With a title like “Negligee”, you probably think you know what you’re getting — and in this case, you’d probably be right. Mostly.
Negligee is a short visual novel from the UK-based (but heavily Japan-inspired) developer Dharker Studio, whose previous work has included Beach Bounce, Summer Fling and Club Life, among others. To date, the team has put out works encompassing both “slice of life” romance stories and more fantastic, outlandish tales incorporating magic and sci-fi. Negligee falls very much into the former category by being about as down-to-earth as you can get.
But is it just an excuse to depict its heroines in a variety of revealing lingerie, or is there something more to it? Read on, and let’s take a closer look.
Negligee tells the story of Hannah, a young woman who wakes up one morning to find herself promoted from assistant manager to manager of little local lingerie store Negligee. The circumstances under which the previous manager left the position are a little mysterious and everything seems to have been arranged in a hurry but, feeling a little trepidation, Hannah decides to rise to the occasion and run the store as best she can.
It’s immediately apparent to Hannah that you need more than one person to run a store, however, so the core of the game’s story revolves around her trying to hire some help that meets with the approval of the store’s perpetually absent and rather flighty owner Emily. It’s not long before three prospective candidates poke their head in the door, and subsequently it’s up to Hannah to determine the best means to “test” them and figure out who is right for the job.
Negligee is clearly written by someone who knows the ins and outs of the retail business, because the shop floor and back of house experience it depicts is very authentic-feeling and down to earth. Retail is unglamourous work at the best of times — even when dealing with a product as luxurious as high-end ladies’ undergarments — so it pays to develop a sense of humour and a feeling of camaraderie with your colleagues, otherwise you’ll probably go mad. Negligee depicts this side of things rather well, though the occasional exaggerated event — such as an unavoidable incident where, while restocking the warehouse, Hannah manages to accidentally expose herself to the colleague she is working with at the time — reminds us that we are dealing with a work of fiction.
There’s a more serious heart to Negligee, though, and that comes in its exploration of Hannah as a character. Specifically, the game explores Hannah’s sexuality and how she feels about it.
Hannah is gay. This much is abundantly clear if you pick a particular option during the opening of the game, which sees her discover a collection of lewd images of her former boss; so irresistible are these images to Hannah that she wastes a good chunk of the morning masturbating in her new office and consequently misses out on even meeting one of the three other heroines in the game in the process.
Hannah, deep down, knows that she’s gay, but isn’t sure how to feel about it. She’s not sure if being gay is “okay”, she’s not sure how to talk about it and she definitely has no idea how to go about seeking a same-sex relationship. She frequently berates herself through the narration for feeling things that are “wrong” about other women, and she becomes embarrassed if the topic turns to her, even once it becomes abundantly clear that all three of the other heroines are bisexual at the very least.
Ultimately the story is about Hannah learning to accept this side of herself, embrace it and even enjoy it. But along the way, even with Negligee’s short run time for a single playthrough, there are things for everyone on the cast to learn about one another.
One of Negligee’s core messages is that you shouldn’t judge people by their appearances or first impressions. Large-breasted blonde heroine Jasmine is a stripper, for example, but she also shows herself to be a shrewd businesswoman and an adept at dealing with awkward customers. Likewise, it doesn’t take much to get the seemingly shy and retiring Charlotte to open up about how much she enjoys playing with whipped cream with other girls. And the apparent bitch queen Sophie all but breaks down into tears when she makes a mistake while she’s alone with Hannah — when she doesn’t have an “audience” for her antics, in other words.
While the game’s short run time only gives us a limited amount of time to get to know each of these characters, enough happens over the course of the week in which the game unfolds for us to get a decent read on who they are — and why, in some cases, they put up a front to the world.
It doesn’t present us with an in-depth character study in the same way as a more substantial visual novel like, say, The Fruit of Grisaia, but then it’s not trying to be a lengthy epic. It’s simply trying to be a low-key story about everyday life in the sort of shop you might stumble across in any small town, and in that respect it succeeds admirably.
I’d even go so far as to say that Negligee’s brevity works in its favour; with a single playthrough taking less than an hour, tops, it provides greater incentive to go back and experience the other narrative paths that lead to different conclusions, good and bad. As with most visual novels, you only really get a full understanding of what has happened when you’ve seen all of the possible outcomes and how they have impacted the various characters.
Ultimately Negligee is probably not going to go down as a true classic of the genre or a work of electronic literature, but it’s clear from the outset that it doesn’t have any such intention. It’s no nukige, either, mind you — aside from the aforementioned (and optional) masturbation scene, all of the sexual content is found in the heroines’ endings as a representation of how their relationship with Hannah has blossomed following their initial meeting. It’s far from “porn for porn’s sake”, in other words; rather, it’s simply a short, romantic story about a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality and finding happiness in her own skin.
Its ultimate goal is nothing more than to provide an enjoyable, charming and light-hearted tale about a group of gay girls running a lingerie shop, and all the shenanigans that ensue as a result. And I kind of love it for that.
Negligee is available now in edited form on Steam and uncensored format via Nutaku or MangaGamer [affiliate link]. A free and optional 18+ patch is available for the Steam version to restore the cut content.
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