Nakoruru: The Gift She Gave Me (Dreamcast): A VIsual Novel Review by Mid-Tier Guard
To Derek Pascarella, Marshal Wong, Duralumin, Lewis Cox, Piggy, Nico, Danthrax4, Lacquerware, EsperKnight, SnowyAria, VincentNL, cyo, and HaydenKow,
Thank you for the work you put in to translating this treasure of a visual novel, truly a classic.
If you haven’t already, I implore anyone reading this to read through the link in this stream’s description and to thank the translation team directly here: https://www.thedreamcastjunkyard.co.uk/2023/06/nakoruru-gift-she-gave-me-samurai.html
I also wish to thank Ceruleon, for bringing this translation project to Elle-C X’s attention, and to Elle himself for streaming the game. You’re both sukebes.
A couple things:
1. I will be critical of several aspects of this visual novel. My complaints lie with the story/game itself, and not with the translation team. I have nothing but admiration for them and I do not intend to diminish their work in any way.
2. I have never played the Samurai Showdown games, and I would describe my knowledge of the lore and characters to be rudimentary at best.
3. Spoilers from here on out.
When it comes to this visual novel’s artistic aspects, it is all, in a word, beautiful. The music, voice acting, and art is all wonderful. The female characters remind me of the art style used by CLAMP. In fact, someone previously pointed out that Nakoruru resembled Daidouji Tomoyo. Elle mentioned early on in this part of the stream that the characters seem disproportionate to each other. I’m not quite sure what he meant, since men and women looking different, especially with Manari having larger eyes than Yantamu, is pretty standard for anime characters.
The CGs in this visual novel are also excellent. I noticed that a few events didn’t actually receive traditional CGs, rather they had the characters models on top of a background, usually with slightly different colors to fit the lighting and with an appropriate pose (facing away, in their angry pose, etc.). I’ve seen a handful of vns do the same thing, and I actually do appreciate it when they show creativity in using the character models outside of having them stand opposite each other behind the text box. Examples of what I’m talking about would be Nakoruru standing in the audience during Manari’s song and Yantami confronting Nakoruru before she leaves the village during sunset. The monster designs towards the end of the game were also very eye-catching. I was half expecting them to just look like evil versions of Konru or the fog spirit, but they look like genuine abominations. Very nicely detailed CGs too.
I only really have two complaints relating to the art:
1. Yantamu’s “serious” pose looks way too stern. He straight up looks angry and there are times where it’s used and it doesn’t fit the conversation. Again, I did not take notes so I can’t remember a good example of this, however, the pose I’m talking about is used appropriately at 35:30.
2. The CG of Mikato wielding Chichi-ushi very epic… as long as you don’t stare at Mikato’s face for too long… 2:32:20. She looks like a fish…
Something I appreciated about this vn was the Ainu aesthetic. The story is set in an Ainu village and the story ties their culture into the story. The regular mentions and explanations of their food and customs goes a long way in giving this vn a unique feel.
This vn overall has aged very well. If I hadn’t been told that it was made in 2001/02, I never would have guessed that. The quality here rivals that of any modern visual novel.
I absolutely adored the writing in this vn. Character dialogue and interactions are well done and there were no instances of awkward or out of place lines. Naturally, this is in thanks to the translation team, to whom I’ll extend my thanks once more. It takes a certain degree of skill to be able to convey the proper emotions in a visual novel, and the translation team succeeded in my eyes.
The main reason I made this section though, is to say that I was not bothered by Mikato’s eloquent narration at all. The same goes for her ability to read emotions of the other characters, all of whom are much older than her. I feel that having Mikato be this way was a necessity for the story, as if she couldn’t tell what the others were feeling (namely Manari and Nakoruru), the story would not be able to advance and it might even have been irritating to have Mikato be oblivious to the others’ feelings. I was honestly surprised that the translation team was also perplexed by Mikato’s eloquence. However, I feel that they would agree with what I’m saying, given that they retained Mikato’s flowery descriptions. Besides, imagine reading something like the scene of Nakoruru’s dance if it was described by a real seven-year-old.
