Harmonia review and analysis
Well well, here we are. After finishing the VN relatively late considering that I got it the day of release (thank you @Aspirety for that), I’ve been either busy or not in the mood to read it. So two weekends ago I finally decided to start it and I finished it on the following Monday night.
Sincerely, I don’t know where to start at. Well, to be honest, I know a couple of things that I want to mention, but going ham on them wouldn’t be wise. I’d like to develop my ideas little by little, so I’ll instead start off giving my general impressions, without overanalyzing things.
Harmonia is a short VN. In fact, it’s a Kinetic Novel, a KN, which means that we don’t get to choose some things for our protagonists. I normally expect KNs to have a better characterized main character to compensate for the lack of decision making. I felt a bit sad when I discovered that our main character had amnesia and that he had a pretty plain personality that stood that way during the whole VN. Even then, it wasn’t that bad. At this point, I think I should compare it to Planetarian. Planetarian was almost like a monologue full of metaphors and a solid message to be conveyed. It was, therefore, very well written, but it was a bit dense and difficult to fully enjoy by a casual reader. Harmonia, on the other side, I think that didn’t achieve the same level of profundity Planetarian did, but, on the other hand, it was a lot more pleasing to read. It wasn’t as dense. While the writing wasn’t the best ever, it seemed like the story kept flowing and, while some plot twists and situations seemed a bit forced at times, they never radically broke the pace established, so even without digging the surface of the KN, one could enjoy a nice and relaxing experience while discovering a decent story.
Long story short Harmonia was a nice read, but it didn’t have a message as powerful as I expected.
What did I think about the characters other than the protagonist? Well, they were flat, we can’t deny that, but that doesn’t mean that they were bad. Shiona was a greatly designed character for her purpose. She was a great example of the potential a robot could have. Also, she is always cheerful and gives that pleasant vibe that helps you keep reading.
Then we have Madd. I found him to be the typical tsundere early on. And he was the typical tsundere after all, only that in the end he also worked as a plot device or plot justification (call it as you wish) to demonstrate how when the last emotion of a Phiroid disappeared, it ceased to function.
And finally Tipi. A fucking strange character when you compare plot and personality. She’s completely sad at the beginning, sad in the middle part but, when raiders come to the town, she radically changes and doesn’t give a fuck about anything (well, she does, but don’t even compare to her previous self), about the people being “disposed of” even though she knew what death meant because she saw that man die and understood it, so fuck the plot, Tipi knew what death was about. Even if she didn’t know, I mean…
Insert @Eisenkoubu ’s error code here
So yeah, her development was weird and, in my opinion, very badly done just because it contradicted the plot, or at least made the whole “understanding death” affair a lot more difficult to grasp than it could have been.
However, she’s still my favorite character by far. And how’s that?, you might ask. The answer is simple, but also unusual. Voice acting. Just purely voice acting. It was greatly done. Her voice was on point and showed both how young she was (appearance-wise), how sad and insecure she felt.
And with this I think I’ve covered my first impressions, so it’s time to move onto something a bit more relevant. Let’s tackle the post credits scene.
I sincerely hoped that there was something to come after the credits, because otherwise it would have felt as if they were repeating the ending of another VN (name of the VN in spoiler tags. I can’t provide context, open at your own risk). Planetarian . So when I saw that there was indeed a post credits scene, I felt quite happy. Anyway, this happiness faded out as I saw that both Shiona and Tipi were alive (because I don’t like bringing characters back to live unless that greatly contributes to the meaning or a message). However, it wasn’t all that bad.
I think the ending, more than a conclusion to the story, was the writers’ answer to the topic that @Therationalpi brought up. Harmonia might be telling us that by escaping to these fictional universes and experiencing emotions in them through their characters might cause the ruin to society, but this doesn’t mean that we have to abandon them. The writers’ might want to say that living in a world that balances living both in real life and experiencing those fictional worlds is the best solution and the one we should aim for. In the final scene, we can see that human beings are learning emotions from the Phiroids (the fictional worlds), but at the same time, Phiroids are machines created by humans (writers, artists…). So Humans and Phiroids are both contributing to each others existence, and that’s what makes that utopia viable. It’s the retroaction. And that retroactive flow of emotional knowledge creates the Harmonia between Humans and Phiroids (fictional worlds created by humans).
Now I’d like to speak some words about love and @cjlim2007’s Greek love in Harmonia. To start off, what is love?
Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more. Is it just a emotion that ties people together to give birth to new life? Or is it something more. Personally, for me, love is an emotion that bonds people together, an emotion that creates an excuse to approach others and chat, and, thanks to that, exchange information. Here, Rei’s love towards Shiona allows him to learn about emotions, and it allows Shiona to learn first hand how humans can regain the emotions they used to have. If you think about it, my definition doesn’t fall under any category of the “Greek love” that CJ presented. However, that’s because I focus on the final utility of love. Those Greek definitions focus on between which people that attraction or urge to talk occurs rather than on what purpose it serves.
