A spoiler-free review
Earlier today I finished reading Kara no Shoujo 2 – the sequel to Innocent Grey’s 2008 murder mystery VN. My review of the predecessor is over here if you’re interested. I did a full completion with all the endings, including the True End. So I suppose I’ll have to share some of my thoughts on it. I’ve also written a spoiler-heavy entry sharing my thoughts on the True End and various other aspects of KnS2′s plot, you can read it by clicking here, in case you don’t mind being spoiled (or if you’ve already read the VN).
Also: as stated above, this will be a spoiler-free review, so I’m not planning to give away major plot details / twists. However, since this is a direct sequel to the first Kara no Shoujo, spoilers for that game will be unavoidable. Only read this if you’re familiar with the True End of the original.
To give you a general introduction, the main plot concerns a series of murders that started decades in the past and continued on both in the 1930s (the “past” arc) and the 1950s (Reiji’s “present” arc). People blame the bizarre, ritualistic killings on “the curse of Hinna-sama”, a deity originating in Hitogata Village. However, the basic premise revolving around a curse will probably not mislead readers familiar with Innocent Grey’s previous work – it must be remembered that this isn’t a VN dealing with the supernatural. In the end, as Reiji himself reminds us, it is always people that commit murders, not the gods, and there is an explanation for everything. Naturally, you will uncover terrible, dark secrets – but the monsters in this tale are all human.
The “present” arc starts in December, 1957 and ends near the end of January, 1958 – so almost two years after the events of the first game. Unlike the original, however, a secondary plot line is also employed – one that tells the tale of the quiet mountain village of Hitogata sometime in the 30s, shortly before the start of World War II. The seemingly unconnected two narratives, Reiji’s investigation and the past events of Hitogata, eventually join up in unexpected ways as the investigation proceeds, and it’s your job to untangle a fairly large web of mysteries. Finally, we also see the reappearance of a religious organization last seen in Cartagra (another Innocent Grey VN) and their possible involvement in the murders as well as some other shady business buried in the past. Of course, in addition to all the above, it is made evident at the very beginning of the game that Reiji still hasn’t given up on finding Kuchiki Touko, and continues to search for her. However, it has to be mentioned that the majority of the game focuses on the new investigation, while the search for Touko is mostly pushed into the background (though still mentioned from time to time).
Needless to say, the answers you find will not always be pleasant. In fact, despite its severely toned-down gore (compared to the original, at least), I found Kara no Shoujo 2 to be a far more disturbing game on several levels. Somehow, it uses less blood and direct visuals and ends up being more unsettling, which is quite a feat. It focuses less on the shock and terror of seeing someone’s limbs sawed off and dreading the killer’s next strike, and more on the darker side of humanity and the human psyche – in a word, “paranoia”, a word that should be familiar to those who played the previous title. There is one particular bad ending that, despite a complete lack of blood and violence, managed to send shivers down my spine. And so throughout the game, Reiji makes it his mission to uncover the dark and highly disturbing secrets of Hitogata Village while helping to free the people concerned from their personal “paranoia” – in other words, their unhealthy obsessions and delusions.
Kara no Shoujo 2 definitely has the general feel of being a somewhat different title compared to the original, and ultimately it’s more like a standalone game focusing on a new mystery. Still, I think those who enjoyed the first one will find things to like in the sequel (but I would advise against expecting this to be *exactly* like KnS1, otherwise you might be disappointed). Touko’s case isn’t *completely* forgotten, either, and is given a proper conclusion by the end, so those wanting to know just what exactly happened to her after her sudden disappearance in the original will find all the answers in this. The story itself is quite complex, the narrative lengthy and branching, and yet by the end, in good Kara no Shoujo fashion, almost everything will be revealed, dots will be connected and logical explanations will be given. I deliberately said “almost everything” because, as usual, there is sort of a sequel hook. Nonetheless, it’s really quite amazing how the different threads of the plot all come together and make sense in the end.
