Kusarihime ~Euthanasia~

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Intro:

Kusarihime ~Euthanasia~ is a 2002 eroge from Liar-soft. The main writer is Hoshizora Meteor, also known as the eroge writer with the coolest nom de plume in the game.

Story: 9/10

Itsuki returns to the small rural village he grew up in after an accident claims his father, his younger sister Juri, and his memories (his mom was already dead). He returns home hoping that it will help him regain his memories. There he meets a girl, Kurame, who looks exactly like his dead sister, and hears a local legend about the Kusarihime: a girl who grants people’s wishes, but in the process rots and consumes them. To absolutely no surprise, the Kusarihime of legend goes by the name Kurame. Further, Itsuki finds himself in a timeloop that repeats the first four days after his return to his hometown.

This introduction appears to be a setup for a very plot-driven and exciting story, of some blend of fantasy, horror, and mystery. There are a lot of strong plot hooks in the story’s basic premise. In practice, Kusarihime is much more of a character-driven drama than it is a plot-driven story. One might be disappointed to realize this, except the drama is so amazingly well done that you probably wouldn’t want it any other way.

Of what are probably the three main plot hooks: Itsuki’s amnesia, Kurame’s existence and resemblance to Juri, and the timeloop, the amnesia is what takes center stage for most of the game. After all, Itsuki’s purpose for returning to his hometown is to regain his memories. As he interacts with the other characters in the town, the people from a life he can’t remember, what he ends up remembering is his relationships with these people and the events that have complicated those relationships. This is how the story comes to focus on drama and the relationships between the characters.

Fortunately, as mentioned, the drama is excellent. The characters have complicated pasts and intersections with each other, and the unraveling of the truth over the course of the story is one of the most enjoyable parts of Kusarihime. Complex, conflicted interpersonal relationships are not exactly unique in eroge—though they are rare enough to be welcome—but Kusarihime occasionally pushes things into the disturbingly dark and twisted domain that someone expecting a horror game might be looking for, though it is horrific in a way unlike genre “horror.” What really makes the drama, however, is the quality of individual scenes in the game. There are so many poignant, dramatic scenes, ones that are beautiful despite almost always being depressing or worse. The pure aesthetic joy and emotional power of these scenes elevates the good if unremarkable premise of the drama to something much greater. The writing is frequently great, but, as will be discussed later, the other aspects of the presentation in these scenes also contribute greatly to the quality here.

Kusarihime’s story is not without its flaws. One of the main ones is how pointless the timeloop seems for most of the game. Although the story technically repeats 4 days over and over, there are just about zero recurring or unifying events that would actually make it feel like a time loop. Mostly the timeloop serves a pragmatic purpose of allowing the story to “end” without really ending, there is little of the unique flavor of timeloop stories. More of this flavor comes into play when Itsuki becomes aware of the timeloop, but even then it’s relatively minimal. Toward the very end of the game, once the underlying plot ripens into full fruition, the existence of the timeloop becomes more important but it can’t make up for how pointless it felt for the vast bulk of the scenario.

I also have complaints about said underlying plot. Most of the story focuses on character drama, with the remaining mysteries, such as Kurame’s existence and the timeloop, only receiving significant attention toward the very end (some more hints earlier in the story would’ve been a nice addition, as enjoyable as the drama focus is). Kurame takes center stage at this point and the story takes some very interesting twists and turns. The scope is fairly mind-blowing, especially coming off of the personal scale of the game thus far. Sadly, the game loses that poignant personal quality, and the drama with Kurame isn’t nearly as compelling as the previous character arcs. Ideally this should’ve been the best drama. Instead the focus shifts mostly to plot. Worse, the plot has a few conspicuously unsatisfying points. There are key points that seem vague and underexplained, and some developments come too fast and easy. I think that if the drama in the end stage were better I could’ve forgiven the squishiness of the plot, or if the plot were more solid I could’ve forgiven the watered-down drama. Sadly, both of these hypothetical scenarios are just that. So the game ends on just a bit of a low note, or at least an anticlimax that doesn’t serve as a suitable crowning moment to the impressive story up until that point.