There are more purposes for love, however. As much as it allows us to access information from others, we feel an urge to protect that source of information, which means that we want to protect those who we love. Eros also naturally allows us to choose good partners that will be able to have and raise a child.
There’s much more I could end up saying about what purposes love serves, but overall, all of them seem to fulfill a single major role. It helps with human survival. And I think this is why there’s this concern about preserving love during the latter part of the VN. Love appears to be an essential key to human survival. And this idea is also, as brought up in the forum, linked to birthrates dropping down to zero, which is a serious event happening not only in Japan, but in many other countries too (although love isn’t the only culprit here, but now i’m deviating too much).
However, the way I really like to look at this love/survival concept is pretty different to the one brought up. I may have said that love is important to human survival, but what if humankind could find a workaround to survive without emotions?
During a good portion of the VN we see Phiroids as human. They are depicted as an ideal society that values feelings and looks after each other physically and emotionally. Then, the raiders come. They are regarded as assassins and people that don’t care for the life of a single individual. They are beings incapable of feeling that will do everything and anything for the group. What do I mean here? Pretty simple. Emotionless beings are depicted as bad and Emotion-capable beings are depicted as good. I’m not fond of that idea, since to me, both are different paths taken to that simple, yet important, problem: survival.
Darwin says (very generalized and plainly put) that life is the survival of the fittest, where the fittest is the species (or mutated part of a species) that is better adapted to the environment. When humans started loosing their emotions, prior to the spark that dynamited the current situation, there were 3 species of major concern: humans with emotions, humans without emotions and Phiroids. Yes, I said Phiroids. They are robots, but they adapt to their environment, they need to eat (or charge) to survive, and they reproduce with the help of humans (you could say that they are a bit like viruses in this aspect). However, I’ll regard them as human beings because even though they are coded, they have a surprisingly high freedom when it comes to making choices. The main thing being that they don’t seem to be restricted by Asimov’s laws, so they look more like cyborgs rather than robots.
So with these 3 species on the scene fighting or cooperating towards survival, let’s analyze the situation:
Phiroids need humans to survive, and even if it wasn’t like that, they are coded so that they want to help humans and would even sacrifice themselves for them. However, the only humans that are willing to produce them are the humans with emotions, so you could say that Phiroids’ existence is linked to them. They know how feelings are (generally) and are able to convert some emotionless humans into humans with emotions.
Humans with emotions don’t strictly need anyone to survive, but the environment is very harsh and they don’t have lots of information to help them establish towns and a well founded society. However, with the help of Phiroids, their chances are greatly improved. They can acquire information from them and their enhanced physical abilities are of great value. In exchange, humans with emotions would learn how to repair them and end up living in harmony with them. It would be a symbiosis.
Emotionless humans are alone. They are antagonistic to both humans and Phiroids, but they still won’t hesitate to use Phiroids as highly efficient slaves. The fact that they are emotionless allows them to work exclusively for the group, allowing systems like communism to work as originally intended an leaving corruption aside. If I had to parallel them with a real life species, it would be with ants or bees. They all have their place in the group very clear, and they’ll work for the group. However, they won’t hesitate to sacrifice themselves for the most important members of the group.
It’s true that they might have lost knowledge over time, and that they don’t know how to love, but this doesn’t mean that they are stupid. They will gather information from libraries and Phiroids as time progresses and will reproduce as a normal human would, even if the only purpose was to bring a new kid to the world to maintain their species going.
Seen this way, I can’t help but admit that emotionless humans aren’t that bad. They would be the ones with the best survival chances if you asked me. Humans with emotions and Phiroids are mainly pacifists so I wouldn’t be surprised if emotionless humans took over the world and ended up extinguishing humans with emotions.
So this is seen with a more or less objective perspective. However, I’m pretty sure that we all agree upon the fact that a world with Phiroids and humans with emotions would be funnier, but that is of course because we have emotions and having fun induces the emotion of joy or happiness right? Or perhaps it is because we’ve been shown more about how Phiroids are rather than the motivations and situation of emotionless humans. Anyway, the thing is that we shouldn’t wish for an emotionless world, since right now, advanced emotions, communication and intelligence is what defines us as humans.
Now that I’ve covered the main point I wanted to talk about, I’ll move on to other ambiguous, important, yet almost unnoticeable things: metaphors and message enhancing elements. However, keep in mind that these are my interpretations, I know by no means whether the writers wanted to convey the messages that come to my mind or not. Therefore, alternative explanations of the various metaphors are encouraged, so raise up your thoughts and talk your mind about them. I haven’t seen as much as I expected from you.
