The first solo work of Niijima Yuu, Hatsuyuki Sakura is a romantic urban fantasy VN with some light-hearted horror elements. Hatsuyuki (the protagonist) is a delinquent in school with a very shady past – his own corporeal existence unclear; it appears he was raised by ghosts. Unlike most teenagers, his heart is full of lust for revenge and malice for those living; something he doesn’t fail to exhibit by alienating all people around himself. However, one night he accidentally runs into a peculiar girl wandering the town, a girl who might have the power to bring spring to the endless winter plaguing his heart.
This is one of the most uneven works I have ever read. While some portions of it are nothing short of a masterpiece, the others can’t be called anything else but insipid shlock.
One should first note the amazing production values; Hatsuyuki Sakura offers some of the best visuals and music in the medium. I was particularly impressed by character designs and how seamlessly they transfer from sprites to CGs. Tasteful music, meanwhile, does a fantastic job at setting the surreal, magical atmosphere.
This atmosphere drew me straight in, and once I met the absolutely charming cast; I naturally braced myself for a magnificent work; especially since the somewhat dark premise of the story seemed exactly like my cup of tea. Then I picked a random individual route and everything fell apart with the protagonist constantly acting out of character and the story ending up going pretty much nowhere.
Somewhat disheartened I tried again, and had my mind completely blown away by the chemistry of Hatsuyuki and the somewhat sociopathic Aya in one of the most peculiar and heart-wrenching romantic tales I have ever read. Meanwhile, Sakura’s true route, which gets unlocked at the very end, is actually directly linked to that of Aya’s and succeeds at delivering one of the strongest bittersweet coming of age messages I have ever seen in fiction.
The quality disparity between the routes is so evident, I still have trouble believing they were all written by the same person; he must have not cared about the “extra” characters too much, heh. It is really unfortunate too, as all of those “extra” heroines are still really interesting and likable. I mean, it blows my mind that the epitome of cuteness, Shirokuma, doesn’t even get a chance to get into a relationship in her route.
I still must say, however, that even in the good routes, Niijima is still much better at building up expectations than actually delivering on them; action scenes are very shoddily written and are usually over in just a couple lines, while many dramatic moments have pretty lame, minimalistic writing and are only effective because of how they were set up beforehand. Considering the quality of Niijima’s past collaborations in Saga Planets, it becomes pretty obvious that the other writers were only bringing him down, however, though it seems the guy is beaming with talent, his uneven approach to writing still has a feel of an amateur about it. Then again, time can only make him better, and I hope to see his name lined next to Maruto, Jackson and Loose Boy as another master writer of visual novels one day; for his ability at writing romantic/comedic banter is nothing short of a genius. Hatsuyuki Sakura is about the only VN, out of the hundreds that I have read, where I actually couldn’t get enough of the redundant slice of life situations. Can somebody please make the guy release a fan disc or something?
Despite all of the problems, the main story of Hatsuyuki Sakura is a delightful surreal coming of age treat with top-notch romance, fascinating characters and good humor. Highly recommended for anyone interested in romance in general (or fascinating, unusual characters like Aya).
|Fantastic character designs||Could have spent more time on developing character complexity|
|No deformation in HCGs||Azusa, Shirokuma and Nozomu routes are wasted on half-hearted story|
|Good opening song||Could have been a much more significant work if dramatic scenes were more plentiful and written better|
|Good background music||Potentially fantastic action moments are wasted on half-hearted writing|
|Charming, interesting characters||Lame English words cheapen the material|
|Aya is a fantastic, unique heroine|
|Fantastic sense of humor|
|Great magical atmosphere|
|Captivating relatively well thought out story|
|Touching bittersweet conclusion|