What do you get when you cross a murder mystery thriller with science fiction? Most of you will automatically think of Bladerunner or Minority Report or any number of Philip K. Dick novels but what if the main character isn’t a hardboiled noir detective and is instead a cowardly, visual novel playing, otaku? Well then you’d get something like Chaos;Head, a visual novel by Nitro+ which gained a small cult following by those who read it to its end. However it was disliked by nearly everyone else who watched only it’s horrible anime adaptation. Also its opening is amazing, Itou Kanako being one of my favorite Japanese singers.
Like most murder mysteries Chaos;Head starts out with an unexplained and horrific murder that the main character ‘Takumi’ happens to run into on his way home from school. It’s usually at this point in a mystery novel that the main character would bravely investigate the crime scene and ask questions of anyone around the area but not Takumi, he instead runs away screaming like a little girl. This took me as a more realistic and relatable reaction, and something I myself would probably do if in such a situation. Only I probably wouldn’t have picked up a key piece of evidence that could very easily link me directly to the murder. This is exactly what Takumi foolishly does which leads him down a lengthy plot of being stalked by girls who, in his mind, are either potential culprits or potential victims. It is when all of the characters are introduced that the deeper science fiction elements are introduced, dominantly through the Di-swords (swords created from strong illusions). If I had one quibble about the plot it would be that as the story continues on and on with little hope of finding the real killer the beginning mysteries begin to fade into the background in lieu of the later plot tools and I was relieved that everything linked in for the ending, an ending that I truly didn’t see coming despite all the hints I was given.
My favorite element of Chaos;Head is it’s paranoia. It’s atmosphere is thick with it like a good thriller should be and most of it is thanks to the main character. Takumi is more of a whiny coward than Shaggy and Scooby and seeing things through his eyes somehow makes you a coward as well, making the scarier scenes even more effective. He is everything that makes a good pathetic protagonist; he’s weak, emotionally vulnerable but most importantly he’s alone. There is many a moment during certain scenes that you wish he would look over his shoulder one more time to see if anyone is actually watching him. For the most part the other minor characters act as antagonists towards him whether it be framing him for the murders or simply trying to hang out with him. Many of them also work as supporting roles to push the plot along but they all have their own personality and stories to go with the color of their hair, which can be anywhere from pink to platinum. In the end I found I preferred the really minor characters to the different heroines (there is only one story path really) and found many of the characters a little redundant, their backgrounds mainly used as filler.
It seems to be a staple of Nitro+ that their art, in both characters and backgrounds, have a kind of 90s retro feel to them (similar to FFVII). The characters are animated when they talk and there are times when a beeping dot comes along the screen at which point you either click the left of right mouse to determine if you want to give Takumi a good or bad illusion. The music (or lack of music in some scenes) is fantastic, filled with atmospheric ambiance to suit either the slice of life or more intense scenes. I think maybe I could have found a better translation as I got caught on times when the wrong word for déjà vu was used and this confused me because I could have sworn they used the correct word in same context earlier on in the story. There was nothing wrong with the scenes besides a few times nearer the end that I would’ve preferred another couple of event images to go with the active writing but that’s just me being nit-picky. Also despite some of the content being more risqué there are no H-scenes, which I hope will dissuade anyone who just wants to skip through the story to get to that type of content.
I can understand how a lot of what I liked about this visual novel is also what other people hate about it but for me these elements (including the despicable main character) served a purpose for the story. It’s not the best and it’s not the worst but it definitely has its place and for its atmosphere and art alone.
For those of you who disagree with me leave a comment.
Aristile has his own really amazing short review of Chaos;Head in his Top5 VN video and although I would probably disagree with his order of Steins;Gate and Chaos;Head, the rest is spot on;