This was my first time writing a critical analysis (or a review) for a VN, but I think it turned out to be pretty decent. I basically wrote about the characters, the conflict, and picked the main 4 faults and pros I found in the VN, and go into an indepth analysis on them. There are no real spoilers, besides the story of the conflict, but it is advised you only read this after you complete the visual novel.
We’ve all heard about the term “Eroge” or “Hentai game”. These are meant to represent games where the protagonist goes around and dates a given number of girls, usually choosing to focus on a single route. In other words: a date simulator. These games usually have hentai images, or ”H-scenes” as we call it. However, the correct term for these games is ‘Visual Novel’.
Here we have an outlier. While most Visual Novels, or VNs, have these H-scenes, Rewrite doesn’t. They often serve the purpose of marketing, and sometimes it becomes relevant to the story, though very rarely.
Written by Romeo Tanaka (who wrote cross channel), as well as Ryushiki07 (Higurashi and Umineko) and Tonegawa (wrote some Key side routes), Rewrite sets itself apart from other Key works, as it is NOT a nakige. A nakige is a genre of VN that appeals to the reader’s emotional state of mind, and uses that to its advantage, often being its main selling point. Rewrite, however, has thought-provoking themes and a wide variety of genres.
Rewrite’s structure is actually pretty standard, especially for a Key game. It consists of five side heroines and one main heroine, with five routes (one for each side heroine), and two true routes, Moon and Terra. Having been released in 2011, it is, at the time of this analysis, Key’s latest released project.
So, what sets Rewrite apart from other Visual Novels? Let’s start with a small analysis on the characters:
Tennouji Kotarou: The main character of Rewrite. Considered by his classmates as being cynical and relatively anti-social, Kotarou is a sophomore in highschool, in a city surrounded by a forest. He seems to feel the need of joking about everything, and is rarely seen taking anything seriously at first. However, he holds a secret: he has a special power that allows him to ‘rewrite’ his stats, so, for instance, he can improve his vision by rewriting his eyes. No one around Kotarou knows about this secret, and he himself apparently wishes for nothing but a normal school life.
Kanbe Kotori: The childhood friend. She is very optimistic, and loves working with plants and trees. She goes to the forest a lot, and is seen sleeping there at times. Not much is revealed about her past with Kotarou, except she once rejected his confession during middle school. While she’s very sociable sometimes, she does enjoy her alone moments, and is seen missing often, which worries Kotarou.
Ohtori Chihaya: The transfer student. Chihaya is very clumsy, and has a semi-tsundere personality. She’s often the target of Kotarou’s antics, much to her dismay. Unlike the other girls, she doesn’t wear the uniform of Kotarou’s school, and instead chooses to wear her last school’s uniform. She also has superhuman strength, as she can lift wood trunks as if it were nothing. Chihaya starts off with a bad impression of Kotarou, claiming she hates him.
Nakatsu Shizuru: The loli. Often afraid to talk, she chooses to use facial expressions to communicate. She wears an eyepatch on her right eye and is the shortest of the 5 heroines. She’s also a proud member of the public morals committee, and is often seen patrolling the hallways, blowing her whistle if she spots an infraction. She is easily deceived by Kotarou’s pranks, and often chooses to go along with them.
Konohana Lucia: The class rep. Known as a clean freak for wearing her gloves all the time, Lucia claims Kotarou is the enemy of women, due to him having no shame at all. She’s known to have a tsundere personality, and considers Shizuru to be her only friend. She also has a very strong sense of responsibility and justice. What sets her apart from the usual class rep character is that she can consume extremely spicy food without even flinching. She’s often seen punching Kotarou for a reason or another.
Senri Akane: The witch. Being a mysterious character that not many people know in Kotarou’s highschool, she is the president of the Occult Club, even though she doesn’t believe in it. Kotarou considers her a hikikomori, as she’d rather play FPS games than leaving the Club room. She’s also very sarcastic and loves to pull pranks on people, just like Kotarou. While she appears very anti-social at first, she can actually talk to people normally, and comes off as an arrogant woman.
Yoshino Haruhiko: The best friend character. Yoshino claims to hate Kotarou, and is often seen challenging him to duels. He says he and Kotarou have unfinished business, and he actually hates Kotarou’s guts, and how cynical he is. He considers himself a lone wolf, and prefers to be isolated from everyone else. Despite all of this, he still goes along with a lot of Kotarou’s antics, as Kotarou promises that he’ll someday fight him. Yoshino is actually the leader of a street gang, though he doesn’t consider himself one.
