Central to LAMUNATION!, whichever narrative route you choose to explore, is the setting of the Cherry Crown Diner.
A diner inspired by 1950s Americana, the Cherry Crown serves as something of a social hub for the main cast — and, in pretty much all of the paths through the game, ends up becoming a successful landmark and tourist attraction in the unusual corporate-run city of Saint Aria.
There are a lot of interesting things about the Cherry Crown Diner — not least of which are the charismatic, chaotic twin sisters Iris and Rayla, who run it in their parents’ seemingly perpetual absence. That seems like as good a place as any to continue our exploration of this delightfully delirious visual novel!
Some NSFW stuff ahead!
Much like many things in LAMUNATION! as a whole, Iris and Rayla are designed to subvert expectations. The older, more mature-looking of the twins, Rayla, is actually the younger of the two, while Iris, the noisy, childish one, is older. Granted, this difference in age doesn’t mean much when we’re talking about twins, but the situation is played up quite a bit for comic effect throughout LAMUNATION! as a whole — and Rayla always referring to Iris as “Nee-san” means that we never forget the natural order of things.
In terms of personality, the pair of them initially seem to be quite different from one another. Rayla puts across the distinct impression of being the responsible, sensible, intelligent one — the perfect “big sister” in many ways — while Iris’ frequent outbursts are one of the main sources of chaotic energy throughout LAMUNATION! as a whole.
Things, of course, are not quite that straightforward, because no-one can be defined that easily; not even comedy visual novel characters. Rayla has an almost debilitating weakness to Dad joke-standard puns, for one thing — and as it happens, most of the rest of the cast have a natural talent for them — while Iris demonstrates on more than one occasion that despite her childish mannerisms and seemingly forever wandering mind, she’s more than capable of coming up with some really quite ruthless plans to accomplish things she sets her mind to.
The pair of them make a great team to run the Cherry Crown Diner, since Rayla is an excellent cook and Iris is a charismatic host who makes guests feel very welcome and appreciated while they are present. Early in the game, we see the pair of them happily catering to a party of 34 people — and quite a few major narrative moments throughout the game as a whole are marked by a sudden stampede of customers descending on the diner because they heard that’s where whoever the man/woman of the hour happened to be.
Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows in Saint Aria, though — particularly for people like Iris and Rayla, who are essentially responsible for a small business in the absence of their parents. In fact, although the arrival of the huge corporation RMC revitalised the town’s economy as a whole, providing education and jobs for young people and improving the standard of living for almost everyone, non-affiliated businesses such as the Cherry Crown Diner — and Lamune’s lamune factory, as we saw last time — find themselves struggling to compete with the corporate-owned establishments.
This isn’t some sort of dystopian “corporations are bad”, tale, however; the difficulty that Iris and Rayla have is more a matter of the fact they feel their business hasn’t been able to adequately repay RMC for what they’ve done for the community as a whole.
“Until the early ’90s… that is, up until the end of the bubble era, this city was a popular sightseeing area,” explains Iris. “But once the bubble burst, tourism dropped. Since the city’s built on tourism, it was a huge blow to the city’s economy. In the blink of an eye, the city was on the verge of economic collapse. But that’s when the company known as RMC came to the rescue.
“The day RMC took over city management, the economy went through a remarkable V-shaped recovery,” she continues, “and is now poised to take Dubai, UAE’s title as the wealthiest city in the world.”
The “bubble era” that Iris refers to here is a subject that comes up quite a few times throughout LAMUNATION!, and it refers to the period between 1986 and 1991 where real estate and stock market prices were greatly inflated. This was followed in 1992 by a period known as The Lost Decade, during which the economy stagnated and prices collapsed; the country is still feeling the effects to this day.
While this is part of Japanese socioeconomic history, it remains somewhat relatable to Westerners since it roughly coincides with the rise of the “yuppie” in the ’80s — young, upwardly mobile professionals who, in the words of Chicago magazine journalist Dan Rottenberg in 1980, sought “neither comfort nor security, but stimulation — and they can find that only in the densest sections of the city.”
Most parts of the developed world have suffered their own forms of economic downturn or stagnation since the ’80s, and different places have dealt with the situation in different ways. RMC adopting Saint Aria as a completely corporate-run city is one possible solution to local economic problems — but it comes with its own price to pay.
“RMC completely closed down the in-the-red third sector facilities,” continues Iris. “But people worked there, so they all ended up unemployed. But RMC actively recruited those people so even people who were against it at the time are now thankful for RMC.
