Baudelaire and “The Seven Deadly Sins”

Seven Deadly Sins - Diane

The Giantess

In times of old when Nature in her glad excess
Brought forth such living marvels as no more are seen,
I should have loved to dwell with a young giantess,
Like a voluptuous cat about the feet of a queen;

To run and laugh beside her in her terrible games,
And see her grow each day to a more fearful size,
And see the flowering of her soul, and the first flames
Of passionate longing in the misty depths of her eyes;

To scale the slopes of her huge knees, explore at will
The hollows and the heights of her — and when, oppressed
By the long afternoons of summer, cloudless and still,

She would stretch out across the countryside to rest,
I should have loved to sleep in the shadow of her breast,
Quietly as a village nestling under a hill.

— Charles Baudeliare, (Translated by George Dillon, Flowers of Evil; NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)


I ran across this poem last night while reading a selection from Charles Baudelaire and thought of this character, Diane the giantess. I doubt very much that Baudelaire would mind being associated with an anime called Seven Deadly Sins (the sinful old scallawag), so I went there.

MANGA REVIEW: My Monster Secret

My Monster Secret 1

The “monster girl” craze continues with this new manga by Eiji Masuda. My Monster Secret tells the story of Kuromine Asahi, a high school student with a nonexistent poker face who can’t tell a fib or keep a secret to save his life, to the point where his classmates have taken to calling him the “Holey Sieve” (because he spills everything). However, Kuromine has an important secret he doesn’t want blown prematurely, which is that he’s crushing hard on his quiet and mysterious classmates Youko Shiragami. He tries to catch her alone to tell her he likes her before his face gives him away, but in doing so, he discovers she’s a vampire! She plans to leave the school immediately, but he convinces her to stay with the promise that, just this once, he won’t spill the beans. What will be the outcome when the guy who can’t keep a secret embraces a secret that must be kept?

My Monster Secret has a very cute premise, and the execution lives up to its cute potential. Kuromine’s inability to keep his heart off his sleeve is funny and endearing, and the once-quiet Youko opens up to him to become a bubbly (and totally oblivious) girl with a million-dollar fanged smile. (Seven Seas Manga decided to translate her brash Osaka accent as a Valley Girl in their localization, which is an interesting choice, but for the most part it works.) Most of the other characters in the book aren’t as vibrant but do serve their purpose – the only exception is the class rep Nagisa Aizawa, who is actually more interesting than the two main characters and who has an odd secret of her own. And in terms of this book’s virtues, the artwork absolutely has to be mentioned. With unique and well-drawn character models and great facial expressions, the art is fantastic and is easily the best part of the book.

My Monster Secret 3

Unfortunately, the brilliant artwork is underserved by a lot of sub-par comedy and lazy writing. The big problem with My Monster Secret is that it’s a romantic comedy that’s neither particularly funny nor all that romantic. This book telegraphs its jokes about a page in advance so that by the time the punchline finally lands, it has lost considerable steam, and the book’s heavy reliance on characters’ overblown reactions (“Oh, wow! Oh, no! Isn’t that crazy?!”) is seldom enough to keep the gags from landing like a lead balloon. It also misses a lot of opportunities to use its “monster girl” premise in funny and creative ways by downplaying it. Part of what makes series like Monster Musume and A Centaur’s Life really work is that they don’t shy away from exploring the pros and cons that come with being a particular monster-person. On the contrary, they embrace it, and it’s often their most interesting subject matter and the source of their best jokes. Other than making sure people don’t get too good a look at her teeth, we don’t see much in the way of “vampire problems” from Youko Shiragami just yet. As for the romance department, the first volume contains minuscule romantic tension because none of the characters (even the lovestruck ones) seem to be able to work themselves into anything like anxiety or self doubt – anything more than temporary annoyance, really – over their romantic failures.

