Men of Yoshiwara-Kikuya is a port of the popular Japanese otome game, Gyakuten Yoshiwara, developed by D3 Publisher and Dogenzaka Labs. In the game you play as a young woman who purchases time with a group of hot male courtesans. There are definitely quite a few WTF moments in this game given the premise, but the gorgeous artwork more than makes up for that in some places.
The game was initially released on mobile devices and was later ported to the PS Vita in 2015, adding voice acting and a brand new port exclusive love interests, Itou Keiji. However, when the game localized in English and ported to Steam, they chose to use the non-voiced mobile release instead and swapped Keiji for a new PC exclusive character, Hayabusa. Later on in 2018 the game made its way to the Nintendo Switch.
I played a few routes in this game years ago, but never quite finished it, so in an effort to clean out my backlog a bit I’ve revisited the red light district of Yoshiwara and… this game is off the rails and I kinda like it?!
Set on an island where baby boys are not born, there exists the red light district of Yoshiwara where women can go to meet with the beautiful male courtesans that live there. Some women go there for children, some to fulfill their deepest desires—for the right price these men of the pleasure district can be yours, if only for the night…
In the game you play as Hidetomi Misao, the daughter of a shipping agent. One day while running an errand in Yoshiwara you encounters a courtesan and a woman attempting to escape to the mainland. Instead of turning them in you help the couple board a ship–as thanks they give you some money and a beautiful kimono. After seeing them of you head to one of Yoshiwara’s most illustrious pleasure houses, Kikuya. There she is given the chance to spend the evening with one of the brothel’s alluring courtesans~
~Kikuya’s cocky #1 courtesan~
So, I liked Takao’s route way more than I thought I would. Arrogant Ore-sama characters just don’t do it for me and as the number one courtesan at Kikuya, Takao has a LOT to be confident about—he’s the shop’s biggest money earner, and there’s practically a line around the block full of women just waiting to spend just a few moments alone with him Some of the other courtesans (read: Tokiwa) are high key jealous of him and he seems to enjoy flaunting his success; Takao is the HBIC at Kikuya. Takao takes especially good care of his clients, always quick with his smiles and sweet words, but while he appears friendly and personable, he never gets too attached to anyone, that is until he meets Misao. As the biggest earner in Kikuya, Takao could have retired years ago, but he continues to work there, so there’s a lot of speculation among the staff about that. His route was surprisingly emotional and while all the LIs have their reasons for working in the pleasure district, Takao’s circumstances really hit me in the feels.
~The Stoic Academic~
Kagura is my ideal otome guy; cool, collected, and with this penetrating stare that really shakes you to your core—so I was really excited to start his route and he more than lived up to my expectations. All the other guys seem to be really focused on pleasing clients, even if that means putting on an act, but Kagura the opposite. He’s much more serious and cultured than the other Kikuya guys and he doesn’t pretend to be anyone other than who he is, even if his true self isn’t what the clients want. There are some that like that about him, but most find him to be a bit distant, but he has a strong sense of pride in his work as a courtesan. Kagura is really into Western studies, a hobby that is unusual for someone in his profession, but it’s one of the few things that he’s truly passionate about and he has a rather large collection of academic books on the subject. Kagura also spends most mornings practicing swordplay at Inari Shrine with his attendant Kagerou, who I’m not gonna lie acts like a jealous boyfriend for most of the route. I am convinced that Kagerou is harboring a one sided crush on Kagura, because there were one too many times where his bold declarations sounded a bit too much like confessions of love to be completely platonic.
~The Beautiful Caged Bird~
After seeing him as the catty, psuedo-rival in Takao’s route, I was definitely curious to see how Tokiwa would be in his own route. What I didn’t expect was for his story to hit me in the feels as much as it did, this was such an emotional story—poor baby just needs to be loved and hugged forever! Tokiwa was born on the mainland to a Japanese mother and a foreign father, giving him his distinctive blonde hair and green eyes, but his looks proved to be a curse and he was sold to the pleasure district by his mother. Ever since Tokiwa has come to resent his looks, though many in Yoshiwara praise him for his beauty, to the point that one of Takao’s clients tried to kidnap him. As punishment Tokiwa had his title as head courtesan stripped away from him and was made to work under Takao as his assistant. He desperately wants to prove himself and reclaim his spot as Kikuya’s number one, which often leads to him butting heads with Takao. Tokiwa’s route really goes into more depth how restrictive life as a courtesan of Yoshiwara is—most are sold to the pleasure houses at a young age only to spend their lives entertain women with no regard for their own hopes and dreams. I didn’t expect to like Tokiwa’s route, but he is surprisingly genuine when when he isn’t putting on airs for clients.