Personality wise, there’s not much to say about Mikato. She is our protagonist, and I’d say she a fine one. Mikato has plenty of good moments, and she is able to drive the plot forward, so there are no complaints on her likeability. I already described my thoughts on Mikato’s language, so I thought I’d mention a couple things I thought really were unrealistic. Firstly, Mikato one shotted a bear with a sharp stick. Secondly, the fact that the village sent her off to the final battle all alone. Seriously? The chief might know that Mikato has powers, but he just learned that Nakoruru neglected to train Mikato at all. The former doesn’t bother me much, but the latter genuinely does. Naturally though, that doesn’t mean that I disliked her. Also, Mikato grows up to be a cute miko just like Nakoruru. I like that.
I have only love for Manari. Out of everyone, she is the most relatable and, arguably, the most tragic. Unlike Nakoruru, Manari faces more mundane crises throughout the story.
Manari loves to sing, and she’s even really good at it, but her stage fright is so crippling that she cannot even practice in front of her own mother.
Manari was once a candidate to be a shrine maiden, but for whatever reason, she could not qualify, while Nakoruru, her childhood friend, did.
Manari is in love with Yantamu, and probably has been for years, but he is in love with Nakoruru, who everyone in town admires.
Manari has a sort of “normal girl” charm, even believing in lovey-dovey superstitions like with that blue fruit. She sort of reminds me of Ayumu from Hayate no Gotoku; another plain girl who gets passed over by the boy she loves. That scene where she gave up on confessing to Yantamu was truly crushing.
For a few moments, I actually expected Manari to become an antagonist of sorts, to be honest. I thought that she would notice Yantamu and Nakoruru growing closer, and her jealousy would get the best of her and she would take advantage of Mikato. Perhaps she would try to learn the rest of the shrine maiden song to use it to impress Yantamu, but accidentally unleash something horrible on the village. Or maybe she would make a deal with Rera to get back at Nakoruru somehow and she’d be the one getting taken advantage of.
Sadly, Manari sort of just ends up being a third wheel to Yantamu and Nakoruru. I don’t think Yantamu ever even catches on to Manari’s feelings, and in the end, she goes on to tell the story of how Nakoruru and Yantamu passed on into legend. Truly a bittersweet ending to her character. Manari is the Aloise to Nakoruru and Yantamu’s Nello and Patrasche.
Though not important to the story, Rimururu is a fun character with some nice depth. We slowly watch her warm up to Mikato over the first half of the story until she eventually treats her as if they were truly related. It’s quite heartwarming. Rimururu’s comedy scenes were also my favorites, aside from the ones with the babas. Also, Rimururu was the prettiest in that cosplay CG. If you know me, you might find that funny, but Rimururu really suited that dress.
Not much to say about Rera. This may sound harsh but Rera is pretty much your typicla “evil alter ego” trope. She even had that “I’ve never had a name” cliché line. I was quite disappointed when she turned out to be a splinter of Nakoruru’s personality. Though I’m not sure why I held on to hope considering chat speculated that Rera and Nakoruru were the same person throughout the story. Hope is misery.
I thought Rera was actually Murasaki Nakoruru, but after checking the wiki, it turns out that they are two different character all together. I also assume Rera is explained further in the lore, since we don’t really know what exactly she’s supposed to be. Is Rera a ghost? She was able to kill that bear, so she must have a physical body. Also, what was she doing in the wilderness for that whole year? Training? What if Nakoruru was killed by Kamui Risse before they combined again? Would Rera die too?
If it doesn’t exist already, someone should make fanart of a bored Rera peeping on Nakoruru during one of those ritual baths. Seriously, what was she doing in the forest that whole year?
Nakoruru, the star of this visual novel. Sadly, I don’t have much to say about her either. While the vn succeeds in giving her character some depth, I’m sad to admit that I didn’t really find her all that interesting. Similar to Rera being a typical “evil” alter ego trope, Nakoruru is basically just an ultra-nice-guy character. Don’t get me wrong, I love good girls like Nakoruru, but I feel the inner conflicts she had could’ve been made more complex. I’ll discuss this later on.
