It happened! It finally happened! Nine years after JAST USA’s Absolute Obedience and Enzai, sixteen years after Joinac’s Graduation, BL (Boys’ Love) fans finally have an official English release of a visual novel in the form of No, Thank You!!! by Parade. Translated and localised by Manga Gamer, this 18+ BL game came to the English speaking audience on February 27th 2015.
BL is a genre where male characters romance other male characters. Despite what people may think at first, the genre is less targeted at a male audience (though it does have male fans), and more targeted at a female fan base. Saying that, No, Thank You!!! has made a great effort to attract male fans, even going as far as to create sexual scenes in the form of male-eroge, rather than the slightly sweeter scenes a fujoshi (female BL fan) may expect. This mixture of audiences is one of the key reasons why Manga Gamer chose No, Thank You!!! as its first BL game. The reasoning is that No, Thank You!!! should have a wider appeal for buyers, supposedly making it a safer choice in terms of sale figures. This caution by Manga Gamer is completely understandable, as the failure of Absolute Obedience and Enzai came down to poor sale figures in the end.
…and they all lived happily ever- huh?
The plot for this game is anything but simple or straightforward. No, Thank You!!! throws us right in by starting with a hit-and-run incident. Our protagonist, a young twenty-something male with an impish grin, becomes the victim of this crime by pushing the car’s original target, a burly man named Kouichi, out of the vehicle’s path. The premise is that the protagonist loses his memories in the accident, and so Kouichi kindly offers to repay his saviour by giving him an apartment and a place to work at his bar until his memories come back. His colleagues (and potential love interests) dub the newcomer as Haru.
On the surface this visual novel looks to be all about the comedy, presenting us with an airhead hero and some grumpy men unwilling to put up with Haru’s advances. Comedy does indeed play a part in this game. The humour is mostly centred around Haru and his very bubbly, very forward, nature. Comments like ‘let me touch your boobs’ or ‘can I squeeze your butt?’ aimed at full grown men, commonly come out of Haru’s mouth. The humour may not be to everyone’s taste, but it has nevertheless been done well and consistent. There is nothing particularly offensive about the jokes, and you will find yourself smirking over Haru’s antics, more so perhaps when he receives a roundhouse kick from Ryu or a slap upside the head by Maki for his troubles.
Comedy is not the only genre that takes precedence in this game, however. Do not be fooled by Haru’s carefree smile, Kouichi’s kindly demeanour or Maki’s lazy persona. There are some very dark themes in No, Thank You!!!, including rape, violence, child abuse and extreme body mutilation. This dark undertone stops any ‘happily ever after’ endings in the game, but they do not end without hinting at hope for the future. It’s not for the fainthearted, but it certainly provides an interesting story. Watch out for hints and take note of those double-meanings. Those scenes where Haru plays happily with a crow? Yeah, that’s symbolism in its most obvious form.
I’ll not ruin the story for you all by revealing spoilers, but I will say that the story isn’t a short one and it is well written. Once you have finished one route, more is revealed on the second, third and so on. My advice is to stick to the ‘true’ endings of routes, and to stay away from any ‘other’ or ‘bad’ endings if you are easily upset.
Our protagonist, Haru, is an attractive young man surrounded by an unnervingly childish air. He forgets things very easily and has a very upbeat attitude. Are you in a bad mood? Haru’s sure-fire cure is, ‘ok, I get it. Let’s have sex!’ Haru may appear a bit simple, but in reality he’s anything but. He has principles that are difficult to understand, and a libido that’s seemingly insatiable. Bisexual and confident, he prefers to be the dominant partner in the bedroom. The whole No, Thank You!!! story revolves around Haru and his actions, and slowly, we learn how extremely capable and complex he really is. His personality may well have less to do with ‘amnesia’, and more to do with how he was brought up. Being forgetful may actually be a well-practiced convenience. The act of survival is something he values above all else, and the importance of happy memories is something he treasures close to his heart.
Indeed the saying, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, is well suited to this character… in more ways than one.
Hiroyuki Akiyama, or ‘brown hair’ as Haru likes to call him, works hard as a bartender at Kouichi’s bar. Hiroyuki is both kind and honest, and is the first to befriend Haru. Not having the best of starts in life, Hiroyuki is especially grateful to Kouichi, who took him under his wing. Haru’s power of perspective jumps to point out that Hiroyuki is ‘the only virgin here’. Being the highly honest man that he is, ‘brown hair’ is bashfully unable to deny the fact. Hiroyuki is the sweetest character out of all of Haru’s romanceable options, easily making his route one of the most romantic ones. Morals are important to him, although he seems to be slightly naïve about the world he lives in.