In this manga’s defense, I do get the strong vibe that perhaps it was geared toward a considerably younger reader than yours truly (I’m thinking younger teens, probably age 10-16), and a reader of that age might be a lot more forgiving than I was on the points listed above. With that said, I can’t help but think that even my teenaged self might have felt his intelligence a little insulted by its shortcomings. There are too many good series out there that allow you to have your cake and eat it too (funny jokes and interesting / emotionally mature writing) to completely excuse a lapse in either area.

My Monster Secret 2

Despite its flaws, I’m not ready to completely write this series off, because it has enough potential and positive things going for it that a second-volume rebound is entirely possible. The art is absolutely stellar, and the main characters are likeable enough that I’ll probably keep reading My Monster Secret if it manages to drag its emotional maturity up to a more adult level. I will be browsing Volume 2 in the bookstore before taking it home, though. I’d rate this one a mild recommend (and it’s very clean, ye parents) for readers 16 and under, but probably only for dedicated “monster girl” fanatics above that age.

Note: This review was also published by the author on under the same pen name.

MANGA REVIEW: Never Give Up!


When you wanna be his girl, but you look like his homeboy

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s time to review a particularly good and particularly weird love story. I can’t think of a more deserving candidate on both counts than the manga Never Give Up by Hiromu Mutou, published in English by TokyoPop. Never Give Up tells the story of a boyish girl in love with a girlish boy, who unwillingly adopts an alter-ego of a manly man to protect her girlish boy from girly girls and manly men who love men. If that made your head spin, let me start at the beginning…

Kiri Minase is the daughter of a modeling agent and a male model, and she inherited their good genes – but unfortunately for her, she almost exclusively got her dad’s masculine good looks. Standing nearly 6 feet tall, curveless but athletic, with short hair that refuses to grow out, a piercing but kind gaze, and flawless, sculpted facial features, Kiri is the kind of girl who makes other girls feel sexually confused, and she’s none too happy about it. Making matters worse, Tohya Enishi, the boy she’s loved since childhood, is quite handsome but very petite and delicate. Kiri promised as a child that she wouldn’t consider herself worthy of him until she became more beautiful and princess-like than her prince, a declaration she has come to heartily regret in the present. Below, she vents to the sympathetic ear (ahem) of her best friend, Natsu.

Never Give Up 3

The awkward close friendship between Kiri and Tohya reaches a crisis point when Kiri’s mother (Satsuki Minase) recruits Tohya as a male model for her agency. Kiri has long been insecure about her connection with Tohya, and this news freaks her out as she imagines her beautiful beau thrown into a sexual feeding frenzy of experienced women and gay men. She demands that her mother hire her as a model as well so she can watch over him, which earns her a blow to the head and a “That’s rich!” from her not-exactly-gentle mom. However, when Satsuki’s other male model unexpectedly cancels, her mother offers her the chance to “go undercover” and take his place as a male model.

Kiri reluctantly accepts and does the gig under the alter ego “Tatsuki,” but what was supposed to be a small, one-time fib becomes a life-consuming act when Tohya and Kiri hit the big-time together as the hottest new thing in male modeling. Kiri’s mercenary mom refuses to let her quit, and Kiri herself is reluctant to retire “Tatsuki” because it lets her spend time with Tohya and watch out for him. Still, every success as Tatsuki is carrying her farther and farther from her goal of becoming the kind of woman she yearns to be. Further complicating matters, the aloof Tohya is incredibly hard to read, and suitors of both sexes start coming after Kiri and Tohya on the job in ways that constantly threaten to blow her cover or break her heart. Can Kiri and Tohya make it to “happy ever after” as princess and prince – and if it ever happens, will each of them be wearing the right clothes?