“Iris’s family manages a restaurant,” she continues. “And it’s true that RMC-affiliated restaurants steal away customers. After all, we’re located on the edge of town, and now that the value of land has shot up, we can’t relocate. But what if RMC didn’t intervene? Then we’d still be a lonely island resort with no attractions but the cry of the seagulls and the cuckoos. When you think about it that way, the idea that RMC is taking away customers is a first-world problem, I’d say.”
Iris and Rayla don’t have a lot to be bitter about; their diner is still pulling in customers despite the challenges they face, after all, and in the meantime they’re able to enjoy RMC’s unusual but sensibly modern approach to education — Saint Aria’s Academy of Hope Island emphasises vocational rather than academic skills and follows the philosophy that practical experience is much more useful than dry theory in today’s world.
We’ve previously seen how a lot of the humour in LAMUNATION! comes from the juxtaposition between the mundane and everyday, and the absurdly overdramatic. During Iris and Rayla’s route through the game, we get an excellent example of this, as Luna and Rayla find themselves working a party aboard a docked cruise ship just as a terrorist group attacks — and between them, manage to fend off the invaders without really breaking a sweat.
The scene is absurd and ridiculous, but also symbolic; the terrorists are distinctly anti-capitalist in nature, while those attending the party mostly represent the “1%” — except for Luna and Rayla, who are most definitely part of “the 99%”, and perfectly comfortable with that.
“We are the 99 percent,” muses Luna. “The proletariat. We’ve got it easy. We wear discount clothes, ride ladies’ bicycles and put our change in the donation box. The simple pleasures.”
This may not seem like the most progressive view in this modern era, where standing up to corporate dominance is seen as something desirable to do — how many people do you know who deliberately boycott large companies such as Amazon and Google, for example? But what you have to remember in the context of LAMUNATION!’s story is that we’re talking about a community that has been “saved” and is thus indebted to one of those giant corporations; without that corporation’s intervention, life for “the 99%” in Saint Aria wouldn’t be nearly as carefree as Luna suggests.
Mind you, Luna isn’t being totally honest with everyone, either. In further echoes of Grisaia’s protagonist Yuuji, we get a lot more hints throughout Iris and Rayla’s route that there is a lot more to Luna than meets the eye. For one thing, he certainly seems to have a much better idea of what the character known only as “Witch” is up to over the course of the various stories.
It’s also in Iris and Rayla’s route that we start to get much more concrete hints that not only is “magic” a thing in the world of LAMUNATION!, but it might also have something to do with the enigmatic RMC. This is something that is explored much more in Corona’s route, however; here, we just get the vaguest of hints.
The “Witch” plays a subtle role in all the main narrative routes, however; in fact, in each case, she performs the exact same function, which is to drop an opportunity in the lap of Iris, Rayla and Lamune, allowing them the chance to realise their potential and help make the lives that they really want for themselves; a reward for their tireless hard work to date, and for believing in their own personal goals and values.
In Iris and Rayla’s case, of course they want to make the Cherry Crown Diner a success — but they also want to help out their friend Lamune… and they also want to be able to express and explore the feelings they have developed for Luna in the time he has been part of their lives.
Although Iris and Rayla frequently joke about everyone getting together and having a polyamorous relationship — or, to put it rather more crudely, as Rayla does on several occasions, “a huge fuck-off” — neither of them are entirely confident in making the first move, because they’re concerned about each other’s feelings. But they also know that they can’t rely on Luna to be proactive about this sort of thing, because despite having seemingly spent most of his life around beautiful women at the time of LAMUNATION!’s story, he has absolutely no clue about affairs of the heart.
Iris and Rayla have a discussion about the matter, and determine that one of them going for Luna is undesirable because the other one will get hurt… but that neither of them going for Luna is also undesirable because that will end up with both of them getting hurt — and perhaps Luna as well. So they come to the only possible conclusion: they’ll just both have to date him. And each other.
It’s at this point we start to get some confirmation of things that have previously only been teased in Lamune’s relatively strait-laced route — that is, that pretty much everyone in this little group of friends has somewhat fluid views on sexuality, and that they’re more than happy to explore both feelings and physical desires with pretty much anyone, so long as they love them.
In Lamune’s route, Iris and Rayla offer to comfort Luna’s sister Corona as they all witness the bittersweet sight of the man they all love making their best friend the happiest they’ve ever seen her. And by “comfort”, we can determine that there were strong sexual implications. Particularly because in Iris and Rayla’s route, we discover that these two sisters are very close with one another — both because they love one another, and because they want to provide one another mutual comfort until they can resolve the romantic situation with Luna.
