The wonderful website http://visualnovelaer.fuwanovel.org/ has some great new posts up recently. One is a program called Visual Novel Reader that can quickly and hassle-free machine translate visual novels still stuck in their native Japanese languages. This really opens up the frontiers of fandom because for every translated visual novel there tends to be 100 or 1,000 untranslated ones. It's true that the best games do tend to receive English translations sooner or later, and for these games you'd definitely want a real translation and not just a machine translation, but there's still a lot of great games that are destined to never be translated by anything except machines, and now is your chance to enjoy them too. Specifically, the vast amount of Da Capo spinoff or expansion titles that have never received a translation are finally ready for reading, and are definitely just as worthy of reading as the main line titles have been. But there are so many great Japanese visual novels out there that haven't been translated yet that really the sky is the limit.
The other good news from Aaeru is that Kono Oozora ni, Tsubasa wo Hirogete, the winner of the visual novel of the year award for 2012, is getting a 'restoration patch' that will allow us to enjoy the game as it was originally intended to be viewed, rather than the hack job censored release that Moenovel came out with. Using the translation from Moenovel as a foundation, they should be able to quickly release 'the rest' of the game as a full English visual novel in a much shorter time period than if they had to translate everything from scratch. As a result, I'm deeply grateful to Moenovel for saving fans all the effort of translating the story from scratch. Even so, to take the winner of the 'best visual novel in Japan 2012' and slice it apart and impose foreign values into it is so utterly disrespectful. What the company was saying is that even the absolute best game in Japan is artistically worthless, has no value, and should be changed into some other product because the way it was was 'unacceptable.' If that's how you feel about visual novels, what does that say about every other game below #1? It's basically spitting on the entire industry.
Visual novels come in different flavors, some are 'eroge' and graphically depict sex, whereas others are all-ages 'galge' and don't depict anything Puritan prudes might get upset over. The problem is, Kono Oozora ni, Tsubasa wo Hirogete is an eroge, and to turn it into something else goes against the original intent of the creators, the artists, who, by the way, were awarded the rank of #1 artistic production in the field last year. If the artists themselves had released an all-ages galge version of the game, that would have been fine, because we could be reassured that they still cared deeply about their story and would ensure it was done right. But for outsiders to censor the product as they see fit and deliver something the creators never would have intended is outrageous.
My favorite visual novel is Clannad, which doesn't have any sexual material. Probably my second favorite is Planetarian, which again has nothing objectionable. Visual novels don't need sex to be good, nor does adding sex necessarily make a story better. But if a visual novel does have sex, randomly taking it back out again necessarily does make a story worse. Everything in a story is connected, just like the pillars that support a building, if you take a few columns out the whole thing comes tumbling down. Eroge tend to be stories about falling in love with a girl and then consummating that love near the end of the tale. Sex as a part of love is a beautiful thing, there's no reason to hide it or censor it away. It's absurd to say we can't depict sex in art even though people in the real world are doing it like bunnies, with people they care far less about than the characters in these games care about each other. As eroge are supposed to take the reader with them from a somewhat first-person perspective, the reward of getting to have sex with the girl at the end is meant to be just as rewarding for the player as the main character, the two are supposed to be one from the beginning. That's why the main character allows you to choose what to do, including who you truly wish to fall in love with, at every crucial point in the story, because you and the main character are one. Just being told off screen 'congratulations, your avatar has gotten the girl!' wouldn't have nearly as gratifying an impact, you would feel gypped after putting in so much effort to get the girl, a process that takes dozens of hours, hundreds of dollars if you bought the game fairly, and learning a foreign language if you aren't a native of Japan. As visual novels are still games in a sense, there needs to be some sort of reward for winning and a 'congratulations' trophy like all other gamers receive. In some games they give you a high score, in others trophies, in still others bragging rights over your friends, and in visual novels you get to finally get the girl of your dreams. Take that away and it feels like hollow, wasted effort from beginning to end. (Again, if the story is not an eroge from the beginning, then the story develops in such a way that you receive a fitting emotional award that's unrelated to sex, but feels just as rewarding. But the authors of the game need to have that in mind from the beginning to deliver such a promise, it can't just be shoehorned in later after massive censorship took away the original idea.)
I don't know of any eroge that treat sex casually, which makes it completely different from pornography. In the one game where you can cheat on your lover and dump her and sleep around freely with tons of girls, you end up being stabbed in the back and killed for it. (Bravo School Days!) As for everyone else, it's expected for the two of you to marry and live happily ever after together. Many visual novels include after stories where you've already had children together and are living in domestic harmony. This is a positive cultural influence, not a negative one. This doesn't corrupt the youth, it inspires them to seek a relationship as good as the ones they've seen in their fiction. In a world where Game of Thrones is a best-selling novel and HBO TV series, people complaining about sex in art have zero ground to stand on. And in an era when most high schoolers have had sex by the time they graduate, it's ridiculous to complain about how these couples are underage. If two high schoolers fall in love and decide to twine their lives together, this is a totally different concept from an adult sexual predator somehow kidnapping and molesting an innocent schoolgirl. When you add in the fact that these characters are just drawings on a screen, and no actual girl was harmed in the drawing of these pictures, the charges against eroge become ever more ridiculous. And no, there's no correlation between eroge players and child rapists, as Japan has the largest eroge culture in the world and the smallest rape rate in the world. That charge, also, is just ludicrously insulting.
Sex is an important part of life, when art avoids all sexual attraction in its stories, it becomes a poor copy of the real thing, like a mirror so dirty that only a blur can be seen through it. Including sex, not just tangentially or in an off screen whisper, but with the same impact and strength as the real thing, is the only way for certain stories to be told, and for certain art forms to succeed. Specifically, romantic love without sex is a farce. As eroge are generally about romantic love, taking out the Ero portion of the game is insane.
Some visual novels are about quite different subjects. For instance, Clannad is mainly about loss. Planetarian is about the end of the world. Fate/Stay is about winning the Grail War. Higurashi is about solving a murder mystery. Utawarerumono is about founding a Kingdom and defending it against all your warlike neighbors through careful deployment and maneuvering of your elite heroic units. All of this is fine, and if these series don't want to include sex no one will be the worse for it, because they're focused on a quite different story and getting a very different sort of joy out of following the tale. Rewrite is a fantastic story whose main theme was Death, so it's no wonder they decided to make it an all ages game and not worry about the exact opposite theme, the life that's created from sex and pair-bonding. But standing opposite to all of these classics which avoided romance and concentrated on other things, is Da Capo, which concentrated purely on romance and avoided everything else.
If Clannad is the perfect galge, Da Capo II is the perfect eroge. Yes, Clannad is better than Da Capo, but Clannad can't tell Da Capo's story, so a world without Da Capo can't be filled in by any number of Clannad equivalents. No matter how many times you write about themes other than sex, no matter how many good stories you make, the world will be impoverished for not having Da Capo II, the good story about sex. Why wouldn't you want this story in your collection too? Why wouldn't you want to cover this portion of the human experience alongside all the other portions? It's like playing Blue, Black, White and Green Magic decks but refusing to ever touch a Red card. It just randomly spoils your own fun, your own potential, your own opportunities to learn and enjoy more about the game. A good eroge like Da Capo II will add just as much to your life as a good galge focused on something else, and more importantly, it will add that very piece to your life that is missing from all other art forms, like the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle. Avoiding it only truncates your opportunity to expand your horizons and experience life more fully.