Title: Chihiro Himukai Always Walks Away
Release Date: Jul 27, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Visual Novel
Chihiro Himukai Always Walks Away is a friends-to-friends-with-benefits-to-lovers romance visual novel about old high school friends who have a chance reunion. The single love interest, Chihiro, is kind, cheerful, and outgoing but can’t manage to hold down a job for longer than a few months. Meanwhile, the protagonist is overworked and lonely.
As the story begins, protagonist Takuto (name changeable) is out with his work colleagues celebrating a successful project when they start teasing him about being a virgin.
By chance, their waitress is Takuto’s close friend from high school, Chihiro Himukai, finishing her last shift after quitting. Despite not having spoken in several years, the two fall into a comfortable, friendly rapport, and after overhearing his coworkers’ banter, she offers to help Takuto lose his virginity.
Takuto is a romantic at heart, and expected his first time to be in a relationship with someone he loves, not just a casual fling. But he’s attracted to Chihiro and drawn in by her confidence, and the thought of doing this with someone he knows rather than hiring a stranger is certainly more comfortable, so he accepts her offer.
It’s clear almost immediately that Takuto is smitten, but Chihiro keeps him at an arm’s length, warning him with a smile the morning after their first time, “Don’t start acting like you’re my boyfriend.” She’s also inexperienced with romantic relationships, but she’s had recurring bad luck with jobs, and on some level she expects to be unappreciated and discarded in her personal relationships, as well.
It’s easy to imagine this conflict getting angsty or overdramatic as the characters push and pull each other to define their relationship, but Chihiro Himukai Always Walks Away takes the opposite approach. Takuto and Chihiro stay in a comfortable friends with benefits relationship for a while, until they realize that they’re basically acting like boyfriend and girlfriend already and just need a little push to make it official.
This kind of low-conflict story can often feel too slow and tedious for me, but here it’s relatively short (about 3-5 hours) and focused enough not to overstay its welcome. The one part where the pacing felt off had more to do with my expectations than the story itself, as I assumed it would end shortly after the characters became a couple, but it was nice to actually see more scenes of their relationship afterwards.
However, I did feel that the issue of Chihiro’s inability to hold down a job was resolved too easily, and I really wish we had seen more from her point of view than just a very brief opening scene — perhaps an unlockable epilogue or side story.
The Steam release has the adult content removed, but it can be restored with a free patch. Based on the way the scenes are structured, with a clear fade to black before the cut content even in the patched version of the game, it feels like it was written with an all-ages version in mind. The story definitely loses something thematically, though, when you don’t see the contrast between how the characters communicate in the bedroom and outside of it.
Most of the event CGs are locked behind the adult patch, and Chihiro is the only character to get a face and a sprite, but the beautifully detailed artwork and the variety of poses and expressions ensures that the visuals stay interesting. In addition, everyone except the protagonist is fully voiced, including the minor characters. In dialogue, the coworkers are referred to by name, but their name tags are kept as generic labels like “Female Coworker A.” It’s an interesting stylistic choice which, along with the voice acting, keeps the minor characters from just blending into the background despite their lack of artwork, but still emphasizes the protagonist’s lack of personal connection to them.
Finally, the little technical details in the menus and the granular sound and display options are things I always appreciate in a visual novel. That’s especially true when it comes to adult content. Although the scenes are very much framed with self-insertion in mind, I don’t tend to read VNs in that way, and being able to turn off the countdown display is a little thing that made the scenes more approachable.
Another unusual option is the dual language display. While the original Japanese text isn’t included in this release, being able to compare the English and Chinese translations could still be interesting for people who understand both languages.
Chihiro Himukai Always Walks Away is an exploration of the fuzzy lines between friendship, romance, and sexual attraction — not making any sweeping, universal statements about the subject, but focusing on a single couple, how they’re able to communicate through sex, and the ways they define their relationship. It’s a sweet, low-conflict love story that should leave you with a warm, comfortable feeling.
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