Never Give Up was a wonderful surprise to me. I approached the series skeptically as likely shojo manga fluff, but I was quickly drawn in by its quirky premise, fantastic humor, and great cast of characters. Kiri, in particular, is such a loveable heroine, and a rather unique one at that. Most “girls who look like boys” in anime and manga are petite gals with short hair who pass as small guys thanks to the right clothes (ex. Haruhi Fujioka in Ouran Host Club or Naoto Shirogane in Persona 4), but all it takes is an easy wardrobe change for them to undergo a feminine transformation at the finale. No such luck for Kiri! She truly has to find and seize an idea of beauty a little outside the mainstream if she wants to reach a happy ending. She’s also a very insecure and volatile teenage girl who tends to react faster than she thinks, which sometimes plays out in hilarious ways – her best friend has to hold her down from “Goodbye cruel world”-ing her way out an open window twice in just the first volume!

Never Give Up 6

The rest of the cast is just as good in their way. Tohya is a real cold fish most of the time, but it quickly becomes clear that Kiri’s feelings are not one-sided, and he’s fighting his own insecurities about the way he looks in comparison to her. Kiri’s mom is delightfully blunt without being cruel, and her dad (when he finally gets introduced) is a freak in all the right ways. Kiri’s no-nonsense best friend, Natsu, provides grounding throughout this wild tale, and the cast of personalities we meet in the modeling world are vibrant and unpredictable.

The art style in this manga is fairly simple most of the time, but in a way that feels uncluttered and clean – I liked it very much. I also felt like the pacing was generally good, and TokyoPop did a great job with the localization. You’ll see a few eyebrow-raisers like “Don’t be hatin’!”, but for the most part the translation sounds very natural without dating itself. (NOTE: The pictures shown on this page are taken from a scanslation for clarity’s sake. TokyoPop’s licensed translation is far, far superior.)

There are really only two things about this manga that hurt its quality as a recommendation. The first is the manga’s fault, which is that while Kiri’s insecurities can be compelling in short doses, they can become a bit annoying if you’re marathoning the series. At some points, you kind of want to shake her and tell her to stop boo-hooing and assuming the worst. The second thing isn’t the manga’s fault, but it is a bummer: Never Give Up was never completed in English. Its American publisher, TokyoPop, collapsed right about the time that Volume 8 came out, and to date no other company has licensed it. Between so many new series coming out each year and many better-known series from that time meeting the same fate, I’m not holding my breath for Never Give Up to be rescued, the title notwithstanding.

Never Give Up 7

That’s a shame, because this series really is both sweet and unique. It explores concepts of gender and beauty in a refreshing way by recognizing that sometimes men and women don’t fit into society’s ideas of what they should look like, and no amount of “makeover” will fix that. It explores how that “failure” messes with their heads, but it also shows a way out through unconditional love and slowly-accumulated self-respect. And, in the case of Kiri’s misadventures, it keeps the reader cracking up the entire time. Highly recommended.




Never Give Up is out of print, but since it’s neither rare nor widely known, supply and demand are on your side. You can probably pick it up very cheap. I’d recommend checking Hastings, eBay, Robert’s Anime Corner Store, or RightStuf’s clearance bin as good places to purchase this title.

Magical Eyes – Red is For Anguish

“Good morning!”

Just passing along a quick plug for an interesting-looking visual novel from the folks at Fruitbat Factory coming out later this month on Steam. Magical Eyes – Red is for Anguish ($15) is a mystery story about a killer doll who chops off a man’s arm and the two teens trying to track down and stop the evil entity. The art is beautiful, and the opening movie is very jammable. (Can’t help but think it would make for a nice morning alarm tune…)

ANIME REVIEW: Hanappe Bazooka


Available Formats: VHS only

Run Time: 45 minutes

Sub/Dub: Sub only

Publisher: ADV Films

Year: 1992

Rating: NR, but 16+

Those Obnoxious Demons

It’s interesting how certain anime or manga publishers sometimes get a “lock” on certain creator’s works. Just as Viz had and has the rights to almost all of Rumiko Takahashi’s series, back in the 1990s Houston-based A.D. Vision (or ADV) achieved a near-monopoly on the works of manga-ka Go Nagai. I would be interested to know if this was founded on some sort of business arrangement with a Japanese counterpart who worked closely with Nagai, or if it was the result of some bigwig at ADV being a huge fan of his work.