Characters: 8/10

Either good characters inevitably make for good character drama, or good character drama inevitably makes for good characters. I think it’s probably the latter, and that certainly seems to be the case with Kusarihime. The individual characters are perhaps not much if looked at on their own, but characters, like real people, are largely defined by their relationships with others. The tangled relationships of Kusarihime, thus, render a strong cast of characters. And one thing can be said for them as individuals: they are conflicted in ways that are both detestable and relatable. They are unglamorous in the most human and sympathetic way. Creating flawed characters, characters that have actual flaws that mean something, who aren’t irritating is no easy task but it’s hard to hate the characters in Kusarihime even if you might not like them. In fact, it’s hard to think of them in terms of “hating” or “liking,” they come across so naturally as imperfect people trying to salvage what they can in this imperfect world, sometimes doing a good job of it and sometimes a bad job of it, most often a bad job. At the same time, the characters are “anime” enough to be entertaining; I hesitate to call them “realistic,” though they serve as compelling representations of real concepts. The most interesting character is no doubt Kurame, who is just as eccentric and memorable as the titular character in a game like this must be.

Sound: 9/10

Kusarihime has a fantastic soundtrack. The songs help create the strong atmosphere and emotion of the game generally, and the power of key scenes individually. Better yet, the style of the music, with its use of traditional Japanese instruments, fits the game perfectly. There are plenty of great melodies to be found as well. About the only flaw is that the song that you’ll hear the most of, the dreaded “everyday track,” is the weakest of the bunch and will definitely annoy you well before you’re done with the game. There are no vocal tracks, but I can’t say that I really miss them. The game’s music does just fine without them, and it’s a bit hard to imagine a vocal track that would contribute to the game’s sound rather than diminish it.

The game is only partially voiced. Some, but not all, of the important scenes get voices, and of course all of the ero scenes are voiced. The voice acting is great all-around, I have no complaints, and there were definitely scenes where I missed the voice acting. The voice-work does a great job of conveying the emotions of the character, and it’s consistently hot in the sex scenes.

Art: 9/10

Before actually playing Kusarihime I believed it had rough, somewhat-ugly art. I was very wrong. While the artstyle is unique and I’m sure not to everyone’s tastes, its technical details are indisputably stronger than in most eroge art. The one exception to the surprising detail and the depth of shading is the gradients in the characters’ hair, which look flat and fake. The hair was probably primarily what engendered my preconception that the art was bad, as it does have a sore-thumb effect that can distract from the beauty of the rest of the art. Many of the CGs also feature atypical, stylistic composition, which both fits the tone of the game and looks lovely in its own right.

Kusarihime also employs a unique art system. There are traditional sprites, but much of the game consists of black and white, sketched SD-like (SD-lite) characters transposed onto the backgrounds. This is stylistically interesting, and probably serves the pragmatic purpose of allowing more visual action on a limited budget. Speaking of the backgrounds, they are also gorgeous, with a sketched (but colored, almost water-colored) style that still captures more fine details than usual. Kusarihime’s setting of a small, rainy town in the summer is a big part of the game, and the backgrounds are a big part of what makes this atmosphere striking.

Ero: 6.5/10

The ero scenes in Kusarihime are great. Whether they are great as ero scenes is a little more questionable. Across the board they are great scenes for many of the same reasons the other scenes in this game are great: presentation, including the writing, art, sound, and even how the scenes are structured within the larger picture of the plot and character relationships. The writing, especially, stands out from ero scenes in other eroge in that it is beautiful, while still being erotic in its sensuous attention to details—notably not every possible detail like some writers think is the way to do descriptions in sex scenes, but rather with attention to certain striking details such as the rustle of clothes as they’re removed from a body. Many of the sex scenes are important to the plot, which I imagine will make a lot of people happy, but it has the downside of these scenes not really being fappable either because of how they’re structured or because you’re more focused on what they mean for the plot. Outside of that, and even sometimes inside of it, the ero in this game is pretty good.

Overall: 89/100

Pros: Compelling relationship drama; amazingly beautiful scenes; fantastic presentation across the board, writing, art, sound; interesting plot; steady pacing

Cons: Some weaknesses in the plot

Although Kusarihime is a very atypical eroge I believe it is a good case in the strengths of the format. It might be the best example I can think of where the art, sound, and writing all come together to create scenes with so strong of an impact. It is also an argument for how sex, even and especially taboo sex, can be essential to an interesting, moving story. Not to mention the integral use of the game system for its timeloop. Beyond that, Kusarihime thoroughly possesses that intangible “spirit” of the cream of eroge crop. Maybe it is the combination of anime stylistics and tropes with a story that is a bit more mature and could never be shown in an anime, or really anywhere else except a novel. There is also a noticeable artistic vision, a greater allowance for which is one of the advantages of a niche industry.

I can easily see why Kusarihime is a classic eroge. It is just shy of a masterpiece, and none of its shortcomings are so large as to leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth. I think this is a game every fan of eroge should experience. It’s just dark enough to be tolerably off-putting—the game’s goal, no doubt—even for people who do not normally play dark eroge.

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