This time, get ready for probably the longest review we’ve ever seen on YuriReviews.
Big thanks to Bigbossbalrog, the author of this post!
Title: Akai Ito (Redstrings in English)
English Translation: Yes, but text only
Length: 5 routes (Besides the fifth route, which is a good deal shorter. Each route took me around 15 hours to complete.) In total, around 65 hours.
Genre: Horror, Romance, Mystery, Yuri
Platform: PS2, PS3 (was ported to the PS3, and can be bought on the Japanese PSN), PC (Success released a demo for the PC, which only covers the first two nights)
Note: While Akai Ito is officially considered by Success to be an “all-ages” yuri visual novel (it’s rated 15+ by the Cero rating system), that only applies to it having no eroge content. It’s a relatively bloody, dark, and depressing game
Akai Ito’s plot starts several months after the tragic death of the protagonist’s mother. The protagonist in question’s name is Hatou Kei, a perfectly normal high school student. She’s informed by her lawyer that her father, who died in an horrible accident years ago, actually owns property, and that the property now belongs to her, due to her mother’s death. During summer vacation, she boards a train and heads to her father’s birth place of Hemizuka, a small town in the countryside, to see if her father has left behind anything for her. In the twilight, Kei dreams about a mysterious tree and a young woman seemingly consumed in sadness. In the land of Hemizuka, guided by the pale light of the moon, Kei discovers an ancient conspiracy wrapped in her own blood through meetings with a raven-haired demon hunter, the best friend of her late mother, a young girl who’s always accompanied by a white fox, a pair of vampires who appear to be children, and even the sad-looking girl from her dreams. One phrase from Kei’s dream keeps her from falling into darkness, “Someone important to me has vanished.”.
Akai Ito’s story is a mouthful to talk about. Taking aspects from the deepest and most obscure parts of Japanese mythology, the game’s writer must have majored in the subject. It also deals with themes such as patricide, the Oedipus complex (the yuri version, so don’t worry), suicide, inner corruption, and more. As you can tell, it has more in common with a Greek tragedy than your average romance visual novel. Sono Hanabira, this is not. As noted above, it’s also considered to be part of the horror and mystery genre. Kei has recurring nightmares throughout the game, including some really disturbing ones about a child’s hand sticking through the chest of an adult man, covered in blood. As Kei progresses through the game, she begins to realize she has many holes in her memory, and in extreme cases, cannot differentiate if something is simply a nightmare brought on by oni and her inner fear, or repressed memories. While the game never got scary, it can get very creepy, in my opinion (especially anything involving the oni twins, Milkage and Nozomi).
The universe that Akai Ito takes place in is rich, expansive, colorful, and full of depth. The main emphasis is that night and day are two very different worlds, with spirits and inhuman beings called “oni” prowling in the dark. Oni are interesting beings. Some oni were always oni, while others were originally human, then became oni. How one becomes an oni is… difficult to explain. There are multiple ways. One way is that the human died with intense hatred in their hearts, which turns them into a wandering, twisted, evil spirit. Another way is to be possessed by an oni, which automatically classifies you as one. Scattered throughout Japan is an organization called the “Onikiri”, which is loosely made up of many different clans. They operate as oni slayers and hunters. In practice, they’re supposed to protect humanity, but are extremely overzealous in their views. They cut down anything remotely inhuman and don’t differentiate between good spirits and oni. There are many sub-factions, like the Cult of Nushi, the Snake God, as well as the Mizuki Tribe, a now-extinct clan of people connected to the Moon.
While its atmosphere is dark, you can’t help but laugh a great deal, especially during the day segments. Akai Ito has a good blend of seriousness and comedy. One example is a scene with the oni hunter, Uzuki. You fall asleep in the same bed as her, and you awake with her staring down at you like some creepy pervert. Kei’s reactions are hilarious. Sakura, the deadpan commentary, and the bitter teasing and mocking of Uzuki will all give you reason to smile as well. Overall, despite being a serious horror game, it can get downright funny at times.
At its core, Akai Ito is a mystery novel. The game presents clues that you’ll eventually piece together at the end of the route. You need to discover Kei’s past and the mystery surrounding the area around Hemizuka.
Expect to cry a lot. There are 36 endings, and only five of those are considered “happy”. One of those five is even more depressing and saddening than some of the bad ones.
