[Review] Himawari

himawari aries remake-1

JP title: ひまわり

https://vndb.org/v210

―この星の空は、何故あおいのだろう―

More than just a romcom! That should be the (other) tagline for Blank Note’s doujin VN, titled Himawari, that came out ages ago (read: 2007) on PC and even got a PSP port later on with full voice acting. And a fandisc. But that’s for another review, I guess, if I ever get around to it.

Update (5/7/2016): Although this review is based on the original doujin version, I added screenshots from FrontWing’s remake, just so you can see how the new artwork looks.

Remake opening:

大吾が見上げ続けた空とはなんだったのか。
今はまだ、わからない。
だから、あたしは追いかける――。
あなたの目指したものを――必ず手にしてみせる。

So, uh, what is this VN about, exactly? I mean, looking at the screenshots and the characters, you might be thinking it’s just gonna be about comic relief hijinks with moe girls, and while there’s quite a bit of that too, it’s really not what makes the overall story memorable. Himawari starts off by introducing our amnesiac protagonist (yes, really, but it’s gonna make sense in the end!), Hinata Youichi, who lost his memories two years prior (in 2048, seeing how the VN takes place in the distant future of 2050) due to an airplane crash that killed both his parents. As it turns out, he’s the only survivor out of over five hundred other passengers. He now lives alone, staring at the stars every evening — as this, and space in general, are his primary interests –, when one day, he spots a shooting star. Except it’s not a shooting star, but Aries, a mysterious albino loli who crashlands in Youichi’s city. Turns out, she’s *also* amnesiac. So Youichi, of course, takes the poor girl in and the two start living together.

Ginga

ginga-remake

Other characters show up, including the fearless president of the space/astronomy club (that Youichi also belongs to), Amamiya Ginga, the son of the celebrated astronaut Amamiya Daigo, who not only managed to land on the far side of the Moon, but lived to tell the tale. Daigo’s already dead by the time the main scenario starts (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler, it’s established at the beginning), so you only hear stories about him for a while, and how much of a hero he was. Ginga himself is a bit of an eccentric but very much entertaining character who pretty much steals the spotlight of most of the scenes he’s in, and definitely deserves a special mention as one of the coolest characters in the VN — his obsession with space is one of the key elements of his club. Now, the premise I described above, on its own, doesn’t lend itself to much storytelling, this much is true. Truth be told, the “first” route (or rather, the common route with Aries as the focus) is fairly mediocre in terms of the story it’s telling, with its finale being… well, nothing special, really. You do briefly meet some of the other heroines, though, including the mysterious Aqua, as well as the kinda-sorta childhood friend Saionji Asuka of the rich and influential Saionji family. The Saionji Group, by the way, is the very same company that developed the space-faring plane that crashed and robbed Youichi of his parents. So that’s a bit awkward. There are some revelations about Aries and the “route” ends with an okay-ish, heartwarming finale…

…and then you get a heated preview of the continuation (well, it’s a prequel, actually), advertised as “Himawari: Second Episode” and suddenly the whole game does a 180. Well, okay, it’s not *quite* the MuvLuv kind of 180, but it’s still a definite change in tone towards the more serious, with a few darker moments here and there. I won’t go into details too much, but the main meat of the VN lies in the two segments following the common route: one is the prequel scenario mentioned above, called Restart, that takes place in 2048, two years before the main scenario’s events and deals with the pasts of Aqua (one of the heroines) and others. The other is the proper route of Aqua herself, once again in 2050, unlocking after Restart. And then there’s the final route (Asuka), unlocking after you finished everything else, but more on that later. This is when Himawari shows its true colors as a sci-fi story of love, inevitable tragedy, happiness and the meaning of life itself, taking the plot into some rather unexpected directions as it deals with some pretty interesting concepts and ideas/themes to ponder. Hell, I had to genuinely struggle to fight back the tears during the final scene of Restart, and that kind of thing doesn’t happen to me too often.

Akira

akira-remake

I think some of my favorite moments in the VN include the, uh… let’s call them “flashbacks”, during Restart. Once again, I won’t go into details, but it’s pretty fascinating seeing all the characters from the past who end up being the catalysts for everything that happens later on, and seeing the pieces of the puzzle slowly coming together. You know, understanding what certain characters (that you’ve only briefly met or heard tales about in the common route) really went through, what motivated them to do what they did, and what dreams they were chasing that shaped them into the people they eventually became. And yes, as you might’ve expected, Amamiya Daigo himself is a major character in the 2048 story arc — the backstories of him and two of his old friends from university (the flashbacks referred to above) unfold gradually, adding an extra layer of complexity to the plot while providing some key characterization and a peek into the — pretty tragic — pasts of some prominent characters. It definitely puts things into a new perspective when you finish Restart and jump back into the present, because *now* you know where some of these characters are coming from and how the events/characters of 2048 (and even before 2048) are connected to 2050. For instance, by the end of the VN, the one character I never really thought I’d care about ended up becoming, that’s right, one of my favorite characters in the entire thing, (for those of you that read the VN, I’m talking about Akira), which felt pretty strange. I suppose the VN did a pretty decent job of showing a more human and vulnerable side of certain characters, even if the rest of the world may see them as either a “villain” or a celebrated, near-mythical hero.

