Join me as I dig into Kana Little Sister, one of the more famous English language visual novels on the market.
Kana Little Sister is something I had been on the fence about reading for some time, and Irothtin finally talked me into reading it. I’ve read a lot of hype about Kana so going into this my expectations were pretty high. Did it live up to that hype? Or is this just a creepy incest story? Read on and I will tell you.
The protagonist has a terminally ill little sister, and is told to protect her. As a child he didn’t like her much at first, but during a family camping trip Kana get’s lost, and the protagonist ventures off on his own to find her, which he does. On their return trip Kana stumbles into a bee hive and the protagonist her brother dives on top of her to keep his sickly younger sister from getting stung. The emotional manipulation is very honest here, and the requirements for enjoying this story are laid bare very early on. That said my first impression of Kana Little Sister was far less dark and depressing than what I had expected.
Upsetting bee’s in a forest is a nasty experience. I have not done so myself, but as a kid I watched someone else step on a bee hive. Her and everyone around her got stung all over. As someone who has seen what happens when you upset a bee hive in a forest first hand, I couldn’t help but think ‘it doesn’t really work that way’ and that ‘bees do not equal bomb shrapnel’. My broken suspension of disbelief aside, the important thing of note here, is that the protagonist has been established as his sister’s hero at a young age, and what he did really was heroic, regardless of the logistics.
Feeling sorry for, and wanting to protect Kana are the lynchpin emotions at work here. After a brief moment of talking to Kana who just passed the acceptance exam for high school, we flash back to Kana’s childhood with the protagonist where we have the event with the bees. The protagonist spends some time in the hospital thanks to swelling from the bee stings, and begins visiting Kana at the hospital on a regular basis after that.
The plot progresses from that first flash back through key events in the lives of Kana and our protagonist. We follow the protagonist all the way from meeting his first crush in elementary school to graduating high school. That said the majority of Kana Little Sister takes place in the hospital where Kana lives. Kana has six endings and basically two routes with a few different events in each one. The plot is very basic, and it would be accurate to call Kana a bit cliche, but for the purposes of the story being told, it works.
Kana tells two stories depending on the route you take. One of them is a very intellectual look at life, death and dying. On my first time through I was on this intellectual route. The other story is a more emotional tale of forbidden romance between a brother and his sickly sister. The difference between these two routes is only a few scenes, and the various different endings, but they dramatically change the overall feel of the story.
The story for the intellectual route really pulled me in by making me think. It was a beautiful depiction of life coming to an end inside a hospital, and that is an accomplishment on it’s own in my book. What really impressed me was how much the visual novel engaged me intellectually instead of trying to pull at my heartstrings.
The more emotional route was far less enjoyable for me, and honestly managed to pull at my heartstrings even less so than the intellectual route. Where I found the intellectual route smart and engaging, I found the emotional route hard to sympathize with and overly cliche. Perhaps it is a bit unfair to call Kana cliche since Kana is the original, and probably guilty of spawning a least a few of the cliches present, but I can think of no better word for it.
Kana has 16 tracks total, most of which are simple classical sounding pieces which fit the solemn mood pretty well. I was not overly impressed by the music, but it wasn’t bad either. Sometimes the tracks blur together since they are similar. Some of the music toward the end of Kana really resonated with me, but it was still nothing I would want to sit down and listen to on it’s own.
One awkward thing I noticed is that sometimes the music just stops, and sound effects do not always play. Maybe it is because of my 64 bit operating system. This was a minor thing that only happened on a few occasions though, something a quick save and reload would fix.
Kana looks awkward, but it’s appropriate. She hasn’t been able to mature correctly and so her odd appearance is fitting. The rest of the characters look fairly normal in comparison. This visual novel deserves praise for managing to make Kana look both beautiful and sickly. It is far more often that the emphasis in a visual novel is on the heroine looking cute, sexy and beautiful than reflecting the condition of their bodies, a balance Kana manages very well.
I do have some complaints with the sprites. Sometimes the visual novel will say something that directly conflicts with what the sprite is doing or just did a moment ago. In one example the text says something about how Kana didn’t cry where she was clearly crying, that sort of thing is to be expected here. It’s not something that happens constantly, but it is annoying when it does.
There isn’t really any gameplay here aside from unlocking all the different events and scenes; however, this visual novel does throw a ton of choices at the reader. You are given thirty save slots, by the end of my first read I had used all thirty on different choices.
You have probably noticed from my screenshots, but Kana is in novel format with pictures in the background. I don’t mind the novel format so much but, I didn’t really like the layout and design for the program. Kana was also a bit unstable and crashed on me a few times while reading through it. If you pick this up, save often!
The erotic content is not what I expected. The majority of it is not actually with Kana, but with the protagonist’s girlfriend of sorts. On my first run through I didn’t encounter any erotic scenes with the sister. There was one choice toward the end of that route that would have allowed one, and it does change the ending, but it was not a requirement.
None of the scenes are too long, and the overall erotic content is pretty low. There are a few funny angles that cause panty shots in some of the non erotic scenes, but nothing too distracting in my opinion. The final thing I will point out here is that most of the erotic scenes are not particularly hot. Even when he is going at it with his girlfriend he is often thinking of his sister and his sister’s condition.
This is not Kana’s strongest point. The localization is not the worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s not good. Things are sometimes worded in a funny way, and other times completely ignore English grammar rules, and common sense. I caught one particularly bad typo which I turned into a screenshot and included in this blog. Overall the story is still easily readable and the errors only create a minor distraction, but they are there.
One other annoyance to me personally, is the use of “bro” instead of what I assume was “oniichan” in Japanese. Now I am not one of those hardcore language purists who need to see that spelled out as “oniichan”, but seeing it as “bro” just messes with my head. Why? Simple, bro is something one dude calls another dude, or even something I’ve occasionally called my brother or he has called me. Never do I hear bro used by a sister to describe a brother in the English language. Honestly though, while I felt this was worth pointing out, it is really not THAT important in scheme of things, and certainly didn’t ruin my enjoyment.
Kana Little Sister is not the best visual novel I’ve ever read, but it was pretty good over all, I can see why it is considered to be such a classic. There are a few caveats you have to put aside to be able to enjoy this, but those should be pretty obvious from the title, and are not emphasized to the degree I expected. It may not be the most entertaining thing you have ever read, but I would still recommend this to anyone up for a philosophical sad story that will make them think.