Sometimes you read something from Kotaku and it might make sense. I think what is said in that piece is pretty standard stuff, but I wouldn’t have framed it in the context of School Days. I’m probably too deep in this VN crap to have that objective view. By “objective” I mean people who would play Mass Effect or Bioshock or KOTOR 2. Which by that I mean normal people. Which is not objective at all but simply goes to show how far in the deep end I am in.
Catherine is perhaps the better example. Briefly, the game is about a man and his long-time GF, and the dude’s bad luck running into a hot girl who really, uh, challenges his beliefs and dedication to his GF. Of course, his GF doesn’t quite help with that, nor does the nightmare-ish Q*bert gameplay with some King-Kong-sized infant phantasm chasing after you with a fork. Catherine is a better example about making amoral choices because the impulses to cheat or just “follow your instincts” is presented front and center and the choices you make in that game are very much framed in that context. In School Days, well, you could drone towards the normal or good endings without realizing what you are missing. But the interesting thing about that game is that when you do make that amoral choice, things spirals out like a pretty flower and that’s why it is so fun, even if it ends catastrophically on board That Nice Boat.
I think that’s the basic concept we have to understand before I go to the next point. Got it?
Morals are important things, as far as presenting them ethically and in a way that is not going to offend everyone who will play your game or read your novel. Or at least if you do offend them, make it into a troll so they’ll hate themselves for being offended. Because truth is, morals are not exactly black and white. There are large swaths of well-defined areas where it seems that way, but like everything in nature, things change when you examine the edge cases. That well is a well creators of narratives have gone to time and time again, since the dawn of civilization.
So when Canvas 2 anime ends with Elis instead of the same-age, childhood friend Kiri, I thought that was a great way to allow the narrative to cross into an amoral boundary but do so in a way where it’s actually exciting, even satisfying. The story had time to develop and challenge these notions about Elis’s status as a person and in relationship with Hiroki. Similarly there’s a lesson to be learned coming from Kiri’s perspective. To spell it out more clearly, the game gives you routes with Kiri and some of the students at the school Hiroki teaching at, making you crossing at least one line for every route other than Kiri’s (boundary #1). Elis is Hiroki’s biological cousin (though I’m not sure to which degree) (boundary #2). Lastly, Elis has been under Hiroki’s cared since her parents’ tragic accident years ago and you start the game treating her like a little sister (boundary #3).
By the way, Elis is the “primary” character in the franchise too. It’s kind of a “hard” sell.
I guess it’s safe to say that I enjoyed that route “choice” a lot. Choice in quotes, because I didn’t have any. I didn’t even care what happened to the couple at the very end, but when the moment of truth came to Hiroki it was all sorts of awesome in my mind. It’s definitely controversial in a lot of ways, but I think it’s exactly how to make your story stand out where many others walk that beaten path. Some credit is due with how the anime framed their relationships as well, that it became something somewhat tragic but also something much more emotionally satisfying.
What’s also interesting is that I came to the franchise from the anime, which means I viewed Hiroki as a fully-functional character and not some kind of insert-here-potato-kun (even if he was one). It was hard for me to root for any one pairing because they were all kind of icky, and it seems that Hiroki just didn’t like Kiri that way, even if the two ended up going out for a brief period. (That was bonus: 4th boundary!)
Maybe it was easier for me to enjoy the ending to Canvas 2 because I didn’t see myself making the choice Hiroki did, as often such eroge adaptations invite that first-person look. Maybe it was more about being able to explore the possibility of amoral decision making that made the show somewhat more enjoyable, as I previously laid it out. Whatever it was, it sure took me a very long time to verbalize it.