Ohtori Sakuya: The… hater? Sakuya comes off as a normal student. He says he’s from Chihaya’s family, but never states his relationship with her. He has a hatred for Kotarou, often mispronouncing his name on purpose. His weakness are cats: if Sakuya spots one, he freezes on the spot. He comes off as a very mysterious but kind person, and everyone but Kotarou likes him.
So, now that you hopefully have a feel for the cast, let’s talk about the story.
Rewrite takes place in a city surrounded by a forest. Kotarou attends highscool as a second year student, and he makes his goal to revive the occult club, eventually convincing all the heroines to join it. Apparently, he seeks to make friends and warm memories of his time in highschool. Perhaps he feels like he didn’t lead a fulfilling life until then? Or maybe he just wants a new experience? Whatever the reason, the story revolves around his character and the occult club in highschool. Kotarou lives his school days playing antics on his friends, working for the occult club, and having “fun” with Yoshino. At the end of the true route, an event that changes his life forever takes place, completely altering the way the VN works.
Unbeknownst to him a world-wide conflict is taking place, one that will decide the fate of the planet. As someone who possesses a rare power, Kotarou is eventually dragged into this conflict, and depending on the route, he will pursue different goals and ideals.
The main theme of Rewrite is definitely Ecology. Numerous times, we are shown how humans don’t care at all about the future of the planet, and how that affects the planet and the lives within it. It’s portrayed in a painfully realistic way too, but sometimes, it feels unfocused, and it seems like other themes are prioritized, making it a complete mess.
Comparing Rewrite to a tree, which is its main symbol, is actually possible. The heroine routes would be the branches, the infinite possibilities Kotarou has. Moon is the trunk that holds all of the branches together, and supports them. Terra would be the seed, how the tree started, and how it will inevitably end one day.
Explanation of the conflict (possible spoilers):
Once in a while, the planet sends a representative, known as Key. Key’s job is to analyze humankind and find what she calls ‘good memories’. If the Key decides so, she can bring about Salvation, a song that eradicates all life from the planet, resetting it to zero. The reason why the planet does this is because humans are exhausting all of its resources, and don’t think of the planet’s future. Whether it is in 10, 100 or 1000 years, the planet will eventually die. Key’s job is to decide whether humans are on the right track or not, and take appropriate measures by observing how they act. She can choose to sing Salvation is she doesn’t think humans have a future, or she can leave them alone.
Being such a mass destruction weapon, she’s very coveted by Gaia, an organization that wishes to seize control of her power, and use it to reset humankind. Members of Gaia often use familiars, made out of materials and life force, so they can fight and spot the Key. However, an organization to defend the planet and its life was created, one named Guardian. Guardian members are mostly people with special powers, and their goal is to assassinate the Key, preventing Salvation from ever happening. This conflict has been going on for years, and results in several deaths of members of both parties.
However, Gaia is actually much more than it seems at first, as it is divided into two factions. The first is lead by an old man named Suzaki, and he wishes to cease the Key, not to destroy the planet, but to threaten the world, and create what he calls “eternal peace”. The second one, known as the “extremist faction”, wants to activate Salvation and wipe out all life from Earth. This second faction is lead by Sakura, the Holy Woman of Gaia. The inside conflict of Gaia is a theme to be explored in one route in particular, and it introduces politics to the story, giving it a more serious and mature theme.
Kotarou’s “power” and development:
His power is called “Rewrite”, and it is used to enhance his stats. Usually not all of them at once.. For instance, if he rewrites his eyes, he’ll be able to see farther into the distance, or see well in the night. This power has numerous uses, as he can improve his battle abilities, or he can make his body resistant to some kinds of poison. The way Kotarou views and uses this power completely depends on the route you choose.
Kotarou’s ideals and methods often vary between routes aswell. In all routes, Kotarou’s main goal is to protect the heroine he fell in love with, that’s the “core” of his mindset. However, the ways he’s willing to pursue to do this are completely different. There’s some routes in which Kotarou isn’t willing to kill anyone, and the sheer thought of killing anyone disgusts him, enough to torment him over and over. In other routes, this doesn’t happen, and Kotarou is easily willing to kill everyone for the sake of the heroine you chose. The reason why this happens has to do with the circumstances of each heroine, whether they have someone who can do Kotarou’s job besides them or not, and with what Kotarou experiences each time.
