JP title: 装甲悪鬼村正 妖甲秘聞 鋼
So as you may or may not have heard, there was a Muramasa spinoff-novel (I mean an actual novel, not a VN) written by Haganeya Jin and released all the way back in 2011 called Youkou Hibun Hagane. Well, four years later, they actually did a re-release of it, with the main difference being that the illustrations (by Namaniku ATK) are now in full-color. The novel’s story takes place during the infamous Nanbokuchou period (hundreds of years before the visual novel’s events) which was actually lightly touched upon in the VN, too: a lengthy and tremendously violent conflict that earned the Muramasa clan its infamy as a bloodline of Tsurugi that brought about calamity, bloodshed and insanity to the lands of Yamato. So now we get to read about how that actually happened! Fun times! (spoilers: lots of people die)
So, opening up the book, we come face to face with our lovely cast, segmented into the northern and southern forces. Here’s a pic that only includes some of them:
From left to right, we have Sagiri, Kusunoki (I think that’s how you read 楠木, anyway; he’s sort of our main “hero”, despite looking like a villain… and this aspect of him is actually brought up in the book, haha), Kagari, then Nisei Muramasa (the infamous Silver Star / Ginseigou from the VN), then her father, who I just refer to as Elder Muramasa (he forged himself into a jet black Tsurugi resembling a rhinoceros beetle), and finally, the lady on the right there is Takane, an assassin you might already be semi-familiar with if you’ve read the VN. Not pictured here are the Ashikaga commander of the northern forces, as well as his dear younger brother.
Now, the thing about this story… is that the VN sort of spoils half of it, lol. If you remember, the VN did have a bit of an infodump about the Nanbokuchou period and how that ended. And this is that story. So before I even started reading this I already knew how certain people would die. Anyway, the basic premise is that both the northern and southern forces have been at war for quite a while, and both desire to put an end to the conflict. Now, it was nice to see that (at first, anyway), neither side was portrayed as especially bloodthirsty: they both wish to put an end to the conflict and are weary of the ongoing hostilities — they just want the land to be at peace. In fact, the Ashikaga commander is particularly described as a person who dislikes war, iirc.
But then stuff happens, and as we already know from the VN, two unique Tsurugi are granted to the northern and southern forces, one for each: Elder Murmasa is received by the north, while Nisei / Ginseigou is presented to the south. The interesting part is that they don’t instantly go “fuck yeah Muramasa let’s go”, but are very much reluctant to rely on Muramasa’s power, precisely because they know exactly what its 善悪相殺 would result in. And even when one side does end up using Muramasa, they try to end things without resorting to bloodshed (once again, because they know they’re bound by 善悪相殺).
It takes about half the book for shit to finally hit the fan, and you’ll definitely know when it happens because holy balls is it brutal and gory — this is pretty much the high point of the novel, I’d say. Remember “the scene” from Ichijou’s route? We’re diving into that sort of territory here, too. It’s sort of insane how everything goes to hell in such a brief period of time and you’re just reading the thing and going “wtf nooo stop it nooooo” all the way through. There’s also some pretty wtf body horror going on in one scene, so get ready for that. The novel does pay homage to the VN in certain ways, at times by kinda-sorta verbatim quoting it, at other times using a similar structure. For example, the prologue of the book is going to be pretty familiar if you’ve read the VN. It was a nice touch, and so was the ending, for that matter, in how they connected things to the VN.
Now, I guess my main gripe with the book is that while it’s more or less just retreading old ground (this in itself is not that huge of a problem with Muramasa), there’s not much of a story to talk of, and the novel doesn’t quite flesh out its characters enough for it to feel fresh. Yeah, there are two sides who use Muramasa. Both are then governed by 善悪相殺. What could possibly go wrong. (hint: everything). Don’t get me wrong, there are indeed some cool moments in the novel, particularly in its second chapter, where everything just turns upside down. You basically witness a slow trainwreck, realize that war and bloodshed is pointless and you know where Muramasa’s tenets are coming from, yet you’re still dealing with men and women whose lives were ruined in the process. There’s definitely some really disturbing and depressing scenes in there, no doubt about that. But overall, you don’t get to see all that much of many of the characters (there are plenty of battles, but that doesn’t count!), save for Kusunoki and the Ashikaga commander, who are the two main stars, more or less. Hell, Kagari is in the center of the novel’s cover, implying she might be this super important heroine or something. Well, in terms of who she is, sure, she’s important (her identity is only revealed at the very end but anyone should be able to put two and two together very easily), but at the end of the day, she felt more like a side character. And the book is kinda over before you realize it — it felt awfully short.
So anyway, my overall thoughts are that this a decent little extra to read for fans of the VN and I definitely enjoyed parts of it (also: some of the cool quotes I posted here!), but I wasn’t super blown away or anything. So I guess it’s… okay. It gets the basics of Muramasa and has some moments, but overall it’s not the epic that the VN was, obviously. I was hoping for a bit more, especially considering how interesting this period is, and how much could’ve been done with it to make it one hell of an origin story. But then again, there’s already the VN for that, with its flashbacks in Muramasa’s route.