Developer – Nitroplus
Translator – TLWiki & JAST USA
Length – 2-10 Hours
To be honest, at this point I have absolutely no clue why I continue to read visual novels by Nitroplus. Without fail every single one of their works has been disappointing overall or just plain bad to begin with…well, until now I suppose. Hanachirasu is one of the developer’s shorter works and constitutes the first of their releases that I’ve actually enjoyed reading, which is a compliment despite the fact that it failed to leave a lasting impression. For a decent Nitroplus novel about honest-to-goodness Japanese samurai with a little bit extra lurking in the shadows, Hanachirasu is a pretty safe bet.
In a timeline where nuclear weapons never decided the outcome of World War II, 21st Century Tokyo is somewhat different to our own equivalent. Having fallen under the ideals of the nationalist Ishima Kaigen, it is surrounded by a great wall and cut off from the rest of Japan. While guns have been outlawed and the way of the sword has taken prominence once more, it is perhaps inevitable that the city is ruled by the businessmen of the Takigawa Corporation. Terrorist organisations abound, however, straining under the heel of the Takigawa, and it is within their ranks that Igarasu Yoshia seeks to fulfil his vow of revenge against Takeda Akane, the boyish samurai nestled snuggly among the corporation’s elite. Both men are destined to draw steel against one another, and one is destined to fall.
Hanachirasu itself is fairly short, so I’ll keep this brief. The main character that you follow in this visual novel probably isn’t the one you’d consider to be the “good guy”, so as soon as you start reading you’ve encountered something relatively unique. The story very quickly fills you in on and gets you interested in the dystopian setting that allows for legitimate melee weapon brawls in the modern day, meaning that you are able to relate to events very early on and that’s fantastic for immersion. Additionally, with one forgivable exception, the characters are presented very well. Their personalities, their goals and their motivations are clear and understandable right from the get-go even though the secrets of their pasts are revealed slowly throughout the narrative. I was actively interested in discovering the events that had preceded the events at hand for each main character despite the short length of the story overall, which I found to be impressive.
There’s a lot of combat in Hanachirasu, so your enjoyment of it will be heavily influenced by the style in which it is presented. Exposition is used heavily with regard to sword techniques and the origin of samurai-type swordplay, and while I found it interesting to begin with it started to wear a little thin by the time I had reached the final confrontation. However, the fights themselves utilise an admirable mix of fast-paced action and detailed explanation, which I personally thought fit the VN just right. Though I’ve mentioned just two characters in my earlier summary, it’s worth noting that there are a number of extras that make appearances within Hanachirasu. Some secondary characters only appear to give form to the stars of the show, which is fine and probably even positive considering the length of the visual novel, but I can’t help but feel that one or two of them could have played a bigger role because, thinking back after having finished my playthrough, I can’t help but wonder why they existed in the first place.
Other than the unfortunate screen-covering text box Hanachirasu looks great. It opts for a realistic style that complements the tone of the narrative and the character designs in general make them memorable from the first time you lay eyes on them. It also sports a large number of CGs for a visual novel of its length which will always score brownie points with me. The voice acting follows suit though the musical score was a little hit-and-miss for me, heavily featuring jazz pieces which is nice for a change but felt a little intrusive at times. They tended to fit the gritty tone Hanachirasu was aiming for while contrasting negatively against the individual scenes they were used in. Basically, while jazz and shows like Cowboy Bebop work well together, it seemed out of place when it came to melee combat between samurai in Japan.
Summary – When it comes to having a negative opinion about a visual novel developer I’m more than happy to admit it when a VN comes along that breaks that trend (not to say Hanachirasu is new, because it isn’t). Nitroplus has done well with their modern dystopia samurai action drama (cor, that’s a mouthful), managing to fit a meaningful and interesting tale with consistent, well-developed characters into a short runtime and deigning to throw in some entertaining combat to boot. There’s a fair amount of exposition that may or may not put a damper on the experience depending on how interested you are in the subject material, and as with many shorter stories the lasting impact factor is negligible, but overall I enjoyed my time with Hanachirasu and am happy to recommend it.
Score: 7.5/10 – Enjoyable