[Editor’s note: as of February 2019, it appears that unfortunately minori is ceasing operations. This article has been left in its original form as published in October 2016 to preserve the original intention behind the series, even if it will likely never happen now.]
minori’s Supipara, a collection of five visual novels, the first of which has been localised by MangaGamer, is in an interesting situation. It’s a series that doesn’t quite exist yet.
As the series microsite notes, Supipara is an ambitious undertaking for both developer minori and localiser MangaGamer; while the first two chapters currently exist in Japan (albeit as a single game), and the first of these has already been localised into English, the future of the series is largely up to visual novel enthusiasts.
Rather than relying on crowdfunding as developers such as Frontwing and localisation outfits such as Sekai Project have done in the past, minori and MangaGamer are instead ploughing the combined profits from Supipara’s first chapter and science fiction love story eden* directly back into the series, with various milestones allowing the companies to continue their collaboration and — hopefully, anyway — see the Supipara project finally brought to complete fruition.
Having finished reading the first chapter of Supipara last night, I would very much like to see the remaining chapters become a reality. And if you’re a fan of visual novels, checking out Supipara’s first chapter is an eminently pleasing way to spend twelve or so hours of your life.
Why? Read on.
Before we delve into the intricacies of Supipara’s narrative — it is a visual novel, after all, so that’s going to form the bulk of what we talk about here — let’s get one thing straight right away. Supipara is one of the most beautifully presented visual novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
The artwork is colourful and soft-edged, with deliciously rich lighting throughout evoking the feelings of bright, optimistic springtime. The character designs are distinctive in both their immediately identifiable silhouettes and their non-verbal mannerisms, and a little animation — mostly blinking and lipsyncing to the spoken dialogue — goes a long way to immersing you in the story’s world. Plus, unusually, Supipara presents itself from a true first-person perspective, meaning sometimes you see the back of people’s heads — or them looking over their shoulder at you — rather than everyone constantly facing the protagonist. You might not realise how much more natural this makes some scenes feel until you see it in action for yourself.
The music, meanwhile complements the action well, making use of a number of distinct, recognisable themes in a variety of styles to punctuate the on-screen action. And the Japanese language voice acting is top quality, with every cast member portraying their character with enthusiasm, aplomb and sensitivity when necessary.
Supipara is hard to fault with regard to its presentation, then. Let’s delve into the story proper.
Supipara tells the story of Yukinari Sanada, a young man who has returned to his hometown. Yukinari suffered a terrible tragedy a number of years back that claimed the life of his father and left his mother in a coma; consequently, he was passed around a number of relatives before finally returning home when it became clear that, against all odds, his mother was going to recover with seemingly no lingering ill effects whatsoever — physically, anyway.
The trauma of the disaster took its toll on Yukinari and his mother alike; both are missing a number of memories, and as such, both of them are effectively having to reboot their entire lives as they are reunited with one another as practical strangers. “This was my long-awaited chance to turn over a new leaf,” notes Yukinari, feeling somewhat philosophical as he prepares for his mother’s arrival. “I had to strive for a more youthful lifestyle going forward.”
Yukinari, it transpires, had become rather good at taking care of himself over the years when he had been passed between relatives. Meanwhile, his mother Ryouko has spent seven years comatose and consequently has little to no idea about how modern life works. She “had woken up for the first time in seven years and was in the same position as the folktale hero Urashima Taro,” notes Yukinari, drawing reference to the traditional Japanese tale of a fisherman who finds 300 years have passed when he only thought he had been away for three days.
The relationship between Ryouko and Yukinari is initially a little awkward. Ryouko describes her feelings towards Yukinari as him seeming “less like a son and more like a little brother or close relative.” Indeed, since Yukinari is far more domesticated than his mother, both Ryouko and Yukinari’s acquaintances frequently comment on how the relationship between the two of them appears to be inverted from the norm: Yukinari is taking care of his mother almost as if he was the parent of the household.
