Summer Reading: Ao Oni Discussion

Ao Oni

It is time for a discussion of Ao Oni volume 1, featuring me and Justus! This post will contain lots of spoilers, so it’s recommended you read the book first. (Amazon -- iBook -- J-Novel Club -- Kobo)

To check on the Summer Reading Program 2018 schedule, click here.

Volume 1

Justus: Hey Cho
Cho: Hello Justus! Thanks for joining in for this
Justus: No problem! I’m hoping to join in on some of the others. Particularly Dark Maidens.
Cho: Yes, that one sounds good. Glad to have some horror titles to read
Justus: Well this one certainly fit the bill!
Cho: I enjoyed this one a lot more than I expected to
The original Ao Oni game isn’t exactly high-quality, and the recent anime shorts and film were quite… bad
But I enjoyed reading this
Justus: I’ve never experienced Ao Oni in any other way, so this was my first time with this story
Cho: This adaptation definitely does its own thing, but also feels faithful to the original source
Justus: I think it helped that the book didn’t try to expand things too much. The length felt just about perfect
It got to the point, killed people at a steady pace, then wrapped it up 🙂
Cho: Yes, it was well-paced
It also felt like it actually had a point, thanks to Shun’s character arc
Justus: Yes. Initially I felt the ending was a little bit of a let down. I’m not a huge fan of resets. But Shun having learned and grown from the experience at least made it feel like there was payoff
Cho: I think I’ll dive into the ending more later — for now, I’m curious on your thoughts regarding the general plot and Shun’s growth in particular
The original Ao Oni story is simply “four friends go to a haunted mansion — try to get out alive”
This novel adds Shun and Anna, and offers an explanation of sorts regarding the monster and everyone going to the mansion
Justus: Ah. I can see then how the game’s narrative would be pretty stripped down. Anna and Shun were the driving force of this whole thing. Shun gave us a sympathetic character and someone to root for. I didn’t feel like the other characters earned that sentiment as much. Maybe Mika near the end, but the others felt either too cold, or were such huge jerks I didn’t feel much for them
Cho: Pretty much our only character development in this is for Shun, yes
But I think that may be the purpose of later volumes, to expand on the rest of the cast
Justus: Yes. Even Anna feels like she is there more as a plot device than an actual character
I haven’t looked at what the other volumes are about
Cho: Anna was an interesting character at first, and I did suspect an antagonistic reveal for her due to her connection with the supernatural — but in the end she was mostly just there for the sake of the main plot twist to work
Justus: Yes. I thought there’d be far more development with her when she revealed the whole “Takuro killed my parents” thing. I was looking for her character to have some kind of resolution.
Cho: Her arc is certainly not resolved, and I imagine we’ll have more to learn about Takuro as well at some point
Justus: Well, I’m taking it from the afterward that the writer intended for this to be more than just the one book, so that’s entirely possible.
The one thing I wasn’t sure about with Shun was the whole “I designed a game and posted it” thing given his introverted personality
You and I are both writers, and I think we know it takes a certain amount of courage to create something and post it. I had doubts that Shun, given his personality, would be able to do such a thing
Cho: I think to some degree interacting on the internet with others can feel “safe” compared to real life, and I imagine Shun is not really putting himself out there in connection with his game
Justus: Fair enough
Cho: In Japan especially, it seems many creative-types use pseudonyms and don’t use their own photographs or talk too much about themselves
I notice this with lots of mangaka and LN artists
Justus: Ah, maybe that’s a cultural difference. In North America it seems like anything creative you post ends with people being curious about the person behind it. Maybe it’s just more in our nature to be out there and expect others to do the same
Cho: I think anywhere in the world, some creative-types are going to have… stronger personalities than others, ha ha
Justus: Very true.
Cho: But for Shun, I think he’s just focusing on a hobby to take his mind off the daily bullying he faces
And it’s also a kind of small revenge for him, naming the victims after his bullies
Justus: Yes, that’s what I was going to say!
Creating a safe world where he has control over his own fate and that of his tormentors
Cho: He’s the creator of his own isekai
I think this point ties directly into Japanese ghost stories in general, and this story’s main plot twist
Your typical ghost story has someone die unjustly, and typically lingers on by being fueled by some very strong emotion
Justus: Yes, it’s a classic setup for ghost stories. So the game and movie never gave that background? It seemed so integral to making the narrative cohesive and to have a point

