[Review] Jingai Makyou

https://vndb.org/v400
JP title: 塵骸魔京
OP: 孤高之魂魄

I think it’s safe to say that Jingai Makyou is one of Nitroplus’ lesser known, or at least less often talked about, visual novels. I mean, there’s the fact that it doesn’t have an English translation, but even putting that aside, it’s not really the first game you’ll think about when you hear the word Nitroplus. And probably not the second or third, either. Most people will mention their Muramasas and their Sayas and maybe even their Demonbanes, but this one rarely ever seems to get much recognition other than a quick “oh yeah, that VN is a thing that exists I guess, now let’s get back to discussing why Saya taking it up the ass is central to the plot”. Anyway, Jingai’s apparent lack of presence in the general VN consciousness was actually one of the main reasons that pushed me to finally read it. That, and the artwork. And the soundtrack. And Ignis. Yeah.

So to really just give you the basic rundown, Jingai Makyou, penned by Gakkougurashi author Kaihou Norimitsu, stars a young man by the name of Kumon Katsuki, and mostly revolves around how he gets caught up in a struggle between humans and nonhumans in an otherwise everyday city. Now, Katsuki… well, he’s pretty intriguing. He takes everything literally, always speaks his mind without reservations, and finds everyday social interaction to be a mind-bending puzzle beyond his comprehension. He also over-analyzes everything to a maddening degree, which may make him seem like a bit of an eccentric, almost android-like weirdo in the eyes of his peers, but it actually made him a really… different kind of protagonist, in a good way. I chuckled every time he attributed people’s ability to detect nonverbal cues as a form of telepathy that seemingly everyone on Planet Earth can use except for him. Katsuki’s eccentricity also provides for some pretty hilarious comic relief moments whenever his unique way of looking at the world clashes with that of his friends.

Like, imagine this:

Person: Good morning, Katsuki!

Katsuki: Hm. The phrase “good morning” is a largely subjective term reflecting the opinion of its utterer. As such, the act of determining which mornings are good and which aren’t is a challenge in and of itself. This commonplace greeting is, one can conclude, a human construct for certain, yet in order to fully comprehend its ramifications, we must take our minds on a journey – indeed, a voyage – back to the ancient times of–

And then he keeps going like that. You get the picture. This is the kinda guy that can and will muse about the biological/evolutionary aspects of eating and will spiral into a lengthy thought process regarding the rise and fall of human civilization as a form of post-meal exercise. (He does actually do that, yes. It’s a pretty good scene lmao.) He’s voiced by Mizushima Takahiro, which was initially a little weird since he was still Fate’s Gawain in my mind when I started reading the VN, but I very quickly got used to him.

Sure, he may be extremely analytical and unable to read the atmosphere or understand subtle nuances for the life of him, but that’s part of his charm, I’d say. I also enjoyed how seriously he took everything, and at times when he tried figuring out the solution to a question, he mentally proposed several hypotheses and discussed the pros and cons of each. Seeing all that play out in his internal narration was pretty unique. Overall, it was really cool seeing everything through his eyes/mindset and he was definitely a memorable protagonist in his own weird way.

Before we dive into a discussion of the characters and routes, I feel like I should say a few words about Jingai’s plot structure. The game generally takes place over the course of ten days, and if that doesn’t sound like much, that’s because it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a short VN, but it’s not a tremendously long one, either. I think “doesn’t overstay its welcome” would be an… optimistic way of looking at it. Still, the overall plot of Jingai is one of its major weak points, in the sense that despite having routes that branch off very early on and explore different things, they still more or less follow a similar template and they’re… honestly not that riveting. This is most certainly not like Muramasa, for example, where each route could easily stand on its own as a separate VN. Here, it’s always the same fucking fish people in the sewers terrorizing the locals. You’ll always run into the same boring faceless giants (you see these guys in the OP, too) and you’ll always go to the same “final dungeon” and meet the same final boss dude trying to achieve the same goal at the end. The final and third route shakes things up a little bit towards the end by introducing a different conflict and even a different villain, but it’s too little, too late. I also have a strong suspicion that Jingai was initially meant to have several more routes that ended up not being written for some reason or another. I won’t go into the details, but the game kinda dangles the possibility of alternate paths/routes in front of you, and then never follows up on them. When people say Jingai seems incomplete, they’re definitely onto something, and I honestly can’t shake the feeling that the VN didn’t quite utilize the potential of its own setting to the fullest.

