Content Warning: This blog entry will superficially cover all the yucky sexual things you can find in nukige (A porn for porn’s sake porn game) as well as discuss in detail the virulent misogyny and homophobia present in such a product. Please read at your discretion. Additionally, readers who are tempted to experience the franchise after reading this post should be aware that the visual novel and at least the OVA of the first anime season indulge in transphobic humour.
Before we begin: I have been told by others that I often come across as judgemental when throwing my opinions around. As the vast majority of people I know who enjoy the Koihime Musou anime are lesbians, I feel it important to state that I am by no means presuming anything on the part of people who enjoyed it.
Now then, let us dance!
The early 10’s was kind of a bad time to be an english speaking VN fan. I’d gotten into the medium in a big way in the Spring of ’10 with Umineko and Kanon and spent my summer holiday ‘catching up’ on the classics like Fate/Stay Night, Ever17 and Higurashi, culminating in a playthrough of Tsukihime in Fall that closed the lid on me and visual novels for a while. Back then there wasn’t a Sekai Project, no audience for visual novels on Steam and Mangagamer’s small catalogue still mostly consisted of bargain bin nukige with such promising titles as ‘Suck my Dick or Die’. JAST hadn’t quite been run into the ground yet, but they were very definitely wound down. Other than waiting patiently for things I knew were coming eventually like Fate/Hollow Ataraxia and Little Busters, the only choice available to me was learn Japanese and I have never been able to commit to that.
It was around the time I purchased the final chapter of Higurashi, awaiting the PS2 asset patch, I heard of a recent acquisition by Mangagamer called Koihime Musou. Being a huge fan of Dynasty Warriors and having Romance of the Three Kingdoms on my even then titanic ‘To Read’ list, I was naturally curious. What really interested me, though, was the format for release. A pseudo-crowdfunded effort by a still fledgling licensor to prove to the big boys in Japan that the english speaking market had potential. Koihime Musou would be released unvoiced with the promise of the ten gazillion porn seiyuus being thrown patched in if the game hit the humble goal of three thousand sales. Being young, stupid, easily swayed by cool looking girls with big swords and dedicated to my new hobby I threw caution to the wind and Koihime Musou: Doki Otome Darake no Sangokushi Engi became my second legally purchased VN after Higurashi and would remain so until I imported Rewrite later that year.
This is by far the most tasteful CG from the VN I could find
The game is not good, or at least not what I was looking for. I would happily believe it was the best heterosexual nukige MG had released up to this point and likely still now. Gameplay is broken up into three sections: A simple and rote strategy minigame which focuses more on luck than anything else, a plot that’s sometimes enjoyable but mostly banal and takes itself far too seriously in the end… and then the sex scenes. Lots and lots of sex scenes. A tedious amount of sex scenes. All of them accompanied by pretty badly drawn CGs and carried through a semblance of prose that would make Nasu giggle…
At this point I feel obligated to mention that I am sexually attracted towards men and thus not the target audience of nukige choked to the brim with H-scenes. That doesn’t mean I’m unable to appreciate well made erotic content (My favourite manga is To-Love-Ru Darkness) or can’t enjoy a H-scene where the focus isn’t on carnal titillation (Such as the excellent sex comedy that is Makina’s H-scene in Grisaia, or the deeply uncomfortable climax to Caren’s character arc in Fate/Hollow Ataraxia). It just means maybe you should take what I say about the erotic power of Koihime Musou’s sex scenes with a grain of salt. Maybe.
….So now that we’ve covered the quality and quantity of Koihime Musou’s sex, let’s talk about the variety: About half of them are little girls, about a quarter are of dubious consent, a couple are outright rape (Put a pin in that, I’ll come back to it later). It’s nukige. It’s a visual novel. I should have known what I was getting into when I started and for the most part I kinda did. To date it’s the only nukige I’ve touched with a ten foot pole and honestly I can’t say it was a completely wasted experience. These kind of experiences are an important way to develop your taste and there was enough cute character interactions between the seven thousand scenes of Strong Independent Women slathering over nondescript MC genitals that I had a lasting fondness for many of the characters.
