By Ishaan . August 23, 2009 . 3:12pm
This is an ahoge, meaning “foolish hair.” Perhaps you’ve seen it before.
It is a visual cue meant to identify clumsy or foolish characters in manga and anime. When I started to play KiraKira, and the first major female character I ran into was short, clumsy and sported an ahoge, I was a little put off. Had we not seen enough of the bumbling, head-in-the-clouds stereotype in our fair share of visual novels already? Would I have to put up with yet another character crafted from that all too familiar mold?
Fortunately, I kept playing because KiraKira is some of the most fun I’ve had with a visual novel of late.
Here’s the gist: Highschooler Maejima Shikanosuke gets dumped by his girlfriend for reasons beyond his comprehension. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that he’s selfish and generally disinterested in everything. Perhaps it’s because he’s not a very passionate person. Shikanosuke, however, can’t seem to understand it.
While he’s wallowing in depression, he meets a girl from his school — the aforementioned bearer of the ahoge — by the name of Shiino Kirari, a new employee at the restaurant he works for.
Fate leads Shikanosuke and Kirari to the concert of an indie rock band named “Star Generation.” Thoroughly inspired by their performance, Kirari decides she wants to form a punk rock band for the upcoming school culture festival. The problem is, both she and Shikanosuke are members of the Second Literature Club — “second” because the club is mostly an excuse for people to goof off, unlike the actual literature club. Naturally, none of the club members have any musical talent whatsoever.
But hey, that doesn’t matter! This is going to be their last culture festival as part of the same club, so they may as well go out with a bang. And so begins their quest to find an answer to the question “What is punk rock?”
As you’d expect, different people have different answers to that question. Like Shikanosuke’s best pal, Murakami, who believes the essence of rock is sex, drugs and violence.
And then there’s Star Generation’s guitarist and mentor to the Second Literature Club, Tomoya, whose idea of punk rock goes something like this:
Rule #1: Punk Rockers are free. Don’t let anything restrict you. However, everything has rules and orders, nature included. Even punk rockers can’t change society and there will be inconveniences. When that happens, do punk rockers start to follow the rules?
No, this is your chance. You get angry and curse. That may not solve anything, but that doesn’t really matter. Although, being “angry” is kind of vague. You may not have anything to be angry about. In such an event, use words like:
3. Damn it.
Use these routinely in every conversation. The more you use these words, the more you feel. That way you’ll be a true punk rocker.
Not knowing any better, the poor souls of the Second Literature Club take Tomoya’s well-meaning advice to heart, which leads to situations like this:
And that’s where KiraKira really shines: The off-the-wall situations it puts you in, the dialogue which will undoubtedly have you in splits, and the never-ending quest to find the meaning behind being a true punk rocker.
While KiraKira’s characters may not be the most original to grace the digital pages of a visual novel, the story never lets up and keeps you thoroughly entertained throughout. Somewhere along the way, I even found myself drawing parallels to Suda51′s famous “Punk’s not dead” speech from GDC ’08.
It’s not devoid of touching moments either. Every so often, you’ll get a chance to learn more about your fellow club members, and a couple of them are genuinely interesting people. You might even have come across someone in real life that’s just like one of them. I should point out, though, that this game is worth playing for Murakami alone. He’s hilarious.
Just as with most PC visual novels, there are some NSFW scenes during the game, but the fact that I’m about 3 or 4 hours in and haven’t encountered a single one so far tells me that they’re probably more of an afterthought, rather than the game’s selling point.
The music in KiraKira great, too. The appropriately rock-esque soundtrack remains upbeat and catchy for the most part, and when it picks up during the wilder moments, it’s hard not to feel elated and wish you were actually part of the story. There are even some nice voiced songs along the way, and while they aren’t amazing by themselves, they’re played during appropriately moving scenes, so you’ll find yourself enjoying them nonetheless.
Unfortunately, MangaGamer’s extremely unprofessional localization — at least in the demo build that I’m playing — tends to make you wonder who edited the dialogue…or whether it was edited at all. The English text is riddled with typos, bad grammar and the occasional awkward choice of words.
Still, the fact that KiraKira remains enjoyable throughout despite this is an indicator of just how strong the source material is, and I have no doubts about recommending it to fans of the genre. The story is very well paced, and doesn’t stop at the culture festival. To my surprise, that was only the beginning of what seems like a long, satisfying tale that follows the life of an indies rock band in the making.
KiraKira is a great reminder of how visual novels are an extremely flexible and powerful narrative medium.