#oneaday Day 967: I Love You, Irina

I have already said a few positive things about batshit crazy visual novel My Girlfriend is the President on here and done a writeup over at Games Are Evil, but I feel it’s worthy of another post as I’m still playing it. My initial writeups were based on a single playthrough, you see, and like any good visual novel worth its salt, there are several possible “routes” through the narrative. (Interestingly, once on a route, there only appears to be one ending and minimal decision-making along the way — something which I thought would bother me a lot more than it does, which is not at all.)

(Author’s note: it is nearly 2am and I am tired, so I apologise in advance for incoherent rambling.)

Mild to moderate spoilers follow.

Currently I am about halfway through Irina’s route. Irina Putina is the Rusian (sic) president who shows up early in the game’s (fixed) first act and then sticks around for varying amounts of time in the remaining three, depending on which route you chose. She’s a textbook tsundere in almost every respect, seeming abrasive, grumpy and quick to anger on the surface but regularly demonstrating that she has a soft centre beneath all the slapping. And to be fair to her, protagonist Jun deserves every single slap he gets from her.

Playing Irina’s route directly after Yukino (the titular “girlfriend” — actually better translated as “childhood friend”) is interesting. On Yukino’s route, a huge deal was made out of her history with Jun, particularly a key event in their past which made them the close friends (and, later, lovers) that they are in the game’s story. On Irina’s route, the pair are still very close to one another, but Jun’s attitude towards Yukino is markedly different, at least so far as I have progressed. The pair still play with one another — Yukino’s “puppy” impression is particularly adorable (“Wan! Wan!”) — but over time as Jun becomes increasingly aware of Irina, he becomes self-conscious about his relationship with Yukino and about how he is stringing her along and making her jealous.

Jun, just in case you haven’t read my other entries on the subject, is a bit of a dick at the start of the game. Specifically, he’s a wannabe sex pest, constantly making inappropriate comments and lusting after his female friends, most of whom know exactly how to put him in his place. It’s worth bearing in mind that he is a teenage boy, however, and consequently is wracked with perpetual horniness and no outlet into which to channel this energy. Moreover, his “harassment,” as he calls it, doesn’t escalate beyond ill-chosen words and an occasional bit of peeping at things he shouldn’t. His actions are regularly completely inappropriate, of course, but he could also be much, much worse.

It’s this thoroughly objectionable nature that Jun has at the start of the story that allows him to take such a bold personal journey over the course of the narrative, even as utter insanity is unfolding around him and his friends. By beginning as a heavily flawed character, a pervert, he has the potential to grow and change into something better, and the girls of the story provide the catalyst for him to change. In the case of Yukino, he learns to respect and respond to the feelings of others; in the case of Irina, he learns restraint and gentleness. (I can’t speak for Ell or Ran as I haven’t played their paths at all yet.)

It’s actually quite touching to see. We first witness Jun going through some changes on Irina’s path when she comes with him to a judo class and shows him her passion for the sport. When he ends up pinned beneath her and starts teasing her about her breasts, she gets absolutely furious at him and storms out. Normally, Old Jun would have just shrugged this off, but he actually feels bad that he has hurt her feelings by mocking something she loves so much. He goes out of his way to try and make things right — even more remarkable given that he knows she’s going to leave in a couple of weeks and thus he could just as easily stay out of her way. His feelings grow, and he realises that he wants to make her happy, to give her the opportunity to be a “normal” girl for those two short weeks rather than the “girl president” position she’s been lumbered with.

It’s an interesting twist on what happens with Yukino’s path. When Jun and Yukino become lovers, Jun stands by her, swears to support her and goes out of his way to help her complete her mountains of work — without her knowledge in some cases. As he grows to love Irina, however, he seemingly wants to provide her with an “escape” from reality for a short period, to let her be “herself” rather than the “Rusian Fairy” facade she normally has to keep up.

I really love that a game with such an utterly nonsensical overarching plot as My Girlfriend is the President still has such wonderfully-defined characters and a genuine sense of emotional engagement in its narrative. The game is absolutely masterful at building up sexual tension in particular, meaning the player is right there with Jun throughout, feeling the electricity of every stolen glance, flushed cheek and hesitant word of affection.

That sense of involvement, of being inside the heads of the characters? That’s why I love VNs. There are few other places in gaming where you can have such profound experiences.

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Pete Davison

Southampton-based music teacher, writer and enthusiast of Japanese popular culture.

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