Tenshi no Inai Juunigatsu is a 2003 drama eroge from Leaf.
Kida Tokinori is an angsty teenage boy. He believes that the world is pointless, life is pointless, school is of course pointless, and the only reason he keeps living is because dying would be equally pointless so there’s no reason to deviate from the status quo. So in fact his anhedonia probably goes beyond regular adolescent angst. Through various circumstances Tokinori becomes sexfriends with another outcast of the world: Kurihara Touko—a timid classmate with some serious self-esteem issues—and out of this unconventional relationship the rest of the story springs forth.
That’s the main bent of Teninai: it’s a relationship drama. In addition to Tokinori’s carnal relationship with Touko there are, naturally, relationships that develop with a handful of other girls. These relationships are instantly made complicated by Tokinori’s ongoing sexfriend relationship, but there’s much more to Teninai than love triangles. For example, the question of whether love is even a factor in the equation: Tokinori fairly adamantly does not believe himself able to love others. It’s part of the whole depression and nihilism package. Therefore, none of the relationships play out like your typical romance. They’re much more conflicted, and are constantly conflicted up until the ends of the routes, and even then things usually aren’t ultimately resolved.
Teninai is much different than just about any other eroge. It deals with a number of topics that most eroge won’t touch, such as adolescent sexual politics, nihilism, and suicide, and does it in an even-handed and realistic manner. It also addresses some standard eroge themes like love and friendship, but here again it turns its lens of realism upon the subject and explores it in a way that feels more substantial than typical idealized eroge themes. One of Teninai’s main achievements is that it does this without becoming pessimistic. The story does a good job of straddling idealism and pessimism, and presents one of the most pragmatic, and thus meaningful, examinations of its subjects that I’ve seen in eroge. Particularly for a relationship drama, this kind of approach yields a rich and more impactful story.
Although it’s perhaps not fair to classify Teninai as wholly a relationship drama. Because before you can have a relationship drama you must have a character drama. Especially as Teninai shows, relationship problems are generally the result of individual problems. The protagonist is of course a main source of personal dysfunction, but each of the heroines come with her own baggage. While the protagonist’s internal issues are the ones we get a more intimate view of for obvious reasons, and are the clear focus of the common route, the heroines’ naturally begin to take center stage in their routes. Yet the protagonist’s problems never go away, such is his power of presence or his depression’s, and one of the really neat things in Teninai is how the heroines’ issues interplay with and reflect on Tokinori’s and cause him to change in different ways across the different routes. It is at this juncture that the character drama transforms into relationship drama, and the story becomes about how two imperfect people can come into accord with one another in an imperfect world in order to make something work, if only temporarily and provisionally.
Because Teninai is so character-driven it at times can feel like it lacks direction. Although there are singular dramatic moments the compelling force here is primarily the accumulating feelings and ruminations of the characters. Often there is nothing tangible happening, and there are no standard dramatic eroge devices like car accidents or magical illnesses. There are no real external sources of drama at all, everything is contained within the characters. Nevertheless, the pacing of the story is exceptional, nearing flawlessness once you enter the individual routes. Remarkably little feels like filler. Even without big scenes—though once again Teninai does have the big scenes—the drama is so consistently compelling that once you’re on a route you can’t stop reading. It helps that individual routes are not overly long and the writer has the narrative sense to skip unessential scenes, resulting in a sort of highlight reel of the important events and thoughts in each route.
I have to admit that one of the primary factors responsible for Teninai’s compelling routes is its melodrama. The eroge is rather undeniably melodramatic. Not only is the protagonist angsty, and liable to shift into angsty NVL introspection, but it turns out all the girls are angsty too in their own ways and this comes out either in dialogue with the protagonist or the occasional histrionic monologue. If you’re wondering how something can be both melodramatic and realistic, that’s a good question, and one that’s hard to answer. I think I would say that this is fiction, and even the most realistic fiction is really very different from reality. Teninai’s melodrama is symbolic of real life feelings and problems. These feelings are blown up to theatrical proportions, perhaps for the greatest illumination and impact, but they remain honest and poignantly relatable. Let’s not pretend that there isn’t melodrama in real life and that our subjective experiences of misery can’t make problems seem life and death when they aren’t by any means.
I have to talk about the writing in Teninai because I think it’s the key that makes everything work. When I talk about how good the pacing is or how surprisingly well the melodrama works, I’m really talking about how amazing the writing is. Teninai has more memorable and quotable lines than any eroge I’ve played, I can say that definitively. At its peak, Yukio’s route, practically every single line is a gem. I don’t know how the writer did it. Although initially I was skeptical about the writing style, it felt too affected, by the end of the common route it’d built its case and won me over. There are a few key strengths to the writing. Quotable lines is one, and these memorable lines arise because of the writer’s sense for phrasing things just right: simply but packed with meaning. In addition the writer has a way of lucidly describing both internal psychology and external social relationships using conceptual yet direct language. But these more intellectualized descriptions are counterbalanced by powerful, edgy imagery. This balance is probably another part of why the melodrama works, as the heavy, at times oppressive emotion is given a logical basis that grounds it in reality.
