Writing A Visual Novel: Interview With Lucky Dog’s Tennenouji

By Laura . July 21, 2014 . 12:31pm

Full Disclosure: This interview has been conducted by a Siliconera editor that will most likely be involved with the English-language release of the game (Lucky Dog) in question. Laura Hou, who is on our staff, is presently fan-translating the game on her personal blog. Prior to beginning her translation, Laura had contacted Tennenouji to ask for permission to pursue a translation of their game. Eventually, this led to discussions between the two parties (Laura and Tennenouji) of the possibility of a commercial English-language release on iOS devices.


Normally, running an interview for a game our staff is involved with in any manner would be considered a conflict of interest, as Siliconera is part of the media. However, in this case, an exception is being made, as Boy’s Love is a genre of games with very little exposure in the West, and one of this site’s goals is to help bring worldwide exposure to games from Asia. Part of that goal involves getting Asian developers to open up to their English-speaking fans, which is something Siliconera has a lot of experience doing, and is why we decided to publish this interview.


Note that, at no point in time, will Siliconera ever publish a review or any other sort of critical coverage of Lucky Dog. Our coverage of the game will begin and end with our two-part interview, this being part 1. Additionally, should Laura end up being involved with the game’s official English release, no member of this site, aside from her, will receive any sort of compensation, monetary or otherwise.


Despite the recent influx of visual novels from Japan, one genre is receiving fairly little coverage in the West—Boy’s Love, games with stories that involve romance between males. Lucky Dog is a story-heavy BL visual novel developed and published by Tennenouji, as well as one of the surprise hits within the BL community.


The game’s characters have consistently ranked among the top 10 in the “Favorite BL Character” surveys of Cool-B, a popular, bimonthly magazine that focuses on BL and otome games, it has a strong following in Japan, despite its initial status as a doujin game.


Released in 2009, Lucky Dog tells the story of Giancarlo Bourbon del Monte (Gian for short), a small-time soldier in a Cosa Nostra (Sicilian Mafia) family called the CR:5. Gian has few cares in the world and his favorite hobbies include breaking out of jail. Luckily, that works perfectly to his advantage when he receives an order from his boss. If he can break himself out along with the other four captains in his family, all of whom are locked up in the same prison as him, then he will be the next Boss.


However, escaping is just the first step in returning to their headquarters in Daivan, NJ, and with the city being embroiled in a gang war. Gian needs to use all his experience, wits, and the luck he is so famous for to get out, survive, and keep everyone else around him alive.


Lucky Dog has an 18+ PC release as well as a slightly modified iOS release. In addition, there are four side games and a planned expansion pack currently in the works that, from the sound of it, will dwarf the original game in terms of content. This is rather impressive, considering Tennenouji is a very small company, with only three members having public recognition. Yura (Absolute Obedience, Enzai, Hana Awase) is both the founder and artist. Jinnai and Suganuma are writers with previous experience in visual novels both straight and slash.


Tennenouji itself has released one previous game (Miracle Not-on) as well as a browser “game” (Sei Crain Gakuen). Both games have their own expansion packs and side games. Lucky Dog is the company’s second major title, and being a fan of the game, I’ve been working on an English translation of the game for some time. It was through this connection that I recently had a chance to discuss with Tennenouji their thoughts behind the game, the creative process, and their views on western fans.


Now is a good to mention that Tennenouji do hope to release Lucky Dog in English. Although there are no current plans for PC version to be released, discussions are ongoing regarding the release of Lucky Dog in English for iOS devices, likely using my fan-translation. As such, although we’ve pointed this out in the disclaimer above, you should keep in mind that you are reading an interview conducted by someone that will possibly be involved with the game’s commercial release in the future.


The questions below have been answered primarily by a representative (T) speaking for the entire staff of Tennenouji. They tend to be a secretive company, and the representative wished for their name not to be publicly mentioned as well. In the interview, unless stated otherwise, this is the person answering the questions.


Tennenouji is a small company, isn’t it? However, as far as I know, there is very little information available about your staff. Would it be possible to provide a simple introduction to them?


T: We’re sorry. We wish to keep information about the staff a secret. We wish to remain a “mysterious” sort of entity.


How did Tennenouji start as a company?


