Developer – Nitroplus
Translator – Pin201
Length – 2-10 Hours
We often see anime that have been produced for the express purpose of advertising their source material. They’re never finished, they’re never satisfying and they always frustrate the hell out of me. Phenomeno, conversely, is the first advertisement visual novel I’ve ever seen and unfortunately it’s good enough that I have to recommend it to anyone who’s keen on VN horror. The novel series it hails from, however, is not fully translated, so be warned (now there’s horror for you).
Yamada Nagito has just moved to Tokyo from the country, and he’s absolutely stoked with the accommodation he’s been able to find. Isolated in a dark, foreboding forest, over ten minutes’ bike ride from the nearest convenience store and cheap to boot, it could very well be the house of his dreams. And it’s also supposed to grant wishes. Whether or not that’s true, Nagito is big on the occult and couldn’t bear to pass up the possibility. When he starts to hear mysterious noises in the middle of the night and encounters scratches on the walls gradually counting down to some unknown and (presumably) unwanted event, he’s forced to call in help from the online occult message board, Ikaigabuchi.
Phenomeno’s pretty darned short (around two hours, whatever VNDB might say), which makes what it manages to accomplish all the more impressive. It plays its cards perfectly to establish the tense horror atmosphere that all good members of the genre allow to creep up on you and also makes good use of characters that are interesting enough to add positively to a production of its length.
There are a number of those “Oh sh-!” moments that keep you from ever getting too relaxed throughout the course of the novel, which is really cool because I’m not talking about jump scares. I mean those revelations or realizations that shock you back into paying attention, that send shivers up your spine with their implications and that change the playing field of whichever chapter you’re reading. Phenomeno exhibits some fantastic story-crafting, so it’s a real pity that it’s so short and incomplete (though there’s a fairly solid ending point to the visual novel, I suppose). Also, needless to say, while the characters are interesting it’s difficult to feel attached to them simply because they’re not around for long.
Nitroplus has done a great job with Phenomeno technically. The backgrounds are altered real-world photos which contribute to the eerie atmosphere and the character designs are wonderfully styled to fit the overall feeling of the novel while still standing out to the reader. Sound effect and BGM choices make for some very creepy reading and I actually had to go back and double check that there was no voice acting because the other audial aspects had easily picked up the slack of its absence.
Summary – This is a short review for a short novel. The biggest thing Phenomeno accomplished in my opinion was to make me disappointed that there wasn’t more of it. It has the horror atmosphere I always look for, it has the interesting characters and story that fend off any moments of dullness and it has the technical quality to back all of that up to form an experience with some great potential. The only thing it doesn’t have is a sequel, which might be the biggest reason for giving it a miss. Regardless, for what it is, you can consider Phenomeno recommended.
Score: 8/10 – Good