My Fair Otome – Hakuōki: Hajime Saitō

A first post about otome games... great! (There goes my non-existent reputation.)

For those not initiated in the art (?), otome games are dating simulators for those who easily fall in love with 2D characters. (I certainly do.) Otome is the Japanese word for “maiden” — used nowadays to refer to the female otaku. This genre has a male counterpart, which is the gal game or bishoujo game, mainly targeted at men. There can be also erotic elements in this sort of game, either soft or hardcore. And there can be none of that too.

These games’ mechanics are pretty simple: you are a lucky protagonist surrounded by a harem of pretty love interests. Each love interest is a prototype to a personality: there’s always a shy one, a crazy one, someone sporty, someone bookish, someone who wears a poker face all time, someone who seems to hate you (but actually, deep down, cares about you), etc. You may have already seen those patterns in anime.

You choose someone to direct your love and then carefully pick your answers and actions so the character will develop increasingly strong feelings for you.

I don’t have a lot of experience with this sort of game; the dating sims I’ve played usually had the game-play centered in something else, like Harvest Moon and Persona 3, although I didn’t finish the latter (and although dating in this game is  really NOT the point of dating…xD). Harvest Moon is by far my favourite — especially the GBA versions (the male and female ones). As for tr00 dating sims, my first one was Love Hina, also for GBA. I liked the concept of being able to choose between the other girls (I never liked Naru Narusegawa…:P); what I didn’t like was the possibility of being beaten to death (their reasons were always so unfair! ;_;)…

Hint: Hajime Saito is awesome.

Interacting with the most awkward guy.

So I started babbling about this shit because recently I managed to finish an otome game/visual novel (emphasis in “visual novel”) called Hakuōki: Demon Of The Fleeting Blossom (for PSP). The story revolves around the Shinsengumi, a historical troop that fought along with the Shogunate forces in Kyoto during Japan’s turbulent entrance into the 19th century world.

There are all kinds of fictional narratives telling the story of this group of warriors — as protagonists, as villains, as secondary characters. There’s Nagisa Oshima’s live-action movie Taboo (Gohatto), there’s Rurouni Kenshin, and Peacemaker Kurogane, and Kaze Hikaru, and the NHK dorama… It’s quite easy to find references to this militia in pop culture.

In Hakuōki you are a naive Edo girl, Chizuru Yukimura, who comes to Kyoto to look for her now missing father, a doctor. She wanders through the city, gets involved in an episode of urban violence and… meets the Shinsengumi guys. She’s actually brought to the Shinsengumi headquarters as a prisoner, so everything that happens afterwards is a little bit Stockholm-y. Turns out they’re not the bad guys; they’re kinda cleaning the mess made by their superiors — which STILL doesn’t justify their harsh treatment towards a traumatized witness of a crime, but HEY, this is an otome game, and they’re hot and all we want to know is who are we going to love — and we’re not going to argue about 2D Stockholm syndrom, pls.

As it seems to me, being a protagonist to an otoge makes you an empty shell. You usually can project your personality into the character to some extent. To some extent. The protagonist is an otome prototype after all, meaning she will be weak and dependent for most of the time — what I think is quite boring. Had they done this shit as a fighting game/hack&slash with occasional otoge mechanics (or vice-versa), I’d be a happier person. But, yeah, I know: emphasis in the visual novel thing. There’s a lot of historical talk, which would be nice if I wasn’t trying to PLAY the damn thing…

Our options are: Toshizō Hijikata (the one I assume is the main character), Sōji Okita, Hajime Saitō, Heisuke Tōdō, Sanosuke Harada, and (in case you don’t like any of the historical guys) Chikage Kazama. (If you saw the anime or played the game, nothing will come as a spoiler. If you didn’t, then BEWARE!)

Hakuoki

Sano, Heisuke, Kazama, Souji, Hajime, Toshi.

So, despite the whole concern about historical facts, the story of the game deals with demons (oni) and undead/vampires/zombies (rasetsu, which was translated as “Furies”). The female lead is a demon herself, and her now missing father had developed the drug that turns humans into blood-thirsty soldier Furies for the Shogunate. But shit started happening — as shit always does.

Until this post, I had done only the Saitō route. I chose Saitō because the path to him feels natural to me. Fuck, who am I trying to fool? I chose him because of Rurouni Kenshin. And because he’s a bad-ass… And ’cause I have a thing for Shinsengumi members that survived after the whole Meiji Restoration thing.

But seriously, his route consisted of choices I would actually make. To gain his attention, you’re required to be a little self-confident and use your brain. And be gentle, but don’t sugarcoat things too much. Chizuru’s answers and actions sometimes were actually pretty cool in his route, though I don’t like her character since the time I saw the anime.
Saitō is my favourite character for a number of reasons — that involve coolness and badassery among other things. At some point, the whole “I’m only a soldier, gotta follow my orders” can get boring, but for most of the game I really liked his character development, his sense of duty, and his awkwardness towards emotions.

One of my favourite scenes was the one in which he talked about being a left-handed swordsman — and, therefore, not fitting. It was one of the few parts in which I actually liked how the protagonist interacted with her love interest. Not to mention it really helped defining the nature of his character, who sometimes may seem pretty tame and obedient and emotionless.

Apparently, the real-life Saitō had some similar features. He seemed to be somewhat sly and ambiguous. The whole incident of “he left the Shinsengumi, but he didn’t leave the Shinsengumi” was a real thing, and so it was the fact that members of the troop started questioning his loyalty. He changed names a couple of times (Yamaguchi being his original family name, Gorō Fujita being his name after Meiji Restoration), married, had children and died at age 72 at home. The guy was a survivor. He also served as a policeman in this new era and helped the government fight the last samurai — neither Tom Cruise nor Ken Watanabe, but Takamori Saigô and his fellows in the Satsuma Rebellion. Something different from the fictional Saitō? If supposed Saitō pictures are to be believed, he wasn’t quite as cute. :(
Also, what I felt while reading about his real story was that the whole “I’m a soldier who only obeys Shinsengumi” part was mainly bullshit. The guy seemed to have some ideas himself.

Saitō’s character is dubbed by Kousuke Toriumi. I find his voice very fitting in all his coldness (and sexy, but I can’t be trusted on that…;D). In a real world plot-twist, I found out he also dubbed Heisuke Tōdō in Peacemaker Kurogane. WTF.

Next route: Sanosuke Harada.

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