Hatoful Boyfriend is quite possibly my favorite visual novel, not that I’ve played/read enough for that statement to mean much. At first, it appears to be a dating sim featuring pigeon love interests, but it’s both a lot more ridiculous and a lot deeper than that. And darker. And bloodier. And sweeter. And… well, you get the idea.
I’d try to explain more, but this screenshot of Ryouta hosting bonus “radio” episodes pretty much says all you need to know:
Okay, that’s not all you need to know. You should also know that this is set in apost-apocalyptic world where birds are an intelligent species and dominate society. Human Tosaka Hiyoko is attending Saint Pigeonation’s Institute as part of an effort to improve bird-human relations. There. That’s about as much sense as I can hope to make.
I liked the original visual novel so much, I ended up buying Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star, too. Holiday Star is a collection of side stories, the first of which is set at Christmastime, within one (or a few) of the possible timelines from Hatoful Boyfriend. Let’s be clear: this is not a sequel. All of these short episodes are set in the main character’s second year of high school, just like the original. And each side story only has one possible ending—unless you count death, in which case there are multiple endings.
Today, of course, we’re focusing on the most Chrismasy of side stories, “The Christmas Thieves Attack!”
[Some spoilers ahead. Don’t worry; I won’t reveal the thieves’ identities, even though I really want to share screenshots that include more than their silhouettes. And I mean really want to. Be amazed at my self control.]
“The Christmas Thieves Attack!” opens in the familiar Torimi Cafe, with the same instrumental Christmas music playing in the background as always—though it’s actually in season now. Returning Hatoful players, like me, may be excited to see cafe owner Kenzaburou, regular customer Rabu, and childhood friend Ryouta all there. Tosaka Hiyoko is absent in the opening scene, even though she’s supposed to be the playable character (we can change her name, and when there are choices to make, we make them for her). But the story still flows fine, and confusion is minimal. It helps that the first game set a precedence for departing from Hiyoko’s POV when convenient.
In this opening, Ryouta finishes decorating the cafe’s Christmas tree and puts it on display… only to have it stolen by the infamous Christmas Thieves.
When Hiyoko hears that these thieves stole the cafe’s Christmas tree, she’s eager to get to the bottom of the mystery. It proves to be a difficult task, but that only excites her more: “Aah,” she exclaims, “I can feel the thrill of the chase! My hunter-gatherer blood boils!”
Note for non-Hatoful-players: it’s common to refer to Hiyoko, the only human in the game, as the hunter-gatherer she is. She hunts for meat instead of going to the grocery store. So she’s not your average otome or shoujo MC. She is, however, one of the most air-headed heroines you’ll ever come across—which is why, in this episode, she doesn’t recognize the Christmas Thieves when she first sees them. And why, in the original, she’s willing to pursue a relationship with a very suspicious bird.
When you play an air-headed, impudent hunter-gatherer who’s hunting Christmas Thieves, you get some pretty cool lines… especially when your investigation leads you to a department store run by snobby seagulls:
This type of silliness continues throughout the episode as the characters seek to thwart the Christmas thieves. In true Hatoful Boyfriend style, things get serious near the end, when the thieves and their tragic backstory are unveiled—complete with a connection to the “true” route from Hatoful. It’s the kind of connection that makes me awww. Several common Christmas story elements show up, including forgiveness, friendship, and a grumpy guy begrudgingly joining holiday activities. Yet, unlike in many holiday stories, none of this feels unnecessarily forced—perhaps because the Hatoful‘s creator, Hato Moa, has so mastered this combination of absurdity and depth.
“The Christmas Thieves Attack!” does not reference the Jesus story. It doesn’t even push the sticky-sweet “true meaning of Christmas” morals that secular media often presents. But it does bring laughter into the world. And I think, while that’s not even close to the most important part of Christmas, we still need a lot of it this time of year. So I might make playing Holiday Star part of my yearly Christmas tradition.