So anyway I didn’t want to talk about a crappy VN today.
Let’s talk about something completely different; let’s talk about Koihime Musou the anime.
And let’s talk about how it’s not so completely different after all.
This is the single best looking cap in the whole anime
A few weeks ago now I watched the Koihime Musou anime series which was released about a year after the game with its defining feature being the absence of the male MC. I did this because I’m currently reading the source material Romance of the Three Kingdoms and trying to experience the story from as many different perspectives as I can. Rather than the VN’s silly timeline changing nonsense, the anime opts for more down to earth shenanigans with Kan’U and Chouhi (And later Koumei) journeying around Ancient China and making friends. Superficially the change in direction seems to be about as far from the VN as you can get while keeping the same cast and setting and there’s definitely some truth in that. Characters are far more endearing when they have space to breathe apart from the MC and interact with one another like human beings and the damedame hijinks of the series fit these simple characters better. There’s a drama episode focused around the single parent of the cast and her kidnapped daughter which is absolutely the highlight of the show and the looser structure of the show gives the writer (One person scripted every episode of all three seasons, something basically unheard of in anime) more room to pay homage to the source. One thing in particular I’m rather fond of is Sonshoukou tagging along with Kan’u’s group for several episodes because her historical counterpart married Liu Bei before getting stolen back by Wu.
There is an issue, however, A huge structural oversight that the anime refuses to address and that couldn’t help noticing at about halfway through.
Brace yourselves for this
Where’s the MC?
(Actually the show would work if Koumei was the MC and the OVA rolls with this)
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that I want to see the creepy faceless MC of the Koihime Musou VN appear in the anime and I’m certainly not saying that an anime with a ‘strong’ (We’ll get back to that) all female cast like Koihime Musou needs a male character to chaperone them. God no. I’m saying that Koihime Musou has a large man shaped hole in the middle of it and it’s incredibly obvious once you realize it.
‘But what exactly is the series lacking that a male MC would provide?’ you ask, and to answer that we need to talk about the role conflict plays in a cheap ecchi eroge adaptation from the late 00s.
The Three Kingdom saga is set during a time of strife and chaos on an unprecedented level in China. At the start of the epic it seems like everyone with a territorial claim is mustering an army and fighting skirmishes against their neighbor, which gradually increases in scale over a period of around twenty-five years until we’re eventually left with the stratified tripartite state that the period is named for. The cause of this state of affairs differs between interpretations of the conflict, which is what fascinates me. While in the historical novel, the twilight of the Han Dynasty and rise of JIn was foreordained and had a lot to do with mysticism, prophecy and ‘feminine’ influences (eunuchs) seeking to influence the imperial throne, the historical truth is more due to the slow degradation of centralized government and the subsequent power vacuum caused by the deaths of He Jin and, later, Dong Zhuo. Four generations of civil wars caused by the clumsy machinations of those on the top of the social food chain.
How Koihime Musou differs from both history and the romanticized source is a lack of culpability from commanders and warlords. Toutaku (Dong Zhuo) is a saintly little girl, Sousou (Cao Cao) is just easily misunderstood, Enshou (Yuan Shao) is merely a vain ojou and Sonken (Sun Quan) struggles with her family’s heritage and just wants to be left alone. The anime pays lip service to Kashin (He Jin) being morally ambiguous, but is not prepared to accommodate a female antagonist with her own agency. The visual novel gets around the fact that just about everyone is basically a good person by having the conflict be instigated by an exterior source. Some indulgent bullshit about history monks rewriting history. It’s a flimsy, contrived way to justify a warring states setup between girls who would be (and are) good friends in any other setting but it’s effective at setting up a flimsy, contrived porn game where you as a conquering man get disparate groups of girls to unite around your conquering man-ness.