Maki is the chef at the bar. He is one of two bara characters available in the game, his appearance being more evidence of reaching wider audiences and going beyond the more traditional BL. Bara, a genre featuring muscular men, is usually created by gay men for gay men, although that’s not to say that straight women don’t enjoy the genre also.
Maki is a character that reveals very little in both body language and actual language. Speaking is a pain for him, and so he only ever says as much as he has to. He is very professional about his work, and shows his caring side by filling other people’s bellies. First impressions may have him seem lazy and lethargic… and that’s true to a certain extent. Motivation doesn’t come to him easily. Thank goodness Haru is there to push Maki-chan’s limits! Maki’s and Hiroyuki’s routes are definitely my favourites. Haru seems to bring out the impossible in Maki, although the route had a bit of a rocky start. The two also share some similarities that make them a smart match for each other.
Introducing Glasses! Eh- I mean, Ryu Kurosawa. In Haru’s own words, Ryu is a typical ‘glasses type’. Neat and calculative, very few things shake Ryu emotionally. Enter Haru! Anger and irritation are Ryu’s exclusive emotions specially saved for Haru. No one pushes his buttons more, and Haru’s more than happy to keep pushing them! Acting as front of house and main bartender, Ryu is definitely a workaholic. He’s also musically gifted and is a talented pianist. This icy individual also has something motherly about him, expertly preparing homely Japanese dishes and knowing how to care for young children. It’s an odd combination of traits to put into one character, and yet somehow Ryu pulls it off.
Kouichi Inui is the second character with bara traits. This older muscle-man is the boss, not only of the bar but also of a number of other businesses in the same building. He’s very much a fatherly figure, which causes a few uncomfortable issues when playing Kouichi’s route, even more so as Haru takes to calling him ‘Pops’. At one point Kouichi even struggles with the uncertainty over incest.
He is a gentle man, perhaps too kind at times, who definitely lets Haru get away with too much. He also has his own agenda that he is determined to follow, falling into some questionable dealings all for the sake of reaching his goal. If you do fall in love with Kouichi (and why wouldn’t you?) just be aware that there is a scene depicting rape, along with one ‘other ending’ (not a ‘bad ending’) that describes extreme body mutilation that you may find upsetting. Ryu’s route also contains a short description of body mutilation, but I’ll admit the ‘other ending’ involving Kouichi seemed to affect me in a slightly larger way.
The art director for No, Thank You!!! was Shima Sanpei, with 4-panel comics and SD art created by Kazuhito. Both artists have produced some stunning work. Crisp, clear images combined with rich colours, attention to detail and intelligent lighting effects, come together to make a beautiful game. A perfect example comes from the game’s many (3290) CGs.
This particular CG comes from Hiroyuki’s route, after Haru has convinced Hiroyuki to go to a festival with him. Our attention is immediately brought to the two men centred in the image, the background smartly blurred with glowing lights to create that dream-like effect. The clothing is so well designed that you can practically feel the texture of the cloth against their skin. Likewise, in a brief look as to how clothing adds to character design, each yukata is drawn to match the wearer’s persona. Hiroyuki, in his blue, simple leaf-print yukata, matches his young, ‘average-joe’ characterisation. It’s calming and gentle, not flashy but not boring either. In sharp contrast, Haru’s yukata is much more intricate, with leaves and small flowers spiralling all over the grey cloth. It’s much more complex, much busier, with the amount of foliage almost connoting a kind of camouflage, or possibly even representing the number of different possibilities available to him.
The food is charred and glossy, looking deliciously edible. The colours in the background are bold enough to produce that feeling of a carnival, while not being so intrusive as to pull focus away from the couple. Shadowing works with creases and facial expressions, and everything compliments the happy scene presented to us like a cherished memory, the very thing that Haru and his creators wished to create.
On top of that, each CG has a variety of changeable expressions, of smooth transitions that can change the atmosphere of a scene without changing the picture itself. These small movements add a lot to the image while working with the story’s text. We shouldn’t forget about the variety of images available in the game either. Comic panels and adorable chibis are all designed with the same high quality.
It’s also worth mentioning that, unlike the Japanese version of the game, all of the images in No, Thank You!!! are completely uncensored. There’s no pixilation, no oddly shaped gaps to hide away certain appendages. This isn’t always the case for adult visual novels, meaning Manga Gamer really did go that extra mile to provide quality content in its purest, unaltered form.