To put it bluntly: Yantamu is the weakest character out of the bunch and I don’t like him at all.
The first thing we learn about Yantamu (other than him being good at fishing) is that he likes to flirt with the other girls in the village from Hokute. This gave me the impression that Yantamu is one those sleezy playboy characters you see in anime. I generally hate these types of characters because their “coolness” is never justified, yet everyone seems to love him. One of the worst cases I’m familiar with is Kagura Mutsuki from Blazblue, but I digress. My point is that this notion is reinforced several times throughout the first half of the visual novel, and that part of Yantamu’s image as the town flirt is never challenged or deconstructed. Rather, that part of his character is simply forgotten about and never mentioned again after a certain point in the story. This results in some of Yantamu’s actions feeling forced in order to move the plot along, or in the second half, to force a conflict.
Yantamu is given a lot of importance by this plot. He is pivotal in almost every major event that happens in this story, but this importance doesn’t feel earned.
The first example is the scene where he gives Nakoruru the speech that helps her move on from the guilt over what she did while on her journey. Up until this point, Yantamu has ben built up as being about as close to a playboy someone living in Kamui Kotan’s society can be. He’s known throughout the town to flirt with any girl his age. He’s also been harassing Nakoruru for much of the story until this point. Nakoruru had shown a strong aversion to Yantamu several times, and yet Yantamu continued to pester her, despite how obvious it was that she wanted to be left alone. At one point, he even offered to enter the bath with Nakoruru and Mikato. This might seem funny, since it’s a common joke in anime, but that scene is completely serious, and Nakoruru is clearly made uncomfortable by him. If even Nakoruru doesn’t like him, how are we supposed to?
Going back to that speech, I had a hard time believing that Yantamu of all people was the only person suited to talking Nakoruru out of her slump. Suddenly he just has 100 Speech and also Nakoruru ignores how pushy he had been up until now. I just don’t believe that Yantamu has any more wisdom to share than the villages chief, the babas, or even Nakoruru herself, seeing as she just came back from a life changing journey. Even worse, he still went in for a kiss after that speech. I’ll admit that that was a very funny scene, but at the same time it just reaffirms the rumors we had heard about Yantamu, and part of me was thinking about he was taking advantage of the situation to smooch Nakoruru (not that I blame him, to be fair). It doesn’t matter if a character gets “all the best lines” if what they’re saying is out of character. Conveniently, mentions of Yantamu flirting with other girls is hardly ever brought up after this point. Now, instead of everyone knowing about him being smooth with the ladies, everyone thinks he and Manari would be a good couple.
I’ll speak more of Yantamu in the plot section coming up, but I feel like my dislike for him could have easily been undone if we got to know him better. Unlike the others, Mikato never has any one-on-one time with Yantamu. While we get to be very intimate with Nakoruru, Rimururu, and Manari, we know very little about Yantamu compared to them. We don’t know anything about Yantamu’s interests or his family (which is never even mentioned). In fact, as far as we know, Nakoruru and Manari are the only friends Yantamu has ever had. It would have been nice to spend time with Yantamu and see him deal with a personal struggle of his own like what we see with the others. At the very least, the story shouldn’t have introduced him the way it did because it gives off the wrong impression. Elle showed off a few minutes of the OVA in this stream, and in those few minutes, Yantamu was infinitely more likeable to me, probably because he’s not introduced as a playboy womanizer, and more like the kind, dependable guy he’s meant to be in the vn. As it stands, he’s basically a regular harem protagonist.
Although this visual novel is split into eight chapters, I see it more as being split into three acts, or parts, each being defined by the three major conflicts. Each part flows into the next while slowly, ever so slowly, building up and foreshadowing the next.
