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2011-08-31

Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo review


Title: Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo (車輪の国、向日葵の少女)
Release date: 2005-10-21 (2009-11-04 in English)
Developer: Akabei Soft2
English publisher: TLWiki (as a fan-patch)

Err... so, "Sharin no Kuni" - a work that is considered a "Citizen Kane" of visual novel world. If VNDB is to be believed, Sharin is one of the most critically well received adult games together with FSN, MLA and FDA (well, probably not this one). Translated as "Wheel Country, Sunflower Girl" (I still think that Gear Country sounds better, but.. oh, well) it's a dystopian sci-fi political and social commentary cross-dressing as a romantic adventure game.

There is no such thing as society.
-Margaret Thatcher

Sharin is set in a curious alternative universe where our world is but a mere fantasy portrayed in science fiction pulp novels. We know not much about this world and the setting itself is in an unnamed country with a militaristic fascist regime. The highest social stature in this country is held by the so called Special High Class Individuals - persons with superior looks, education, financial power and military achievements.

The nation doesn't have any penitentiaries and the sole duty of rehabilitating criminals falls upon the shoulders of SHCIs, who assign and supervise the obligations for the criminals. For example, murderers are forbidden from having children and SHCIs see to it that the rules would not be broken and if they so please, they might try to rehabilitate the criminal.

You cannot change the past or the actions of others, but you can change the future and try to change yourself.
-Morita Kenichi
Those sunflowers are surely precious.
Enter Morita Kenichi - a Special High Class Individual cadet who arrives to his secluded hometown in the mountains after the seven years absence to take part in an exam that will see him becoming a fully fledged SHCI. The assignment he has to complete in order to pass the examination is to rehabilitate three female criminals residing in the town. Morita is a handsome, educated and intelligent man with a good financial situation and an addict of expensive drugs with a penchant for soliloquies. Only it is a lie - Morita Kenichi doesn't exist! His name is Higuchi Ken - a long thought dead son of a revolution leader who tried to overthrow the government seven years ago and failed. What will he do now, become an upstanding citizen of the state or follow in his father's footsteps?

Reading Sharin related fora might give you the notion that Kenichi is like a love child of Alexander of Macedon and Albert Einstein (don't ask for biological or temporaspatial details) and the hottest shit since the guy who invented LSD. I do not share the sentiment. Sure, he avoids majority of the pitfalls that appear when the writer creates a blank slate character for generic moege, but not being just another "my parents are abroad/dead/temporarily visiting hell and I will live with 5 beautiful girls for a month" protagonist doesn't automatically make him cool. Sure, he is crazy prepared (just look at the contents of his duralumin case), has millions in his bank account and is a decorated war veteran, but at the end of the day he still comes across as Kurosu Taichi wannabe.

First and foremost Morita has the suckiest sense of humour since Tovarishch Stalin and after about halfway through Chapter 1 I already wanted to introduce him to "Lemuria Impact' at point blank range. Well, OK, maybe I shouldn't judge the guy only because he tries to emulate Taichi's humour and fails miserably. Maybe I shouldn't judge him for being a good for nothing twat in his younger years (after all, he manned up considerably since then). But I can judge him for not having any goal. For the first three and half chapters Kenichi is doing absolutely nothing but upholding status quo and boring us to tears. In the middle of the fourth chapter he finally starts going about changing things and putting sticks into the gears of the governmental machine, but why then it is his idiot friend Isono that always saves the day when it really matters?

Oh, I get it! Earlier I said that Ken is not a blank slate character, but he is exactly that. This time though we are not put into the shoes of a generic "all the harems in the world" protag, but a supposed genius. Only it's everyone else that is doing the geniusing (is that even a word?) thing and Ken is a plot element for us to be in the story and feel like someone special. OK, maybe my hate of Morita is a bit biased due to the first 2/3ds of the game that bored me to tears (after all I spend three weeks to play through the first three chapters and it was solely Morita's fault). He gets much better later and I even came to grudgingly admire him (especially in the prison scene), but it was too little too late. So enough about this dipshit; let's talk about the "criminals" he has to rehabilitate (a.k.a. his romantic interests).

I want to go on a date! We'll play MMORPGs all night long! And then I want you to confess your love to me by saying 'let's grind together, baby!'
-Matsuhiro Sachi
Are those buttons from "Coraline"?
The first of the rehabilitees is a fiery redhead Sachi whose obligation is "The day only has 12 hours". It's an obligation reserved for those that waste their time inefficiently. Sachi herself used to be a gambler and wasted lots of money, she agreed to take on the obligation in exchange for clearing her debts. Obligation will be canceled if Sachi gets a job or another source of steady income. Here Ken runs into an obstacle - Sachi doesn't mind her obligation and doesn't cooperate to have it removed.

