“Anything that’s interesting is good, right?” – Mamoru Fukunaga
At first glance, a visual novel where your love interest is a school girl with one huge eye centered on her face could be a lively rumpus or a heartfelt eye-opener. At least, that’s what I would lead myself to expect. Instead of balancing itself on the spectrum of anthropomorphic girl cliches to base a visual novel on, Love at First Sight grounds itself on the standard cliches of visual novels.
NO. No, that’ s not true. Not completely, anyway. Love at First Sight actually surprised me in that it doesn’t go off the wall with itself just because its main focus is a character with one eye. It puts in a little more effort in building the relationship of the two leads than what I think most people would initially give it credit for. A little goes a long way, and a ‘little’ is what you’ll get in this visual novel.
“…She’s… so damn cute.”
Mamoru Fukunaga is a high school student who transferred to his current school only months ago. He’s average, carefree but can be serious when the time calls for it. He goes about his business with school life, not even looking for love, but one day, after hearing whimpers from a staircase above, something that needed love saw him instead.
I’ll state this now: Even though the title is “Love at First Sight,” the characters actually feel terrified when they first see each other. Unless that’s what love really is when you first feel it. I don’t know what love is… ;_;
The one-eyed girl in question is underclassmen Usui Sachi. A timid, meek girl, but nothing abnormal for someone her age — save for the eye thing. The pair exchange a brief conversation then depart ways, but they both caught each other’s curiosity. Maybe Sachi, but Mamoru definitely found himself thinking about the sudden encounter. The girl, the eye, the bruises and bandages. He was curious and he wanted to know more. I’ll have to say, having a huge eye is a solid ice breaker to use with a potential crush, wouldn’t it?
The story at this point leads to a lovely buildup of a genuine relationship between Mamoru and Sachi. If the bandages weren’t an obvious sign enough, Sachi pulls on your moe heart-strings, but not to the point of being a burden. She doesn’t want pity, but a friend. It’s starts with eating lunch on the same staircase where they first met, sharing manga, walking home together. It’s all so damn cute! Even how she wants him to touch her scabs is gross, but cute! I don’t know if that’s how people hook up in reality, let alone for teens (I don’t know what love is, remember?), but it was nice seeing these two characters inch towards each other gradually with some honest principal. Every other visual novel has characters throwing themselves onto the protagonist, so seeing some effort from both leads that also makes sense is nice to see.
The romance comes soft and sweet, but everything else comes ham-fisted and hurried. Mamoru has two friends who are introduced early in the story and you spend a good amount of time with them. Once they learn of Sachi they eagerly wait for Mamoru to introduce her to them. I won’t detail how it occurs, but there is a misunderstanding that plays out like an ABC TGIF show sub-plot. It’s so cheesy I want to believe it was written as a parody of lame shows like that (“If I haven’t seen it, it’s new to me!“). This part also leads to a scene between Mamoru and Sachi that I feel water downs the heartfelt bond they had going. Or maybe I forgot how damn fickle teens are?
Another aspect of development that could have been interesting, but executed awkwardly, is the relationship between Sachi and her aunt. Sachi lives with aunt Miyumi, a sharp dressed business woman who doesn’t mince words,. It’s clear the two aren’t the warmest to each other. The family history is explained to Mamoru by Mayumi and once you learn why things still appear to be estranged between the aunt and niece, it’s sort of seems like a joke, but it’s played out like it’s not. At least, that’s how it appeared to me. I questioned as to why this seemed like something to focus on besides to show just how isolated Sachi is, but even after things are resolved, making things seem hopeful, I didn’t come out liking the aunt more. The reason she held a grudge against Sachi is petty, and then making her seem too awkward to open up to her own niece just left me confused. What could have been a good dynamic to explore felt slabbed together sloppily.
Through it all, as tightly knit as it was, there was a fleeting feeling of any drive the story showed in the latter half. It’s really the last act when things pick up again and we get decent screen time with Sachi’s bully, Rui Sadokawa, and that’s unfortunate. Being the antagonist who is a bit complex, saving her for the final act really shows how dramatic and intense the story could have been if Rui’s role was more prominent. It’s only a glimpse that we get to see that when the characters confront each other, and when it’s over it’s quite anticlimactic.
Why things appear to start petering out towards the end is revealed after when you complete the visual novel. If you had thought the story was rushed, the creator would tell you you’re right. In the afterword, creator Ray-K explains that he basically rushed through two months to complete the VN in time for Comitia (Feb. 2014). So, that meant cutting some corners; characters, events, and pretty much any moment where you’d think “It would be cool if this happened” or “Shouldn’t this scene have something like this.” Whether this would have made a more predictable, drawn-out story or a more enjoyable experience is unknown, but it would have been more truer to the creator’s vision and a more developed world that’s centered around a one-eyed school girl.
