“The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car” Review
Froge note: please understand this visual novel contains mentions of suicide, killing, violence, explicit language, and all the other good things in life. Disregarding that I joke about all of these things on a daily basis and the type of readership to be offended at the depictions of these things is the same readership that would be offended at even minor criticisms of their favourite works, I am appending this notice to cause you to go further into denial that these subjects exist in reality and to state the active avoidance of subjects that you have a complex towards makes your complex towards them much, much worse, and the only effective treatment towards such phobias is continued exposure towards them.
Also, the novel is super tame and the developers are kind of pantywaists for putting such a content warning on their promo page. You see, this is the real trigger warning: cowardice!
Clap your hands, everybody, because it’s time for lit theory wankery! The phrase of the day: “dual narrative”, which is basically when a story is displayed from two different perspectives, but it all reaches the same conclusion anyway, in a depressing analogy for the United States political system. These types of stories are very hard to write, probably because nobody really cares about them and the amount of study you did about them in high school boils down to writing a poem from the perspective of the dead gangster from The Outsiders. It’s hard enough being a starving writer trying to create just one protag: creating two requires twice the brain power, when you don’t even have enough energy for half, as evidence by the Gawker staff sheet.
Usually these types of stories think they’re so smart, so very very smart, and as a result of which are read by the types of people who actually think James Joyce was a good writer. While that name drop would be the highest amount of pretentiousness you would see on this particular periodic, aside from the obvious linguistics joke about the 16th century Englishman trying to order Egges from another parish when he obviously meant to order Eyren, it would just be the tip of the iceberg for this level of pretentiousness, who use that iceberg’s theory to justify their bad writing, saying it’s too deep for you to understand. The true test of fine art is not whether it’s so exclusionary as to appeal only to the slimmest minority of people, but whether it transcends exclusionism to speak to those who else would not be spoken to!
But like I say, this is all wankery, and you can live your whole life without bothering to learn any of it. Enter this novel, which I will abbreviate to “TISTRAOC” and pronounce “TITS ROCK”, which is not very pretentious but not also all that smart, nor dumb, and so is just kind of straight – down – the – middle meh. It all takes place in car, you got two protags (named “Skooks” and “Dunkey” courtesy of the fill – a – name feature), shadows don’t really come into play, and it’s only “our” car in the sense that we are occupying its space without having joint ownership of the vehicle in question, not that it matters since they make like a David Wong novel and die at the end. Also, fuck you David Wong. Not for anything in particular, I just think you’re a dick.
Blargh, blargh blargh!
So basically you’re two Millennials in a beat – up car who are kind of surly and mad about their life decisions up to this point, which is understandable given you’re in the zombie apocalypse. You get to be either the girl or the boy in this one (damn, that gender binary!), with no option for the mythical “girboy” as posited forth in the world – renowned — well, subreddit with 5,000 subscribers – renowned — fantasy life simulator, “Fantasy Life”. Granted this was in Þe Olde Æons Primæval, in the Dark Ages of 2014, where you could have such a coy synonym for “tomboy” without incurring the wrath of Anti – Fun Warriors (or AFWs, for short). The real gender issue is why I can’t reach Legend rank as a tailor without buying the DLC. How my boy gonna sew those mystic voodoo robes without getting to Magic Bullshit Abode?
I don’t know why I’m even talking about all of this even though it has little to do with the novel itself. Oh, just like the concept, incidentally! Yeah, the game takes place in the zombie apocalypse, although this is only good for the ending where the guy dies and the girl turns into a zombie. I would spoiler that — no, wait, I wouldn’t — but I get the feeling the foreshadowing was as thick as clammy skin to the point where anybody who has even heard of the concept of zombies would have been able to predict such. And then this isn’t talking about the other few endings where… nothing much happens, at least as far as I bothered investigating. Yes, one of the few valid criticisms of visual novels is how much repetition you must go through to see everything they have to offer, and this is yet to be the brilliant exception to the rule.
