MyDearest’s visual novel School of Talent is in a similar situation to minori’s beautiful Supipara in that it’s the first in a series that doesn’t quite exist as yet.
In the case of both Supipara and School of Talent, the complete narrative work clearly exists as a concept that has been carefully considered, planned and fleshed out — just not yet explored from every possible angle. And in both cases, this fact doesn’t stop them from being highly enjoyable, touching and self-contained narrative experiences in their own right.
School of Talent is a little more up-front about its long-term intentions than the rather mysterious and ethereal Supipara, however, with that prominent Suzu Route subtitle on the first installment making it abundantly clear which of the girls on the cast the narrative is primarily going to be concerned with. And, while School of Talent’s overall cast of heroines is pretty consistently strong, the eponymous Suzu turned out to be a good focal point for this (potential) series’ debut.
School of Talent concerns the life of one Kotaro Sakurai, a young man who finds himself enrolled in Mikage Academy, a school for adolescents with “Talents” — magic-like powers that first manifest themselves when their wielders had a strong emotional reaction to something.
This isn’t Harry Potter-style magic we’re talking about, however; a Talent is a singular thing unique and innate to an individual, with no two being alike and no-one able to learn anyone else’s.
They’re not always “useful” either; while one member of School of Talent’s cast possesses the occasionally handy ability to cause bamboo to sprout out of the ground wherever she desires and another is able to disguise herself as someone else simply by touching her face, at the other end of the spectrum lies one chap who is able to summon up a bowl of ramen to exacting specification at will, so long as he has previously eaten it and written about it in his notebook, and the obligatory perverted character who has the once-a-day ability to cause an “Eroticidence”, which is exactly what you think it is.
Kotaro distinguishes himself from these Talented individuals by having no Talent whatsoever. He only finds himself attending the academy because he won a lottery at the school’s cultural festival, which saw him awarded a scholarship to attend regardless of his ability to do anything out of the ordinary whatsoever. Initially he’s treated as unique and special purely by virtue of being the school’s first scholarship student ever, but after a while prejudice kicks in, and he becomes known as “the Talentless” by his peers.
Kotaro’s first encounter with main heroine Suzu Yuki comes as he attempts to escape the initial barrage of interest that his privileged status affords him. While out walking to clear his head, he hears singing, and before long discovers the source of the voice to be a beautiful young girl who leaves a rather strong impression on him.
“The girl singing at the centre of this mystical scene seemed not of this world,” he recalls. “With the winter’s chill slicing the air around her, she sang on, her white breath vanishing as quickly as it came. With every movement of her body, her silver hair, her white coat, and the crescent earrings dangling from her ears would gently dance with her. I couldn’t help gasping. I had never seen something this otherworldly. Her divine figure brightly stood out in the silver world.”
Kotaro is immediately smitten with Suzu, even before he knows her name, and comes to think of her as “a goddess”. He is consequently delighted to discover that she is set to attend Mikage Academy with him, but is less thrilled when her natural, innate abilities immediately separate her from him, affording him no opportunity to get to know her better.
“I hadn’t exchanged so much as one word with her since that day,” he explains. “It was because we entered different dorms: the Black Rose and the While Lily. Bitter rivals. They’d hated each other’s guts since the school was started fifty years ago. Yuki ended up the head of the White Lily dorm right when she enrolled, as a freshman, no less. I had no way of getting close to her.”
This longstanding rivalry between the Black Rose and the White Lily is the main source of conflict in School of Talent’s narrative. It adds an element of “star-crossed lovers” to the story of Kotaro pursuing Suzu, though the former’s feelings are very much unrequited at the outset of the story, with frequent comedic misunderstandings often leading Suzu to believe that the actually rather polite and pleasant Kotaro is some kind of pervert.
The Black Rose-White Lily rivalry is allegorical on a number of different levels. Firstly, it’s a very clear depiction of the feelings of prejudice that a particularly privileged group can come to feel towards another — and the feelings of resentment that often bubble up in response. The White Lilies, having historically been made up of those perceived as the school’s best-performing students, had been able to build up their dormitory complex into an incredibly luxurious place to live, while the Black Roses existed as perpetual underdogs, living in outdated facilities and scraping by as best they could.