T: The company started when Yura went independent, with the first game created being Miracle Not-on.1


At first, Lucky Dog 1 was sold at Comic Market, or Comiket. Then, after the number of stores selling the game and the number of copies sold increased, we were able to become a legal entity. A company. Because being a company would make making new deals and such easier to accomplish.


1. Miracle Not-on was Tennenouji’s first proper visual novel for the PC, published in 2006.


Why did you start with BL? Is there some charm to BL that is unique to the genre?


T: That would be because Yura likes BL. As for the charm of BL, that would be the charm of seeing and experiencing something different from what you have in “everyday life”.


When the company started, how did you make yourselves known? Currently, the Tennenouji name is pretty well-known among fans, but what about in the beginning?


T: There were some fans who remembered Yura’s name from previous works, but the brand name “Tennenouji” wasn’t famous at first.


After the hit that was Miracle Not-on, it seems that players gradually began to take notice and remember our name. We believe that we were able to remain in their memory despite having done no promotional work because we were able to release a game that left a strong impression on players.


What is the process for creating a regular scene (for example in Lucky Dog 1)?


T: Based on what the writers had written, we would create the art, music, sound effects, and movements. But if you’re talking about the creative process, in the case of Lucky Dog 1, we wrote the story based off concepts and characters brainstormed by the writers, Jinnai and Suganuma. Who knows what the writers are thinking. :-)


Also, sometimes, Yura imagines up things to include in the scenario, so we would also include those.


Lucky Dog 1 is a story revolving around an Italian Mafia situated in America. Why did you choose the Italian Mafia (instead of, for example, Japan’s own Yakua)?


T: At first, we wanted to write something focused on “a jailbreak in a country that isn’t Japan”. This had already eliminated the choice of using the Japanese Yakuza.


As a motivation for breaking out of jail, we thought up the reward of “becoming a Mafia boss”. As for “Why an Italian Mafia”? The Italian Mafia is highly recognized in Japan (probably because of The Untouchables), so we thought that it would be easier for the players to envision this way.


How did you do research the Italian Mafia and life in America? Previously, in our conversations, you’ve stated that you’ve never been to America, yet you seem to be rather on-the-ball.


Jinnai, Scenario Writer: The Internet, books, movies, games, etc. In addition to the usual material, the atmosphere from the 1930s era the story takes place is a personal hobby of mine, so the Heinlein novels and the supplement booklet for the RPG Call of Cthulhu2 also helped.


2. First published in the 1981, this game based off H.P. Lovecraft’s book takes place during the 1920s.


Suganuma, Scenario Writer: I’ve penned historical stories or games in the past, so I have collected historical references for many different countries. Also, I often watch historical movies. And among those, many are from the 1930s period American Mafia, and I’ve seen those many times.


When I was writing the story for Lucky Dog 1, I used my memory of those movies as a base and found whatever I thought I might need that I could get my hands on in books or the web. Also, I am fortunate to have researched historical American cities in the past—even if it was in a different era from this game (such as New York in the 19th century movie Gangs of New York).


What would you say the theme of the game is, if there is one?


T: There are differences in the relationship between two males and a relationship between two females, or even a male and female. We used this as our theme. The sturdy bond [between the characters] and trust is a big factor in moving the game’s story forward.


On the topic of character creation, anime and games (especially in BL visual novels) usually have the main characters cast to a set of stereotypes. For example, there’s the “cool character,” the “tsundere character,” the “senpai character” and so on. However, the personalities of the characters in Lucky Dog 1 don’t fit these archetypes. Is this on purpose?


T: We first came up with the main character Giancarlo, and after that we designed characters that would bounce interestingly off of him. Their images and actions were appended as the creation process for the scenario went on.


The reason the players may feel the characters from Lucky Dog 1 are different from those from other games is because the characters are defined by their link to events in the game itself.


Why do Bernardo, Luchino, Giulio, and Ivan work so well with Gian? In every route, their combo is very natural, fun and interesting. Did you come up with their interaction based off the characters’ personalities? Or did you start off with how you wanted them to interact and based the character personalities off of that?


T: Their personalities and their roles in the family were set first. It was because of Jinnai and Suganuma’s skill that the relationships were detailed so naturally and interestingly.


