LAMUNATION! is an absolute fever dream of a visual novel. It’s one of the most gleefully, joyfully chaotic narrative experiences I’ve ever sat through.
One thing I found particularly interesting about it was the fact that depending on the order in which you explore the three main narrative routes, you either start with material that is relatively easy to digest… or just throw yourself right in to the insanity.
The choices I made, as it happens, resulted in a gradual escalation of chaos — so that’s how we’ll take a look at things over the course of the next few articles.
Some NSFW content ahead.
Let’s start with the basics: what is LAMUNATION! actually about? Well, even that’s quite a tricky question to answer, but essentially what we have here is a story about a male protagonist named Luna who is best of friends with several young women from the local area. And a very interesting local area it is too; but more on that in a bit.
Luna is a character who remains fairly enigmatic throughout the majority of the visual novel. In an intriguing twist on the usual conventions of the medium, Luna is — for the most part, anyway — not the narrator of the action. The various narrative routes are instead framed as stories a girl named Solaris is telling present-day, “real life” Luna while he is waiting for a date.
One of the things about LAMUNATION! that will really get you thinking is the fact that the stories Solaris tells Luna — and you — all feature characters that are clearly part of Luna’s “real” life, including Solaris herself. But the peculiar framing device means that you end up questioning whether any of it actually happened or not, or if it’s just a bunch of stories she made up to keep Luna occupied.
This is particularly apparent when it comes to the instances where we get to explore Luna’s character and background a bit; at times, he seems to be completely oblivious to his surroundings and how to live his life in the modern world, while at others, he is positioned as one of the most capable, invincible people in the entire world, able to take down significant threats without breaking a sweat.
It feels like there’s a bit of a sly nod to Grisaia’s protagonist Yuuji here; Yuuji was likewise a mysterious character — albeit without Luna’s apparent airheadedness — who hid some abilities that only came to the forefront under very specific circumstances. The difference in LAMUNATION! is that the times when Luna has to “get serious” are typically played for laughs rather than being significant moments in the story.
There’ll be a large, dramatic build-up to him having to accomplish something astonishing — ranging from, at various points, taking down a weapons-smuggling criminal syndicate to punching an invading eldritch god of destruction into otherworldly squid-meat — then there’ll typically be a flash-wipe followed by the narrator simply and politely informing us that he accomplished said astonishing thing successfully. You’ll never actually see the thing happening; it’s like the narrator didn’t think it was particularly important, or just couldn’t be bothered to describe it — which highlights the fact that it’s a person telling this story rather than a non-participant omniscient narrator. And thus they might be a tad unreliable, one might say.
One thing that remains constant about Luna throughout all the different stories the narrator tells is that he is almost completely oblivious to matters of both heart and loins. While we’re presented with frequent evidence that he’s something of an exhibitionist — there are numerous scenes in which he ends up in the nude, and this has become such normal behaviour to his friends that no-one really feels the need to be shocked by it any more — we’re also led to believe that he is impotent, asexual or simply incapable of understanding these aspects of human existence. He also does not appear to understand the frequent online come-ons he receives from gay men around the world — even when they’re pretty explicit.
In some respects, Luna coming to understand the appeal of romance, sexuality and closeness with others is a key theme of LAMUNATION! as a whole. And that happens in quite different ways according to which of the main narrative routes you choose to follow during your playthrough.
So who are these girls with whom he ends up learning these important life lessons… among other things?
First up, Lamune is a girl who has been friends with Luna and his sister since childhood, and whose family runs a factory that makes the traditional Japanese soda lamune. If this causes your eyebrows to raise, don’t worry; this is a deliberate misspelling of the real-world traditional marble-stopped soda “ramune” — though the lack of the letter “L” in the Japanese syllabary means “lamune” would be pronounced “ramune” anyway.
