FLAWED: Tokyo School Life

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Tokyo School Life is a visual novel with a lot of familiar plot points and archetypes in anime. Yet, its sense of joy and cuteness cannot be denied. Where it fails is elsewhere.

In Tokyo School Life, John Smith (default name) arrives in Tokyo for a foreign student exchange program. He meets three girls in wacky ways and they get wary of him at first (Karin especially), until he's accepted into the "family." The girls then decide to plan some "dates" with John around the city for some reason. You eventually get to choose where you want to go for the school trip, and by that I mean you choose the girl you wanna end up with. It's a typical romantic structure that doesn't take any risks.

Sometimes, the game tries to explain aspects of Japanese culture that are obvious for anyone familiar with Japan. It doesn't have a whole lot to do with school, unlike what the title suggests, and it sticks with loads of anime cliches. The fan service is present most times and John won't hesitate to narrate his attraction to these moments.

The art is pretty good, clear and distinct at the same time. The animations (which uses a 3D system for visual novels) are varied and nice to look at. The music is average and sometimes forgettable.

The characters have some great personalities, even if they're common archetypes. Karin is the Tsundere who takes cute things very seriously, Sakura, the shy one who is sick, and Aoi, the one who takes care of them. They offer dialogue that is faithful to their behavior and their quirks. They all do a great job of making the game feel real, with their aspiration, their pet peeves and their flaws.

The worst character in the game by far is the protagonist. John Smith is a tool and a creepy moron, acting like a fanatic around Japanese people, spews out stupid racist stuff about how he wants to score with the beautiful ladies and about how he thinks every man is part of the yakuza. He also doesn't get when people lie to him, even when it's very obvious.

The beginning of the game is funny at times and stupid at others thanks to John. The main routes do have emotional weight in important scenes, whether it be dramatic or romantic. What I find unacceptable is the way the main routes ended.

Karin's route is a pretty typical one, but at times it gets really disturbing, because John becomes a creepy fan of her Idol songs. It comes to the point where he stalks her for an entire day, and she doesn't find anything wrong with that. That's just irresponsible. Also, the main plot of the route rubbed me the wrong way with how much a part of her personality is emphasised, only to be abandoned as a plot point, only then to come up at the last minute, and that any possible consequence that could have happened as a result of the climax was negated by a gigantic Ass Pull just for a happy ending.

Sakura's route is weird for me. She gets into a creative endeavor and basically ignores John's romantic signals. That's played for laughs. When this doesn't go anywhere, she gets sick and then her route transforms into the melodramatic Utsuge type, which is fine. But then the ending happened and I was shocked by one aspect of it (in which John used an object he gained from a previous event in a shady way) that was treated as a "romantic" thing to do.

It's unfortunate that Aoi's route is the most mediocre in the visual novel, with such a letdown of an ending, because she's the most complex character out of all of them. Her way of life is way more interesting that the other two and offers compelling conflict, yet her route's resolution comes out of nowhere.

For every thing TSL does right, it messes up another. I wish I could have enjoyed the game without thinking of the frustrating ways the stories went on.

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