I mentioned the first conflict in Yantamu’s section above, and I don’t have much to say about this first part of the story. I mean that in a good way this time. Just about everything in this section of the game is great. The conflict, as I’ve mentioned, is Nakoruru acting distant after her return from her trip, and her friends want to learn why so they can help her move on. The lead up to Yantamu helping Nakoruru get over her experiences is pretty good. This act took up about the first third of the visual novel so it included all of the character introductions too. I generally liked everything about it except for the Yantamu stuff that I’ve already gone over. Despite what I’ve said about him, the message itself is a good one, and Nakoruru is able to get over her guilt/shame and is able to relax and enjoy life with her friends. It’s not very clear what exactly Nakoruru was feeling during this stage. I was reminded of Sayaka from Madoka Magica. Late into the anime, Sayaka didn’t want to be with the boy she loved because she felt that she would be defiling him. The thing with Nakoruru here however, is that she only acted distant towards Yantamu.
In retrospect, that’s something that bothered me. Nakoruru didn’t mind having Mikato, Rimururu, and even Manari around. I suppose this can be interpreted as foreshadowing for Nakoruru being in love with Yantamu later on, but other than that, there weren’t really any other hints at that until later on when Nakoruru hints at her true feelings in ways you’d find in any anime that has a love triangle plot. Elle said in one of these streams that “just because it’s predictable, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad.” This is true. In fact I think this is something I said a long time ago (also in relation to Madoka Magica). While the reveal of Yantamu being in love with Nakoruru instead of Manari was obvious, it was obvious in a sense because one expects it already in a story like this. The story never hinted that Yantamu was in love with Nakoruru and not Manari. He treats both girls equally and he seems equally close to both of them. The townspeople might have forgotten Yantamu going around flirting with everyone’s daughters in favor of him and Manari being a nice couple, but “oh, wouldn’t it be such a twist if he was in love Nakoruru, the main character, instead”? I’m pretty sure the reason we never get any alone time with Yantamu is so that this twist of him liking Nakoruru could be less obvious. If we ever got a story or a flashback to why Yantamu loves Nakoruru instead of Manari despite being childhood friends with both of them, it’d probably be another cliché like Nakoruru saved Yantamu’s life, or Yantamu got sick and Nakoruru’s mother saved him with her miko powers, or it was simply love at first sight. As it stands, it feels like Yantamu only loves Nakoruru arbitrarily in order to make that confession scene work, or happen at all. I’ll admit that that scene of Manari shrinking away from Yantamu is very powerful, but I wish something less expected could have happened.
I have an idea: if they didn’t give us one-on-one time with Yantamu because it would’ve made that twist even too obvious, they could have just made Yantamu be in love with both Nakoruru and Manari. This way, you could change the story to have Nakoruru trying to subtly sway Yantamu to choosing Manari even though she’s still in love with him. That would have been able to lean further in to the existing theme of self-sacrifice.
The final act happens in the last couple chapters following the festival. This conflict involves demons poisoning the environment and the possibility of the horde overrunning Kamui Kotan. Sadly, apart from the ending this was probably my least favorite part of this vn. Every problem I’ve mentioned having rears its head here.
I find it preposterous that Yantamu was able to kill Kamui Risse, a named, and thus I assume stronger than average demon all on his own. I understand that Nakoruru is meant to be infinitely more powerful than the average person, and I know that it’s not like Kamui Kotan has an army, but you’d think that if Yantamu could kill Kamui Risse so easily, the villagers wouldn’t be so paralyzed with fear that they don’t even want to go outside. Earlier in the story, Yantamu mentions that he kept the village safe while Nakoruru was gone as part of a promise. Once the demons start affecting the wilderness, Yantamu even mentions that he’s seen this before. So, has Yantamu fought demons? Was he the only one defending the town while Nakoruru was absent? If he was able to kill Risse alone, imagine if he had help from some other hunters from Kamui Kotan. Oh, and of course, they just had to give him the badass dying smile in that CG. ugh
This just doesn’t make any sense, and it makes the people of Kamui Kotan look so pathetic. What were they going to do if Nakoruru actually died? Beg Mikato to save them? …oh wait. That’s literally what they do in the ending…
There is also the fact that Rera waited until these demons came about to prove to Nakoruru that fighting is a necessity. I can only imagine what she would have done if not for Yantamu’s death. Those scenes with her are very well done though, so she gets a pass.
