Defined by minimal gameplay. Most Visual Novels are basically books with anime pictures, often with multiple endings. Generally the only clicking you do is to advance to the next 'page.' At most you'll be given a couple of choices of what to do/say next. Usually narrated from a first person perspective in order to make it easier to imagine yourself in the main character's place.
Games designed to simulate dating a girl. Usually these games feature several girls that the player can choose from. Many Dating Sims a quasi-RPG feel to them. Usually based on High School relationships, though fantasy and sci-fi settings aren't unknown, with the challenges changing to suit the theme.
Short for Erotic Game. Features erotic content, most often in the form of anime-styled artwork. Most often Eroge are in the format of Visual Novels. Other forms include 'Strip' versions of games, regular RPG's, and sex simulators. Most of the animes in the trend are based on the Visual Novel form of Eroge, though some, like Utawarerumono, are based on RPG's.
Before I get going too far here, I want to point out some important concepts of H-games, as it's important to understand the differences to see where this trend is coming from. Most important to understand is that I'm actually using the slang version of H-Game here, which for Americans is often used to refer to all three types for the simple fact that we don't usually differentiate between them - to quote George Carlin, "Twat's twat, and that's that."
In reality, the term 'H-Game' is almost never used in Japan. Instead, they are described based on their primary focus. I've listed the basics in the inset boxes to the right of this paragraph. Looking at them, you should be able to get an idea of what makes these games ideal candidates for conversion into anime. By very definition, Visual Novels are designed around their story - boiled down far enough, they're just plain old picture books, done in a PC format. More importantly, unlike American adult entertainment, emphasis is usually placed on plot and character development, rather than merely as an excuse to have sex. Because of that emphasis, many Visual Novel, RPG, and Dating Sim Eroge games are of equal quality to more mainstream games and such, and in some cases, of higher quality.
Of course, that's not to say that every Eroge can - or should - be made into an anime series. As much as the trend to do so has been growing, the games that have made the conversion are barely a drop in the bucket compared to the tidal wave of games that can be found, very few of which have made their way over here to the States. Even among those, more games have had to be translated by fans than official companies like JAST USA, G-Collections and Peach Princess have completed. The reasons are the same as the problems that any written story has when you try to convert it to the screen. Some simply can't make the leap. Others never draw enough interest to do so. And of course, some Eroge games really are just for the pornography of it.
But there are those games that not only can make the leap, but have more than enough interest in them to do so. I'll be talking about a couple of these titles a lot over the course of the rest of this article, so I'll introduce you to them now. The first is a series named Shingetsutan Tsukihime - roughly translated, Moonlight Princess Chronicles. Based on the TYPE-MOON game Tsukihime, it follows the life of a young man named Shiki Tohno with the ability to see the lines of life on all things - living and inanimate. When cut, those things fall apart as though sliced to little pieces by those very same lifelines. Second is Shuffle! by Navel. Based on the game of the same name, Shuffle! follows the life high-school student Tsuchimi Rin when he finds out that he's been selected to choose from one of two girls to marry - and by doing so become King of the Gods or Demons. Last is Dragon Knight 4, by ELF, a fantasy story that follows the story of Edo and his companions in a fight to save their world.
While there are many other examples - I've included a partial list compiled by Soul and hAtSuKoI over at the Virtual Infusion Forums at the end of this article - these three cover the most common results of an Eroge to Anime conversion. I'll be using Tsukihime to illustrate Eroge that make the leap to true romance titles. Needless to say, by default quite a few end up being Harem animes - Shuffle! will be my example of these. And of course, some do remain truly adult titles - while Dragon Knight 4, though softcore, will be representing that group.
Warning: High School Zone
It can fairly be said that a majority of Eroge, and by extension, Eroge to Anime conversions take place in a high school situation. In part, this is a result of the strict censorship laws that were - and in some cases, still are - in effect in Japan until recently1. Using high-school age characters with adult bodies was, and remains a sort of dodge around some of these laws. Using high school as the setting also makes it a bit easier to believe that one character might find himself surrounded by so many available girls, whether the story be a strictly romance, dating sim, or harem situation. In the case that a story doesn't take place in a high school, the main character is usually a leader of a group that has or attracts several women - this is most common in fantasy style storylines - or a member of a crew with an inordinately high number of women - typical of sci-fi plotlines.
