So far, I believe I’m still in the “common” route of Grisaia, since I’ve only made a single choice so far, and that didn’t come until after a considerable number of hours of reading. The lack of interaction hasn’t been a problem, though; the early hours of Grisaia are clearly intended as a means of helping you get to know the characters and the context in which they find themselves, and the distinctly leisurely pace at which the early hours of your typical visual novel such as Grisaia unfolds allows it to dangle some truly tantalising mysteries in front of you, mostly with regard to the backgrounds of the characters and what has actually brought them all together.
Even the basic concept of Grisaia is still a slight mystery to me at this juncture. Although the early hours have been relatively typical high school slice-of-life so far, there’s clearly something more going on. From the protagonist’s frequent references to his mysterious “job” and use of military terminology and tactics to the unpredictable, trope-subverting nature of all the heroines, nothing seems quite “right” in Grisaia’s world, and that’s what makes it so intriguing. The fact that the school which they all attend has no-one but them in it — making for a student body of just six people — is perhaps the biggest mystery: why are they all there? What has pulled them out of “normal” life? What is the school for?
Amane initially appears to be the most “normal” of the cast. She likes to play the role of the older sister, and does so with great enthusiasm, particularly when it comes to protagonist Yuuji. Yuuji is initially resistant to her advances but eventually allows her to indulge a little for the sake of having a marginally quieter life, because even when she’s getting what she wants, Amane is forthright, frank, open and honest about everything — arguably to a fault.
She’s also seemingly very much at ease with herself as a woman, happily stripping off and getting changed in front of other people (including Yuuji) and wearing clothes that emphasise her curves. She’s also rather sexually aggressive towards Yuuji even as they’re first getting to know one another, often grabbing him and pressing herself against him, and on one memorable occasion, sneaking into his room while she thinks he’s out and inhaling his scent from his clothes and his bed; Yuuji catches her just before she starts masturbating.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Amane yet. I certainly like her a great deal, but I have a feeling that her forthrightness may, in fact, be compensating for something. Exactly what, I couldn’t say just yet, but I’m pretty convinced that there is more to Amane than meets the eye.
Makina is brilliant. Initially presented as the dimwitted loli of the group, it takes a little time for Makina to take to Yuuji, but they eventually bond, much to the surprise of Amane, from whom Makina is otherwise almost inseparable. It transpires that Makina is far less stupid than she likes to make out, and that she may well be putting on an act for her own mysterious reasons.
This doesn’t mean that she’s entirely “normal”, though. Her impressive ability to take mental photographs of books she’s reading and instantly recall information from them — albeit only in black and white — reminds Yuuji of his deceased sister, who had a similar ability. Perhaps not coincidentally, Makina quickly starts calling Yuuji “Onii-chan”, despite his resistance; much like he softens towards Amane somewhat, so too does he eventually just let Makina continue along in her own bizarre little world.
Perhaps the most amusing and intriguing thing about Makina is the way she talks. Far from being stereotypically cute and shy, Makina is foul-mouthed and frequently comes out with things you’d expect a dirty old man to say. Amane occasionally admonishes her for this, but since she occasionally slips into her own Kansai region colloquialisms, she doesn’t really have a leg to stand on in this instance.
Again, I wouldn’t like to conjecture what brought Makina to Mihama Academy in the first place, but it’s clear that something traumatic happened in her past; so far, however, the conversation has always been steered away from it any time it looks like getting into dangerous territory.
In contrast to Makina’s front of stupidity, Michiru actually does appear to be pretty dimwitted. Obsessed with the tsundere character trope to a fault, Michiru deliberately tries to act as stereotypical as possible, but in the process frequently breaks character in order to seek the approval of others — and, to a certain degree, herself — on how well she’s doing at playing the spoiled princess.
