Originally Posted: February 23, 2021
Written by Oriori Siki with illustrations by Azuri Hyuga. Released in English by J-Novel Club with a translation by Mikey N.
“The skirt she was wearing was shorter than her uniform, and the motion of her turnabout gave it a light fluff of air, causing it to broaden outwards. Her white thighs and knees graciously displayed themselves.
Bad. Awful, thought Kai, who was basically ogling her at this point. Not good. This is not good. Despite that recognition, he couldn’t pry his gaze away from her. […]” – Oriori Siki, on Kai and Nanaka working on a specification document.
I half-understand the high-school boy mentality of ogling… at least, it was explained to me at some point. But this particular scene goes more into fan-service territory than any meaningful narrative or character development. If this is Our Crappy Social Game Club‘s idea of a ‘romance’, then perhaps one shouldn’t be too surprised about its execution of the ‘coming-of-age’ tag as well.
Our Crappy Social Game Club Is Gonna Make The Most Epic Game, Vol. 1 is the first entry to a slice-of-life, romance series where social games (read: gacha) are a central element around which our characters will grow and defeat their inner demons. Kai Shiraseki is a troubled high-schooler looking to get away from his past but his passion for social games won’t let him go. This manifests into him helping a near-disbanded game club at his new school. What new experiences will his clubmates give in exchange for his expertise? Find out in this story of talent, hard work, and achieving your goals written by Oriori Siki. Oh! And don’t forget about the plentiful, cute illustrations by Azuri Hyuga.
Hey! So, this is my first dive into a slice-of-life, romance series on my light novel journey. Our Crappy Social Game Club isn’t fantasy, unfortunately. But the entry on J-Novel Club’s site mentions ‘coming-of-age’ and ‘personal growth’, so I decided to give it a try. This series has what you expect from its cover and title: a plot centralized about social games, cute girls, and all sorts of personal challenges. Before we get into all that, let’s outline what we’ll be covering. This spoiler-free review will go over the premise, plot outline, characters, world-building, and genre elements. And with that, let’s begin!
As clarification moving forward, all names will be presented with the given name first (or without the family name). Hopefully, you’ll be less confused than I was when reading Vol.1!
Now, before we get into the text, let’s talk about the first impressions. Our Crappy Social Game Club, Vol 1‘s cover depicts a mess of items (some of which pertain to a social game’s development) surrounding a sitting Nanaka Aoi. I like the colourful text and the objects hinting at the school + game development hidden inside. However, the ‘1’ is covering up an important book – don’t obstruct critical elements like that! And other than the plain white background, it feels rather complete.
After the cover, the next notable characteristic is the size. Our Crappy Social Game Club, Vol. 1 sits at a decently hefty 68,000 words. At almost 40 % larger than the average, it would seem this story has quite a lot to tell. However, we’ll quickly find that perhaps it should have trimmed it down a little (or expanded much more!).
Finally, let’s talk about the colour illustrations. The most surprising change is their location at the back of the book – no greeting from them as we open the covers. I can’t say I prefer this arrangement over the norm. It’s always great to showcase the best the book has to offer first. Of course, this decision may be due to a variety of reasons (spoilers, image protection, etc.). In any case, let’s talk about the content. The coloured illustrations come in the form of an alternate cover, a character page (the featured image, uncropped), and a fan-service-y scene depicting Nanaka just finishing a shower. The quality is good, but there’s nothing particularly special about any of these – there’s no critical story moment, no gacha game example, etc. But I do appreciate the character page as a reference for this review. Now, let’s bite into this work!
To start, let’s talk about the premise and setup portion of the story. Kai Shiraseki is a high-schooler who moved from Tokyo to Niigata after falling out of favour at his previous school due to a scandalous incident involving the social game club. This is his way of getting away from it once and for all. But after enrolling at Maikun High School, Kai finds that he’s forced to join a club (due to his below-average grades) and is given a tour by Nanaka Aoi – the president of Maikun’s social game club – who asks him to join her club. Kai rejects the offer until the Maikun student council finalizes its decision to disband the club for lack of members or significant activities. Although Kai may immediately solve the former, it is up to the club to defeat another school in a management competition to solve the latter. And with two of the members having prior commitments, it’s up to Kai and Nanaka to show that even their crappy club is worth keeping.
