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2015-02-12

Cross Channel Review




Title: Cross†Channel
Alias: クロスチャンネル
Release date: 2003-09-26
English release date: 2009-08-26 (AT)
2013-10-25 (GHS)
Developer: FlyingShine
English publisher: Amaterasu Translations (as a fan-patch)
George Henry Shaft (as a fan-patch)

There once was a man who said: "God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there's no one about in the Quad."

"With no necessity to form connection with people, they become complete on their own"

"Cross Channel" is one of the very rare visual novels having more than one different translation available for the Anglophone public. In this case the translations were done by Ixrec of Amaterasu Translations and George Henry Shaft. This is not the first time I have played this visual novel. Back in 2010 I have completed the game using Ixrec's work and enjoyed it immensely. Actually, CC went on to become one of my favourite VNs of all time. I have thought about replaying the game for some time and the different translation gave me the needed incentive.
Nakama
So, how does the effort of George Henry Shaft compare to the previous one. I have one word only: underwhelming. The current translation is surprisingly much worse. It is well known that Amaterasu's translation is frequently inaccurate and downright wrong in other instances. However it is very well written, the prose flows easily and is memorable, with many passages still stuck in my head years later. I have no idea about Mr. Shafts translation skills, but he is an atrocious writer and his writing ruins any enjoyment one might get from the game. A literal horde of editors couldn't salvage this mess. Convoluted multiple tier sentences lasting for ten lines, stilted speech, unnatural expressions never encountered in English language and typos are not even the worst aspects of this translation. It appears that Mr. Shaft has something very personal against comma, as he took every effort to eradicate the poor bugger from the text. Not to mention, that he seems to be completely unfamiliar with famous pop-culture references and manages to mistranslate references to "Harry Potter" and "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". In other words, it is a mess of epic proportions (though admittedly it gets better during the second half of the game). And the word "epic" fits really well here. Apparently, in addition to translating the game, GHS also wrote a book on "Cross Channel"! Taking his skills as a writer into account I'm not gonna touch it with a ten inch meat-pole.

Before continuing on with the actual review it's important to mention that there are two versions of the game available for PC: original and Reprint editions. GHS has done a comparison of those on his blog and Reprint edition actually comes across as a worse one. It's quite easy to tell them apart: original edition has stylized letters FS in the top left corner (short for FlyingShine), while the Reprint has Tanaka Romeo's and Matsuryuu's (author and artist respectively) names written in Japanese in the same spot. Not that it really matters for the English speakers, as both of the translations will only work on the original edition.
Sugoi philosophy, Taichi.
I strongly suggest to avoid reading anything online regarding "Cross Channel" if you are new to the game. This visual novel is a literal spoiler minefield and every article about it reveals something that it shouldn't. The cover of the box, the opening video and the art style suggests that "Cross Channel" is a funny and fluffy eroge about a group of close friends. Nothing could be further from the truth. The game is one of the better known "genre shift" examples among the English translated visual novels. It starts as a usual moege set in a high school with accompanying shenanigans. However, there is just something off about the setting and the characters, and that "offness" increases in intensity with new details revealed to the readers. First, we find out the the core characters of the game are not such good friends after all, then the school itself is presented in a less and less flattering way, and finally the town itself starts to crumble at the edges of our perception. Eventually the game gets really dark and depressing before it reaches its glorious end. It reminds me a bit of another visual novel "Suika" which uses some of the same techniques, including the overabundance of clichés, which are introduced just to avert them all in the most horrific way possible.

"I'm adapting the boundary lines as I perform all kinds of contacts. Isn't that what socializing is?"