Regardless, a “Go Nagai empire” was in many ways a strange choice of monopoly. I say this because Go Nagai is the reigning king of acquired taste and uneven results. Over the years, anime based on his work have generated some international smash hits (Mazinger Z, Cutey Honey, Devilman), some titles that gained niche appreciation but no widespread popularity on this side of the pond (Demon Prince Enma, Devil Lady, Kekko Kamen), and some truly wretched drek that is better off forgotten (Demon Lord Dante, Black Lion, Violence Jack). Good, bad, or ugly – complete or incomplete – ADV was on a mission to publish the anime adaptations of all of them. However, of all anime based on Go Nagai’s work and published in North America, perhaps the most obscure was the weirdo title Hanappe Bazooka.

Hanappe Bazooka was a 45-minute OVA that followed the misfortunes of a young man named Hanappe who gets roped into a way-too-close encounter with the demonic kind. Hanappe is a bit of a coward with terrible luck, and the anime starts with him trying to outrun a local gang. He ducks into a video store to escape, happens upon a pervy VHS tape, and covertly slips it under his shirt and takes it home. He watches it that same night, and in the middle of… doing what you do while watching such a tape… the sky becomes pitch-black above his house, a portal opens to an eldritch dimension, and these two come out: the demons Bazooka and Dance.

Hanappe Bazooka - Dance (Manga)According to Dance, Hanappe accidentally performed an obscene rite during a cursed planetary alignment that opened a portal from the demon world. The ancient rite had the exact same motions as Hanappe dancing around with his **** out, and in Dance’s words, “When you came… so did we.” (Welcome to the world of Go Nagai, people.)

What follows is Bazooka and Dance making themselves at home in Hanappe’s home and striking up elicit (but surprisingly consensual) trysts with his mother and sister. In exchange, they try to offer Hanappe one demonic superpower after another – super-strength to destroy the gang, a ray beam from his finger that auto-seduces women, help getting closer to his crush – all of which backfire horribly and hilariously. In the course of these twists and turns, we discover that Dance and Bazooka are actually aliens from space, and humanity’s previous experiences with their twisted kind gave rise to lore about demons.

The state of affairs that is making Hanappe miserable is heaven to everyone else in his life, and his family, Dance, and Bazooka all mock his suffering and basically say Hanappe can go jump in a lake if he doesn’t like it. They push him too far, though, and Hanappe eventually does something shocking and tragic. The anime takes a surprising turn at this point as we find out that Dance and Bazooka aren’t as heartless as they let on, especially where Hanappe is concerned. They resolve to make things right with their erstwhile-victim, no matter the cost or danger.

In the end, Hanappe Bazooka is emblematic of what makes so many Go Nagai anime adaptations a goulash of the terrific and the terrible. On the plus side, this thing is batshit insane in terms of its plot, and I would have to worry about anyone who claims “I saw that coming” more than a few seconds in advance. I also really started liking the characters of Bazooka and Dance by the time the credits rolled. They’re certainly still mischievous, but in the end, the demons were the most human characters in the cast. (Kind of a Go Nagai trademark, that.)


On the downside, this anime is badly rushed and utterly schitzophrenic in terms of mood. This anime jumps from being utterly horrifying or tragic to making cheap boner and fart jokes at a second’s notice. It also tries to include way too much in a 45-minute timeframe: we have a Hanappe’s personal struggles, his love interest’s pathetic backstory, information about the demons’ alien society, and a cosmic final battle all thrown at us far too fast to do justice to any of these themes. I get the strong impression these are problems with the anime adaptation rather than Go Nagai’s original manga, though. From what I’ve seen, it was more light-hearted throughout, and the plot progressed at a much more leisurely (and sane) pace, letting things play out in monthly installments over 3 years as opposed to being crammed together in 45 minutes.