Cho: The game’s approach I think is to keep the ao oni a complete mystery, leave it up to players to decide what it is
Justus: I guess. But this story didn’t strike me as being the type that needed that level of player introspection. I mean, Yume Nikki was a whole other beast. Even though it was also a game adaptation, it still was filled with far more imagery and ideas that made me wish for it to not explain everything.
Cho: Well, it’s definitely not like Yume Nikki in that respect — I just mean something like “is the ao oni the result of some mad scientist’s experiment?” etc
There was nothing deep about the original Ao Oni — it’s just a puzzle-solving game where you have to run away from the monster you can’t fight against
Justus: Right. I recall a time when those kinds of games were more popular. I guess more recently we expect everything to have a more cohesive narrative. So what about Hiroshi? His character just screamed for more exposition to me
Cho: Hiroshi is who you play as in the game, and I don’t recall anything significant ever revealed about him
Justus: Oh, ok
I guess that makes sense
as the player you would need to analyze things and study them
Cho: I actually quite liked this book’s take on him — they take his smarts (implied by the player solving all the puzzles) to an extreme, and make him kind of creepy (as Hiroshi doesn’t react strongly to any of the horror that unfolds in the game)
Justus: Yeah, there’s definitely something not quite right with him. Especially with how coldly he inspects the remains of his classmates
Cho: It’s a kind of “what if this aspect of video games we take for granted were applied to the real world”
Justus: It would’ve been cool to see it taken a step further and have the others call him out on it.
Cho: The parallel between him and Takuro was made briefly, and would be interesting to see expanded upon
Justus: You mean the cold, analytical versus the hot-headed psychopath? 😉
Cho: Yes, but at the same time, they both have a stark disconnect from humanity
I actually have to wonder how much Hiroshi cares about Shun, in retrospect
He was more interested in the game itself, and in bugs (lol)
Justus: That’s a good point. But there is definitely some relief in Hiroshi’s expression when he realizes Shun is with him. It felt to me like he’d worried Shun was lost
Cho: I have Zaregoto vol 2 fresh in my mind still, so I find this aspect interesting
Justus: LOL!
I don’t think Hiroshi is quite that level!
When I read it, I got the sense this was a part of his own defense mechanism
Cho: In part he plays the common role of the skeptic in horror stories
Justus: Shun is quiet and awkward. Hiroshi is bold but disconnected
Aside from Takeshi, I got the sense all these characters are damaged and hiding behind masks
And even Takeshi I think has something he hides, it’s just not as extreme nor obvious given his role in the story

Ao Oni

Cho: One of the things I liked about this story was how it offered multiple possibilities regarding the mystery along the way, and even at the end I can’t say everything is all cleared up — there may be multiple factors behind the whole ao oni phenomenon
I suppose I can’t help but think of Higurashi When They Cry when it comes to the whole question of “is this all completely supernatural, or is there somehow something scientific behind this”
Since this series likely features the same sort of resetting time gimmick, I can see things going back and forth
Justus: Or perhaps a single truth that can only be accomplished by repeating the scenario in different ways?
Cho: They’ll eventually have to all work together, I imagine
But not before they’re all killed a bunch more times, right?
Justus: Well that’s half the fun, right?
Cho: The violent and depressing time loop is a popular trope it seems — things like Steins;Gate, Re:Zero, and Madoka Magica all come to mind too.
Justus: Even Groundhog Day and All You Need is Kill
I think it’s a play on the human desire to have a redo.
And probably an author’s assertion that no one gets it absolutely perfect with only one go.
Cho: Glad we threw Groundhog Day in this list, ha ha
Justus: You’re welcome! 🙂
Cho: This all fits with Ao Oni franchise itself too, since it keeps coming back somehow
Justus: Haha, I think that’s just because people can’t overcome their curiosity. We’re told something is bad, and we naturally wonder, “Just how bad could it be?”
Cho: It can be worse than we imagine, unfortunately
Justus: Blue Monsters going NomNom on you
Cho: But it’s a nice message the story ends with, at least
Life can be hell, but at least you’re not being chased by the ao oni
Justus: Or perhaps we all have our own version, just that the way it devours you is more psychological or spiritual.
My, this is getting heavy
Cho: Yes, the ao oni is metaphorical
For Shun, it’s certainly a stand-in for his tormentor Takuro
Justus: Do you think so? I thought it was more a vehicle for his vengeance. I felt since he felt powerless to stand against Takuro, he created the ao oni to act as the monster he himself couldn’t be.
Cho: I believe there’s that aspect to it too
Justus: To me, that’s why Shun didn’t insert himself into his own game. In a way, he was already there as the monster
Cho: Now that I think about it, IDK if the story says who they actually play as in Shun’s game in the story
Probably just a blank slate character
Justus: I believe it says the main character (the player) enters a name of their choice.
Cho: Okay, I think with that in mind, there can be a dual interpretation made here
Justus: Oh yes, I think so too.
Cho: On one hand Shun would love to defeat Takuro to end the bullying for good, but that’s not going to happen — sometimes you have to just scrape by in life
Justus: Shun really seems to believe that. Even at the end, he doesn’t seem convinced he’ll escape the torment entirely
But he seems determined to not let it destroy him either
Cho: I think it’s a refreshing message tbh
Most movies and whatnot about a bully and victim will end with the victim beating up/defeating the bully
Justus: Well, even during the whole mansion incident, Shun isn’t happy to see Takuro’s fate
Which is funny seeing as how he made a game where that is Takuro’s fate
Cho: Yes, and I think that will be a central part to the overarching plot of the series — understanding the monster
(i.e. Takuro)
This can tie into Anna’s subplot as well, because I imagine deep down she seeks revenge, because this is a horror series
Justus: I could see that. I think the book’s message in regards to the bullying is that it isn’t realistic to think you’ll suddenly gain the strength to beat the bully. But you can gain the strength to stand up, to run, and to see the day when it ends
I really think Anna’s story needs resolving
I mean, we know the ao oni comes back. But if it isn’t the result of Shun’s emotional torment this time, then it must belong to someone else
Cho: I was a bit bummed by the ending being a variation of “it was all a dream,” but I am still curious to see what the author comes up with next
In a way it’s pretty fitting for slasher monster flicks
Justus: Yes. Like I said earlier, the whole “reset without consequences” thing kind of bothers me. But, as you point out, if this is Shun’s story going from weakness to determination, then it has to happen that way
Before the reset, though. When it’s revealed how the ao oni came to be, did you feel like you wanted to go back and read the book again to check to see if Shun’s presence was mostly ignored? It was the same way I felt when I watched the Sixth Sense
Cho: Sixth Sense is what immediately came to mind, given the nature of the reveal
I think it’s a fun twist, but yes, the book in general is not exactly treading new ground for most of its plot elements
Justus: No. Not at all. But, as you said, it didn’t exactly have deep source material to work with
Cho: It’s all-in-all a very familiar story for horror fans
(But this is the only horror LN series in English we’ve got, so it’s fresh in that regard)
Justus: Still, even having experienced something similar in other media, I was still surprised
I hadn’t expected the boxes to have those contents
Cho: It was a good reveal. We knew there had to be something terrible in those boxes, and we weren’t let down

