Punk Rock leaves a certain image in my mind, one that I generally associate with loud music from the 90s. I went into this band story expecting punk music, band drama and maybe some odd sexual tensions or drug abuse to top things off. I was right on one count, there is plenty of band related drama.
KiraKira is a visual novel developed by Overdrive and published in the west by Mangagamer. It was first released in 2007 on PC. It received a PC release in English early 2009. It was also released on PS2 in 2009 and then later the same year on iOS simultaneously in Japanese and English.
KiraKira is the visual novel that first linked me to Mangagamer. I heard various things about KiraKira before reading it for myself, but I didn’t know much. I was told to expect something ranging from a sweet slice of life to a soul draining drama. I had this picture in my head of starting a band while balancing grades and the difficulties that would involve, but those expectations were quickly subverted. Instead of struggling for recognition, a famous indie band propels our cast’s newly formed band forward.
Our protagonist gets into music more to challenge to himself than because of an existing passion for music. This is true for most of the cast, enough so that they take lessons from a friend who only started reading about bands on the internet a few weeks before they formed their band. Our protagonist’s struggles are between himself and the world and the lessons he stands to take away from his experiences with music are far greater than the music itself.
KiraKira is broken into segments that follow pieces of our protagonists life as they relate to music, romance and growing up. There are three female band members and a route for each, plus one unlockable route after the other three are finished and their “good” ends are achieved. The routes are broken into three to four chapters, three for the drummer and guitarist and four for each of the vocalist’s routes. The vocalist is the obvious primary heroine of KiraKira, but the other two girls do get the spotlight for the majority of their route.
KiraKira uses a dual point system. Most choices either net you band points or romance points with one of the girls. With only twelve to thirteen choices per route, the choices you make have little room for error. That said, I found that the bad ends were hard to find without intentionally looking for them. Being indecisive with the girls or failing to earn your band points will net you a bad ending. The bad endings themselves are nothing special and only one has any extra graphics. This one “bad” end is basically a joke choice made available on every route.
Learning music is no simple task and starting a band is not cheap, but the members of this newly formed band all have something to gain from the experience. Playing music and leaning what it means to be a punk take center stage for the first chapter of this story. KiraKira doesn’t start with heavy drama, or even by glorifying punk life. It has a very down to earth approach that makes characters come to life as they grow passionate for music. It creates an atmosphere that pulls you into their world of music.
KiraKira basically tells three stories and the themes of each story varies depending on the heroine you spend time with. Chie, the drummer, is struggling with an exhausting family situation. Her father has run off with another woman, leaving her as the oldest daughter of two bitter parents. She doesn’t want to hate either of them and doesn’t have the ability to make things better. Sarina, the guitarist, is suffering from health issues that have plagued her entire life. She has lived a confined life with her overly protective grandfather. Kirari, the vocalist, is an energetic girl from a poor family. She works part time to help support her family and hides her worries behind a smile.
KiraKira is about growing up, finding happiness and being true to yourself. Music is a device, the drama is much more character driven. There are many themes at play and each of the three girls essentially get their own story from around the mid point of the second chapter. No matter who the protagonist decides to romance, he is forced to cross dress in order to fool Sarina’s grandfather. Shikanosuke, our protagonist, is none too happy about his drag, but it soon becomes an image for the band that he can’t easily discard.
Originally the band was created to give their club something to do at an upcoming festival, but after an explosion of popularity they receive an invitation to preform in another town. Our newly formed band soon finds themselves taking a road trip across Japan. This trip makes up many of the most memorable moments in KiraKira‘s story as the cast learn about life, friendship, love and of course, music. This is also where the story splits into routes. The cast will visit different parts of Japan depending on the route you are following, before ultimately returning home to put the life lessons learned on the trip into practice.