I’ll start off with one that seems to be the object that draws the most attention from all of you, the music box. First of all, what’s a music box? It’s a (originally) cubic object, with a handle, and a music-engraved dish or cylinder. When you turn the handle, music comes out, and music is what is really valuable. Without it, it would be a plain box. Here comes my interpretation. The music box symbolizes the human being. It’s got a normal exterior. It’s a body, it’s only purpose is to hold and to protect what’s inside. Then, it’s got the music. This would be the emotions, the soul of the human. All humans, “emotionless humans” too, would be this music box. This would mean that everyone is capable of having and showing emotions, and those who do, are the “humans with emotions”. This would also mean that people who “haven’t opened their box” are still able to learn how to do it. Once they do, they “open their music box” and learn about emotions. This would be the case of the main character, Rei. Furthermore, this interpretation leaves room for one more element: the handle. For a music box to function, someone must start moving the handle. That someone would be an emotion possessing being, be it another human or, in Rei’s case, Shiona, a Phiroid. This potentiates the message of emotions being a core element of the human being, and even if not visible, they’ll always be lingering there in a dormant state.
Next up is the tablet that Tipi had. More than far fetched a metaphor, I like to think about this is an element that makes emphasis in an already existing message. The tablet contains all the information that humans had been gathering during their entire story as a species. In those circumstances, all that knowledge might as well be the key to survival and restoring society as it once was. However, the guardians of this key are the Phiroids, who have all these knowledge stored in their electronic brains. And to access the tablet and all this knowledge, Phiroids are needed, thus indicating that humanity as once known will only persist if they cooperate and live in harmony with the Phiroids.
Finally we have the Plaza. Instead of a metaphor, this is a very important element for the story. Phiroids in the village are, in general, capable of feeling and expressing all emotions. However, without any human around, they seem to stay at their homes and nothing really happens, it’s almost as if the village was also hibernating waiting for a human to come. And one he comes, actually, nothing really happens. It’s only when Shiona and Rei go to the Plaza that the gears are set in motion. Everyone puts their emotions into use. They don’t just keep them to themselves, but they share them. The plaza is the hub that allows the plot to advance, connecting people together. This way, it could somehow be telling us that emotion-possessing beings, like humans or, in this case too, Phiroids, won’t get anything positive from their emotions unless they get interact with each other. And I’d like to link this back to the theory from @Therationalpi that I mentioned earlier, about how we should put into practice what we learn from VNs and not just keep it to ourselves.
At this point I think I’m done with plot related aspects of the VN, so I’ll finish by changing the topic to technical aspects such as graphics, sound, voice acting…
I already mentioned that I loved Tipi’s voice acting. It was just awesome, and when combined with the soundtrack Library, the effect of loneliness was incredibly deep. It’s almost as if the Library was a completely different world and just Tipi lived in it.
The rest of the voice acting was good too. If I had to highlight something else about it, I’d say that Shiona’s was good too, since it was very soft and sweet, but the a more darker tone emerged in those scenes in which Shiona’s true intentions weren’t as clear as they seemed.
A detail that many might not notice but that for me is of great importance is the effect used on character sprites. I don’t really know how to call it, but it was this effect that made it look as if the whole sprite was kind of an sketch, I hope you get what I mean. I found it to be very well used and gave all the characters a little something that made them look gorgeous.
Another thing I liked was the use of big chat boxes placed in different places. The usual long box placed on the bottom part of the screen can get repetitive after reading for a while, so I like seeing a variety in its placement. The right-click menu was also very stylish, so it made an overall clean and easy to read through interface.
About the music, I liked pretty much all of them, although perhaps not to the level of Tomoyo After (the instrumental tracks) or Little Busters! (the vocal tracks). Still, from the instrumental ones, I found some to be more of my liking than others. These are Pecado, Library and, my personal favorite by far, Tristitia. These three provoked a very deep sensation in me. In Library, it was the emotion of loneliness and isolation. In Pecado, it was the feeling of having lost something important. In Tristitia, it made me think that I was in the middle of some ancient ruins, as if I had just discover a hidden truth. Its sound is incredibly elaborate and the piano complements the voice perfectly. This track is up there with others like hope, A world is born or the piano version of Dango Daikazoku.
One major concern I had when I finished the VN was seeing how they had done something I couldn’t forgive. They changed the menu music. They changed my beloved Tristitia track which I could be listening too for hours before actually getting to read the VN…
Anyway, I’ll be waiting for them to release the OST and incorporate it to my iPod.
So this would be about it. Overall, I’d say that I enjoyed it, but coming from KEY, my expectations were really high and they weren’t met. However, Harmonia wasn’t far from meeting them. If I had to summarize my opinion in one (long) sentence, I’d say:
It was a nice read, with some decent themes and some plot related problems, but even though the VN had more potential to be developed, the amount of theories and messages that we can extract from such a short VN is so high that makes it worth.
I’ll give it a solid 4/5 overall. However, even though I liked it, it’ll still remain my least favourite KEY VN.