At first I really liked her as I like energetic type heroines, but quickly she shows her true colours. Sachi is unmotivated, egoistic, borderline racist whiny little bitch. She is happy with her status quo and can't put enough backbone in any non self-serving act even if that would save the life of her "sister". Majority of chapter 2 that deals with her is dedicated to us listening to her pathetic sniveling. Sachi takes care of a young foreign girl Mana whom she calls "sister", but her attitude towards Mana is frankly disgusting and while everyone in the game is racist, Sachi is the greatest offender as she supposedly loves Mana. Oh, well, it's not in my brainpower to understand women. While not as boring as the introductory chapter, her chapter was still so slow moving that I had to stop playing the game for an extended period of time to pump up to continue.

The freedom then of man, and liberty of acting according to his own will, is grounded on his having reason, which is able to instruct him in that law he is to govern himself by, and make him know how far he is left to the freedom of his own will. To turn him loose to an unrestrained liberty, before he has reason to guide him, is not the allowing him the privilege of his nature to be free, but to thrust him out amongst brutes, and abandon him to a state as wretched and as much beneath that of a man as theirs.
-John Locke
This lost puppy is so huggable.
The third chapter is dedicated to the class chairman Oone Touka and her obligation "To never grow up". In other words due to her obligation every word of her parents (her mother in this case) is a law unto her and disobeying her would see Touka sent to concentration camp. When Kenichi starts digging into her case, it becomes clear that nothing is peaches and roses between Touka and her mother Kyouko and he will need to solve their mutual problems before trying to cancel Touka's obligation. It doesn't help that Kyouko is a lunatic and Touka is a tool who, yes, you guessed it, enjoys her status quo. Actually, the Oone family is so dysfunctional that in comparison with them The Addams are a perfect example of a prim and proper American family that is a pride of the community.

While the urge to kill Kyouko is almost irresistible, she at least comes across as a real person with very real mental problems. Touka on the other hand, oh, boy... If Sachi would have made Freud drool, then Touka is a wet dream of any self respecting politician. It's because of people like her that Hitler was dancing jitterbug all over the Europe. Her miaowing about her worthlessness in making decisions and that people like Special High Class Individuals and politicians exist to make decisions for people like her got tiring very fast. If it was a dimly veiled incitement by the writer for us to go and vote and make the decisions for ourselves... it didn't work, nice try.

The chapter was a more interesting one and Touka at least at first was quite a likable heroine, but the second part of the chapter introduced so much head-desking on my part, that I don't remember much due to a concussion.

I don't interfere with anyone. I don't hope for anything. I just live...
-Hinata Natsumi
Are those flowers for Algernon?
Now, let's continue with the third of the heroines and it's Hinata Natsumi - a girl burdened with a "Prohibition of Falling in Love". Let me tell you, here I got a surprise as while I hated Natsumi in the first three chapters (I firmly believe that there is a certain circle of hell reserved just for shy girls where they are tentacle raped for all eternity) her own chapter is the breaking point where the game actually became interesting. Hinata is forbidden not only to literally fall in love, but all the physical contacts with the opposite sex. How awkward that is in day to day activities... But you guess what? Yes, she is fully content just like Sachi and Touka.

That reminds me of an old Soviet joke. "A guy living in a Soviet Russia was asked what he thinks about the Soviet government. His answer: It's just like a wife - I love it a bit, hate it a bit, fear it a bit and cheat it a bit, but all in all I got used to it." But I digress. Here the game switches the gears and Morita finally fully shows his discontent with his government. And here I finally understood what was the real reason that I hated Kenichi - until this chapter he had no goal. I repeat,  socio-political commentary notwithstanding the game was leading us nowhere until now, hence my dislike of the first three chapters. If I had to elaborate, these chapters could be considered an extended prologue that got somehow birthed due to the writer having a mid life crisis.

I have little to say about Natsumi herself. She is as bland as it is possible, but at least she doesn't make me want to kill her.

