In ISLAND, a romp on the beach quickly became an interconnected web of destiny and recursion.
What do you get when you combine a visual novel, conspiracy theories, weird mythology, and a dash of time travel? Gaming fans have been trying to figure that out for years, thanks to the visual novel turned anime known as ISLAND.
Originally released by Front Wing (the team behind the long-running Grisaia series), ISLAND invited players to take on the role of Setsuna, an amnesiac who washes up on a beach and finally finds himself the object of not only a trio of girls’ affections, but also a strange local legend. Main girl Rinne Ohara immediately falls for Setsuna, with side girls Karen and Sara not far behind. So far, so dating sim. But there was more to this game than met the eye, and what started as a harem series romp on the beach quickly became an interconnected web of destiny and recursion.
The island in ISLAND is Urashima, a fictional town with three head families: the Oharas, the Kurutsus, and the Garandos. Five years prior to the beginning of the series the three families were embroiled in a series of suspicious events, leading to the island eventually cutting itself off from the mainland. Now Urashima Island is in decline … but that’s not all that’s hanging over this trio of important families.
You see, there are some really wild stories about the island’s history, all centered around a brother and sister in a forbidden love affair. Their names just happened to be Setsuna and Rinne … and you may start to see where this is going. Matters get even stranger when the mysterious Setsuna claims to be from the future, traveling back to this point in the island’s history to set right an old wrong. And that wrong involves protecting one person and killing another.
He’s not the only one who believes he has a set and solid role in Urashima’s goings on. Rinne Ohara is convinced she is the Rinne reincarnated, and Setsuna is her destined lover. Sara Garando has her own set of theories—red string board and all—leading her to believe that she is in fact her own mother in a convoluted state of affairs that would make Marty McFly dizzy.
Karen Kurutsu’s aspirations are far beyond the island. Her mother traveled to the mainland many years ago to study some artifacts that may blow open a whole new set of truths about the world as we know it.
So where specifically does Setsuna figure into each girl’s plan? In the game, you can choose which to pursue, and your choices lead you down a variety of paths. In the anime, of course, we’re going with Main Girl Rinne, though time is set aside for Karen and Sara to see their own goals through to some degree.
The strange romance that may or may not be destined between Setsuna and Rinne drives the plot for the first two-thirds of the series … until things take a sharp, dark left turn, forcing Rinne’s mom Kuon to abandon her adorable hoodie and step out of the shadows.
There’s more than one version of the island in ISLAND … and when an unforeseen tragedy strikes, we get to see what happens in Urashima’s far future.
You see, Setsuna hadn’t forgotten everything. He still had a few vague memories of someone who certainly seemed to be Rinne, with whom he certainly seemed to have a relationship. What came of those? It seems at first that we’re revisiting those as we move into the show’s “Never Island” arc … but something’s still off.
This is where the real meat of the series begins to show. It’s not surprising that most people will know more than Setsuna—he has amnesia, after all—but it’s clear there’s at least one person in the shadows who knows what his mission is all about. Stranger still, it may actually be tied to the legend that Rinne herself put so much stock in.
Discussing Setsuna’s adventures in too much detail will give the game away, as the anime adaptation of ISLAND hands the viewers some very clear payoffs by the end. It’s something of a hurried job, as there’s only one episode in which to explain what’s going on, connect the pieces, and send the characters off to their respective endings.
The seeds are planted early, but the end result is still mind bending. Whether it’s too much so or just right will likely vary viewer by viewer. Suffice to say, the implications of the world Front Wing has created are pretty heavy.
For the characters of ISLAND, the concept of predetermination is ever present. Something as simple as a shared name or a blurry memory can lead them down dangerous paths, taking enormous risks for a chance at even a scrap of information. Those scraps of information are rarely what our heroes want to see, either, breaking open entirely new possibilities in their twisty timelines.
What changes from character to character, though, is whether that ever-present concept is a threat or a promise. Will a person’s appearance on the scene be their chance at true love, or a harbinger of a loved one’s death? Is basing an entire theory of time travel and reincarnation on a family resemblance really that foolish in the long run?
In the end, ISLAND tells a story that balances fate with choice. The world has a very specific road it’s going down, but decisions and action can change that road. We may find signifiers of a destiny in store for us, but the devil is in the details—especially for Setsuna. It’s not until he takes his eyes off the seemingly obvious answers that progress is made, and the world is changed forever.
Or, at least, this little island is changed forever.
ISLAND is available from Funimation.