The White Lilies weren’t given their privilege simply by society, however; the body of students that formed this house is consistently shown to be serious, hardworking and fiercely loyal to their comrades, while the Black Roses are often shown to be indolent, apathetic and, at times, deliberately provocative towards their rivals. It’s not exactly conducive to a good working relationship — or indeed for either side to budge from the positions they’ve held relative to one another for the last half-century. In this sense, it could be argued to reflect the potential dangers of a meritocratic society: those who are less naturally talented will likely end up resenting those who wield power over them, particularly if their inability to catch up means that they end up wanting for things that their perceived “superiors” take for granted.
The rivalry can also be seen as a reflection of the absurdity of one group oppressing another based on arbitrary characteristics: in this case, the colour of their uniforms, rather than the colour of their skin or hair, their gender, their sexuality or indeed any other descriptor that has historically been used for social segregation. As is shown throughout the story, the Black Roses aren’t actually in any way “inferior” to the White Lilies; indeed, of the various “tiers” of talent that exist in School of Talent’s world, we see that there are roughly equal numbers of each tier on both “sides” of this conflict.
Rather, it simply seems to just be sort of “accepted” that the White Lilies are the “rulers”, while the Black Roses are the common people. This is made particularly explicit during a school event that sees the two sides staging a mock battle against one another as a means of practicing their Talents: Black Rose dorm leader Azami stirs her troops into battle with the rallying cry of “let the barbaric commoners unite and crush the pride of the noble!”
Interestingly, School of Talent isn’t structured as a straightforward, free-flowing visual novel. Instead, it is split into discrete episodes, clearly heavily inspired by anime series. The game very much runs with this episodic idea, with each episode having its own clear narrative arc as well as progressing the central story of Kotaro attempting to get closer to Suzu.
This structure works very well indeed, particularly as the episodes themselves are enormously varied in terms of intensity, subject matter and overall seriousness; besides the aforementioned “mock battle” episode, which turns out to be one of the more dramatic and important moments in the overall narrative, there’s a suitably fanservicey “beach episode” and obligatory “boys peeping on the girls’ bath” moment, as well as an enjoyable “body swap” episode in which Suzu and Kotaro get to live each other’s lives for a few days, naturally coming to understand one another better in the process.
Towards the end of the game’s “run”, the narrative escalates somewhat in that it starts to bring the central tale of Kotaro and Suzu to a conclusion. We learn about Suzu’s Talent and why she is so hesitant to use it; we see Kotaro demonstrate that he understands Suzu better than anyone else having both walked a mile in her shoes and remained completely and utterly devoted to her since their initial meeting; we see Suzu start to open up and let new friends into her life, having historically pushed people away out of her own fear of hurting them.
The game’s final episode, while utterly predictable from a good mile or two off, fully embraces its somewhat clichéd nature and comes across as heartwarming and genuine rather than hackneyed. By this point, the novel has done an excellent job of both making Kotaro a likeable, sympathetic protagonist and Suzu a heroine we can very much understand the appeal of, and as a result it’s very satisfying to feel all your inevitable “rooting for them” finally paying off in the finale.
In fact, the cast of School of Talent is consistently well portrayed throughout the entirety of Suzu Route, with plenty of other heroines besides Suzu getting some time in the spotlight and teasing us, the audience, with the tantalising prospect of future routes focusing on the aforementioned Azami, Kotaro’s childhood friend Haru, the masochistic borderline yandere Mayu and perhaps even some of the more incidental, unvoiced (but still interestingly portrayed) characters such as Mizuki, Sora and Ginko.
It’s a very solid visual novel all round, in fact, with only a few textual errors in the English translation here and there — most frequently character names being left in kanji or, in one unfortunate instance, a translator’s note having been left in the middle of some narration — marring the experience slightly.
And we really are talking slightly here; I found the excellent characterisation of School of Talent to have an almost intoxicating, utterly addictive quality to it that kept me coming back for “just one more episode” until, before I knew it — and well before the game had worn out its welcome — I’d reached its satisfying conclusion.
Based on the strength of Suzu Route, I’m very interested to see what the team at MyDearest does with this potential series from here. They’ve established an intriguing setting that is ripe for exploring a variety of themes and issues; they’ve introduced an enormously compelling, interesting and likeable cast that I’d like to know a lot more about; and above all, they’ve made something that was just plain entertaining and enjoyable. Which, ultimately, is what it’s all about, really.
So here’s to this joyful first adventure in the halls of Mikage Academy; I sincerely hope there are many more to follow.
School of Talent: Suzu-Route is available now for Windows and Mac OS via Steam. A review copy was provided to MoeGamer by the developer.
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