In the strange and twisted world that forms the setting for Alcot’s comedy visual novel My Girlfriend is the President, Irina Putina is the Rusian [sic] president who shows up early in the game’s (fixed) first act and then sticks around for varying amounts of time in the remaining three, depending on which route you chose.
She’s a textbook tsundere in almost every respect, seeming abrasive, grumpy and quick to anger on the surface but regularly demonstrating that she has a soft centre beneath all the slapping. And to be fair to her, protagonist Junichiro generally deserves every single slap he gets from her.
Irina’s path is one of four different narrative routes you can branch the story of My Girlfriend is the President down in its first act, with the others being Starship Ezekiel, whom we’ve already discussed; the titular “girlfriend” (actually more accurately translated from the original Japanese as “childhood friend”) Yukino, who through a series of unfortunate happenstances finds herself the President of Japan-equivalent Nippon; and the resident older sister-type Ran-neechan. All four paths are markedly different, but the members of the main cast each have their own roles to play throughout this madcap adventure.
On Yukino’s route — which we’ll come back to in more detail at a later date — a huge deal is made out of her history with Jun, particularly a key event in their past which made them the close friends (and, later, lovers) that they are in the game’s story. On Irina’s route, however, the pair are still very close to one another, but Jun’s attitude towards Yukino is markedly different. The pair still play with one another in a somewhat flirtatious manner — Yukino’s “puppy” impression is particularly adorable (“Wan! Wan!”) — but over time as Jun becomes increasingly aware of Irina, he becomes self-conscious about his relationship with Yukino, about how he is stringing her along and about how he is making her jealous.
This is an interesting character development, because Jun is, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a dick at the start of the game. Specifically, he’s a wannabe sex pest, constantly making inappropriate comments and lusting after his female friends, most of whom know exactly how to put him in his place. As a result, his poor behaviour generally gets him little more than a slap in the face or a kick in the nuts.
It would be easy to write Jun off as a hopeless case; yet another example of a morally bankrupt visual novel protagonist who thinks with his dick and doesn’t see women as anything other than things to attempt to insert said dick into at any opportunity. But back up a moment and his behaviour becomes almost understandable; he’s a teenage boy, still growing and coming to terms with his place in the world. As any of the gentlemen reading this can attest, the life of a teenage boy is an existence wracked with perpetual horniness — and, more often than not, no outlet into which to channel this potent, distracting hormonal energy that has a habit of flaring up at the most inappropriate moments.
In other words, Jun’s behaviour, inappropriate as it may be, is his means of dealing with the hormones racing around inside his brain without having to nip off to the toilet to crack one off every five minutes. Moreover, his “harassment,” as he calls it, doesn’t escalate beyond ill-chosen words and an occasional bit of peeping at things he shouldn’t; actions that are still completely inappropriate in polite society, of course, but he could also be much, much worse.
It’s this thoroughly objectionable nature that Jun has at the start of the story that allows him to take such a bold personal journey over the course of the narrative, even as the utter insanity of the game’s main plot — which involves space aliens, sentient starships, worldwide brainwashing and all manner of other nonsense — is unfolding around him and his friends. By beginning as a heavily flawed character — a pervert — he has the potential to grow and change into something better, and the girls of the story provide the catalysts for him to change. In the case of Yukino, he learns to respect and respond to the feelings of others; in the case of Irina, he learns restraint, gentleness and how to tell that Now Might Not Be a Good Time to Make a Smutty Joke.
It’s actually quite touching to see. We first witness Jun going through some changes on Irina’s path when she takes him to a judo class and shows him her passion for the sport; it’s not just a hobby for her, it’s something she feels strongly about and wants to share with him. And because she takes it so seriously, when Jun ends up pinned beneath her and starts teasing her about her breasts, she understandably gets absolutely furious at him and storms out.
Normally, Old Jun would have just shrugged this off, but he actually feels bad that he has hurt her feelings by mocking something she loves so much. He goes out of his way to try and make things right — even more remarkable given that he knows she’s going to leave in a couple of weeks and thus he could just as easily stay out of her way. His feelings grow, and he realises that he wants to make her happy, to give her the opportunity to be a “normal” girl for those two short weeks rather than the presidential position she’s been lumbered with.
It’s an interesting twist on what happens with Yukino’s path. When Jun and Yukino become lovers, Jun stands by her, swears to support her and goes out of his way to help her complete the mountains of work she’s lumbered with as the President of Nippon — without her knowledge in some cases. As he grows to love Irina, however, he seemingly wants to provide her with an escape from reality for a short period, to let her be herself rather than the “Rusian Fairy” facade she normally has to keep up.
It’s fascinating that such an obviously comedic title as My Girlfriend is the President still has such wonderfully defined characters and a genuine sense of emotional engagement in its narrative. The game is absolutely masterful at building up sexual tension in particular, meaning the player is right there with Jun throughout, feeling the electricity of every stolen glance, flushed cheek and hesitant word of affection.
That sense of involvement, of being inside the heads of the characters: that’s one of the most powerful things about visual novels as a medium. There are few other places in gaming where you can have such profound experiences, and it doesn’t have to be in titles that are trying their hardest to be artistic or clever; even silly comedies like My Girlfriend is the President have the potential to deliver this emotional engagement in spades.
And if that’s not a good enough reason to sit down and read a story about aliens, brainwashing, schoolgirl presidents and how Josef Souma Mengele wants to take over the world, I don’t know what is.
This post originally appeared on my personal blog, I’m Not Doctor Who.