Monday, December 17, 2018

VN Talk: 7'scarlet - Part 8: Hanate Yatsukami

This is my final installment in my plot discussion of 7'scarlet (and full of spoilers, if you haven't guessed!). If you missed the previous entries, you can catch up on the previous routes with this tag here. They'll also be listed on my RPG/VN Talk tab along with all the other games I've covered some time after today.

Like Yuzuki's route, Hanate's is selected immediately after starting a new game. Unlike Yuzuki's, Hanate's route isn't a full-fledged route. Yuzuki's might come off a little short because he has no common route, but Hanate's features minimal choices and is almost half flashback, serving primarily to answer the story's lingering questions. While the rest of the game does a fine job building out the cast and giving Ichiko a bit of romance to go with her quest, ultimately she came to Okunezato to look for her brother and this is the only route in which she finds him.

As with Yuzuki's route, Hanate's begins with a prologue. This makes it clear that he's been held captive by the Murakumo family for the past year (and obviously Yuzuki was never informed) and during that time he hasn't told them anything about who he is or how he knew about the valley with the Violacias. However, he reacts for the first time when the Ensepulchers watching him go over the latest list of hotel guests (no doubt provided by Yuzuki so his family can look for potential revenants among them). One of the Ensepulchers calls out Ichiko's name to her companion and lets him know it's the same name as a girl who went missing twelve years ago and was never found. And Hanate freaks out about the fact that Ichiko is coming here.

Ichiko's POV starts on the third day just before the festival when she typically goes out with one of the guys. But this time instead of meeting one of them or being asked to look after a bedridden Yuzuki, she decides she'll just stay in. She remembers seeing someone in the lobby that morning (on the common route) who was reading a newspaper, and the man didn't appear to be a hotel guest. Yuki then gives her an unsigned letter in her brother's handwriting that was found after the man left. It asks her to come alone to the shrine on the other side of the mountain tunnel and not to trust anyone.

Much like on Hino's route, she goes out with him to the tunnel on the fourth day, the two of them see that it's dark, and Hino suggests they come back later with a flashlight. But this time she tells Hino to go on ahead and lies, saying that she's going to do some shopping before returning to the hotel.

Being that Tsukuyomi is after her (as he's been on all routes), he attacks her when she goes by herself up the tunnel, but in short order she's rescued by none other but her long missing brother! Which is really odd. He shows up so easily after having been missing all this time that it doesn't feel right.

After taking her to the old shrine featured in the climax of Hino's route, we sit down with Hanate for an extremely long info dump. It's seriously long; maybe 40-50% of the text in his route and only occasionally broken up by more detailed flashbacks. This is why I would have gladly sacrificed Toa's true route if it meant turning Hanate's route into a real story. There's only so much grayscale monologuing a person can take before a person feels like fast forwarding and it doesn't matter if every line is being voiced by veteran voice actor Hikaru Midorikawa given how intentionally deadpan his narration is.

In a nutshell, Hanate is the first revenant to ever have woken in the valley of Violacias and he's a bit different from the others. He's effectively immortal. So long as the flowers exist so will he, but if they suffer, so will he. But being immortal has been a drag, and he's rather angry about it. (It's implied he's Ninigi from the legend of Iwanagahime and was cursed for spurning her).

Over the centuries he's been watching revenants rise up and for entertainment he would follow them into town and watch the cat and mouse game between them and the Enselpulchers. Because of the circumstances of his curse, Hanate's presence is accepted by the town and he's able to manipulate their memories by his ongoing proximity to them. He's been a samurai, a farmer, and in the most relevant flashback, a delivery man. Thus no one ever questions why he never ages or how he belongs, though he is still wary of drawing the attention of the Ensepulchers. His memory manipulation is clearly not instant, and he doesn't have special combat abilities just because he's a revenant (as shown by the fact he still got caught before the prologue).

While trailing one particular revenant, Hanate discovered her preparing to attack a little girl (Ichiko, during her previous visit to Okunezato). Revenants are able to instantly recognize certain people as "ambrosia," those possessing such pure souls that if the revenant eats them they will never hunger again and become immortal like Hanate. Hanate wasn't sure why, but he decided he needed to protect this one particular girl and intervened.

