Keeping your nemesis close in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

In the previous part of this feature, we explored Full Metal Daemon Muramasa’s “Hero” route, which focuses on the heroine Ichijo Ayane, her dogged pursuit of justice at any cost, and its eventual conclusion that emphasises how “absolute good” and “absolute evil” simply do not exist.

The “Nemesis” route, which brings alternative heroine Kanae Otori to the forefront, explores similar subject matter from a different perspective, and also links back to some earlier narrative material — specifically, the dramatic and shocking opening sequence, which, as you may recall, unfolded from the perspective of someone other than main protagonist Kageaki.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

Kanae is a bit of an enigma from the moment we first meet her in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa’s common route — as is often the case with characters depicted in Japanese popular media with perpetually closed eyes. On the one hand, she appears to be someone of considerable social standing, refinement and grace — she is constantly accompanied by her lady-in-waiting Sayo Nagakura, and has a tendency for spontaneous double bass performances in the street — but the way in which she interacts with both Kageaki and Ichijo during the common route is… well, it’s less than refined, shall we say.

She seemingly lusts over Kageaki to a comedically exaggerated degree — advances which he inevitably spurns, except on the one occasion where he has an accidental opportunity to see her naked and ends up deliberately making everyone present feel enormously uncomfortable — and clashes with Ichijo like a child. Sayo, more often than not, acts as not only a voice of reason, but a delightfully acidic, scathing critic of her behaviour. The whole character dynamic that surrounds Kanae has a significant degree of comedy about it — certainly a strong juxtaposition to the overall seriousness of the Hero route, and also with the actual meat of the Nemesis route’s narrative.

It becomes clear quite early on that Kanae has a specific interest in Kageaki beyond simply romantic or sexual attraction. Indeed, so exaggerated are her responses in that regard that they seem more like she’s mocking him rather than genuinely expressing interest. It becomes very obvious at some point that she knows the complete truth behind what Kageaki has been really up to — killing innocents as well as villains to satisfy the Law of Balance — though the exact moment at which this occurs isn’t made completely explicit.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

After all, she turns up in the opening chapter of the common route, before Kageaki has even made an appearance — but she also seems to have some sort of premonition as to what is about to happen. Again, though, we can’t tell if this is genuine. She tells opening chapter protagonist Yuhi that she “specialises in the Great Conjoined Spiral of Sound method of divination” and then mocks him by claiming he will grow up to be a sex pest known as the Cockmaster, but in almost the same breath informs him that he needs to leave Kamakura as soon as possible — seemingly already knowing that he’s going to end up dead at Kageaki’s hands.

Given her attitude and tone, one can’t blame Yuhi for ignoring her warning and indeed ending up dead, but was this simply coincidence, or did Kanae really know that Yuhi was likely to be Kageaki and Muramasa’s next “innocent” target after dealing with the villain of the hour?

We learn in the Nemesis route that Kanae’s presence wasn’t entirely coincidental; Yuhi was actually a member of Kanae’s family, who had been sent away from the troubled main family for his own protection. — we can assume that Kanae was, perhaps among other things, checking up on him to make sure that he was all right.

Kanae had dearly loved Yuhi, despite being separated from him, and Kageaki had taken his life — seemingly simply because he was the most convenient target to satisfy the Law of Balance. And for that, he had made himself a mortal enemy — even though it takes time for this animosity to truly come to light.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

Early in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa’s Nemesis route, we see Kageaki dissatisfied with the lack of punishment he is receiving for his crimes. Since his mission to stop Ginseigo laying waste to Yamato is deemed of such importance, he supposedly reached an agreement with both the police commissioner Kikuchi and the local prince that any trial for his murders will be deferred until after Ginseigo is dealt with. But as the Nemesis route opens, we see him concerned that this means he will never face judgement and punishment for his crimes.

