I fucking love trains and bedtime stories.
Well, I'm not one of those train otakus who would orgasm if they climb onto a seasonal train or see a store that sells only train shit — no, I just like journeys that take place on the train. Frankly, I despise airplane trips because the seats are cramped and you don't see shit except clouds and more clouds on a sickeningly blue backdrop. Trains take a while to reach the destination, so you can take a good look at the scenery or let the sunlight bathe you while you read your book.
But I also like bedtime stories. Picture the happy stereotypical family scene where the parent reads bedtime stories to their drowsy children. Aren’t they nice? The stories parents tell are often simple and heartwarming. I don’t remember much of my childhood, but there are glimpses of my grandparents and caretakers reading me Little Red Riding Hood in their peculiar ways.
From these memorable experiences, I guess it’s obvious I enjoy simple stories focused on journeys. Trains are optional but it adds to the experience. So I cannot help myself from thinking highly of Shiei no Sona-nyl ~What a Beautiful Memories~, a visual novel revolving around a train trip into a fantastical city and a lonely trek up to the ruins of what was once a bustling city.
When backpackers travel, they don’t write their goals down on some sheet of paper. Instead, they prefer walking and let the destination choose them instead of the other way around. When my sis and I travel, we tend to plan where we want to go (“No Kastel, we won’t go to Akihabara for your anime shit; we need to go to Ginza for the food.”). Elicia (CV: Notsuki Mahiru), a beautiful blonde woman, and her briefcase robot climb up heaps of rubble of a long-gone Manhattan borough. Her journey is to unravel the secrets lying still under the wreckage. For there are lies that deceive the world from the incident. In fact, in the minigame, you have to go through newspapers and pick out the section that is factually incorrect. So in her case, she desires to find the truth. However, with Lily (CV: Rino Kawashima aka Female Jesus) and A (CV: Furukawa Tetsuto), they have to reach a tower — the Empire State Building — right in the middle of Manhattan. Lily has no purpose in going there except she knows she has to go there. She doesn’t know why though.
All she remembers: a falling sensation and pages of paper swirling around her under a blaring purple sky. Nothing else remained in her mind. In a word: amnesiac.
While it might sound all cliched and stuff, what Sona-nyl does is no more than be a cute, steampunky, and a very Sakurai take on travel stories. People can travel to the same spot for different purposes. They will also look at the same locations in different ways.
And it is this that Sakurai finds intriguing. Each episode in the visual novel is split with segments focusing entirely on either Lily or Elicia. They are in the same location — but let’s just say: in different ‘perspectives’. Lily is underground while Elicia is on ground level. The latter sees only debris and a grayish hellscape while the former sees either a brilliant cityscape dressed in different shades of violet which house catgirls and humanoids or myriad mounds of mushrooms. Both protagonists are clearly seeing the same area in the same time, marked by the tick tock tick tock sound in the transitory bit where they switch POVs.
With this gimmick, we see the Sona-nyl world in two different ways. I am personally reminded of Subarashiki Hibi where the final rooftop scene is seen in three different ways. All three ways are important and reveal certain aspects of the real truth. In Sona-nyl, this is used in the whole game.
But this trick is not reserved for the protagonists — in fact, Sakurai seems to want us to empathize more with the supporting characters. Like previous entries in the series, the visual novel’s episode centers around a new character. For the most part, the characters come from American literature and pop culture — just like Sharnoth and its fascination with British lit.
Each new character places the themes and the two female protagonists in different lights. In fact, the first episode is the most unusual because Lily’s personality does a huge 180 in the ending.
At first, I thought it will be overused and turn into a hindrance that stifles the visual novel’s pacing. However, the two characters are compelling and give thoughtful narration on their current situations.
