end (besides the ending where you choose to not get too close to any particular heroine and decide to settle down in which you end with a nice little slice-of-life after everything settles down and end with a heartwarming group picture.)

Also, G-Senjou no Maou does take a while for the overarching narrative to really get going but I feel like its concluding arc and overall true ending might even be superior to Sharin no Kuni's. What part are you up to, exactly?

Posted by ThunderSlash

@EquitasInvictus:

If you like good visual novel without any of the sex or nudity, you should check out Umineko no Naku Koro ni. The game bills itself as a murder mystery with fantasy elements. Although the art is subpar, the sound design is excellent.

Posted by EquitasInvictus

@ThunderSlash: Oh yeah, I'm familiar with Umineko (to be honest, I watched the anime and I liked it but I know that there's much more to the visual novel). That's definitely in my backlog of visual novels.

Man, juggling between my backlog of VNs and Steam sale purchases is becoming an increasingly daunting task. I'm already going through Kara no Shoujo and that's coming to be a really great murder mystery VN for me. I was planning on checking out Saya no Uta next, actually.

Edited by Mcfart

@EquitasInvictus said:

@Bocam: Interesting! I'm not very well informed about the Japanese economy's perspective on these games so I appreciate your insight, thanks!

@Mcfart: There might be something significant if you go all the way with Sachi and decide to settle down at the very end instead of change the world, but other than that (which I'm not even 100% certain about) it's practically all eroge at the end (besides the ending where you choose to not get too close to any particular heroine and decide to settle down in which you end with a nice little slice-of-life after everything settles down and end with a heartwarming group picture.)

Also, G-Senjou no Maou does take a while for the overarching narrative to really get going but I feel like its concluding arc and overall true ending might even be superior to Sharin no Kuni's. What part are you up to, exactly?

Still very early in G-Senjou, but I plan to stick with it since the same team that made Sharin made it :P

Already got the harem ending and liked it...treating it as the canon one :). Isn't it always an option alongside the chacter-specific ending?