SonoHana is one of the better known yuri titles in the eroge world, and the fan translation from back in February has introduced me to the first game in the long-running series. The sole franchise of the company Fuguriya, SonoHana‘s most distinctive trait is its idealized portrayal of love and sex in the male-targeted yuri tradition. Some would call it a smut, others would call it a pure love story that’s impure in all the right places. Both are somewhat right. What I do know is that the game isn’t a bad way to spend $20 and ~5 hours.
First off, it’s worth mentioning that this game – this entire series, in fact – is illustrated by Peko, the wonderful artist who brought us the original designs in the recent Mayoi Neko Overrun anime. Despite the fact that Fuguriya is listed as a doujin circle and their games are sold on DLsite, both the artist and the writer are listed as having contributed to commercial games prior to the release of the first SonoHana installment. Shinichirou Sano is the scenarist, as his most notable title outside of the series appears to be Tapestry by light (incidentally, this game was also written by Sano and drawn by Peko, and it looks decent on the surface). Unfortunately, I haven’t played his other games so I can’t comment on his writing style.
Anyway, despite its gorgeous art, SonoHana is definitely not a high-budget commercial game. You can’t tell by looking at the screenshots, but the paper dolls are somewhat lacking in expressions, and some scenes give off that amateur feel where the text hardly matches the visuals. The music is also extremely forgettable though I have no idea who composed it. Of course, what the game lacks in those regards it more than makes up for visually. Peko’s style is extremely appealing to me as a bishoujo fan, and there’s nothing lacking about the sprites or the event CGs. The entire game is, for lack of a better word, delicious. I’d like to comment on the boxart, but really, it speaks for itself.
One thing that surprised me was the voice acting. SonoHana feels like anything but doujin when you hear the voice actresses alongside the onscreen visuals. I believe only one of the two seiyuu have worked on a wide variety of eroge, but there’s no doubt that the performance feels professional. The dialogue is also quite well written, which leads to perhaps the most important aspect of the game: the characters.
It should be obvious by now that SonoHana has no plot – two girls meet, yada yada yada, they end up intertwined in each other’s slender white arms – but the characters are amusing. Nanami, the protagonist, is the energetic yet easily flustered type who falls for her onee-sama at first sight, yet she has a head on her shoulders and usually plays the tsukkomi role. Yuuna is somewhat like the air-headed ara-ara~ older sister type, and she treats Nanami almost like how Shizuma treats Nagisa in Strawberry Panic (in other words, like a stuffed animal). Luckily Nanami is usually occasionally able to keep her cool, and the interaction between them ranges from cute to hilarious. The dynamic between them is a ton of fun, and it makes for a great accompaniment to a story that isn’t serious or particularly romantic to begin with.
To sum it up in a sentence, SonoHana‘s greatest success is its ability to have fun and do what it does best. It’s definitely a nukige; the majority of the CGs aren’t safe enough for me to post here, and the ratio of ero scenes to normal dialogue is around 1:1. It’s very, very difficult to not joke about the literal translation of the title – “Kissing the Petals”, if you know what I mean. Still, the game proves to be more than just hollow gratification. Without bogging themselves down with forced drama, the characters are able to act freely and get a laugh or a d’aww out of the reader while showcasing Peko’s excellent designs and living out the yuri fantasy in the most romanticized way possible. It takes a lot for a nukige to feel pure.
In conclusion, give the game a shot if you’re into yuri and don’t demand a plot out of every eroge you play. It’s probably the only well-known yuri visual novel available in English at the moment, and it certainly lives up to its name.