As we can infer from his earlier comment about “striving for a more youthful lifestyle”, Yukinari has never really known anything different, so certainly doesn’t resent his mother for her initial dependence on him; he simply carries on doing what he’s been doing all along, only now he’s cooking for two instead of one, and he seems to quickly get over his initial fears about “whether or not it was okay for us to wash our laundry together.”
The season of spring — particularly in its popular representation in Japanese culture as being perpetually shrouded in a mist of falling sakura petals — is the metaphor at the core of all Supipara’s intertwining narrative threads, and although Ryouko’s reintegration into society is one of the more minor storylines in the grand scheme of things, it’s a clear and distinct exploration of this core theme: rebirth.
Both Ryouko and Yukinari have the chance to start over in a number of different ways. They get to re-establish their relationship with one another. They get to learn things that other people might take for granted. And they get to start building a new life together in a place that, while it is technically their hometown, is initially alien to both of them. Ryouko’s growth over the course of the narrative — represented by her becoming more comfortable and confident in behaving like a normal human being, starting small with simply leaving the house, eventually advancing to cooking and cleaning for herself and finally engaging fully with the “modern age” by buying a cellphone — is a good indicator of the passage of time in the story, but likewise it is a way of showing the rebirth process at work.
The theme of rebirth infuses itself into every aspect of Supipara’s narrative. Central to this first chapter is the relationship between Yukinari and Sakura, his second cousin. It seems that Sakura and Yukinari were once close as childhood friends and distant relatives, but Yukinari’s loss of memories leaves him having to redefine his relationship with this noisy girl from scratch.
Sakura immediately latches on to Yukinari from the very outset of the narrative, meeting him upon his initial arrival and helping him to regain his bearings. In many ways, she acts as a mirror image to Yukinari: “I bet you’ve stopped thinking about your own well-being since you’ve done nothing but move around all the time,” she comments to him one evening, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she’s been going out of her way to dote on him ever since he arrived, even with her other commitments and responsibilities. “You’ve never put any effort into doing something for yourself, so you use that leftover strength to help others.”
Of course, it’s fairly easy to argue that Sakura has an ulterior motive for her behaviour towards Yukinari, even as seemingly selfless as it is. Indeed, Sakura surprises both Yukinari and the reader with a scene surprisingly early in the narrative where she appears to confess her feelings to him during a night-time walk on the beach.
“I’ve liked you for a long time,” she says, “and I’ve never, ever forgotten you. It felt like my heart was being crushed while you were living so far away.”
It transpires in short order that Sakura is stringing Yukinari along a bit here while simultaneously getting some practice in for her job: she admits to him that she is a novice idol, currently shooting a movie in and around their hometown while juggling her studies and her self-imposed responsibilities towards Yukinari and Ryouko.
“If I could shine on TV or in a movie,” she explains, “then maybe, just maybe, Yukinari-kun will find me even though he’s so far away.” At this point, she’s already admitted that her previous “confession” was an act, but it’s clear from her actions that she wasn’t quite lying about her feelings, either.
Interestingly, Yukinari and Sakura’s relationship isn’t the only one that undergoes a process of rebirth over the course of Supipara’s story, though it is, as you might expect, the central focus for the most part, particularly towards the end.
Sakura is a year older than Yukinari, however, which means they can’t spend all their time together at school. Instead, a fair chunk of the story explores the relationship between two of Yukinari’s new classmates, a duo of childhood friends called Nishizono and Higashino, affectionately referred to as the “East-West Duo” as a pun on their Japanese family names.
Nishizono and Higashino spend a fair amount of the story at each other’s throats, culminating in Nishizono signing herself up for the school’s traditional beauty pageant in a flagrantly transparent attempt to be noticed by Higashino. The two are obviously very much in love and clearly have been so since an early age, but neither will admit it, preferring instead to express their affection through bickering, arguments and rows.
Yukinari, who ends up acting as something of a “wind of change” for many of the people he comes into contact with throughout the narrative — rather like the protagonist of Nocturnal Illusion, albeit with 100% fewer explicit sex scenes — finds himself in charge of the aforementioned beauty pageant, and thus in a position to subtly help nudge the East-West Duo into each other’s arms.