The bad endings in Lucky Dog 1 (and, to some extent, other scenes as well) are, frankly, very cruel. There’s no favoritism at all. Usually, writers show leniency towards their protagonists; however, this isn’t the case in Lucky Dog 1. How did you come up with these scenes? How were you able to write these bad endings?


Jinnai: I don’t really feel the need to go easy on your own characters. I think the bad endings are their own form of entertainment, and I wrote them as such.


Suganuma: To make one side shine, you need to make the other that much darker. To make the happy endings that much happier, we created the bad endings to be very dark. Being able to see and include two (or more) opposing sides in one product and making them both good is a big advantage and strength to games as a medium.


By the way, because I have mercilessly written many horrible scenes and endings in previous projects as well, and not just Lucky Dog, I don’t feel I went overboard this time. :-)


Lucky Dog 1 is split into three parts. The last two play pretty much like your usual visual novel, but the first part is surprisingly complex.3 How did you come up with the Jailbreak Part? How did you put it together? And why didn’t you continue with this system?


Jinnai: I liked the complex visual novels of old, so I decided to design it after them. First, I came up with two escape routes possible in reality. After that, I thought up the tools and conditions necessary. After coming up with the events where you obtain these tools and conditions, I listed the events out in my head and on an Excel spreadsheet.


I also added another route that you can view if you fulfill more difficult conditions. At first, it was too difficult, and I’d made it so that if you always stuck with one character’s events you’d always get a bad ending. Tennenouji fixed it for me.


3. Part 1 of Lucky Dog 1 involves breaking out of jail, where you have the choice to talk to one of seven people and can only do so twice a day. In doing so, you gain tools such as lock picks, guard schedule, escape route information. There is a time limit of seven days and only after Gian has collected the appropriate tools and information can Gian successfully escape.


Lucky Dog 1, unlike other games, is a bit realistic in the fact that every year, a short story is released about events that many years after the main game, and we can see the relationships between the characters evolve.4

According to rumors, you’ve gone all the way to the end. Usually, all a game’s events are included in the main game and their related games, so why did you think so much about Lucky Dog 1’s “future”?


T: In the game, there is a scene that tells of the ends of the other character’s in his reflections, but their life up to their death and their final moments weren’t set in stone, and we may write about them in the future.


We’ve seen these rumors, but unfortunately there are no details on the future, past what we’ve written. We would love for players to let their imaginations wild. :-)


4. For example, the first year anniversary short stories take place one year after the events of Lucky Dog 1.


Lucky Dog 1 has two5 side games. However, Lucky Happy Life6 and If For Gian7 are completely different from usual visual novels. Why did you change genres? How did you choose these genres?


T: We searched for game formats that would burden our scenario writers as little as possible.


It was very interesting to see whether visual novel fans would accept a game format that depended on players directly controlling the way the game unfolds. We chose the genres based on what we wanted to create at the time.


It was very fun designing If For Gian after playing with blocks.


5. At the time of the interview, there were only two side games. Two more have been released since.
6. Giancarlo’s Lucky Happy Life is a PC game released in 2011. It is designed like a board game and covers what-if scenarios in each character’s life. The genre is “Alternate Life Board Game”.
7. If For Gian, We Would Destroy the World is a PC game released in 2012. It is designed to play like the Atari 2600 game, Human Cannonball. The genre is described as “Puzzle Action Game”.


Are you surprised that Lucky Dog 1 was so successful?


T: At first, we never thought that it would be this popular.


We predicted the sales figure of Lucky Dog 1 based on the average number of visitor hits on the Tennenouji website (we felt this would surely work, as the number of fans with a high probability of buying the game were likely to visit the site), but on the release date we ran out of stock. What in the world was going on?!

Read more stories about & & on Siliconera.

  • new_tradition

    Nice article. Good luck to the translator if an English release pans out ^^

    (Any chance for an Android release? >3>)

    I liked the bit on Bad Ends. I have to agree with that myself. I always try to go for the bad ends first when I play. Get the bad stuff out of the way really does make me appreciate the good ends more >:3

    • Already happened, apparently. Today. o_o; Sorry, spamming on old(ish) article, but I remember you and other ppl had some comments on that, lol.

      • new_tradition

        What happened? An English release, an android version, or both? :O

        • Sorry, I meant Android release, lol.