Two last quick things to mention… First, it’s important to note that despite Hanappe Bazooka’s seeming randomness, it borrows a huge deal from Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, which was published the previous year (1978 versus 1979) and became a smash success. Urusei Yatsura introduced the concept of extraterrestrials influencing mankind’s conception of demons (there, the alien oni / ogres), and the fact that we have another alien-demon girl chasing a horny-but-unfortunate guy who looks just like Ataru Moroboshi seems like more than just a wild coincidence. Still, Go Nagai does make the material his own – Bazooka and Dance are notably more demonic in attitude and presentation than Lum, the material is gleefully irreverent, the humor is more defiantly childish, and the ending is weirdly touching despite all the nonsense that came before it.

Hanappe and Lum

Lastly, if you happen to get your hands on ADV’s old VHS tape (the only official release of Hanappe Bazooka in North America to date), be sure to keep watching after the credits roll. The VHS has a really fun featurette showing the voice actors and actresses doing their thing, a little directorial discussion about the anime adaptation and storyboard, and Go Nagai himself making a voice-acting cameo in the OAV. (His nervousness over his three-second role is funny and endearing.)

And that’s it! Hanappe Bazooka isn’t one of the best or most essential Go Nagai anime out there, nor would I pay more than $25 or so for it unless you’re a very determined completionist. That said, it is fun and a genuine example of “anime obscura” that you can out-hipster your friends with. Check it out if you get a chance.

Contact Us / Submissions

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If so, we’d love to hear from you. Please fill out the contact box below, and we will get back to you on your idea soon. Please see the area below the contact box for submission guidelines.

 Submission Guidelines

Anime Obscura welcomes contributor articles that speak to this website’s niche: anime, manga, and visual novels that fall a bit outside the mainstream or come from the classic past. Within that realm, there are certain topics we are seeking to cover more than others, and some topics we don’t plan to cover at all.

We are especially interested in articles about…

  • Thoughtful character analyses or plot analyses that delves into “why?” more than “what happened?”
  • Classic anime (1975-1995) that have not aired on Cartoon Network or Netflix
  • Small-run manga series (ex. many smaller series from TokyoPop)
  • Anime from now-defunct companies or (lively/entertaining) histories of those companies
  • Product reviews for physical otaku goods (figures, posters, etc.) with pictures provided by you

We are NOT interested in articles about…

  • Hentai anime/manga, nukige visual novels, or physical goods that meet or exceed an 18+ rating
  • Anime that have aired on Cartoon Network or Netflix (We’re “obscura,” remember? However, exceptions will be made for a particularly good character analysis. If you get inside Vash the Stampede’s head and blow our minds with your insights, you have our ear.)


Where to Buy…?

If you see an anime, manga, or visual novel on this site that interests you, finding it may or may not be easy, depending on how rare it is and whether or not it’s out of print. I’ve prepared a few suggestions below that will hopefully help you pick up the title you’re looking for.

“YO, HO, YO, HO…?”

First, a quick plea: don’t be a pirate.

Harlock - Don't be a pirate

I know the economy’s tight, and everyone can appreciate the glittering appeal of “free.” Problem is, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The companies that license, translate, troubleshoot, and sub/dub these products have to pay their employees and stay in the black. Moreover, anime and manga is a niche market, and most of these companies aren’t exactly making money hand over fist – they depend on fans to do the right thing to ensure they can keep bringing these products out.

If you can’t buy a series directly, an incredible amount of anime now streams for free online on companies’ official sites (supported only through fewer commercials than you see on TV), older anime whose license has expired may be on YouTube, and digital manga is a growing and usually more inexpensive way to enjoy your favorite manga series. There’s less reason than ever before to steal content. The only circumstances I’d condone getting an unofficial copy of a title is if it’s “long gone” out of print and being sold for ridiculous scalper’s prices on Amazon or eBay (in which case the company is no longer making a profit), or if it isn’t currently licensed or officially translated in the part of the world where you live.

In every other case, support the official licensed product, and do the right thing.



