Hatsugamai (or Soshite Hatsukoi ga Imouto ni Naru) is one of my favorite nakige from the last four years. Feeling in the need of some emotional catharsis, I finally went back to it a while back, and I was blown away a second time by just how powerful the emotions this game brings out are.
First, it should be noted that Alcot Honeycomb, the subsidiary of Alcot that produced this game is known for two things... that it is a low to mid-price and budget company and for the fact that they have never produced a flop. Every one of their games has come out in the black within six months of release, and they inevitably end up placing at least in the top twenty of any given year. Another quality of their games is that there are no 'wasted scenes' in their games. Every scene drives story and path progression, without exception. This game is no exception.
I am going to focus on introducing the characters of this game, since you can check out my previous blog post on the game if you want an idea of what the game as a whole is like.
Tokitani Kazuharu- The protagonist of the story, he is a hard-working young man who is absolutely devoted to his own financial independence and protecting his 'family' (currently consisting of Shinobu and Manami). At the age of eight, he ran away from home to get away from verbal and physical abuse from his mother and eventually adopted another runaway, his 'imouto' Shinobu. If it weren't for Old Man Tatara, their current guardian, he probably would have ended up living on the street for the rest of what was likely to be a very short life. As it is, he works hard every day at multiple part time jobs to feed, clothe, and shelter himself and Shinobu (ignoring Tatara's offers to pay for everything) and lives at a rickety school dorm with Tatara's granddaughter Manami. Kazuharu is a young man of intense feeling and kindness. While he considers himself to be a practical, at times unfeeling person, it is fairly obvious to those around him that he is the very reverse of that. Kazuharu is constitutionally incapable of setting aside responsibilities or abandoning someone who calls out to him for help. His immense capacity for love and selfless behavior make him a powerful character, and his emotional scars often bring tears to my eyes.
Tokitani Shinobu- As a small child, she ran away from an abusive situation to live under a bridge, where she was found and informally adopted by Kazuharu. She quickly and intensely fell in love with Kazuharu after his ferocious efforts to protect her and keep her fed in the time before Tatara discovered and took them in, and that love has, if anything, only grown deeper and more intense with time (she is almost yandere at times). Unlike Kazuharu, who struggles with school while working, she is the student council president and the highest scorer on school tests, while still working multiple part-time jobs. Like Kazuharu, she has a very clear-headed and down-to-earth view of the future... if you ignore the fact that her view of the future involves her creating a corporation solely so she can take the burden of financial support off her brother's shoulders. Despite how this sounds, she isn't completely monomaniacal. Having been practically raised by Kazuharu and seeing him as an example, she is a deeply kind and compassionate young woman, with a deep capacity for love that matches his own.
Tatara Manami- One of the three major side characters in the game, along with her grandfather, she is a child (about ten) who speaks in Kansai-ben and has a tendency to abuse pseudo-anglicanisms. Her cheery personality and cute attempts to sort-of mother the people at the dorm hide a deep loneliness born from the fact that her parents abandoned her, leaving her busy grandfather to raise her pretty much as an absentee parent. She has a strong bond with the Tokitani siblings, one that is at times adversarial (jokingly) with Kazuharu and conspiratorial with Shinobu.
Tatara Taizen- Shinobu and Kazuharu's guardian and Manami's grandfather... as well as the owner and head of the board of directors for Shinobu and Kazuharu's high school. He is a man who has spent his entire life in education and sent innumerable students out to succeed in the world. However, his own family is a horrible mess, with his daughter and son-in-law having abandoned his granddaughter Manami and his own responsibilities making it impossible for him to raise her in his own home. He adopted Shinobu and Kazuharu when he discovered them as runaways (he has apparently done this in the past) and supported them out of compassion. He is a true educator at heart, devoting himself to the well-being and future of his students. He and Kazuharu frequently fight (in a friendly manner) and his mannerisms are frequently humorous or deliberately display him as a dirty old man. However, his love for Manami and the two siblings is deep.
Minamino Shouhei- Kazuharu's best friend and the son of a yakuza family. Despite his origins, his goal in life is to work in childcare, and his personality is kind and cheerful to the core. Along with Yuka and the Tokitani siblings, he is part of a group of 'hard-working friends' who have been together more or less since before middle school. He deeply resents the path his father wants for him in life, and he is definitely in rebellion against the family business. While he is unaware of the Tokitani siblings' past, he is still the only person who can confront Kazuharu on completely equal terms in the game (for reasons that become obvious if you play the game).
Miyamoto Yuuka- The other childhood friend besides Shouhei (and one of the heroines) she is a pin-up model who dreams of becoming an actress, working long hours after school toward that goal and ignoring her parents' skepticism. Yuuka is a bright and cheerful character with perhaps the most 'normal' viewpoint of the characters in the game, serving as a touchstone for the warped (understandably so) viewpoints of the other characters. That said, she is also in the entertainment business, so she isn't unfamiliar with the 'dark side'. However, it hasn't tainted her, as of yet. She has a strong will and is a dreamer at heart (whereas the others are mostly down to earth), contrasting her to the other characters on just about every point.
Tanaka Neneko- A ferociously strong-willed senpai at both Kazuharu's work and at school, she is also the worst kind of boss, ordering him to do everything in five minutes. Raised in an unstable household where both her parents were frequently ill, her role model was her elder sister, who worked intensely hard to bring the family back together after the kids were briefly put into the system due to their parents' inability to work. Neneko works intensely hard, often getting exasperated reactions from Kazuharu (who works for money, only working hard when it is necessary or when it is part of the job). She is constantly smiling and is the older sister of the group, frequently ending up as the advisor when it isn't her path.
Kawatsu Tsubasa- The game's main heroine, whose appearance is the catalyst for the events that create the game's story. Like Kazuharu and Shinobu, she has experienced both abandonment and abuse from her family (mostly psychological abuse), but unlike those two, she isn't really capable of anger, so she has no outlet to release her stress. Despite her fragile appearance, she is not weak-willed... she is simply the type that endures, bending with the wind rather than standing firm within it. Like both Kazuharu and Shinobu, she has an intense, deep well of love. However, she is also far more willing to believe in others than either of them is, unwilling to give up on others until she is driven beyond her ability to endure.