I wonder how Fantasy Ancient China is going to deal with the loss of, you know, everyone?
So now let’s talk about the anime.
Koihime Musou’s anime has no antagonists. There’s no mastermind pulling any strings, nor does there seem to be any discernible cause for the chaos the land is in. Bandits roam around, destroying villages and killing families because… bandits? It’s effect without cause and things don’t work like that in either a realistic sense or in a way that makes for a compelling narrative. The only possible justification I can posit is the weak leadership of the imperial army under Kashin, but considering how much the power of the empire has been decentralized into the factions of various warlords I can’t see that having a huge effect. Bandits are bad just because, and they’ve been worse recently just because. Nobody seems to be doing anything wrong to facilitate the spread of banditry or push the citizenry towards it, like how the uncertainty of the imperial court diverted resources from the common people and pushed them towards Zhang Jiao’s Way of Peace in the source. It’s just this faceless directionless spread of evil.
And you know what? That’s fine. I don’t really care about the political ramifications of Koihime Musou’s conflict. It’s asinine to read that far into the series’ lack of antagonist on a philosophical level. It doesn’t have any aspirations or ambitions. It’s a dumb ecchi series with a shallow excuse for our cute badass girls to travel around and get into hijinks. The show doesn’t need an antagonist to function.
Our nominal main character, Kan’u, does.
Imagine that one scene from Kill Bill V1, only not as good
You see, the reason we’re on this silly romp in the first place is because bandits killed Kan’u’s family. Especially her brother who died trying to protect her. That’s why she’s Kan’u the bandit hunting beauty. She’s motivated to fight the good fight and keep hunting bandits to make sure nobody else goes through what she did, and rather than beat about the bush any longer I’m just going to come out and say it: She’s an essentially incomplete character because she was written as the main girl of a harem plot. She’s inherently an accessory. A problem to be solved. A problem that an adaptation that removes the male MC, and the antagonists, cannot solve because it takes away the ‘victory conditions’ of ‘Make China A Safe Place’ and ‘Find Someone To Replace Her Brother’. Misogyny is baked into Kan’u’s character and in a very real way baked into the narrative. Why, in an empire, where all the warlords are female are all the soldiers male? Why does the only reliable job for women seem to be working in a maid cafe? Why are none of the bandits women? Why, in a narrative full of badass female characters, do most of the conflicts seem to revolve around the sexual, financial and emotional exploitation of women? The answer to all of these is ‘Because it was made for a male audience’. It says something that the best cut of animation in this show by a mile long leap is Kan’u’s chest jiggling when she makes the submission from warrior to woman… but I’m getting ahead of myself there. This is still well within the realms of ‘I knew what I was walking into’ at this point.
Let’s talk about what really rubbed me the wrong way about the show.
In episode eleven the almost compulsory two episode climax plays out. Kan’u meets a young handsome man called Ryuubi who looks a lot like her dead brother and fights for justice and I audibly groan because I can see exactly what the anime is going to do and just like the tortured conditional girl power in a David Cage game, that doesn’t make it okay. As bandits attack a village Ryuubi is prepared to write off as an acceptable loss, Kan’u’s big dilemma to cap the show off is between attaining completion as a character and moving on to some kind of harem girl nirvana by becoming Ryuubi’s right hand, or choosing her loyalty to her people and especially her beloved sister Chouhi. It’s dishonest. It’s fake. I hate it, and what I hate most about it is that Ryuubi as presented is not as morally bankrupt a person as Kazuto, the MC of the visual novel. He does creeps on Kan’u, but he doesn’t make sexual advances towards children (Ryuubi’s relationship with Chouhi and Koumei is barely established). He does prioritize an imperial mandate over doing what is right, but he doesn’t make the empress of China into his personal sex-maid. He does lie about his background for personal gain, but he doesn’t act as the sex police brought back in time to ‘correct’ the aberrant deviancy of homosexuality (More on that later). Even when Ryuubi is revealed to be a faithless conniver the show insults the moral integrity of its audience by unmasking him as a childnapper and leader of a group of would be assassins. A reveal that comes completely out of left-field, makes no fucking sense and only serves to reinforce the impression that this is a Bad Man. Unlike our Good Man, VN MC Kazuto, because the parting shot ‘I bet he wasn’t even the real Ryuubi’ can be taken to be a reference to our mysterious deuteragonist who appears in the next VN and anime season, or the protagonist of the VN himself, who takes Liu Bei’s narrative role insofar as it gels with the adaptation. Due to the conspicuous lack of cute new girls cameoing in the credits montage, I’m hedging my bets on the latter.