A perk I can say for the story is how it deals with Sachi’s appearance. Sachi shelters herself from the public as much as possible, but aside from her one bully, she doesn’t seem too hindered by anyone else or that everybody is too bothered by Sachi. She isn’t a monster that the townsfolk chase down with pitchforks and torches. Sure, they’re perplexed, perhaps even curious like Mamoru, but even at school Sachi seems left alone – which is sad – yet it doesn’t appear it’s because they do it to ostracize her. Mamoru’s friends want to have her as part of their group and even Rui doesn’t bully her because of her eye, but because she is “spineless.” That left to me wonder if Sachi is the one that holds herself back from the world and not so much the world not wanting to see her. It was something I noticed as the story went along, and it started to feel like a coming-of-age story of the awkward kid maturing, done in a cute and quirky way. It gave me the same feeling as the film I Was a Teenage Zombie and other 80s teen flicks. There’s sincerity underneath the cheese.
I also want to mention one other aspect about Love at First Sight; the music. I love it. It’s a cliche to say it, but it’s true here as anywhere else; there is beauty in simplicity. Ray-K mentions in the afterword that he came up with three tracks of the ones featured and I’m just thinking, “What are you doing making visual novels? Make more music! Or make more visual novels to make more music.” He has an eye for art and I’ll say the same applies for music. Most of the tracks are composed by Kyou1110. I can’t find a way to share a sample of the OST, but I did find Mr. Kyou1110’s Soundcloud page, so give that a listen:
Okay, that music sounds nothing at all like in the VN (hearing glitch and breakcore in the background of Sachi’s first date would give it a Boogiepop Phantom-esque feel to it, I guess). In a few tracks, though, I do hear similar patterns that the soundtrack had, so Ray-K must have directed Kyou1110 to create a track for specific emotions evoked by the characters to some extent. The music sounds similar to that of Sachi’s character, where it can feel isolated and timid, but in a whimsical way. It’s a damn shame there isn’t a release of the OST of any sort since I really want to share a sample of my favorite tune, “OnePlusTwoEqual.” Thankfully, there is a jukebox feature open in the extras after you complete the story, but for now, the best I can describe this tune is that it sounds a little like the soundtrack to American Beauty.
“It’s not like I can refuse her when she’s staring at me with that beautiful, shining eye…”
What’s more striking than a character with one eye is the style and designs of Ray-K. Sachi is a cute, little cyclops among people that look like the walking dead. The characters really do like dead people who are going about their business. It would be incredibly clever if this was intentional on part of showing how Sachi isn’t as abnormal as others would be quick to call out. It may be just Ray-K’s way of designing characters, though. Either way, I like it. Visual novels, especially bishoujo games, usually go for the sugary, cloy designs using maybe a pastel color palette. The characters in LaFS are lanky, skin as pale as a corpse, fitted in drab-colored attire, and the shadow under their eyes make it look as though no one has slept in, well, ever. The afterword in part of the extras shows the history of how the VN came about and how Sachi was originally just an illustration Ray-K shared on Pixiv. Looking at his illustrations on his account page, he seems to have a knack for monster/guro girls on the …cute side? Have a look for yourself (I shouldn’t have to remind you it’s NSFW, maybe borderline NSFL) of his work displayed on Pixiv. Personally, I don’t have a mutilation fetish, but I can say it’s very creative.
The background designs also caught my eye. There are some very clear and uneven brush marks left where Ray-K colored the walls, floors and trees. It actually looks pretty cool. For one, the colors compliment the subdued appearance of the characters. Some scenes even have bright spots in them that they almost eclipse the characters. Instead of creating more traditional backgrounds that resemble something more realistic, Ray-K instead made it look interesting and gives the viewer an eyeful to observe each time a scene reappears. It does feel like a blend of Leonid Afremov with a pinch of Pascal Campion. The leaves on the tree are so bright it almost looks as though they’re on fire. Gnarly!
Before I wrap up, I just have to say this; Rui Sadokawa is a straight up asshole, almost maniacal. She got so mad she beat up a trashcan. I didn’t like how she hurt Sachi, but man, I think I can take a few punches to try to talk to her, take her mind off things that stresses her out, you know? Or maybe I’m just as batshit crazy, too? I hope Ray-K makes a VN based on her. It would be the most intense love story of all time.
Love at First Sight has seven acts and can be completed in just a few hours at a casual pace, and for the asking price ($9.99), it’s about four dollars higher from where I feel that is a fair asking price for the overall package that you get. However, if you are looking for a new and creative visual novel to fill in some hours, I won’t say paying full price is a bad idea, either. Actually, if you are new visual novels or only have a few titles finished under your belt, I think Love at First Sight would be the perfect candidate to check out next. At least keep it in your whishlist for when publisher Sekai Project has a sale, then take whatever they’re asking for it.
You might be glad to hear that Ray-K has recently completed his second project titled (NSFW) Life with a Slave -Teaching Feeling-. I have no idea what it’s about, but it appears to have garnered a few dedicate fans:
— やちもん (@yachimon) December 24, 2015
I don’t think it’s coming to Steam any time soon. It’s pretty far out there, a complete departure from the pure sweetness LaFS had. Ah shucks. If that is up your alley, you might also be interested to know my man Ray-K made two more ecchi sims staring characters from The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls: (once again NSFW) Moving CGs -Cool- and Idols-Cute-Animation. I’m not one to get off on these sort of things but, being an Imas fan, seeing this is hilarious. They’re quite well done, too, if I say so myself.
Love at First Sight is available to purchase on Steam here.