From the Archives: Twinkle, Twinkle

Back when I first started reading it, it became clear that the visual novel Kira Kira was something special.

It raised a bunch of interesting things to talk about, even before I’d seen the whole story. So with that in mind, here are my reflections from my early hours with Kira Kira, with more to follow in the coming weeks regarding the specific narrative routes through the game.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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Kira Kira is a work by Overdrive that was brought to Western audiences by Mangagamer. It’s available in both “all-ages” and “adults-only” incarnations; the former version was released for iOS thanks to M-trix but unfortunately no longer appears to be available. The game stands by itself, but is also succeeded by a semi-sequel known as Kira Kira Curtain Call, which you can buy in a bundle with the adults-only version, and a spiritual successor known as DearDrops, in which some of the characters from Kira Kira put in an appearance. Since this article was originally written, there has also been a full crossover title released.

Kira Kira is a “slice of life” visual novel that centers around the efforts of a Japanese Christian school’s “second literature club” to put together a band in time for the last cultural festival of their high school career. If this all sounds a little like the setup to the popular anime series K-On! or Love Live! you’d be partly right, though the focus in Kira Kira is much more on the characters and their backgrounds rather than on hilarious moe hijinks or sweeping, dramatic “idol” performances. It also has several male characters, too, which is considerably more than both K-On! and Love Live! offer.

There are several things that have struck me very strongly about Kira Kira since I’ve started playing it. The first of these is how well presented it is. Rich artwork with lovely smooth lines and attractive, distinctive characters combines with high-quality music (performed on real instruments rather than synthesized), decent (Japanese-language) voice acting and some excellent stereo ambient sound to produce a very “full”-feeling experience. It’s a pleasure to immerse oneself in, and helps distract from the fact that there are vast tracts of the experience where you’re just reading page after page of rather wordy prose.

And I mean pageKira Kira is an “NVL”-style visual novel in that its narration and dialogue fills the whole screen rather than using a small text box as in the arguably more common “ADV” type.

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The reason for this style of presentation is that the main character Shikanosuke likes to talk, you see, and spends a lot of time directly addressing the player and reminiscing about things which happened in the past. It’s generally pretty clear when he’s lapsing into nostalgia — the visuals tend to take on a sepia-tinted aesthetic — but he often does it when you’re waiting to see what happens next.

In some ways, this is a nice way of building anticipation for the events which you are hoping to see happen next — not to mention a good means of exploring the characters’ rather interesting backgrounds — but in others you sometimes just wish he’d get on with it rather than stroking his chin and mumbling about this time he remembers such-and-such happening. Such is the way of the visual novel protagonist, though.

The second — and perhaps more interesting — thing that’s struck me about Kira Kira is that it’s something of an inversion of a concept we’ve talked about before: the way in which visual novels can be used to help people explore cultures other than their own. When we last discussed the way in which this often works from a Western perspective, it was largely to do with how the medium is an excellent means of immersing yourself in Japanese culture most commonly, but also, in games with fantastic settings such as Aselia the Eternal, completely fictional and well-realized environments.

Kira Kira, meanwhile, allows us to understand something a little different: the way in which Japanese people see stereotypically “Western” concepts such as punk and rock music, and even to a lesser extent attitudes towards the Christian religion. In other words, we’re looking through a Western lens to see Eastern interpretations of Western concepts. A dream within a dream, and all that jazz.

One particularly striking (and hilarious) sequence relatively early in the game revolves around the characters learning about what their mentor refers to as the “punk attitude.” He encourages them to take on an “I don’t care what people think” attitude and start peppering their utterances with as many (English) obscenities as possible.

What follows is a brilliant series of events where they all start using the word “fuck” as much as possible, even in contexts where it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. What makes it even more hilarious is hearing the impeccable Japanese of the voice actors lapsing into clumsy English swearing, which somehow makes it all the more amusing when they just end a sentence by bellowing “Fuck!” or “Son of a bitch!” for no apparent reason.

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In the West, we have very little issue with people swearing this much — though it’s rare to see characters as “cute” as the cast of Kira Kira coming out with such obscenities — but the fact that these sort of scenes are coming from a culture in which respect and deference to others is such an important part of interpersonal relationships is very interesting. It’s also a stark reminder that despite the fact a lot of visual novels feature explicit sexual scenes or violence, the way the characters relate to one another under more everyday circumstances tends, for the most part, anyway, to be reflective of the rather polite norms of Japanese society.

Besides the swearing, though — which thankfully isn’t overplayed and stops after the aforementioned scene — you get the impression that the writers behind Kira Kira have a strong interest in and love for their subject matter. The presence of two (male) secondary characters who regularly flaunt their knowledge of rock and punk music allows for the game to both include recognizable real-life references for fans of these types of music, and also to act as a means of educating those who are less familiar.

In the latter case, the player will find themselves sympathising with the protagonist, who initially has very little interest in learning about music, but subsequently finds himself having fun along with the rest of the cast.

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So far Kira Kira has done a good job of making me interested in its relatively small cast of characters and making me want to see them succeed. The obvious affection that the writers have for punk and rock music shines through in the writing and the interactions between the characters, but more than anything it’s simply an enjoyable slice-of-life tale with a bunch of characters that are fun to hang around with. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes — and rest assured there’ll be a more detailed report coming in this column when I’ve actually made it through the entire experience.

In the meantime, if you want to check out Kira Kira for yourself, you can find the adults-only bundle with the Curtain Call follow-up here, and the all-ages version here.


This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

MangaGamer links on this page are affiliate links; if you make a purchase via one of these, MoeGamer will receive a small commission, for which I thank you in advance!

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