Tag Archives: Sekai Project

Nekopara: A Day in the Life of Some Cats

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.

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Nekopara: The Story Begins

And so we come to Nekopara vol. 1, the first of this series of popular eroge, and the beginning of a worldwide phenomenon.

Except that’s not quite accurate; while Nekopara vol. 1 was indeed the first place that many fans came across this series — particularly in the West — it’s far from the beginning of the story as a whole.

To see the origins of Nekopara and everyone’s favourite catgirls, we need to look back much further to some non-game works by series artist Sayori, and how those designs evolved into the colourful, cutesy funtime we know as Nekopara today.

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Nekopara: Introduction

Nekopara (or “Cat’s Paradise”, if you prefer) is a series of catgirl-centric visual novels that has become a genuine worldwide phenomenon since its launch in 2014.

Since the release of first game Nekopara vol. 1, developer Nekoworks has brought out roughly one new installment a year, beginning with the short fandisc prequel Nekopara vol. 0 in 2015 before continuing with vol. 2 and vol. 3 in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Unusually for a visual novel, the whole Nekopara series has seen simultaneous worldwide releases since its inception rather than releasing in its native territories first then localising later. This has helped fans across the world enjoy its lightweight slice-of-life comedy together, and has almost certainly been a huge contributing factor in making it so popular in both the East and West.

We’re going to start our look at the series with a broad exploration of where the catgirl phenomenon as a whole came from, and how Nekopara fits in with all that.

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Ne no Kami: Inspiration and Intent

With visual novels having a lot more in common with conventional, non-interactive fiction than many other types of video games, it’s eminently possible for individual authors to give their work a clear sense of artistic identity and authorial voice.

Such is the case with Ne no Kami and Sacrament of the Zodiac, the work of Japanese circle Kuro Irodoru Yomiji and writer Fenrir Vier, who have made a great deal of effort to ensure that their work — and the world they’ve created — are internally consistent and true to their original visions.

In other words, unlike larger-scale projects developed by huge organisations, many members of whom have contrasting and conflicting priorities in development, the small team behind Ne no Kami was able to focus on giving their work a clear sense of artistic integrity rather than thinking of it as a “product” first, a creative work second.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick Fenrir Vier’s brain about the creative process behind the development of such a piece of work.

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Ne no Kami: The Extended Universe – Sacrament of the Zodiac

Due to the fact that they are often rather substantial, ambitious undertakings, in many cases with multiple narrative routes, visual novels are often treated as “standalone” affairs. As such, it’s relatively rare to come across multiple works set in the same narrative universe.

There are exceptions, of course: the Grisaia series, which we covered last month, presently comprises three very long visual novels, with the series set to continue further later this year with Phantom Trigger, which unfolds after the conclusion of Yuuji’s adventure. And this month’s Cover Game, Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto, also falls into this category, with protagonist Len’s story unfolding across two games, the second of which is yet to be released.

Ne no Kami doesn’t stop there, though. At the very outset of the game, we’re introduced to two young women named Hitsuji and Arissa, the former of whom is a friend of protagonist Len. We don’t see them again for the duration of Ne no Kami’s narrative because they’re not directly relevant to Len’s story, though there are a couple of occasions where Len comes across things in her new life that remind her of her friend.

It is possible for us to find out more about these two mysterious young women, though, through the visual novel Sacrament of the Zodiac: The Confused Sheep and the Tamed Wolf, a title that unfolds in the same narrative universe as Ne no Kami, but which has a very different focus indeed.

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Ne no Kami: Love, Innocence and Ayakashi

The narrative of Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto has a number of different threads, all of which intertwine with one another to create a rather compelling whole.

We have the very personal story of the protagonist Len, as she attempts to come to terms with a new world that is vastly different from everything she has ever known. We have the story of humanity’s hidden struggle to protect the world against horrors that most people will never know about. And we have the story of lifelong feelings of love that, although based on a misunderstanding, have grown into something genuine that transcends traditional societal norms.

There’s a lot going on, in other words — even though the work as a whole is a single-route kinetic novel with no choices for the player to make. In many ways, though, that’s an entirely appropriate structure for the story Ne no Kami is trying to tell: more than anything else, it’s a tale of being swept along by fate, seemingly unable to deviate from the plan the Universe has for you despite your best efforts to find alternative solutions.

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Ne no Kami: Exploring Shinto Myths and Legends

One of the best things about the visual novel medium is its ability — and willingness — to tackle things that are outside the normal remit of “video games” as a whole.

In the case of Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto, a visual novel from small, independent Japanese circle Kuro Irodoru Yomiji, there’s a certain degree of “crossover” in terms of subject matter. We have the sort of “plucky young heroes tackle otherworldly horrors” angle that we’re most used to seeing from more conventional video games, but at the same time we also have some sensitively handled exploration of romantic relationships, disparate cultures colliding and young people trying to find their place in the world.

Of particular note is Ne no Kami’s exploration of traditional Japanese and Shinto mythology, an angle which it takes great pain to point out is only its author’s interpretation rather than “fact”. But this doesn’t make it in any way “invalid”, of course; mythology, by its very nature, doesn’t have any “factual” basis in the first place, and has only survived so long by being reinterpreted and passed on across thousands of years.

Before we investigate the game’s story in detail, then, it behooves us to have a general understanding of the mythology on which it is based.

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