In a fictional country that was once threatened by low birth rates and an aging population, a law was passed to enforce marriage at the age of 18. Failure to comply results in the death penalty — if you don’t get married by the day of high school graduation where marriage ceremonies are held nationwide, you are taken to the Bachelor Jail and executed. 結婚主義国家 is a collection of 8 short stories surrounding 16 teenagers who live under this law, in a country where “love” and “romance” are glorified to the point of brainwashing and marriage is a matter of life and death.
This is a doujin game released in 4 segments (+ a short story collection) for mobile devices, which were later collected into one PC release sold exclusively through DMM. Since DMM likes to block foreigners from their all-ages section and were rejecting my card even after I used a VPN to get to checkout, I opted for the mobile version. The first two parts (first 4 stories) are available for free so they make for a good trial.
The country is depicted through 8 stories surrounding 8 pairs of couples, and each story is about 1-2 hours long. Despite the short length, each story does a sufficient job of introducing you to both sides of the pairing and depicting the situation they’re in. Both the guy and the heroine have distinctly defined personalities and motivations to back up their actions, so the relationships themselves are actually interesting to peek into. Some of the stories aren’t too interesting and even felt too long due to how much the writer likes to repeat his ideas, but for the most part the characters managed to grow on me. I actually like the text for how clean and easy to read it is (some doujin writers feel like they’re trying too hard), and there were scenes that really moved me, but the writer likes to express ideas in a rather preachy way and is the opposite of subtle.
I think the key to enjoying the game is to accept the ridiculously unfair setting and acknowledge the fact that this retarded law that no sane country would ever let pass is the reality that these teenagers have to live by. It’s definitely a setting that is hard to take seriously — a government that glorifies love and romance for the sake of promoting child birth and wholesome families, but if you can’t get married by or at 18, you are suddenly deemed as worthless trash in society and put on death row. You are a failure of a human being since you can’t even get anyone to love you after being alive for 18 years. To make things even more absurd, men have to get married at age 18 on the day of high school graduation, but women can get married anytime between age 16-18! So men have a larger pool of marriage candidates to choose from in a given point in time, but women have infinitely more room for failure and marriage opportunity. Also, it’s literally impossible for a woman to marry a younger man.
All marriage ceremonies are held on the day of high school graduation, at a particular building. The couple has to wear a marriage bracelet and kiss — if the bell rings for them they are married, but if it doesn’t ring then their marriage is denied. The bracelets are said to measure the “level” of love between the two parties and only couples who have reached a certain level of love can get married. What is the basis for measurement? How can something abstract like love be measured? No one in the general public knows, but it seems like the chances of the bell not ringing are pretty low, to the point where people who don’t “love” each other and are only marrying to not die are able to make it ring.
The citizens of the country are brainwashed by the government to believe that love and marriage are the be-all and end-all of life. Romance is good and everything is forgiven if done in the name of romance! Except there are more empty and obligatory marriages than ever. It is a good citizen’s duty to get married by 18, or else they are an unlovable piece of scum! I mean, all the people who rejected marriage or were unable to get married by 18 were killed so only the “winners” live and receive special benefits from the government. People who are 18 and single after the day of graduation/marriage are silently taken away to jail to be executed, and the holes created by their absences are filled with a week of continuing marriage celebrations for those who are alive and married. In true dystopian fashion, there are surveillance cameras everywhere. The government claims they are there to prevent crime. People are okay with this because the winners of society are wholesome people with nothing to hide and the crime rate is low aside from rash actions made around wedding day by people who still don’t have a partner so it must be working!
The setting feels like it’s constructed in such a way to make a rather transparent criticism on Asian ideals of marriage, and one of the more important reoccurring themes is the fear of being the nail that sticks out. Despite how extreme this fictional country is, some of the views on marriage are still deeply rooted in some East Asian cultures and I found myself agreeing to the characters speaking out against the 理不尽 push towards marriage. It’s not a work that rejects the very concepts of marriage and romance, but the importance that society places on the act of marriage and status of being married. It’s not only that either — in fact what grabbed me most was not the criticism of the bystander effect or traditional marriage ideals, but how the stories depict the effects of romanticization. In the end what causes a terrible society to maintain the status quo, and what ultimately causes people to act, is picking the right events to depict as a “beautiful story.”
The setting is made in such a way that it’s all too easy to get a modern reader to align with the writer’s point of view, but it’s not like speaking out against society’s pressure towards marriage is the only thing the novel has going for it. While subtlety is not the writer’s strong point, the characters feel unique and alive, and the voices of the different protagonists provide truly different and interesting views. A reader may not be able to take the setting (which is really vague on points that are not directly related to the plot) seriously, but it’s easy to get sucked into the characters and the way they view the world around them. There’s a final part unlocked after finishing the last couple’s story, which ends up with quite the number of strong scenes and honestly raised my opinion of the work by a lot. Some of the drama in the stories felt weirdly contrived, but it was easy to accept them after this part.
I guess I will go a bit more in-depth into the actual stories. You can play the stories out of order on mobile, but I strongly recommend against doing so — there’s a reason why they’re released in a certain order.
