Title: Neko Kawaigari
Release date: 2-24-06
When the residents of an unorthodox hospital are diagnosed with a serious illness, it seems as if it could be the end of the world. But in spite of troubling symptoms, deteriorating health does not mean a loss of hope.
Jack is a doctor who tirelessly treats his patients, but his care goes beyond just that of the medicinal. They are each other’s family, sharing their hopes and striving towards their dreams. Throughout daily examinations and scientific studies, their time together is peaceful, filled with optimism for the future. Yet, each patient is more fragile than she seems, and with each passing day, their disease continues to worsen.
For most of its duration, the atmosphere is utterly charming, with adorable characters getting into humorous antics, exchanging heartwarming confessions of love, and simply sharing in the ordinary routine of their lives. Throughout the individual character routes, each heroine has her own issues she must resolve: struggles of self-worth, finding an individual identity, keeping secrets from loved ones, and so on. Unfortunately, the brevity of these routes leave limited time for character development, instead prioritizing erotic content. Nonetheless, these small moments of happiness are much more powerful, with the realization that they cannot last forever.
While every route has its own story, each one contributes towards the bittersweet, and shockingly dark, true route. Here, the focus is on the constant presence of chronic illness, and what was once a romantic slice-of-life becomes a psychological science fiction. It raises questions of disregarding morality in the pursuit of medical discoveries, the struggles of coping with final regrets, and the existential crises of mortality.
On an unfortunate note, while the true ending is continued by a sequel in web-novel format, this crucial content is not included in the game itself, making vital information about the ultimate fates of the characters inaccessible to many readers.
For a title marketed as a standard moe-ge, there is far more to it than just an aesthetic attraction to the heroines. It is the tragedy, not merely the initial appeal, of the characters which make it such a heartbreaking tale.
“I want to protect this world, where you are.”
As Crane’s assistant, Jack shares her studious devotion to medicine, although not to the same obsessive degree as her. He takes on a domestic role as the primary caretaker while Crane is absent. With his kind, quiet demeanor, he is accommodating to a fault, but at times, his logical mindset seems to hide very troubled emotions.
“Medicine can’t do everything.”
Despite her youthful appearance, Crane is the leading doctor at the hospital, whose brilliant mind is consumed by her work. She devotes herself to long hours of exhaustive research, becoming secretive and temperamental if questioned. Although she may come across as strict and sharp, her passion for finding a cure is unparalleled, desperate to find a way to alleviate her friends’ symptoms.
“Is breakfast done yet?”
Norma is the elegant, maternal figure of all the patients, whose daily rituals consist of little more than sleeping and snacking. Although she may be prone to flights of fancy, contrary to initial impressions, she is very bookish and practical.
“Nami wants Jack to like her more than Umi.”
The more outgoing of the siblings, Nami shares Umi’s playful, demanding demeanor, constantly requiring attention and affection. While she loves Umi unquestionably, she also longs for independence, to be seen as her own person instead of one half of a pair.
“Jack only needs Nami, so Umi isn’t needed anymore.”
Umi wants nothing more than Nami’s approval and devotion, but Nami’s eagerness to be self-reliant can lead to a power struggle between them. While not as mature as Nami, Umi can be just as stubborn when she decides upon something, and is more than capable of matching her sister when it comes to arguments and disagreements.
“Everyone’s laughing at me, aren’t they?”
Faye’s sharp mannerisms make her the most difficult of all the patients, reluctant to cooperate when it comes to examinations. Constantly bickering with Nami and Umi, or arguing with Jack, her overemotional nature is a consequence of low self-esteem, anxious to be included by the others.
With bright colors and cute character designs, the illustrations perfectly capture the innocence of the heroines and their whimsical surroundings. Although the CG are not very detailed, with simple use of shading, thick lines, and lack of textures, it does contribute to the deceptive atmosphere, leading to a striking contrast between plot and visuals.
What is not so sweet, however, is that each paper doll has only two outfits at most, with a noticeably limited number of poses. The drawn backgrounds are also occasionally replaced by photographs, something which breaks the immersion of the story.
Much of the tracks are meant to be light-hearted and energizing, but a majority of them come across as disappointingly generic. The music is often overwhelmingly synthetic, and tends to weaken rather than contribute to a scene. At times, there is no background sound at all, when it could have been used to powerful effect. Though there are exceptions, particularly a classical violin piece, and the sparse use of piano and music boxes. Both of which are played during the tense emotional moments, to great success.
The voice acting deserves ample praise, especially considering the budget of the title. Nami and Umi share a single voice, and Faye’s voice has a forced, strained quality to it, but for all of the characters, the humorous and dramatic scenes are convincingly acted. Faye’s delivery, in particular, is a surprisingly subtle, devastating performance at times.
Once again triumphing against expectations, the sex scenes are both relevant to the story, and give hints as to how far along the plot is. For example, sex is not just an act of love, but also necessary for the physical welfare of patients, as well as a method to gather DNA samples for analysis.
There is an impressive total of twenty-three sex scenes, divided more or less equally between the five heroines. Almost all of them are mild love-making between willing partners, although there are a few scenes which involve dubious consent, or no consent whatsoever. However, those scenes are vital for certain characters’ development, and are written with purposes beyond erotic gratification.