“Starlit Flowers” Review
Verdict: 4/5 stars. Something about these girls and the world they’re in stabs me straight to the heart and never lets go. I read it the whole way through, and I didn’t want to stop. I feel like there’s less value in life now that I have.
Oh, how I love this title. Oh, what feels it hits. What fashions it brings me and what nature it shows, and what beauty it has in all its throes. It’s gay as a daisy in May and I must say I appreciate it for being… and with such lovely typography, by the way, that it expresses dearly what it wants to say, which is how pleasant it is to be sweet. It goes from friendship to love, from night to day and from grass to the stars to moon to all of it crashing down to Earth as the light of your life fizzles out and dies, and I find it so hard to write about such a story which seems to be, in all but the most minor of details, as good as it ever will be.
Do I lead – in this review so esoterically? I apologise, silly me, for trying to express my feelings. But here is Starlit Flowers, which doesn’t fuck around, and although there are some petty complaints, they are the pettiest of petty complaints, and you can already tell I’m recommending this title as one of the good ones. The art style? I like that. The typeface? I like that. Characters: written well. Designs: just as well. The writing is better than the majority in its mechanical structure and especially greater in its plot structure. Things happen in this novel, not for any great reason, and yet you feel yourself smiling stupidly the whole way through for having the privilege to experience it. At least, I do smile. And though I do that often, I did it more with this visual novel, and with much greater feeling than all else.
Is there no accounting for taste? Do I appreciate this novel because it has all that I like in it? Do I appreciate the art style because I like how dignified its painterly ways are? Do I like the design because of how it takes a traditional, grandma – esque motif and allows it to breath for the modern age without being strangled in obsolete stuffiness? And do I like the story and settings because of what I appreciate: the beauty of nature, the beauty of women, the beauty of romance, and the beauty of believing, for just a moment, that life doesn’t have to be such a cynical and stupid means of making your way through existence?
My response I guess is that… it doesn’t matter. I read this. I am writing about it. I am the only person who I will ever truly understand, and I am the one who takes care of him most. I can express why it would be appealing to you, my humble audience, and I can express it best in how it appeals to me. And if you are like me, and if you love yourself in the same way that I do to me, then you will understand, too, what you like. And maybe it will be the same as what I like. I do not know why I like what I like, and all reasons tend to be based around false memories and pseudoscience psychology, but I know that I do, and writing about it will be the first vain step in understanding why.
Pretty good, I would say
The story opens up by using commas in a way that would be innovative if punctuation had not been standardised for several centuries. I felt obliged to write down this first line because I appreciated how it resembles a postmodern author’s first stab at writing something simpler: “It has been so long though it’s hard to believe, isn’t it Mother?”. It’s worthy of a Gore Vidal novel, so blunt in its construction and hasty in how it spits out the setting, not stopping to breath with a period or any words which would break up the thought, as quick as it appeared to be put to paper and as quick as it is presented to me now. I chalked it up to amateurism when I first read the opening lines of this novel, like how an amateur writes without knowing the traditions of the language they are writing in. But I grew a taste for this type of writing. An acquired taste, to be sure, not for those who are unforgiving of imperfect prose.
Yes, I’ve tried reading this book before. It was several months ago, before working on the Tao of Mario which made the blog halt and me return to it awkwardly in a shuffle over another sabbatical, and having me bribe myself to work on this article you see before you now. The music peppered notes into my soul and I ripped myself away from it lest I find myself writing about the music for too long. But now that I’ve found new headphones and I’ve heard many operas on CBC Radio Two, I feel less biased, emotionally, towards the novel. The music works. It is good music. I appreciate the music, and because I tend not to do that, you can know it’s good music, and good is good enough. If you set the mood, if you want to listen to it more than once, you already know it’s special. So, here it is. All special it is.
So I came back. How do I explain the premise now that I’ve come back? Do I talk about the stars that fell from the sky and became two fine young women to meet and be forced to befriend an even finer, more down – to – earth woman? Shall I talk about the events of the book in a play – by – play that matters only to those who have already read it — and for that matter, those who care enough to read a review after they have read it? Shall I talk about all the spoilers and cross – reference all the foreshadowing and narrative brilliances, as slight as it is and as few as they are? Or will I talk of the setting and how it captures Nature’s Spirit in a way that you’ll only get through the talents of today’s digital artists, and how it is exciting, though calming, to see so much green and so many gradients come to life on the screen.
More peace! I demand it!
I’ll tell you what I want to talk about: how you can make a gay visual novel nowadays that — wait for it — isn’t so blatantly gay! I enjoy, I appreciate, how gay it is, and also how gay it isn’t. How the novel is decidedly a Girl’s Novel, and yet reading for the sake of sultry romance and pure cuteness will lead you with a hole in your heart induced by romantic sugar. It’s not a NomNomNami work where you’re waiting for everyone to hook up. No, you appreciate more emotions, more steps, than just getting to the parts that too many of us — justifiably, in many cases — will never have in reality. It’s a story about romance, but it’s really a story about loss and peace and reconciliation and appreciating what you have in the face of what you haven’t. The romance, really, comes at the end. There’s one kiss in the entire novel. And, you know, I damn well enjoyed that kiss. It felt, unlike so many stories, even the greats like Katawa Shoujo, earned.