Another great thing about the story is how good the characters are written. There’s no black and white in Akai Ito, besides Yumei (whom I will talk about later on). Every character has character flaws and merits, along with having their own motivation for their actions. On the surface, you might want to label them as stereotypes, but they’re far from it. Including Kei, everyone goes through intense character development throughout the game, with them either becoming different characters or showing their true nature.
Without spoiling anything, there are many twists throughout the game, and times when your mouth will be dropping onto the floor with you cursing yourself for not being able to guess that was going to happen. Suffice it to say, if you want to understand the entirety of the game, you’ll need to play all the routes. Everything connects to each other.
Akai Ito’s story is a literary masterpiece. Mixing Japanese mythology with original ideas makes for an excellent, well-written, enthralling, and suspenseful tale of oni, ghosts, shrine maidens, demon hunters, and romance.
Akai Ito gets a huge plus in my book for keeping the main characters extremely relevant throughout the story, even if it isn’t their route. Too many visual novels only focus on the pairing and tend to have the other characters fade out of the story depending on which route you take, but not Akai Ito. Just as a side note, I’ll try to spoil as little as possible, but it’s very hard talking about these characters without mentioning a few. A rule of thumb, no one in Akai Ito is who they appear. Also, I won’t be mentioning the main villains, the vampire twins Nozomi and Milkage, here. Nushi neither. They’re great characters in their own right, and you’ll love to hate them. Nushi typically only appears near the end of each route, but Nozomi and Milkage have plenty of screen time throughout the five routes. Other minor characters include Kei’s best friend, Mako, whom you never see in the flesh, and Kei-kun, a mysterious young man who has the same name as Kei. Kei-kun is… alright. He doesn’t ruin the yuri aspects of the game, trust me. He and Kei have zero attraction to each other, due to a very good story reason. In fact, if anything, there’s more attraction stated between Uzuki’s brother than with Kei-kun and Kei herself.
The main protagonist of Akai Ito, Kei is an interesting combination of being a scaredy-cat, and a very brave person. She’s the type who’s normally very timid and shy, but when push comes to shove, she’s capable of feats of extreme bravery. And if you’re her friend and/or lover, she’ll never abandon you. Another thing about her is her naivety, which mellows out the cynicism of Sakura and Uzuki. Kei is not a good fighter, and usually relies on the protection of Yumei, Sakura, or Uzuki. Her strength comes more from her heart than anything physical. That said, she tries not be a burden to anyone. She’s usually friendly, cheerful, and full of energy. Kei tries her best to remain a nice, polite young woman, but she sometimes displays childish behavior. Every single female in the game is hugely attracted to Kei (why is explained very well), and in the official manga anthology, Uzuki and Sakura argue about who gets to make her their bride. The food she makes tastes really bad, as well. Unlike many visual novel protagonists who tend to be blank slates, Kei is her own character, and her actions and personality are shaped by the many choices you make throughout the game. In some of the endings, she remains the same naive, cheerful girl, but in others, she hardens and becomes more mature. Kei hides a secret through her shattered memories and her blood, and must take the steps to reacquire her memo. Kei is the model visual novel character. Instead of making her a blank slate like so many others, Success put effort into making her her own character.
Akai Ito’s deuteroganist, Yumei is second only to Kei in importance throughout the visual novel. In all routes, especially her own, she comes to save Kaz from the vampire twins, Milkage and Nozomi. Yumei is first seen in a dream that Kei has. Her real identity is one of Akaiito’s main mysteries, as is her connection to Kei. She’s frequently associated with the giant tree, Oharisama, that Kei sees in her dreams and comes into contact with throughout the game. In a sense, she’s Kei’s guardian angel. She has a butterfly motif, which is the symbol of her power, and is described and shown as wearing an Edo period kimono. She’s perfectly willing to risk her life for people whom Kei considered close, even people who hate her, such as Uzuki. Yumei, unlike most spirits, can manifest herself at any time, even during the day. Caring, kind, and sweet, she’s similar to Kei, except she’s almost always serious and is very mature. Her first priority is that Kei is alive and content. In the routes, all she wants is for Kei to be happy, going as far as to give her up to other people without a tinge of resentment or jealousy. Yumei’s main trait is her purity. Never once in the game is she temped to do anything bad to Kei, and never does she take her blood without her express permission and insistence. Yumei’s true identify, and her connection to Kei, is one of Akaiito’s many mysteries. Personally, she’s my favorite character and is officially Kei’s love interest.