Both Tsukihime and Shuffle! follow this high school drama convention, with quite different results. Tsukihime's take uses the high school extensively as a setting for major events, from the events leading to Shiki and Arcueid's first meeting to the final, climactic battle of the series, and the fallout afterwards. Shuffle! uses the high school a fair bit as well, but only as an introduction to other sections of the story - the vast majority of the action takes place in and around the town that Rin and his friends all live in. On the other hand, Shuffle! makes considerably greater use of the Rin's classmates, while Tsukihime tends to gloss over the other students in Shiki's class - the focus remains primarily on Shiki and Arc. Obviously, that's as much a result of their focus - Tsukihime is a true romance story, while Shuffle! is a Harem - as anything else, but it's a good measuring stick of the range that you can get when you consider that both the Eroge games that these two series are based on are Dating Sims.
On the other hand, Dragon Knight 4 takes a different approach to the matter - based on an RPG, it started with the most clearly defined story line, and also made the most direct leap, plot to plot, of the three examples that I'll be using. Based in a fantasy world, the main character, Edo, more or less takes the girls as the come along to him, acting like a sort of medieval James Bond. That's not to say that his plotline doesn't have a love interest - but as Dragon Knight 4 is more of a hentai anime than either of the other two, the plotline is given to multiple partners over the course of the story. It also reflects the more practical nature of their world - where Rin and Shiki deal with the ease of life in a high school setting, Edo and his companions are in a world that is far less certain, and far better suited to brief flings.
Two (Or More) Girls for Every Boy
A given is that there are going to be more females than males running around in Eroge to Anime conversions - though the same can be said about a lot of main stream series. Tenchi Muyo, Galaxy Angel, Vandread, El Hazard, Evangeleon - all of them have a girl to boy ratio of at least two to one. The big difference, and part of what I think makes the conversions so popular, is in how the situations are handled. Mainstream anime series tend toward what some people call the 'Typical Anime Wuss' character - Tenchi is a good example. He's a decent guy, but even before Kajishima destroyed what was left of the series, he couldn't make up his mind worth a damn. Instead of doing something about Ayeka and Ryoko, he was entirely too content to sit back and let what might come, come. My co-writer, K`thardin, calls that spineless. While I was never quite so blunt about it, Tenchi, and many similar characters, do share that flaw - they really don't try to do anything to resolve their situation. They all have their reasons - they might not want to hurt the other girls, or perhaps they're just too damned blind to see what they've got going - but it all boils down to a series based around one character's inability to make a choice.
At first glance, Shuffle! would seem to fall into this category as well. Rin is many things - kind, supportive, and willing to do what ever it takes to keep others happy. All reasons why he ends up in the events of the series, but they mask a major character flaw that really sneaks up on you, something that the 'Typical Anime Wuss' usually isn't. He's not just inattentive to what the girls are saying to him, he has a habit of turning a blind eye on the signs they give him. Time and time again, in fact, he actually ends up mistreating them because he's too busy trying to keep them all happy. And what a result when it finally gets through his thick skull what he's really been doing! Yet, perhaps more importantly, it's the girls themselves that finally knock that little tidbit into his cranium, something that NEVER happens in mainline series - all too often, the girls more standard series are willing to just keep waiting and hoping.
There's another thing that Shuffle! does that I'd never seen before in a Harem anime - that being showing the effects that such a relationship might really have on the participants. As I mentioned in my review of the series, Shuffle! is something of a series built on its two halves - the first half takes a fairly familiar Harem setup route, but the second half... As a brief summary, it contains one character having a major psychotic break, one succumbing to a second personality, one who admits to feeling obligated to have to live somebody else's life, and more. Every single one of these events is tied directly to how the dynamics of the Harem relationship work out, and give the series an impressively dark look after the lighthearted opening.
Taken to the other side of the extreme are the pure romances, series like Ah! My Goddess!, Onegai Teacher, and to an extent, Record of Lodoss Wars. It's a common theme - probably one of the most common in all of story telling, much less Anime in particular, and of course the very nature of Dating Sim and Visual Novel style Eroge make the romance an almost required facet of the plotline. That's probably where mainstream anime and Eroge to Anime conversions share the most in common, is their handling of storylines that are primarily romantic in nature. It's not that they don't tell the two in differing ways - but the theme of boy meets girl is such a basic chemistry that it doesn't matter how much you try to vary the telling - some things just are the way they are.
