Today I’m going to be starting a new category of review, which I like to call Visual Novel versus DVD (or VNVDVD for short). For this, I’ll play a visual novel – or game of whatever genre – and then see how it measures up to its anime adaptation.
This time, we’re going to be tackling The Fruit of Grisaia.
The Fruit of Grisaia is the story of Yuuji Kazami, a high school student with a dark past newly transferred to Mihama Academy, a prison-like school attended by only five other people. And they’re all girls.
As Yuuji’s normal-ish high school life goes on, he gradually uncovers the reasons why these girls are attending the school. The branching routes of the visual novel consist of Yuuji wining, dining and refining them, romancing them and solving their problems along the way.
It’s a fascinating slow burn in each case, with each route skilfully blending heartbreaking, dark themes with uplifting, inspiring redemption. To say more would be a spoiler, but suffice to say I was impressed with the quality of writing and likeability of the main cast.
Amane Suou, the token boobie girl, treats her friends like family, acting as the mother of the group. She cooks for Yuuji, constantly makes passes at him, and is notably tall for a Japanese girl, at 5’6”. The game constantly mentions this.
Sachi Komine, the loyal-to-a-fault girl who dresses like a maid, is lovable in her mousy yet determined way, and gets some of the best lines in the game.
Makina Irisu somehow manages to avoid the “baby-faced and baby-talking girl” annoyances and actually ends up being a totally serviceable character, particularly when Yuuji takes her under his wing.
Yumiko Sakaki, daughter of the man who built the school, is also surprisingly likeable despite the her tropey “icy rich girl” manner, and some of the best sight gags and moments in the game are directly tied to her, like any time her not-so-secret internet porn habits are brought up, or she tries to kill someone with a box cutter.
And Michiru Matsushima – aka Best Girl™ – is 100% comic relief. She’s dumb, clumsy, obnoxious and absolutely hilarious to watch. Her sub-plot of being a fake tsundere with bottle-blonde hair is one of my favourite character traits ever.
Yuuji himself is also an interesting character. It’s clear from the get-go that he is not an ordinary student, with his encyclopedic knowledge of military protocol and extensive combat training, but despite being the badass that saves the day in most cases, the game manages to avoid making him an omnipotent Gary Stu. He’s arrogant, blunt and generally unpleasant to be around, but manages to knuckle down when the time is right. And hey, he’s the protagonist, so you gotta like it or lump it.
Even Yuuji’s guardian/superior JB and the principal of the school, Chizuru Tachibana, are fun characters, though I find Chizuru falls on the “annoyingly squeaky” side of things. JB, aka Julia Bardera, aka Yuria Harudera, is apparently German-Italian but speaks fluent Japanese, which is about as “anime” a character as it gets.
Now, to the important details. The Fruit of Grisaia, taken as a visual novel, is extremely lengthy. Like, 50+ hours lengthy. I started reading it on the 22nd of December, and finished it around the 26th of January – and that’s reading it at least a couple of hours every day. That’s around 70 hours worth, likely more, that I spent going through every route.
The anime adaptation is 13 episodes long. Ohh boy.
So, it’s time for the key question. How does the anime measure up? Well…
Not great, if I’m being honest. This was never going to be a perfect adaptation by any stretch of the imagination with so few episodes to cover so much. And yet, even knowing this, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
Let’s break down the series into component parts and see just how fairly it was constructed:
Episodes 1, 2 and 3: The “common route” of the game, introducing the main cast and some slice-of-life comedy.
Episodes 4 and 5: Michiru’s story.
Episode 6: Yumiko’s story.
Episode 7: Sachi’s story.
Episodes 8 and 9: Makina’s story.
Episodes 10, 11, 12 and 13: Amane’s story.
See the problem emerging here? In the game, pretty much every route is equal in length and complexity. In the series, Yumiko and Sachi have their stories told in roughly TWENTY MINUTES.
