[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 June 2018 to preserve the original intention behind the series, even if it will likely never happen now.]
It’s wonderful to see that minori’s ambitious Supipara project is moving along nicely.
As you may recall from when we explored the first chapter, Supipara is intended to ultimately become a series of five visual novels, all based around the same characters. Rather than taking the crowdfunding route a lot of current visual novel developers and localisers have been taking recently, developer minori has instead been ploughing its profits from sales of the existing Supipara chapters as well as its eden* project into development of the rest of Supipara.
It’s worth noting, however, that despite the series as it stands only consisting of two out of the five proposed chapters, each chapter stands very much by itself as a complete, self-contained story, and is well worth your time if you enjoy this sort of thing.
We talked a little about how beautifully presented minori’s visual novels were last time we took a look at the series, but it bears reiterating here: Supipara is one of the most spectacularly gorgeous visual novels you’ll ever see.
The artwork features distinctive character designs and is infused with some absolutely beautiful lighting that helps to highlight the springtime setting of the story. Bright sunlight shines down on the characters, at times giving them an ethereal, otherworldly glow, and many scenes are complemented by floating sakura petals blowing in the wind, giving a wonderful sense of time and place to the experience.
The use of a true first-person perspective also helps the immersion factor significantly; this isn’t a visual novel where everyone stands facing the player-protagonist at all times. No, sometimes you’ll see the backs of people’s heads, sometimes you’ll see them off in the distance — and the addition of subtle animations such as lipsyncing to the excellent Japanese voice acting and simple blinking gives these characters a great deal of “life” to them.
Supipara’s second chapter, like its predecessor, tells the story of Yukinari Sanada, a young man who is returning to his hometown after several years of being shunted around various relatives following an accident at sea that left his mother in a coma. Those who read the first chapter of Supipara will recall that it ended in a rather… interesting way, leading us to believe that things were about to happen all over again, but a little differently. And so they do.
We’re immediately confronted with one of these differences from the very outset of chapter 2. Whereas Yukinari was by himself at the outset of the original story, here he is accompanied by a young girl who claims to be his little sister. We’re immediately led to believe that all is not quite as it seems with “Rikka”, as this girl calls herself, but after some initial misgivings which Yukinari attributes to his memories having been “all over the place” since the accident, it’s as if Rikka has always been there.
Or it is for the most part, anyway; whereas in Supipara’s first chapter, Yukinari was depicted as a diligent young man who had learned how to take care of himself — and, by extension, others — in chapter 2 we see him somewhat struggling to adjust to having a little sister who is very keen to do all the things around the house he would have normally done himself. Much like last time around, his mother, whose awakening from her coma once again provides the catalyst for the start of the story, appears to have suffered no lingering physical ill effects, but is not really in a position to act as the head of the household while she is still adjusting to her “new” life. While last time it was Yukinari who helped her re-integrate, this time Rikka is there to take on this role, leaving Yukinari with a lot more time on his hands.
It’s around here that a little knowledge of the first Supipara helps us draw a few conclusions, though none of them are confirmed explicitly. In the first Supipara, we learn almost immediately of the existence of a witch known as Alice Kamishiro, who, it transpires, is responsible for the survival of Yukinari and his mother — and apparently his sister, too, though chapter 2 is, as we’ve already seen, the first we’ve heard of her.
When we finally meet Alice this time around, it’s clear that she’s aware that all this has happened before, even if Yukinari isn’t. She chides him gently for having to explain herself again, though when he questions her about her floating broom she doesn’t bring up the fact that during the “first time” they met she rather spectacularly fell off, instead simply noting that “being able to fly through the air on a broom is a matter of dignity for a witch”. Perhaps by Chapter 5 we might see her master this tricky skill.
We get some hints as to what might be going on this time around during one of Yukinari’s subsequent visits to Alice’s “shop” Ariel deep in the cherry blossom forest, where she notes that not only did his mother go into a coma as a result of the wish she made to save herself and Yukinari, she also “paid” far too much, and thus Alice had to come up with some sort of additional benefit for her. She doesn’t actually state what this is, but already by this point it’s possible to draw a few conclusions based on what we’ve learned.
As we learn in Supipara’s first chapter, and are reminded throughout this one, witches — or particularly Alice, anyway — accept payment for their services through the memories of their clients. Alice, in chapter 1, noted that happy memories have a particularly sweet taste to them, and thus it was those she tended to target — not out of maliciousness or anything, but simply because she liked them and derived pleasure from them. She doesn’t take them indiscriminately, mind; she extracts memories according to their “value” depending on the service she is expected to provide. In other words, Yukinari’s mother falling into a coma is a result of her suddenly — and desperately, given the context — giving up far too much of the contents of her mind in one go.
