Honesty is the best policy, as the idiom has it. And the further you delve into the Nekopara series, the more it becomes clear that this enjoyable series of visual novels is designed with this philosophy at their core.
Several of the Minaduki catgirls describe themselves as inherently honest (albeit whimsical) creatures, preferring to rely on their natural instincts and desires rather than indulging the distinctly human tendency to say one thing and mean another… though it comes more easily to some than others.
The rather deadpan Vanilla, who is explored in detail in the first volume of the series in particular, finds it very easy both to be honest — to an abrasive fault at times — and to encourage her peers to be honest with themselves.
Others such as Azuki and Coconut have a tougher time, however, and it’s this latter pair’s struggles with this concept that forms the backdrop to Nekopara vol. 2.
Coconut, as we learn over the course of vol. 1 and fandisc prequel vol. 0, is the youngest of the catgirls besides Chocola and Vanilla, but looks older than all of them thanks to her being based on the distinctively large Maine Coon breed of cat. This leads to some entertaining scenes where she subverts expectations by physically looking like the stereotypical “sexy onee-san” type but behaving more like a kitten — even more childishly than the nine month old Chocola and Vanilla in some instances.
Coconut, it transpires early in vol. 2 shortly after she and the rest of the Minaduki catgirls have started working alongside protagonist Kashou, Chocola and Vanilla in Kashou’s patisserie, is not entirely satisfied with her lot in life.
She’s not specific about her dissatisfaction to begin with, simply whining that “nothing ever goes right for her” and getting into frequent fights with the oldest “sister” of the Minaduki catgirls, Azuki.
It’s clear that something is bothering her, though, particularly as she seems to be making a clear effort from the very outset of the story to act like someone she isn’t. She often self-corrects her use of what she perceives to be common vernacular or dialect and makes an effort to be a lot more polite than apparently comes naturally to her. Her other “sisters” Cinnamon and Maple also wax nostalgic about when Coconut used to call Azuki “onee-chan”, whereas now she typically just uses her first name, especially when the pair get into one of their frequent arguments.
Kashou picks up on Coconut’s depression and growing inferiority complex, and decides to try and help her with her self-esteem issues firstly by encouraging her not to think of herself as “worthless” simply because she hasn’t found her true talents as yet.
Coconut’s issues stem from a deep-seated desire to not be considered a “little girl” any more, despite her being the youngest of the Minadukis aside from Vanilla and Chocola. “I have two little sisters now, Chocola and Vanilla,” she explains to Kashou, “and I got my bell with full marks. I can’t always let Azuki look after me. I’ve grown taller than all of my big sisters, too. I just felt like I had to grow up.”
Coconut’s admission mirrors that of a youngster who, accustomed to being an only child in a family unit, is suddenly faced with the prospect of a new sibling, and of no longer being the “baby” of the family. Different children tend to handle this in different ways; some act out in an attempt to convince their parents to continue paying attention to them, while others — as Coconut does — attempt to grow up well before their time in order to prove that they are a responsible, reliable member of the family.
“It is weird,” says Kashou in response to Coconut’s enquiry as to whether he thinks the reasons for her changed behaviour are odd. “You’re forcing yourself to be someone you’re not. That’s why you’re having such a hard time. It’s written all across your face.”
Coconut explains to Kashou that she believes she needs to put up this facade and strive to be more than she actually is, because she feels like she is the only member of the family who has nothing unique to offer.
“You don’t need to do everything perfectly,” says Kashou. “It’s okay if you’re still just a kitten. What would you do if you saw that a member of your family was in pain and forcing themselves to be something they’re not?”
It transpires that the reason Coconut has been struggling so much with seemingly basic tasks is because of the mental pressure she has been putting on herself by not being honest about who she really is; once Kashou encourages her to relax and be herself, she finds herself a lot more able to function normally. It’s not an immediate process, but she learns to be a lot happier with who she is rather than depressed about who she isn’t.
Azuki, meanwhile, has her own issues with honesty. Depicted as the most responsible, reliable member of the Minaduki sisters — understandable, since she is the oldest, despite her diminutive Munchkin breed making her look a lot younger than even Chocola and Vanilla — it becomes clear over time that Azuki is quite highly strung. She certainly doesn’t resent her position as the oldest of the group with all the implied responsibilities that entails, but it’s also very apparent that she doesn’t get a lot of “time off” from that role, and as such has great difficulty in letting her hair down and truly being herself.
Her frequent, often violent spats with Coconut act as one means of her blowing off steam, but she recognises there is a deeper issue following a late-night incident in which Coconut catches the tail end of a conversation between Azuki and Kashou out of context, mistakenly believing the pair to have been badmouthing her behind her back. Filled with frustration at being unable to get through to her “sister”, Azuki slaps Coconut in an uncharacteristic display of genuine anger rather than the more typical feline showboating she shows in their usual fights.
