There’s probably tons of spoilers but i hope it’s the kind of spoilers that find their way into luring people who would be interested.
東京24区 is a contemporary BL game about Sonogi Akihiro, a member of ruling party in the House of Representatives. At a very young age (for a politician) of 29, he is a greenhorn popular with younger people and touted by the media as an ikemen politician but regularly thinks about how his popularity so far is based on his appearance rather than actual track record. The game takes place in 2020, 3 months before the International Athlete Festival (totally not the Olympics!) to be held in Japan, when a terror attack happens in Shibuya and kills over 20 people.
There’s a lot of topics that the game covers, acting as 伏線 for why the terror attack happened, and I think the biggest selling point of the title (besides BL of adult men in suits) is the sympathy it displays for marginalized people in Japanese society. People are driven to commit crime because society has failed them, not because they are failures in society. It carefully explores not just victims but aggressors as well, and why they end up falling into this mentality.
One of the key issues the game centers on is the revelation that the perpetrator of the terror attack is likely of half-Japanese and half-Frasia (a fictional Southeast Asian country) descent, and the potential racism and xenophobia that will become explicitly displayed in Japan when this information is revealed. For boomer politicians the issue is not just the racism (the game comments on how xenophobia is already quite widespread in Japan, just kept lowkey among people because they never experienced an event that would cause it all to surface into outward hatred), but the fact that letting it outwardly surface will make them look like a racist country when they are hosting an upcoming international event.
The heroines(male) of the game are all in the age range of 26-34, and in occupations where this age range is considered very young and new to the job. Their characterization also feels more like what one would write in a novel or TV drama rather than something obviously trying to hit traits that would appeal to existing otaku. Maybe I’ve just been hanging around a much more different sphere of otaku-oriented content so that this feels novel. It’s rather refreshing to see, as someone who is in that age range, because I think the topics the game talks about hit quite close to the issues I normally see discussed between people around my age. I think the game feels very well researched, with events connecting in a very realistic and believable way for a story about Japanese politics.
The routes tackle a variety of issues. Tougou Asuma, the third son of the head of a big company, has to cope with PTSD from being in the backseat of the taxi when the attack happened and caused near-fatal wounds to his dad who was in the front seat. Not only that, but he is in a family-run company with two much older brothers who have faced far stricter upbringings to be company leaders than Asuma who had all the youngest child pampering. Their company employs a large headcount of people from Frasia, and while Asuma is taking action to make his employees feel safe and like they’re in an inclusive workplace, his brothers feel differently about “losing trust” with their business partners who have much less sympathetic views on Frasia people after the terror attack’s culprit race reveal. On top of that, Asuma is gay but has not come out to his family yet for his brothers both had very traditional upbringings where they had to be in arranged marriages for the sake of looking like a responsible man who can support a family in order to be taken seriously in the world of Japanese businesses. They don’t take his eventual coming out well, with the middle brother being particularly harsh on Asuma because he didn’t have to suffer through half the things (what people would call Toxic Masculinity nowadays) he did simply because he was born much later and into a quickly modernizing world.
The relationship explored in this route is interesting as Asuma is in the position of being a terror attack victim, which makes him a prime tool of choice for a sensational narrative about terror victims, and Sonogi is in a position where he is trying to pass a law to aid victims of the attack. It’s the furthest route from the core of the story imo, but nevertheless explores an aspect of the setting that feels extremely relevant.
Shirasu Takemi is the Governer of Tokyo and also a member of the opposition party. He is played up by the media to be Sonogi’s rival solely because they are both young and in opposing parties. In reality he’s a character the player would barely cross paths with outside of his own route and the final route, but when it comes to his route he certainly lives up to the rival archetype. Criticizing the government and engaging in aggressive debates are his thing. Every time he and Sonogi meets it’s like they’re playing a game of mental 4D chess with dialogue exchanges on layers of 腹の探り合い. I don’t think anyone reading my posts has a politician fetish but if you do, this is the route for you. I feel like this kind of relationship, where both parties are on the exact same playing field with basically the same specs duking it out on pretty much equal ground while collaborating behind the scenes when the situation calls for it is one of the appeals that people would turn to BL for moreso than any other kind of romantic media.