So, did you yawn? Well, I did at least twice while reading Vol. 1 and writing this section, respectively. This contrived setup is nowhere near original nor does it cut to the chase. The setup of this story doesn’t end until around Chapter 6, about 1/4 of the way through (~17,000 words). But at least it has a solid start in terms of the club’s state and each character’s motivations as well as an obvious plot direction. Overall, it’s not the most interesting, but it’s a tried-and-true foundation.
After the overly long setup, let’s continue with the outline of the plot (and avoid the spoilers, of course). After Kai and Nanaka are left to create the specification document, we catch a glimpse of the author’s expertise(?) in the field of social games. Firstly, Kai explains some of the common terms used in social games development and management – a clumsy way to introduce the industry jargon and develop Kai and Nanaka’s relationship. From there, the two grow, learn about their troubles, and support each other through solving such issues. And as a structure, there are three mini-arcs presented in Vol. 1: the disbandment of Maikun’s game club, Nanaka’s issues, and then Kai’s issues.
The outline is geared towards a coming-of-age drama focused on Kai, Nanaka, and their relationship within (and without) the club. So, how is it executed? I wouldn’t say it did well, and it perhaps aimed for too much in too few words. The first arc could’ve been better if the competition developed the motivations of the opposing club rather than leaving them as some faceless enemy. This would flesh out their world more and put Kai’s ideas (read: fears) of social games at the front. Then, Nanaka’s arc was simply too short and lacked the character exploration required for her arc to have the impact it deserved. Finally, the lead-up and resolution of Kai’s arc were just as crunched for time as Nanaka’s.
For the longevity of this series, an improvement is to focus on one character per entry. This would give the story time to flesh out current drama and hint at deep-seated issues (for future entries). Such a change allows for a deeper exploration of each character, world element, and theme. But as of right now, Our Crappy Social Game Club only provides a shallow dive into a well of potential. And with the conclusion of Vol. 1, it’s unclear where this series will go in the next entry.
With the plot discussed, let’s discuss the cast that fills the roles in the story. In general, characters are given no special treatment and all come with a set of building blocks: a role, a personality, and base motivations. For Nanaka Aoi, this is being the club’s president, a friendly ball-of-energy, and wanting to make games with her friend, Eru Kuroba. For Misako Shiraseki, this is being Kai’s older sister, an aloof but supportive figure, and wanting to make sure Kai is doing well. These make the characters readily understandable albeit a little trope-y.
Moving on, don’t be surprised to hear that some of their troubles are deeper and more human than some gimmick. Our Crappy Social Game Club explores character issues such as “feeling lacklustre despite efforts to improve”, “taking responsibility for a senior/supervisor’s mistakes”, and “being compared to your peers (positively and negatively)”. For a slice-of-life/drama around game development, these are excellent themes to include. However, the thing to improve here is how to convince us of the effects of the issues. If Kai’s reputation and social life have taken a nose-dive due to his actions, it should show in his hesitation to carry around his laptop + smartphones; it should show in his stuttering when teaching Nanaka. The absence of such interactions leaves the drama feeling more hollow and contrived than its potential would allow. This problem is not limited to him and hurts the experience as a whole. (Further discussion in the slice-of-life/drama section below.)
One great thing to point out is every character’s unique manner of speech. I normally mention this if one can distinguish each character without the help of tags, but Our Crappy Social Game Club gets a special honour for its consistency and oddness. Akane comes off as cold and calculating. Misako is highly affected by her writing (older period speech). All of these add to each of their characters and memorability. Well done by Oriori Siki and Mikey N. for their great work here.
Overall, Our Crappy Social Game Club has a decent characterization for its cast. But the lack of overarching effects from the troubles our characters possess leaves this drama a little less convincing.
As our last foundation, let’s talk about the world-building. Given this isn’t a fantasy series, it’s weird that this section exists. However, there is a key fact that differentiates the world of Our Crappy Social Game Club from our own – the dominance and prevalence of social games. In Our Crappy Social Game Club, social games have added a few elements to the norm that we’ve come to expect from a slice-of-life set in Japan. So, let’s talk about them and the overall effect!
Firstly, there’s a system in place that rewards good students with points to spend online (read: on gachas). The existence of which would propel social games into a sort of academic excellence privilege and increase their importance/prevalence. This is also to prevent overspending of their parents’ money. However, it seems that some students (e.g. the Maikun student council president) still look down on students who focus their time and energy on such endeavours. For a world where social gaming is the dominant force, I’m surprised such an opinion doesn’t have the president ejected from his position.