~The Sharp-tongued Trainee~
Not wanting to become the play thing of the more experienced courtesans, Misao chooses Kagerou because they seem to be roughly the same age and he seems much more approachable than the other guys. And after seeing his Sass Queen tendencies at work in the other routes, Misao is in for a very rude awakening! Unlike the other courtesans, Kagerou is still in training and serves as Kagura’s assistant, technically he isn’t supposed to take on clients. So Iroha recommends that she choose Kagura instead and as his assistant, Kagerou will also be there—two boys for the price of one, what a steal! Kagerou is a complete tsunbun, one minute he’s polite and contrite, the next he has nothing but biting criticisms for anyone within spitting distance. He’s not one for false flattery, what you see is what you get, but, beneath his harsh words and sharp glare is a soft boi waiting to break free. Because Kagerou isn’t a full fledged courtesan, he is still allowed to go out and study without any restrictions, but once he does cross over, he’ll lose a lot of his freedoms. He is deeply devoted to Kagerou and aspires to become a man half as great as him one day. I love their relationship, it is just so wholesome and sweet and I was happy to see Kagura so much more expressive and lighthearted when he’s with Kagerou. They’re like brothers and I would have liked to have seen more of their playful banter in Kagura’s route too. I did not expect to like his route at all, but Kagerou quickly became my favorite, what can I say, I’m a sucker for tsundere boys~ His relationship with Misao was just so cute and innocent, without any weird power dynamics or anything like that, just a pure romance.
~Kikuya’s Ogre Manager~
This route is interesting. Iroha is a retired courtesan and the current manager of Kikuya. He runs the shop with an iron fist and is often referred to as the “ogre” manager of Kikuya—he is very business minded and will do anything to ensure that his shop is number one in Yoshiwara. Unlike the other love interests, Iroha is no longer working as a gentleman of the night and so he isn’t bound by the same restrictions as the other courtesans and can freely leave Yoshiwara without consequence. As manager he isn’t technically supposed to take on clients. Though he does make a special exception for Misao, however, he doesn’t charge her for his services. Initially he tries to pawn Misao off on one of the other courtesans, but when she refuses he begrudgingly takes it upon himself to “educate” her in the ways of Yoshiwara. While he does agree to spend time with her, Iroha consistently refuses to enter into a more intimate relationship with her and at one point he convinces her to take Kagerou’s virginity (which is just as cringey as it sounds). He does eventually come to care for her, and when he does he drops his usual calm and collected demeanor and becomes much more passionate… and possessive. Iroha is hiding a “dark secret” and while it’s a pretty cool twist, it does completely changes everything we thought we knew about the world of the game. I liked Iroha’s route well enough; it gives us more insight into the inner workings of Yoshiwara that you don’t really see in the other routes, but I will admit that I liked Iroha more when he was part of the supporting cast and not a love interest.
~The Childhood Friend Route~
So, I actual played this route a few years ago (before I put the game on hold), but it had been so long I had to replay it to refresh my memory and I can’t believe I forgot how sweet this route was! Hayabusa is Misao’s childhood friend Hayato and the son of a local fish merchant—like many of the boys on the island, he was sold to the pleasure district and spent his formative years training to become a courtesan. Unlike the other guys who are known for their looks and alluring presence, Hayabusa is much more of a boy next door kind of charm that many of his clients find relaxing. I LOVE the romance in this route, Hayabusa has been in love with Misao for years and even though he is a top courtesan he never gave up hope that they would one day meet again—he even goes so far as to collecting her favorite candies to give to her if and when they eventually meet… and if that isn’t the sweetest thing ever, I don’t know what is! I also really liked that the story threw in some nice flashbacks to their childhood together so you really get a sense of just how deep a bond they share with one another. Even though they’ve been separated from one another their love for each other never changed and I couldn’t help but root for them to get together in the end. I do want to note that this is the only route that actually revisits the event from the prologue where Misao helps that couple escape Yoshiwara and I really appreciate finally having a resolution to it here. Hayabusa’s route was added on for the Steam release, so he’s noticeably absent from the other routes. I also noticed that his route felt a bit more rushed than the others, especially the ending, which gets wrapped up a bit too neatly for my liking.
