The Walls Around the Heart
All of the Paradiso Four’s stories have been available for a while, but I was distracted by my lovers from the stars. I’m happy to be back with this title, though, as it is one of the rare games where I’m interested in all of the characters. Which, of course, was what made Voltage’s release schedule all the more daunting. We got one, and only one of these men per month? Talk about taking it slow…
Speaking of taking it slow: this story is a slow burner. It’s been a while that I’ve read a route where the movement of the heart isn’t even mentioned until chapter seven or eight. Thank god I can be so patient. On all fronts.
After almost drowning in a pool (the MC can’t swim, but should also not be confused with the MC of Star-Crossed Myth, who cannot handle pools for entirely different reasons), the MC wakes up to cool, gentle fingers softly stroking her hair. Aloof Kiyohito saved her from a watery grave and is currently in the process of blow-drying her hair. After letting her know how exceedingly disappointing it is to find people who take, like, zero care of their hair, Kiyo goes on to list all the reasons the MC had better take the job as his housekeeper. Realizing her other options are both limited and unappealing, she agrees and moves in with him.
There are ground rules in house Shirakami: the MC is to clean, do the laundry and the shopping, but she doesn’t have to cook, and she’s absolutely forbidden to enter Kiyo’s bedroom. There are also “special tasks” required of the MC, which are not discussed or explained to her at this stage.
After it is revealed that the special task is a very public magazine makeover, the MC has opportunity to be both relieved (she expected something more sinister) and mortified, because, honestly, she doesn’t feel she needs one. Kiyo does not mince words: he pretty much thinks everything is wrong about her, and she needs to change fundamentally. He gives her a strict beauty regimen including diet, skin care, and exercise, and reminds her that he will be able to spot even the slightest deviation from the plan. Once the basics are covered, he takes her shopping. To Paris. Yes, the one in France. As you do, when you’re an international super model.
Back from Paris – where she also sees Kiyo on the runway for Fashion Week – and after a little altercation, the MC reminds Kiyo that he has to eat every so often, and even if she was specifically told not to cook for him, it would not, in fact, be a hassle to do so. After all, she herself has to eat occasionally. After having tasted her food, he generously allows her to cook for him.
Unfortunately, developing a new passion for cooking for a very picky eater, takes away from the MC’s dedication to her transformation, for which she is scolded immediately by Kiyo. Who doesn’t know that it’s the care for his food that makes her neglect her duties to herself, of course.
The second photo-shoot goes swimmingly. While her body and skin have changed, it is remarked upon that the most dramatic change is in her confidence. She poses like a pro and has fun in the process. Kiyohito is so taken with the whole thing that he invites her to his favourite bar, which he rented for the evening. Yes, the entire bar. Where he proceeds to get very, very drunk. That, in turn, loosens his tongue (in so many ways), and he ends up telling her his life story, at least up to the point where he became a model.
The next day, as she is cleaning the pool area, the MC runs into Shun, another one of the Paradiso Four, who makes an offhand remark about how Kiyo really loves to kiss people when he’s drunk, and then doesn’t even remember what he did. Suddenly Kiyo’s rather blasé behaviour from this morning makes a lot more sense. And more things come together; it is Kiyo who finally realises what is up with his feelings and asks the MC to be his girlfriend.
Everything could be perfect from that moment on, but, of course, a blunder on Kiyohito’s part throws the MC into a spiral of hurt and doubt, causing her to break up with him. He’ll have to go to great lengths to regain her trust.
After being cheated on by her ex-husband, the MC has major trust issues, but in this instance, she isn’t the only one. Kiyohito has perfected the facial expression and the tone of voice that says he doesn’t give a shit – a feat only undertaken by people who, in the past, gave way too many shits. Also, on their impromptu visit to Paris, he scolds the MC for trusting too easily, clearly indicating that there’s something in his past where his trust was massively betrayed. And while his past is sufficiently traumatic for this story, all the foreboding does leave me with an impression that Voltage are yet again pulling their punches in order to remain… innocent, I guess.
As is usual for the Dark Mysterious type in these stories, Kiyo behaves much like a cat, approaching cautiously only to quickly disappear again. In his case, the similarities don’t end there. Ever had a finicky eater of the feline variety? Like that. Because that’s totally a plot point.
His point of view story is actually pretty sweet, and dare I say, not really dramatic or overblown. By not dramatic I mean to say that there are no hysterics on either side, just admissions of one’s own fragility, and I really appreciate that. He understands a lot about her (even if part of it is inference from his own past), and he understands a lot about himself.
In addition, it might be fair to say that my issue with the “Bodies on Fire” ending (see below) is vastly ameliorated by his PoV. That there seems to be a pattern of the sexy stuff only being available from a male vantage point is a whole different can of worms, of course.
The Love Meter
So, I started solidly on the Hearts in Paradise side of things, but somewhere around chapter eight, it switched to the other side. Interesting. I felt so innocent in my choosings. Not that there’s anything wrong with Bodies on Fire per so, it’s just that the ending wasn’t as “on fire” as its title suggests. But then, it never is, is it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Kiyohito’s dramatic closing-his-eyes-in-exasperation every so often really amused me. I liked the MC much more than in Taki’s story, as her trust issues here made much more sense. I also appreciate that the leap of faith was made from the other side: it was Kiyo who decided to trust his instincts and the MC (not to mention his wing man), and chose to let his guard down. Also, there’s kind of a delicate vulnerability to Kiyo that really touched me. I like him.