He has two full routes for some reason (Asuma had “two” routes but one of them was just an extended bad end)–the one that’s probably intended to be canon involves the investigation of a suicide in the Ministry of Defense that had some suspicious covering up for the cause of suicide, which is later revealed to be due to homophobic bullying. It explores the situation where higher ups in boomer political bodies have much more incentive to cover something up rather than letting the issue come into light–-people have much more incentive to cover things up for the sake of promotion in these political bodies where nepotism is rampant and they get kicked off the promotion ladder permanently for dumb shit that is only mildly related to them but makes them look bad if it came into light. In such a workplace, one can get much further acting in the grey (and maybe even black) zone for self-interest and self-preservation rather than fixing systematic problems, leading to an environment that actively beats down on those trying to bring issues into the light.
His other route doesn’t go deep into this issue at all and is more there for the rival relationship played up I guess. It involves debates, meetings, prepping for meetings…oh and also commentary on how hard it is for a young politician to actually do anything in an environment that runs on power scaling with seniority. Old politicians beat down on Sonogi for being popular due to being young and hot, not like them who had to suffer decades of hard work to have a say in anything, and if Sonogi even tries to talk back he loses all sorts of backing in his own party. The take on the main relationship in this route is pretty neat, with Shirasu and Sonogi getting together not for romance but for a pact to revolutionize the office so that the majority age of people making and passing laws is not 55-60 and extremely out of touch with the issues of struggling young people. Imagine a guy getting in the elevator with you after a very tiring day at work and dropping the line 「創造の前に、破壊は必須。上がる前に地獄を見る。そうだろう？」like a chad. Both of his routes’ ending scenes are kind of incredible in the fun way. I’m not sure if he is my favorite but I think his main route sure has the cutest Sonogi.
Agatsuma Taiga is the only younger heroine (male) at 26, and he is a cop (okay wait, hear me out). In his route he’s assigned to be Sonogi’s bodyguard, and exudes loyal big guard-dog energy. His route truly begins when Sonogi has to make a speech in public in honor of the victims of the terror attack and gets charged at by a guy with a jank 3D-printed gun from the crowd (the feeling I read this with in July 2022 is hard to describe). The guy is revealed to be an unemployed figure-making otaku, and immediately you’re shown boomer cops who blame him for being a failure in society. This is a topic that comes back later in the final route.
Taiga’s route also splits into two. In one of them he remains Sonogi’s bodyguard and it dives into a sort of master-servant play relationship where he catches a stalker. This one ends kind of abruptly and is probably there mostly for the appeal of that kind of relationship which would be hard to depict in his main route for it takes him out of that position to explicitly deal with racism. Taiga was born and raised in Japan, but his grandmother was from Frasia and the Southeast Asian country’s racial traits show quite obviously on him–his skin is dark and his eyes are a color that would be unusual for Japanese descent. Sure, he’s a Japanese citizen, but he looks too “foreign” and grew up being very ostracized by everyone but his grandparents.
His main route deals with him being ordered to go on an undercover mission to investigate places run by illegal immigrants from Frasia, with him being picked because he looks foreign enough and also because the actions he is encouraged to do on this mission would severely limit his career in the future. This is actually a ploy to put him under total control of his new superior who wants to ruin his career advancement because he doesn’t look Japanese enough while simultaneously fetishizing him because he is tall, dark and muscular. In the route he meets people born to illegal immigrants in extremely poor conditions who can only live by working in all sorts of underground and legal (dark) grey zone conditions with 0 protection offered by the government. They are under the threat of deportation to their home country with one wrong move, especially now thanks to being of the same race as the suicide bomber in Shibuya, but since they grew up in Japan and barely speak their home language they basically have no place back “home” either. In comparison, Taiga is fortunate because he had loving grandparents, citizenship, and a real education. But that didn’t stop him from being isolated in society, and growing up hating himself and becoming a cop to serve the country so he could feel like a “real Japanese.” Taiga’s route is a look into the struggles of being visibly foreign in a mono-racial society, from a lens that is not North America-centric.
I’m particularly impressed with Taiga’s character even compared to the other heroines (male), his route genuinely feels like one that you would only be able to depict if you’ve done some heavy research into the lived experiences of minority races. I’d say that he is what stood out the most to me in this game, as it truly gives me the impression that a lot of research was done to depict his identity as a mixed-race Japanese citizen with a lot of respect.