Ao Oni

Cho: I think we can wind down with final thoughts
Or any questions you want to throw out
Justus: Just want your brief thoughts on Mika. Did you find her confession of love for Takuro odd? I mean, she says she knows what kind of a monster he is, so what’s the deal?
Cho: Mika is a mystery — we aren’t given any clear reason why she hangs out with Takuro in the first place
My guess is that she and Takuro both have family issues, and connect in that way
Justus: Maybe. I suppose that might be addressed in later books.
Cho: It seems clear Takeshi was bullied into being Takuro’s goon, but Mika is much closer to being “on his level,” standing up to him at points
It’s possible they’re both using each other for specific purposes
Justus: Could be. That might also explain why he was so quick to end her. Not just because of what she said in that moment, but because of what she was to him overall.
All right, we can wrap it up 😉
Cho: I think the last two things I’d like to point out are:
1) I thought the translation was particularly good for this one. Everything flowed smoothly, dialogue never felt stilted, etc
Justus: Agreed.
Cho: (And, related to that, we didn’t have loads of text regarding Game Mechanicsâ„¢ to slow things down… thank you author Kenji Kuroda)
Justus: LOL!
Cho: and 2) This is a good instance of illustrations elevating the story for a light novel
The artwork is very good (in stark contrast with the art for the various anime tie-ins)
(…and the original game itself, lol)
Justus: Yes! I even enjoyed the growing bloodstain on the wall with each new chapter title page
Cho: Those were fun
The standout moment for me would have to be Takeshi opening the dresser door in the text, and then getting the two-page spread of the monster looking in 🙂
Justus: Found you, Takeshi!!!!!!
Cho: That tricky blue demon
Justus: I would’ve liked to see more of that. Not just chasing down and chowing down, but actual trickery
Maybe in the next book 😉
Cho: Though there isn’t much plot in the original game, there are certainly plenty of “moments” that can still be worked in for future volumes
The other ao oni monsters were kind of all thrown in at the end really quick, for example, and could be expanded upon
Justus: I think I’ll check those other volumes out. I hadn’t read this one for some time, but I’m glad I checked it out. It was fun. There were some good moments, and the main character’s arc was decent. But it did leave lots of room for future expansion on the story and other characters
Cho: I think it’s worth a shot for any LN readers looking for something straightforward and fast-paced, and different from your more typical fantasy adventures
Justus: Yes. Like you said, we lack a lot of titles that are true horror. This is the closest we have, and it’s not a bad one at that. Maybe it doesn’t break new ground, but it’s overall satisfying and the pace and length of the book work very well.
Cho: Super! I think that’s a good ending point. Next time we’ll get into the horror novel Dark Maidens
which I believe you’ve already read through
Justus: Yup. It’s more of a mystery title than a horror. I really enjoyed it! Again, different from most of what we’ve had in English so far. And the author, Rikako Akiyoshi was just very gracious and willing to give her time to answer questions.
Though it does have some of that psychological thriller aspect
Cho: I noticed you had a video up for that — I was planning to watch after reading the book
I love mystery, so it looks right up my alley
Justus: Yup, yup! It’s one of those cool books where you can’t trust any of the narrators. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it!

Cho: That’s it for our discussion on Ao Oni volume 1. Now it’s your turn! What are some of your thoughts on this book?

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