We don’t get all the answers about exactly how Yukinari’s mother “paid” too much in this chapter, nor do we get a clear idea of what the additional “benefits” Alice might be providing are — at least not until the very final scenes of the whole thing — but the narrative as a whole does explore the nature of being in debt to a witch, and the true cost of having to give up your memories in exchange for something you want or feel like you “need”.
In Supipara chapter 1, we were introduced to the rather caustic Hotaru Amano, a young woman who walked that very fine line between charming tsundere tendencies and outright nastiness, particularly when it came to Yukinari. We didn’t learn a huge amount about Hotaru’s background in the first chapter, save for the fact that she was one of Alice’s other “clients”, and that, as a half-French, half-Japanese beauty, she (quite justifiably) thought a great deal of herself, particularly her appearance.
Hotaru takes an immediate interest in Yukinari, offering him a tour of the school upon his first arrival, but actually just taking him aside to an arbour in the school grounds that she appears to have something of an attachment to. Here, despite her thorny comments to him, she explains a little about who she is — and Alice shows up, uninvited, to tell Yukinari the basics of their business arrangement.
As we’ve already seen, in chapter 1, Yukinari’s life primarily revolved around taking care of his recovering mother; in chapter 2, however, now that Rikka is around, he finds himself with an abundance of spare time, much to his chagrin, and decides to seek out a part-time job to keep himself occupied. Yukinari, it’s clear by this point, particularly if you’ve been following his story since the beginning, is not someone who is ever particularly comfortable sitting and taking time for himself — he prefers helping out others, perhaps to a fault. One of the key points that Supipara’s second chapter makes is the fact that one simple difference — in this case, the simple presence of one new person — can have an enormous impact on the way someone’s life is “destined” to go.
And so it is that Yukinari finds himself in the employment of Alice the witch and, as a result, discovering the details of Hotaru’s contract with her. Hotaru, it seems, has been blessed with the gift of foresight — albeit a rather modern-day take on it, as she receives her predictions via email — and uses this ability to try and help prevent disasters around the world, usually by warning authorities of an impending threat such as a bombing or a murderer.
Hotaru’s motivations for making this wish in the first place are initially unclear, but as she grows to trust Yukinari — a fact she takes great pains to hide, as she maintains her rather acidic tongue towards him even in the later stages of their relationship — she reveals that she is attempting to live up to what she believes the expectations her deceased mother held for her were. Her mother often referred to her as “an angel” — she even made her middle name Angeline, which explains why Alice calls her “Ange”, much to her annoyance — and Hotaru has, over time, come to regard her memories of her mother in a somewhat idealised fashion. She takes her mother’s perception of her as an “angel” rather literally by attempting to act as a “guardian angel” for as many people as possible, even those she has no connection to — and of course, once you start with something like this, it’s hard to give up, both from the perspective of the amount of power it feels like you have, and taking into account the sense of responsibility such capabilities would give you.
Herein lies the main conflict at the heart of Supipara chapter 2. It’s hard to deny that Hotaru is doing a very good thing — some might even say selfless — but in doing so, she is hurting herself, since for as long as she continues to accept the foresight messages, she will continue to lose her happy memories. And, given that her memories of her mother are some of the happiest ones she holds, those will eventually disappear, too, depriving Hotaru of something very important to her; something that helps make her the person she is today beneath that prickly exterior. But she can’t just give her “power” up; it’s become part of who she is, and she feels like she now has an obligation to continue doing what she’s doing.
Early in the narrative, Hotaru doesn’t appear to be too bothered by the occasional loss of her memories, and manages to pass it off to her friends as just being rather forgetful. But when Yukinari meets Hotaru’s best friend Ritsu and there’s an immediate spark of attraction between them, things start to change.
By this point in the narrative, Yukinari has realised he has some sort of feelings for Hotaru, but isn’t quite sure how to process or express them. When Ritsu seemingly accidentally confesses to him, he finds himself extremely confused; Ritsu is, without a doubt, an extremely beautiful, charming young woman — and one with none of Hotaru’s acidity, to boot — but he still finds himself hesitating. He’s thoroughly involved with Hotaru by now and, as both an employee of the witch and someone developing clear feelings for her, feels somewhat responsible for ensuring her continued wellbeing.
Hotaru is also seemingly a little shaken by this turn of events, too, because while she doesn’t “confess” to Yukinari as such, she makes it abundantly clear to him that his options are not simply to accept or reject Ritsu’s feelings — he could also choose her. (Yukinari also thinks to himself that he could also reject her, but rather wisely chooses not to mention this fourth option.) It’s a significant moment for Hotaru; while she’s not especially disliked by her classmates and peers, it’s abundantly clear from the very first time she’s on screen that she generally keeps people at arm’s length, thinking of people in terms of whether they are “ally” or “enemy”. They, in turn, tend to treat her with a sense of awe, idolatry or even fear. For her to let Yukinari get even a little closer to her demonstrates how deep her feelings actually run — even if she’d never admit that outright.