You people are always like that. As soon as you uncover a comprehensible source of evil, you dive upon it. You yearn continually to find something to push responsibility unto.
'The country', 'I am not qualified for that', 'I don't have permission', 'my parents', 'because my best friend said so'... You are all always so eager to find comfort in something and cease your thought processes. And then, as soon as your expectations are betrayed, you squeal like pigs.
-Houzuki Masaomi
En garde, mon ami.
We have our heroes on one end, so we have to introduce a second party of bad guys which is represented here by Kenichi's mentor Houzuki Masaomi - a veteran Special High Class Individual. Houzuki is a Magnificent Bastard Chessmaster antagonist. I have trouble labeling him a villain as never throughout the game I saw him as a truly evil person. One of the bad ends even shows how Ken could become something like him in the future. Houzuki firmly believes in the Übermensch and that all the weaklings will be ground to dust between the gears of the governmental machine. The will is subservient to the body and to prove this to the heroes he goes to immeasurable lengths.

It's seriously disconcerting that Houzuki is the only character that I came to deeply like and respect in the game. It says a lot about the game (or maybe me :-P), that the most sympathetic person in this VN is an antagonist.

P.S. Is it wrong that Houzuki reminds me of Max the Rabbit from "Sam & Max" a lot?
They could be twins.
Though it may be only a temporary solution, there is no more effective means of management than violence.
-Houzuki Masaomi

I haven't talked about the fifth and last chapter yet. It introduces a secret heroine and finishes the story. Everyone that has even a passing knowledge of Sharin no Kuni knows who she is (it's like knowing who is Luke's father; is it even worth not spoiling it?), but a manner in which she appears might just blow your mind. The chapter is the grand finale, meaning that if you played your cards right (didn't get a premature bad ending), Kenichi will do a little rebellion of his own. Nothing as grand as his father, but it's the thought that counts. And admittedly, the last heroine is both funny and interesting - a true achievement for this game.

And then comes the ending, and then you will throw your computer out the window. Seriously, IT'S THE LAMEST ENDING I HAVE EVER SEEN IN ANY LITERARY WORK. PERIOD. The world truly ended not with a bang but with a whimper.

First of all, the game is mostly linear and the epilogue is basically the only thing that differs based on which girl you had sex with in her chapter. Sachi's, Touka's and Natsumi's epilogues are mostly identical with Kenichi living happily ever after with his girl of choice... Wait, WTF? Not only he gets scott free after middle-fingering a fascist state, he is now buddy buddy with the said state and completely forgotten that he wanted to change something for the better. No, sir! All Ken now cares about is screwing his current girlfriend. Konec, das ende, fin... I'm speechless. It's like what would happen if Katniss Everdeen and president Snow did make up at the end of "Mockingjay" and jig-danced into the sunset. Complete nonsense - see the awesome quote above by Houzuki. Violence is the answer. And don't get me started about the harem ending - it's a disgrace.

Secret heroine's ending is the only one, where Kenichi doesn't give up and is ready to bring some change to the world. It's a shame, that Natsumi's ending is supposedly canon according to fandisc.

Oh, I just had some free time, so I thought I'd drop by and see if Sachi-san would be interested in a little sexual intercourse.
-Uzuki Sepia
Let me dream while looking at this picture.
A few finishing words about H-scenes. They are nothing exceptional in CG department or situations depicted, but I have to compliment some of the most natural writing describing them. No overblown trashy talk prevalent in other novels is here. However I found the acts themselves boring and CGs really sub-par. Plus Natsumi scene has that overblown trashy porn novel feel that other scenes avoided. I don't remember when I was so tempted to fast-forward a sex scene in a VN. Nice try, but no cookie. This is a game that could really do without any sexual content.

To sum up, Sharin no Kuni could have been an awesome novel. It has the right setting, the right ideas, the promising protagonist and an interesting conflict. Somehow the writer managed to make a mess out of these ingredients. We need a remake by a competent writer. Funny scenes should be the first to go, as the current creator wouldn't know humour if it bit off his testicles. There should be no talks about our world (every mention of Ken's sci-fi novels would send me into a cackling fit). The protagonist should be rewritten as currently he is a blank slate (an awesome slate, but still a slate) and for fucks sake add some explosions to the epilogue Michael Bay style. Maybe a few scenes of people having their faces eaten off by mutated rabid dogs to help with the pacing.

Sorry, can't write anymore, I have to go and dance jig with Franco and Mussolini.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Buy the original Japanese game: J-list, Paletweb.
Get the English patch

Final verdict: 67% (it should be about 10% less, but I'll be generous because of really good and original ideas presented).

2 comments:

  1. Yikes, reviews on this site seem to be pretty horrendous. Rating a nukige like Escalation Panic higher than this and even Kira Kira (!) - while asking for Michael Bay explosions - says a lot about your tastes.

    Hopefully no one (if anyone even reads this), is put off playing great games by this kind of silly reviewing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. damn it i mustn read this shit

    ReplyDelete