"Cross Channel" is a game about connections between people, about loneliness and the desire to fit in. It's a visual novel about eight high school members of a Broadcasting Club, who are building an antenna on the roof of the school and intend to start their own radio channel. This is the most barebones explanation you are gonna get. It doesn't spoil a damn thing, nor does it tell you anything useful. If you want to delve deeper into this before starting the game, just take a look at the short poem by Ronald Knox, which opens and closes my review. It also provides the basic summation of the deeper plot of this VN. Or you can just go in blind and enjoy the experience.
Mirror Mirror on the wall...
As I have already mentioned, there are eight core characters in the game. Our protagonist is one Kurosu Taichi (yes, his family name does sound exactly like a Japanese pronunciation of the word "cross"), a lecher extraordinaire and a pervert of epic proportions. The main activity Taichi engages in during the beginning of the game is sexual harassment of his female colleagues. He lifts their skirts, feels-up their boobs, cracks vulgar jokes and tries to get into their pants in any means possible. You might erroneously think that this is all there is to him, but there is another layer to Taichi so deeply hidden, that it might just be deadly, if brought to the surface. The longer you play as him, the more you notice little discrepancies, like Taichi's discomfort with his own looks, his fear of blood and his sudden and inexplicable mood swings. Kurosu Taichi is one of my favourite visual novel protagonists. He has so many hidden depths and it is incredibly satisfying to experience his deconstruction of a usual eroge protagonist.
Just say that you see her panties.
Miyasumi Misato is the president of the Broadcasting Club, and she is the one who brought Taichi to the Club, which he is very grateful for. Misato (or Mimimi-sempai, as Taichi calls her) is a cute meganekko, who is very passionate about the Club and involves herself wholeheartedly in it. Taichi notices that her hands are frequently hurt from building the antenna almost solely by herself. Misato is a cloudcuckoolander, against whom Taichi tries to restrain his lecherous behaviour... and fails most of the time. Not everyone knows that another member of the Club, Shima Tomoki, is Misato's brother, however it is quite evident that he dislikes her and treats her with disdain. The reason for that is not readily apparent, however Tomoki assures Taichi that Misato will betray him if they get close together. Obviously there are unspoken secrets abound.
Taichi makes even the eating sound dirty.
Kirihara Touko is a frail ojou-sama, who rebelliously goes to school in a dress, instead of a uniform. At school she appears quiet and just wants to be left alone, thus it's no surprise that Taichi takes a special delight in harassing her. Touko herself seems to disdain Taichi, but there is a certain familiarity between them, that wouldn't be possible without knowing each other better than just as classmates. There are bleeding wounds in Taichi's and Touko's past (some of them literal) and it's not easy for them to cross a certain threshold and learn to trust each other.
Miki so wants that food-bribe.
Yamanobe Miki is, what Taichi calls, one half of "the flowers". She is inseparable friends with Kiri, while at the same time being the most jovial and easygoing female character in the game. She took to Taichi's behaviour like a fish to the water and started emulating it to some extent, to the point that he treats Miki as his protégé. Sakura Kiri is the second half of "the flowers" and a direct opposite of Miki. Where Miki is outgoing Kiri is sullen, where Miki is friendly Kiri is hostile. She has severe trust issues and her lack of trust in people tends to explode in violent outbursts, the worst of which she reserves for Taichi. It seems that Kiri actively hates him and there is more to this hate than a dislike for Taichi's sexual harassment. Is it just because she sees him as a bad influence to Miki, or is there something more to it?

Hasekura Youko is the most enigmatic of the characters. There is little known about her. She appears and disappears as she pleases and Taichi gave her a nickname "kunoichi". Almost everything Youko related is a spoiler, thus there is not much else to say here.
There better be no chewing near my dick...
There are two other characters of note in the VN. Sakuraba Hiroshi is a comic relief character, who really likes curry bread and is prone for making hotheaded decisions, which got him in trouble more than once. Nanaka is a mysterious girl on a bicycle, whom Taichi sometimes meets on his way to school. She isn't a student at his school and it isn't really clear what she wants from Taichi, but it's obvious that she is somehow important to the plot.

Unlike a vast majority of visual novels that have multiple heroines, "Cross Channel" is almost completely linear. The game is divided into weeks, and each week is dedicated to one or other girl. There are choices, but choosing wrong only returns you to the beginning of the week to try again. Ultimately there is only one ending. In my opinion it's not a weakness, but a strength of this VN. The unique structure allows the writer Tanaka Romeo to tell the story as he wants to, without going off tangent.

"The shape happiness takes is different between people."