Rebirth is not always a process that comes about naturally, as the previous stalemate between Nishizono and Higashino prior to Yukinari’s arrival clearly demonstrates. And there are those out there who make it their life’s work to make the process happen, even if there is seemingly no natural way for doing so. One of those people is Alice.
Alice is a witch, and the first character we see in the story. She’s initially presented in a sequence that is almost dream-like in its peculiarity when compared to the rest of the narrative, but it’s not long before we discover that Alice is indeed real, and her actions have played a part in bringing a number of people into the situations they are presently in — particularly Yukinari and his mother.
Alice is arguably the closest thing that Supipara has to an “antagonist”, though she isn’t inherently evil or villainous. “Think about it,” she explains early in her relationship with Yukinari. “Don’t the witches from fairy tales often get the short end of the stick?” She goes on to describe how various witches from popular mythology ended up the worst off out of all the characters, regardless of whether or not their intentions were pure. “It could also be because an old witch being defeated by a young prince or princess has traditionally been a metaphor for generational change,” she muses.
Alice, Yukinari discovers, has the ability to grant wishes by forming a contract with the people she calls her “clients”. But there’s a price to pay: memories. Specifically, happy memories, which Alice describes as having a sweet taste about them. The greater the intensity of the wish Alice grants, the more significant the memories she extracts as payment, though not maliciously; neither she nor her “clients” have the ability to choose which memories they lose.
Alice’s role as quasi-antagonist for much of the narrative sees her attempting to ensnare Yukinari into forming a contract with her, but he is resistant right up until the latter part of the story, when he only relies on Alice’s “services” when he has completely run out of his own options. Alice approves of his decision, and not just because she has gained a new “client” into the bargain.
“You didn’t let relying on a witch affect your decision,” she says, praising him, “and you didn’t decide magic was horrible in and of itself. You focused on the question, ‘why do I use magic?’ To what end you use magic, and for whom… everything will be just fine as long as you choose those wisely.”
Alice, in some ways, acts as a catalyst for another rebirth in Yukinari’s life: the realisation that no, he can’t always rely on himself to make everything turn out well — sometimes he needs to rely on others.
This is a crucial realisation for Yukinari, who has been dependent on no-one but himself for as long as he can remember. Finally admitting that he needs help to Alice — and for what she perceives to be the right reasons — is a turning point in Yukinari’s character that allows all his other relationships to grow. Relationships are two-way affairs, after all — if it’s simply one person depending on another with nothing coming back in the other direction, it’s more of a business arrangement than anything else.
Considering this perspective, we can come to understand Alice a little better, including the reasons why, as a witch who is actually hundreds of years old, she has chosen to enrol herself in a school when she has absolutely no need to: to forge genuine relationships, not just business arrangements.
We also come to understand her relationship with the caustic Hotaru, who has been a frequent enough client of Alice’s for Alice to consider her a friend, and we see her relationship with Nishizono flourish as Yukinari puts the pair of them together for a joint performance in the pageant — a process that is good for both Alice and Nishizono alike. “The most important point was that [Nishizono] wasn’t relying on a witch’s magic,” notes Yukinari, satisfied with the eventual outcome. “She was seeking help from Alice Kamishiro personally.”
Interestingly, once Supipara’s first chapter is almost over and its various narrative arcs have drawn to their respective conclusions, we get a tease of what might be the most drastic rebirth of all. Whether or not it is as drastic as it appears — and what it means for everything that unfolded in this first chapter — remains to be seen, as that’s where this particular tale ends.
If you, like me, want to find out what happens next in what, after just a single chapter, has clear potential to be a truly remarkable series, then support minori and MangaGamer’s efforts to bring the remainder of the series to fruition. As it stands, meanwhile, Supipara is a delightfully heartwarming, charming and beautifully presented story that anyone with the slightest interest in slice-of-life romance tinged with a hint of the supernatural will find an absolute joy to read.
MangaGamer provided a copy of Supipara for the purposes of this article.
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