For general information on this series: Ao Oni entry
This review is for the third 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).
The original Ao Oni game did not have much of a plot. It was essentially just, “Four friends check out a creepy mansion. There’s a monster in it! Try to escape.” There wasn’t really anything to the characters either, save perhaps for Takeshi being the most frightened of the bunch, and Hiroshi being the smartest (since you control him as the player, and have to solve all the puzzles). Though there wasn’t much for the author of the Ao Oni LNs to work with, there were still specific events that took place in the game that could be incorporated into the story. Volume 3 works with elements introduced in version 6.23 of the game, and the in-universe story here is that Shun is altering his computer game to try making it easy for people to escape the mansion, should anyone get trapped within it again.
Unfortunately, things don’t work out well at all in that regard. Instead, as the “Mutation” subtitle for this volume implies, the ao oni only becomes a much more advanced creature, and uses all of Shun’s efforts against him. Because this volume works with the version of the original game that I’m familiar with though, that means all of my favorite moments from Ao Oni get to be incorporated into this volume:
- The arrival of the “blockman” ao oni (a smaller but faster creature that reminds me of Domo-kun)
- The ability of the ao oni to shape-shift, taking on the appearance of those it eats
- The climactic “prison room” scene in the basement
One way horror sequels can keep things exciting is by raising the stakes, and Ao Oni volume 3 manages this in a nice variety of ways. The ao oni itself was more or less already a monster that was impossible to fight against, but now it has become quite the devious creature, eager to learn all it can about humans and the world outside the mansion it is trapped in. Along with the mystery of how Shun’s game ties to the ao oni, we also continue to get more clues to work with in regards to the history of the mansion itself–as well as the role of the ghost of Naoki, who continues to seek revenge against Takuro and his posse.
Ao Oni: Mutation manages to keep things exciting from start to finish, putting characters in situations that are creepier than anything they’ve dealt with in previous volumes. I was particularly impressed by how Takeshi’s crazed insomnia was handled, as well as Shun’s desperation to find a way to get Hiroshi and the others out of the mansion safely. The series continues to read smoothly thanks to its quality translation, and the illustrations continue to be incorporated in ways that leave an extra-strong impact during the story’s most dramatic moments.
In short, the third volume builds upon everything established in the first two, and leads the reader to the wildest plot development yet for the series. The ending for this one is a real game-changer (forgive the pun), to the point that the author Kenji Kuroda even notes in the afterword that readers might end up wondering if there would be a fourth installment. “Can things even continue past this point?” This is the sort of crazy turn of events I like to see in this type of story though, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what Kuroda can come up with next.
Cho’s Rating: Strongly Recommended
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