Yeah, I’ll say it. I unironically adored Asagao Academy when it first came out. I played it on warm summer mornings, not long after I finished my junior year of high school. The music was perfect, the prose was gorgeous, and there was nothing I’d rather be doing while I waited for my friends to wake up so we could adventure. Playing Asagao even led to me flirting with the idea of writing my own dating sim, I wanted to make something just like it.
I’m going to say now that this isn’t going to be a normal retrospective, clearly I have some inexplicable feelings for this game, so this article is going to be a bit more emotional than a look back on most other games. Feel free to roast me in the article comments for getting emotional over a four year old dating sim.
For those not in the know, Asagao Academy is the one and only project by Illus Seed, with most of the writing done by Cara Hillstock and most of the art done by Dani Hargrave, wife of YouTuber PeanutButterGamer. It’s a lighthearted dating sim where you play as a pink-haired high school student named Hana on her quest to find love, featuring the YouTubers of Normal Boots as her potential candidates: JonTron, PeanutButterGamer, Continue? (specifically Paul, with Nick and Josh as side characters), Satchell Drakes, ProJared, Shane from Did You know Gaming, and Jirard from the Completionist. If you’ve been following recent YouTube news, you might know why I’ve decided to write about this now.
I’m not going to speak to JonTron’s controversy from a few years ago, as apparently it’s still a point of contention for some, but that was the first moment Asagao started to sour. Regardless of whose side you were on, or even if you avoided sides at all, lines were drawn and friendships were ruined. Now, the characters of Asagao were never meant to be complete recreations of the real-life YouTubers. They’re characters designed to look like them, voice acted by them, and mostly based off their personas they post online. The Jon in Asagao Academy is a character based on a character created by JonTron to star in a web show. Still, after he parted ways from the rest of the group, his character in the game became a reminder of a simpler time. Seeing the splash art of all the friends sitting around a table was a callback to a time that could never be again.
“Yeah? So what?” That’s a valid question, I suppose. I’m just a consumer of content, I don’t know any of these people, I just like a bunch of their videos. Technically, I’m not losing anything by them not being friends anymore, other than maybe the occasional collab. Why should I be nostalgic or upset because a group of friends in a dating sim aren’t friends in real life anymore?
Because it’s real, I suppose. 2016 Normal Boots was almost like a group of friends in high school who hung out to play video games, and like most friends from high school, like a lot of my own friends from high school, they drift apart and stop talking. All 16 year olds want to spend time with their friends forever, but life isn’t that kind. You graduate, you drift apart, you change, and all of the sudden you’re not friends anymore. Asagao Academy always hinted at something else. The world wasn’t perfect, people lose people close to them, people suffer, people get screwed over, but if you hang in there, you can earn your happy ending. Because of how beautifully the game’s written, you can easily imagine everything being perfect forever.
Now, though, the lines between the game and reality are cracked. The guys’ high school friendships won’t last forever, and Hana’s relationship probably won’t either. The picture in the early game of the boys sitting around the table isn’t just a happy little drawing anymore. It’s symbolic of a picture one might have of their friends in high school that they haven’t talked to in a while, or had falling out with. A reminder of the fact that, as much as you want to, you won’t spend your life with all your good friends from high school.
With that, it doesn’t feel like the Asagao Academy I first played. The beautiful rose-tinted glasses are smudged with reality.
It certainly doesn’t help that, as of today, the world’s received news of ProJared cheating on his wife repeatedly, along with other allegations that I’d prefer not to discuss here. Just like with Jon, the Jared of Asagao Academy is a character based on a character, but having the first face you see in a dating sim be an artistic representation of a man who cheated on his wife for years darkens the mood quite a bit.
This is the part of an op/ed where the writer is supposed to restate their thesis, but as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I don’t exactly have one. Asagao Academy is an absolutely beautiful game that should’ve been about any other cast of characters to reality-proof it from its own inspiration. Its magic disappeared by the same unflinching hands of adulthood that have taken from me the carefree summer mornings that I treasured so closely. I hope Illus Seed may sprout again and make another game, because art and writing like this deserves much better.
Max is a student at Rutgers who likes writing fantasy and playing video games such as Zelda, Mario, Undertale, Earthbound, and Stardew Valley.