For general information on this series: Ao Oni entry
This review is for the second volume of Ao Oni by Kenji Kuroda (with art by Karin Suzuragi). It is based on the Japanese indie game by noprops. This book was released by J-Novel Club in March 2018. So far there are three volumes available in English, and from what I can tell there are six volumes total for this series in Japan (Note: one of the listings in the link there is for a comic anthology).
One of the biggest problems that the horror genre seems to have is how to actually continue a story past the first installment. Or more specifically, how to continue a story well. Slasher films are of course well-known for having a ridiculous number of sequels, probably because they’re relatively easy and cheap to churn out and there’s just enough horror fans out there to keep things profitable. But how often are those sequels any good? I was actually just tweeting about this topic recently in regards to the Corpse Party video game series (which also has manga and anime adaptations). The original title was made with RPG Maker (much like Ao Oni), and the PSP version of it in particular is a favorite of mine. Unfortunately, the two sequels that followed (Book of Shadows and Blood Drive) were not nearly as good, and ultimately felt unnecessary for the plot as a whole.
Can the Ao Oni light novels avoid falling into predictable mediocrity, despite being a series that more or less works with the same premise (i.e. a giant blue monster in a spooky mansion chasing our lead characters) in every volume? As luck would have it, it does. I think there are a few specific plot elements that makes this work:
- The ao oni was not defeated in the first volume — the threat still looms large
- The mysteries of the ao oni and the mansion have not been solved
- The way Shun’s game operates in the story allows for events in the mansion to be altered–for better and for worse (for the characters)
The plot device of the time loop is one that seems to come up a lot in Japanese genre fiction (including horror stories such as Higurashi and Umineko), but it is put to particularly good use here. Because Shun’s Ao Oni game is somehow tied to the mansion and its monster (in what manner exactly, we don’t know yet), characters who are killed can be brought back to life when the metaphorical game is restarted. This does not mean any of them are free from the horrors that have been inflicted upon them, however–they are still adversely affected in various ways, and appear fated to return to the mansion and the monster that lurks within. (The monster, or monsters?)
The character who gets the most development in this volume is probably Takuro, which I found surprising. By the end of the first volume I had the feeling that we would eventually see him have a change of heart–but I didn’t imagine we would start delving into that the very next volume. It perhaps can’t be stressed enough just how awful of a kid he has been–but in this volume he really gets put through the wringer as the mansion’s new horrors appear tailor-made specifically for him. The author is wise to not let him make a quick and effortless 180 in his personality, but instead has his mask start to break. He still ends up doing terrible things, but the ways Mika and Takeshi interact with him force Takuro to re-examine his past actions and his twisted mindset in general.
The story offers many points of view as it goes along, but the main protagonist this time is the impassive and calculative Hiroshi. Now that the setup has been established by Shun in the first volume, it appears most of the puzzle-solving in the mansion for the rest of the series will be headed by Hiroshi (as was done in the original game). He isn’t able to figure out everything regarding the bigger mysteries in this volume, but he does get a lot more to examine and muse over. To be honest I felt this made volume 2 drag on a bit (especially in comparison to volume 1), but overall I still found it an engaging read. It does make me hope that volume 3 will really shake things up though… Maybe you’ll find out if it will in my next review for this series? ;) But for now, I’ll just say that if you liked the first volume of Ao Oni, you should like the second one as well.
Cho’s Rating: Recommended
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