As we saw in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa’s Hero route, he doesn’t believe “simple” death is sufficient; if anything, it’s a blissful escape from the torment he feels daily about the things he has done. But when he finds himself placed at the mercy of Kanae, who tells him the full story of how important Yuhi was to her — and how terrifyingly, understatedly furious and resentful she is at Kageaki for snatching his life away from him — he starts to feel like this might actually be the means through which he will obtain the punishment he craves.

“An ardent passion burns in her eyes,” he observes. “I cannot look away. Such purpose. She will not be denied, no matter who or what stands against her. She will claim my life. Perhaps right here, before I take my next breath. My knees shake. My bowels loosen. I have never felt fear like this. I have never felt fear at all. Not truly. Not until this moment. In her voice, I have heard that every word is true. This woman will never forgive me. She will take my life for the wrong I have done. She’s perfect. My executioner. My nemesis. She will give me the fate I deserve.”

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

Thus begins a truly, impressively unhealthy relationship between Kanae and Kageaki, who agree to cooperate in order to bring down Ginseigo — as well as to work together on the military operations Kanae performs, ostensibly in the name of the western occupying forces of GHQ.

As we’ve already seen, Kanae is a complex character whose motivations aren’t always immediately apparent, and thus it’s not really a surprise when she confirms that her loyalties to GHQ are questionable at best — at least partly because she’s a native Yamatoan, rather than hailing from the troubled western territories represented by GHQ.

How did she end up on the “wrong” side, then? Well, it’s all to do with her past, as revealed later in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa’s Nemesis route.

Kanae is a killer. She always has been. From an early age, she developed a fascination with killing insects and small animals, gradually escalating to larger creatures such as dogs. Her justification for killing was that she was helping mete out justice for those killed by the creatures she killed; if she saw one creature take another’s life, she would then take the killing creature’s life as vengeance. Her own uniquely twisted take on the Law of Balance, one might say.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

Kanae’s behaviour became so troublesome — like, “killing humans” troublesome — that she was exiled from the main Otori family, just as it was enjoying a period of particular turbulence. She studied abroad in Europe — where her lust for killing in the name of “vengeance” was abundantly satisfied through joining the military — and returned to Yamato in the hope that she might be able to reclaim her family home from those she sees as usurpers. Sticking with GHQ seemed to be the best way to do that; as such, she managed to climb the ranks of the organisation while simultaneously having no real loyalty for them.

Thus, when GHQ hatches a plan to destabilise the present governing body of Yamato, the Rokuhara shogunate, Kanae recruits Kageaki to assist with ensuring that what is essentially an atomic bomb isn’t dropped on the most important Rokuhara stronghold. Because the political turmoil that would result from such a devastating attack would potentially lead GHQ to invade and take control of the region — and that would deny Kanae the opportunity to truly take her revenge.

Interestingly, this whole sequence unfolds as a highly interactive adventure game-style segment, in which you can freely move throughout the airship carrying the bomb as Kageaki, can collect items and must solve several puzzles. Given that “succeeding” in this sequence still results in failure to stop the bomb being dropped, however, one can’t help but think Nitroplus was making a bit of a point here: sometimes, despite your best efforts, and despite doing everything “right”, things still go completely, horribly wrong.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

Indeed, this sequence can be looked upon as a microcosm of Kageaki’s entire situation. Up until this point in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa, every single conflict we’ve seen resolved by Kageaki has ended with an innocent death, due to his requirement to satisfy the Law of Balance. In every single case, Kageaki has done everything right and then caused what should be a triumph to turn into tragedy by striking down an innocent. This airship incident is a different twist on the same thing: Kageaki and Kanae do everything right, but they still fail.

Or do they? As we saw in the Hero route, absolute good and absolute evil don’t exist, so it stands to reason that absolute success and absolute failure don’t either. Rokuhara getting hit by an atomic bomb certainly threatens to destabilise the already fragile political situation in the world of Full Metal Daemon Muramasa, of course — but we’ve also seen indisputable evidence that Rokuhara in general are nasty pieces of work. Do they deserve to die in such a horrible way, though?