There are also several side characters like the salaryman vampire or the samurai dude but their appearances kinda boil down to brief moments of “remember me? I’m a character in this game, too! bye now!”. The routes, on the whole, don’t really do anything crazy or over the top; there are no mindfuck twists, no cosmic space battles and… how do I say this… there’s never that moment that would make you go “yup, this is a fucking kamige all right”. Oh, and save for one particular person in the third route, all the antagonists are bland as hell. But that doesn’t mean Jingai is without charm, and I want to be very clear about this: despite my criticisms of its glaring imperfections, I do like this VN. It’s objectively not the best thing I’ve ever read and certainly not the best in Nitro’s own catalog, either, but there’s just… something about it. So how exactly did I keep reading this without ever getting too bored? Well, I simply found myself really attracted to the characters, the main themes, and the overall atmosphere of the VN. And most of the main endings are crazy good. I’m not exaggerating when I say they’re among the highlights of Jingai Makyou. Some of them are better than the main plot and would have deserved their own VNs.

As noted above, the game also deserves a thumbs up in terms of atmosphere, achieved through a marriage of solid writing and one of the coolest, moodiest soundtracks I’ve heard in a long while. Even when nothing much is happening in a scene, reading Jingai Makyou is like lowering yourself into a tub of hot water and letting it gently soothe your entire body. At other times, it’s like being in a dream-like state and letting the atmosphere wash over you like waves. The song titled 夢幻万華鏡 (which, incidentally, plays during the very first scene of the VN) is probably the perfect example of how mesmerizing this OST is. I was also quite fond of chill tracks like 追想琥珀色 and 午眠, among others. All in all, ZIZZ really outdid themselves here. The three main ending themes (Sign and 陽炎 by Itou Kanako, and 残光 by Watanabe Kazuhiro) are also very different and serve as the perfect companions for their respective endings, doing an excellent job of encapsulating the themes and overall mood of each final scene.

Okay, so moving on to… characters. Most of the main cast is actually fairly likable, so much so that some of them not having a proper route of their own (Makimoto, Megumi, Umbrella Girl) comes off as a missed opportunity. In fact, if it weren’t for the characters being so enjoyable, I probably wouldn’t have liked Jingai as much as I ultimately did: whatever the game lacks in terms of narrative structure and potentially missing routes, it more or less makes up for it with characters that are well-written and just plain fun to be around. There are plenty of scenes where the characters just sit around a table and have dinner, but Kaihou’s writing makes it all work; I enjoyed reading even those relatively uneventful bits because they involved characters I cared about, or at least found entertaining. And let’s be honest here, Katsuki’s inner musings are fucking gold.

Anyway, let’s talk about specific characters now.

Voiced by the one and only Toriumi Kousuke, Mineyuki Ryou is Katsuki’s childhood friend and a self-proclaimed delinquent musician who also happens to be the son of a monk at the local Buddhist temple. He’s the broest bro that ever bro’d and the guy who always has Katsuki’s back in a pinch, despite his apparent bad boy image. He and Katsuki may have a bit of a back and forth from time to time (usually as a result of Katsuki having trouble with an otherwise really simple social/emotional concept), but Mineyuki is the guy who will absolutely stick with Katsuki through thick and thin. He was probably my favorite male character and his friendship/loyalty towards Katsuki was quite nice. So yeah. A very solid example of the “male best friend” type of character. Oh and he also has a fetish for four-character kanji compounds and uses them in like every other sentence, so if you ever wanted to learn a few of those, listening to Mineyuki will give you all the learning material you’ll ever need. Here’s a couple I jotted down for fun before I got bored and stopped: 沈魚落雁, 会者定離, 生者必滅, 斉東野人, 淫祠邪教, 竜駒鳳雛, 一言居士.

Yay for reviews with High Quality Educational Content.

Megumi is Katsuki’s younger sister, a tiny girl with a big heart who spent several years studying abroad, and only just now returned to Japan for a short while to visit her brother. I doubt this will come as a surprise, but Megumi and Katsuki are not related by blood, and yes, she does have a crush on him. And not just in a “I’m a lil’ brocon, short and stout” kind of way, but rather the “I want this man’s baby-making juices throwing a party in my womb” kind of way. Okay, so jokes aside, there are several implications of her feelings towards Katsuki and I got the impression that she was originally meant to have her own route. She gets jealous whenever Katsuki brings home a new girl, be it Ignis or Kaze, but her jealousy never becomes creepy or annoying. She’s an enjoyable character if you like smol imoutos with a short temper and an unmistakable dere side.