In keeping with the other characters, though, there’s seemingly a lot more to Michiru than meets the eye. As time progresses, whenever she is alone with Yuuji, she seems to want to open up to him somewhat. In some instances, she drops the tsundere act completely and attempts to have a serious conversation, though her inability to articulate herself in anything more than the most simple terms sometimes means she finds it challenging to get across quite what she wants to say.
Michiru is clearly struggling with depression — perhaps as a result of a condition or illness she has. Her adoption of the tsundere personality is a coping mechanism designed to hide any outward signs of her pain and suffering; by being deliberately aggressive and contrary about everything, she puts up a formidable barrier around the truth that lies in her heart, though, of course, I’m sure by the end of her own narrative route we’ll get to the bottom of exactly what is bothering her so much. She is the butt of a considerable number of jokes throughout the common route, but I have the distinct feeling she’s going to end up being one of the most sympathetic characters.
Sachi (right) is something of an enigma. Sweet, innocent and largely emotionless to a fault, something in Sachi’s past has caused her to become someone who takes everything she hears absolutely literally. This means that a joke about how she should wear a maid costume all the time because of all the hard work she does for others means that she now wears a maid costume whenever she’s not in her school uniform; it means that someone requesting “the freshest milk possible” sees her catching a train out to the countryside to go and milk a cow.
Sachi’s initial impression is that she’s a thoroughly nice and considerate person, but there’s something else at work. Occasionally — particularly when she’s dealing with Michiru — some uncharacteristically hurtful, acidic comments will come out of her mouth. There’s evidently some bitterness festering beneath the surface, though for the most part, she simply refuses to talk about it and quickly puts her façade of being the perfect maid back up.
The other thing about Sachi is that her tendency to take things literally means that she has absolutely no sense of shame or proprietary whatsoever. When Yuuji jokes with her about the power a glimpse of lingerie has over men, she turns up to school the next day in nothing but lacy undies, stockings and suspenders. When she and Yuuji are cleaning the dormitory bathroom together, she falls over and gets her maid costume wet, then subsequently decides that the appropriate thing to do — after another joke from Yuuji — is to take it off, attach it to her mop (“to cover more ground”) and continue the rest of the cleaning job in her underwear. I anticipate that this aspect of her character in particular will cause more than a few awkward situations by the conclusion.
Finally, Yumiko is the most obviously fucked up of the main cast. Initially refusing to even speak to Yuuji, instead preferring to first of all slap him when he approaches her, and subsequently attack him with a box cutter at every opportunity. The barriers around Yumiko’s heart are nigh-impenetrable, it seems, but Yuuji’s ability to shrug most awkward situations off — perhaps due to his own background, which he hints at regularly throughout the common route without explicitly explaining it — means that he takes her violence and anger in his stride, eventually managing to get through to her enough to be able to speak to her and subsequently have an honest conversation with her, even spending some time with her alone without her trying to attack him.
Yumiko’s basic character trope is that of the perpetually grumpy “student council president” type, but rather than being a blushing, awkward individual beneath the façade, it’s clear that her outward grumpiness is a sign of outright rage and bitterness bubbling beneath the surface. She is, so far as I’ve read at least, the biggest mystery among the main cast — both to me and to the rest of the cast, too. She keeps herself to herself, and no-one seems to know anything about her history. No-one even seems to know where she’s going or what she’s doing at the weekends when she sneaks out of the dormitory in the early hours of the morning carrying a tote bag full of “wooden objects”. I’m looking forward to finding out more about her.
That’s what I know so far, then. They’re an interesting bunch of characters, to be sure, and I’m really looking forward to each of their routes to discover exactly what makes them tick and what has brought them to the strange circumstances in which they find themselves. I sense it’s going to be a long road to find out, but up until this point, it’s been a compelling and intriguing ride with a ton of tantalisingly unanswered questions.
Number one visual novel of all time? I couldn’t say with confidence as yet. But it’s certainly one of the most immediately compelling, well-written — and well-localised — ones I’ve read for quite some time, and if you have the slightest interest in the medium, I’d encourage you to support it.