On top of that, who should happen to show up in the area just as the bomb is exploding? It’s the one and only Silver Star, Ginseigo, of course — and even this monstrously powerful musha is unable to completely survive a near-direct blast from an atomic bomb. Two birds with one unnecessarily destructive stone, one might say.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

This is a problem, though; part of Kageaki’s quest to defeat Ginseigo also stems from his desire to have some sort of closure to his relationship with his sister — and with her being obliterated in such an unceremonious manner is fundamentally unsatisfying. He does, at least, have the opportunity to say a final farewell to some peculiar gelatinous mess that seemingly embodies the last remnants of both his sister Hikaru and her tsurugi Muramasa the Second, but it’s hardly the end he hoped for.

Amid all this, there’s another source of tension, too, and it’s one exclusive to us, the audience. Earlier in the Nemesis route narrative, we witness a tsurugi-clad Kanae murdering the police commissioner Kikuchi — a man whom it was clear from the outset was important to Kageaki, but who in this route is also revealed to be his estranged adoptive father.

Kageaki sees the murder happen, but does not know that Kanae is a musha, nor does he recognise the tsurugi, “Burroughs”, she pilots. Thus, before the truth of the matter is established, Kanae makes her escape, leaving Kageaki to assume that some unknown mysterious assailant is behind the murder of his father. In reality, we can look on this as part of Kanae’s revenge on Kageaki — and it also ends up putting them on a level playing field for the eventual finale sequence to the Nemesis route.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

As the Nemesis narrative starts to draw to a close, Kageaki and Kanae spend a night of passion together, knowing that the next day is the appointed day for Kanae to take Kageaki’s life as they agreed. Ginseigo is dead, after all, so Kageaki no longer has a reason to live, and now he can truly face punishment for his crimes. Meanwhile, Kanae manage to cause a spectacular amount of chaos in her troubled household, and is satisfied with the end result of the situation, and thus believes that it’s probably her time, too.

Crucially, though, she doesn’t reveal that she is the killer of Kageaki’s father. Instead, she attacks Kageaki in her musha form while Kageaki is taking a walk prior to his “execution”. Since Kageaki doesn’t know that his assailant is Kanae, he fears that this mysterious musha will kill Kanae before she is able to fulfil her promise. Thus he engages her in combat, believing himself to be protecting Kanae from an unknown assailant, but actually simply engaging his nemesis in a climactic, final conflict.

Kanae battles so forcefully that she sustains mortal wounds — but refuses to succumb to them until she has fulfilled her promise to Kageaki. In this way, she has allowed herself to be subject to the vengeance she deserves for killing Kageaki’s father while simultaneously allowing Kageaki to continue looking on her as his “saviour” and executioner without regrets.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

“She gazes upon the man who has departed,” reads the third-person narration that wraps up the Nemesis route. “His expression is content but for a slightly furrowed brow. It is not an expression he would have worn in life. It makes him look so young. To the very end, he never spared a thought for himself. To protect the woman who had promised to kill him, he fought that same woman and died by her hand. He was a fool.

“She is the one who made it happen,” continues the narration, “who by hiding the truth wrote her own end as well. Is she any less a fool than he? Once upon a time, there were two hopeless fools. They fought, both died, and the world went on. The end. But we didn’t have a choice, did we? To die together, each other’s nemesis. This was the only path we could walk. So let us laugh together, my darling. This story, this folly, was ours.”

It speaks volumes about Full Metal Daemon Muramasa as a whole that an ending in which both the protagonist and heroine end up dead can be considered a “good” ending. But it’s true; as the curtain falls on the Nemesis route, few could deny that both Kageaki and Kanae have finally found the peace they both crave and deserve — and in each other’s arms, no less. After both living such troubled, harrowing lives, it’s a fitting end for the pair of them, to be sure.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is available now from JAST USAA “streamer-friendly” version is available on GOG.com.

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