[Review] Kara no Shoujo

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JP title: 殻ノ少女

http://vndb.org/v810

(This is a spoiler-free review)

You can also check out my review of the sequel, Kara no Shoujo 2

So a couple of days ago I finished reading a visual novel called Kara no Shoujo (殻ノ少女 or “The Girl in the Shell”). It was released back in 2008, and got an English translation in 2011. To give you a general idea, it’s a murder mystery visual novel, with detective protagonist Tokisaka Reiji trying to track down a mysterious serial killer who’s mutilating high school girls and leaving their dismembered corpses out in the open. Furthermore, Reiji is also tormented by his own past and constant desire for revenge, as his own lover and fiance was brutally murdered 6 years before by a killer he ultimately was unable to capture.


Boy, do I love writing intros.

So anyway, here’s my review of it. I know it’s old, but I personally haven’t even heard of this game until a few days ago, so I think it might be worth the effort to give this little gem a bit more attention here on the blog.

Opening movie:

(As usual in Japanese games, Engrish seems to be unavoidable. The text is supposed to say “I want you to search for me – the real me / my true self.” at 1:45 in the video.)

Gameplay

One thing I should note right away is that Kara no Shoujo is more along the lines of the Phoenix Wright games – in other words, it has slightly more gameplay than your average VN, and is not merely a reading experience. You actually have to go around searching for clues, examining crime scenes and come up with solutions and possible suspects on your own. Failure to do so will obviously result in Bad Ends (which I strongly recommend seeing, since they’re kinda awesome). This makes it highly immersive for those who like these sort of things.

Worry not, though – for those of you that want to merely enjoy the story without that extra stress, there are always walkthroughs out there. I’m saying that because I don’t want to discourage you from reading Kara no Shoujo – if you don’t want the gameplay, I recommend Googling for a full guide and just enjoying the story.

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Story / music / artwork

I don’t think I’m exaggerating here when I say that the plot is one of the most important aspect of any visual novel. First of all – this game is dark. But I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. If you’re into murder mysteries, you’re gonna love this – it’s extremely atmospheric / immersive, and it’s guaranteed you’ll keep on reading just to find out what happens next, unable to quit the game, wanting to play for a few more minutes before going to bed just to unfold another layer of the mystery. And then it’s suddenly 3AM in the morning. So yeah, this game seriously messed up my sleep schedule. Much like any good book. There’s a relatively large cast of characters, many mysteries and angles to consider, clues to collect and things to figure out. It will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The game is of medium length according to VNDB, and I agree – it is by no means a gargantuan undertaking like, say, Muramasa or Fate/Stay Night, but it is not especially short, either. I’m a fast reader of English, and even for me it took several days to devour it all, including all the Bad Ends and the True route. And I followed a guide. For those who go into this blind, playtime and replay value is gonna be even higher.

Speaking of atmosphere… in an interesting twist by the devs, when someone gets murdered, the narration is given from the killer’s viewpoint, making the entire thing that much more bone-chilling. It is a genuinely tense experience – you’ll dread the coming of said murder scenes (and they *will* be coming), or feel relief upon finding this and that character safe and unharmed.

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The game often tugs at the heartstrings, especially some of the endings – I doubt this comes as a big surprise, but this is a strongly bittersweet tale from start to finish, which will be intensified if you can be immersed enough to start to genuinely care about some of the characters (in particular I’ve come to really like the main heroine by the end). And honestly, I think that’s a good thing: for me personally, stories that deal with tragedy are the most memorable, and Kara no Shoujo delivers in that regard.

The emotional aspect of the game is even further enhanced by the beautiful, and oftentimes genuinely moving soundtrack, some of which have become instant favorites of mine the moment I heard them. It’s really, really good, and some of the pieces that play during the more emotional scenes (the endings in particular) are sure to make certain readers shed tears. Even after finishing the VN, I find myself going back to the soundtrack, which easily stands on its own even without any association to the game — I honestly cannot praise it enough.