          • new_tradition

            *jazz hands*

            Ahhhh! Now I really hope an English release pans out! xD

  • Hound

    Congrats Laura! Quite a fortunate turn of events

  • Oh man I hope this works! If it ever comes to Android I will definitely buy it!

    • Yep, that happened.

      • Yay! Gaah I can’t wait to own it ( :A:) Congratulations!

  • Mc-kun

    I really like this article. It gives a lot of insight since I’m trying to do something similar myself.

  • toudouismaiwaifu

    I find it interesting that you’re willing to break rules to report on something a staffer is involved in, allegedly to give more coverage to an underrepresented genre, but I guess MangaGamer’s recent acquisition of No, Thank You!!!, the first BL title (actually) licensed in the west in almost a decade, just isn’t as important, huh?

    • We tend to be selective with the adult games we cover. MangaGamer gets plenty of love from us. We pushed really, really hard when they announced the original Kara no Shoujo, to give that game exposure.

      We’re also the only English-speaking site in the world to have interviewed Innocent Grey about both Kara no Shoujo games, and will likely do so again in the future.

      So nothing against MangaGamer at all. They do good work and we’re very good friends with them. I shoot the shit with Kouryuu nearly every other day over Gchat. Just that in this case, Lucky Dog is a game one of our trusted staff members is intimately familiar with, which is why it was an easy decision to cover it. I trust Laura’s taste.

      • toudouismaiwaifu

        I’m not trying to argue bias against any particular company, but it sounds a whole lot more like you’re trying to push a staffer’s pet project than actually report on the genre to me. If it really is all about something as nebulous as taste, why the need to act like this was some sort of extra special exception because BL is so underserved and you’re doing the genre some kind of favor?

        • Because that is precisely the reason. That full disclosure statement was written by me. It went through three drafts before I settled on something I was happy with. The reason it’s so long is because I wanted it to be completely transparent, since—as you pointed out—this would look like a terribly unprofessional conflict of interest otherwise.

          This is the first adult BL game we’ve covered in depth. It’s a genre we’ve been talking about covering for a long time. The reason this one, specifically, is the first is because a member of our staff is familiar with it and keen on promoting it.

          The majority of our staff isn’t well-versed in BL. Laura is the only one on our staff that is familiar with the genre. We’re only starting to dip our toes in these waters, so we’re being careful about the games we cover, just as we always are.

          This is actually something that came up with Kara no Shoujo as well. We hardly ever covered adult games up until that point, but when I found out that MangaGamer were in negotiations with Innocent Grey, I pushed really, really hard to be able to cover the game.

          I wasn’t Siliconera’s managing editor at that point, so it was an uphill battle for me. I had to convince my boss that it was worth doing. This wasn’t made any easier by the fact that KnS is one of the most gory, disturbing eroge out there, content-wise. We were suddenly going from covering no adult games to covering an eroge where people routinely get dismembered and corpses are displayed in a very graphic fashion.

          So again, in that case, Kara no Shoujo made it through because the site as a whole placed its trust in me to know what I was talking about.

          • toudouismaiwaifu

            So, you’re admitting you just published a puff piece to promote a game that a staffer has a vested (possibly even financial) interest in garnering more attention for instead of doing any actual research into the genre? Just seems a bit, I dunno, what’s the word? Unethical? If BL is something your site actually cared about and Laura is your resident expert on the subject, why not use her expertise to write some sort of general informative overview of the genre rather than what amounts to an advertisement for a personal project.

          • No, I’m saying we went to the effort of interviewing another Japanese developer that literally no English-speaking site has ever talked to before.

            Again, we’re careful with the games we cover because we try to give these genres exposure to a broader audience. Covering nukige #2477 doesn’t help anyone, so we cover games that we think are, in some way, very special.

            Whether or not Laura will be involved in the game’s English release is completely up in the air. No contracts have been signed, no negotiations have been done, nothing. Tennenouji have just said that they want to bring their game out in English, and maybe they’ll use her translation if/when it ever gets completed. She isn’t on a schedule, she isn’t freelancing for them, she’s doing it as a hobby.

            As for being unethical… think of it this way: if we wanted to write a “fluff piece to promote a game a staffer has a vested interest in,” we would have done it without a statement of full disclosure. No one would have any idea of any of the things going on behind the scenes, and you wouldn’t be here with a newly-created Disqus account pointing fingers at us.

