Continuous medium that feed the user in small bytes don’t seem to mix well with me, thus my primary medium of choice is games/VNs where one normally expects to receive a complete product. But it has reached the time where whipping out a small book with one hand on the (crowded) bus for 15-20 minutes is much quicker and more convenient than unzipping my pouch and clumsily taking out my portable gaming console, so I decided to dabble into the world of light novels. Deciding to start off on the “light” side, I picked up the two-volume LN Otome Game no Kouryaku Taishou ni Narimashita by Akime Jin.
The story is told through the eyes of Hotaka Minato, who one day wakes up with memories of a “past self?” known as Kusakabe Minato, and gains the awareness of the fact that he is a character inside an otome game. His school has an event that takes place once every three years known as “Fortune Crown”, where four male students are chosen as “Knights” per school body voting and four female students are chosen as candidates for the crown. The candidates have until summer break to improve themselves and interact with the knights, and the one who receives the most votes from the knights will receive the crown. Such an event should have nothing to do with Minato, but the school’s chairman decides to throw him in as a fifth knight to make things interesting.
Of course, this sets off the anger of the student masses, since the “Knights” are supposed to be the four best males chosen by the populace to represent the school, and an ordinary dude like Minato is randomly thrown in. This also isn’t just some random spur of protagonist luck either, for the chairman has likely predicted the hardships Minato would face as a Knight, and she purposely threw him in to cause him grief because she has a personal grudge against his older sister (who opposed the chairman and won when she was in school). Either way, Minato now gets the opportunity to make friends with four popular bishoujo.
It sounds straightforward enough, until Minato remembers his little sister in his “past life?” ranting about how his route was filled with death flags that are completely different in tone than the rest of the school-life simulation romance game. Not wanting to experience death, Minato comes to the conclusion that he must not get close to the “protagonist” of the game Fortune Crown, and thus tries to actively ignore her. Unfortunately, she has pretty much locked on to him for this particular playthrough.
The protagonist of the video game “Fortune Crown” is Miyagawa Otome, an initially plain-looking girl who eventually becomes an energetic, popular bishoujo. This is, of course, due to her nature as the protagonist of a stat-raising simulation game. Although her in-game persona is characterized as social and energetic by default, she is really just a blank slate intended for player self-insert. For this playthrough, she has locked on to Minato, who actively tries to avoid her in fear of triggering his death flags. Minato also seems to be bugged, for whenever Otome interacts with him, what he sees is not her implied personality, but her true nature as a silent protagonist who only ever speaks when necessary.
As a character and a romantic love interest, Otome is entirely flat and lacking in personality. That, however, is the point. When Minato is 3 hours late to their date, she can continue waiting without complaints because all the “player” sees is a few lines of narrations that take seconds to read. Regardless of how badly Minato treats her, she continues to pursue him without a hint of complaint because she is a personality-less self-insert protagonist. The majority of their conversations consist of long lines of ellipses, even though her conversations with non-bugged characters seem to flow normally. The game script revolves around her, and Minato is incapable of defying it. When he tries to reject her during a romantic CG event, he blanks out and a separate consciousness surfaces to recite the correct script.
The story is heavily reliant on the gimmick of taking place in an otome game, and the characters are all rather one-dimensional even if they have some interesting aspects to them. Perhaps this would have changed if series went past volume 2 (which had no satisfying conclusion at all) but no new volumes seem to be coming out. The male characters try to fit into the school-life otome game character templates with a strict, glasses-wearing student council president, a girly-looking shota, and a yandere older brother with stalker tendencies. The latter is quite hilarious in portrayal through the eyes of Minato, who sees absolutely nothing romantic about him at all, and even told him to quit installing GPS tracking apps on his little sister’s phone.
The remaining heroines are also not very notable, for the blonde tsundere fits into her character template a little too snugly, and Houjou Saya, the ojou-sama whom Minato has his eyes set on (or rather, his ears, as he fell in love with her voice), also happens to lack screentime in the measly two-volume LN. There is also an otome gamer heroine who mistakes Minato for an otomen when she catches him buying an otome game and using cute band-aids, and decides to pursue a friendship with him. She is also the adopted little sister of the stalking yandere, and while she loves 2D men, she absolutely cannot stand attractive men in real life.
As with most media in the harem genre, the fun is seeing how the ordinary or even incompetent protagonist manages to attract multiple girls. However, no romantic developments go anywhere, for Minato’s heart belongs to his family’s cat, Rinrin. He spends his time anguishing at the fact that his beloved feline has a preference for physically attractive humans and only approaches him as last resort, and the happiest he is ever seen is when his cat finally decided to sleep next to him on a day where the rest of the family is out. None of the heroines seem to hold any actual romantic affection towards him so far, aside from Otome because she is trying to get on his route. Even so, it begs the question of whether her feelings are genuine. Ultimately, one would want to cheer Minato on in his attempts in getting his cat to like him or his pursuit of Saya, solely because the protagonist ends up being the most genuine character. The heroines by themselves lack charisma, which is probably bad news for a work in this genre.
I ultimately ended up enjoying the two volumes since I did enjoy simulation otome games way back and thus the gimmick of the story was easily relatable. The high point was the end of volume one, where the concept of the bugged route and silent protagonist came into full swing and Minato began to question what exactly was the role of a capturable character, but everything after that became a drag as the otome game elements wore themselves out and nothing was resolved. On top of that, the art was awfully plain and the heroines were overly hyped up both in the text and physical appearance-wise as shown by their dull character designs. The extremely simplistic and usually non-existent backgrounds for the in-novel illustration inserts also really bothered me.