There’s also Makimoto Misae, whose given name I actually had to look up online because I’m pretty sure it’s mentioned in the VN, like… once. Maybe. And then she’s just Makimoto for the rest of the game. Anyway, she is by all accounts a minor side character: a lively and well-meaning girl as well as a classmate to Katsuki who tends to hang out with him and Mineyuki from time to time. She barely has any screen time, but I found her really fun whenever she did show up. Sadly, the moment each route starts to heat up, she promptly disappears from the storyline altogether and is never heard from again, which was a huge bummer. She does have a very minor role in the last route, but not much.

Anyway, this is all just speculation on my part, but I’m willing to bet all my biscuits, or at least a respectable amount of my biscuits, that she was originally supposed to be a main heroine candidate of some sort. The author of the VN actually went on to write two light novels focusing on her (Fantastica of Nine and Riders of Darkness), both of which came out less than a year after the release of the visual novel and, if the Japanese comments I’ve seen online can be trusted, serve as a sort of “Makimoto route”. There’s also a part in the VN where she casually brings up that she used to have a sister, and then that’s never mentioned in the game ever again. The entire thing smelled of “yeah she was meant to have a bigger role but we changed our minds” or something along those lines. Anyway, I do plan to read those two above-mentioned light novels, so I’m quite looking forward to seeing exactly what kind of route she ended up getting or how she even fits into the overall plot.

So now let’s move on to the actual main heroines with actual routes in the actual VN.

First off is the redheaded Batgirl wannabe most people will only know about because they’ve seen a figure review of her online: Ignis. Using a stylish katana and a deadly arsenal of traps and gadgets, she appears to be an ordinary human and a self-proclaimed protector of mankind who fights nonhumans on a daily basis. She’s the textbook example of a gorgeous femme fatale who can’t seem to make up her mind if she wants to bang Katsuki or cut his balls off. She also has the second most erotic voice in the entire game, with a unique tone that I’m not even gonna try to describe because you’ll have to listen to it yourself. Of course, you soon find out that there’s more to her than meets the eye: in fact, the scene that explains her backstory and why she does what she does was one of my favorite parts of the VN.

Her two endings are both pretty fantastic. They’re also wildly different in terms of mood and outcome: one is beautifully executed with a notably bittersweet tone, while the other is just… wow. It’s also good, but it’s definitely not what I was expecting. It’s the kind of ending I’d love to see a continuation to, because it genuinely made me curious how things would go from there. The entire ending just screams “this is where shit gets real” but then the credits roll and you’re done. Still, I personally prefer the ending I mentioned first because I felt it was the perfect way to conclude the route while also reinforcing its themes about coexistence between humans and nonhumans. I also loved the way the last few lines were written in the final scene; it really made me realize just how cool this writer is.

The second route is about Kaze no Ushiro wo Ayumu Mono, literally She Who Walks Behind The Wind, a girl belonging to a tribe of werewolves (she turns into an actual, proper wolf, though, and not the bipedal kind you see in most horror movies) who’s basically Serval from Kemono Friends if Serval wanted to actually eat Kaban for real. She’s also voiced by Taguchi Hiroko (MuvLuv’s Sumika), which only addded to her charm. And if you’re wondering, yes, Kaze no Ushiro wo Ayumu Mono is really her name, and yes, the characters also find it to be a bit of a mouthful. I guess I’ll just refer to her as Kaze for the sake of brevity. She’s essentially the other side of the coin: while Ignis represented humanity, Kaze’s route deals with things from a nonhuman angle. You’ll find various scenes that highlight the difference between Kaze’s tribe and the human world; she also gives some interesting insight into her customs and such. She worked much better as a love interest for Katsuki: they had the best chemistry and their romance imo was better handled compared to Ignis or the third route. Even their H-scene is kinda special since Kaze momentarily grants Katsuki the ability to detect smells like a wolf-person would, and from then on the entire ero scene is built upon that, with a lot of things being described in connection with smells and stuff. It was an interesting approach, and very fitting as well, considering this was the nonhuman-centric route.

As a side note, this route is also notably heavier on the comic relief than Ignis’ for some reason, so expect to see plenty of CGs showing the characters as derpy super deformed caricatures of themselves. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the majority of the derp CGs are in this route alone. I guess they just figured the other two routes’ heroines were too serious for hijinks.

The endings once again wowed me here. There’s actually three of them instead of two this time around, and I more or less agree with Urobuchi Gen’s comments from the Liner Notes where he says that Kaze’s route, with its three sharply distinct endings, expresses the themes/ideas behind Jingai Makyou as a whole in the clearest, most straightforward way. As implied earlier, one of the main themes is the potential for coexistence between humans and nonhumans, and how the two groups belong to their own worlds, both literally and figuratively. Crossover between these worlds may be possible, but not without a cost, and I think Kaze’s three endings illustrated this so beautifully that I’d be surprised to find anyone that didn’t feel at least a little bit moved by them. Personally, the scene where Watanabe Kazuhiro’s ED song plays hit me the hardest. Tore right into my heart, it did.