The artwork, I felt, was decent. There’s not much to say about it, other than that I’ve seen much, much worse, but I’ve also seen better. Certain bits are actually very pretty, though (mostly the ones I posted here between paragraphs). So all in all, no complaints on this front.

The not-so-good bits

And this is where I need to mention some negatives. The game unfortunately suffers from “the mystery is more interesting than the actual solution” syndrome. When you’re still in the dark, you’ll constantly want to press on and find out the truth behind certain events. I won’t lie, I haven’t been this hooked on a  game in ages, I could barely force myself to stop reading. Halfway through the game I was dead set on coming to the blog and giving it a glowing review and a “GO AND PLAY THIS ASAP” recommendation.

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That… changed a little since I’ve finished. Don’t get me wrong, it is by no means a bad story at all. Hell no. However, certain things are somewhat predictable, and in all honesty the game doesn’t throw any huge twists at you that would completely blow your mind (if you want that, I’d recommend 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors). I mean, there are surprises, but nothing that would make your jaw drop. While the ending was emotional, it is also somewhat lackluster – the identity of the murderer is not a huge, earth-shattering revelation and does not really take the reader by surprise (in my opinion), and the backstory for the murders isn’t super amazing, either. It’s just… okay.

H-scenes

The other big negative is the porn scenes. Most of them completely break the mood and take you right out of the game. Some of them make little sense and serve no purpose other than pleasing those who want to fap instead of enjoying a good mystery plot. Not to mention the protagonist is supposed to be a guy who’s still tormented by the death of his fiance 6 years later, yet he goes around banging high school girls in his off time. I cannot emphasize enough how much I felt the porn was unneeded in this. I pretty much just pretended they didn’t happen.

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No, the above image isn’t a spoiler. Don’t worry about it. And yes, her head is indeed twisted around.

A few words about the gore / violence

Now for something a bit different. I don’t consider this a negative, but I wanna talk about it nonetheless. I’ve already said that this is a rather brutal murder mystery, and I wasn’t lying. This game has gore. And not just off-screen gore like in Muramasa – the game actually shows you the victims as all the horrible and cruel things are being done to them, accompanied by descriptive narration and nasty sound effects. So prepare yourself for that, both emotionally and physically (with a vomit bag). Due to said murders, the game can be pretty depressing. The gore itself is not shockingly gruesome or graphic (I mean, yeah, it’s brutal, but I’ve seen worse), so don’t worry too much, but… yeah, if you *absolutely* cannot handle that sort of thing, I thought I’d give a fair warning. In fact, there’s one murder scene in particular that haunts me to this day.

One more thing to note is that a sequel, Kara no Shoujo 2, has actually been released recently, continuing two years after the conclusion of the first game. It’s only available in Japanese at the time of writing this review. Oh and there’s also an anime adaptation of the first game, apparently. I haven’t seen it, though, so I can’t really comment on it.

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Activate Lesbomagnetic Field

Final verdict

Go play it! I don’t know how much a recommendation means from a guy who hasn’t read too many VNs compared to others, but I still had a blast reading through KnS. There’s also a sequel, at the moment only available in Japanese.

In conclusion – while not perfect, I’d say Kara no Shoujo is going to be worth your time if you decide to plunge into its world. It’s not without flaws, but on the whole, it’s still a highly atmospheric detective tale with a great main heroine and a sufficiently mature, bittersweet tone; a game I will fondly remember in years to come. Given its moderate length, it does not overstay its welcome, so I can only recommend it.

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11 thoughts on “[Review] Kara no Shoujo

    • Well, I dunno. I’d rather make my own judgement after reading it myself. But it does seem to have a much slower pace compared to the first game. I’ve been reading for quite a while now and it’s still the exposition. (there haven’t even been any murders yet). Of course, I don’t read Japanese as fast as I do English, but still.

