Join Ella McConnell for Waifu Material, a new monthly column in which she navigates the murky, cherry-blossom-strewn waters of visual novels, dating sims, and everything in between (reader masochism not required but strongly recommended). [Content warning: sketchy consent stuff.]
With one of my most recent visual novel excursions having been the cat-fucking creepiness of NEKOPARA, it was high time to go back into otome territory.The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya was released on Steam back in October 2015, with the game previously having been available on the PS Vita and as a smartphone app. Because of the latter and the fact that it costs a whopping £22.99 at full price, I had my doubts – BUT IT’S TOO LATE NOW.
Let’s start with the trailer:
So to summarise, the trailer contains:
- Copious amounts of pink/purple ✓
- Pretty, feminine men ✓
- Cherry blossoms ✓
- Butterflies ✓
- Sparkles ✓
- Dat theme song ✓
Yup, looks like an otome game alright.
Selling itself as “a popular romance game for women” on its Steam store page, it also says:
- This Game is for You if…
You want to fall in love with hot men
Don’t we all?
Let’s wrangle us some fancy men.
In its own words, The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya’s story is as follows:
A closed island where baby boys are not born…
A unique culture that is completely different from the mainland has been flourishing on the island. In the middle of the island, there is a district where men are gathered.
Some women just want children.
Others are looking for love.
Knowingly deceived by a lie, and deceived in return, all in a single night’s dream.
At the end, to whom is it that you will be talking of love?
A question for the ages, to be sure.
TL;DR: you, the protagonist, live on an island whose culture is broadly evocative of the Edo, Meiji and Taisho periods (late 1800s to early 1900s Japan). In most routes you take at least a quick jaunt to the mainland, but the main thing you’re here for is Yoshiwara, the sakura-strewn red light district inhabited by those sexy, sexy men from the trailer.
TL;DR TL;DR: All the dick’s at Yoshiwara – go get some.
The game begins with you helping a couple escape the island as courtesans are not allowed to leave Yoshiwara. They give you a metric shit-tonne of cash (and a fancy kimono) as thanks, which is pretty baffling as arguably they could have used that to buy the courtesan’s freedom legally instead of eloping, but whatever – it’s yours now.
Also this weird, wall-eyed cinnamon roll is you:
You’re poor and allegedly not attractive (but, of course, no otome protagonists think they’re attractive because otherwise that would cut out all that “Who? Me?” style dialogue).
Also you get this before the prologue is even over:
The eponymous men of Yoshiwara all are – or were – courtesans at the Kikuya, which is a very fancy brothel. This means your options are as follows:
- Kikuya’s top courtesan
- Cocky as fuck
- Smokes like a chimney
- “Slim compact ankles”
- Baka gaijin
- Green highlights
- Best cleavage in the game
- Massive dick in pretty much every route except his own (and not in the good way)
- TSUN TSUN TO THE MAX
- Described as being “terribly partial to Kagura-san”
- Manager of the Kikuya
- Older Man™ (apparently)
- Swag suit
- DEMON LOL
- Childhood friend
- Boring as shit
At last, something we can agree on!
See no evil: art
The game’s art is fantastic overall. The majority of the character sprites are excellent, although occasionally certain characters’ expressions make it look like whatever they’ve been mainlining in order to endure your presence has suddenly kicked in with a vengeance.
If anything, it seems to be the hands and eyes in particular that go astray.
Likewise, there are some lovely CGs (“computer graphics”, AKA the fancy pieces of artwork used to illustrate key scenes in visual novels) as well as some really weird-looking ones:
The backgrounds are also nicely done, albeit nothing special, but what I really want to draw attention to is the main characters’ kimonos because HOLY SHIT THEY LOOK AMAZING CHECK THEM OUT WHAT THE FUCK:
To summarise, all in all it’s pretty damn pretty.
Hear no evil: voice acting and music
There’s no voice acting in The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya, but considering the dialogue that’s probably for the best.
The game’s music is pretty nice overall, but depending on your tastes it’s probably not going to stay with you for long after you finish.
Best described as a kind of mashup of both period-specific and modern Japanese instruments and styles, it works quite well but will ultimately wear away at your patience as it loops for the Xth time in a scene. However, to be fair I’d say this was more a flaw of the genre as a whole rather than the fault of The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya specifically.
Speak no evil: writing and plot
As mentioned previously, the game begins with you coming into some cash and just so happening to stumble across the eponymous brothel.
After the prologue, you select the character you want to pursue and follow their specific storyline exclusively, with minor potential differences depending on which answers you pick in response to a few multiple-choice questions encountered along the way (but more on that later).
Each character’s story has its quirks, but for the most part you start as their client, fall in love, and then try and figure out how to leave Yoshiwara and live your life together – bless.
The protagonist herself seems to be the pretty standard as far as Japanese otome games go: she’s passive, innocent, terminally humble and, of course, a virgin.
A massive, MASSIVE deal is made of this whenever it comes up, easily to the point of fetishisation.
Some of the characters are portrayed as considerate and understanding in response to the main character’s inexperience, but a lot of the time it’s all a bit weird.
In addition to the protagonist repeatedly getting confused by things as simple as kissing (COME ON), there’s a whole lot of sketchy consent stuff to navigate in a couple of the characters’ stories. This primarily seems to come from Tokiwa when he pops up in other characters’ routes to give your chosen fancy man something to rescue you from (ugh), but there are also moments like this:
And even this:
While the former is one of those frequently used (but still problematic) visual novel staples of “I want to but we shouldn’t because of [some propriety-related reason]”, the latter is EXTREMELY NO. Although another character intervenes shortly thereafter, it’s pretty disappointing to see this kind of situation repeatedly crop up just to create some cheap conflict.
It’s hard to properly assess the quality of the writing as it suffers massively from poor translation and typos, but plot-wise some of the characters’ stories could be kind of fun (albeit cheesier than a bucket of '90s Now CDs).
Plus the chapter titles could do with some work, especially considering most of the characters’ woeful knowledge of anatomy:
Whatever your thoughts on The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya, it can’t be denied that the game is packed with content. In addition to the prologue and each character’s main storyline, there are also date scenarios (shorter stories for that particular character), sub-stories, and in some cases even full-blown sequels.
There’s also the frustratingly arbitrary point allocation mechanic used for “likeability” (i.e how much your guy wants to bang you) to contend with. If you want you get your favourite character’s final happy ending (which, confusingly, ranks above the so-called “super happy ending”), you need to pick exactly the right choices and also play through most routes multiple times.
While this is arguably a deep-rooted aspect of the genre and there’s a fast forward button in order to facilitate this, I still maintain that it FUCKING SUCKS and, at least in The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya, doesn’t seem to add a great deal.
In addition to the prevalent translation issues, there are also some outright errors (such as the main character’s name turning into garbled symbols on occasion). In a moment of high-octane sleep deprivation I wrote to Dogenzaka Lab offering my help with the former, but they never got back to me (;_;).
Who’s your husbando though?
Iroha obviously (and curiously the protagonist actually seems well up for banging him from the start, unlike with pretty much all the others guys).
If you want pretty anime boys and don’t care too much about their questionable grasp of female anatomy (and, in some cases, consent) then this game might be for you.