we’ll meet one day in Spring
and fall in love amidst the Spring breeze.
Yahisa Tsukiko spends her days with her childhood friends Kanata Nanami (who is quietly suffering with an illness), and Suzuya Tohzuki (the maternal and caring sort) at Seigetsu Gakuen, a school unique for its focus on astrology and horoscopes. It has recently started allowing girls into the school, but due to the setting and difficulty of subjects, Tsukiko so far has been the only girl which has enrolled. Their idyllic life is shaken when a half French/Japanese guy named Yoh Tome transfers in, who also happens to know Tsukiko…
Well, there’s one sort of visual novel that I thought I’d never play, and that’s an otome. If I look at the type of VNs I play, like most of you, I’m mainly in it for the plot. Scraping through all the rubbish with an overly pungent smell to find something that’s actually worth digging for.
The concept of otome games will probably forever remind me of that time I started watching Ouran High School Host Club a few years back, and one of the episodes featured a girl who was seriously obsessed with this TokiMeki rip off. The scene opened with her almost drooling over her controller, pledging her love and allegiance to a megane character, not unlike those hilarious guys who get engaged to their Love Plus+ games. She then transfers schools purely based on one guy looking like one of the characters in her game. Yeah. She is then convinced that the guy is that character, even though their personalities were polar opposites. Not just obsessive, she was downright annoying. But we all have our certain image of people playing certain types of VNs. When most people think of someone playing a BL game, they probably think of an overweight girl with glasses huffing awkwardly over her screen. Or when you think of someone playing eroge, you think of a scrawny acne-ridden guy with his brow sweating. We all associate similar images with the genres, and we can’t help it. If I played an otome VN, would I too be associating myself with that overzealous fangirl mentality?
For those who haven’t heard of the Starry Sky series, it’s the current darling of the otome community. The primary hook is that the whole series is basically based around astrology (you can start rolling your eyes now), with each of the twelve guys representing a different horoscope. In the Spring edition, we have a Capricorn (Tomoe), a Pisces (Kanata), and a Cancer (Suzuya). I don’t know much about astrology, as frankly, I think it’s a load of bullshit. But I’m aware that it seems to be a popular enough hobby around high school girls over in moonland, therefore a series revolving around the subject makes perfect sense, right? Add in some good looking guys, famous seiyuu, and you’ve got yourself a winner! I’ll speak about the protagonist ms. insert name here soon enough, but you’re probably more interested in our leading men, and what their personality quirks are.
The lead man here is obviously the flame haired, dreamy eyed French exchange student Yoh Tomoe, who the protagonist affectionately calls Hitsuji/Sheep-kun. Being half French, he was teased quite a lot when he was younger, yet typically, Tsukiko was the only one who didn’t tease him. He promptly fell in love with her Saint like kindness, all through the years. After transferring to Seigetsu Gakuen, his burning feelings don’t smoulder. Amusingly enough, despite living in France for most of his life, he is still able to speak Japanese with a surprising level of fluency. A rather awkward moment is when the brash Kanata finds a Japanese language book Tomoe was studying from, and Tomoe typically freaks out and gets incredibly embarrassed. At first one would understandably think that he’s a very self-centered fellow, especially after his rather brazen (from Japan’s point of view) re-familiarizing with Tsukiko (he basically hugs her in front of the class and kisses her cheek – OH NOES!!!11111). He’s not the kind who’s a trouble maker though, which is what I initially thought. He just… finds it difficult to make friends. Understandable, considering the difficulties he has had throughout his life dealing with being half. Early enough, after locking heads quite a lot with Kanata, he comes to accept him, along with Suzuya, and realizes that he too can have fun with them, and become friends. His seiyuu is Hikaru Midorikawa.
Next up is Kanata, Tsukiko’s more hyperactive, gruff friend. At first I thought that he was a yankee – he’s forever skipping out on classes, instead preferring to lie on the grass and do nothing at all. And then there’s his unreserved, almost slurring speaking style (Tomokazu Sugita really steals the show here for this role) which is usually high pitched and frantic. It turns out that he actually has some sort of disease which he has been keeping from everyone, and seriously downplays it to extremes. He could be on the verge of hacking a lung up, but he’d convince everyone that he’ll be alright in just a moment, and that it’s nothing to worry about. Complete martyr of a character. To make things worse for himself (and Tsukiko, the little worrywart), he’s forever getting into fights with other guys, roughing himself up. Obviously not the best way to go about keeping your health in check, right? He’s also somewhat tsun~tsun~, which Sugita~n is able to portray perfectly.
