Warning: This review will contain mild spoilers for early moments in the visual novel, though content spoiled will be what you will typically find in a synopsis for Cross†Channel.
Translation used provided by Amaterasu Translations.
Insanity is something that is very difficult for sane people to understand or comprehend, which is why I can’t help but feel that Tanaka Romeo, the author behind Cross†Channel, is a little insane himself. In Cross†Channel the reader takes the role of Kurosu Taichi, a student at Gunjou institute, a government funded high school that is designed to gather and isolate students that get a high mark on an adaptation coefficient exam, which indicates that they are less likely to be adapt well into society. The goal of this test is to remove those suffering from signs of mental illness from society in order to remove potential threats, in order to hopefully cure or, in extreme cases, completely discard them from society. Taichi is a member of Gunjo institute’s broadcasting club, a once strong club that has now been corrupted by mutual hatred and conflict among its members. Taichi, in a weak attempt to restore the club to its former glory organises a camp out with the club members in order to reconcile the members of the club. Taichi’s attempt ends in failure, only aggravating the issue rather than improving it, but when the eight members of the broadcasting club return after the camp, they learn that all living creatures in the town except for themselves have disappeared. This leaves eight students with potential serious mental illnesses, all with serious distrust of each other, all alone in the world, trying to uncover the reason for everyone’s disappearance and return the world to the way it was, with no electricity, no internet, no law enforcement and the growing unrest as society crumbles apart.
Cross†Channel is a visual novel released in 2003 by Flying Shine with the main scenario written by Tanaka Romeo. Unlike a typical visual novel, it is not broken down into separate routes, but rather one continuous route. However, that isn’t to say that the concept of multiple routes does not exist within the context of the visual novel, but rather than existing separately from each other, they mesh together to form one cohesive story. The visual novel starts quite slowly. In fact, it takes at least a couple hours of reading until what is stated in the above synopsis actually becomes clear to the reader and instead focuses on humour and sexual perversion early on in the story. In addition to a slow start, scenes are repeated, almost word for word, consistently throughout the visual novel. The reader might be tempted to use the skip mechanic to bypass already read content, but that would be a mistake for two reasons.
1. The auto-skip tool is horribly implemented and may cause the reader to skip unread text, even if they selected against the default in the settings menu to not do this.
2. Every scene and every piece of dialogue is important, even repeats.
And it is important. Every scene, even those in apparent humour are deconstructed throughout multiple repeats. Cross†Channel is brilliantly written. Every scene is relevant, every line meaningful. When Tanaka repeats a scene, he wants us to remember it. He’s saying “this will be relevant later on”. If nothing can be said for Tanaka, we can at least say that the man crafts dialogue and literature with such elogence and precision that it feels masterful. He writes in a way that is difficult to describe, using powerful, emotive text which flows from one line to the next and encaptures the reader’s attention and fleshes out the characters effortlessly. And through the use of repetition, Tanaka is able to create expectations in the reader which he latter shatters through powerful and sometimes disturbing and haunting ways. Tanaka uses a lot of reference humour, so keeping your translation notes on is a good idea, even if it breaks the flow of the text.
Touko revolutionising the world of men.
Cross†Channel’s strongest element easily lies in its characters. The plot is very much character driven, with each character having their own motives and desires which guides the plot from what would otherwise be a simple story of survival to a story of conflict, drama and mindfuckery. The characters are notably flawed and each has a reason why they are at Gunjo Institute, with characters featuring traits like narcissism, sociopathy and schizophrenia. That isn’t to say they are weak minded or unintelligent, however. Character’s often display immense, often frightening intelligence as they manipulate and emotionally blackmail their friends to achieve their own ends. Perhaps the most notable example of this is the character who is the craziest of them all… you. You take the role of Taichi, who’s adaptation coefficient is over 80%, a very high result, even among the students of Gaijou Institute. One character describes this figure to mean that “less than 20% of you is human”. We perceive the world through the eyes of someone who is very mentally ill. Early in the visual novel, we are not supposed to like Taichi. He is obnoxious, perverse and over the top. I was amazed that these people in the broadcasting club tolerated him, let alone considered him a friend. But we are not supposed to like Taichi. This becomes evident as we start to see more and more of the side of him he tries to hide which seems more and more eager to express itself the more society goes to hell. Regularly, the visual novel will offer us an illusion of choice to show how little control we have over Taichi and how little control he has over himself. There is one scene where Taichi loses control that I consider to be one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever read in a Visual Novel. And as Taichi slowly loses his grip on the world, we too begin to perceive the world differently, through the atrocities Taichi and the other characters commit. Despite being a visual novel, which is ultimately meant to give us choice, we feel like we have none as Taichi moves through the world and these scenarios, as if we are what remains of his humanity watching and judging and hating as Taichi commits horror after horror and has horror after horror inflicted upon him.
However, Taichi is the only male character that gets any real exploration and the focus is most certainly on him as the protagonist and on the female characters, with the male characters getting little development, most of what they do get being related to a relevant female. But perhaps this is a statement on visual novels themselves? Indeed, from the get go, Taichi seems to be aware that he is the protagonist in what is a fictional story. This is presented in a way that mostly consists of breaking the fourth wall and communicating with the reader, often for humourous affect. In one H-scene, Taichi asks in a hurry where the mosaic is for censorship, only to express relief to discover it is already present. However, humour isn’t the only way this idea is brought forward. Terms that are generally associated with visual novels, such as “bad end” or “route” is used seriously in the context of the plot, directly referring to their associated meanings when talking about visual novels. Even the flow of the plot itself, set up in a “Groundhog Day” format, seems to be a subtle dig at the general multiple route format of visual novels themselves. The visual novel itself, at times, feels like a parody of visual novels in general, which can be attributed to Tanaka’s impressive writing skills.
Cross†Channel is certainly not without its flaws. The art style is very mediocre and has not aged well. It seems typical of what one would expect from a visual novel nearly a decade old. The music itself is equally mediocre, with only one track I can recall having any real impact on me. In fact, the times when music is used most effectively in the visual novel are times when a background track is intentionally withheld for emotional effect. However, both the art and music ‘gets by’ and does its job. The game is R18 for a reason, with heavy usage of sex scenes, at times inappropriate and unfitting. These scenes are overly long and at times ruin immersion. However, most of the time they are as expected of sex scenes in visual novels. There’s nothing really bad about them but they don’t really stand out either. They’re just kind of… there. Some less than patient readers might find the pace slow at times, especially during the beginning, or might fail to appreciate how important and relevant repeated scenes and dialogue are until that relevancy is shoved in their faces. However, these complaints falter when compared to the immersive plot and barely compare to the powerfully well written story. Cross†Channel asks us what society truly means, what friendship and love really are and explores some horrible afflictions that are caused by mental illness and questions what we can and can’t be held responsible for. Cross†Channel is at times a mystery, at times a circus, at times a mindfuck and at times a porno, but what Cross†Channel never fails to be is an entertaining, engaging and enjoyable ride.