Lamune loves lamune, as you might expect from someone named after a soft drink and constantly surrounded by it right from her early years. She always carries around a briefcase apparently filled with it — she claims it’s actually a portable lamune generator, though we only have her word on this rather than any actual tangible proof — and wants nothing more than for everyone across the world to continue enjoying her family’s product, and traditional soda pop in general.
Iris and Rayla, meanwhile, are twin sisters who run the local American-style restaurant, the Cherry Crown Diner. Iris is the older sister, but often acts in a noisy, somewhat immature manner; Rayla is the younger of the pair, but carries herself with a quiet dignity — though she occasionally slips into country girl-style slang and finds “dad jokes” and bad puns to be a real weak point.
Interestingly, from a design perspective, Iris and Rayla’s heterochromatic eyes represent something of a “bridge” between the blue eyes of Luna and his sister and Lamune’s red eyes. This makes perfect sense, since both the characters themselves and the diner they run act as something of a “hub” for everything else that happens; a lot of the major events happen there, and the characters are often present during major turning points in the story.
Finally, Corona is Luna’s slightly younger twin sister, and in many respects is the polar opposite to her rather airheaded brother. She often seems pragmatic and sensible, but she also has a somewhat sadistic streak in her — typically at Lamune’s expense. She believes that Luna is capable of “bringing happiness to everyone” — and encourages him to do so, with this idea essentially forming the main catalyst for each of the three main narrative routes through the game.
Oh, and she absolutely, positively wants to jump her brother’s bones — but we’ll dive down that particular rabbit hole another time, since there’s rather a lot to explore there!
It may not have escaped your notice that the “soda” theme that runs throughout LAMUNATION! also extends to the visual designs of the characters — and their favourite drinks, as it happens.
Lamune’s emphasis on pale blues and whites reflects the traditional design of her beloved lamune bottles. Iris and Rayla’s red and white outfits bring to mind Coca-Cola’s traditional all-American packaging — with Iris’ slightly stronger emphasis on the whites referring to the fact that she prefers her cola as an ice-cream float rather than straight. And Corona’s blue-and-white outfits resemble the packaging for popular energy drink Red Bull, since she is often shown to be chugging an energy drink of some description, and at one point even gives rather literal meaning to the slogan “gives you wings”.
There are more subtle hints in the designs, too. Lamune’s hair clip resembles the marble that seals traditionally designed lamune bottles; Iris’ white hat looks like the ice cream floating on the top of her favourite sweet treat; and Corona’s blonde hair brings to mind the vivid piss-yellow colour most modern energy drinks have before they melt your intestines from the inside out.
All these characters call the city of Saint Aria home.
“It’s a coastal town facing the Pacific Ocean,” explains Solaris’ narration. “It’s nicknamed ‘the City of Hopes and Dreams’ as it boasts thriving arts and culture, as well as cutting-edge technology. In the day, the sun shines bright upon the city; at night, the city lights paint the sky. Heaven is a place on earth.”
The interesting thing about Saint Aria is that it’s a corporate-run town, owned, governed and operated entirely by a megacorporation known as RMC Group. What this actually means is explored in a variety of ways throughout the various narrative paths, but the upshot of it is that RMC has brought great affluence to the town, does things its own way and, in general, appears to be quite a good thing on the whole.
It’s not entirely a rosy picture, however. RMC’s domination of the city means that small, local businesses who weren’t absorbed into or affiliated with the megacorporation find themselves struggling somewhat. And, as you might expect, both the Cherry Crown Diner and the lamune factory that Lamune and her family operate are just a couple of the establishments that are suffering. Lamune’s factory in particular is torn between wanting to maintain a rapidly fading Japanese tradition and having to move with the times.
Well, Lamune’s parents are, anyway; Lamune herself is absolutely devoted to maintaining her family’s proud work, even as her mother and father frequently encourage her to find a better life than inheriting what they believe to be a failing business.
