Time to put this kid to bed.
I never had any illusions that I was only ever going to cover stuff I like. I’ve covered just as much amazing as I have downright atrocious and everything in-between. But I never really knew how deep those depths of atrocious, contemptible, disgusting trenches could get until I found out I was covering Conception. From the moment I learned of the premise, a stifling aura of sticky, salty, desperation washed over me, made no better once I started its first episode. And now the time has finally come to close the book on this awful tale and begin the lengthy recovery process of purging it from my mind with copious amounts of Everclear. So, I’m going to wring out as many bucks I can from this suffering by going through every wart and scar one last time.
Based on a PSP game from 2012 and produced to promote its re-release on the PS4 just a few weeks ago, Conception follows the adventures of a totally original story that none of dared to attempt before: A dull as dirt high-schooler is transported to a different world where he must save that world while also romancing several ladies left and right. In case you can’t pick up my sarcasm from the text, this type of story, known as Isekai, has been the hot new thing in anime shows for the past few years now, but Conception’s revolutionary gimmick focuses protagonist Itsuki Yuge needing to bed, but NOT have sex with, over a dozen girls in order to make magical babies with them which he will use to fight monsters (fights we almost never see because BUDGET).
Among said girls (in order of least to most stomach-churning) are a few adults, other teenagers, a few CHILDREN, his COUSIN, and a raccoon. Yep, this show never really ceases to amaze and horrify (not that it should since it starts the show with him not-but-totally-banging his cousin), as the penultimate episode has Itsuki making love to the annoying sex-crazed mascot character. And this is before she actually turns into a flesh and blood girl in the final moments of the series.
That’s not to say the “romancing” (and I use that phrasing to the absolute lightest level I possibly can) of the other girls is any less reprehensible or problematic. The over two thirds of the other “Maidens”, as they’re called, are basically won over by a scant one-to-three brief conversations between them and Itsuki before heading straight to the “Love Ritual”, which somehow seems both too short and too long for them to come around on that due to the obligatory nature of this process in the goal of saving their own world, but also makes no sense as real romantic development either. Several times, multiple Maidens are bunched together to save time in their scant twelve episodes. When covering this, I was honestly relieved the story was rushing along so that the pain of watching it would be over that much quicker, but in retrospect, it only proves to highlight just how much no one cared about making any aspect of this series feel authentic, least of all the dating simulation aspect of the game it prioritizes over the action.
In the final third of the series, once every Maiden has been ritual’d and promptly abandoned, development-wise, the story takes a turn into the hunt for a secret thirteenth maiden to build some modicum of suspense. Despite, again, having only twelve episodes to work with that could have been used to flesh out the world or characters even the tiniest bit, it instead tries to add a filler episode about the impossible likelihood of that Maiden being a man, which does not go in any direction that would make this detour remotely worth the time. And even when the actual thirteenth maiden is revealed, it’s just more mind numbing, infuriating, illogical cuh-rap that adds nothing and actually made me dislike one of the few characters I had some fondness for. Then that leads to the totally by-the-numbers Friendship is Magic ending that is all fluff and no substance before resolving everything very rapidly to make the point one final time that this production was a shitshow. And it’s not even the last time I’ll be saying that about a show in the next week.
Our ostensible protagonist self-insert doormat nice guy for the show, Itsuki’s journey through the world of Granvania is mainly one about his gradual psychological unraveling, as his inhibitions and standards of decency are forcibly stripped away from him piece by piece. And I’m not saying that because I’m anti-sexual freedom or anything like that. As long as it’s between two or more consenting sapient human adults, I couldn’t give less of a shit. But this series showed me even that standard was too much for some, as Itsuki’s dating hit list starts at making out with his cousin, moves onto threesomes, BDSM, kidnapping and Stockholm syndrome, pedophilia, and eventually, bestiality, all of which he expects to come from only a scant few flirting gestures.