And if that doesn’t sound too bad – maybe they just cut out a lot of fluff? – then here are a few pictures, created by DeadlyFatalis for his own take on the series. Using Best Girl™ Michiru as an example, here is a list of all the scenes in her route of the game, marked with all the scenes they included in episode 4 of the anime:
Twenty five scenes, and the series covers three in one episode. To do this, it skips eleven.
And in skipping all this content, Yuuji basically becomes the perfect human being who helps these girls through their problem for no real reason other than the plot demands it. In the game, the reason is slightly different.
What’s more, the series adds an ungodly amount of unnecessary fanservice at seemingly random intervals. Now, I don’t have much of a problem with fanservice in general, but there’s a time and a place for such things, and it’s not “clumsily inserted whenever”.
At this point, I don’t really know who the anime adaptation is for. It doesn’t feel like it’s for newcomers, because so much is left out that the plot and characters feel incomplete and rushed.
It’s also evidently not for people who played the game, because all it does is make me annoyed by how much I know they left out.
Now, I’m being extremely harsh on the series. I acknowledge that it would have been exceptionally difficult to adapt this game, especially in thirteen episodes. But there were some things that I actually think it did pretty well! It’s kind of a “sweet sour” stance.
Firstly, the art in the series is great. They very faithfully recreated the characters and locations from the game, and it helps to be able to clearly see some scenes that were not fully shown in the game, such as Michiru before she was blonde, some fight scenes, and JB’s control room. Though I suppose “good art” is a prerequisite considering the source material, which included one CG I literally stopped to stare at for a couple of minutes, in awe of how pretty it was. And totally not because of what was happening in the picture.
All the original voice actors returned to play their parts in the series, and music from the game is used effectively, giving the series a comfortable, familiar feeling.
The animation itself, while mostly relatively basic, has some moments of impressive fluidity, and everything is presented in letterboxed widescreen. I’m not really sure how I feel about the letterboxing, but it does lend things a cinematic feel. I suppose with the game constantly using Dutch angles, it was only fair.
The series also takes several artistic liberties in order to tie together all of the stories, resulting in several scenes completely different from the game. Yumiko’s route in particular is almost completely changed – though I suppose they’d have to, to make it fit into one episode.
Now, here’s the most impressive and disappointing part of this analysis. Angelic Howl, the final arc of the series, which focuses on Amane’s story, is the longest by far and easily the best part of the series.
Spoilers are ahead, so be warned.
Amane’s backstory is that she was part of a high school basketball team who, while on a trip, crashed their bus off a cliff, leaving them stranded in the wilderness. The team band together in order to survive, but with help nowhere to be found slowly begin to succumb to starvation and madness. Amane is the sole survivor of this incident.
It’s an extremely long, detailed part of the game, but astonishingly the series manages to adapt it effortlessly, cutting out all the unnecessary fluff while still telling the story properly. It even surprised me by leaving in certain unpleasant details, such as the various skin afflictions, wounds and bodily functions the girls have to endure while stranded. Even the most shocking scene of all – in which the sole teacher and the captain of the basketball team, in a fit of madness, have sex in the forest surrounded by corpses, is left in, and the scene is all the more effective for it.
The finale of the series, loosely adapted from Amane’s route’s ending, while perhaps not as well written as the game’s, manages to tie together every heroine’s routes in such a way that is arguably better than the source material. It even manages to set up the characters for the sequel in a way the game could not. So my question is this:
Why wasn’t the rest of the series given so much attention?
I don’t like to throw out hyperbole, but The Fruit of Grisaia would undoubtedly have benefited from a 26-episode runtime. Angelic Howl proves that with the proper amount of care and time, the stories can be told efficiently without sacrificing important details.
But in the end, we got a Majikoi rather than a Steins;Gate. Sigh.
While The Fruit of Grisaia remains an excellent and exemplary visual novel, the anime adaptation is a rushed jumble of scenes which only comes into its own in the final arc, too little too late. While a serviceable companion piece to the game, it only serves to highlight what could have been achieved with just a little more time and effort.