Rewrite is a massively ambitious visual novel written by Romeo Tanaka (Humanity Has Declined, Cross Channel) with contributions from Ryukishi07 (Higurashi, Umineko) and Yuuto Tonokawa (Little Busters!). It's published by Key, but is ultimately unlike anything else Key has ever done. It's become one of my favorite works alongside Madoka and Evangelion. If you haven't read it (or heard of it at all), this post was written for you.
Rewrite is complex and deceptive in ways that make it remarkably challenging to describe what it's actually about without massively spoiling later parts of its story, but I'll try to give a taste of its premise here. Rewrite is a series of related personal stories all revolving around a war being waged by two ancient secret societies both seeking control over an apocalyptic device. It's also a ridiculous school comedy, a romance, an action-adventure, an espionage plot, a meditation on human conflict and compassion, and so much more.
For a more surface-level synopsis of what you'll see closer to the beginning of the story: A goofy dork named Kotarou Tennouji awkwardly tries to wrangle some other weirdos into an after-school group to do occult research around town. Kotarou has had some bizarre supernatural experiences of his own, and for as long as he can remember, he's kept secret an ability to "rewrite" his body, changing himself in irreversible ways.
Rewrite is a sprawling, multifaceted work that was supremely enjoyable to read, made me feel a lot of things, and left me with a message I'm going to be thinking about for a long time.
It also has some supremely good music.
And Chiwa Saito, Eri Kitamura, and Kana Hanazawa all in amazing roles.
Some questions and answers for newcomers:
- Where can I get Rewrite?
There's not currently an official English release, but if you can find the original Japanese release (not the recent rerelease version, "Rewrite+"), Amaterasu have released a full English translation patch that can be downloaded from here.
There will be an official English release of Rewrite+ at a yet-undetermined future point, but the changes are relatively minor, so if you're interested at all, I don't think there's much reason to wait. If you like Rewrite, though, please support the creators and buy Rewrite+ when it becomes available in English!
- This is just more typical Key stuff, though, right?
Nope! Only a minority of Rewrite's content was written by an in-house Key writer, and the scope and execution of the story as a whole are hugely different from what Key is known for. It's not a harem, and Jun Maeda's only creative involvement was a small (and awesome) contribution to the soundtrack, so you're not going to find any baseball episodes, deus ex machina endings, or moe girls dying in the snow here. Rewrite actually makes a point of skewering no small number of Key cliches.
- Can I just watch the anime instead?
Please don't! The anime leaves out nearly all of Rewrite's original story and sits in a weird place between clumsily-rushed partial adaptation and guilty-pleasure self-parody. It has some entertaining moments if you're already in love with Rewrite's world and characters, but it's missing nearly everything that makes Rewrite what it is. Characters' personalities have been heavily altered, motivations have become often arbitrary as a side effect of the rushed pacing, and much of the seriousness and meaning are just gone from it. The anime also frequently suffers from some seriously awkward (cheap) animation. If you're new to Rewrite, I really, really strongly recommend avoiding the anime and checking out the visual novel instead.
- I'm reading, but when do things get serious?
Rewrite has three distinct phases: the Common Route, the Heroine Routes, and finally the True Routes (Moon and Terra).
The Common Route is largely a comedy serial, intermingled with some small glimpses into the secrets of Rewrite's world. It admittedly starts off a bit dry, but for me it became progressively more ridiculous and fun as I got further into it. The Common Route is rather lengthy, spanning around a month and a half of in-world time, but the payoff for it is enormous. (If you're still in the Common Route and need a reminder of some of the things you're in for later, go into the Gallery and rewatch the opening credits video.)
Toward the end of the Common Route, certain significant events in mid-November lead to a branch-off into one of five Heroine Routes, each of which is a largely-independent story focused around a different piece of the same larger conflict. Each of the Heroine Routes has a completely different mood and even genre from the others, and completing all five of them is required to unlock the True Routes.
The True Routes are in some ways a complete departure, and in other ways the culmination of and answer to all that came before them.
Rewrite does have a small handful of really dumb out-of-place fanservice moments here and there, but thankfully they're very few and far between, only occupying a few minutes of a story that's countless hours long. The Rewrite+ rerelease unfortunately adds some more of this.
- Where should I start with all the different Heroine Routes?
The usual recommendation you'll hear online is Kotori->Chihaya->Lucia->Shizuru->Akane, but I don't think you need to follow it quite that strictly. (I didn't.)
Based on my own experiences, my advice is to pick between Kotori and Chihaya first. Once you've completed both of those, read Lucia and Shizuru (again, both in either order). Then Akane's is left as the last remaining one. (Lucia's is pretty different from the other routes, Shizuru's has plot points dependent on information from Kotori's and Chihaya's, and Akane's is arguably the most complex and relies on having a solid grasp on Rewrite's world gained from the other routes.)
Each route has a very different style and feel than the others, with one being a grim survival scenario, one being a shonen action-adventure, one being mystery/horror, and so on.
Amaterasu's English translation patch for Rewrite comes with a walkthrough txt file that should be findable in your Rewrite folder after you've installed the patch. I recommend checking into that so you can get into the routes you want without having to guess about it.
(Don't forget to read Moon and Terra after you're done with all the Heroine Routes!)
The tl;dr version of this post: Rewrite is great, I love it, more people need to experience it. Give it a try sometime.
If you've already read Rewrite, I want to hear what you think of it! Please tag any spoilers with the relevant routes!