When I started working on these comments last week, I was honestly bothered by Mizuki. She appears at the very end of the story and has no dialogue, despite being the final villain. It’s a shame there wasn’t really any set up to Mizuki’s character; we’ve never even heard of her until she appears suddenly during the final battle (assuming she isn’t from the main Samurai Showdown games). After ranting about Yantamu though, Mizuki isn’t so bad seeing as she hardly counts as a character at all. and the final battle part of the story leads in to the ending, which I adored.
Other Themes and Misc.
Before I talk about the ending, there are a couple things I wanted to write about.
I’ll speak more about the main theme of this story in the following section. However, I admit that if it weren’t for Rera and Mikato spelling it out, I would have not been able to catch on to the message this visual novel was trying to convey. Leading up to the scene of Mikato singing the song, my best guess for the theme would have been something about the sacrifices people make. I’ll explain: much of this vn revolved around Nakoruru, and how much suffering her work as a shrine maiden caused her, even if her duties are necessary, and even if she enjoyed experiences only she could have. The problem with this theory is that there isn’t an “and” or a “but”. The theme is sacrifice and… well, nothing. Nakoruru pretty much just suffers throughout the story until she finally learns the truth from Rera as she dies. The true theme is much better.
While not a main theme per se, something that recurred in my mind as I was reading was the theme of selfishness. Every character in this story acts selfishly one way or another. Yantamu is selfish for doggedly pursuing Nakoruru. Rimururu is selfish for wanting Nakoruru all to herself. Rera is selfish in how she wishes to teach Nakoruru that there are things life that you may not like, but must accept. Even Mikato is selfish for accepting Rera’s training, even though she knows that Nakoruru would disapprove. Manari is selfish in a nuanced way.
Manari is the adopted daughter of the village’s song keeper and is expected to help carry on Kamui Kotan’s customs to the next generation. Manari is secretly a beautiful singer, however, she is too shy to even practice at home. Despite that, she still dreams of one day singing to impress Yantamu. This is ironic, since Manari is basically the opposite of Nakoruru. Manari does not “belong to everyone”, yet she yearns to serve only one person, while Nakoruru does “belong to everyone”, and so, it would be sacrilege for her to show any resemblance of favoritism. Notice how Rera, Mikato, and Manari’s examples of selfishness aren’t self-serving. Selfishness isn’t inherently something bad, and it can describe feelings of wanting to help someone. It especially fits these three characters, since they all want to help someone close to them, if the receiver is unaware or oblivious to their feelings. I personally believe that as long as you’re doing something that makes you happy, you are acting selfishly, to a degree. However, like a certain class president once said, “if you never act selfishly, you’ll never be happy in life”.
Nakoruru, naturally, acts selfishly too, but her selfishness is also complex. I am loathe to say it, but Yantamu was speaking the truth in his confrontations with Nakoruru. She was using her position as a miko to run and hide from her feelings. First, she believes that as a shrine maiden, and because of the things she has done, that she shouldn’t need help in coping with her trauma. Second, she hides behind her title in order to avoid her true feelings, likely because she feels that it is her responsibility to do so. Nakoruru is no doubt also influenced by the sad relationship her mother had with her “father”. There is truth to learning to like those fries, but Nakoruru overdid in this story.
Speaking of Nakoruru not being allowed to take a lover, I found it interesting that they never once said the word “tradition”. Instead, they used the phrase of “belonging to everyone” repeatedly. While this is technically true, in the real world there are specific reasons why certain figures are not allowed to have romantic relationships.
There are multiple figures in western religions that take vows of abstinence to symbolize that they are giving themselves to God, and that they reject earthly pleasures. In Christianity, there are several types of priests and nuns who do this. To my understanding, Shinto shrine maidens are the Japanese equivalent to Catholic nuns. The idea behind both is that they are to remain pure to show their devotion to their deities. The truth behind this has changed in the modern age, but this isn’t a review on religion. My point is that it is a taboo to lust after a nun or a miko. Fruit that is forbidden is all the sweeter, after all.