LAMUNATION! doesn’t shy away from showing an unashamedly incestuous relationship. (Well, actually, it doesn’t shy away from showing two unashamedly incestuous relationships, but more on the other one next time.) And this is something you’ll have to come to terms with if you’re going to enjoy this visual novel. So let’s pick at that idea a bit.
The concept of incest is taboo pretty much everywhere — but Japanese popular media is seemingly a lot more keen to represent it in a positive, enthusiastic light than anything the West puts out. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true; at the time of writing, the front page of popular free pornographic video streaming site PornHub has quite a substantial selection of incest-themed videos — though most of them take a certain amount of trouble to point out that it’s always step-siblings or step-parents involved rather than blood relations. (And in most, if not all cases, they’re unrelated performers anyway.)
Japanese popular media — be it anime, visual novels or manga — is much more comfortable with the idea of blood relations getting it on with one another, for some reason. And not just in the adults-only sphere, either; we’ve seen popular mainstream anime such as Sword Art Online and Oreimo take a look at the subject over the years, too.
This difference in cultural values likely stems from a number of different sources, including the fact that familial bonds between siblings in Japan are typically quite intimate anyway, with notions of respect and deference baked right into the language with which they use to communicate. Japanese culture is also quite comfortable with the idea of skinship, which is, quite simply, people who like one another getting together in the nude for one reason or another — typically a bath, sauna or other such activity. While skinship is not, in itself, a sexually charged activity, it’s easy to see how curious siblings with a particularly close relationship might consider crossing that line.
From a more broader cultural perspective, the creation myth of the Shinto faith suggests that the nation of Japan and the human life that lives there was born out of the incestuous sexual relationship between the two gods Izanagi and Izanami. (Of course, there’s perhaps an argument to be made in this regard about the Christian faith too!) Either way, for whatever the exact reason might be, incest is not a big deal to writers of Japanese popular fiction.
And in the case of an adults-only title like LAMUNATION!, too — if you’re playing the all-ages version, you’re emphatically Doing it Wrong, by the way, since openness about sex is an important part of the various narratives and how the characters are presented — you can also say that a topic like incest is ripe for exploration because it’s not actually happening. It’s the stuff of pure fantasy. No actual brothers and sisters are bumping uglies. It’s simply asking “what if they did?” And it’s a completely safe way to explore that question.
In the case of LAMUNATION! specifically, this subject also ties in to the idea that all of the core cast have strong feelings of acceptance and love towards one another. No-one minds that Iris and Rayla have been in a sexual relationship with one another long before their first threesome with Luna, and no-one cares about Corona’s overly honest admissions about what she’s done to her brother while he’s sleeping — just as no-one cares that in Iris and Rayla’s route, Corona is the one who gets into a same-sex relationship with Lamune, and it’s implied to be fairly extreme in the sexual department.
This also ties in with the sense that Saint Aria is somewhat cut off from the “real world” by virtue of it being a corporate-run city overseen by at least one person who may or may not be capable of making use of magical powers. The normal rules don’t apply here — in so many ways.
One of the “rules” that doesn’t apply here actually relates to the visual novel medium as a whole. In most multi-route visual novels, the narrative paths are mutually exclusive, with completely different events occurring in each. The protagonist typically either directly triggers these events or at least provides the heroine(s) of the hour with a nudge in the right direction, while the ones who weren’t explicitly picked fade into the background.
None of that happens in LAMUNATION! — there are several major events that occur in each and every narrative path, though they’re explored in varying amounts of depth depending on which one you’re specifically following. And all the heroines retain their importance to the overall story, regardless of whether or not you’re following “their” path.
The inadvertent creation of the “Lamunation!” meme is the start of all this, but as you progress you’ll notice that several other things always happen regardless of whether or not Luna and/or the narrator were there to trigger those things.
Lamune always develops a new product that she hopes will prove the catalyst to reversing the ailing fortunes of her family’s lamune factory… and awakens to her latent sexuality. Iris and Rayla always end up creating a worldwide streaming sensation — and boom in global soda sales — with their show “Lamunation TV”, which builds on the meme with all sorts of silly shenanigans. And, perhaps most curiously, each narrative path always seems to end the same way the game as a whole began.
Hmm. Something funny’s going on there… but what? Perhaps we’ll find out in Corona’s route next time!
Thanks to Meru at Love Lab for the review copy.
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