It must be Wednesday, because we have a Guest Review! Today I welcome back Mara, who will once again be reviewing the Anime/Manga/Choose Your Adventure/PowerPoint hybrid known as a Visual Novel. Enjoy!
It is a sign of success when a visual novel makes the port from PC to console. This is because the game in question must have significant appeal when you remove the erotic content (none of the console makers allow it). But when a game makes the leap the other way, from console to PC, the reasons are less consistent. In the case of Aoi Shiro it was a couple of extra scenes and some more event CG in an already CG-heavy game.
Aoi Shiro is a game by Success who previously brought us the Yuri visual novel Akai Ito – both games are set in the same supernatural universe. The main character this time is the serious kendo team captain Osanai Syouko who is played with surprising flexibility by Noriko Hidaka.
The plot of Aoi Shiro follows Syouko as she heads to a summer training camp with her kendo team. Their location, a Buddhist shrine on the southern coast, invokes sad childhood memories for Syouko. The exact nature of these memories takes awhile to become clear as Syouko seems to be cursed with a memory that makes any act of deep recollection EPIC in a clumsy attempt to give these events additional gravitas.
Regardless of this, Aoi Shiro has a pretty decent plot for a visual novel that really hangs more on the ‘visual’ aspect than the ‘novel’ aspect. When the characters are voiced and have animated sprites that blink and are lip synched to the lines, it becomes clear where the money went.
Regardless, Aoi Shiro has plenty of fun scenes where we get to know most of the characters pretty well and come to like their eccentricities. The many eating sequences stand out as they set the rhythm for each day of the story and there are some truly inspired conversations, such as the finer points of Zen vegetarianism.
Sadly, three major heroines can not share in these scenes and so feel underdeveloped. For example, when we are solidly on Nami’s route and she gets her voice back and begins to develop a personality, Syouko’s sudden gushing crush on her is rather jarring. Indeed the characters rarely discuss their feelings for each other and the short time span of the story (only 4-5 days) means that the endings for each route feel ultimately unfulfilling and do not resolve any of the romantic possibilities.
Although the stories may be low on Yuri the heroines themselves are not, as each fills a specific Yuri archetype, and does so very well. The stand out star heroine, however, is easily Kohaku, the deliberately androgynous, efficient, prideful and damn cool oni that kills off mooks by flicking stones as though she was playing marbles.
Kohaku is played by Kei Mizusawa, who plays her with a nice aggressive tone, and has easily the most ‘Yuri route’. It is in this route that Syouko expresses most strongly reciprocated romantic feelings. A route where we can leave our Yuri goggles on a very low setting and still be satisfied.
While many routes feel very watered down or evasive towards the end Kohaku’s at least feels like a “And that’s how we met” story that couples might tell you at their wedding…if they fought oni for a living.
But, having only one route that has a solid Yuri feel to it is a tad disappointing for a game of this pedigree. Even then there is the ‘grand route’ that we must thus assume is cannon, as all the mysteries and problems are solved. In this route, however, Syouko is not pared up with anyone although it does progress down Nami’s route for a while it is clearly everyone’s story and, so, there is not any time for any romance as the plot about summoning a demonic storm god takes priority. But it is a bit depressing that after all those routes where Syouko ‘got the girl/sister/rival’; the route that is considered the ‘true ending’ has no really romantic scenes at all.
While it is depressing that a game that clearly markets itself and is considered a Yuri game has very little Yuri content Aoi Shiro is still a very good visual novel. The artwork is undeniably beautiful to look at and the story has wonderful characters that each make the best of their short time in the limelight. I cannot recommend this game enough.
Art – 10 (It’s like an inverse Umineko)
Story – 6 (Rushed at the conclusion)
Characters – 9 (Everyone will latch onto one or two heroines)
Yuri – 3 (But Kohaku gets a 7)
Service – 4 (There’s an onsen at the shrine, you don’t say?)
Loser fan girl – 4 (The antagonist and the worlds most awesome Buddhist monk)
Overall – 9
It is the game equivalent of fireworks. A few beautiful explosions that leave your jaw hanging open, you just wish that there was one more or that they lasted just a bit longer
Erica again: First of all, thank you Mara! This really interested me, as I have read all of the Aoi Shiro manga, and I’d say that it’s pretty equivalent. Too many characters left undeveloped, too many opportunities for relationships squandered and too little Yuri, after a lot of Yuri-ish set-up. So, once again, thank you for the review and another glimpse into a piece of the Yuri puzzle that I don’t cover.