The final route goes to Tademaru Kazuki, Sonogi’s childhood-friend-turned-secretary who is revealed to be quite yabai in various bad ends in the other routes. His dad was a member of the opposing party and he was raised to be a politician in the same party, so when he went to convince Sonogi to become a politician and make himself his secretary, he basically got disowned. That’s not the full picture behind it though, there’s more to why his own dad calls him a monster. I was afraid he would be a meme-tier yandere childhood friend or something but his route turned out to be pretty good in showing how he is monstrous in his ability to execute outrageous actions to meet his goal of being Sonogi’s #1 simp.
Tademaru’s route collects all the pieces laid out in previous routes to explore how victims of society become criminals. Isolated unemployed young men are vulnerable and easily taken advantage of by extremist movements on the far right. Those who feel like they have nothing left for them, no place in society, are the ones instigated into throwing their future away to commit a crime for a statement. Old people cling on a nationalistic worldview that may have worked in society for the post-war situation back in the 20th century but have failed to understand the sensibilities of young people in 2020. As long as there are vulnerable people who feel left out by the majority, there will be room to instigate crime. It’s easy to blame the people who are on the surface “criminals” and “failures” for the damage they cause, but it takes more to look deeper into the systematic issues people face and understand what is going on in the world around them that is pushing them down this path. Once you resort to simply blaming the people, you have failed as a ruler. This route has by far my favorite lines of dialogues from Sonogi, and actually just feels like a protagonist route.
The true ending ends with 俺と戦ってくれ which is one of my favorite places to end on for a relationship (I learned this from Koi de wa Naku). Sonogi spends the route wondering if he thinks of Tademaru as a secretary, close friend, or romantic lover, because they’ve spent so much time next to each other he doesn’t know which category to place him in, and concludes with the None of the Above choice on a multiple choice question sheet. What is there is a form of love that exceeds commonly-accepted categories, intertwined with an ambitious ideal that looks far into the future. There is also the choice for a regular romantic boss-secretary relationship that is just the extension of what they have now, but it’s obvious which is the ending the game wants to end on for a finale. Perhaps I’m a romanticist at heart and like the idea of a relationship where there is some undefined クソデカ何か as the driving force. I was a huge fan of an eroge where the final route just had the protagonist and main heroine cancelling their marriage at the end, after all.
This is probably a very niche game due to the political setting and the characters all being adult men, as well as being BL. In fact I think it gets away with some rather spicy takes on the Japanese government and society precisely because it is locked away in a genre that would automatically filter out the people it would anger, with gay sex. There is no female character with a tachie in the game (there are barely any female characters to begin with), no simple to understand characterization with obvious appeal, and tons of politics so the target audience is indeed quite limited. I find the focus on characters in their late 20s/early 30s with a worldview where that age range is considered young and “just getting started” kind of refreshing compared to what I usually play, but I have to admit that politics is not a very easy hook. I basically took a leap of faith propelled by the courage to try out something far from what I normally play, and came out very impressed. The writer mentioned that they had to do a shitload of research and this game was very hard to write, and you can definitely see their efforts in threading everything together. The writing is quite different from the kinds of eroge I’m used to and reads like a normal novel, but there’s a lot of exchanges and lines that I vibe with.
I think all of the romantic relationships are pretty cute and balanced. In every route you see Sonogi and his heroine (male) working together towards something, and while he’s the bottom in eroscenes it certainly feels like he is mentally in control in every other situation. The final route just outright mentions how he naturally has the arrogance needed for a ruler but in a pleasant way–basically he has the makings of a massive chad ruler. His tachie with a confident smirk is always fun to see because it’s an indicator of him having a dank plan to turn around the situation. You genuinely feel like he has his goals in the right place as well as the wits to navigate through all the pushback from existing old-fashioned systems to bring us a little closer to a less shitty world. People say BL is just women’s fantasies, but the fantasy of a hot young politician who cares about people’s issues making a difference in a world run by boomers more interested in profit and self-preservation than fixing things is surely a universal one.
On a note I played the Switch version and it keeps enough of the talk about ero content and the pre/post ero dialogue that I think it is the definitive version scenario-wise because it has an added scene before the epilogue to Shirasu’s route where Sonogi talks about his birth mother’s death. I was a fan of this scene, so it’s a bit disappointing when I found out it wasn’t in the PC version. The Switch port also has more cgs and assets, and a better UI.