The standard way of creating an eroge heroine is to choose from a set of archetypes and then add on some problem the character has to differentiate her from the rest. Recently character problems and drama have fallen out of favor and been replaced by increasing levels of moe, meaning you just get the stereotype. Anyways, as an older eroge Teninai follows the older format: archetype plus problem. However, as mentioned earlier the personal problems of the characters play a large role in this game. The characters in Teninai are more defined by their problems than usual, but this is a good thing. After all, at least in this case, the personality of the character’s is the problem, meaning the more developed the problem is the more developed the character is. Both protagonist and heroines end up very richly developed, although the protagonist ends up receiving the most attention.
Of course most of this development regards their flaws—remember there are no angels in this game—but they’re all likably flawed, at least for the most part, at least for me. Their imperfections are human enough and relatable enough that it’s difficult to hate them, even if you can hate some of their individual actions. This is another noteworthy triumph of Teninai: it’s one of those rare cases where the writer actually succeeds in making realistically flawed characters that aren’t irritating or outright detestable. And this is perhaps the greatest testament to the realism of the characters and the story: although flawed the characters are not loathsome, and their flaws are what allow us to empathize with them, and this is just how it is with real people and their real flaws.
Teninai’s soundtrack does a great job reinforcing its melancholy and melodrama. It makes the interesting choice of employing primarily acoustic guitar, even in the emotional tracks that would normally be dominated by piano, strings, and, for the real tearjerkers, music boxes. There is something fitting about moody acoustic tracks accompanying the relationship drama of teenagers. There is the rare piano track, as well as some synthesized tracks, but overall the soundtrack is very cohesive, not only in its tonal palette but also its melodic themes. One complaint I have is that there is a bit too much concentration on everyday tracks. Mostly it’s the dramatic tracks that play, so more focus on these and more variety would’ve been welcome. However I feel like some of the dramatic tracks I could listen to forever, especially given how well they resonate with some of the scenes they play during. Between these tracks and the writing I felt many of the scenes in Teninai were something meant to be savored and I wanted them to last forever.
The OP is a unique but decent-at-best soft rock song. The ED is a completely non-unique downtempo J-pop ballad, though it’s perhaps marginally more pleasant than many of its peers (the bassline is pretty good).
The voice acting for the most part does a good job conveying the heart-rending emotions of the characters. But there’s something strange, not only about the voice acting but the BGM too, where is seems that the audio in this game was recorded in a warehouse. A very clean warehouse. Especially when playing the game with headphones it feels like you’re in a fishbowl. Another minor complaint about the voices is that since the protagonist’s name can be changed the characters never say his name. In some lines this works OK but in others it’s jarring. Other games with nameable protagonists have the default name voiced, but that wasn’t done here for some reason.
The artist is the same one as White Album 2. So try to imagine how bad his art was eight years prior and you’ll begin to comprehend how bad the art is in Teninai. You’ll only begin to comprehend it, however, as it has to be seen to be believed. The art should probably receive a lower score than this but overall the visual experience isn’t really an awful one. This is because of a couple factors. First of all, Leaf’s decent colorists with their characteristic, appealing style are often able to mask the artist’s incompetence. Second, the artist mostly realizes his shortcomings and tends to keep the CGs safe: there are a lot of shots of characters standing around in ways that would be hard to fuck up. It’s the more complicated CGs where things become an absolute mess. Yet there are also sprites where for some reason we get profile shots of the characters. This is not only unnecessary and unusual for an eroge, it really shows off how terrible the artist is. In these profile shots the characters look like damn wildebeests.
The complicated interpersonal relationships of Teninai create complicated contexts for the ero scenes. There are probably only one or two scenes that are traditionally romantic. This is a good thing. After all interesting context leads to interesting sex. However, interesting context alone isn’t enough to make for good ero. Teninai’s setups for the sex are generally quite good but the purpose of the ero scenes is usually very plot-driven. The scenes are generally short, sometimes only a dozen or so lines, and often largely focus on dialogue between the characters. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it deepens the characters and their relationships, and sex is such a big part of relationships in this game, but it doesn’t make for the most fappable scenes. Here we encounter the somewhat uncommon dilemma of plot-oriented vs. cock-oriented ero scenes. Teninai is inclined toward the former. Not a big deal, but since the context creates the potential for some good scenes it’s disappointing. Not that the scenes aren’t good, they just usually aren’t good for fapping.
Pros: Convincing melodrama; phenomenal writing; complex and empathetic characters
Cons: Character-driven nature means it sometimes feels lacking in direction
Tenshi Inai no Juunigatsu is the eroge I’ve wanted to play for the longest time. Its strengths are the very things I’ve been looking for in an eroge but have yet to really find in a satisfying form: melodrama that works really well (perhaps I should call it heavy drama or something, since melodrama is generally pejorative and doesn’t do Teninai’s drama justice), drama that is entirely character- and relationship-based and never lets up, and memorable, consistently quotable writing. This might be the pinnacle of drama eroge. It’s like the hypothetical “White Album 2 but just the good parts” I wished for, or more brusquely the “serious melodramatic shit that would make me feel like shit” I was hoping for in my Aster review (don’t read my old reviews by the way, they’re pretty bad). It’s even more than that though. While it’s incredibly satisfying and entertaining as a drama it’s also a resonant testament to the hurt we suffer simply by living. Who hasn’t wanted to die before?