The Labyrinth of Grisaia and Sexual Content in Visual Novels

Earlier this month, I was finally able to purchase The Labyrinth of Grisaia—the sequel to The Fruit of Grisaia—in the form I originally thought I wanted to read it in. For those who don’t know, the Grisaia series of visual novels is being translated by Sekai Project, and released in two slightly different formats: all-ages versions on Steam which cut the adult content from the original Japanese
releases, and 18+ versions on Denpasoft which make no alterations to the original story. The 18+ version of Labyrinth had been delayed repeatedly, so I had built up a lot of anticipation for it by the time it was finally translated. After reading it, however, I sort of wish that I had just picked up the all-ages version earlier instead of waiting.

First, a note on my opinion of sexual content, or “h-scenes,” in visual novels. When I was younger and first started getting interested in VNs, I was intrigued by the fact that there was a whole genre of long, complex stories that also included occasional graphic sex. I had never heard of anything like that before, and I’ve always preferred porn that has some kind of story and context to it over just random people suddenly fucking. But while I still do appreciate some visual novels that take a unique approach to sexuality, like Ladykiller in a Bind, I find that I’ve become less interested in h-scenes in general as I get older and more familiar with them. I’ve started to feel like the vast majority of them are just tossed in without really being significant to the story, following the same tired routine that every other h-scene follows, and just causing a nuisance for me when I wanted to get some reading done on the train. However, I still tend to purchase 18+ editions when they’re the original. I just don’t really like the idea of reading something that’s cut parts out of the original release—especially if it just awkwardly jumps from before the sex to after instead of writing a smoother transition, like some clumsily adapted all-ages releases do, or if it also cuts out some sex-related dialogue and/or descriptions of violence, as was the case with The Fruit of Grisaia. It was for those reasons that I waited for 18+ Labyrinth.

The reason I’m giving such a long-winded explanation here is that I often see arguments within the VN community between people who dislike h-scenes and see those who like them as sex-crazed losers, and people who enjoy them and see who those who don’t want to read 18+ VNs as prudes. I want to make it clear before I go ahead with my opinion on the sexual content in The Labyrinth of Grisaia that I don’t align with either of those extremes. I can sometimes appreciate h-scenes and I can see how they appeal more to others, but I’m also not really super into them, and most of my favourite titles have none (in many cases because they also contain little to no focus on romantic relationships). And now I’ll continue to my opinions about the VN, which will probably contain tons of spoilers and also be extremely long-winded.

While there were some parts of The Labyrinth of Grisaia that I did enjoy, my opinions of the VN were somewhat diminished by some of its instances of sexual content. In the first sexually explicit scene of The Cocoon of Caprice (the main story of the VN, which also includes several other side stories), Yuuji’s sister Kazuki molests him. Later, he sleeps with his guardian Asako in a scene which has many troubling parallels to the earlier one with his sister. And while Yuuji is a fair bit older by this point in the narrative, he’s still not an adult, and Asako is in a position of authority that I think makes the relationship quite inappropriate. And in Cocoon’s third and final “h-scene,” Asako encourages Yuuji to ignore JB’s screamed protests during an encounter that JB describes many years later as “a traumatic experience.” I don’t mean to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with a story including that sort of disturbing material, especially when it’s clearly presented as examples of a painfully abnormal youth that continues to affect the protagonist’s ideas about women and sexuality as an adult. But I think the fact that all three scenes are displayed in pornographic detail, and can be accessed from the “erotic scenes” section of
the extras menu, detracts from their impact on the narrative. It seems less like the writers included them because they felt that it was important for the readers to understand the depths of Yuuji’s issues, and more like they just wanted to shoehorn them in in for fanservice.

Furthermore, if scenes like that did appear as more blatant fanservice in a more porn-focused VN, or even if in the non-canon “Professor Dave’s” section of Labyrinth, I don’t think I would have had a problem with them either. I understand that plenty of perfectly nice people also enjoy sexual fantasies that would be fucked up in real life, and if artists who are into that stuff want to write and illustrate it for other people who are into it to enjoy, more power to them. But when The Cocoon of Caprice takes a break to present sexual assault in the same light as it does the sex scenes that appear in healthy relationships in other segments of the VN, it takes away from the rest of the story and becomes disturbing in a different way than those parts of the narrative were
intended to be. Instead of empathizing with the characters who were the victims, I became completely un-immersed and instead thought, “What the fuck is wrong with the the people who thought it was a good idea to include this?” If the scenes had been shorter and less pornographic, on the other hand—if they had just been described enough for me to understand what was going on without going into so much detail—I probably would have felt more emotionally involved. So at least as far as my reading experience is concerned, I feel like the Cocoon of Caprice section of The Labyrinth of Grisaia is an example of how the inclusion of h-scenes does have the potential to lessen the impact of a VN’s story. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I had read the all-ages version after all, and I’m considering doing just that when the last installment in the trilogy, The Eden of Grisaia, has been translated.

I would feel bad about only criticizing Labyrinth in this post, however, since I did quite enjoy some parts of it. So since I’ve written way too much already, I’ll end on a concise positive note with a list of a few things I thought were awesome:

  • that first CG in Makina’s after story in which she looks like a total badass,
  • the scene where Michiru tries to teach Yuuji how to decorate photos,
  • all the parts with Tunafish Man,
  • Sachi’s rice-cooker gaining sentience and trying to take over the world,
  • Sachi crawling into a vent to disarm a bomb on her wedding day,
  • and pretty much the whole arc of Yuuji in the American military,
  • especially absolutely everything about Daniel Bone.

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