Developer – Propeller
Translator – Ate the Moon Translations
Length – 30-50 Hours
Have you ever really wanted to love a visual novel, but then been unable to? Whether it was because other people thought it was amazing or because, except for one or two issues, it was genuinely enjoyable? Either way I can tell you that it’s a pretty horrible feeling, and Ayakashibito fits firmly into the latter category I’ve mentioned. With some excellent slice of life segments and wonderful characters, I overlooked its various faults as I progressed through the story because I was utterly convinced that the finale was going to pay off in a big way. And then I was betrayed. I want to love Ayakashibito, but I’m not sure I can.
There’s a sickness that has spread throughout the population, or so the majority of people would have you believe. When select individuals began exhibiting mysterious powers, they were naturally feared by the wider population and branded as bearing a disease. The most dangerous of those Jinyou, as they are called, were “hospitalised” where they could never harm anyone. Ryouichi Takebe has lived in one such “hospital” for most of his life, abandoned by his parents because of his condition. Lonely and miserable, when the opportunity arises for his escape he does so without hesitation. That opportunity is made possible by the girl he meets in a forest near the hospital, and together the two aim to lead a normal life in the only place to accept Jinyou: Kamisawa City.
Ayakashibito is another one of those stories that’s hard to bring together into a short synopsis. There are several different veins that run through its plot to form an experience that is both very entertaining and very disappointing. I’ll start with the good news by saying that the common route, which has a heavy helping of slice of life in addition to its necessary story components, is great fun to read through and flows wonderfully. The “first time experiencing a normal life” idea isn’t a new one but in this case does a good job of keeping the mid-section of the novel fresh and interesting alongside the concept of “normal people with supernatural powers”. The humor was such that I was regularly laughing out loud and the character dynamics were fantastic because of the setting they were placed in, even if they weren’t exactly original. To be honest, it was the mundane, day-to-day stuff that made Ayakashibito fun for me more than anything action-based, which is especially noteworthy because slice of life usually isn’t my favourite genre (though I guess there is a twist to it in this case). On the action side of things, Ayakashibito has both good and bad features. In general the quality of the writing used in combat scenes is good enough that it makes them exciting and easy to follow. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the writer has had any experience whatsoever with martial arts so many of the descriptions don’t make sense from a physical perspective. I personally found that to be disconcerting but thankfully the tone of the writing made it easy for suspension of disbelief to make the impact of those concerns on my enjoyment negligible.
So where did Ayakashibito go wrong? To understand that, you need to know that during each run-through Ayakashibito has an early common route, a late common route, an individual character story and then a final plot component. While the individual routes and their characterization are done well (very well, in fact), it’s those final parts tacked on the end that are the problem. During the beginning of the common route we are introduced to a particular plot thread which is then practically discarded for the late common route and character stories (both of which are very enjoyable). The issue stems from the fact that those segments have their own storyline and conclusion, but are then shoved aside by the final plot component of each route that uses that aforementioned thread. Compared to what has gone before, there is a massive shift in storytelling tone which is incredibly jarring. Those plot-heavy conclusions to each route just don’t add much and in fact take away from what should be satisfying endings.
What’s more, the basis of the endings is, for the most part, incredibly poorly explored; rather than being a struggle against a well-defined and established antagonist, they seem more like random conflicts against Diabolus ex Machina antagonists that are often solved with similarly inappropriate Deus ex Machina responses – “There’s no way for us to win…except…don’t tell me you want to use that ritual that hasn’t been mentioned previously?!”. The ending of the final route, which I had been looking forward to because, well, that’s usually the best part of the visual novel, was probably the worst conclusion to a story I have ever read. Where the other route endings were jarring, this one was such a departure from what had come before that I was completely unable to take it seriously. Where the other endings had at least some semblance of being related to what had come before them, this one practically ignored what the rest of the novel had been like. I can’t go into detail without spoiling anything, but the only other visual novel that has disappointed me to this kind of level is Umineko.
Before I move on from the story, this is a visual novel for which I really need to discuss the R18 components. There are a lot of them. Probably too many of them and with very little justification behind their inclusion beyond “everybody needs an H-scene”. The issue I want to talk about here, however, is that rape and the idea of women being overpowered is used a lot. I get that it’s a plot device that can be used to evoke a significant emotional response from the reader; heck, I get angry every time I see it used. And I get that the anger or disgust can be used to get readers invested in what’s going on and the characters involved. However, in a story that is not focusing on that type of content it is lazy to use that technique as often as Ayakashibito does and, aside from crossing into the realm of tastelessness, the impact starts to be lost. Not to mention that it can turn readers off of the story altogether. Just to be clear, the inclusion of non-consensual sex has not lowered the score I have given Ayakashibito, but the frequency of and lack of need for its use has. There are other ways to play with your audience’s emotions.
Story quality aside, Ayakashibito is a mixed bag when it comes to its technical aspects. While the art style is pretty pleasing to the eyes overall, it’s too inconsistent for me to be happy giving it any further praise. Characters look significantly different in their CGs and even from sprite to sprite which is a little frustrating, and beyond that certain CGs are reused even when they are not appropriate to the setting. Protagonist being attacked on an open rooftop? Same CG as when he’s fighting in a transport plane. It’s lazy, full stop. The number of CGs is pretty decent, though, so I can’t complain about that. As for its music, I found it to be fitting for the visual novel as a whole but ultimately forgettable. The voice acting is as good as or perhaps better than normal for visual novels, but one feature that’s outside of the norm is the inclusion of an intermission sequence at the end of each “chapter”. Not like a small section of story, just a picture and sound file that signposts that the VN is moving onto another set of scenes. It’s not a big feature, but it’s novel and that’s good. The other unique feature is that the protagonist is fully voiced! Big points for that one.
Summary – I’ve bagged on Ayakashibito a lot and it deserves every bit of criticism I’ve given. To put that into perspective, however, it merely lowered my opinion from “love” to “like” and the majority of the story and its characters were very enjoyable to spend time with. The concept is an interesting one that is put to good use throughout the visual novel and the production value is relatively high. That said, it would be very hard to write endings that are of a lower quality that Ayakashibito’s. They’re out of character when compared to the rest of the story and drag it down a great deal, making for a very disappointing conclusion to what was, most of the time, a fun experience.
Score: 7.5/10 – Enjoyable