          • toudouismaiwaifu

            I’m not really sure why my account being new makes my criticism any less valid. I’ve just never used a site with this commenting system before. But I guess all critical opinions must be people out to get you. You do realize that saying ‘we’re about to do something not entirely ethical here’ doesn’t really change what you’re doing.

            Insinuating the first BL game to get licensed here in years is just ‘nukige #2477’ without doing even a google search on it is pretty damn insulting. I’m sorry you couldn’t take the time to look into an actual, legitimate western release of a BL game to decide whether it was ‘special’ enough for your site to cover before you took the easy route and let a staffer plug a fan project.

            Judging from the dates noted in the interview, I have a hard time believing this was something your staff went out of their way to conduct either.

          • Insinuating the first BL game to get licensed here in years is just ‘nukige #2477’ without doing even a google search on it is pretty damn insulting.

            I never said that. That was meant as a general reference to people asking us to cover X or Y all the time, a lot of those cases being run-of-the-mill nukige. We probably will cover No Thank You at some point in the future, provided we can find an interesting angle like we did with KnS and Lucky Dog (such as a developer interview, for example).

            To be honest, yes, I do feel as though you’re here simply to stir up Internet drama and do little else. Everything you’ve said thus far has been in the form of a leading statement. “So you’re admitting you’re biased?” “So you’re saying you’re shills?” “So you’re saying didn’t do your research?” None of those statements particularly sound like you’re interested in trying to understand any of how this went down.

            So, let me just leave it at this: Siliconera is a generally well-respected site and I think our body of work over the years speaks for itself. We’ve made the entire chain of events pertaining to this situation completely transparent for people to see, and left the rest up to their judgement. Beyond that, people are free to draw their own conclusions.

          • toudouismaiwaifu

            Well, just to be clear I’m not here to stir up drama. I am, however; ‘drawing my own conclusions’ and using my ‘judgement’ here to give you my honest opinion about this piece. I’m just tired of seeing sites pull things like this. The standards in the Japanese pop-culture ‘news’ arena are just so abysmal these days and any shred of criticism gets ignored at best.

            My point is, you’re not doing a huge service to the BL community by covering the genre like this. At best, it’s lazy reporting, at worst staffer self-promotion––for the record, I don’t think Laura is in any way malicious here, it just doesn’t reflect very well on you as a news organization when the first attempt at covering a niche genre is exclusively focused on a staffer’s personal project like this. I guess I mostly don’t appreciate the way you framed the article, using the notion that BL isn’t well covered (when your site has made no attempt to cover it previously, or even really cover in this article) as some lofty justification for running it when it really just comes down to the fact that a staffer had a cool thing that you wanted to post about (maybe I’m being a nitpicky asshole, but if it had been presented more in that light rather than ‘well, poor BL never gets any attention so we’re taking pity on it’ I don’t think I would have had an issue with it).

            I mean, can you imagine any other gaming site posting an article about VNs being like, ‘well, no one reports on VNs at all and we want to bring more information about VNs to the west, so we made an extra special exception to let our reporter, Bob, talk about his obscure fan translation project,’ while completely ignoring commercial efforts in the west? I think that would rightfully piss anyone off who actually knew something about VNs.

          • Virginie Ververa

            Dear Toudou,

            My, I am afraid the drama has already been stirred, quite thoroughly so. And please don’t play coy, of course it was your intention, otherwise you would have refrained from stating names and flat-out accusing the site of nepotism.

            I understand that you are upset and as such fail to see the actual picture – which is a temporal coincidence leaving the publication of this interview intersecting the news of an english licensed Boys Love game by another company and name.
            As a matter of fact – the interview was conducted ages before the title you mentioned got its international license. It was all a matter of unfortunate timing.

            Glad I am that you are not accusing the reporter of malice, but allow me to do it to you. You are needlessly aggressive. You are attacking her for no reason other than “I guess I mostly don’t appreciate the way you framed the article”, which is the sole argument standing that is not blatant witchcraft hysteria and debunked just as easily. Only because it is a matter of personal taste though, which is always something best not argued over.

            Toudou, when you yourself have to add a notion such as “maybe I’m being a nitpicky asshole”, I ask you for the good of all not to follow it up with a ‘but’. It is a surefire warning sign that you could probably at the very least conduct yourself in a different manner.