*whisper* look at the opening lyrics that play immediately after that
And now, ladies and gents, seems the perfect time for me to address the title of this blog and reveal my spicy punchline:
The (first season of the) Koihime Musou anime didn’t remove the male protagonist, it’s waiting for him to appear. The elephant in the room is the conspicuous absence of a main character who hasn’t arrived yet. You could easily repurpose the anime to act as a prequel to the visual novel. There are some continuity errors, but nothing some duct tape and exposition can’t paper over. Look how gracelessly but entirely workably Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood managed to retcon the first act of the manga to accommodate for the weak original opener. Hell, the final conflict we see in the Koihime Musou anime bears a striking resemblance to the Yellow Turban Rebellion which, as anyone who has ever hack’n’slashed a hundred Ancient Chinese peasants should know, is the opener of the Three Kingdoms proper.
Now, as we sprint to the finish line of my first ever aniblog, let’s change pace a little.
People have told me that Koihime Musou gets better in the second and third seasons. Having seen the first season’s OVA which was a lot of fun apart from one unfortunate immigrant from the visual novel, I am legitimately looking forward to seeing where this silly franchise heads next. Despite the huge diatribe I just wrote, I did enjoy this show for the most part. It exemplified and expanded upon what I found enjoyable about the visual novel while minimizing what I found tasteless. If it wasn’t for Bad Man Ryuubi in the last arc, all my complaints before that would have been worth so much hot air and with the inclusion of Cute Girl Ryuubi starting from S2 I can’t see that kind of cackhanded resolution being a recurring issue.
Slighty ominous image of Cute Girl Ryuubi (with pink hair!!!!) taken from scanning through the first episode of Shin Koihime Musou
There are a couple of things I want to address before I finish, though. They’re kind of connected and feed into my analysis of the show as a whole so please bear with me.
Firstly I feel almost that I was sold this show under false pretenses. Perhaps the lack of male MC blindsided people or maybe this element is just expanded upon in later seasons (Echoing myself earlier, something I can easily believe) but the first season of the Koihime Musou anime wasn’t exactly very gay. Not even by the softer more ambiguous standards of all girl SoL anime. Of the central six characters not only Kan’u, but also Bachou’s motivation is defined by a male figure, in this case her father and again something exploited by the MC in the visual novel. Chouhi is a child through and through and Koumei just seems glad to be along for the ride. Chouun and Kouchuu tease Kan’u the latter is a mother herself and so fare removed in age from the rest of the cast, opening with mistaking Chouhi for the young daughter of Kan’u, while Chouun has a strong start but disappointingly disappears midway through the series to make Koumei and Sonshoukou’s introductions easier to write around. I don’t think any of these girls are coded gay, at least in the first season. At its most raunchy, they just feel like friends passing around sex jokes.
And now on the flip side of the equation, let’s talk about the gay girl.
If you asked me who my favourite character in Koihime Musou was after the single ending I got (Kan’u, for the record. Chouhi and Koumei are the other two main routes and I try my hardest not to predate upon children) I’d have to say Sonshoukou. She’s an adorable brat with an attitude and the fractured relationship between her and her elder sister Sonken is my kind of compelling. She was blown out the water, however, by my new favourite halfway through the anime.