Now, about that concept. I don’t really mind that zombies as a concept are about as fresh as a necrophiliac’s latest love interest, but it doesn’t provide any too – brilliant insight about the end of the world or death as a concept, instead letting these themes skim over what is just the setting to some conversations about… well, I forget. The shallowness is understandable, given that this novel was made in four whole days — count them, four! —, but it does feel a bit incongruous to have zombies as the setting when the plot itself, if you can even describe this title as having a plot, counts so little on their existence beyond a twist ending. What was my own novel like with that much time? Just read the announcement, you damn parasites.
Rargh, rargh rargh!
Now, to the novel’s credit, it does bring up some interesting topics despite its shallowness. It’s your typical inspiration fare like living life to the fullest, worrying about death, not going into retail, and so on, but none of it feels manipulative or a desparate ploy to tug at your emotions, and this is especially helped along by the characters actually being written well. It’s a rare art, character writing, and one which we need so much more of given the incidence of characters in storytelling. I wouldn’t say they were as striking as that one novel where you’re a middle schooler killing your boyfriend, but they’re functional. They work. You could build a small series around them — oh, wait, they die.
And to the credit of those shallow themes, I actually did think quite a bit about, you know, death and stuff. I asked myself: “if I were to die tomorrow, what would I do today, and have I lived a good life?”. And the answer would be, well, yes, I have lived a good life. I would have to write a will and get it notarised, tell my parents and friends some apologies for how I’ve treated them, make sure all my writings on my PC and shit would be accessible to all who care, and pawn off my little collective to somebody who cares to see it happen. But for all that I’ve felt, all that I’ve done, good and bad, and maybe not to the fullest extent I could have, I can honestly say I’ve done enough in this short time on Earth that I can feel proud for having lived my life at all.
But don’t expect such deep themes from this work. The most impressive aspect of it would be the art design, which is pretty striking if I do say so myself and definitely bucks the Western trend of our comics art generally looking like arse. Same for the music and the directing and the presentation — and, well, pretty much everything is damn impressive for having been made in just four days. It shows a level of competency that you don’t see in even more professional projects with a hell of a lot more time to work with, and wasn’t a waste of time at all. The big waste, I suppose, is in the writing itself. What a pity! For all the visuals they have, it’s the novel that needs more work.
Of course, this is coming from the guy who wrote a VN with 9,000 words and three whole backgrounds on the stock Ren’Py engine. Yin and Yang, I suppose, and also driving your partner to drink.
So, this is it. The endgoal of what all reviews should be. The big question: should you read this work? And the answer is… meh. For a lot of you, that means “no”, as it doesn’t do anything really special, and though the art is kind of nice, it’s not so brilliant and emotional I have to recommend everybody view it all, in your face, right now! At least as far as my tastes are concerned, where I prefer a more cartoonish and minimalistic approach to the arts, instead of this baby getting off of such abstract concepts as “realism”. Actually, this is also why I keep thinking about that middle schooler murder sim. Fellas, is it gay to enjoy pretty pastels and bright colours with such girly character designs? I mean, when you use colours from the rainbow, you’re basically a flaming faggot.
Is it offensive? No. Is it bad? No, it’s actually pretty well – done. So what’s the hold – up? Well, I just really wasn’t all that interested in what happened. Conversation, yes, but it’s not like Katawa Shoujo or Cherry Tree High conversation where at least it’s all insightful and charming. In fact, this is why I cared about that gay fox novel more than I did this one, despite the gay foxes having so many more mechanical issues in both prose and structure that it’s decidedly the more amateur production, especially in the art style. I want to believe the dev team here was made up of artists who took on writing as a side hustle for this novel, but what does it matter what I believe? I can only rate what’s in front of me, and it’s a perfectly fine work. But there’s not much emotion to it, or any sort of message it wants to send. And at the end of days, isn’t that what art is about?
Can I say I was disappointed in this title I only picked up for the sake of doing a review on it? Did I expect to be pleasantly surprised? Or did I really expect anything at all from it? All I can say for sure is that, hey, it’s a visual novel. And if you’re really desperate for that sort of thing, how worse off could you be? Now if you excuse me, I’m going to attempt to trademark “Three Drunk, Pissed – Off Frogs” before somebody takes my public domain work and appropriates it for their own evil purposes. I’m looking at you, Disney! I won’t forgive you for what you did to The Jungle Book! Oh, spare my boy Rudyard over here, he was so young!