A while back I ended my journey through Rose Guns Days, a doujin visual novel written by Ryukishi07, developed and published by 07th Expansion. An English translation was made by Witch Hunt, this is the version I read. In my personal opinion this VN gets underestimated by a lot of people, including my former self, and deserves some more attention! You wouldn’t expect it, but this story contains the cruelest scenes Ryukishi has written so far.
This review does not contain any spoilers but will be in depth.
And please forgive me for the references to other 07th Expansion works.
Tokyo Japan, 3 years post World War II. Having fought the war in a distant country, Leo Shishigami finally returns to his homeland. While walking the streets of City 23, one of the cities Tokyo got divided in, he’s trying to find a restaurant to get some dinner. However in this post WWII Tokyo, Japanese restaurants, culture and even names are scarce as a result of the large flow of Chinese and American immigrants, competing over control. Still swallowing back the tears of their defeat, Japanese laborers try to find a job, not standing a chance because speaking English or Chinese has become a necessity. In order to earn their bread, many men turn to criminality, getting involved with the mafia that rule the cities from underground. Japanese women turn to prostitution, selling their bodies to rich American and Chinese clients.
In this City 23, a young girl called Rose Haibara is working at club Primavera. The girls working at this club are what they call ‘ladies of the evening’. This title means that your job is to entertain men, as both hostess and prostitute. Rose, filling in only the first job, is one of the responsible people in the club. Primavera having regularly trouble with the mafia, causes Rose to occasionally get involved in this trouble as well. This is where she meets Leo, and this is where our long story begins, in Primavera’s spring of 1947..
The movie design is by yo-yu. So many artists have been working on Rose Guns Days so I won’t bother trying to list them, because I will surely forget a few. Music is composed by a lot of artists known from other 07th Expansion works like dai, M. Zakky and Xaki, but also new ones like 「六弦A助」 (Rokugen Asuke) from 「六弦アリス」 (Rokugen Alice) . The opening theme is called 「愛はオメルタ」 (ai wa omeruta) and is performed by Rojak and Mayumi.
Rose Guns Days is a kinetic novel: it has no routes and is completely linear. There are a few “choices” you can make, but that only involves selecting 1 place out of the 3 or 4 presented to you. You will have to visit all places to continue the story.
Similar to other 07th Expansion works, Rose Guns Days consists out of different parts, in this case “Season 1” – “Last Season”. It counts a total of 4 seasons, all together having a really long read-through. The novel is split into 3 major stories and an epilogue, each counting 5 – 7 chapters which are not limited to one season. There is a second opening movie at the beginning of “Last Season”, but I won’t put it in this review because some consider it a mild spoiler for earlier chapters. It is a nice opening though, especially after you’ve already fallen in love with the characters and the story.
Rose Guns Days has an optional mini game. You can skip it by either pressing space bar or if you bought the “Last Season” version, which includes all former 3 seasons as well, you can choose to go “automatic” for the mini-game, and you won’t have to touch anything. There will occasionally be fights throughout the story, the mini game is to defend and attack with increasing difficulty. You can earn ranks for each season. It’s not very exciting, since the only thing you have to do is use the left and right mouse button and hover over the spots presented to you on the screen. The mini-game makes the fighting scenes less static and after each final hit you get to see a pretty cool CG of the attacking character.
Like the description said, the main part of the Rose Guns Days’ story starts in 1947, however the reader will experience the story from another point in time:
Tokyo, 2012. Hayashibara Julie, a young newbie newspaper reporter for the Japanese Branch of the Hong Kong Daily News, is invited by Jeanne Amakawa, an old lady who is the madam of club Primavera and leader of the society called Harukaze. This is a Japanese society which, on the surface, is an organization of cooperation and mutual aid between Japanese brethren. But the rumors say that this little society had reigned over the Japanese underworld for a while now. Jeanne had taken interest in Julie because she is a pure Japanese, a rare thing these days. She asks her to document a story for her and pass it on to their people. Julie accepts, you’ll enter her character and let Madam Jeanne take you with her, back to that spring in 1947.
The story of Season 1 starts out light and slow with a somewhat bitter undertone caused by the setting of the story. Leo Shishigami and Rose Haibara are the first main characters of the story and through them you’ll learn more about the problems of the life Japanese people are living in City 23, which is currently under jurisdiction of the American army. After helping her out, Rose invites Leo to Primavera and treats him to some of her pasta. Leo is a strong, easy-going man who is pretty popular with the women. This makes it hard to see that on the inside Leo actually bears a lot of scars from his past. After a week or two he gave up on getting a job, as he can only speak Japanese, and decides to stick around Primavera. He becomes a bodyguard. It turns out he comes in at the time he’s most needed since a mafia group in City 23, led by their boss Alfred, has been making trouble in the club for a while. Attracted by Primavera’s prosperity, Alfred tries to get his hands on their money by buying off all Primavera’s bodyguards and rampaging the club. In this Tokyo, you can get anything done with money, regardless of the morality.
Because this is a spoiler free review I’ll limit myself to describing the change in emotion throughout the chapters without naming the causes. You will come across a point in the story where both the characters and the reader will realize how serious and dangerous the situation got. This leads to a big change in Primavera, the characters and especially in Rose. Rose Haibara, madam of Primavera, has to become a big leader in order to achieve her goals. But in City 23, and the world of Mafia you get to deal with, it will only get tougher when you actually start to achieve your goals.
Rose Guns Days is the story of a young girl with big dreams. A young girl who turned into a leader in order to fight for what she believes in: the hearts of her people, the Japanese citizens of City 23.