Secondly, there’s a competition that pits clubs against one another in the fields of game development and game management (the distinction is detailed by Kai). This is an obvious consequence of social games becoming so prevalent in their world. However, much of the competition, judging, and results are placed in the background of Vol. 1. The lack of exploration into a crucial element of the first arc reduces its importance and adds to the gimmicky nature of a social-game-dominated world. An easy fix here would be to broadcast a judging panel that compares Kai + Nanaka’s work to that of their competitors. This would improve our perspective of Maikun’s standing and give the competition more impact in the story.
Lastly, I wished that social game lingo was more prevalent throughout Vol. 1. If dialogue included slang or in-jokes, selling this social-game-dominated world would’ve been much more convincing. Such phenomena are present even in our world (in the form of memes) – if something is a part of a large population’s culture, it becomes a part of speech (mostly in the form of references).
In summary, Our Crappy Social Game Club has the elements in place to tell some details of its unique social-game-dominated world but fails to incorporate them in a strong, cohesive manner, resulting in an unconvincing sell.
For the first aspect, let’s talk about the slice-of-life of the series. Our Crappy Social Game Club is more focused on drama and personal growth rather than the normally comedic tone such a genre brings. Of course, this is not without its silly moments (thank you, Misako). In any case, this dramatic aspect of Our Crappy Social Game Club was the one I looked forward to the most. But Vol. 1 let me down quite a bit.
As our previous discussions have mentioned, Our Crappy Social Game Club explores the troubles the Maikun’s social game club’s members face in the path to successful game development and management. Along the way, we encounter personal issues tied to both Kai and Nanaka. Rather than talk about the story-related events (which are all spoilers), let’s focus on what it achieves instead.
In coming-of-age stories, our protagonist(s) receive personal developments through overcoming emotional, psychological, or moral conflicts with much time spent on dialogues and internal monologues. This makes many of these stories character-driven. And Our Crappy Social Game Club certainly has all of the parts: lots of personal issues, thinking, and talking. However, its execution is where it falters.
As previously discussed, Kai’s past with social games and its effects are told to us on numerous occasions, but it rarely affects his interactions with his clubmates. A similar failing is seen in Nanaka’s portion of the story. Although the two face their fears, the character change after the resolution isn’t apparent. It feels as if they’re the same people as before – like the issues were some contrived plot points. These two factors are critical flaws in what should be an impactful coming-of-age story. And with the two having their deeper issues resolved by the end of Vol. 1, the series’ direction is unclear.
Overall, Our Crappy Social Game Club brings the comedic moments expected of the slice-of-life genre but stumbles in its execution of the dramatic coming-of-age aspect. Clear, consistent effects from their issues and large changes in character after a resolution would be the first improvements I’d suggest.
Then, let’s move on to the romance as the second aspect. In short, it’s near non-existent. Romance is not a tag I would place on any of the relationships portrayed in Our Crappy Social Game Club. If present at all, then it’s very slow in development (or not what I expected).
To me, there are two types of romance that are common in light novels. The first is one where the romance is the core aspect of a series. This romance develops the two (or more!) characters involved alongside one another and intertwines their fates into a singular goal where the plot’s conclusion resides. The second type is one where the romance develops one side of the relationship – usually the one of greater importance to the story (e.g. the protagonist). Our Crappy Social Game Club doesn’t use romance at all to fulfil any narrative or character needs. Instead, Kai and Nanaka’s relationship is akin to clubmates-turned-friends.
This is not to say there aren’t sweet moments shared by our two main characters. Without talking about the specifics, I especially loved Nanaka’s mystery trip to help Kai get things off his chest. However, the other romance-y moments serve more as fan-service and opportunities to gawk at Nanaka’s features (see above, ugh!).
To summarize, if you’re looking for a great romance that builds into the character development and drama of the story, then you’re better off looking elsewhere. (May I suggest I Want To Eat Your Pancreas instead?)