Right Stuf Anime

Perfect for new and slightly out-of-print products

This is the super-center of all things you might find discussed at this site. Their deals and customer service are both excellent – just a great company to purchase from all-around. RightStuf carries many older titles, and you can collect most of many older series from their clearance bin for quite a discount. (However, “most” is an important qualifier, as RightStuf seldom moves series into the clearance bin section until one or more volumes of the series are no longer available. Therefore, quite a few are incomplete, and you might have to look elsewhere to complete your collection.)


Robert’s Anime Corner Store (RACS)

Perfect for new and slightly out-of-print products

Robert’s Anime Corner Store is an excellent alternative to RightStuf that offers a similar array of products. I would recommend checking both places for pricing and availability before you buy, because RACS has some things in stock that RS no longer carries (and vice-versa). Their customer service is also phenomenal, and they’re known for packaging products carefully, snugly, and securely when they ship.


Anime Castle

Excellent selection of products, both new and out of print

Anime Castle has been in the anime and manga business a long time, and consequently, they have an enormous stock of items to choose from. You will find a few out-of-print titles here that are impossible to find elsewhere, and to their credit, I’ve never known Anime Castle to engage in scarcity-gouging. Their only downside is that their online game isn’t very strong — you may note with puzzlement the “Flood Sale” from 2007 on the front page. Still, my orders have always been delivered promptly, so they take care of business.



Perfect for all older products (from new to ancient), some newer

If you just can’t find it anywhere else, eBay is your buddy. The online auction site should be your very first stop for any title that has long been out of print. Depending on the rarity of the product and the knowledge level of the seller, you’ll occasionally stumble across a real steal, or at least an excellent bargain. With that said, the nature of the site (all private sellers) does mean you’ll see some bootleg products from time to time. Follow the golden rule of piracy-free purchasing and steer clear.



All of the sites listed below are 100% legal ways to watch anime online without having to fork over fat stacks of cash. All of them are free and supported only by advertising — far fewer ads than you’d watch on a paid satellite channel. You can also purchase subscriptions to skip the ads and gain access to premium content (especially English-language dubs).


CrunchyRoll is the closest thing the Internet’s got to a legal one-stop shop for free, streaming anime. Although they’re primarily known for their spectacular selection of brand-new anime, you’ll find a few older classics here as well.


HIDIVE is the streaming site for all anime licensed by Sentai Filmworks, and it has an interesting and convoluted origin story. Back in the mid-2000s, the now-defunct ADV Films started the Anime Nework to stream their shows, and it was the first serious attempt by an anime licensor at a fully online anime streaming site. After ADV’s 2009 implosion, Sentai Filmworks incorporated and picked up most of ADV’s properties, including ownership of the Anime Network. In 2017, Sentai spun their online streaming into a new company (HIDIVE) while leaving the old Anime Network with the rights to their smaller cable offerings.

Anyway, that’s a lot of history that may or may not interest you. Bottom-line: HIDIVE is an extremely cheap way to gain access to Sentai’s massive catalog (both dub and sub) of anime and live-action movies and TV/OVA series. It’s easily one of the best bang-for-your-bucks in anime today, and because of Sentai’s friendliness to short, quirky series, it’s an excellent spot to search for hidden gems.

Funimation Channel

There are many nice things I can say about Funimation, but for right here, the key thing is that if high-quality English dubs are your shtick, this is the channel you might want to fork over the extra subscription money for. Funimation dubs almost every title they license, and their experienced voice actors are some of the best in the business.

Aniplex Channel

Aniplex USA is notorious for releasing outrageously overpriced physical editions of their anime titles that can run you (into the ground) about $80 for a 4-episode Blu-Ray. However, there’s no need to lose your shirt or turn pirate to watch their many excellent titles. Stream them here for free.

… But wait, there’s more!

If you don’t see your anime of choice available from one of the ones I listed above, check out this exhaustive list, which contains many other sites that allow you to legally stream anime.