You may notice that some of these things, particularly the threesomes and BDSM, are not inherently bad in and of themselves as long as everyone knows what they’re doing, but considering Itsuki is right out of high school in minute one of the show, I can only determine this much exposure to debauchery could have only knocked something loose in his head to the point that, upon his return to his own world at the show’s end, I find it really hard to believe he didn’t become some sort of serial rapist who was immediately shot on sight. It’s the greatest mercy he can hope for at this point.
And now, the raccoon he fucked, who acts as his wing…girl? It’s actually kind of unclear what Mana’s gender is up until the end where she straight up says it just to solidify the possibility of sex, which has a whole truckload of horrible implications I can’t even begin to get into. But what’s most tragic about Mana is that SHE actually had small hints of potential interest regarding her nature. See, turns out she is one of the impurities that Itsuki is tasked with destroying, but was domesticated by a long-dead sorcerer and was then made to be accepted by their society by the king of the land, who himself is a former visitor like Itsuki is now. I don’t know if this is one of the many things left out or wasted from the game, but as much as Mana tries frustrating the audience and Itsuki sexually, I actually found myself frustrated with her because, for a brief moment, I had hope for something of interest from her. But no, somehow she becomes an actual girl so now fucking Itsuki will be only slightly less gross.
As said, the majority of the Maidens are not so much characters as they are obstacle courses for Itsuki to try out his flirting attacks on, which only get more deplorable as time goes on. Ruka is enticed solely because he asks to make more kids, Leone and Falun are taken in by one mention of their token interests, Lilith/Lily is lured in by her own possibly fake fortune telling, Collette (A CHILD) is only enticed by being helped at a bake sale, Tarua because of one day of helping deliver mail, and Mirei and Sue are just grouped in at the end with a bad reality show parody.
Even Mahiru, Itsuki’s cousin, who he arguably already has the most developed and complicated relationship with, is thrown into things in the first episode out of convenience, despite hints that this might become more later (and thankfully it never does. Then there’s Alfie, the secret Thirteenth Maiden, who we see throughout the show training the Star Children that are used for combat and come from the love rituals, and out of nowhere, she needs to be romanced like a cheesy soap opera character even though this was never established as a trait of hers.
But what is by far the worst of them would be the kidnapping and gas-lighting of Femiruna, who is kept in a bread storage room for weeks before finally falling for Itsuki. It’s played as a joke and then treated totally serious and a recurring gag later, so I can’t excuse anything about it even if I wanted to. It’s just that bad.
Though I want to end this section on a constructive note, so I’ll mention the instances of these lessons in horrible human interaction that came closest to something workable: The episodes revolving around Yuzuha and Arie. Unlike all the other girls, Yuzuha actually gets an episode all to herself, showing Itsuki’s steady and gradual development of getting to know her, her interests in painting and sleeping in a coffin, and her anxieties about being out in public that he helps her to get over. Likewise, while Arie doesn’t get her own episode, her story is actually split between two, which give us a glimpse into her own interests and life and friends outside of Itsuki.
Both of these are times where the show, in a brief moment of clarity, remembered to treat its targets as something resembling function characters in their own right. This was all too short and doesn’t do anything to rationalize the horrors that would come later, but I felt they were worth mentioning just to show how much worse everything else looks thanks to these two periods of possible worth.
There are a few guys, but they add nothing but exposition or hinting Itsuki might be gay and it goes nowhere.
The writer in me wonders if this show could have benefited by doubling the episode count. Maybe it could have given a chance for every girl to have their own episode and even stretch out the final story arc as was needed. It could have even made room (and ideally the budget) for the action scenes to be of some worth to break up the dull as dishwater dating scenes. Maybe this could have been a story about finding love across all genders and life styles against the backdrop of the imminent apocalypse. But if I keep imagining which things could have been improved with even the slightest bit of effort, it wouldn’t be this show anymore. In the end, this feels like the collective pain and boredom of everyone who worked on this that some have found joy in watching ironically. Unfortunately, I had no such luck with that. Maybe the game is good, but I have neither the tools nor the drive to seek it out and find that out for myself. I can only look at what might have been as I try desperately to forget all that I can of Conception. Starting now.