Calm, cool, and collected, Uzuki initially presents herself to Kei at the train station when she first arrives at the start of the game. She’s impeccably polite and is described as having perfect posture. Unbeknownst to Kei at the time, Uzuki is actually a member of the Onikiri (more specifically, the Senba clan). A master swordsman and competent hand-to-hand fighter, Uzuki’s role in her route is that of a protector. In all the other routes, she still presents herself as a useful ally to Kei. In her own route, she’s extremely protective of Kei and plainly states that she loves her near the end of the visual novel. She seems like your average “cold, aloof, Japanese black-haired girl” but she isn’t at all. Hidden under her calm exterior is a mentally broken individual who relies on Kei just as much as Kei relies on her. She’s capable of showing moments of extreme warmth towards Kei, but no one else. She has a burning hatred for non-humans, especially oni, going as far as to appear at times more terrifying to Kei than the main villains. This constantly gets her into a one-sided conflict with Yumei, as well as conflicts with Sakura, who greatly disapproves of her and her organization’s extremist views and actions. This may or may not change depending on Kei’s choices throughout the game. Uzuki is a fascinating character. She’s a young woman who’s been burdened with an impossible responsibility. Nevertheless, she puts her duty before her own well-being. Add that to her messed up psyche, and she’s an excellent addition to Akai Ito’s roster. Her and Kei were voted the number one couple in an official poll.
Tsundara Wakasuki is a highly intelligent elementary school student. She has a very high vocabulary, is very brainy, and knows a great deal about various subjects. At times, she seems smarter than Kei, who’s at least twice her age. Tsundara is always seen with her faithful companion, Obana, a white baby fox with red eyes. Despite how mischievous little Obana is, Tsundara herself is a very well-mannered girl, which is contrary to her status as a runaway. She’s first found living (or lofting, depending on your view point) in Kei’s uninhabited mansion with her stalwart fox friend. According to Tsundara herself (and to Kei, who due to her being so polite, refrains from mentioning it to her face), she smells really bad. She blames this on the fact that she needs to bathe in a nearby stream, which is very impractical. Don’t let appearances fool you. She’s tough as nails due to her lifestyle, and more often than not, she ends up protecting Kei instead of the other way around despite their age difference. Without spoiling too much, she’s second only to Sakura in power, according to the Jive guide book, so pissing her off is a really bad idea. She has her reasons for being a runaway and is just as tragic a character as the rest of them. Be a kind person, and make sure to be extra nice to her in her route. Tsundara is basically yuri’s answer to the “cool homeless hobo” archetype. She’s cool.
Sakura Asama is Kei’s mother’s sexy best friend. A reporter by trade, Sakura has known Kei since she was a baby, and according to the official anthology manga, breastfed her when she was an infant. Sakura can be seen as the foil to Uzuki. Outwardly, she’s rude, obnoxious at times, and has horrible manners (around Kei. She’s much more composed around strangers.), but unlike Uzuki, she has very strong moral fiber and despises the Onikiri for their “kill and ask questions later” policy. As you would expect, she and Uzuki do not get along at all. While Uzuki is good at hiding it around Kei, Sakura makes no effort to hide her hatred. Sakura, despite her extremely youthful appearance, is actually as old as Kei’s grandmother, as she was her best friend before she was Kei’s mothers best friend. It’s heavily implied that she was in an intimate relationship with Kei’s grandmother and mother when they were young, but both of them ended up marrying men. Her past is equally as mysterious as Yumei’s, and her route reveals her secrets. She is extremely powerful. So powerful, in fact, Nozomi and Milkage are secretly terrified of her. Sakura’s route has two of the best endings found in the game, one for the pure yuri factor, and the other for pure awesomeness. Easily Akaiito’s most badass character, she’s so awesome that’s she’s the only character from Akai Ito to return in its indirect sequel, Aoishiro.
