Not a “review” because the post ended up being incoherent ramblings as I think back to every route in Musicus. I considered cutting out large chunks of this to make a proper review that is actually meant for people to read but fuck it, I am leaving my diary here.
When you put Overdrive, Setoguchi, and bands together the first thing that would come to mind is Kira Kira. Musicus starts off with an incredibly different tone and turns into a sprawling story following Kei and his band through a span of many years and different locations with basically no break or traditional timeskips in the middle. The four routes in the game branch out at different points and explore the different ways Kei’s life and relationship with music play out, leading to a very interesting game that takes his life in many different directions.
Yako’s route is a nice adolescent story about the night school gang expressing themselves through forming a rock band for the school festival–a temporary ordeal where everyone has to go back to their regular life at the end of. To the layman it is probably the “healthy”, stable choice where music is just a hobby to have fun with but ultimately it is more sensible for Kei to pick himself back up in his studies and aim to go to college and get back on track with becoming a doctor. After all, poverty is a huge source of mental health issues and despite what some rich people may tell you, the majority of the average person’s problems can indeed be resolved by having a stable career with a good income. While a nice route on its own, I feel like it doesn’t give a palatable answer to one of the first questions Kei asks himself, the very question that I still ask myself to this day. Some people may consider this route the “salvation” one needs after the shit that happens in the bad end (a fully fleshed out route), but I personally consider this to be the real “bad end” from a storytelling perspective because while Kei is arguably the most mentally stable here, he is essentially going back on the route that society tells everyone to go on.
I’m glad Yako route exists to show the option of Kei choosing the socially and economically recommended path in life, but there’s no satisfying answer to any of the questions that the game presents until Kei drops out of school to start the band Dr. Flower. And this is where all the fun begins. When Hanai Korekiyo disbanded 花鳥風月, it was when he came to a conclusion to a question regarding music (and to some extent, most art in general) that have probably tormented many people for ages. Does good art, for art’s sake, exist? Or is every emotional response induced by art a result of the narrative it is used as a tool in? The same piece of amateurish piano-playing gets entirely different responses from people depending on the story spun around it. Is it possible to move someone through pure artistry, in a vacuum, without relying on any kind of external narrative that preemptively propels the listener towards a certain emotional response? The details of Hanai’s conclusion are lost to his death forever, and yet this question and the ones it spawns will haunt Kei, and likely the reader, to the very end. Is there even a point in pursuing art?
What is “good”? In a world full of 7 billion individuals who all have varying tastes and preferences, this is not something that can ever be agreed on. One may turn to critical acclaim, picking out pieces of art that are high-regarded by critics to consider “good” and a “success”. But in a world that runs on money, in a field where that is usually tied to fame, numbers are the only real quantifiers of success. And while it is possible to just do music solely for money, most people are here to pursue some kind of artistic expression. But what is the latter if you don’t end up getting numbers out of it? Without numbers to speak for, one can spend a lifetime evaluating what is good music.
A good deal of text in Musicus is spent not on describing the romantic or passionate parts of pursuing music, but the grueling grind of leading a band as your primary job where you constantly doubt your life choices and whether you picked the right path and whether this was in any part worth it over becoming a well-respected profession with a stable income like a normal person. Dr. Flower has technically competent members (for the most part), Mikazuki has the looks and talent to attract a large crowd, and Kei spends a good amount of time composing songs that he thinks are pretty good. Their band seems to be doing well and growing stably, yet “doing well” on the surface barely covers up the fact that they just aren’t getting that much income. The cost of good production and going on tours rise as they do more, but if they stop to take a breather they will be swept into irrelevance like many forgotten indie bands. Kei (and many in his field) has a part time job that he sometimes wonders if is actually his main job given the amount of time spent at it and the money coming in compared to band stuff. He eats instant noodles for meals and yells at Kaneda for irresponsibly blowing money at the pachinko while freeloading in his house that he is renting for super cheap due to it being owned by a relative.