“People just don’t drink lamune any more,” she muses to Luna. “I was raised on lamune from the moment I was born, so I took its existence for granted. But if we keep reducing production, we’ll eventually end up fading away. Which to me is almost the same thing as death itself. Once this summer’s over, we’ll have to think about our careers and stuff. So this summer might be our last shot.”
I’m sure you can see where this is going. Yes; much of Lamune’s narrative route throughout LAMUNATION! concerns her attempts to create a new product that will revitalise interest in her family’s business, and enable them to continue to operate in a fast-paced, modern world that looks set to leave them behind.
As it happens, it’s the very nature of today’s interconnected, fast-paced world that ends up being an important catalyst in Lamune’s realisation of her dreams. When the group gets together at the Cherry Crown Diner, decides to take a commemorative photograph and wants something to shout that’s a bit more interesting than just “Cheers”, Lamune suggests “Lamunation” — as she says, “it doesn’t mean anything, but it sounds nice.”
The Internet being the Internet, as fickle as ever, somehow latches on to this personal moment between friends, and shouting “Lamunation!” while holding your beverage of choice in the air quickly becomes a viral sensation and a worldwide meme — ultimately leading to a worldwide boom in the popularity of soda as everyone and their dog wanted to get a piece of the latest social media action. A perfect situation for a young lamune professional to reverse their company’s ailing fortunes, you might say!
“The meme transcended all barriers of culture, language, religion and race,” explains Solaris. “It was as if, for one brief moment, the entire world was united.”
An Internet meme alone isn’t enough to make a profit, however, as Lamune well knows. So she has other plans in place; specifically, she enters the lottery to be a part of the RMC-run B-Grade Gourmet Competition — an opportunity to get her lamune noticed on a grand scale, and perhaps to help out her friends Iris and Rayla at the Cherry Crown Diner, too. And as part of that, she decides that the best way to get well and truly noticed would be to develop some sort of new product. The question is, what?
Lamune has creative block. And a lot of it is down to the fact that an increasing amount of her daily thoughts are to do with Luna. This is, of course, not helped by the obligatory sexy comic misunderstandings that tend to happen in this sort of story — specifically, Luna walking in on Lamune while she is getting dressed in the morning, seeing her mostly naked, declaring her “beautiful” and then pretty much short-circuiting his brain for a while.
As it happens, though, this presents an ideal opportunity for Lamune to flush out what Luna calls her “constipated thoughts”, for Luna to clear up his own hangups about intimacy… and for the rest of the group to finally commence what appears to be a master plan for them all to be involved in a polyamorous, pansexual relationship with Luna somewhere in the middle of it all.
Ever the pragmatic little sister, Corona, as the one who knows Luna the best out of everyone, manages to provide her brother with something of an impromptu therapy session. She helps lead him to the conclusion that he was unable to get Lamune’s naked body out of his head because he’s finally seeing her as a woman and not just his childhood friend; she helps him understand that the feelings he’s having are normal and desirable, and that it’s perfectly fine for him to pursue a relationship with Lamune if that’s what he wants… and, indeed, if that’s what she wants, too.
A recurring theme in LAMUNATION! is the fact that the closeness between the small group of friends leads each of them to feel somewhat guilty for wanting to take Luna for “themselves”. Lamune, as someone who is not particularly honest about her own desires, even with those closest to her, is someone particularly prone to this.
Lamune most certainly wants a relationship with Luna, to such a degree that she spends most mornings masturbating and crying over the thought of what she thinks will never be. Despite trying to keep this “private time” to herself, naturally all her friends have somehow known about the situation for a while, and frequently tease her about it. But this also leads to them being able to talk frankly and honestly about the situation with her — and reassure her that she doesn’t need to worry.
“How far do you want to go with him?” asks Corona. “Are you satisfied with just telling him you love him and then going back to crying alone and buffin’ the muffin? If you want to be his girlfriend, then go be his girlfriend. Don’t mind us.”