As he continued watching over her during her stay, Hanate realized that her presence was cause more scarlet Violacias to bloom (the scarlet ones being the ones that herald the rising of a new revenant). Revenants were constantly going after her. After she nearly gets killed again, Hanate has enough and essentially kidnaps her to get her out of town.

Since she was just visiting family friends (Hino's family) while her parents were overseas, he takes her back home and through his memory manipulation eventually convinces Ichiko and her parents that he's her brother and their eldest son. Not wanting her to remember what happened, Hanate wiped out Ichiko's memory of ever visiting Okunezato as well as most of her past.

He hit a bit of a snag though when Hino's family moved into town during Ichiko's middle school years, but he eventually wiped out Hino's memories too, which is why Hino no longer recalls having lived in Okunezato, which is a hell of an intrusive memory wipe, and I'll get to how replaying Hino's route is a different experience knowing this after I finish with Hanate.

A year prior to the start of the game, Hanate sensed a disturbance among the flowers, which is why he left. He suspected it was possible he would never come back. Knowing Ichiko is a revenant magnet, and that some of them could (and probably have) escaped Okunezato at one point or another he made the now adult Hino promise to protect her. Considering how fanatically devoted Hanate is to protecting Ichiko, that he entrusts her to Hino and is satisfied that he will protect her in his stead, speaks a lot about Hino's own devotion.

Despite the truth coming out, Ichiko doesn't view Hanate any differently and insists that he is still her brother, but then the way the narration describes her hugging her brother is decidedly not sisterly. There's a little too much body pressing for that, and Hanate's storytelling makes it clear that he hasn't viewed Ichiko as a sister but as a potential romantic partner ever since she hit puberty.

And being an immortal revenant who really only cares about protecting this one girl, Hanate tells her that they're leaving their old lives and running away to where Tsukuyomi and no other revenants can find them. Since Tsukuyomi knows who she is, he'll be able to hunt her down at home, so their only option is to go off grid entirely. Though Ichiko doesn't like the idea of leaving her parents and Hino behind, she agrees, because she likes Hanate just that much.

This would make a poor ending though, so before they get far, Ichiko convinces Hanate to take her to the valley of the Violacias, because she can hear them calling to her. Apparently only revenants can normally smell them, which explains numerous instances on different routes where she smells flowers and other characters don't. Because she is "ambrosia" she can smell them as well.

Tsukuyomi catches up to them there and Hanate realizes there is another way to save Ichiko from the fate of always being chased by revenants, and that's if all the flowers die so there are no revenants left, including himself. But he fails to get the flowers burning before he ends up grappling with Tsukuyomi, which leaves Ichiko as the only one with hands free to burn the flowers.

At that point, when I was given the choice to light a match or not, I was thrilled. The player would get the chance to end it all and Ichiko would be saving herself. But it's a false choice. Even if the player selects lighting a match, Ichiko still can't bring herself to kill her brother and spends a lot of time wailing about how she can't do it.

Conveniently, Hino shows up at just that point and convinces Ichiko to toss him the matches and he lights the valley on fire. Tsukuyomi dissolves first, and though it's not clear how Hino knows about anything on this route, he kindly walks away so Ichiko can be with her brother in his final moments. And it's probably a good thing he walks away since Ichiko full-mouth kisses Hanate in farewell. Since she says she still thinks of him as her brother that's just… gross, and implies she's always been romantically attracted to him.

In the epilogue, Ichiko has forgotten about Hanate, as he said she would when the flowers burned, but she can tell that something is missing in her life. But the nice thing is that the game implies she will move on. College is restarting after summer break and she's going to meet up with Hino. She says good-bye to an empty house and pauses for just a moment when she thinks she hears someone say good-bye in return. After she leaves the camera pans to a single violet flower growing outside, and astute players will remember that when Sosuke was a kid and discovered the valley of Violacias, he took one flower (roots intact) with him and gave it to Ichiko who re-planted it when she got home. So a small part of her brother is still around.