  1. Yep, Innocent Grey has had quite a relationship with Engrish. The subtitle of their breakout title, Cartagra (which you should try), was “the sickness of possessory and crazy.” Are you going to play and review Caucasus: Nanatsuki no Nie by Innocent Grey as well?

    (SPOILERS BELOW)

    One thing I’m surprised you didn’t mention in your review is how well the writing leads into the game’s many h-scenes (other reviews I’ve seen mention this as a weakness common to Innocent Grey games–the h-scenes often come with no real justification or well-developed lead-in).

    For example, what’s the point of having Reiji sleep with Orihime if she can’t be saved? I would think that Orihime could have had a very nice route with lots of character development possible if she could be saved, touching on themes of upper-class sleaze and the rebellion of those who are pigeonholed into roles expected of a bloodline they never asked for. For that matter, why is it even possible for Reiji to sleep with “perverted school nurse” Nene? Isn’t she just a minor character? What about Tsuzuriko or Touko Mizuhara given how they can’t be saved either?

    Reiji sleeping with Natsume I can understand, because she’s had an unhealthy obsession with her brother Shugo ever since the prequel Cartagra (and for some reason Shugo is STILL faceless in this game), and now that he’s married she’s willing to turn her obsession somewhere else. Kyouko I can somewhat understand as well since she’s been widowed for some time and has had eyes for Reiji for a while.

    (Speaking of Shugo, how old is Hatsune in this game? I remember a gameplay video showing her saying that she’s older than Yukari, but still has the face of a child. Is she still hurt that Shugo didn’t choose her in Cartagra? She used to call him “Shugo-sama” all the time in that game too. Too bad she’s not in KnS2.)

    The problem of “out-of-the-blue” h-scenes also seems to extend to the main couple. If you go by the H-OVA for this series, Reiji sleeps with Touko Kuchiki for no real reason. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the actual case in the game either.

    If the devs were aiming to release a non-h version so the h-scenes could be easily excised, I might understand, but even the violence and gore would still give it a high CERO rating in Japan. Besides, Innocent Grey hasn’t had a console port of its games ever since Cartagra.

    • SPOILER WARNING (for both KnS1 and 2)

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      I mentioned how the H scenes come out of nowhere and serve little to no purpose. That goes for the writing as well. It’s way too abrupt. If I remember correctly, Reiji has sex with Orihime to console her/make her accept herself, since she was just about to commit suicide due to feeling guilt for the sins she’s committed. But it’s non-canon (leads to a premature bad end). Besides, this is an Innocent Grey title, just because someone has a H scene doesn’t mean they will survive. I don’t quite understand the logic of having a character survive just because you sleep with her – this is a depressing title, after all. If anything, it’s supposed to make the loss of a character even more painful and was very much intentional on Innocent Grey’s part (they said so themselves in an interview). That’s just what they do. (in fact it happens in KnS2 as well with a character that gets killed off shortly after a H scene, and you cannot save her no matter what). Same goes for Tsuzuriko. It’s just to throw salt in your wound when she dies. I recommend giving this a read: http://www.siliconera.com/2011/06/29/nostalgia-tragedy-and-catharsis-an-interview-with-innocent-grey/

      As for Nene – she is one of the “antagonists” of the game. She basically forces Reiji to have sex with her in exchange for information. Then she sedates him with drugs anyway, and you starve to death locked in a room. It’s another bad end.

      The Mizuhara H scene is also non-canon and part of a bad end. After Touko’s accident she completely snaps and convinces herself that she’s actually Kuchiki Touko. She then… kinda sorta forces herself on Reiji and has sex with him. The narration of the H scene itself is told from her viewpoint and is rather creepy. I don’t remember why Reiji doesn’t resist. I actually don’t remember much of that scene.

      I think Hatsune is in her twenties or something? I dunno. It’s implied she still loves Shugo, and still calls her Shugo-sama in KnS. There is a fairly touching scene with her and Shugo, there’s even a CG for it afaik.