            ‘No offense intended’ while you are going on a rant such as this and being insulting is about as useless as the ever so popular and equally witless ‘No homo’ while you are about to go down on a person of the equal sex.

          • Firekitty

            When the interview was done and when it was posted doesn’t really matter. It could have been posted before the other game was announced for a Western release, and I would still be disappointed in Siliconera.

            The article specifically states that they’re bending the rules because the BL genre gets very little exposure in the West, and yet the first BL game to get an official Western release in many years doesn’t even get a mention? Especially considering the Otome game that was announced at the same time got an article all to itself, it’s a pretty grievous oversight…you don’t need someone intimately familiar with the genre to slap together a quick article;

            ‘Mangagamer licenses BL VN ‘No Thank You’ for Western release. This marks only the third BL game to receive an official English translation, and the first in over eight years, since Jast USA gave up on the genre in 2006. (insert two lines about the story of the game and you’re done).’

            Especially considering the genre failed the first time a company tried to introduce it to the West, ANY release is fairly big news, if only because if it doesn’t get enough exposure it’s going to fail again; people can’t buy something they don’t know is being sold.

          • Landale

            Unethical would be not bothering to put forward the information that they did. Just because something relates to the staff doesn’t make something unethical to cover, it’s a matter of how it’s done and it was done properly.

  • TrueDefault

    I loved Yura’s previous work Enzai. The story was very entertaining. I just wish this game would get a PC release instead.

  • Göran Isacson

    Interesting that they’re willing to experiment with genres in those side games- one wonders if that’s a lucrative business for them, or if they’re just doing it for funsies. Also, liked that you actually talk about why they chose the italian mafia. I’ve never quite got the Japanese fascination with the whole Cosa Nostra fascination Japan has, but I guess that it does provide good fodder for stories where a lot of dudes really have to rely on each other, can have norm-breaking adventures outside law and order AND they don’t have to feel it’s so personal and close by since they’re not the Yakuza. Kinda curious how The Untouchables made the mob so popular though, since that movie is all about the people FIGHTING the mob.

    Oh well- game sounds interesting at least.

  • Rii

    I actually prefer Miracle Noton the most out of her other works.

  • klkAlexar

    As a bl fan now I feel less slighted that you didn’t mention No, Thank You!! when it was announced for licensing. I had never heard of this title before but add me to the list of people who would get it if it came out for PC or android.

  • Firekitty

    I’d need an android release for this to even matter, but I’m curious how the iOS version works…is it a proper game that you can actually buy, or one of those annoying ‘free’ VNs where they only let you read a little bit a day unless you’re willing to pay (way too much) real money for more tickets? I’d be fine with a price point a bit above the average app, but I won’t spend a dime on over-priced microtransactions

    • Part 1 and 2 are free (that’s a good half of the game there). Part 3 is split into each character’s routes, which you buy separately . You purchase the entire route at once (since the routes don’t intersect after the beginning of Part 3).

      You also pay extra for each wallpaper and Short Story, which are slowly being visual-novel-ized. (For reference, a short story is ranges from 10 pages to 200.)

      In total, the main game about sums to 3/5 the PC game’s price. It’s more if you include the Short Stories.

      Note that this is Japanese pricing. I have no idea what the pricing will be like elsewhere.

      • Firekitty

        That sounds reasonable; I’d still prefer a PC release, but if the mobile version gets an Android port, I’ll check it out.

        Though how does this work with choices and route selection? Do you just manually pick which route you want, or do you hit a point where you have to either buy the specific route you landed on or start over?

        • Lucky Dog is different from most visual novels in that once you’re on a route, the routes don’t mix, so there shouldn’t be a worry about the choices. They’re all self-contained. As for which route you go on…

          …Um, quite honestly I haven’t played the iOS version that far (I’ve only played it for content I haven’t seen yet, so just the short stories) so I’m not sure. But in the PC game, your choices in Part 1 and 2 determine which route you go down in Part 3. It will honestly probably tell you you need to buy the route if you get a route you don’t have.

        • Also, lucky you. It got released on Android today.

  • klkAlexar

    Whatever happened to part two of the interview?

Video game stories from other sites on the web. These links leave Siliconera.

Siliconera Tests
Siliconera Videos