esp omg lily who is so goddamn qtttttttttttttttttttttttttttt~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
LIKE SERIOUSLY IF YOU DONT THINK LILY IS QT 3.14 I THINK SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU CUZ HOLY SHIT SHE IS ADORABLE AS FUCK RINO KAWASHIMA AS LILY IS LIKE THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD ALL LILY DOES IS GO “I WANT A SANDWICH MOGUMOGUMOGU” AND WHENEVER SHE CRIES AND GO 「ヤダヤダ」I AM LIKE NO PLS DONT MAKE LILY CRY YOU BITCH SHE IS SO CUTE HOW DARE YOU MAKE HER CRY ALL SHE WANTS IS FRIENDS AND SANDWICHES
I MEAN HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE HER SHE JUST EATS SANDWICHES AND COOKIES MOGU MOGU AND SHE GOES ALL TSUNDERE WITH A AND HER SMILES DEFROST EVEN THE COLDEST OF HEARTS
HER NARRATION IS SO SWEET AND ENDEARING THIS IS AFTER ALL A SAKURAI VISUAL NOVEL SO RINO KAWASHIMA VOICES THE NARRATION AND SHE DOES IT IN THIS CUTESY WAY THAT EVERY TIME I HEAR IT MY HEART IS ALL LIKE “OH GOD NO MORE YOU ARE TOO D’AWW” THE NARRATION IS REALLY GOOD AND IT SHOWS LILY’S INSIGHTS AND WORRIES OF THE SITUATION I AM SO KYAAAAAAAA WHENEVER I HEAR LILY TALK HER THOUGHTS OUT KAWASHIMA DOES LIKE A FUCKING AMAZING JOB DELIVERING THOSE LINES LIKE SHE IS LILY AND IT’S SO PERFECT AAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA I WANNA HUG HER SHE IS SO GODDAMN CUTE KYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
Sorry, I won’t do this again ;_;
But, I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful Lily as a character is in this erogescape of bishoujos and sexy dudes. There is something delightful in her narration bits since she sees the world like a child. She views her journey in a half-serious but whimsical way. Just like a little girl would. On her journey, she would make random stops and say hi to the denizens in those stops. And whenever she doesn’t understand something, she will ask A about it. There are times when Sakurai just focused on her eating food and her failed attempts to not bathe in front of A. I also like how Lily tries to understand the complicated relationships and other issues that people are concerned with.
Because of her childish personality and approach on life, her relationship with A is so adorbs. What started out as “wow this creepy pedo is stalking me” turns into an endearing, touching relationship. I’m going to plagiarize some thoughts from a certain blogger and say their relationship is best shown in one captivating CG sequence.
It features Lily leaning her head onto A’s chest; A holds his hands out in front of her chest as if he is going to serve her something and Lily closes her eyes, sprawls her body like a white swan, and trusts herself to A. A summons a crown which now floats on his hand and Lily’s clothes disappear, revealing a purple dress. This Utena-esque scene is something I look forward to and it’s not just because of its fairytale-like look but how close these two characters are.
On the other hand, Elicia comes off as a somber character. Her bangs which hide her left eye do not help in hiding her gloominess. There’s nothing happy and fluffy in her POV. Her three themes — this theme simply needs to be heard — are melancholic and so apt for her narration. The stuffy air she breathes comes off as poetic descriptions of her mood and that dreary atmosphere surrounding her.
This is an enormous change from her younger self depicted in flashbacks. In those days, she was a cheerful but lonely girl (CV: Ouka Wamio) who fell in love with a bishounen professor named Alan (CV: Furukawa Tetsuto). Her scenes will make anyone die from (X ‘________’) diabetes.
And yet, Elicia has grown into a woman who can give no looks other than the downcast look with eyes. Her crestfallen look adds to her beauty. Her smiles rarely appear and if they do, they occur when she is depreciating herself. Her expressive narration do not falter in making anyone like or empathize with her.
It might be surprising then because I personally consider Elicia the better of the two protagonists. While Lily’s childish worldview is fun, Elicia’s narration and her actions resonate more within me. With Lily, the world is fluffy and a bit sad sometimes; with Elicia, her morose thoughts make me stagger.
There is one scene in particular that best illustrates Elicia’s character — and according to Moogy, it is the one scene that he keeps remembering out of the whole Steampunk Series. In reality, it’s a small section where she cries for someone, but its sentimentality is so potent… I actually can’t describe it without being super corny in my writing. There is something to that scene that I cannot do justice to it with words. Like if someone said, “I didn’t get affected by it,” I would understand. But when I read it, the cheery atmosphere which lingered from Lily’s segment vanished. I felt miserable after reading that scene. I don’t remember if I sobbed for Elicia, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that actually happened. My memories told me it was a dismal scene and I reacted to it with my mouth gaping.
Maybe Shiei no Sona-nyl is too personal for me to review. And it’s not just the emotional aspects of the work. I travel a lot, you see. Whenever I open the visual novel, I remember the long bullet train trips where I bugged my onee-chan, “Buy me a bento cuz it won’t be a shinkansen ride without a bento!” Or that one time where I visited Italy and saw my five month old Swiss cousin in one dingy inn.
Those bittersweet memories speak; without them, I wonder if I will be the same person. For Lily and Elicia, they too find themselves seeing in that way. Sona-nyl’s ending, which is in fact three good endings squashed together into one great ending, certainly gives off that impression. The ending is no doubt satisfying, but its passion and fervor still affect me to this day — after a month of playing it — attesting the power of memories: they are “matters of love” according to Nabokov as “the more you love a memory the stronger and stranger it becomes.”