Now, there's a lot of unpack here, which is why it would have been nice if Hanate had been a proper route. This felt like the plot was shoving everything in because it had to provide the answers it had been withholding the entire game. Hanate's lengthy flashback about his ennui and meeting Ichiko should have either been truncated or blown out and the player doesn't get to make any choices because Ichiko is so wrapped up in doing exactly what her brother says.

The fact the story resolved as easily as it did on a physical (rather than emotional) level was shocking. I can understand why Hanate did not consider burning up the flowers as an early solution to save Ichiko. His nature is not altruistic. But why did the vigilance committee never try burning the flowers themselves?

Hanate's story makes it clear that the Ensepulchers only discovered the valley for the first time after he left, but once they did, what stopped them from burning the source of the revenants? It would be different if the Ensepulchers didn't know the flowers were the cause, making the valley simply the revenants' wake up spot, but they clearly do, making this an incredibly large gap in reasoning.

Moving on to Hino, I'd mentioned before that his route has an additional layer of context after playing the final route of the game, and I think it's worth the replay because Ichiko and Hino are the only two characters in the cast who know Hanate and they talk about him during their search. When they recall the kind of person he was, and how he was always looking after Ichiko, it takes on an extra layer of meaning now that we know Hanate and that his looking after her wasn't the love of an ordinary older sibling.

We already knew that her brother was hard on Hino and made the unreasonable comment that if Hino wanted to stay around her, he needed to be stronger if he was going to be capable of protecting her from people like the serial killer. But the thing is, Hino's route places that story ten years ago, which is after Hanate kidnapped her from Okunezato and before Hino and Ichiko reunited in middle school.

That means it never happened. The entire memory is fictitious and was likely implanted by Hanate to give Hino a bar to strive for. Hino wants to replace Hanate as the man in Ichiko's life, and Hanate seems to be largely okay with that if Hino can meet that bar. The memory has Ichiko at a serial killer's mercy, but Hino can't bring himself to shoot the gun and save her. Before all is lost, Hanate appears, takes the gun, and smoothly kills the serial killer himself, giving Hino a memory of what level of protection Hanate expects from him. (Unfortunately, he also gives Hino PTSD over guns along with this.)

This adds a layer of tragedy to Hino's route once you realize that he has essentially been built up by Hanate to be his replacement, to the point Hino willingly dies to protect Ichiko in his Normal Ending. Also his fitness training, the things he does to hopefully be of use protecting Ichiko, stem from the serial killer incident.

From Hanate's perspective, this was probably a way to make use of a childhood friend who wouldn't go away, and the serial killer was a good stand-in for the level of danger a revenant would be without actually telling Hino that the undead might be coming for his crush. But for Hino, his life has been defined by an incident that never actually happened.

Also, on rereading Hino's storyline, there are a couple instances of the Tsuchinoko delivery truck showing up, which is the company her brother pretended to work for. It shows up for a a brief moment in Hino's Good Ending and only drives off when Hino and Ichiko finally confess they love each other. Originally it comes off as a funny way to break up the romance (because Hino gets super excited over things like cute company mascots), but knowing Hanate's story it could be interpreted as that was Hanate leaving, realizing that he didn't need to come back into Ichiko's life.

It's also clear that Hanate is the one who stabs Tsukuyomi on Hino's route (the scent Tsukuyomi uses to describe his attack matches with Ichiko's description of Hanate), which is otherwise unresolved.

That takes care of where Hanate was and what he was doing on Hino's route. What's not clear is why he doesn't appear on Isora and Toa's routes. The reason Hanate reveals himself is to protect Ichiko from revenants. I can't see him trusting Toa (who is a revenant himself) and it's unclear whether Tsukuyomi is successfully killed on that route. Tsukuyomi definitely wasn't properly exterminated on Isora's.

At least with Sosuke and Yuzuki's routes Tsukuyomi dies or will presumably die soon (since he ends the game in Ensepulcher custody on Sosuke's), and that might be enough for Hanate. But at the end of it all, it doesn't feel like Hanate himself or his route was particularly well thought out or implemented, which is a shame because the backstory itself is quite interesting.

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