Sarina’s route tells a laid back tale of love and self discovery. Sarina is a rich girl with poor health and a quiet disposition. She brings new meaning to the term deredere once her romance beings. Her route is slow and laid back. Kirari is a poor girl and her story focuses on friendship and happiness. Chie is somewhere in between the other two. She is the responsible one of the band. Chie’s father has left her mother for another woman, leaving Chie in the middle. She not sure how to deal with her feelings toward her father or her general feelings of loneliness brought on by her parents divorce.
I enjoyed the romance aspect of Sarina and Chie’s routes much more so than I did for Kirari. Kirari’s route packs more punch and pulled more tears. Kirari’s route is by far the most dramatic of the three, but I couldn’t bring myself to like Kirari’s character as much as I did for the other two girls. Chie and Sarina’s stories are very down to earth. Some of the drama with Kirari comes out of left field and feels forced, but ultimately they all have a solid story.
The music was produced by the Japanese band Milktub. Punk music this is not or at least it’s not what comes to mind when I think of punk. I would say the music here is more classical rock than punk. KiraKira has a kick ass soundtrack, with a decent selection of music from the in story band itself. Our cast’s band has a total of 8 tracks, including a unique ending song for each heroine’s route. The two other bands featured in KiraKira both have one in game song each. The punk aspect of this story is more about how these characters learn music than it is the music they actually play.
KiraKira‘s background music is full of guitar riffs that fit the different moods of the story well. The music player in the extras only plays the in game band music. The music player comes with faux album art for all 3 of the bands featured in the story. While this faux album art doesn’t really make up for the exclusion of the background music, it is a neat touch. If you want to listen to the background music outside of the visual novel you will have to hunt down the OST.
There are 24 tracks on the background music CD and after listening to it I don’t think anything is missing from the visual novel. There is no music in KiraKira I don’t like but, a few tracks really jump out at me. One of my favorite songs is something of a spoiler preformed by a new band toward the end of the visual novel so I won’t name it here. My favorite track is probably Return to You. It is one of the songs the band writes while on their tour. It starts up slow before crashing into the melody with some powerful vocals in a way that really shows off what makes Kirari so special to the band.
The background music sounds like it all could have been played by their band. It adds an extra level of passion to enhance the atmosphere. I loved the slow touching moments in particular where the music fit the emotions of the moment perfectly. The more up beat exciting tracks all fit into place as well.
There is one scene where the protagonist is in the bed of a truck that is full of human manure. He is trying to reach the driver without falling off while screaming rock and roll! as he attempts to reach her. In another more laid back scene Shikanosuke and Sarina are playing music together by the ocean. The music in these key scenes fit the moment perfectly.
Perhaps it is no surprise that KiraKira‘s music is worth listen to long after fishing the visual novel. It’s nice to see the music not only lives up the story, but actually reaches beyond it to become something worth listening to on it’s own merits.
In the same spirit as the music player with it’s faux album art, the gallery for KiraKira is in the form of a photo album. There are 11 pages which contain a good 104 pieces of unique art. Many of the pieces have more than one version and several have many alterations. KiraKira moves around all over Japan in the second route and there is more than enough background art to make the trip come to life. There are also a number of what I believe to be filtered photographs which are used as background art. None of the background artwork is included in the gallery.
The character art itself has a goofiness to it that quickly becomes endearing. Everyone sort of has big goofy ears. At first I thought the artwork was a bit strange given the fact that this is an eroge, but by the time any of the erotic scenes came about I had already fallen for the characters and artwork alike. The sprites have only few expressions a piece, but are effective at expressing the personalities of the cast. There are enough event scenes that the sprites never feel old. Overall I would say that KiraKira has a good visual style, one I would like to see more of.
Everyone but the protagonist is voiced. Even side characters who are not even important enough for a sprite get a voice. The acting is top notch and one of the finer selling points of this visual novel. Where the sprites are sometimes a bit lacking in expression on their own, the acting more than makes up for it. There is an odd perspective shift where we get to see the protagonist’s sprite from Chie’s perspective. She still had voice and he didn’t. It felt odd enough to mention, but not too distracting overall.