Misao is an interesting heroine—she is the daughter of a shipping agent, her family has enough money to get by, but they aren’t considered “wealthy”, so under normal circumstances she probably wouldn’t get the chance to visit Yoshiwara. She’s not well versed on the ways of the pleasure district and in most routes the love interests have to educate her on the ways of Yoshiwara. Misao is a bit on the naïve side, so expect a lot of blushing and embarrassment whenever any of the guys get too handsy. But, I did like that Misao isn’t a complete pushover either, she does have a few moments of awesome, whether that’s telling the LIs to keep their hands to themselves or initiating physical intimacy with them on her own. I especially liked her in Tokiwa and Kagerou’s routes because she seemed to be much more engaged with the guys and wasn’t afraid to call them out when they’re being little shits.
Ethical and moral debates about sex work aside, Men of Yoshiwara Kikuya definitely has an interesting premise—set on an island where men aren’t born, women must visit the red light district of Yoshiwara to meet with the beautiful male courtesans that live there. And even though their reasons for going there differ, for just one night women can live out their wildest fantasies for the right price. So, I’m not gonna lie, when I sat down to play a game about male courtesans I was expecting something more… I dunno…steamy and while there are some sexual situations, Men of Yoshiwara is pretty tame. In most of the routes you don’t even get to sleep with your chosen love interest until at least chapter seven (of thirteen) and even then the scenes are mostly foreplay before fading to black, which if you ask me is a missed opportunity! But, I suppose it is nice that the writers took the time to establish a relationship between Misao and her chosen lover before they jump into the sack, as it gives more depth to the romantic development between the characters.
The writing in this game is okay, the premise holds up in most routes, but I will readily admit that some routes are better than others and I do like that the story does attempt to tackle some heavier themes. All of the routes touch on how despite the glitz and the glam of the red light district, being a courtesan is a pretty sad life to live. Most of the men were sold to the pleasure houses at a young age (by their family in some cases) to pay off a debt and groomed for the express purpose of giving pleasure to women. Kagerou’s route was especially hard to get through, because he is so young and yet his future is already set in stone. And I kid you not there was legit a woman who outright says that she has had her eye on him since he was a “young boy” which is criminal. But, everyone just excepts this as the norm. And don’t get me started on Tokiwa’s route! He straight up compares himself to a caged bird, who is only meant to be admired and little else… it’s just really sad. Though, most of the boys are healed through the power of love, so the game kind of hand waves all the ickle tragic backstories in favor of the happily ever after endings. And on top of that, everyone gets a sequel and date scenarios so you can see what happens with the characters after the events of the main story.
Men of Yoshiwara Kikuya is a port of the mobile release of the game so there’s no voice acting and the UI is “limited”, which is a shame because there was a perfectly good PS Vita version of the game with voice acting that could have been ported… but, I alas, twas not to be. Also one of the biggest tragedies is that Vita only character Keiji didn’t make the jump to the localization, which is a damn shame because he is a BEAUTIFUL man! But, I will say that for a Dogenzaka game, the art is GORGEOUS! Most of the courtesans were beautiful kimonos in bright bold colors befitting their occupation, I was especially taken with Tokiwa’s bold purple and yellow outfit and Kagerou’s beautiful white kimono *chef’s kiss*. And while they don’t give a specific time period, some characters, including Misao do wear Western styled clothing—Iroha in a suit ups his hotness levels by at least 10%, even with the bolo tie.
Now I will say there were some choices in this game that really had me scratching my head. There’s a scene in Kagerou’s route where the MC is on her deathbed and Kagerou reaches out to stroke her cheek and one of the choices is legit, “Say that his sexiness will be ruined”…WTF does that have to do with anything in that scene?! And the translation while good had a few noticeable typos—substituting words like know when it should be no. Nothing that takes away from the overall enjoyment of the game, but still enough to be annoying.
Overall, I really enjoyed Men of Yoshiwara Kikuya. It’s not the best otome game I’ve ever played, but the premise and characters are interesting enough to keep you playing through the routes. Some were a bit harder to get through than others, Takao and Kagura’s routes just didn’t do it for me, but I LOVED Kagerou’s route (he is best boy)! $29.99 isn’t a terrible price for what you get, but, I wouldn’t fault you if you choose to wait for a sale to pick this game up. There’s also a sequel, Men of Yoshiwara Ohgiya which I am actually interested in checking out too. So, despite it’s shortcomings, this is still a pretty solid game!