It’s the embarrassingly crass porn OST that sells this scene so well
Jun’iku (hereafter referred to by her made up name Keifa, because isn’t it a damn nice name?) is almost definitely the smartest bit of writing in Koihime Musou and shows an appreciation for the source that trumps anything else in the series. Seeing as my only exposure to the Three Kingdoms before I read the visual novel was Dynasty Warriors, the name Xun Yu, who Keifa is based on flew completely over my head. Xun Yu is an incredibly important character in the early years of the civil war, being Cao Cao’s chief strategist before unfortunate things happen and is responsible for one of the most heroic acts in the narrative which sadly does not always translate well to hack’n’slash games, hence his debut as basically an afterthought as late in the franchise as Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires. The ultimate burn. So loyal was Xun Yu to his master Cao Cao, that he was the only officer of the Wei army to protest his lord’s hubris in claiming a dukedom for himself because he knew what lay at the end of that road. He died out of a devotion that Cao Cao, blinded by his lust for power, was unable to see. It’s the good shit. There’s something poetic there. So imagine my delight when I realized that Xun Yu’s cute girl counterpart Keifa was her lord Sousou’s sex slave. It’s brilliant because small nuggets of ambiguity texture the relationship between master and servant and reference the conflict from the novel.
There’s a scene towards the end of the requisite onsen episode where Keifa embarrasses her mistress by revealing a compromising sexual detail, playing a role akin to a Shakespearean fool where Keifa has the privilege of flapping the unflappable Sousou because of her servility. Another scene has Sousou’s embittered cousin play out an imaginary situation where she alluring steals Sousou away from a jealous Keifa. We never see anything even close to that aspect of Keifa’s personality directly from her It’s how much of a sexual threat Keifa appears to be in the perspective of others that creates a level of ambiguity about her and adds to her character a dimension lacking in the rest of a cast that transparently declare their motives at every opportunity.
The above sprite is Keifa in the visual novel. More specifically, it’s from the sequel so I’m cheating a little. I can pretty easily infer that my judgement about her being a manipulative sneak from the anime was correct. But it’s also disappointing because she’s lost that allure of ambiguity. With her cards face up on the table, the thing that stuck out to me most from the anime is gone. Much more upsetting is her role in the VN, owing to the change in priorities that a male protagonist brings. As I mentioned a fair few paragraphs ago, Kazuto acts as sexual police. He ‘corrects’ homosexuality. A sentiment that being homosexual myself I find pretty morally abhorrent. After Sousou is ‘conquered’ she at least retains the presence of character that made her so formidable in the opening campaign, while Keifa is *just* the lesbian. All texture is stripped from her character as she’s turned into a sexual plaything and quickly discarded with the next H-scene. It’s vile homophobic tripe and the fact that it exists as a cliché in pornography for the sexual gratification of straight dudes to feed their egos by telling them lesbians can be ‘broken in’ or what the fuck ever is genuinely upsetting.
I’m sorry about the direction that went. I get the feeling I got those last few paragraphs the wrong way round as my intention was to praise the anime’s incredibly efficient usage of a character who has about five minutes of screentime tops. Keifa is great and I genuinely think the anime deserves a gold star in salvaging her, saving her from becoming bargain bin fetish fuel.
With no idea how to land a three thousand six hundred word blog post about the fucking sexual politics of a fucking ecchi adaptation of a fucking porn game I’m just going to be honest and say thank you for everyone reading this. I think I may have been too harsh on an adaptation that at least took a risk (In the safest most indifferent way possible) and did something different. It’s a charming enough show if you’re able to look past some peculiarities and the nasty last two episodes and I very much enjoyed my time with it. It’s certianly nowhere near as vile as the subject of my next blog entry which is kinda the worst dogshit ever so look forward to that in the year 2020.