Can Androids Pray: Blue Review

Big robots and big feelings

Johannes Brahms’ Op. 45 premiered in full in 1869, though movement one, “Selig sind, die da Leid tragen” (or, “Blessed are they who bear suffering”) was composed in 1865. The seven movements are over an hour-long, written for two soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Can Androids Pray releases on Switch today, though it released a year ago on PC. The VN made by three people takes less than 20 minutes to play. Both begin with the Beatitudes.

What makes it unique is in the title. While composers before and after wrote requiems in Latin for the traditional Catholic mass, Brahms made his A German Requiem. The difference is this: the Latin requiem is for the souls of the dead, the German requiem is for the living congregation. As musicologist Kelly Dean Hansen writes, the libretto is “meant primarily as a consolation for mourning survivors, but also [contains] much hope for the departed.” Can Androids Pray is a thesis. Maybe you will answer it for yourself, or maybe you don’t want to know. The game recognizes that we have to confront this.

Do it again

There’s an arrangement of movement one of A German Requiem by Barbara Buehlman canonical to the contemporary concert band repertoire. I’ve played it twice, on tuba three years ago and on trumpet two months ago. My university moved online a couple of weeks after that last concert, effectively cancelling most art classes. I haven’t been able to pick up my trumpet, but I’ve played Can Androids Pray three times since, with each time being laid in bed at some ungodly hour.

The story here leaves you with the sense of despair that only answers to existential questions can bring. Though paths don’t branch and the ending, the sunrise, is inescapable, varied dialogue options develop different characterizations of your pilot that alter the information we become privy to, which is fine because this is the kind of ending that begs you to begin again.

Straight to the heart of the mechs

While its lineage goes back to Gundam and Evangelion, Can Androids Pray is a contemporary abstraction of convention alongside the likes of Heaven Will Be Mine and gen:LOCK. It’s a character drama that takes place after the fighting is over. The mechs aren’t sexy. The characters don’t hate themselves (or women). We don’t even see the girls! This all has a point, and, unlike a lot of mecha (and operas), it isn’t ambiguous and doesn’t take 15 hours to figure out why. Mechas central questions, questions that have much more gravity coming from queers and POC (both as characters and creators) are brought to the fore: what are bodies, what is human, and what are human bodies?

Brahms’ most noteworthy contemporary in Germany’s 19th century Romance opera scene was Richard Wagner. The two are placed in opposition to each other: Brahms the pioneering conservative, Wagner the theory-bending innovator. His 1850 opera Lohengrin persists in our culture through the “Bridal Chorus” and in contemporary concert band canon through another arrangement, “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral.” Wagner probably never thought about femmes in giant metal bodies the way I do, but if he did, he would probably write an opera that ends with the sunrise.

[Reviewed on Nintendo Switch]