Iyashikei, often translated as “healing”, is a concept in anime and manga that refers to calming works showing characters living peaceful, everyday lives intended to have a soothing effect on the audience. Chihiro Himukai Always Walks Away might appear to fall squarely in this genre. Honestly, it’s not the type of visual novel I usually seek out, but a couple of things about Chihiro Himukai intrigued me. Lead writer Hayase Yuu also worked on Making*Lovers and Sugar*Style which are notable for eschewing the common high school setting to look at post-high school adults, a trend Chihiro Himukai continues. More striking is the title itself. Chihiro Himukai Always Walks Away evokes perpetual distance where one might expect uncomplicated romance.
An Auspicious Encounter
Our nameable protagonist, who I’ll call Takuto, has been sucked into yet another after-work drinking party. While he’d rather play games at home, he instead has to listen to his coworkers rib him for being a lonely virgin. After all, he’s never had a girlfriend. It turns out his old high school friend, Chihiro Himukai, is a server at the place, and when the rest see the two know each other, her name gets pulled into the teasing. Takuto shrugs it off as usual. But when he’s outside afterward trying to figure out how to get home, he runs into Chihiro again and she makes him an offer. “Why don’t you graduate from your virginity with me and go to work tomorrow as a new man?”
In case it’s not clear from the premise, sex plays a big role in Chihiro Himukai. Not long after the opening scene at the bar, Takuto and Chihiro have their first time together. It’s tentative and awkward, but that’s exactly what you’d expect, and it feels authentic. Takuto, who had always envisioned himself waiting for some destined romantic encounter, isn’t sure what to make of this turn of events. He’s thrown even further off when the next morning, Chihiro practically kicks him out. “Just because we fucked once, don’t go thinking you’re my boyfriend.”
Living Our Lives
Chihiro Himukai then follows the development of Takuto and Chihiro’s relationship as they live out everyday life. Takuto quickly establishes that he would like a relationship with Chihiro, but she keeps him at arm’s length. While she’s open and even eager in the bedroom, the pair’s outside communication is at first sparse. You see them exchange text messages from time to time. They meet up for a night and then go their separate ways. Even when Takuto reaches out, Chihiro rushes to walk away.
What you see of Chihiro shows a woman who sees relationships as inherently fleeting. She views her worth, both to herself and others, in terms of how she can be of use. Her thoughts are highly attuned to the emotions of those around her, and she feels compelled to take responsibility for their happiness. Combine this with her outgoing exterior and winning smile, and Chihiro is beloved as helpful and caring wherever she goes. But no matter how things begin, Chihiro knows in the end she will be discarded. Ever since graduating high school, she’s worked a number of part-time jobs following this pattern.
The development of Takuto and Chihiro’s physical relationship runs parallel to that of their emotional relationship. Given her personality, it’s easy to see Chihiro’s initial offer as seeking out another way to be useful. However, the uninhibited nature of sex also creates an environment where Chihiro feels free to express herself. Even as she’s reluctant to commit to Takuto, Chihiro’s pillow talk is honest and loving. The pair’s sexual relationship plays an important part in helping Chihiro learn to prioritize her own desires.
Takuto, for his part, has an element of self-insert. Hilariously, he’s literally portrayed a dotted outline in the opening cinematic. Takuto actually isn’t so bad though. He’s passive and not very observant, at least at first, but he’s also kind and thoughtful. And as Takuto spends more time with Chihiro, he gets better at understanding and empathizing with her. He also becomes more comfortable being proactive in showing his care for Chihiro, knowing when to take chances without becoming overbearing. This helped me feel that Takuto had something to contribute to the relationship. Chihiro doesn’t fawn over him simply for existing.
One could imagine the tension of Takuto seeking a committed relationship while Chihiro pulls back eventually coming to a dramatic head. But true to its iyashikei roots, Chihiro Himukai doesn’t take this direction. It’s a story about how two people can grow closer and overcome the obstacles between them through patience and care while living everyday lives. We see Takuto and Chihiro at work, out strolling in the park, or having quiet moments together at home. Chihiro Himukai never digs too deeply into Chihiro’s past or her challenges in forming lasting attachments. But not every story has to be a drama, and the resulting experience is warm and soothing.
A good portion of Chihiro Himukai’s 4-5 hour playtime consists of sex scenes. They’re also some of the best visual novel sex scenes I’ve read because they showcase the characters and their development in the context of sex. Takuto expresses his caring nature by seeking consent and creating a positive environment for Chihiro. He doesn’t lust only for his own pleasure and excuse it with “I’m a guy and that’s how guys are.” Chihiro’s initial enthusiasm reflects a setting where she can see herself as useful with immediate feedback. And as the pair spend more time together, we see them become more comfortable and adventurous in voicing their desires to each other and trusting in mutual enjoyment derived from give-and-take rather than worrying mainly about pleasing the other. Things never get too crazy, but both Takuto and Chihiro become bolder and more open to experimenting. The sex scenes also avoid dialogue that consists entirely of play-by-play narration of the act, a common problem in visual novels with sexual content.
The default Steam version of Chihiro Himukai is censored, though you can restore the 18+ content with a patch. I’m all for accessibility, and most visual novels with sexual content don’t lose much from cutting it. However, sex plays such a central role in Chihiro Himukai that in this case, I don’t think the censored version makes much sense. If you’re not interested in sexual content, you’re better off simply playing something else.
Art, Sound, and Extras
Chihiro Himukai is an intimate experience, and the art reflects that. Chihiro herself has the only sprite, but it’s lavishly detailed, from the light reflecting off her eyes to the way the blush in her cheeks varies from moment to moment. You get to see her in different outfits (or lack thereof) and hairstyles too. The event CGs and sex scenes put Chihiro front and center as well and also have a good amount of variety.
Chihiro’s voice actress did an outstanding job. She successfully navigates both Chihiro’s outgoing exterior as well as the insecurities she shows only in her quiet moments with Takuto. And in the sex scenes, she strikes a balance between vocalizing Chihiro’s pleasure while also communicating Chihiro’s desires and inner thoughts. It’s not just a bunch of hammed-up, incoherent moaning.
Besides Chihiro, some of Takuto’s coworkers have voiced lines. These, as well as the CG backgrounds and BGM, are solid but aren’t the focus anyway. The main test for Chihiro Himukai’s art and sound is whether they make Chihiro pop, and they pass in that regard. Once you complete the game, you unlock a standard Extras menu. You can view CGs, replay sex scenes and cinematics, and listen to the soundtrack.
While Chihiro Himukai Always Walks Away has the seeds of some intriguing ideas, it’s ultimately a straightforward iyashikei experience heavy on sexual content. Still, it stands out as uncommonly thoughtful and kind. If a warm, soothing experience with an emphasis on sexuality appeals to you, I think you will enjoy Chihiro Himukai Always Walks Away.
CHIHIRO HIMUKAI ALWAYS WALKS AWAY
Many thanks go to Shiravune for a PC review code for this title.
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A veteran of Oregon Trail and Battletoads, Wes has been playing and talking about games for as long as he can remember. He’s down to try almost anything, and he especially enjoys games with gripping narrative experiences.