The voices managed to express their characters well and the audio quality itself is high. I found Kirari’s energy annoying at first, but that was part of her character and she grew on me quickly. Chie’s acting was top notch from start to finish, her nervous ticks and responsible demeanor helped to bring her character to life. Sarina’s acting probably adds the most to KiraKira and her route wouldn’t have worked well without it. Sarina’s route is kind of slow and her character is maximum deredere. Her acting really brings that personality out and helps to make her an endearing character.
KiraKira is a novel with few choices. It is in novel form nearly the entire time. The only exception is when a band is on stage. There are 12 to 13 choices per route and that makes up all of the interaction involved in KiraKira. Tthe overlay of text can be removed with a right click, but while you read through the story it is almost always there. You can configure the overlay to be as transparent as you like and you have full control over the color of the text. You also have nearly full control over who is and is not speaking as well as the option to make the audio cut out when you skip ahead.
The band scenes are the one major exception to the novel form. When someone is on stage the lights dim and flash with the music and portraits of the band members passionately playing their instruments come into focus with the music. These on stage moments are full of energy and all of it is in time with the music being played, adding an extra element of life to the performances.
Sex if a very natural thing in KiraKira, one that is very in step with the rest of the story. People get romantic, people have sex. Surprisingly there is some decent dialog during a few of the erotic scenes. The protagonist talks about Chie’s father in one of those scenes and yes I am aware that sounds strange out of context, but in context it was a type of dialog that is sadly lacking from most of the eroge I’ve experienced.
Overall KiraKira‘s erotic element is very low key. The erotic scenes are high quality, but they happen when they fit into the story and could honestly happen more frequently than they actually do without feeling forced. They serve not only titillate the senses, but also to show a bonding between the characters. At the end of the day the sex scenes are a minor element of KiraKira, but they do add to the romance of the story.
In a few words: not good. The localization of KiraKira is easily it’s weakest point. For the most part the English is never so bad as to be confusing. The choice of words and the flow are usually good, but the grammar is often wrong. Is and are are frequently used wrongly. On occasion things are worded in a way that is simply odd or unnatural. KiraKira would be a better experience if an editor touched it up. There are a few cases where context is the only way to accurately understand what was meant or said, but those are far more rare. Another problem is the font choice itself which leaves something to be desired.
Overall KiraKira is an easily readable visual novel, but it suffers from poor grammar. It would not surprise me if the entire thing was translated by someone who is not a native English speaker and or was not simply not edited at all due to time or money constraints. It’s a real shame to have to say this, but the localization holds KiraKira back and I can’t recommend it to anyone who is not willing to overlook that aspect. Despite finding a constant stream of errors they rarely slowed down my reading. The grammar is poor, but not hard to understand or follow.
Jel: I actually played KiraKira on iOS, which is an iPhone optimized version of the All-Ages release. I personally think this is the best way to play the game as the text format is bigger, bolder and easier to read, the menu system is streamlined, and in general I like the idea of kicking back on my couch with my iPhone or iPad instead of having to sit at my desk for the dozens of hours it takes to complete the game.
The big differences are in the changes for the All Ages version, which basically just omit the nudity. Make no mistake, they still make it very clear what the characters are doing, and all the important dialogue is intact. I haven’t completely verified it, but it’s possible the localization may have received some improvements as well. So if you have an iDevice of some kind and don’t mind skipping out on the cartoon nudity, definitely consider grabbing the iOS edition.
KiraKira is a well made band story and my new personal favorite of it’s type. It’s held back by it’s localization, but for anyone willing to overlook that it’s a good story full of enjoyable music and lovable characters. I think KiraKira would make a good entry point into visual novels for the curious, but I am wary of recommending to this to anyone who is not familiar with the quirks of a mediocre localization. Personally I greatly enjoyed my time here. I am looking forward to checking out the rest of Overdrive’s visual novels in the future.