The third route is a little difficult to discuss without spoiling things. The main heroine in this route is Hanawa Momiji, whose name I once again had to look up because everyone just calls her 管理人さん. She runs the apartment Katsuki stays at, and even cooks for him. I, uh, really can’t say much about the route without revealing Certain Things, so let’s just say I enjoyed its recurring theme of parenthood/motherhood. As mentioned earlier, the route shakes the plot template up a little bit towards the end, but even with that, it’s still probably my least favorite route in the game. The characters you would expect to have more role here still don’t have much of a role, and the route even pulls a brand new antagonist out of its ass and then never does anything interesting with him. Out of the route’s three main endings, two are terrible. Thankfully, the third ending is awesome and once again belongs to that “holy shit I NEED a sequel to this because this is fucking great” category I mentioned earlier in connection with Ignis. For anyone wondering, I’m talking about the ending where (rot13 spoilers) Xngfhxv vaurevgf Unanjn’f fxvyyf naq rkcrevrapr naq tbrf bss gb svtug gur sbeprf bs qnexarff jvgu n onqnff, fubgtha-jvryqvat inzcver Zrthzv ng uvf fvqr.

There’s also an extremely short fourth route, but I hesitate to even call it a route because it feels kinda… disjointed from the rest of the experience. I’ll be blunt: it’s pure fanservice is what it is. It focuses on the mysterious Umbrella Girl (voiced by Yanase Natsumi, Muramasa’s Konatsu) that occasionally makes an appearance across all three main routes, and can only be accessed after you’ve unlocked all 34 endings of the game. Don’t worry, I know that number may seem like a lot, but the majority of them are just these extremely short “whoops you died, try again” sort of bad ends. But you do need to see all of them. In terms of content, the route seems to exist for the sole purpose of giving Umbrella Girl an ero scene. Yup. So if the thought “man I sure would like to see Katsuki’s massive horsecock violate Umbrella Girl’s delicate anus” ever crossed your mind, then I have good news for you, my dude. The ero scene itself, ironically enough, was probably the only one I managed to get some enjoyment out of (I’ve just never been able to jack it to bland plotge porn, sorry) because Umbrella Girl is actually… ridiculously cute. Oh, and if you were wondering who had the #1 most erotic voice in the VN, it’s her. I mean, fuck me. Her voice could easily be passed off as a full-fledged ASMR experience. I wish she had more of a role in the main VN because her interactions with Katsuki in this bonus chapter were pretty amusing.

Having to rate Jingai puts me in a difficult position because despite not being particularly outstanding, it still managed to become somewhat special in my eyes. And that’s the strangest fucking feeling. I suppose this is the sort of VN that chooses its audience. Or something.

So let me go back to how I started off this review in an attempt for everything to come full circle. I said that Jingai Makyou is one of Nitroplus’ lesser known, or at least less often talked about, visual novels… and you know what, I suppose I can kinda see why. I’m not gonna tell you to drop everything you’re doing and start reading Jingai right this instant. But at the same time, I sort of wish more people talked about/appreciated it because it does actually feature some Pretty Cool Stuff. To be perfectly frank, it’s a VN that might have been a disappointing experience in the hands of a lesser writer. It’s not what I would call a shining masterpiece and even feels incomplete in certain aspects, but it boasts enough individuality and charm to make it worth a read if you like Nitroplus and the unique flavor of their titles.

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2 thoughts on “[Review] Jingai Makyou

  1. One of my favorite shorter Nitro+ VNs is Kikokugai. I just really like the whole cyber-punk mixed with kung-fu setting. I couldn’t get into Hanachirasu too much though because of the protagonist.

  2. I feel almost exactly the same as you do about this vn, decent plot but everything else is great.
    To me this is a prime example of what Nitroplus is, the writing, the presentation, the endings, all iconic ( this shoulda got the sequel instead of demonbane).
    Also what you said about the soundtrack doesn’t do it justice, it’s the best ost in human history. To say I couldnt put the game down or stop thinking about it when I had to because of the soundtrack alone is an understatement, it’s a special kind of entrancing even if the setting doesnt really back up the instrumentation being used, it gives a whole new layer to everything.

    Man I have a lot of nostalgia for a vn i read less than a year ago

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