The change in tone applies to the later parts of the VN as well, with all the heroines revealing something about themselves, and it’s not always that pleasant. Aries for example has some interesting revelations in Aqua’s route, which was refreshing seeing how for the longest time she seemed to be just the token moe loli character. The other characters get some development as well, including Ginga, Aqua, Asuka and even Youichi, all contributing in some way to the issues/themes explored in the plot. Of course, there’s still gonna be comic relief all throughout the VN, though, but it’s not that distracting, and hey, it’s sometimes pretty funny (シミ子 best tsundere). I do have to note, though, that the final route, while enjoyable, didn’t quite have the same impact on me as Restart, so it kinda felt weird that the VN had already “used up” its best moments in the middle. There were also parts where I felt the narrative was kinda dragging a bit, but in retrospect it didn’t sour the overall experience all that much. Still, it’s something to keep in mind.

Hanami

ring-remake

The script, by the way, uses fairly simple Japanese and yet still manages to be both poignant and surprisingly poetic on several occasions. If you’re looking for something that can help ease you into reading VNs in Japanese, this could be a very good choice indeed; the only not-that-beginner-friendly parts I can think of are the bits when the story starts explaining science-y stuff. But it’s still not that bad so don’t worry about it too much.

So overall, Himawari is a fairly “adult” visual novel (it does actually deal with themes of growing up), and I don’t just mean the fact that it started out as an 18+ release before the all-ages version happened. It’s a story about life — about finding one’s place in the universe, of fulfilling one’s dreams; of being able to confront the tragedies of the past while looking forward to the future with a smile on your face. Sure, it has its boring bits, but manages to convey messages that are worth lending an ear to — it may not be the best VN I’ve ever read in my life, but it’s a pretty enjoyable and touching story for the most part.

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6 thoughts on “[Review] Himawari

  1. Phew! For a moment, I thought you made a review for this thing: https://vndb.org/v14890
    Yes! Such nostalgic feeling! I love this VN! It’s one of my favorites! I remember when I got it for my PSP while thinking: “Everyone keeps saying so much about this game, but by the looks of it, I don’t think it will be anything special”. Man, How I was wrong!
    The voice-work in the PSP version was absolutely fantastic! (specially Daigo’s – my favorite character – his voice was just perfect for him!) If one is interested to play this game, I recommend, by all means, the PSP version (if possible). Too bad some extra stories about Daigo’s college days didn’t get voices…
    Curiously, it seems like doujin VNs are the ones how dare to try different stuff, while the “professional” VNs are are pretty satisfied to keep doing the same story over and over again.
    I also admire many of the twists and unnusual story elements they used here! For example: I got surprised with the fact Asuka smoke cigarettes. Well, personally, she lost a lot of points with me because I despise cigarettes, but I still must give some points for the developers, since it’s rare to see a cute heroine doing something so…”dirty” and… “not pure” like this.
    My favorite heroine has to be Aqua, she is the one with the most complete route in the game, which is why her route is the closest to a “true route”, as it even got a sequel (that I still didn’t play).
    I would like to see more VNs like this one! Too bad I feel like we are actually getting further to ever get something on this same level…
    I still hope someday the sequel will get a PS VITA version. Who knows?

    • Ah, the cigarette thing didn’t bother me personally but I could see people who are looking for “pure” heroines getting a bit surprised there, haha. I mean, the reason she smokes them was explained and it tied into her personal story so I thought it was an interesting extra touch.

      • Yes, I remember what was her reason for that and all. I just hate this trait of her for personal reasons that go beyond the silly “it’s not cute” thing, which is why, from a storytelling standpoint, I think it is a very interesting element to add.

  2. If you haven’t read the two sidestory novels (Kagerou and Komorebi, available in the PSP version or from Blank Note’s site as iOS/Android apps – Kagerou isn’t that important but Komorebi is necessary to read to understand Aqua After) and Aqua After, you’re not done with Himawari yet! ごぉ (the writer) was originally planning to make a sequel starring Cosmos dealing with the stuff from Asuka’s ending but those plans fell through; he ended up kind of fleshing out and “finalizing” the setting with Komorebi and Aqua After, so imo they’re must-reads and the story isn’t really complete without them – like, Aqua After is even more relevant to the story here than KKK is to Dies. They’re both very short; you should be able to read them in a few hours each. Aqua After in particular has a lot of extremely gutsy plot points that almost nothing else dares to even touch and is very well-written, showcasing ごぉ’s growth as a writer since the first game.

    Anyway, Himawari is a very, very ambitious project (even moreso in the stuff ごぉ wrote after the original game) and for the most part actually manages to achieve what it aims for while maintaining strong fundamentals and without compromising the author’s vision. Taken as a whole with Komorebi and Aqua After I would consider it the best doujin VN I’ve read, just slightly edging out JQV… and the fact that I played it pretty early in my foray into the world of untranslated eroge unfortunately means that I’m left disappointed most of the time I try playing doujin VNs nowadays. So it goes, I guess.

    Too bad ごぉ only seems to be interested in writing manga nowadays; I would really love to see him make another eroge at some point. That said, the one manga of his that I have read (ツギハギな彼女) was pretty good save for the art and had a neat twist reminiscent of some of the stuff in Himawari, so he hasn’t lost his touch or anything. He also wrote an LN that I should really get my hands on one of these days…

  3. Go read Aqua After, it’s short and made up of the stuff that makes the main game so good. Also read Komorebi before you do.

    I liked how ごぉ did a lot of stuff that probably wouldn’t fly by so well in the eroge main industry, giving all the heroines a surprisingly unheroine-like side (speaking in eroge terms). Really good doujin works are rare, but Himawari is the reason why I check them out once in a while.

  4. Pingback: [Review] Himawari: Aqua After – The Day the Moon Stood Still | gareblogs

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