The following sites are excellent places to purchase digital manga, either from the publisher directly or via online retail.

Viz Media

Seven Seas Manga (purchasable through Comixology and Bookwalker, FREE through Zoom Comics)

TokyoPop (via Comixology)

Digital Manga Publishing

Barnes and Noble




FruitBat Factory (SFW)

Fruitbat Factory is a publisher of many anime-ish games, many of which have visual novel elements while primarily being some other genre (strategy, puzzle, etc.). Their most famous titles are probably War of the Human Tanks and 99 Spirits. You can purchase these or their other titles on PC here direct from the company, giving you a DRM-free direct download as well as a Steam key for any purchase. Fruitback Factory doesn’t deal in eroge, and their site is SFW.

Steam (SFW)

Steam is becoming a more and more happening place when it comes to visual novel sales, and you can find all-ages titles from all the major visual novel publishers here. In a few cases, you’ll also find all-ages “revamps” of games that used to have adult content where this content is now removed; these versions are often exclusive to Steam. There are also a growing number of independently produced “OEL (Original English Language)” visual novel titles or independently-translated titles ported from the Japanese.


JAST USA is the longest-running publisher of visual novels in the West, having been founded back in 1996. Their website carries download versions of all of their own titles, plus a growing selection of DRM-free downloads from other publishers. Note that while they generally do a good job of keeping explicit images off their front-page, a majority of their games have adult sexual content.

MangaGamer (NSFW)

MangaGamer is the other major English-language publisher of visual novels, and they are also probably the largest in terms of volume at this point. MangaGamer sells download versions of all of their own titles, physical copies of some of those titles, and downloads of a number of third-party visual novels and eroge. While they do have a handful of all-ages games, most are eroge, and the site is definitely not safe for work.

J-List (NSFW) and J-Box (SFW)

J-List sells both physical and download copies of any visual novel produced by JAST USA, as well as all physical copies produced by MangaGamer and a few from the now-defunct Hirameki. Because J-List and JAST USA share the same man as founder and CEO (Peter Payne), J-List will have physical copies of newer JAST titles before anyone else.

NOTE: J-Box is an all-ages, safe-for-work version of J-Lists’s site that doesn’t contain any games or products with 18+ content. If you want to stick with games without explicit material, this is the version you want to browse.

Denpasoft (Questionably SFW)

Denpasoft is the publisher of the Sakura [Fill-in-the-blank] visual novels on Steam, Fruit of Grisaia, and several other and upcoming titles. You can buy all of their titles on Steam, but they can also be bought directly and DRM-free from their store, sometimes with additional features and content. Like JAST, they generally keep their front page clean, but you may run into explicit images while visiting the site due to adult content in the games.

What’s a Visual Novel?

Pretty much everyone familiar with Japanese pop culture knows about anime and manga, but you may not be as familiar with another facet that’s pretty big in Japan but just now gaining traction overseas: the world of visual novels. A visual novel is a style of video game that involves more reading than button-mashing gameplay. In fact, it can be helpful to think of them as “choose your own adventure” books with tons of character art and full voice acting rather than games in the normal sense. Although they occasionally come out on consoles, the overwhelming majority are played or read on PC.

There are lots of reasons to pay attention to visual novels. Not only do they have plenty of intrinsic entertainment value, but they heavily influence the anime industry as source material. Fate/stay Night, Clannad, Higurashi: Whey They Cry, Little Busters, Amagami SS, Steins Gate, Ef: Tale of Memories and Melody, School Days, and Shuffle all started life as visual novels, just to rattle off a few. Some of them feature deep, rich plots and characterization most anime would envy. So why is this genre of game so little-known outside of Japan?

Oreimo - Eroge 4

As Kyosuke here found out, a high percentage of visual novels are eroge (“erotic games”), meaning they contain some degree of explicit sexual material. This begs the question: why would visual novels intentionally pigeon-hole themselves in the 18+ market? The answer lies in the genre’s origins: back when they started in the 1980s and early 1990s, pretty much all visual novels were straight-up porn. However, over time more and more developers started adding complex plots and characterization to the games, and nowadays many boast stories you could call “high art” with blinking.

