Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo is a 2006 romance-comedy eroge from Giga. It’s written by Maruto Fumiaki, one of the most acclaimed eroge scenario writers out there (also responsible for Giga’s maid café series, Sekai de Ichiban Dame na Koi, White Album 2, and many more).
In Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo our protagonist, Hoshino Wataru, is the only male living in the old dorm of the only high school on a small southern island. He lives there with four girls and his female homeroom teacher. The islanders (somewhat) jokingly refer to these women as Wataru’s wives and his harem. Despite living in such an enviable situation Wataru is not without his own worries. The first is a new transfer student who begins living in the dorm, Rinna, who has shut off her heart to others. The second is that the company that employs many of the island’s residents is shutting down its branch on the island, so when the next spring comes many families will leave, including the girls in Wataru’s dorm. As a result their dorm, Tsugumi Ryou, will be shut down and torn down.
Konnyaku gets off to a very strong start. Act 1 (the first half of the common route) has great comedy, excellent pacing, and even some poignant drama. It’s pretty much perfect. I couldn’t stop reading it and I can’t remember the last time I was so enthralled by an eroge. It’s different from most common routes in similar games in a couple ways. The first is that it has a significant amount of plot, good plot, thanks to the drama surrounding Rinna. Second, it doesn’t feel the need to narrate every minute of every day, so it doesn’t drag like even the common routes in good games can. The common route (and Konnyaku in general) is built up of scenes that generally range from 5 to 15 minutes in length, and Maruto isn’t afraid to skip days, weeks, and sometimes months between scenes. Because of this the story proceeds briskly, but I never felt like it was disjointed or that I might have missed something important. Act 2 (the second half of the common route) is similar, but as the drama in the first act has been resolved drama is mostly absent. Instead the act is more focused on comedy, developing the characters, and, toward the end, laying the foundation for the character routes. Act 2 is weaker than the first act but still very good.
Act 3, the final act, is when the story branches into routes. Given how godly the common route is, I can only say that I was disappointed by the individual routes. I was expecting the routes to be better than the common route, or at least of equal quality, but they aren’t. I was expecting more drama and plot, but there’s less than in Act 1. The character routes are mostly comedy, romance, and sex. The comedy in the routes isn’t as good as in the common route, but luckily the romance is well-written: the characters develop their relationship at a satisfying pace, they spend time being in love and making love, and then they overcome some small hurdle before living happily ever after. The “small hurdle” part means that each route does have some drama, but it usually only comes up toward the end of the route and is quickly resolved. What’s there for drama is well-written, but the amount and intensity is underwhelming. Interestingly, the route with the most drama, Naoko’s, is actually the worst. Another complaint I have is that the major (or so I thought) plot point of the characters trying to stop Tsugumi Ryou’s demolition isn’t even addressed in half of the routes, and in the half where it is it’s tacked onto the main drama of the route as an afterthought.
Before playing Konnyaku I was expecting a nakige, having seen it listed highly on a few lists of best nakige. I don’t know if I’d classify it as a nakige. The story certainly covers a number of emotionally-charged topics like meetings and partings, memories and promises, friendship and love, and the past and the future. However, while these themes would appear ambitious, their execution in Konnyaku is often rather nonambitious. The drama is just too weak (in intensity, not quality) to deliver Konnyaku’s themes with their full potential power. But like I said the drama is still good, and the same applies to the emotional side of Konnyaku. Most routes still had one or two parts that got me teary eyed and more that made my chest tighten.
And yet, perhaps contrary to the previous paragraph, I think one of the strongest aspects of Konnyaku is its heartwarming, healing atmosphere. It might not have the emotional intensity of some powerful nakige, but it has a wonderfully distinct and sentimental mood. The feeling of belonging and unconditional acceptance in Tsugumi Ryou recalls the Takayashiki residence from Kazoku Keikaku, and the dorm is probably the closest thing to it that I’ve seen since playing KazoKei years ago.
I feel like I’ve been focusing on the story’s weaknesses too much. That’s because parts of it disappointed me, and this was particularly vexing since it’s clear from the common route and the overall ideas how much potential it had. However, the story is still good, great even. It has great humor, good romance, good drama when it’s there, and an exceptional atmosphere that makes Tsugumi Ryou as special to the reader as it is to the characters.
Sawaki Rinna: A new transfer student to Wataru’s school and Tsugumi Ryou. She’s a tsundere.
Hayama Umi: Wataru’s childhood friend replete with everything you expect of the archetype. This might come as a surprise but she was my favorite heroine.
Asakura Naoko: Wataru’s sempai who is also the student council president. To everybody but those close to her she’s a perfectly gentle, kind, and responsible girl. To those close to her she’s cruel and despotic.
Kujou Miyaho: An ojousama who lacks any of the grace or elegance a refined lady should have.
