There are many things that people can obsess over — from the neatness of one’s room, to the merchandise of a person’s favorite show, to the beauty of the opposite sex. But sometimes, people go too far and let their obsessions take over everything in their life.
Kara no Shoujo is an interactive visual novel by Innocent Grey. The story revolves around the many forms obsession can take, and just how far people are willing to go to fulfill them. Set in 1956, it is the story of Reiji Tokisaka, a detective who joins the investigation of a bizarre series of murders taking place all over the city. During his investigation, he takes the request of a girl from a private all-girls high school to find her true self, as well as a case of missing persons from the same high school. As the body count keeps on piling and Reiji struggles to connect the pieces, he can’t help but notice the resemblance of these murders to the case where his fiancé was murdered six years ago…
The gameplay is similar to the Ace Attorney series: evidence may be gathered during the investigation parts of the game, and the story allows the reader to piece together the clues they have gathered. There is also a segment on each day in-game where the reader can move around the map to trigger certain events and side stories, or to gather more information about the cases. The game also has a “notebook” storing information relevant to the plot, such as evidence and character relationships. While this system doesn’t exactly break new ground in uniqueness, it’s a natural addition to a detective mystery novel. However, the system is somewhat unintuitive and complex; without a walkthrough it’s almost certain that the reader will head to a bad end because they missed an event or two required to get one of the endings.
Kara no Shoujo makes interesting use of several motifs in the story and centers the murders around these motifs. The reader is treated to a disturbing display of murder — heads twisted around, organs removed, limbs amputated and dismembered — all in a certain motif like Dante’s Divine Comedy or the eponymous painting, “Kara no Shoujo”. It’s this grotesque display that allows us to see how far the murderer is willing to go to fulfill his obsessions.
The themes of the novel are also prevalent in its plethora of characters; nearly the entire cast has an obsession that they want to fulfill, and a past that they want to chase. What makes this effective is that each character is treated differently by the narrative, creating a contrast between each of them. An example of this contrast would be the protagonist and his sister, whose relationship is as normal as it could be between brother and sister — gasp! A little sister character you don’t get an H-scene with! Surprising as it may be to those who have played other VNs with a little sister character as a heroine, there is no romantic or sexual relationship between the protagonist and his sister — and that’s the point of their characters: a normal, platonic sibling relationship as a contrast to the abnormal and disturbing relationships in the cast.
Art is a major theme in this VN — visual art, that is — and it shows in its CGs. There are some great-looking CGs in the novel with a fairly varied style; some of them are beautiful to look at, while some might cause you to throw up your lunch while looking at them. Kara no Shoujo’s art is no ef, but anyone who can’t stomach awful art won’t have anything to complain about.
The music is nothing too outstanding; the track selection is fairly limited and low-key — the most upbeat song you can find is the theme which plays during the school segments. The rest are somewhat melancholic, peaceful pieces or tense, oppressive music.
Despite the things that it did well, Kara no Shoujo still has flaws which need to be pointed out. Certain plot devices later in the story feel forced and unnatural; a particular turn in the story relies on a certain character’s stupidity to work, and the resulting development feels a little too convenient and coincidental. Said character’s actions can only be due to plot-induced stupidity and only makes the reader hate this character for their stupidity. Some deaths later on also feel like they were there for cheap emotional shock without the right context, and the gore stops being interesting after a while.
And yet again we have a VN which puts in sex scenes without any regard for their usefulness to the story — the scenes feel forced at best and tasteless at worst. There’s a little too much of it too; twelve scenes is too much for a detective mystery. I have to question the ability of VN writers to write relationships without the need to shoehorn sex into them — is it really impossible to have a relationship without having sex almost immediately after the couple hooks up? Of course, this is Japan we’re talking about, where sex sells for the otaku crowd, but this is no excuse for the story to suffer because of these “additions”. But hey, no unnecessary incest between the protagonist and his sister, so props for that.
In the end, I found Kara no Shoujo to be an interesting ride, but it falls short of being truly great. It starts off with an interesting premise and a great first half, but it falls apart in the second half with bad story planning and unnecessary padding and complications. It’s somewhat disappointing since it could have been so much better. There’s no use in obsessing over it now, though; the story’s over, and it’s time to move on to better stories.
Overall verdict: 7.5/10
Turn-offs: Gore, sex scenes