Moans and Music
The music in this game is quite special. It’s easy to see how songs were created especially for No, Thank You!!!. A perfect example comes from the opening theme song of the game, with music and lyrics by Milktub and arrangement by Kyouichi Miyazaki. With such a catchy tune, this song is sure to get stuck in your head!
There are also some very interesting staff comments in the game that hint to how certain sounds were created, especially in relation to the more, ah, labour intensive scenes… One voice actor describes how he sucked his finger to provide the needed audio, while another is described to use gel drinks for the same effect. This sneak peak behind the scenes makes for some very interesting, and rather entertaining, reading.
Other nice bonuses appear when saving, loading, quitting and starting the game. A character’s voice will greet you when opening the game, whereas another voice will angrily tell you off for saving on those very private scenes. It’s an extra fun and creative way of enjoying the game. On a similar note, if you would like to hear audio samples from the characters, then be sure to check out the No, Thank You!!! website.
Technical Shizzle Wizzle and Bonuses
There are a number of clever technical doodars and smarty-pants mechanisms in No, Thank You!!! that really make the game stand out from other visual novels. One such mechanism is the No, Thank You!!! button that appears in the upper left-hand corner of the screen during critical moments. Rather than simply leaving choices to text-based options, this feature adds another layer to the No, Thank You!!! experience. Pushing this button isn’t always the right choice, and it’s not always clear as to what will happen if you do or don’t decide to press it. What will you say ‘no, thank you’ to? Choose carefully!
There’s also a variety of options in settings that can make the game much more personal to the player. By this I mean in relation to those more heart pounding scenes. You can choose whether you like your men hairy or smooth, along with how you would like Haru to climax. Changing these settings will change what you see in CGs, and it will also slightly alter Haru’s actions in the bedroom. If you’re unsure, then I suggest not touching the settings and leaving them as they are. When it comes to the ‘big bang’ finish as it were, the game will prompt you to choose which ending you would like more.
The game also comes with a handy hint mode that can be turned on and off for those tricky routes, although you have to have completed one route (good/bad/other) beforehand to unlock it. This mode also enables you to see snippets of what Haru is thinking when a decision needs to be made, providing a helpful bit of insight. This mode is also spoiler free, so don’t worry about accidently coming across something you shouldn’t know yet! Another convenient feature is that, when starting a new route, all text that you have previously read will be coloured blue. Simply click the skip button to go through old text, and the skip feature will deactivate itself once it reaches text you haven’t read yet.
Voice collection allows you save those particular sentences that strike a chord in your heart, or, you know, strike something somewhere… These fully voiced pieces of text get saved to voice collection by clicking the blue button next to the in-game text box. You can go back and re-listen as many times as you want, and with plenty of storage space, you can collect as many as you want too!
As well as a gallery mode to appreciate all those nice CGs you’ve collected, this game also comes with a scene replay section that allows you to replay certain parts
(sex scenes) of the game. Parade certainly made this game to please, but what happens if someone suddenly tries to look at my computer screen? Can I play this game at work (do NOT play this game at work… Christ…)? Well, have no fear! No, Thank You!!! comes with a useful courtesy mute, meaning the game pauses and cuts all audio when you click outside the window or minimise button. No worries!
It’s impossible for me to say that No, Thank You!!! is a bad game, it has too much going for it. The art is gorgeous, the plot is unique and interesting, the characters are a lot of fun and the configuration bonuses are like little gems. It IS a good game, and it’s certainly worth the $39.95 that Manga Gamer is asking for. I enjoyed playing it.
That being said, there are small aspects of this game that left me feeling cold, although that is hugely down to my own personal tastes, and I doubt other players will share my view. For someone who’s favourite BL game is Silver Chaos, a game miles apart from No, Thank You!!! in terms of both art and plot quality, that’s probably not a big surprise. The male-eroge wasn’t particularly attractive to me, although I can understand and appreciate why such content was brought to the game. Likewise the plot, although well written, but without any true happy endings, was a little bit too dark for me at times. I also rather hope that the next BL game Manga Gamer brings out (if they do bring out another) will have slightly less muscle-men…
…but again, that’s all completely down to personal taste. If you asked me whether or not you should buy No, Thank You!!!, I would still say ‘absolutely!’. It’s the most high quality BL game localised for the English market that I’ve ever played. If you’re still a little unsure about whether or not this game is for you, then I suggest downloading the free demo from the Manga Gamer website. You can buy the game from the same page. You can also check out my first impressions of the demo here.
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