I think it’s really telling how most characters here playing in a band has some kind of safety net or financial support, and that this is most definitely not the career path to go down if you actually need some kind of stable income to live. Kei himself was born into a super privileged family that periodically tells him to come back and be a normal person since his band doesn’t seem to be doing great. Like many parents, they think their son is just playing around for now and needs to wake up and go back to being a normal adult eventually. And when Kei rebutts with how his band is steadily getting more well-known, it is shut down by a simple “never heard of it” by his dad. This scene really drives home for me since his dad is basically a household name that has appeared many times on TV (albeit in infamy), someone who has enough measurable “success” that simply has the power to mentally shut down any random subculture group that might think they’re doing pretty ok. At this moment I could see an alternate version of myself where I decided to pursue art instead of some normie job software development job, and when questioned by my parents on my career growth, any response would result in them telling me that in the grand scheme of things, nobody cares about your subculture work outside your group of core fans so clearly what you’re doing is not working. Unless you’re a popular household name, you might as well be starving on the street and should be doing something better with your life like getting a normal job that provides a stable salary that lets you check off more points on the checklist of respectable adult traits.
Meguru’s route in the game is neat since it explores a character who plays in a band not for any pursuit of status or art, but simply because she only feels alive when playing music. Her carefree stance in life is one born out of a 虚無 that is dealt with solely by escaping to music. The route is like an extension of the common route where they continue in their band hijinks, but also one where we are introduced to Meguru’s mentor who was touted as a musical genius yet ended up shunned by the world and left to count down to his death estranged from his family. What was the point of pursuing music to such great lengths, when in the end you are dying as a miserable, lonely old man claiming that creators are just slaves? The relationship between the creator and the audience is a harsh one. The former can pour their life and soul into a work, but the latter only engages with it for a bit before switching their attention to the next hot thing in a world overloaded with content. The exploration of the despair at the end of one’s life and what a genius musician that ended up with nothing left in the world truly wanted in his life surprised me as content for the second route in this game, but definitely a worthy and welcome topic. After seeing a musical genius who pursued music his entire life wish on his deathbed that he focused more on obtaining a “normal” form of happiness like friends and family, can one still claim that they want to live for music? The route ends on somewhat of a status quo as the band continues participating in band events like usual, and Kei and Meguru don’t develop a relationship like one would normally expect in an eroge route. The morning after their eroscene they comment on how the other doesn’t seem to be the type to like someone romantically and leave it at that. The conclusion reached by Meguru’s mentor is perhaps an early peek into the next two routes exploring how and what Kei pursues in music. I was honestly surprised at how this route ended up being so relevant.
(My favorite random scene is that one of the guy from アジア帝国 saying that everything in life is meaningless–you were born not for some purpose but because your parents happened to fuck, but being meaningless does not equate to being worthless, all while jumping off a bridge into water in the cold winter months. This simple corny line stuck with me for the rest of the game, and perhaps will for the rest of my life.)
I ended up writing more than I was going to about the first two routes but the real deal content is in the last two routes that branch at the same point (though if you ask me I’d say the whole game is “real deal”). The game branches into two mirror opposite routes, Sumi’s (the bad end) and Mikaduki’s (true end), that in the end only serve to elevate each other. Without Sumi’s route it would not be apparent just how much of a fine line Kei’s mental state is straddling on in his tendency to overthink about “true art”, and without Mika’s route the game would just be absolute despair. Setoguchi is known for being a rather…depressing…writer, and without Musicus I would have agreed based on the three things I read from him before. Tsumetai Ozone depicted an ending that would have provided the protagonists no hope or salvation in any form that would be understood by normal humans, Kira Kira’s most memorable route is the one where the main heroine dies, and Swan Song’s A ending has much more effort put into the writing than the B ending where everyone is saved. I’ve always liked reading Setoguchi’s text but what I read of his works felt suffocating with a bitter aftertaste (even in the ones that provide a proper happy ending), which is why I was extremely surprised to find Musicus such a balanced game. Reading Sumi’s route actually fucked me up significantly worse than anything else I read from him, but Mika’s route provided enough hope and healing to make me recover from that.
The key thing that separates the two final routes is Kei’s approach to art. What starts off as being too serious and too perfectionist about the quality of his band’s output at the end of a long tour turns into a downward spiral as he pushes for Mika to go on a solo offer and later disbands the band. Being completely solo and left on his own to compose music, we get a real deep look into Kei’s mental state that works like a positive feedback loop of negative thoughts. Throughout the game Kei has been shown as lacking self-awareness in mild happenings like casually sounding like he’s looking down on people when he didn’t intend to at all (but in a way his privilege an way of life when he was at school has reshaped his common sense such that it automatically looks down on people to some degree) or thinking more negatively about himself than anyone would view him, but Sumi’s route really drives home the point that Kei is the type of person who should not be left alone to his own thoughts. At first it feels like the common type of dissociation from his surroundings that many people have, but Musicus depicts his slow descent into madness as he keeps composing music by himself in his room on an eternal search for the kind of “pure” art that is absolute in its artistry–music that can move people when listened to in a vacuum, free from sensational marketing or elements of a narrative surrounding it that can draw out the emotions of listeners before they listen to even a single note.
