Title: Sutekina Kanojo no Tsukurikata
Release Date: April 23, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Visual Novel
Sutekina Kanojo no Tsukurikata (roughly translated, How to Build a Great Girlfriend) is a yandere yuri visual novel about a traumatized college student who becomes obsessed with a friendly classmate. It’s a short but intense story that got quite a cold reception from players expecting lighter fare, but yuri fans who want to see more English-translated dark content and know what they’re getting into should appreciate it.
Sutekina Kanojo no Tsukurikata introduces Sumire, a girl who suffers from severe anxiety and tries to meet people online. However, the fellow lesbian she planned to meet IRL turns out to be a group of men who attempt to assault her. Nazuna, an upperclassman at Sumire’s university, comes to her rescue, and Sumire forms an intense attachment to her.
The use of E-mote animation is especially effective in a story like this because it doesn’t just bring the character sprites to life but also emphasizes the contrast between the highly animated and fully voiced main characters and the voiceless, nameless silhouettes used for everyone else. Faceless and voiceless side characters are common in visual novels, and it’s usually more of a budget-saving decision than an artistic one. Still, here it showcases how focused Sumire’s world is on just herself and Nazuna, that everyone else barely even exists.
Despite the awkward and stilted summary on the Steam store page, the actual game translation is great as it captures Sumire’s narration’s emotional tone and vocabulary. Most of the minor errors I encountered seemed technical, such as Sumire’s name appearing in hiragana in online chats and one line not displaying correctly. The skip function is also a bit finicky, but that’s a minor annoyance.
A free adult patch is available that adds several explicit scenes, mostly right before the endings, so the bad ends feel even more abrupt without the patch. It’s unfortunate that the unpatched version just cuts the scenes instead of including an alternate scene to keep the same pacing. I also couldn’t find a way to disable the patch once installed without deleting all of my save data and starting the game over, which seemed like a lot when all I wanted was to avoid any more surprise watersports.
It’s impossible to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Sutekina Kanojo’s story without revealing major spoilers, so skip to the end of this review if you’d like to avoid them.
There’s a sharp contrast between the first and second parts, which I suspect will be polarizing for readers. The story begins with what feels like a very realistic, relatable portrayal of Sumire’s mental illness. An unflattering portrayal, sure. In just the first few lines of a game, she posts fake self-harm pictures to social media and bemoans, “I feel like I’m the only one living on hard mode here.” But that self-centeredness and self-defeating way of seeking help is incredibly familiar to me, and probably many other people who have been in that headspace.
It’s a frustrating, uncomfortable familiarity. It made me intensely aware that if my present self met my past self from when I was Sumire’s age, I would sympathize greatly with their problems but would not have the patience to help them. And in some ways, that feeling is shown through the relationship between the main characters: Nazuna is friendly and kind to Sumire, but she has her own traumas to deal with and couldn’t be the kind of full-time support Sumire needs even if she wanted to.
Later in the game, the perspective shifts briefly to Nazuna, and it’s revealed that Sumire wasn’t just unhealthily clingy because of her anxiety but actively lied and manipulated Nazuna to control her, including blackmailing her with naked photos. Nazuna also discovers that Sumire’s mental breakdown is the result of past sexual assault (briefly described but not shown). Whether Sumire blacks out and doesn’t remember her actions or is at least partially aware and just an unreliable narrator is left somewhat ambiguous.
At first, I was disappointed in this twist. The realistic depiction of mental illness in the first part of the game led me to expect a more complex story about how people can form unhealthy bonds and hurt each other even if they don’t intend to do so. That would require a slower build of tension and probably spending more time in Nazuna’s point of view. The rapid escalation of Sumire’s behavior, especially in the earlier bad ends, and the reveal of a clear abuser and victim creates a more black and white story than I expected.
But my perspective changed as I played through all the endings and thought more about how they affected me. Exaggeration is one way to create a safe distance from reality to explore darker content. When I think of it like that, the contrast between the two halves of the game is actually an effective way to approach the material. The shift from a realistic and relatable depiction of mental illness to exaggerated yandere tropes relieved the tension. It made the game less uncomfortable for me despite the more extreme content.
I can’t say everyone will have the same reaction, even if my interpretation aligns with what the writer intended. I brought a lot of my personal experience with mental illness and abuse into reading Sutekina Kanojo. I know different people will have different triggers and perhaps fill in the gaps in characterization in different ways. I also still think the story could have been stronger with a slower build, more time spent in Nazuna’s point of view, and perhaps using a change in visuals to emphasize the shift in tone.
Sutekina Kanojo no Tsukurikata could easily be enjoyed by fans of yandere and yuri themes who aren’t looking for a fluffy romance. The game’s darker moments can be impactful and may be interpreted differently depending on the players, but the message comes together in the end. There’s a lot to digest, though, and that may limit those willing to stick with it through its several routes.
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