      And I might play Caucasus eventually, but it’s not top priority right now.

      • Garejei,

        Pardon me, I should have looked over this review more thoroughly. I still think that Orihime’s story could have been developed further into a memorable redemption story (and she could have learned that despite her past, sexual activity doesn’t have to be exploitative). But apparently the writers at Innocent Grey love to screw their characters over.

        Was it ever explained just what Nene and Orihime were getting out of running the prostitution ring at Yukari’s school? I didn’t get to read that far before the KnS fan translation was pulled from free public view.

        Yes, I saw the CG too where Shugo (possibly grieving over Kazuna’s kidnapping/death) is dead drunk and Hatsune is trying to talk him out of it. It’s too bad that Hatsune isn’t in KnS2–I’m also surprised that Shugo and Kazuna didn’t adopt her for a stepdaughter. I’m certain that if Hatsune can’t be Shugo’s wife (which is possible in an abortive ending in Cartagra), she’d still settle for being his stepdaughter.

        Contrary to the interview you posted, too much tragedy is desensitizing to readers. Each death impacts you less and less before you become numb to it (something well attested to in reality). Maybe it might make you want to see the case done and solved, but that won’t bring the dead back, obviously. I’m sure quite a lot of people who have lost friends while in pursuit of some important goal still are haunted by their losses even if they accomplish that goal.

        I recommended Caucasus because it features Touko Kuchiki’s voice actress, Aji Sanma, plays a significant role in that game. Kazuna Takashiro’s (nee Kouzuki) voice actress, Mio Yasuda, also plays a significant role in that title is well. It’s too bad that Mio Yasuda has next to no mainstream anime exposure, because her portrayal of the Kouzuki twin sisters (one genki, one yandere) in Innocent Grey’s breakout title Cartagra was excellent.

        I’m a little confused about Innocent Grey’s depiction of the Shouwa era of Japanese history. First, did Japanese school girls really dress in kimonos/yukatas at home, let alone western lingerie? One of Innocent Grey’s games, PP: Pianissimo, is supposedly set in 1930s Japan and yet the fashions the female characters wear in that title look too modern. Caucasus also features quite a bit of culture clash, with one heroine wearing traditional Japanese clothing at home while the others (maids included) wear western dresses.

      • Orihime’s goal was to shame the school – starting a prostitution ring and thus ruining the good name of the institution was her way of taking revenge for being forced to live a rigid, ordered lifestyle. I don’t remember much of Nene. She was probably doing it for the money or something, afaik.

        I’m hardly an expert on Shouwa-era clothing. You’d have to ask Innocent Grey themselves, I guess. :p

  2. recently finished all route of the series and i find the guro is not too bad but the story is really sad especially how the tragedy that happened to the mother repeated with the daughter

  3. “Not to mention the protagonist is supposed to be a guy who’s still tormented by the death of his fiance 6 years later, yet he goes around banging high school girls in his off time” I was drinking water when i read that and now it’s all over my keyboard, laughed so hard. To be honest, sex scenes is the last thing i care about in visual novels, i skip over 99% of them, and i hate to figure out that i missed something because one character said something important while they had intercourse. I’m fine with one sex scene to know that the characters bound, example, Meiya had one sex scene in extra and unlimited, just knowing that they bound was enough for me. I didn’t read them though.

    I might have said something uninteresting sorry, me babbling out nonsense no one care about.

    • Yeah I tend to skip porn scenes as well. They usually have nothing to do with the story, anyway. Interestingly enough the H-scenes in MuvLuv are one of the few I did read. I guess I just liked the characters enough to be curious about how they act/what they say in those scenes.

      Similarly, I’m reading the all-ages version of Dies Irae but I find the characters interesting enough (and the writing good enough) to be curious about how they handled the H scenes. But yeah, most of the time I couldn’t care less.

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