The reason why I cite Sumi’s route in this game to be the one of the most horrifying things I’ve read is because Setoguchi takes you on an extremely deep dive into Kei’s continuous stream of thought when left to compose music in solitude. I always felt like I related to Kei while reading Musicus, moreso than any other eroge or novel protagonist I’ve had the pleasure of peering into the minds of, but even within the game I’ve felt that Kei’s monologues in the first half of this route were some of the passages that struck a chord with me the most. I had to take a break when reading some parts because they were exactly the kind of thoughts I would periodically have, even now. I was thinking about how hard these monologues hit, all while getting dragged into Kei’s descent into madness with him. Kei’s monologues never stop being coherent, the cause and effect of his actions is always clear, and I felt like there was always something relatable in them, which is probably why I felt like I was dragged along with him to every horrible decision made in this route. It’s undeniable that Kei becomes an abuser and does some terrible things, but everything surrounding him feels miserable and pitiful as you see every single shackle that binds him into the shape of a respectable adult human break down.
There’s a scene earlier in the route where Kei meets with a guy who was in another band who just plays around living off of the money his girlfriend earns from 水商売, who stays with him because she is duped by his charming “passion” as a musician even though he is not even doing that. At the time Kei looks down at the idea and swears to never become like that, which is as obvious foreshadowing as when Kaneda decided that he is a man fated to become a rock star and would never suit the normie life where he gets married and raises a kid. The scene where his mother starts giving him money and his dad finally gives up and nicely begs him to come home and restart his life is possibly the most despair I’ve felt in recent memory. I imagined my mom giving me a monthly allowance with pity in her eyes and me happily taking it and living off of it as I sit around in my apartment; I wanted to kill myself. My favorite scene in this route might be Kaneda’s visit, which serves to contrast where their lives ended up indirectly as a result of their attitude towards playing music and by extension, life. This is a scene that I think speaks for the whole game, and simultaneously one of the most uplifting yet depressing scenes as you see Kaneda, the type of person who our capitalist society would label as hopeless, do well in life and extend a hand trying to get Kei back to those passionate band days, only for the latter to completely reject it (as well as everyone else’s attempt to connect with him).
I think Sumi’s route and its place in Musicus is brilliant, but I don’t have enough faith in my mental state to experience it again. Kei’s perfectionism leads to a pursuit of “pure” art, the rejection of all attempts to connect with him, the decline of the morals that held up the shape of a respectable human being that he had spent his entire life acting as, and finally the inability to enjoy other music, even the one song that brought him into this world. What he produces in return is music that even those who once loved his work cannot comprehend. It’s a suffocating ride where at the end I just wanted to die because I felt so bad. My own thoughts when creating have at some points gotten dangerously close to Kei’s so the route hits all the wrong spots with terrifying accuracy, as if I was peering into my mental state in another life where I decided to pursue something “unstable” like an art and hit an insurmountable wall while alone.
When Kei dropped out of school to start a band, I was all fired up and fantasizing about a timeline where I quit my job to pursue art. If I was still in university when I played Musicus, I might have even tried to quit as I already thought about dropping out every single day during the first two years of undergrad. Thankfully after this deep dark peer into the descent of a musician, I swore to never quit my job and cling on to the stable normie wagecuck life forever for the mental solace provided by money and knowing that I am doing what everyone else is doing. That is, until I read Mika’s route.
Mikaduki is kind of an amazing heroine to exist since you first meet her by walking into her masturbating and that’s probably one of the more normal things about her. Many things she says sound 危なっかしい and exhibit a lack of ability to cope with the way the world as it is–you’ll hear her casually drop a line or two about how the world sucks, she sucks, her brother sucks, etc. She was a hikikomori going on the internet every day until this band thing happened, and it wasn’t even due to unfortunate events like bullying unlike most depictions of social rejects in fiction. She was treated well and most people were nice to her when she was growing up, and yet she still turned out to be a cynical social reject. I remember all the way back in the first route where Kei says that some people may have had unfortunate circumstances that made them unable to do the things that he is normally able to do, and Yako refuted that people don’t need a “reason” to not be able to do things well. Indeed, there are people like Mika who don’t need unfortunate backstories to…not be able to integrate into society. People are inherently “flawed” without needing some unfortunate event to explicitly make them flawed. Somehow Setoguchi is able to make her work as a character and she became one of my favorite eroge heroines.
