My 2021 new year resolution was “playing and reviewing more Japanese games” and so I finally got around to play Adelta’s Hashihime of the Old Book Town, officially released in 2019 by Mangagamer and translated by frillyfujoshi.
Hashihime is a very long BL game, perhaps the longest BL game localization thus far whose length compares to Lamento, with at least 30 hours needed to read all the routes. Set in Japan, 1922, it tells the story of Tamamori, a man who came to Tokyo with two of his childhood friends in order to attend the Imperial University, failed the entrance exam, and is now working in “Umebachidou”, a second-hand bookshop where the owner never shows his face but grants Tamamori a free room and some money in exchange for his work. He enjoys his life while leeching off those around him until strange events keep piling up and one of his friend is found dead in a river. Even stranger: he finds that he can repeat these same 3 rainy days over and over again and is now determined to save his friends from the disasters awaiting them.
The protagonist, Tamamori prides himself as a writer of over-the-top stories. He’s aware he is taking advantage of his friends and the shopkeeper, but he has no will to change his routine, yet he yearns for a “true friendship”. Since he was a child, he had hallucinations of strange creatures born out of his stories who talk to him.
A handsome but sadistic medical student and childood friend of Tamamori’s, who he constantly berates for being dirty and writing “shit stories”. He lives alone in a western-style mansion owned by a man who adopted him… yet said man is nowhere to be found, which makes a certain group of children suspect that Kawase killed him.
Mild-mannered and kind-hearted, Minakami is the complete opposite of Kawase and a fan of Tamamori’s stories. He’s a literary student and an avid reader who can remember every word of the books he read. He is the catalyst that causes Tamamori to discover his time-traveling ability and try to save him. I’d say he’s the closest thing to “sane” the main cast has to offer.
Tamamori’s third childhood friend who he hasn’t seen in 8 years after he left to join the military academy, Hanazawa is a true Japanese man who goes straight to the point and will stop at nothing to achieve what he thinks is right “for the country”. He enjoyed Tamamori’s stories and cultivates an unlikely yet close friendship with…
Hikawa a.k.a “Professor”
Nobody in Hashihime is sane, but Professor is a particular brand of crazy and horny. He’s been a regular customer at Tamamori’s bookshop since the latter started working here, treats his stories like they’re the Holy Grail and gifts him with a tin goldfish watering can as a sign of friendship. Tamamori is creeped out by his antics, but is quick to take advantage of Professor’s adoration.
Man in the Noh Mask
A mysterious individual who lives in the basement under Tamamori’s bookshop. The man in the Noh mask appears at the strangest times and in the strangest places to kill anyone who is in the vicinity of Tamamori, but not Tamamori himself. He’s a giant man with incredible strength who doesn’t talk much and whose motives are unknown.
A waitress in Tamamori and Kawase’s favourite cafe with a witty attitude who likes to tease Tamamori and strangely knows a lot about him. Meiko is head over heels for Kawase, whose demeaning and cold treatment only fuels her admiration, which Tamamori exploits to get free food in exchange for information.
Haruhiko and the Frog Man
Two of Tamamori’s hallucinations who come from Tamamori’s latest manuscript. They have a mind of their own and appear around Tamamori whether he wants it or not. Haruhiko is pragmatic and offers Tamamori his wisdom while criticizing his attitude, while the Frog Man behaves and talks like a child yet tries to help in his own way in hope Tamamori will release his story to the world.
Hitotsurugi and Sazan
Professor’s twin maids who have been working for his household since they were 14. They are actually 74 years old, but were made young again thanks to Professor’s advanced technology and surgery. Hitotsurugi is the older and more serious of the two while Sazan is a klutz who always get people’s names wrong. They are both trained in martial arts and won’t hesitate to intimidate, beat or kill anyone who they perceive as a threat to their master.
The Irregulars Regiment
A group of orphaned children who always look out for each other and are investigating the disappearance of Ikeda, the man who adopted Kawase, because one of their members was very close to him. They call each other with codenames taken from French numbers: Un, Deux, Trois, Quatre, Cinq.
What the heck, but also, what the heck?
Your first playthrough of Hashihime will be choiceless, and as you get your first ending and start a new game, new choices will unlock, one by one, for each route so you play them in the order dictated by the game. Despite its sheer length, Hashihime only has 5 endings to go with the 5 routes, which makes each of them but especially the common route very, very bulky, which, while it doesn’t bother me, may put off some players who like having choice in the action of the protagonist and into how the story ends up.
Without going too much into spoiler territory, none of the characters of Hashihime are what they seem when they first get introduced, and the better part of Tamamori’s love interests seem to be, in a way or another, neck-deep into war crimes and violating the not-yet-written Geneva Convention. Everyone, including Tamamori himself, is deeply flawed and has multiple skeletons in their closets that are threatening to spill out any time and the more Tamamori jumps into the next world 3 days prior, the more he’s exposed to ugly truths and questioning his own relationship with those around him.