Fujimura Shizu: A quiet yet childish and spoiled pseudo loli kouhai of Wataru’s.
Kirishim Saeri: Wataru’s homeroom teacher and also the teacher in charge of Tsugumi Ryou. Like any young female teacher in any Japanese media ever she’s immature and irresponsible.
Hoshino Wataru: An islander boy who’s popular, charming, funny, reliable, and good at sports. He’s good at everything except studying (of course). Except it turns out he can actually do that too if he puts his mind to it. He can do anything he puts his mind to, and is basically perfect. Honestly he’s too perfect, but that beats being hetare.
Most of these characters seem pretty generic so you might be wondering why the high score. A number of reasons. First is that they execute their archetypes so well. Although rooted in common eroge character types, the characters of Konnyaku are fleshed out more than their counterparts in similar games, giving them memorably nuanced personalities. Their routes also establish the history of each character and give the reader a look at the other facets of said personalities, further developing the characters. All of the characters come across as well-rounded with more than sufficient depth. This makes them very easy to like, and likeable characters are critical in a story like Konnyaku’s, which relies so much on the reader sympathizing with the characters. Equally important are the relationships and chemistry between the characters, and this happens to be one of the best parts of Konnyaku. The end result of all this is that the characters will become just as special to the reader as they are to each other. I liked all of the girls a lot, even the types that I normally wouldn’t (Miya and Naoko).
There is one major flaw in Konnyaku’s cast: the side characters. There’s a considerable number of them and the vast majority are undeveloped and uninteresting. Perhaps fortunately, they don’t show up too often. Most only pop up when they need to play some role in the plot, then quickly disappear. One character even has a sprite despite having maybe a half dozen lines. It’s no exaggeration to say that most of the supporting cast exist only to act as plot pieces. That dog with the sunglasses doesn’t even serve that purpose, and I’m baffled why they even had him when he was just going to show up a few times and not ever do anything important or interesting. The only good side character is Akane. She’s fucking awesome.
The soundtrack in this game is amazing. It’s extensive, and not a single song is bad. Only a few can even be described as anything as bad as average. Given the large number of tracks that’s seriously impressive. There are lots of good songs here and quite a few amazing ones. I only have two minor complaints about the BGM. The first is that some of the best songs only play a few times, and could have been used in some scenes where songs that are played too often are instead used. The second is that the soundtrack as a whole could have had a greater sense of cohesion.
The vocal tracks are just as good as the BGM. The OP and ED are magnificent. Actually, magnificent is too weak of a word to describe the song that plays at the end of the game’s grand finale. The lyrics for both, particularly the ED, are topnotch. The insert song isn’t as good as the OP or ED but it’s still great.
The voice acting varies greatly between roles. Umi, Shizu, and Miya are good. Saeri and Naoko are decent. Rinna is bad. Some seiyuu seem to think that if they have a cute voice they don’t need to know how to act.
I’ve heard many good things about Nekonyan, Konnyaku’s artist. Yet the art quality in this game is wildly inconsistent. Some sprites and CGs look beautiful, others rough or outright ugly. In some CGs the characters look very different from how they usually do, which can be jarring. The backgrounds are pretty nice though.
The ero is quite good for a scenario-based eroge. This is good, considering each of the relatively short routes has three ero scenes (five for Shizu for some reason). It’s always hard to pinpoint exactly what makes an ero scene good– or bad. But trust me, I work tirelessly to analyze them in order to figure out exactly that. For Konnyaku I think what makes the ero good is that the heroines enjoy the sex a lot more than is usual. In too many romance games it seems like sex is something the heroines bear for the protagonist’s sake. That’s good in its own way but isn’t as fappable as when the girl likes the sex too.
Pros: Great cast; emotional atmosphere; good drama and romance; top-class soundtrack
Cons: Weak character routes; inconsistent art; pointless and worthless side characters
I’m ambivalent about Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo. It’s certainly a great eroge but I can’t help but feel disappointed that it didn’t live up to its full potential. Were the character routes stronger this could have been a kamige. I think the best way to look at Konnyaku is as a school life love comedy. The game incorporates many of the clichés and tropes of the genre. It plays many of them straight, and subverts many of them, but anytime it uses them it executes them brilliantly. It tops everything off with some poignant emotion and a heartwarming atmosphere, which gives the story more soul and lasting power than your average romcom. Truly, this is the ultimate romantic comedy. When I think about it like that I’m deeply satisfied by Kono Aozora. Yet part of me still wishes that it had delivered stronger drama and more intense emotion. The setup surely could have provided that, all the pieces were there, and I feel like this game narrowly missed out on being the masterpiece it could have been.
Enough rambling. I highly recommend this as a romantic comedy, but not as a nakige or drama.