Ultimately Yukinari’s decision goes as you might expect, and Ritsu puts on a brave face. Yukinari feels guilty over letting down this earnest young woman, but also believes that his feelings for Hotaru are true; he also clearly believes that he’s in a good position to try and help her with her situation, offering to prove to her that it’s possible to help people without making use of her foresight ability. His first step in this regard is using what he’s learned about the people around him to bring Ritsu together with someone that turns out to be very important to her — and someone she trusts enough to be truly honest with when she believes Yukinari and Hotaru are out of earshot. It’s bittersweet to see that Ritsu really was hurt to be rejected, but at the same time it provided the catalyst for a very important new relationship in her life.
Yukinari also believes that if he creates new happy memories through a romance with Hotaru, he might be able to protect her memories of her mother. But what he didn’t count on was the fact that Hotaru losing these new, fresh happy memories could prove to be just as painful as losing those longstanding precious memories of someone who is no longer with us. As Alice explains to Yukinari, it’s not a simple situation at all.
“Ange is moulding the future with her own hands,” she explains. “So, at the end of the day, she’s not actually borrowing my powers. To be blunt, you could even say it’s too modest a wish for a witch. What I accept for compensation are happy memories. In other words, I take the times one perceives as most blissful. I’m sure Ange’s memories of you are happy ones. As such, they hold a higher value — likely too high to accept as compensation for mere ‘foresight’. Vague and unreliable memories hold fairly low value. Depreciated memories are prime payment for inexpensive spells like her foresight. That is why it is highly probable that Ange’s memories of her mother will be selected for payment first.”
Alice unfortunately has little control over which memories are “selected for payment”, as she puts it, so she can’t guarantee the safety of Hotaru’s most precious memories, particularly given the presence of these new, fresh memories with Yukinari. And this, in turn, puts Yukinari in something of a quandary — he knows that at this point turning his back on Hotaru isn’t an option, so what can he do to ensure the safety of her memories?
At this point in the narrative, Supipara feels like a rather potent allegory for watching the slow decline of a loved one succumbing to illness. Yukinari feels that heartbreaking feeling of powerlessness as he sees, before his eyes, Hotaru starting to forget things that are important to him as well as to her — the moment where they decided to call each other by their first names is one they keep coming back to. This is always a significant moment in any Japanese interpersonal relationship, and Hotaru is rather put out by the fact that Yukinari started calling Ritsu by her first name — despite rejecting her romantically — before he did so with his actual girlfriend. You can understand his hesitance, however, given Hotaru’s nature — but once again, her willingness to demonstrate this level of intimacy with someone else is significant, and a clear sign she has come to trust Yukinari deeply.
Despite the obvious parallels one can draw, this isn’t an ordinary “illness”, however; since Hotaru’s condition is most certainly is brought on by extraordinary means, it also means that extraordinary means are available to “cure” it. And so it is that Yukinari returns to the witch, not as her employee, but as her client. Together, they hatch a plan to help Hotaru come to terms with why she is doing the things she is doing, the cost to herself and those around her for continuing to do these things — and the things she needs to think about now that her life has undergone something of a significant change.
Hotaru accepts this, too; in an uncharacteristic display of fragility — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say presenting a rare sighting of what she’s really like beneath that thorny exterior — she explains her fears to Yukinari.
“I don’t want to forget my memories with you,” she explains. “I don’t want to hurt you by forgetting. You’re the one who made me feel that way. Mama only exists in my memories now. If all those memories disappear, I feel as though the proof she ever existed will vanish with them.
“I felt fulfilled for the first time since Mama passed away,” she continues, explaining her reasons for taking the foresight ability in the first place. “I felt like there was something that even I could do. That’s why seeing the future and saving others has become like a part of who I am. If I stop doing that… I might not be myself any more.”
But, much as it might feel like the springtime of one’s youth will never end while you’re in the middle of enjoying it… there comes a time when you have to move on. And that, ultimately, is what Hotaru needs to come to accept — along with the fact that Yukinari is there beside her to help her take those bold first steps into a scary, unknown future. While her mother will always be precious to her, she’s just a memory now; Yukinari is here, now, and has made the choice to stand by and support the woman he loves. Reaching that stage where you realise that it’s okay to depend on someone else is an important part of any relationship — particularly for people who have, historically, been as “self-sufficient” as both Hotaru and Yukinari. They make a good pair, in other words, and as they prepare for their new life together it’s clear they’ve both learned something from one another.
“Amidst the spring breeze, with a spring in our steps, we began to walk toward the future,” read the novel’s closing lines. Another job well done, it seems… but who, really, was the one who actually did all the work? That’s a question we’ll doubtless be pondering further over the course of Supipara’s subsequent installments. And I certainly look forward to getting a few answers!
More about Supipara
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