It occurred to me while compiling last week’s entry on the subject of “genre” that most of the visual novels I have personally played to date have been rather “serious” affairs, dealing with delicate social and psychological issues, more often than not in a respectful, sensible manner. So it was with some trepidation that I fired up Alcot’s My Girlfriend is the President, a relatively recent English language release from JAST and, to my knowledge, the first explicitly “comedy” VN I have encountered.
The premise of the game is absurd in the inimitable manner that only the Japanese can pull off with any confidence: aliens crash-land on “Nippon” (all country names in the game are bastardizations of their real-life equivalents except, oddly, for France), which wipes out the existing government. Then, wracked with guilt, said aliens decide to rebuild society and brainwash everyone as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately, the only cultural data they have to go on is that retrieved from the “Hoyager” probe launched by “Ameriga” in the 1970s, and consequently they determine that all of Earth’s governments make use of a presidential system. Yukino Ohama (pun entirely intended), the first girl on the scene after the accident, is made into the president of Nippon, and her house, which is conveniently next door to that of our protagonist Junichiro Hondo, turns into the “Snow House.” Hilarity, as you may expect, ensues, featuring giant pandas, a spaceship that can turn into a yakisoba-obsessed young girl in shimapan, and some of the greatest onomatopoeia ever seen in any medium.
Despite initially appearing to be a rather slapstick comedy that consistently raises the bar on the absurdity of its unfolding events, My Girlfriend is the President is, at its core, a very intimate love story. Or, more specifically, due to the four routes through the game, it is four very intimate love stories. It’s also the tale of a personal journey for our protagonist Junichiro who is, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a dick at the start of the game.
Junichiro, like Yukino and most of the other characters in the story, is a teenager, and consequently is wracked by the sort of impure thoughts that only teenage boys have. He takes great pride in his smutty jokes and regularly boasts to the player about how much he “sexually harasses” his female companions. To be fair to him, though, he doesn’t tend to take said harassment any further than making overly-personal remarks about breasts and how much he would like to do things to them, and most of his female companions are more than aware that he is just being lewd more to provoke a reaction than anything else. On top of that, he has a strong sense of justice, and will be the first to throw himself into action should the various objects of his wandering affections ever find themselves in genuine danger. If we’re talking TV Tropes, he’d fall firmly into the Chivalrous Pervert category, in short — at least at the outset.
As the game progresses down its various paths, Junichiro loses his “edge” somewhat as he comes to the realization that he is genuinely falling for one of the girls in question. He starts to feel guilty about making inappropriate comments — though not enough to stop making them completely in most cases — and comes to the conclusion that making his sweetheart smile is more important than anything else. Despite his air of bravado, however, he lacks confidence to truly confess his feelings — particularly when it comes to the utterly adorable Yukino, with whom he has been friends ever since childhood. In essence, what initially appears to be a distractingly uncomfortable character flaw actually contributes to Junichiro becoming a surprisingly “human” protagonist — he has his less admirable qualities, sure, and he will most certainly rub some people up the wrong way, but his heart is in the right place.
Consequently, the game packs a surprisingly powerful emotional punch at regular intervals despite the utter insanity that is going on in the overarching plot. This is particularly apparent when it comes to the game’s erotic content — or, more specifically, the promise of said erotic content. My Girlfriend is the President is relatively light on the H-scenes compared to some other games of its type, preferring instead to tease the player with a number of situations that look like they might get somewhat steamy before dropping a proverbial (or, in some cases, literal) clanger and killing the mood completely. Rather than proving frustrating, however, it’s through these embarrassing situations that we get to know Junichiro and his partners a whole lot better as we witness their awkwardness around each other, each hesitating to make the first move and wondering if it’s all right to take things up a notch. When the inevitable naughty scenes do eventually show themselves, there’s been a considerable amount of sexual tension built up, giving them significantly more emotional and erotic impact than if they had just suddenly happened out of nowhere.
In fact, it’s fair to say that the characterization of the various cast members — whether or not they’re doing rude things to one another — is excellent throughout. Each has their own clearly-defined personality, and while some are inclined to fall back a little on established animé tropes — Yukino is moe through and through; “Rusian” president Irina Putina (pun also fully intended) is a textbook tsundere – the game constantly lampshades these tropes by characters either breaking the fourth wall and addressing the player directly, or by having them call each other on how stereotypical they’re being. One character in particular is obsessed with eroge and serves as a convenient reminder to the player that yes, this is all a bit of fun, really, and none of it should be taken too seriously.
That’s the thing about My Girlfriend is the President, though — it plays itself admirably straight throughout, despite the increasing levels of nonsense that are going on as something of a backdrop to the unfolding love stories. The comedy mostly comes from the player recognizing the absurdity of these bizarre situations, and from catching references that assume knowledge of both popular/Internet culture and Japanese/otaku terminology — Irina objecting strongly to being nicknamed “Puchin,” for example. While its story isn’t thought-provoking on the same level as something like School Days HQ or Katawa Shoujo, and the number of choices the player actually gets to make through the game is very limited, there’s a lot of legitimately amusing entertainment value to be had from the four tales here thanks to some genuinely memorable characters, at least one of whom you will just want to hug forever and ever and ever.
READ.ME is Games Are Evil’s weekly delve into the world of visual novels, a genre of interactive entertainment primarily developed in Japan which has carved out a small but dedicated niche in the West. Follow this column’s author Pete Davison on Twitter here.