The said story has everything in it. It's funny, it's sad, it's disturbing and it's poignant. There are lots of conflicts, but no villain. On the contrary, the author's moral is that people are usually their own worst villains. Whenever there is a chance for happiness, they would sabotage their own efforts and blame others. The characters are blindly running from themselves into a certainly bleak future, and it is ironic that the only person with his eyes wide open is the most damaged of them all. Tanaka Romeo chose Taichi as his agent to observe other characters and help them deal with their problems. It's both ironic and tragic that Taichi cannot help himself, because it is a rule that observer cannot observe himself.
Free hugs. 10$ each.
"Cross Channel" is a story about growing up. Not only in the physical sense, but growing beyond ourselves, not letting what we are get in the way of being what we want to be. Tanaka's characters are not nice people, they are not even good people, but they still strive to matter in a world which discarded them. "Cross Channel" tries to deal with such heavy topics as child abuse, social alienation, obsessive dependence on other people, validation of self worth, etc. The topics are handled in a manner that lets it all sink into the readers' psyche bit by bit, until they can see the whole picture.

CC is a beautiful novel both plotwise and in its looks. Soft muted pastel colours dominate the art and they give the game an almost dreamlike surreal look, which really suits the plot, especially considering the whole "Downfall" thing. Sprites display the character emotions really well (at least the emotions of those characters that have them). Actually, the looks of the game are pretty impressive, taking the low resolution and the year of production into account. The sound is no less well realized. The soundtrack beautifully amplifies the atmosphere and the theme song "Signal" is chillingly effective in getting the emotional response.
Drying pole.
"Cross Channel" is an eroge, thus obviously there are H-scenes present, and they are quite surprisingly well integrated into the plot... or at least some of them are. While reading the VN I didn't feel like the sex scenes were just tackled-on with no good reason. Moreover they are well made and moderately arousing. it's more than can be said for many H-scenes in other visual novels.

"It's not human to only ever do what's correct."

If there is one drawback to the game as a whole - it moves quite slowly at the beginning. The main plot is not even hinted at until at least two whole weeks go by. Thus some people might get a false impression and just drop the VN. Your enjoyment of the introductory weeks depend in a large way on your appreciation of Taichi's comedy antics. Considering the comedy hit all the right notes with me, I didn't consider the slowness as detrimental to me, but other people might be of a different opinion. Another drawback, which, admittedly, is not a fault of the game itself, is that neither existing translation is perfect. However, there is almost zero chance we will see a third attempt any time soon, so we have to do with what we have.
Taichi has weird hobbies.
It also needed to be said that both Amaterasu and GHS translated a few bonus scenarios not presented in the main game (two and three scenarios respectively, though they overlap, thus only one scenario by GHS is new and previously unseen). Amaterasu released those scenarios as a separate patch titled "Tower of Friends", while Mr. Shaft included them in the main patch. They are mostly "what if" omakes, with two of them being humorous snips.

Finally, I want to mention a flash game titled "Nanaca Crash" which is loosely based on the VN. It is an addictive little piece, where the main purpose is to make Taichi travel the largest distance without stopping. It served as an inspiration for a similar game based on "Katawa Shoujo" and titled "Katawa Crash". I personally prefer "Katawa Crash" to the original, natheless, you should try both - you might just get hooked.

As for "Cross Channel"... What are you waiting for - go play it now!

Dear Sir,
Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the Quad;
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by
Yours faithfully,
God.

Links of Interest

Official Japanese site
Amaterasu Translations site
George Henry Shaft's site
Buy a Japanese physical edition on Mandarake / old Mandarake site
Play "Nanaca Crash" online or download it to your computer

Final Verdict: 94%

2 comments:

  1. Hey, I've just finished my very first playthrough (was reading CC Final Complete in Japanese) and want to post somewhere about what a real blast it was, though a bit spoiled by re-usage of the same lines. Like, almost 1/3 of the game was skipped and some scenes (almost all with Mimi) were bordering boredom. Probably, also have to say that the writing wasn't as great as some people imply it to be. I honestly prefer more recent works of Romeo (Rewrite, for example) to it. Anyway, thanks for your review! The game is great and I'm going to reread it at some point in the future.

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  2. I got into reading the VN because of nanaca crash flash game. As you said I expected a funny and fluffy eroge, but how glad I was to find such a nice story. Few VN I've red are this good, so it's very recomended to everyone. Oh and Tower of Friends blew my mind, it was excellent

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