Azuki’s problem here stems from her difficulty in truly expressing herself. Like Coconut, she puts up a facade to the world, though unlike her “sister” this is less about pretending to be someone she isn’t and more about protecting her somewhat more delicate true self from potential sources of pain. Coconut describes her as “tsundere” at one point, though Azuki is keen to distance herself from “that overdone archetype”, insisting that she is “more complicated” than that, and indeed her personality is not quite as straightforward as your common or garden “hot and cold” tsundere.
It’s Vanilla who finally gets Azuki to open up and reveal her true self, however. After catching an Azuki who passed out after masturbating in Kashou’s bed — an incident in turn caused by Azuki witnessing an earlier sexual encounter between Kashou, Chocola and Coconut — Vanilla corners the pair and won’t let Azuki depart until she’s admitted how she really feels.
“I really don’t have that much confidence in myself, you know,” Azuki admits. “I don’t really know how to take compliments or criticism, and I don’t really like having my younger sister teach me something.”
“An honest Azuki is a cute Azuki,” says Vanilla as she pushes the situation into lewd territory, partly out of her own desires and partly from a sincere wish to help her suffering sister. “You’re normally level-headed, but you’re so crazed with desire now.”
Vanilla further drives the lesson home by telling Kashou to stop — and ceasing her own contributions to the situation — every time it seems Azuki is about to reach an orgasm. In doing so, she further encourages Azuki to let her guard down and be honest, forcing her to literally beg Vanilla and Kashou to let her reach the climax she is continually denied.
This brings up another interesting aspect to the concept of “honesty” being core to Nekopara as a whole, and to vol. 2 in particular — and it’s something that only becomes particularly apparent if you’re playing the 18+ versions.
Nekopara’s sex scenes are, not to put too fine a point on it, messy. They typically conclude with everyone involved absolutely drenched with sweat at the very least, and in various other cases, covered in saliva or other bodily fluids. Indeed, when Azuki is finally allowed to reach her explosive orgasm in the scene discussed above, she loses complete control of her body and wets the bed; in other erotic scenes, everyone involved is typically too caught up in the moment to bother cleaning up Kashou’s previous ejaculations before moving on to different “activities”.
This depiction of sex is certainly a far cry from the soft-focus, heavily romanticised view of sex that is stereotypically part of many relationship-centric visual novels. Nekopara’s depiction of sex might even initially seem to be a little jarring, particularly as it seems at odds with the distinctly “cute” aesthetic that the rest of the series puts across, but when taken in context of that core concept of “honesty”, it makes a lot more sense.
Sex is messy. It absolutely can be full of romance and passion and love and all that good stuff too, of course, but the way it often gets shown to us in the media tends to be an idealised depiction. The reality of a sexual encounter is often rather less “perfect” than movies and TV shows in particular might suggest, and consequently Nekopara’s depiction of it as messy, dirty and even a bit gross at times is, in fact, perfectly in keeping with the concept of “honesty”. “This is how it is,” the game seems to say. “If you’re going to lust after these girls, this is what you’ll have to be prepared to deal with.”
To develop an idea we discussed back in our exploration of vol. 1, this aspect of Nekopara’s presentation can also be read in a more abstract, non-literal manner as a reflection of the reality of pet ownership. Owning cats — or indeed any sort of pet that is aware of your presence and enjoys your company — is delightfully rewarding, especially when they shower you with as much love and affection as you give them, but the grim reality is that taking care of a pet is also fraught with less glamorous aspects such as cleaning up sick, piss and poo, dealing with the revoltingness that is wet food and, in the case of cats in particular, running the risk of finding a nice dead “present” for you on your doormat.
The presentation of Nekopara’s sex scenes can thus be interpreted as an acknowledgement that even the most idyllic-seeming life has its disgusting aspects to deal with, and that for most people, if the net result is that you end up happy, you can probably learn to live with a few bodily fluids along the way. For indeed, as we’ve already seen Kashou say to Coconut, “you don’t need to do everything perfectly”.
Nekopara as a whole is a series designed to encourage people to be honest with themselves. From the moment you boot it up and are presented with its cheerful music and colourful visuals, you should be under no illusions as to what sort of experience you’re letting yourself in for.
There’s no sense in being ashamed about wanting to spend virtual time with cute catgirls if that’s something that makes you happy, and indeed with the enduring popularity of the series — over a million copies sold worldwide as of April 2017, and over a million dollars raised in crowdfunding for an official OVA adaptation of vol. 1 — it seems that this is a message that has well and truly got through to the audience.
Here’s hoping we get to spend many more years in the company of the Minaduki catgirls.
Thanks to Eve at Denpasoft for the review copies.
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