The trick, then, is to work with the things you can work with to make the ultimate reaction unique. Shingetsutan Tsukihime handled that by having Shiki kill Arcueid the first time they meet... Not exactly the best foot for a romance to start out on, is it? What resulted was a surprisingly unique take on the beginning of a relationship, a take that did a fair bit to keep their storyline surprisingly fresh and original through the better part of the series, as well as provided the impetus for the main plot events that followed. Arcueid realizes just the sort of powers that Shiki has, and, having used the bulk of her powers to regenerate herself after being killed by him, forces him to help her in her mission to destroy vampires until she recovers.
Dragon Knight 4, despite its more adult nature, had a main 'love' storyline for Edo too, one complicated by how the series is setup - Edo is in truth Takeru, sent back in time by Marulane some fifteen years after they failed to stop the demon bent on destroying the world. Edo has to hide his true identity, and prevent the same thing from happening again - but he also has to watch his younger self with his childhood sweetheart. Despite the 'girl of the episode' syndrome required by the fact that Dragon Knight 4 is a hentai title, the plot handles both his coming to terms with the fact that he's no longer his younger self, and how he winds up bagging the four women that he does.
There's something else that Eroge to Anime series seem to be a bit better at dealing with, that being resolutions. Taken in and of itself, that might not sound surprising, but then, you have to consider the source material for this one - most Eroge consist of multiple endings, especially Dating Sims. It's not the open-endedness of a series leaving room for a sequel, but just because of the way that the storyline is setup, there's no clear-cut 'real' ending to the vast majority of Eroge. Mainstream anime has a similar problem, one that I've already alluded to - they tend to leave things open to sequels so that if the series is popular it can pick right back up without having to worry about damaging the old 'ending', or having to replace characters. Witch Hunter Robin and Full Metal Alchemist showed the worst extent of this practice, a trend that's becoming alarmingly common - a series 'ending' that all but resets events that occured in the series so that it becomes a new beginning instead.
Given that, it'd be fair to assume that most Eroge to Anime conversions are very open-ended, without a real conclusion to the story line, but in fact, the opposite is true - more conversions have concrete endings than they do uncertain ones. Shingetsutan Tsukihime is the best example of the three for this - the writers of the series specifically chose the Shiki x Arcuied plotline from the game, and focused entirely on that for the full run of the anime series, including the final conclusion of the story - which was far from a happy one. This is despite the fact that the original game was primarily a Dating Sim.
To a lesser extent, the same is true of Shuffle!, though the anime ending of Shuffle was designed not around Rin actually making a choice, but maturing enough to see what he really had going for him throughout the series. Because they went that route rather than choosing one particular storyline as in Tsukihime, we got a chance to get to know all of the girls in the series fairly well, and still have a real ending that kept in line with what the series had built up. That balanced approach is something that isn't often seen in Harem anime series - all too often, all of the attention gets focused on the front runner, with the main character never really being forced to deal with the consequences of the situation.
As I close this column, I want to add a special thanks to both Soul and hAtSuKoI of the Virtual Infusion community for helping me by assembling a fair list of Eroge Anime released since 2000, without which this aricle wouldn't have been possible. Also contributing in that thread -
- Uber Lieutenant
- Gene Starwind
- Angel Mutsumi
Thank you again for taking the time to help me out; it was greatly appreciated.
I don't want you to come away from this column with the thought that Eroge to Anime conversions are automatically superior - that simply wouldn't be true. One of my example series, Dragon Knight 4, for as much as I enjoyed it, actually falls prey to a fair number of cliches that make the series not as good as it could - or should have been. And as much as I enjoyed Shingetsutan Tsukihime, it's actually not on my top ten list of anime - only Shuffle! out of my examples made that list. In the end, a lot of what I've stated here is my own opinion, something worth remembering - your tastes and mileage may well vary.
Instead, my goal was to point out some of the surprising facets of a type of anime that has been growing and becoming more popular of late. There's a sentiment in the United States that game to TV/Movie conversions don't work well - yet the Eroge to Anime trend has been blowing that belief cleanly out of the water for over six years, and considerably longer than that as I intentionally limited this article to series that have been released since 2000. I've said often enough before that I'm a sucker for a solid story, and that's something that is fairly common to Eroge Anime series - a very solid story.
Eroge Anime series are becoming more common; there is Utawarerumono, and Fate/Stay Night among others that are currently showing on Japanese television, as of the writing of this column. Coming up later this year series like Kanon 2006 and Welcome to Pia Carrot 4. They're definitely worth a look if you're looking for something new to watch.
This list was compiled by Soul, along with the others mentioned in the Special Thanks.