Akai Ito‘s technical aspects were, and still are, revolutionary. I consider this one of the first really high production value visual novels. All of the menus are highly detailed and well-made with dozens of options, such as changing the color of some of the words. Its menus are better, give more options, and are far more detailed than any modern visual novel I’ve seen. Akai Ito is one of the first visual novels, and is still part of a small number of them, to use a built-in flowchart that shows you the choices you’ve made and where you currently are in the game. But the most impressive part is that Kei’s voice actress narrates what you choose. For example, if you press save, you’ll hear Kei’s voice actress say “save”, and so forth. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When you’re browsing the menu or are at the start-up screen, Kei will comment on what time you play the game at, telling you to do your homework if it’s the afternoon or to go to sleep after 1 AM.
The game also includes a built-in encyclopedia, which allows you to go into great detail about the stuff Kei hears throughout the game. Besides that, it includes a CG viewer, a place where you can view all the endings you’ve unlocked, and even a character profile reader. As expected, it has an auto-skip feature (which fast-forwards scenes) and an option to skip scenes entirely.
Simply put, the CG in this game is absolutely stunning. It’s on par with most VNs today, was leaps and bounds above everything else in 2004, and better than any anime or visual novel during that time period. It shows off its graphical prowess during the night time and the dream sequences. The characters blink and are lip-synced. In what other visual novel do they do that?! I’ll tell you, Aoishiro. All of the scenery is breathtaking. Just watch the gorgeous opening video and you’ll see what I mean (all of it looks as good in-game).
Akai Ito‘s OST is amazing and very pleasing to the ear. Composed by the very talented MANYO (Little Wing), the music ranges from soft piano pieces to stirring battle themes with windpipes and violins. The main theme, Twilight Dream, is impossible to describe and achingly beautiful, as if it’s the hour of twilight in a song. The music blends perfectly with the game and gives it so much atmosphere. The opening theme, In This Revolving World, and ending theme Journey’s End are sung by Shimotsuki Haruka and capture the mood of the game perfectly. The game also has plenty of sound effects, such as sword swings and other stuff. The voice acting is also excellent, especially Yumei’s voice which calms the spirit and heart.
Akai Ito‘s gameplay is the type of visual novel were you get many choices and all those choices have drastic consequences in the game. Do you withhold information from someone? Decide to trust the train manager? It isn’t the type of visual novel that pretends to have choices, but in truth, those choices don’t matter at all. Akai Ito‘s do. Some do small things like change the dialogue and give you an extra scene, while others do major things like change the course of the storyline or give you a different ending. I shouldn’t have to stress how smart you have to be while playing. Don’t do anything stupid. On the other hand, acting like Kei (getting in unnecessary danger, etc.) does actually provide occasional results.
Akai Ito has five routes. While four of the five routes can be accessed from the start of the game, to get the true endings, you need to beat the other routes, which are shown in the form of new choices. Each choice you earn is shown after the credits of the route you’ve just completed. Each of these choices you earn open up entirely new scenes and branches in the route it belongs to. If you complete all four routes, you unlock a fifth route, which is centered around a character that you’ve seen and gotten to know in each of the other four routes. Unfortunately, this is in my opinion, the weakest of Akai Ito‘s five routes. It’s a good deal shorter than the rest. By now, you would have just finished Yumei’s route, and after its emotional climax, you’ll be disappointed. However, it does a very good job of explaining the certain characters motives and personality, while giving you quite a bit of yuri, which makes it worth going though. Remember, if you play it in random order, you’ll have to redo routes (which is what the auto-skip feature is for) or make saves on choices all the time to get the true endings. I recommend doing the routes in a certain order (Uzuki, Sakura or Tsundara, Yumei, ???).
Akai Ito has thirty-six different endings. Each of these thirty-six endings are divided into three categories: normal endings, bad endings, and true endings. Normal endings are when Kei survives, but her partner dies. Bad endings are in which both die, or only Kei dies. True endings are in which both Kei and her partner survive. It should be noted that normal endings usually end up being more depressing and tragic than the bad endings.
Akai Ito features a very unique day and night cycle (showing the time of day with a sun or moon by the save file) for a visual novel. Day is the only time where Kei is truly safe, while the night is when the monsters prowl. Typically (but not exclusively), day is when the slice of life and light-hearted scenes come into play, while at night, things start hitting the fan. You need to stay alive during the night and use every option available (Uzuki, depending on your choices, will give Kei talismans to protect herself. Remember this.). Do not take any chances unless the choice fits Kei’s character at the time. Play naturally and you should be fine.