The characters are written like actual characters, though I’m still disappointed that, despite how plausible them seem in fiction, you can never find such characters existing in real life, not even in the parody of reality that is high school where you have the highest concentration of kids with modern sensibilities and an appropriation of tropes from fiction, at which point you’re too much of an inexperienced and sheltered teenager to ever get into it with anyone romantically. Trying to find anyone past twenty – five who acts like the girls you see in the comfort of your own home is really, really hard. You’re pretty much stuck in the Furry Slums at that point, and even then the furry guys are acting like anime girls! Real people are cowards with no charisma, few convictions, and with a mind that revolves around passive politeness and raising little hell — at least in Canada. On the plus side, everyone is scarily nice, so if I am in Normie Hell, it’s sure better than regular Hell.
Maybe it’s wrong of me to question the fundamental escapist fantasy of fiction, which is to introduce us to such kind characters whose existence in reality would soon be scooped up by desperate neckbeards asking them out with nothing to lose but their non – existence reputations — who are strangely absent in Canada, probably because we just aren’t that imposing. But I do find it kind of distracting to see such realistic dialogue out of characters who can’t possibly exist in reality… I mean, if they do, I sure haven’t seen them. Reading characters like these is like meeting Mr. Rogers and finding him smoking a doobie — except Mr. Rogers was legitimately that good in real life. How the fuck did he pull that off? Well, just replace Rogers with Steve from Blues Clues, or something. In sum: an illusion brought crashing down by the mundanities of our existence. What is life but pleasures peppered with pain?
Maybe I should tell you what happens in this novel after all, but even though I don’t believe in spoilers on a fundamental level, there is the question of whether such spoilers are even relevant to the review. I think the joy of discovery in this novel outweighs the joy of analysis I can produce about it, and although I can tell you that you’re going to fall in love with the chicks at the end, I’m not sure what the point is in telling you how. You want spoilers? Here’s your damn spoilers: your mom’s dead, the stars are her soul, they become one later on, and you live happily ever after with her for several years and continue to be gayyyyyy. Now if you want to know what circumstances allows this chain of events to occur, go ahead. Read the damn thing! I want you to read it! But know that, really, the story is in more about the daily occurrences of everyone’s lives rather than some great overarching plot. Slice – of – life at its best is the best slices of our lives.
Well, the novel does use the word “milky” six times, though not to describe the actual milk they drink, so perhaps their lives have placed an especially high emphasis on “milky skin”, a phrase used three times. The writer — did she get enough calcium? Did she drink her Bone Juice? Don’t confuse that with Bone Hurting Juice. It hurts your bones.
So much to talk about, so little time, so little money, and so little motivation… Did the novel shake me to my very core to the point where I cannot consider myself a whole person without it? You can probably guess this is a rhetorical question where the predefined answer is “no”. I believe there is the potential for another level. But if my biggest complaint about Starlit Flowers is “it didn’t change my life forever and ever”, I don’t think I can hold that against it. It’s enough to appreciate great work without requiring it to become a fundamental part of who you are, what you do, and what type of work you create for the future. And this is great work. I just struggle, though, to explain why.
I look at the broad strokes of this work and I appreciate all the pillars it’s built up around. Whenever I see nature depicted in such a way as to make real nature feel inadequate, I feel this special type of pain, this nostalgia for something that’s long past, that I will never be able to partake in rollicking hills and flowery fields against a clear, starry sky — and I will certainly never do it in the company of anyone who loves me. When I see these friendships, I feel pain that, but by the Hand of Chaos, I could have lived a life with them, and now I’m just a Stoic who takes joy in himself and few others. And just seeing lesbians exist without being exploited by pornographers is such a lovely thing that it makes my heart flutter while on the verge of tears. I think that’s why my people, those who aren’t straight, appreciate so much work made for them. You just can’t find queers in real life without risking so much of what other people assume of you. It’s frustrating. It’s upsetting. I hate it, and so I love these novels instead.
I guess I’d just like to live in the sort of world as is presented here. Not in the ancient fantasy sensibilities where we don’t have the luxuries of the modern age, and I cannot fetishise the “beauties” of a past where 99% of us were oppressed. I just wish more of reality resembled that which we see of art, in its people, in its natural wonders, and in the opportunities presented to us the same as opportunities are presented to protagonists. I guess this novel got me appreciating the existence of art in general: that depiction of what can never be. And to rate and rank the fantasy, to see how fantastic it can be, is as worthy of a pursuit as the art itself. An artist inspires, and a critic tells you what is most inspiring. Starlit Flowers is that. I must thank everyone who had a hand in its creation… it’s special.