From S2 on the setting of Rose Guns Days will expand to City 22, also known as Chinatown. This is a City under full control of the Chinese, who are heavily influenced by the Golden Dragon Society, the clan that rules the Chinese mafia. The story already took a shift towards a more serious theme, where the characters you know well by now are stuck in a battle of wits. This will continue throughout the rest of the story, until the point where you’re happy if you can finally catch your breath with some slice of life moments. Midway through S2 you will get this opportunity, and that will also be one of the last moments. As Primavera’s “summer” ends, you will be stuck in the worst scenario’s your beloved characters can get into. It is not like they are just dragged through some horrible experiences. You will read about how their hope gets raised as high as the top floor of a skyscraper, but eventually all floors will disappear from under their feet. When closure on the Last Season is finally in sight, you will be devastated, and you will sadly look back on the time when the story was still boringly light and careless.
Besides the main characters, the other characters continuously keep developing, each stepping into the spotlight once or twice and some will eventually even become a main character. New characters will get introduced regularly and will follow the same pattern. Let me introduce you to the main cast.
Primavera crew from left to right:
Richard Maiougi is a quite invisible character at first, but eventually comes to play a big part in the changed Primavera. Richard will grow a lot as a character and even takes the main role for himself in the later chapters of the story. After finishing Rose Guns Days you can be sure you’ll never forget him.
Meryl Tanashi (fun fact: her full Japanese name is Miyoko Tanashi, before changing to her American name Meryl) works at Primavera as an alcohol loving hostess. She sees Stella as a big rival and the two of them are always fighting. I would say that Meryl is one of the least important characters out of these 7. She often is involved in the story but just sticks to her role as a side character at all times. Still, her character is really present so you won’t forget her easily.
Leo Shishigami is the main character of especially the first chapters in the story, Rose Haibara more or less takes it over from there on, at least that was how I felt it. I’ve introduced them both already.
Stella Maiougi is Richard’s younger sister. She works as a lady of the evening at Primavera and is friends with Rose. Although the story never shows anything, from the context, and I guess her clothes, it is clear that she’s most active as a prostitute. She is often called the head “Lady of the evening”. Besides Japanese, she’s fluent in Chinese and therefore has some contacts in Chinatown. Stella is a side character at first, but will later in the story become one of the more important characters.
Wayne Uedera is also one of the characters who will play a more important role eventually. He is a personal bodyguard of Rose, but still very young and naive. People at the club often make fun of him because of his hot temper. When Leo arrived, he sees him as his rival at first, but after a while he learns Leo is a man to respect, rather than despise. You will learn quite a lot about his past, and you will see him grow throughout the story.
Cyrus is one of the bodyguards of Primavera and Richard’s best friend. Cyrus will always stay a bit of a side character, but his character has a really obvious presence whenever he’s there. He gets a little bit more attention in S3 and S4.
Some other important characters are Philip Butler (yes really. and he loves to grope at boobs too) and Lee Meijiu (right).
Butler is a captain in the US armed forces. He is half American, half Japanese. It could be said that Butler has been friends with Rose from the beginning, and he seems to stay loyal towards Primavera, even in hard times .
Lee Meijiu is one of the leaders in the Golden Dragon Society and is known as the Black Dragon. Meijiu is fluent in both Chinese and Japanese. He’d like to stay neutral, but depending on the most convenient situation for the GDS, joins forces with other families. Both characters play a big role in the battle of wits throughout the whole story.
The rest of the characters, not playing any role specifically, mostly have a sprite aswell. The faceless characters make the story more immersive, compared to a wall of text.
Story: Although very different from all Ryukishi’s other works, it still has a characteristic feel to it. He discusses topics as morality, psychology, society, politics… and eventually manages to reach you through the story and makes you follow his thinking process through the characters. Rose Guns Days will guide you through so many emotions during your read-through. You will feel tension-happiness-anger-sadness-emptyness or a complicated mix of these. In my opinion being able to make you experience all those emotions is the true power of this at first sight seemingly uninteresting sound novel.
Music: As expected from a Sound Novel, the amount of tracks is huge. A lot of people agree that Rose Guns Days BGM is on par with Umineko BGM, although I personally think Umineko was a bit more impressive. However, Rose Guns Days BGM is without a doubt god tier.
Characters: This story is all about the characters, what they think, what they do and why they do it. You see them grow, you will watch them fall and eventually you’ll cry for them or with them. In the beginning you wouldn’t be able to imagine it, but when you get immersed in the story, you will start to share every emotion with them. They will be unforgettable.
Art: A great improvement on the former 07th Expansion art, although there are still some traces of that familiar art left, I would say the rest looks pretty good. No reason to not play this because of the art in my opinion.
Story: The toughest part to get through in Rose Guns Days is the start. Ryukishi is a writer who shines when writing longer stories. The longer, the more the story will reach you. This is also without a doubt the case for Rose Guns Days. However, if you can’t get immersed into a story, the characters and their purpose won’t reach you either. Rose Guns Days drags out the introduction a bit too much, even though it is worth it in the end. For some people it is just not worth it to have to wait so long before you get to the “good parts”.
My rating: 8.5
Should you read this Visual Novel?
– If you want a story you can immerse yourself into with a high reward: Yes.
– If a novel has to catch your attention immediately: No.
– If you can’t handle stories killing off your beloved characters: No.
– If you like Ryukishi’s style (not writing style) from earlier works : Yes.
– If you liked the story in Higurashi or Umineko: Warning! story-wise it is really different.