Speaking of time travel, Hashihime raises some rather interesting questions: what happens to the worlds you leave behind when jumping into another? If you kill a person and then go back to the past where that person is still alive, you may have un-done their death but it doesn’t change the fact that you killed someone. What if you teleport far into the past and forever alter the reality you used to live in? Each route gives us a new perspective into the use of time travel, and also each route gets crazier than the last.
The game makes a lot of literary references, mostly of Japanese classics with Kyuusaku Yumeno’s works and in particular Dogra Magra being mentioned many times throughout the story. There are also mentions of Western works and figures like Freud or Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Needless to say, the vast majority of them went completely over my head because I am completely unfamiliar with Japanese literature but present more as “knowledge bonus” than being essential to the understanding of the story and the enjoyment of the game. This is partly helped by the in-game dictionary that gives you a brief descriptions of novel or references you may be unfamiliar with.
Another aspect I enjoyed about the game is its side characters, most of which get their own storyline that gets explored in some of the routes. In particular, Meiko and her mother ‘The Madam’ stand out as having several arcs of their own that explore the theme of loving men and being a trans woman in the Taisho era. The Madam has a deep voice, deeper than Tamamori’s, but he never questions her gender, even after getting to know more about her and in one route tries to help Meiko in the best way he can in hope she accepts herself and her love for a man. Do note, however, that in most scenes Tamamori and the rest of the cast will refer to Meiko when she’s not dressing as a girl as a “he” owing to the fact that they don’t know about her struggle and identity.
While I was liveblogging the game on Twitter, some of my followers mused about how the whole game felt like a fever dream, which is probably what Adelta was aiming for when making Hashihime, as the game doesn’t hesitate to make you question whether what you’re seeing is reality, a character’s lie or a hallucination. The “status quo” in this game is fickle and crumbles to dust over and over again, in every route, save for one thing: the fact that Tamamori is a bottom (even when offered to top!). Actually, even after having finished playing it, I can’t help but question what was supposed to be “true” or what was supposed to be Tamamori’s wild imagination. While I usually frown at works that make their ending “open” as a way to avoid answering questions, and while the true ending may throw off a lot of people, I found it after a few days of reflection to wrap up the game nicely, explaining a thing or two about the rest and the game but also leaving one huge and most likely deliberate “plot hole” that makes you question everything.
In the image department, Hashihime comes with a whopping 200 CGs, not including variations, that are ordered in the order they appear in the game’s gallery rather than being organized per character. For some reason, a few of them are missing from said gallery, including a rather important one involving the Madam. If I were to voice one complain though, it’s that most of the characters suffer from same face syndrome and sport a similar body, skintone and pointy chin, with their most distinctive trait being their eyes. When playing with someone else, this person said to me “why do they all look like brothers?”. Still, the game’s CGs shines in how expressive the characters can get, be it in their happy, sorrowful or insane moments, with a special mention going to the “psychedelic” scenes where Tamamori’s world goes colorful, surrealistic and loses all sense of logic.
I noticed a few hiccups during my playthrough. First there’s the fact that, for some reason, the buttons below the game’s textbox have a hard time being clicked, especially in fullscreen mode. Then there are typos that are scattered throughout the game, which isn’t surprising considering Hashihime’s length but becomes especially prevalent in Kawase’s route where I counted a handful of them. One line especially stands out, where clearly some spreadsheet cell didn’t quite get the English translation at all and instead shows an error (see above). That particular line wasn’t really important to the story, but still it stuck out like a sore thumb.
The best boy
My favourite character and route, like many who played before me, is without hesitation Professor.
Words just cannot describe the complete and utter madness and brilliance that resides within this character, which is used in the best way possible. His over-the-top personality, his funky inventions, his crazy maids, his open and unconditional adoration of Tamamori that brings out your sadistic side, his barely contained horniness and his endearing antics, his blushy faces and his storyline, topped with a incredible voice performance of Konno Seiichirou makes Professor’s character and route embody perfectly the themes and craziness of Hashihime in one big package (no dirty pun intended) and does to show just how much love Adelta poured into the game.
Actually, I couldn’t help but record some of his lines and listen to them over and over again to bask into his glory and his top-notch voice acting:
Long Story Short
Prose: 9/10 (-1 for the typos)
Music: 8/10 (good, but not playlist-worthy)
Overall rating: 9.5/10
For the longest time, I said that Togainu no Chi was my first and best ever BL game experience. But after having played Hashihime, I’d say the two games are even, TnC more because of the nostalgia factor and the fact it was so formative for me more than anything.
Hashihime, with its plentiful and unique visuals provides a unique visual novel experience and takes you to many places in a rollercoaster fashion, provided that you embrace the insanity of it all and feel endeared by its deeply flawed, yet ultimately very human protagonist and overall cast.
Adelta has since released the Japanese superhero-themed BL game Uuultra C, which I really hope will be localized as well because it looks dope!