The game starts off with 独身監獄 showing the dark side of things like a dystopian YA novel, taking place in the aforementioned Bachelor Jail. Subaru was a normal boy with lots of friends and a cute girlfriend who he expected to marry on graduation day — until she reveals, on the day of, that she was two-timing him and is marrying the other guy. Subaru is taken to jail along with a bunch of other people, where they will face execution in 7 days. There he meets Kikyou, a girl who proclaimed that she would rather die than marry for the sake of marriage. The guard tells the prisoners that they can get out alive if they hold a ceremony with each other and manage to make the bells ring. The other prisoners rush to pair up and get married, but Kikyou isn’t bending her belief and Subaru isn’t ready to just marry another girl for survival when up until yesterday he was dating a girl he actually liked.
The endings to the stories are rather, well, predictable, since there are no miracles. There are happy coincidences sometimes, but a pair of teenagers aren’t going to change the country. The first story is there to show the reader what goes on in the hidden side of the country, and also to present the story of two people who refuse to marry a random person for the sake of survival. It provides a basis as rest of the main characters live in Kikyou’s shadow, and her story becomes the foundation for many future events.
The second story is also the basis for the rest of the game, but it’s not so obvious why until the end. It’s the story that left the strongest impression on me thanks to having a protagonist who is, in the eyes of literally everyone, a complete douche, but also speaks out to me a little too much. Masafumi is a guy who likes his alone time. He wants to indulge in his hobbies and be completely independent — he doesn’t want his family bothering him or a wife who will take up his personal time. In other words, he wants to enjoy the single adult life. A normal person might just marry another person who wants to be alone and then ignore each other after marriage, but if the husband and wife life separately, society will have a poor impression of them. So the husband and wife has to be together to look good in public eye to keep up a network, but having a wife in the same house isn’t quite the same as being alone, even if she doesn’t talk to you. Masafumi wants to be alone, but also look good in public eye. So he has to marry to live, but the girl has to die shortly after so that he can be alone while being built up as a tragic protagonist who loved his wife dearly. When a girl confesses to him he asks her if she is willing to kill herself for him, and he is met with a huge slap to the face. He thought his ideal life would be unreachable, until he meets a sickly girl who is fated to die at age 20, and dreams of a sweet shoujo manga-like romance.
Masafumi is driven by the desire to be alone but appear socially acceptable on the outside. Fitting in with societal expectations is necessary to survive, and a “moving romance” is the only tool that can bend the cage to make room for an anomaly. The route itself felt too short but it left a lasting impression, and towards the end of the game you realize that it was purposely designed this way.
脅迫恋愛, despite the name, is actually a fairly lighthearted story between two characters whose dynamic can be best described as “something you’ll never get tired of watching.” Seiya a narcissistic rich playboy who ends up getting dumped by all his girlfriends as marriage day is approaching and they all decide to focus on a 本命, with the exception of a pokerface 無愛想な kouhai who threatens to dump him as well if he doesn’t obey her. They dynamic is fun to watch and it’s a nice break from the previous two stories.
年齢制限 deals with an age gap that makes marriage impossible. Shinji is 18 years old and supposed to get married tomorrow, but his girlfriend Hinagiku is 14 years old. They’re planning to escape overseas, but Shinji knows that escape is impossible and plans to die single. This story is actually a thread that keeps running in the background in future stories, which is why reading them in order is important. The plot itself was less interesting than others, but Hinagiku is the heroine with some of the strongest scenes in the game. Kikyou may be an unmovable symbol, but Hinagiku’s scenes have the raw emotion that make them stand out.
The next two stories are actually the least interesting ones — it was at this point where I thought maybe the game is dragging on and that while the format keeps things fresh due to changing focus every 1-2 hours, each story isn’t long enough to really dive deep into its topics. The plot threads that run in the background are more interesting than the main threads. I do like how 恋人死亡 brings up Kikyou’s ideals from a different perspective and how it works when applied to a “normal” person.
The last two stories are actually pretty cool as they feature a pair of twins whose stories could not be more different in tone. Akito, 17, gets kidnapped by his yandere stalker who plans on keeping him locked up for a year until wedding day so that he can’t get close to or marry another girl. A year later, his brother Akira is approaching marriage day with no girlfriend, and decides to go to a marriage matchmaking service. He goes for the cheap course, where he meets a shady girl wearing a fox mask and furisode. Not only does she refuse to take her mask off or reveal her real name, but she also speaks and acts like a total weirdo. That’s ok, because she is extremely cute. These two stories have some weird logic behind them and some of the character actions really require a deep suspension of disbelief, but they’re entertaining and a good way to end off the stream of short stories. Akito’s story gives the player a taste of real, absolute despair for the first time, and it ends off with Akira’s truly galge-like experience with a story that is the closest thing to a pure romance.
After the 8 stories, a final scenario is unlocked. I was honestly not expecting this and wouldn’t have minded if this was just a collection of short stories in a 理不尽 setting since the last story ends with a good aftertaste, but the final scenario ties all the fragments together so well and makes the overall work a lot better. The topics come together so well, and there’s a lot of strong individual scenes regarding some heroines that you don’t get too see in their story with the protagonists. Some may argue that the ending is too convenient and a tad preachy, but it really worked as the culmination of a certain character’s experiences. The payoff is great and I got the f e e l s
There’s some rough spots here and there, the writing is very straightforward, and there are a good number of plot developments that feel contrived. I would still say without a doubt that I enjoyed the work, and it accomplished the things it wanted to do pretty competently. There’s a constant changing of narrative voice that keeps the scenarios interesting to read, and the final part is great. The art is also surprisingly decent for a doujin game, especially since the writer is also the artist. I could have spent 750 yen in much, much worse ways.