The presentation of the narrative underwent some changes. First off, we actually have two major protagonists this time: one is Tokisaka Reiji, as expected, while the other is a man called Masaki Tomoyuki (pictured above), who ends up working for Reiji as his assistant. They get an almost equal amount of screen time as both of them are equally important to the plot – Masaki maybe a bit more than Reiji, in fact. However, the narrative occasionally shifts to a variety of other characters as well, including Kayahara Yukiko (the main heroine this time around), Tokisaka Yukari and Aoki Touji, a character from Cartagra.
In the end, the VN is given a sort of Game of Thrones-like feel with its constant change of focalizers. In fact, once your first playthrough is done, beginning a second playthrough (required for the True End) will offer some extra content that will help in understanding some of the things that went on behind the scenes – stuff that you didn’t actually witness on your first run. I personally enjoyed this quite a bit, as it was fun looking at the same events from a variety of viewpoints. And besides, Masaki is great as a new protagonist. I’ve really come to like him by the end: his interactions with Michiru (most huggable character in the entire game) were beyond adorable. All in all, I thought the cast was great – it is a healthy mixture of familiar faces (including certain people I thought I wouldn’t see again) and awesome newcomers.
I’ll say right now that I enjoyed the mystery of the sequel more than the one presented in the first game (in fact, this was one of my major gripes about that title). The game itself is very long – I didn’t find a playtime counter in-game, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s at least 2, maybe 3 times longer than its predecessor. So prepare for a massive time investment. However, despite my grumbles about the pacing (more about this later), I felt that the game’s length was more or less justified – the story has plenty of time to unfold, and the reader can use it to get to know all the new characters that are being introduced.
Furthermore, the mystery itself is quite large and affects several decades, as evidenced my the multiple plot lines -with a large cast of characters- running in both the 30s and the 50s. Seemingly unrelated people are shown to have connections and apparently unexplainable, supernatural murders are revealed to have clearly determinable, earthly reasons. While the progression of the story is slow, with each couple of scenes a new layer of the plot unfolds, ushering the narrative towards its finale, and the inevitable “finale after the finale” sort of epilogue – in other words, the True End. Despite certain twists being somewhat predictable, the game still managed to surprise me here and there, especially towards the end. Ultimately, I found the story highly enjoyable: its themes were interesting, its bittersweet tone satisfying; all in all, a puzzle well worth solving.
However. I have to say that the game’s length is a double edged sword. The pacing is… less than optimal, let’s put it that way. It tends to drag on quite a bit, and there are a number of pointless, filler scenes that seriously overstay their welcome. Having a scene that consists of sitting around, eating dinner and doing nothing might be familiar to fans of slice-of-life, but KnS2 is supposed to be a murder mystery.
Similarly, there was really no need to include throwaway scenes of high school girls doing boring high school-y things that have no bearing on the main plot. While seeing every tiny detail of the characters’ daily lives might help in getting to know them better (and therefore make the story more personal), I felt the author went overboard with it at times, going for quantity over quality on several occasions. The prologue is a major offender, spending entirely too much time on slice-of-life hijinks before even a single murder occurs. KnS2 is very much worth reading for its well-crafted mystery plot, but prepare for a serious time investment and a number of dull moments during your journey towards the final ending. Speaking of the ending… without spoiling anything, I thought the True End was beautiful in its own way, especially once you connect it to a certain something that was shown much earlier in the VN. I can’t say any more without giving away things, though, so I’ll just stop here.
In conclusion, despite its glaring flaws, I am still very much pleased with this sequel. In fact -and this is just my personal opinion- it pretty much surpasses the original in almost every way (exception: Touko was a better heroine than Yukiko). As expected from Innocent Grey, it is also an extremely depressing story – however, as I’ve already said in my review of the first game, tales that deal with tragedy are, to me, the most memorable. Although I do have some gripes which prevent me from calling it a masterpiece or anything, I can still say without a shred of hesitation that Kara no Shoujo 2 is now one of my favorite VNs ever.