Some visual novels have left the 18+ material behind entirely, and these are advertised as all-ages. In recent years, the emergence of Steam as a PC gaming powerhouse has provided a growing market for all-ages visual novels. It has also created a strong impetus for many companies to remove adult content from some games where its importance was marginal in the first place, creating all-ages versions of titles such as When My Heart Had Wings and Littlewitch Romanesque.

With that said, quite a bit of the visual novel market is still dominated by eroge. Even so, it’s important to note that not all eroge are cut from the same cloth. Eroge is a curious genre in that while it does contain explicit sexual content, that may not be its main focus or selling point. For example, games such as Katawa Shoujo or Yumina the Ethereal do contain sex scenes, but if they were completely removed or avoided, you would still be playing an excellent game. Unlike in Western entertainment where explicit material and deep, complex stories tend to segregate like oil and water, you’ll often find them in unashamed admixture within eroge. Many of these are honestly touching or suspenseful stories where characters just happen to get nekkid and make whoopie.

Yumina - It's that kind of game
Source: Yumina the Ethereal

Of course, many eroge never wandered away from the genre’s original purpose. These games, a subgenre of eroge called nukige, are overwhelmingly pornographic in presentation and content. If you think the distinction between story-based eroge and nukige sounds confusing, I can guarantee it’s probably less confusing than you think. It shouldn’t take more than a quick look at the title or cover art to tell that Princess Evangile and Family Project will be completely different experiences from Amorous Professor Cherry or My Sex Slave is a Classmate.

Haganai - Eroge
If you still aren’t sure, use the test Yozora posed to Sena in Haganai.

The last thing to mention is that visual novels often have very different levels and styles of interactivity. A few, called sound novels or kinetic novels, don’t offer the player any branching choices whatsoever, and the story is predetermined and just meant to be read and experienced. This lack of interactivity raises the question of whether sound novels should be considered “games,” but otherwise the play style is similar to any other visual novel. (Higurashi: When They Cry was a sound novel.)

The most common gameplay style in visual novels by far is the “branching plot” narrative, where 90% of the game is simply reading, but the player will be offered a choice of options at critical points in the story that will affect the long-term outcome. Pretty much all dating sims (visual novels where you embark on a romance with one character among many… usually) use this gameplay style. However, you’ll also find it in mystery, horror, action, comedy, and pretty much any other genre. Note that if you see a game advertised as otome, that means it’s a female heroine picking among a harem of guys rather than vice-versa. Most branching-plot visual novels offer a mixture of good and bad endings, though a few darker games offer mostly or all bad endings. School Days, in particular, is notorious for its many train-wreck outcomes, one of the worst of which was adapted for its anime. But moving ahead…


Finally, in addition to sound novels and branching-plot games, there are also visual novels out there that include a lot of legitimate gameplay more typical of a regular video game than a “choose your own adventure” book. I’m personally familiar with titles that are puzzle games, strategy games, and RPGs of several flavors (turn-based, card-based, and action) that offer dozens of hours of real-time gameplay. What makes these still fall under the heading of visual novels is that the bulk of the game is still spent reading text in the traditional visual novel style (windowed text with character art and voice acting), usually with multiple endings tied to the main character romancing a particular love interest.

So, there’s your two-cent tour of the world of visual novels. Anime Obscura won’t be reviewing any nukige for reasons that I hope will be obvious, but we’ll definitely touch on some all-ages games, and might cautiously explore an eroge if it’s story-based and has lots of redeeming virtues. We certainly encourage you to give this genre a try yourself, because while you might accidentally experience one of these moments…

Oreimo - Eroge 6

… you’re much more likely to simply be bombarded by feels, as in this moment. D’aww.

Oreimo - Eroge 5