Now, we’ll talk about some additional details. The first thing to note is Oriori Siki’s varied use of metaphors. Whether it’s about Kai’s expressions, Misako’s antics, or Nanaka’s energy, Oriori has an odd (but interesting!) comparison for you. These are easily some of my favourite parts of the text. However, the metaphors, though interesting, are usually completely unrelated to the context of the situation (i.e. there are a lot of fish references for a social game story). An example I thought of to show joy, shock, and relief would be “the face of one who received their favourite SSR 5-star character on the pity pull”. Such analogies would have amplified the social game atmosphere and provided glimpses into such an addict’s life.
Moving on, let’s talk about the use of honorifics. J-Novel Club has decided to keep such usage in their translated text. As one who doesn’t stand on either side of the debate, I’ll do my best to describe my experience. And if I had only one word, it would be ‘confusing’. There’s a specific scene (like in many other slice-of-life) where the main characters drop the honorifics and switch to using given names amongst themselves; maintaining a form of honorifics is key to this part. Keeping them in also adds to the authenticity of the setting (i.e. Japan). However, the shift made it so the reader has to remember both family and given names to make sense of a situation. I had to use the character reference page many times to overcome this problem. Perhaps this is just a minor cultural difference to which we post-translation readers will have to accustom ourselves. Would this be a nonissue if more series kept the honorifics in?
Finally, let’s briefly talk about Azuri Hyuga’s work – the illustrations! An example of the black-and-white inserts can be seen below. When compared to the coloured images (such as the cover and character page), the descriptor that stands out most to me is ‘sharp’. Whether that is the outlining or the shading, there seems to be an odd roughness from the images. Of course, this is not to say they aren’t well-done. The expressions communicate a wide variety of emotions: anger, downcast, silly, and judging, just to name a few. And the scene choices are fairly decent – showing triumphs, hard effort, and new tribulations with emphasis.
In terms of writing and illustration quality, I have no doubts about the talents that Oriori Siki and Azuri Hyuga possess.
Overall, Our Crappy Social Game Club, Vol. 1 is an underwhelming experience that fails to reach its full potential through many shortcomings. The overly long setup lacks originality and creates a large (i.e. 1/4 of the text) barrier before one reaches the interesting stuff. And even then, the three-arc plot feels rushed and lacks the time to give each conflict the attention it deserves. The characterization of the entire cast is well-done – everyone has a unique role, personality, talent/skill, and manner of speech. However, the deeper issues that reside with Kai and Nanaka are inconsistent and resolved without much change from within. Lastly, the world-building introduces some well-designed elements (e.g. tying the online currency to academics and a game development/management competition) but fails to incorporate them to form a cohesive and impactful setting.
Atop these foundations, Our Crappy Social Game Club, Vol. 1 labels itself as a slice-of-life/romance with a focus on personal growth/coming-of-age. However, the slice-of-life/drama’s experience is limited by the problems in the main characters’ issues and use of world elements. And the romance is exceptionally slow (if not absent) and fan-service-y. There are many improvements to be had rooted in the characterization, world-building, and time spent on each ‘arc’. At the very least, the metaphors, expressive illustrations, and cute girls may convince you to read on.
In summary, Our Crappy Social Game Club, Vol. 1 is a conditionally recommended slice-of-life series with an interesting premise. Perhaps my expectations were higher than realistic, as coming-of-age + romance is my favourite combination of genres. In any case, if you’re looking for a moving story of boy-meets-girl with both conquering their fears, Our Crappy Social Game Club provides only a fraction of the potential it could achieve. See you all next time~!
3.3 / 5 – Conditionally Recommended
To readers of slice-of-life and drama (but not romance) looking for an interesting twist to the real-world.
To lovers of bright, energetic girls with a desire to be the best planner in their failing game club.
Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read my review (even if you scrolled straight to the bottom). I hope that you take home even a little of what I’ve written down. What do you think? Would you like to live in a world dominated by gacha?
In this extra bit, I’d like to spotlight Misako. This silly (but knowledgable) older-sister of Kai’s plays both comic relief and mentor character, and I just love her! I’m an only child, but I think this supportive sibling would be the best one could ask for. Maybe she could do without the naked(?) apron though…
I’m 春華 or Haruka, aspiring novelist, light novel reviewer, and the recently titled “Effortlessly Effervescent Embodiment of Eloquence.” I’ve only started diving into light novels, so please bear with my naiveté. You can follow my Twitter for updates on my reviews and writing progress. And if you want to talk about light novels with me and many others, consider joining our Discord here! Let’s all get along!
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