But I didn’t say anything.
What I’m trying to say here, is that I found it odd that they went with that “she belongs to everyone” line instead of saying that Nakoruru and Yantamu would be defying the gods, or a tradition. They could have gone a step further and say that if Nakoruru’s love for Yantamu ever eclipsed her love of nature, she would risk losing her powers, though I admit that would be too extreme for a story like this. Not really a complaint. I just thought it was odd that the vn chose that phrasing.
Something I do want to complain about is Yantamu’s horrible timing with that confession. Yantamu chose to offer his comb to Nakoruru in just about the worst way possible: right after her performance, a major event during the yearly festival, and climbing on stage and doing it in front of everyone. Did he seriously expect Nakoruru to accept his comb under those circumstances? If she did for some reason accept his feelings, did he think the other villagers would take that sight lightly? The comb is symbolic; Yantamu could have waited until after the festival to offer it to Nakoruru. The gesture would have had more wait since, Nakoruru would have noticed that Yantamu went the whole festival without offering the comb to anyone else. At the very least, he could have waited to give it to Nakoruru in private so she didn’t have to be put on blast publicly like that. And of course, Yantamu has the gall to talk back at the crowd after making such a stupid play. ugh
Finally, small detail, but I thought those minigames were neat. I imagine the developers put them in the game in the first place in order to give readers a break. Personally, I’m sure they could have found a way to write around them, as some of these minigames get in the way of the pacing in the story. The very first training session with Rera is probably the best example of this. I mean, imagine if this were a regular novel. How would Mikato meeting Rera after she saved her life from a bear flow into a training sessions where she dodges wolf attacks? I would have preferred if there were no minigames at all, but they are part of this visual novel for better or worse. Overall though, no harm, nor foul. The quizzes and instrument minigames were pretty good though.
I don’t have anything smart to say here. The ending is top tier. I was sincerely mind-blown that they really killed off Nakoruru. What a bold choice. Very nice. Nakoruru’s actual death scene was excellent and the speech she and Rera gave to Mikato to help her find the missing lyric to the song was great and it also exposes the main theme of this story. That being “Strength comes from Kindness but Kindness originates from Happiness.” Basically, in life you should strive for happiness before all else. Though I would have preferred if Rera hadn’t spelled it out, at that point in the story there was no more room for hints, and it’s a good message, so I can forgive it. The final CGs we see showing Mikato grown up were really something special too. I actually think that it’s very beautiful that we never see anyone’s reactions to Nakoruru and Yantamu’s deaths. Of course there were tears, and Rimururu likely blamed Mikato for not being able to save her sister. In the art we see though, everyone is happy. Life has gone on, and everyone has found their happiness. Those scenes of adult Hokute and Mikato really made me smile. Especially that one CG where they are holding hands in a meadow, and it changes to show Yantamu and Nakoruru in the same pose. I have my gripes with him, but I can’t deny that that was a beautiful story moment.
Review over. I really hope I was able to get my feelings on this vn across clearly so it doesn’t sound like my criticisms have no justification. Even so, I concede that my opinions are probably in the minority, given the reactions I’ve seen in these stream replays.
To summarize my thoughts: objectively speaking, this is a fine visual novel. Everything about it well done and it’s quite impressive how well it stands up compared to modern vns. Personally, although this visual novel had many good moments, I wasn’t able to really connect the story, characters, or themes like I could with other vns like Narcissu or Root Letter. Large portions of this story were also quite boring, I have to admit. The reason my summary of the plot is split into three sections is because not much else happened in this story that was either memorable, or relevant to the plot. I see this in the same light as World End Syndrome. What I mean by that is that actually getting through the story was very slow, and almost boring, but looking at the story as a whole after completing it, you realize that it was an enjoyable experience. Despite my gripes, I did enjoy this experience. Hopefully, this review is proof enough.
For anyone who made it this far, thank you for reading. And thanks again to the people above.