A few disclaimers before we move forward:
- Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
- These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.
For the few that may have followed along with these posts in order of when I’d written them, you may have noticed a trend within the continuation of these thoughts. It seems that with each passing girl, I become less and less attached to their particular story. Assuming anyone had noticed, I would say that you were both right and wrong. The order I chose to write about these five girls in is the order I chose to pursue them while playing the game. It just so happens that the quality and enjoyment I had with each of the girls coincided with the order of best to worst, and based on this choosing, one can assume that Shizune is the least favorite of mine among the choices. One would be right and not wrong.
The biggest, most deflating part about Shizune’s story as a whole is that it feels incomplete. By the end, the player only feels so close to Shizune while having to deal with a number of other conflicts that arise within her story that doesn’t even physically involve her. “Physically” involving her meaning that the issues revolve around her, but she isn’t there to offer feedback or any sense of clarity. You literally spend half of her story talking about her rather than to her. Part of this problem is due to Shizune’s translator: Misha.
What’s almost sad about Shizune’s route is I find myself more emotionally attached to Misha, someone who is not romanceable, than the main target of the route. While her upbeat, loud personality isn’t exactly alluring me into a blissful state of catharsis, she at least shows some relatable and semi-developed conflict that directly plays into the story of her relationship with both the player and Shizune. It provides some meaning to the amount of time she spends with Shizune and gives her more depth as a character rather than being subjected to the role of “Translator.” While I also believe her moodiness near the end of the route comes out of left field, she at least explains her situation in a grounded enough manner to keep her credibility afloat.
A lot of what I praise about Misha is something I can’t say for Shizune. As mentioned before, there isn’t really much the player can do in terms of interacting with Shizune at first before teaching himself sign language, and even then he seems to get more dialogue from Shizune’s family than anyone else (L-O-L! Shizune’s dad is, like, so random! XD). I previously criticized the player for supposedly “falling in love” with a girl even though there isn’t even any reason for him to be, but here it’s on both sides of the spectrum. Not only does the player’s infatuation feel rushed, but so does Shizune’s. If there was chemistry to be had between these characters, I didn’t really notice it, try as it might during a school festival. Being alone together for one night and looking at fireworks doesn’t really constitute a believable jump from friends to lovers. Physical attraction, perhaps?
Can I say something really vulgar for a moment? Shizune’s h-scenes tried really hard for the “lusty teenage sexiness” vibe, something only really matched by Lilly’s route. Even more so than Lilly, Shizune’s h-scenes were on par with “Fucking for the sake of fucking,” and damn was that some hot fucking. Her second one in particular had numerous camera angles (one of which I found hilariously misaligned) and just the perfect ratio of female to male for fapping material. It almost felt too naughty for a game like this. Compensating for the lackluster story? Who’s to say? Shizune may be boring, but she’s got, er, moves like Jagger?
The h-scenes are only accentuated by the lovely art direction this time around. That “lovely” is about 60% sarcastic, as the more detailed pictures seem to have a tinge of inconsistency to them. Aside from the weird misalignment during the second h-scene, I don’t really like the way Shizune appears in a lot of the pictures shown. Something about her head being too sharp or the appearance of her (and the player) being too… uncanny valley? It’s somewhat hard to describe, but the artwork during these scenes feel a little off, almost in the sense that they hired a new artist halfway through the production of the game and they tried to cover it up by making them draw in the previous artist’s style. One could say that this is metaphorical of how her route feels altogether: a little off. However, I thought Misha looked a lot better than Shizune in these shots. Whether it be in normal or steamy situations (You can fuck Misha), she has this glimmer to her appearance that makes her visually pleasing. Strangely enough, her sprite work makes her look a tad chunky, although naked she seems to be not that much thicker than Shizune. Lots of inconsistency and illusions present.
What of Shizune herself, though? How is she as a character at first base rather than how she develops? This is probably where I found the most enjoyment out of her route. Despite not spending a lot of time with her, she’s a perfectly playful girl with a competitive edge that is only slightly overplayed for the sake of it. She has a bite to her that none of the other girls have that makes her more appealing to those looking for girls who take charge. She’s serious about what she does and seriously wants others to take things as seriously as she does. Seriously. On the surface, she’s a likable girl with a lot to like, but she’s inhibited greatly by the way her story progresses and the inclusion of Misha, who steals the spotlight from her more times than she should. There are many “If only” remarks that can be made with Shizune’s route, something that makes her being crowned “Worst girl” by my standards as predictable, as a character shines brighter when a story exerts its pressure.
What may be the biggest slap in the face is the way it all ends. Not only is it implied that Shizune and the player are no longer in contact with one another, but nothing really feels resolved. The problem (If one can really call it that) that Shizune faces throughout is the way her competitiveness rubs off the wrong way on other people, causing her to enter people’s lives and rope them into situations they may not really want to be a part of. She says a lot of pretty things about how she’ll work to change and that the future is bright. What she never does is show any of this, and the story ends without giving her any opportunity to. Instead, one is graced with a clumsy picture of the player, Misha, and Shizune pulling their best Haruhi squad pose to the camera in a “bittersweet” ending of farewell until the future. Everything’s fine and dandy and the player had an eventful high school life. And alone again. Zippity doo-dah.
Here’s another interesting tidbit: when firmly planted inside Shizune’s route, the player only has to make one choice all throughout. That choice is whether or not you want to fuck Misha. No joke. Hopefully anyone with a brain would know that accepting her invitation will lead to the bad end (So save your progress before accepting!), except I wish it wasn’t the only choice! It makes the essence of a visual novel feel more like an actual visual novel; something being read to you without any input whatsoever. You’re reading a book rather than playing a game at that point. It also makes the scenarios more boring, as the player doesn’t feel like they can really impact the things that are happening in front of them. And if comment sections are any indication, the player doesn’t make a lot of great choices on his own. On top of feeling rushed, incomplete, and devoid of a lot of emotional impact, Shizune’s story is structurally straightforward.
It was an unpleasant end to a rather enjoyable journey through Yamaku High. The feeling of obligation to finish the whole thing was overwhelmed by the already-formed nostalgic reminiscing of past girls. These Traveling Thoughts aren’t quite finished yet, as I have one more post left to write out dealing with the side characters, as I feel they deserve a lot of praise for their efforts as well. In terms of the main course, the meal had a variety of different flavors and choices. It had treats that I filled up on too quickly, and side dishes with multiple kicks that tingled my dazzled senses. Unfortunately, it left the less desirable meals waiting with anticipation. A balanced diet is the right kind of diet, even if you don’t like it.