The amount of blood Kei has at the time is shown by a health bar on the menu screen. This is just for cosmetic effect, but when you’re being drained, it appears on-screen and visibly depletes.
A common complaint about Akai Ito’s sister game, Aoishiro (Blue Castle in English), is that there’s little to no yuri, which is completely false. This is understandable, as the pure yuri elements usually appear halfway in the route, but it retains heavy subtext during the first half. But enough about Aoishiro. Unlike its sister game, Akai Ito was never really popular in the West, but it was just popular enough for someone to make a text-only translation. Kei’s “attraction” to women is made blatant at the start of the game, as she gushes over the beauty of Uzuki and Sakura while comparing their breast size to hers and lamenting the fact that she’s so flat-chested. The main yuri scenes come from the extremely explicit blood-drinking scenes, which Success admitted in the artbook was a replacement for eroge scenes. Yumei’s scenes are the most yuri-ish (with Kei noting that she finds it sinful), but the scenes with Nozomi and Milkage go overboard and can be taken as an analogy to rape (in the details of the writings and the CG). Besides that, Kei and the blood drinker blush deeply and moan as Kei gives them her precious blood. In one scene, Kei remarks that Nozomi has made herself her little play thing. There is a lot of yuri in this game, and Success pushed it as far as they could for it being an all-ages game. Everyone gets a lot of yuri scenes. And I mean a lot, since there’s a ton of highly erotic bloodsucking scenes.
Yumei: Yumei’s route is the most blatant in terms of romantic feelings between her and Kei. They share the only real on-screen kiss (besides Sakura kissing and worshipping Kei’s feet), and are obviously deeply in love. In fact, Yumei is the only character never to harm Kei, purposely or by mistake. As mentioned above, there’s Oedipus complex stuff going on. Kei says Yumei shows mother-like care to Kei, and she thinks her sucking her blood is sinful. Yumei also bears a physical resemblance to her late mom. The other part of the Oedipus complex is a slight spoiler, so I won’t mention it. Her official image song, “Light of Tomorrow”, actually sings about her purity and, indirectly, how she loves Kei. Her happy ending is the second most yuri-ish out of everyone, as her and Kei decide to live as a couple.
Sakura: Sakura’s route, while having less yuri then Yumei’s route, is no slouch either. Quite simply put, Sakura has a foot fetish, as pictured above. She loves Kei’s feet the most. She’s the most perverted of the lot, mentioning that she loves watching “adult movies”. As Kei’s late mother’s best friend, you would expect her to have self-control, but she doesn’t. In one scene, when Kei undresses, she refuses to leave the room while grinning, saying she really likes what she sees. Sakura’s happy ending is by far the most blatant out of everyone’s, which I won’t spoil.
Uzuki: Uzuki, like Sakura, has quite a bit of yuri subtext. Besides saying she needs Kei and loves her, she’s famous in the fandom for being a creepy stalker. In one part, Kei and Uzuki fall asleep in the same bed, which leads to Kei being woken up by Uzuki, whose staring down at her with smile, telling her she looks super cute and that’s she’s been doing that for at least half an hour. She also loves to undress Kei and helps her put on her kimono. Besides that, as mentioned in her character bio, she was voted number one couple with Kei in the official poll.
Tsundara: Tsundara has a good deal less yuri then everyone else. Her and Kei’s relationship is ambiguous, which is good since she’s a bloody elementary school student. However, she still has enough subtext to have a respectful number on the list. Besides saying Kei has restored her faith in the human race, she mentions how she wants to forever be with her “onee-chan”, in one scene.
???: Can’t talk about this route without spoiling a lot of stuff, including who the person this route belongs too is. She is a main character throughout the game and appears very heavily throughout all routes. I would have given her the same score as Yasumi, but her route is a good deal shorter, so there’s less stuff in it. However, the stuff in there is quite blatant.
Akai Ito is, quite simply put, one of the best, if not THE best visual novel ever made, in my opinion. It blends an excellent yuri story that goes deep into Japanese mythology, great characters, stunning CG, high production values, stellar gameplay, and amazing audio design. And it has plenty of yuri to back up its official status of belonging to the girls love genre. If you’re into horror, mystery, or yuri visual novels, then I wholeheartedly recommend Akai Ito to you.