Many installments in the Atelier series involve getting to know the shopkeepers of the realm as friends and confidants, not just people who sell you stuff.
After all, a good alchemist always needs plenty of ingredients — and if you have a good buddy happy to slip you a few freebies now and again, then everyone’s a winner, right? Particularly if your alchemy is making life better for the kingdom as a whole.
Such is the relationship between the titular princess from Atelier Meruru and her good friend Hanna, the latter of whom lives a fruitful life alternating between picking any old crap up off the side of the road, and selling said crap to any passing mug.
As we join the story in Atelier Meruru, there’s already a solid relationship in place between Hanna and Meruru. Hanna is a couple of years older than Meruru, but the difference in social status between them precludes any sort of senpai-kouhai shenanigans between the pair of them. Rather, they both appear to believe that the combination of their age difference and their difference in social status balances out somewhat, as thus they tend to address one another as equals.
Well, it might not be something they’ve thought about that hard, to be perfectly honest; Meruru has never been one to particularly flaunt her royalty at anyone — outside of the luxurious clothes she is perpetually wearing — and Hanna immediately puts across the impression of being the sort of person that it’s just fun to hang out with; the sort of person who would immediately welcome any newcomer to her social group and make them feel included.
It’s this aspect of Hanna’s personality that partly explains her success. Although all she really does is sell things she’s gathered out in the wild on the streets, she never particularly appears to be struggling or in any need of support, and seems perfectly comfortable living the life she has chosen for herself. Indeed, she seems particularly enthusiastic any time she gets the opportunity to head out into the big wide world and gather ingredients — and as the game progresses, she starts to realise that Meruru is fast becoming as experienced an adventurer as she is.
This side of Hanna is further emphasised in the later ports of Atelier Meruru, which include her character DLC as part of the standard package. With this DLC, Meruru can add Hanna to her party and the pair can go on adventures together, which provides some nice opportunities for the pair to get to know one another a bit better; Hanna, like most of the other major characters in the game, has her own ending if you get her relationship value high enough and see all of her events along the way.
And some of those events are… well. Let’s just say that Atelier Meruru is absolutely no exception to the rule that states each of the Arland games must have at least one scene where one of the female characters gets drunk and A Bit Gay towards the protagonist, with a few questions raised over consensual touching along the way. But, as we’ve said previously, Meruru is a modern sort of girl, so she manages to mostly take it all in her stride — better than Totori ever did, anyway. And we all know that Meruru only has eyes for Keina.
Hanna’s character design is interesting in that she’s a strong contrast to the hyper-feminine appearances of the Arland protagonists in particular; there’s no denying that she’s an attractive young woman, but you probably wouldn’t argue that she’s “beautiful” in the same way that Meruru or Totori in particular are.
A lot of this comes down to a general sense of style; Hanna’s outfit is clearly built for practicality rather than being especially aesthetically pleasing or fashionable, and her hair is perpetually scruffy atop her head, with the long part at the back always tied in a tight plait. Aside from the frills around the bustline and hem of her short dress (under which she wears a distinctly utilitarian-looking pair of shorts) she has a rather “boyish” appearance about her, and indeed her rather tomboyish attitude towards life fits well with this look.
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t occasionally let that feminine side out a bit, however; indeed, when Astrid’s homunculi — affectionately referred to as “The Homs”, after the nickname Rorona once gave them — show up in Arls, Hanna is momentarily beside herself with adoration for these mysterious, cute, doll-like beings. And who can blame her? The two Homs’ line in pithy wit combined with completely deadpan expressions is hard to resist for the best of us, let alone someone who clearly enjoys the cuter side of life, but who also spends much of her life far away from anything that would fulfil that particular need.
Hanna is one of those characters that it’s pleasant to just have around. Her normality in a world of extraordinary people — remember, Arls plays host not only to Meruru, but also Pamela — makes her stand out, interestingly, and she’s a good character to spend some time in the company of if you want to feel a little more “grounded” in reality than you might feel under certain other circumstances. As long as you don’t let her get a few drinks inside her, of course, but by this point in the Arland series you probably know that this is a bad idea with almost anyone in the core cast.
More than anything, though, she follows that proud tradition of the Atelier series treating shopkeepers as people rather than just game mechanics; places to buy stuff. Sure, she’s a great source of Tar Fruit and other ingredients that are consistently useful to Meruru’s alchemy efforts — but she’s a nice person too. And as anyone who has ever worked retail will tell you, it’s nice when your customers remember that bit as well as your low, low prices.
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