And lastly, we have Suzuya. Ah, Suzuya. Where do we start? Overall, he was my favourite guy, due to no particular reason. Being voiced by the always delicious smooth talking seiyuu with DAT VOICE, Daisuke Ono, most likely helped with that. 100%. Definitely. C’mon, that voice is fabulous incarnate. Koizumi, Sebastian, Shizuo, and Battler, to name his more famous roles. I’m not sure who exactly he was channeling here – a played down Koizumi, perhaps? ‘Played down’ being the key phrase here, as Suzuya was essentially a calm and collected guy – at least on the outside, he was. Within the group, his role was that of a mediator. Whenever Tomoe and Kanata’s arguments got a little bit too heated up while Tsukiko stood there uselessly thinking ‘what should I do?!’, Suzuya would calmly, yet firmly halt where they were heading. Oh no, there was going to be no fighting on his motherly watch. At one point, he even refers to himself as the father, Tsukiko as the mother, and the other pair as siblings.
One thing that struck me about Starry Sky was how dissociated I felt from it. It wasn’t just that I was playing from a female’s perspective. I mean, I’ve played VN’s through another female’s eyes before, so what was the problem? So I’m finally playing a VN which is aimed at my gender, and I feel unnerved. Now, what could the reason for that have been? Am I just too used to reading things from a male’s perspective? That was my first assumption, and is really the most obvious one to come to. Our heroine of the Starry Sky series is Yahisa Tsukiko (although you can give her your own custom name, that’s the default one), a slight girl who is living out the plot of plenty of nail bitingly cliched escapist shoujo manga: she’s the only girl in a male dominated high school.
Over the years, I’ve read several series with that exact same premise. And, none of them turned out that well, or else I would have probably been able to list specific examples. It doesn’t matter how she’s the only girl there – the fact is, that she is the only girl there. Whether she got in through a mix up, is taking her brother’s place while her brother travels the world, or just happens to look like a boy, it all boils down to the same contrived Smurfette principle. Having Tsukiko as the only girl in a school crammed full of hormonal teenage boys is just too cruel, and far too easy. Over the course of the Starry Sky series, there are four primary installments, each dealing with a season and three guys. In each version, you deal with only three of the many, many, many guys which are surely lusting after her. And it doesn’t just stop at her childhood friends, oh no. Summer deals with club members, Autumn with teachers (which are rather young looking – but hey, they’re young looking, so it’s alright, right? perfectly acceptable! /honeybee ed.), and Winter with the student council. Although, it makes me wonder if in Summer, Tsukiko oh so conveniently abandons life long friends in favour of shaking thing sup a bit with a new club. Or after that, does she decide to focus her eyes on the more mature prize. And finally, she sashays over the student council, content with her reign of victory. Oh yes, all pools are attracted to this mythological Grecian goddess which has materialized in front of their rapidly blinking eyes.
In Spring (or at least in Suzuya’s route alone), Tsukiko comes to no such harm. Well, of course she doesn’t. It’s a saccharine sweet VN where you’re supposed to put yourself in the place of the heroine – nothing like being awkwardly groped happens here. The most heinous crime is Tsukiko receiving a love letter, which sends her childhood friend harem into a minor panic. And there’s Tsukiko’s own stupidity in realizing her own feelings in each route – it’s like drawing water from a stone.
Despite what you may think, the CGs aren’t plentiful. In fact, there are hardly any! There are three general CGs of the guys, and then for each guy there are seven individual CGs, making a total of 25 CGs in the entire game. There are no special features, like having the option of listening to the nondescript soundtrack. There is a character bio, though, all of which I’ve posted in the character section above. The design is very attractive and eye catching, following a pink and black theme which contrast very well with each other. The font for the main menu and Planetarium (which are the special features) are block white letters for the English, having Japanese alongside it. What’s amusing is the random bouts of Engrish everywhere, with some sentences that are kind of funny when you hear them in your head. The character designs are distinctive, and suit their personalities. The uniforms, although pretty, are a bit too over the top. Seriously, just look at how complicated Suzuya’s looks. That overcoat/blazer is downright confusing.
Starry Sky is not anything revolutionary, or special. It isn’t a masterpiece, or really, in any way good. It’s like that awkwardly drawn shoujo manga lost in a shelf full of glossy covers with rich art. You might pick it up out of slight curiousity, and weirdly enough, something might even compel you to buy it. After reading it you wonder why you had even bothered, and put it on your shelf, never really giving it a second thought. Ever again. If you’re a buyfag, then you fully understand that we all have crappy manga like that on our shelf (I’m looking at you, impulse buys of Othello and Happy Hustle High!). This and the other subsequent Starry Sky installments were wisely ported to the PSP, and included a variety of bonuses including new CGs (which this game seriously needed), redone opening – and, get this – giving the heroine eyes. Yes! Finally! This won’t look as creepy! Starry Sky is probably something which you could pick up for five or ten minutes a day, mindlessly looking for something to do.
There are almost certainly better otome games out there (I’ll be surely checking out Danzai no Maria ~ The Exorcism of Maria, which is also getting translated). And who knows, maybe other installments in the series improve on Spring. For example, VNDB ranks Winter as the highest. If you’re thinking about taking a dip into this particular pool, I’d advise you not to start out with this. Start out with something that has a bit more substance, unless of course, you like the idea of childhood friends in love squares.