“I can’t just jump the gun on you guys, and I don’t want to fight you for him either!” retorts Lamune. “Sure, I love Lunachi and I want to go out with him, but I love you guys too!”
As becomes abundantly clear in Iris and Rayla’s route, which we’ll explore next time, this is most definitely not a problem — since everyone’s rather fluid attitude to sexuality means that they’re more than happy to “get by with each other” until the possibility of getting everyone all together into one big happy polyamorous family becomes reality. And as such, the others do everything they can to ensure that Luna and Lamune’s first official date is a big success.
Long story short, it is successful, leading the pair to end up in bed together, and Lamune to find herself more overcome with happiness and released tension than she has ever felt before. Finally being able to express the feelings she has kept bottled up (no pun intended) inside herself for so long allows her to think more clearly, and ultimately to come up with a suitable angle for the new product she wants to introduce at the competition. Her head is finally free of anxiety, nervous tension and sadness — and she realises this for the first time during a morning masturbation session in which she is surprised to discover herself not feeling guilty about indulging herself for once.
She finds herself thinking of the happy, pleasant memories she is creating with her new love, and one of the most important for her is the time the pair of them were atop Saint Aria’s famous observation tower at sunset, looking at the vibrantly coloured sky through a bottle of lamune. While at this point, Luna was still blissfully oblivious to the true nature of love and what Lamune meant to him, for Lamune, this was an incredibly important memory; it was the moment she well and truly knew that she had fallen for him.
What if she could recreate that feeling of nostalgia and romance with her lamune? Changing the actual recipe too much would be out of the question, since as Rayla points out, the ill-fated “New Coke” project in 1985 led to widespread consumer outcry over what people felt was a large and unnecessary change to a classic beverage. So what could she do instead?
The visual novel is often regarded as a rather slow-paced medium that spends a lot of time exploring characters’ inner thoughts rather than providing all-out action. But the incredibly energetic “montage” sequence that follows proves beyond doubt that it doesn’t have to be this way.
The rapid-fire pace of scenes that appear as Lamune attempts to leverage her newly unconstipated thoughts — complemented by the various other characters going about their business in a selection of delightful non-sequitur scenes, as well as the Cherry Crown girls introducing their new Internet streaming show Lamunation TV — is both the perfect summation of what LAMUNATION! is all about as a work of fiction… and the perfect representation of the mental chaos that is true creativity.
Spurred on by her own happiness, the continued popularity of the “Lamunation” trend and the support of her friends, Lamune eventually manages to realise what she believes to be the perfect new product: lamune that “bottles the sky”.
It’s an ideal blend of delicious lamune coupled with stimulation for the senses besides just taste; it evokes nostalgia and happiness, and perfectly complements the growing desire for people all around the world to enjoy the perfect drink while sharing a “Lamunation” moment with their friends. Not only that, it proves to be the perfect drink to enjoy at the Cherry Crown Diner, thereby also bringing happiness and success to Lamune’s close friends as well as herself.
Lamune finally reaches a destination she has always wanted to reach; a place of genuine satisfaction with both herself and her work, and a place where she feels that she has accomplished something. She’s not only happy with her personal life, having finally got together with the man she’s loved since her childhood, but she’s also accomplished her own professional goal by reversing the ailing fortunes of her family’s business.
Luna was there for all that, but Lamune essentially accomplished this all by herself. No-one is truly a “magic bullet” to solve people’s problems for themselves — but sometimes being in the right place at the right time can just give someone enough of a nudge in the right direction to make everything fall into place. And sometimes one person finding happiness can help everyone else find what they need, too.
If I had to sum up what LAMUNATION! is “about”… it would probably be the very simple concept of happiness. It may be a simple concept, but it’s an ill-defined one, mind; “happiness” means different things to different people. To Lamune, it means being able to realise her dreams while standing proudly alongside the people she loves.
And what about Iris, Rayla and Corona? Well, we’ve got to save something for next time, now, haven’t we?
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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