Kotarou’s development explodes in Terra, where he is all alone, thrown into the sharks to alter the fate of planet Earth, without even knowing he’s supposed to do so. This Kotarou has the experience of all the previous Kotarous with him, even if he doesn’t remember that, and he is “programmed” to pursue certain situations, and leave others alone. The same guy who was nothing but a cynical and arrogant bastard in his high school days is now someone who takes the fate of the world in his hands, someone who can stand up for himself, someone who isn’t rash or looks down at everyone else. His evolution has to be experienced in all the routes for his character to work in Terra, otherwise it’s pointless. Moon’s job in all of this is to connect the routes with Terra, and besides the huge info dump that route expects the reader to swallow, it does a relatively good job with it.
Now, unlike other VNs, where there’s a defined genre right off the bat, Rewrite doesn’t really have one. Each route specializes in a different genre, and they’re all over the place. You might see this as something good, or something bad. It’s good because it gives variety to the story, as there’s romance, action, drama, and tons of other genres to be explored. However, it also adds inconsistency to the story, because the routes really are different from each other. They work well as standalone stories, and the only thing they contribute to Terra is with Kotarou’s development, and the world building of the conflict.
A common problem people have with Rewrite is how inconsistent it can be, considering the information we are given in a route, and then another route not respecting it. While there isn’t any REAL groundbreaking inconsistency, some things are a bit dubious. Most of these inconsistencies have to do with Kotarou, not with the way Rewrite’s universe works, and they’re explained, though not too much, in each route. Most of these problems come from Rewrite having been written by three different authors, and they probably didn’t communicate too well with each other. One can really say the way the routes work in Rewrite is a complete mess, and unfortunately, there is no denying it. The growth of the heroines and Kotarou’s development, however, hugely make up for those problems, and that’s why they are best considered as standalones.
Another problem Rewrite has would be the common route. Even if the CR does give us a nice insight on the characters, it’s filled with mindless comedy with no relevance at all, besides to show what Kotarou lost during the final day of the CR. It could have achieved the same thing without so many hours. It’s also filled with many clichés, and the characters don’t really get any development. It’s arguably enjoyable though, as there’s a lot of stuff going on, and the comedy isn’t bad at all.
Finally, Rewrite’s main story relies 100% on what the reader thinks about Kotarou, because it’s his story, and completely focused on him, especially in Terra. If the reader thinks of Kotarou as an uninteresting character, it will be impossible to truly appreciate what it has to offer. And that kind of extremism can hurt the story at times, because it’s a gamble.
To start things off, Rewrite has excellent world building, In the sense that it portrays the conflict in a very interesting way, giving us an insight on the variables that affect it. The way it develops each organization is meant to make the reader think about what’s right and what’s wrong, and to appeal to his/her sense of justice and morals. These organizations are seen from the outside in some routes, and in others, from inside. You experience what Kotarou experiences, you learn what he learns, and you might ultimately question some of your beliefs while reading it.
Rewrite also has really good mindset conflicts. Some themes like acceptance and repentance are explored, and the way some characters view the world sometimes interferes with the way Kotarou sees it, resulting in a possible clash. In terms of how his ideals are challenged, Kotarou can be compared to Shirou, from Fate/Stay Night, as both of them begin as innocent “broken” high school students who don’t know the first thing about the world, and they both develop into serious characters who acknowledge their fate, and fight for their justice, as well as to protect what they love. Kotarou’s ideals are challenged numerous times during the story. Sometimes he comes out on top, other times not so much. Even his inner conflicts are really interesting, and add uncertainty to his mindset.
The heroine routes, as mentioned previously, work extremely well as their own stories, and while that might be looked at with doubt, it definitely adds a lot to the story. It’s almost as if you can look at each particular route as a different game, but all with the same protagonist and conflict going on. Each of the routes develops not only the main heroine in question, but also Kotarou and some support characters, or even an entire organization. Fortunately, as the story’s core is really Kotarou, it’s a good thing his development isn’t wasted, thanks to Moon, and it transitions to Terra, even if it isn’t the best kind of transition, to give yet another new perspective on Kotarou.
Finally, Terra is a journey on its own. Indeed, this true route completely explored Kotarou’s past and his new future. It doesn’t leave much out, and the reader is expected to put himself in Kotarou’s shoes. It’s his fight against the world, and it’s portrayed in a really unique way, that challenges a lot of the preconceptions people had about the character, or the whole visual novel up to this point. Terra had its slow moments, but they all had significance. It shows despair, it shows hope, and all of it makes use of the superb buildup the character and the conflict had in the previous routes.
Subjectively speaking, Rewrite’s main selling point is in how much enjoyment you can get out of it. Whether it is for the interesting heroines and main character, for the ongoing conflict, for the unique support characters, everything’s there for you to like it. It’s a long story, one that will take time to complete, especially if you’re not familiar with the medium. However, it’s an experience. A flawed experience, but one you won’t forget anytime soon after you finish it.