The concept of the “fandisc” is a curiously Japanese phenomenon that allows fans to engage with their favourite works in alternative ways, and for creators to celebrate the success of a work without making a full-blown sequel.
The closest equivalent we probably have here in the West is downloadable story DLC or expansion packs for popular video games, but those aren’t quite the same thing as a fandisc; while exceptions exist, they tend to be about “adding value” to an existing product, whereas your typical fandisc stands by itself as its own discrete title in the context of a larger series.
Such is the case with Nekopara vol. 0, an all-ages fandisc for the series that launched in August of 2015, about eight months after the surprise success of vol. 1.
Nekopara vol. 0 is a fandisc in the truest sense, in that although it stands quite comfortably by itself as a self-contained piece of entertainment, it’s best experienced with an understanding of the source material and an idea of the context in which it exists.
As a work, it’s much shorter than the mainline installments of the Nekopara series, clocking in at about an hour of reading compared to the main games’ 6 or so hours each, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do in that time without feeling like it is either stretching things out unnecessarily or rushing through proceedings to produce a cheap cash-in.
The basic concept of Nekopara vol. 0 is that rather than unfolding from the perspective of series protagonist Kashou as the main installments do, we instead see things from a third-person non-participant omniscient perspective as we observe the female characters of the series (including the catgirls Chocola, Vanilla, Azuki, Maple, Cinnamon and Coconut as well as the protagonist’s decidedly brocon sister Shigure) go about a typical day in their lives.
Kashou himself is barely in vol. 0 at all; he shows up towards the end of the day, but he has no dialogue and the characters don’t interact directly with him at all on screen. As the subtitle suggests, vol. 0 unfolds shortly before Kashou secretly moves out from his family home so he is, at this point, attempting to hatch his master plan to open his patisserie, and Chocola and Vanilla are still living with — and “owned” by — Shigure.
Unfolding through a series of vignettes that each represent an hour of time in the Minaduki household’s day, Nekopara vol. 0 explores the relationships between the different characters as well as giving us a better idea of how they feel about Kashou. The first “episode”, for example, depicting Chocola and Vanilla attempting to wake up Kashou but finding his bed already empty, sees the two catgirls and Shigure invading the now-unoccupied bed to spend a bit of time enjoying the scent of the one they love.
Rather than focusing almost exclusively on Chocola and Vanilla as vol. 1 does, however, vol. 0 gives each of the Minaduki catgirls a bit of time in the spotlight, usually paired up with at least one of their peers and/or Shigure. Throughout the various vignettes that make up the novel’s complete run time, we again bear witness to the Nekoworks’ team’s excellent knowledge of how cats behave towards one another. This is particularly apparent in the scenes involving the fiery tempers of Azuki and Maple, both of whom are prone to starting fights with one another for no other reason than they secretly rather enjoy it. Just like real cats.
We also get to learn a little more about Coconut, who is the most physically imposing of the catgirls and, with her long blonde hair, tanned skin, large breasts and distinctively Western style of dress, seemingly an embodiment of the gyaru trope. With Coconut in particular, however, we run into Nekopara’s talent for subverting our expectations with regard to these characters; far from being the overbearing, loving “onee-san” type character her appearance would appear to suggest, Coconut is both childish and charmingly insecure, self-conscious about her size compared to the other catgirls (which she attributes to her being based on the typically rather large Maine Coon breed of cat) and embarrassed about her natural feline tendencies to chase butterflies or play with pieces of string.
A scene featuring all the catgirls partway through the narrative allows us to see how they all interact with one another, and the contrasts between their personalities. The scene itself is utterly absurd, consisting of them discovering an automatic air freshener which has recently been installed in the Minaduki house’s toilet before quickly descending into farce, but provides a good opportunity for the whole cast to assemble as well as depicting cats’ natural curiosity when confronted with things that they don’t understand.
The conclusion to the scene also gives us some insight into why Chocola and Vanilla are routinely praised as being “well-raised” throughout vol. 1 — we see Shigure, probably the least physically intimidating member of the cast, nonetheless managing to defuse the situation with nothing more than a smile and an expression of slight disappointment in their behaviour. In many regards, as we see in both vol. 0 and vol. 1, Shigure is more of a parent to both the catgirls and Kashou (leaving aside her obvious attraction to him in the latter case) than the seemingly perpetually absent adults of the household.
The other catgirls’ time in the spotlight in vol. 0 doesn’t mean Chocola and Vanilla get neglected, however. On the contrary, we get further reinforcement of the deep bond between them — and the noticeable gulf in common sense and intelligence between the pair of them. Chocola remains charmingly naive throughout vol. 0 — with occasional inappropriate references based on things she’s heard on TV — while Vanilla retains her dry wit, scathing putdowns and desire to never see Chocola “corrupted” — indeed, she outright states on several occasions over the course of vol. 0 that she “never wants [Chocola] to change”.
vol. 0 concludes with a slight sense of melancholy, as Shigure, Chocola and Vanilla in particular reflect on how they haven’t had much opportunity to spend time with Kashou recently. They know that he’s preparing for his new life — though during the period depicted in vol. 0 it’s clear they’re perhaps not prepared for how drastic his next step will be — and come to the conclusion that they need to accept and understand him, because he’s always been good to them.
Ultimately Nekopara vol. 0 fulfils its purpose admirably: it gives us a deeper insight into these characters, allows us to see them in a context other than the “main plot” of the series, and provides additional material we can use to understand what the characters get up to in the future installments. It’s a solid example of a fandisc, and while it doesn’t exactly advance the overall narrative a great deal — not that a sweeping, epic narrative was ever the primary reason for Nekopara’s existence — it’s a great addition to this utterly charming, gently humorous series that wants nothing more than to let you sit back and enjoy the appealing fantasy of everyday life surrounded by pretty catgirls.
Thanks to Eve at Denpasoft for the review copies.
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