This is the healing route since the band finally makes their breakthrough into the mainstream, due to luck and external marketing. It’s the most distant thing from the “pure” art that Kei tries to pursue in Sumi’s route, as they become some kind of mass-marketed household name. At a fancy restaurant Mika comments about her self-loathing at having to fake a smile and 愛想 in social interactions because it’s like lying (I feel this every day in my life, until covid19 happened and I no longer need to talk to people irl), and it really drives home that nothing at the core has changed except everyone is richer and more famous because they hit the marketing jackpot. A conversation that left a real impression on my mind was the one where she comments on how if she killed herself while thinking about music, at around the age Hanai killed himself, like an Artist, it would be the desired sensational narrative that makes their music sell more. You can tell she never “properly” processes her brother’s death, not unlike Kei who is still questioning what Hanai was seeking in music on a regular basis. This was probably the moment that made everything I’ve read about Mika and Kei click together at my head, even though there were many parts of the text hinting at this. They’re both individually unstable people who spiral into some deeply uncomfortable thoughts and don’t seem to have much to cling on to in life aside from music, and feel like they can wreck their lives at any moment by thinking too hard. But if they stick together they come to conclusions where things can work out.
At the end of the day while there may be beauty in pursuing some kind of absolute “true” art, it’s an ordeal that brings people to torture themselves over. What is a form of communication, a way to connect with other people who you can’t normally, turns into an ordeal that no single person is obligated to overcome. The conclusion Mika comes to looks simple at first, but after this journey that follows Dr. Flower continuously for years through several different outcomes, I will say that thinking too hard beyond the limits of your mind is probably what drives people to despair and destruction. But without the journey I wouldn’t have reached here, and would have been mentally stuck somewhere in Kei’s mind in Sumi’s route before he actually meets her.
For some 雑談 I liked how the game is constantly in the shadow of Hanai-san despite the reader being shown maybe a tiny fraction of his character. Kei and the reader endlessly speculate about how he might have felt and what he was truly seeking for, but I don’t think we end up “knowing” him at all outside of the short time Kei spent with him while he was alive. But thanks to the ending I will probably start seeing his ghost when I start doubting what I’m doing engaging with art.
A long time ago I read many comments about how Setoguchi is more suited to novels than eroge, and Musicus shows that maybe he isn’t really suited to eroge. You have characters monologuing out loud for more text than an entire page of the NVL system, and Setoguchi is what I believe his fully unrestrained self in Musicus’ text which reads nothing like what you would expect from an eroge. But actually I think his flavor is so strong it just pulls people in regardless of medium. Musicus works really well as a VN with its balanced route structure that shows several different outcomes of Kei’s life that all tie together with each route elevating each other, and the way it follows him through a variety of locations with actual backgrounds and a lot of memorable characters who come and go, all with actual tachie, is only achievable in eroge. The rawness of the text made me felt like I was reading a timeless game from the 00s. As contrary as his writing style is to the direction of eroge in the last decade, I feel like Musicus truly works because it’s an eroge.
I have probably talked many times about how I related to Kei. But actually this is probably a lie, and it’s just Setoguchi’s ability to really draw you into the mind of a character and hit you with monologues that are so Real it’s kind of hard to not connect to them. In reality I have never worked hard in my life and don’t think I am capable of ever putting my soul into something if I have never once done it in my 25 years of living. I say I relate to the struggles of pursuing art but I would never call myself an artist as someone who has amateurishly drawn some anime girls a few times, silently posted them on twitter, and then wondered why I’m not getting more followers on this social media site full of actually good people. So if I felt like I related to Kei it’s because Setoguchi’s text just universally connects to a lot of people. I wouldn’t actually know what someone who pursues an art seriously feels like, but I will just assume what I felt through Musicus is universal.
I picked Yako route irl without the gf but it’s not like I actually feel like I’m a productive member of society or anything. I’m just pretending to be a normie wagecuck and not a day goes without my wondering what if I decided to pursue art seriously back when I was 18 instead of exiting into the backup path of engineering.
The next post is probably going to be short introductions/impressions of some stuff I’ve read lately, if I happen to write another post this year. But that’s unlikely since it seems like I have forgotten how to write a post. Or rather, I forgot how to think with my brain in such a way that I would have decent content for a post.