It should be abundantly clear by this point that the eroge sector sees an incredibly diverse range of stories being told — the only thing different eroge works have in common is that they have a sexual component of some description. And even then, the sexual encounters depicted range from the highly erotic and titillating to the absolutely horrifying.
Given that Nitroplus’ Deus Machina Demonbane is an eroge that combines elements of giant robot anime, hardboiled detective drama and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, you can probably imagine on which end of the spectrum it falls so far as its erotic content is concerned. But if that prospect makes you a little uneasy, pluck up your courage and dive in, because Deus Machina Demonbane is also one of the most ambitious, spectacular eroge from the early years of the 21st century.
Deus Machina Demonbane was first released in Japan in 2003, but it took until 2011 for eroge specialists JAST USA to finally bring it to western audiences. Exactly why the localisation took so long isn’t entirely clear, but it’s likely some combination of the fact that Deus Machina Demonbane is a lengthy, wordy visual novel, and that developer Nitroplus didn’t become super well known in the west until somewhat later — with the famous Steins;Gate being a notable turning point. In other words, any localisation would likely be a time-consuming, costly and potentially risky prospect, particularly as the game was an adults-only title.
Thankfully we did eventually get it, however, and though certain aspects of the game are as dated as you’d expect from a title that was originally released in 2003, it’s still a great read today.
In Deus Machina Demonbane, we mostly follow the story of reluctant hero and struggling private investigator Daijuuji Kurou, who is hired by local business leader Hadou Ruri to track down a certain magical grimoire — one with the power to bring a steel giant known as Demonbane back to life and take it into battle against the dark forces of an organisation known as the Black Lodge.
Things do not go entirely smoothly, as you might expect, as Kurou ends up discovering that the “grimoire” in question is none other than the Necronomicon, who has taken the form of an energetic young girl named Al Azif. She’s the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, however — quite literally — since despite her cheery, cute appearance, she clearly harbours incredible knowledge and terrifying power.
As an inanimate object, the original Necronomicon as seen in Lovecraft’s stories was not necessarily an “evil” thing in its own right; it was more a means through which those with ill intentions would be able to commit great evil. And such is the case with Al in Demonbane; while she’s with Kurou — who, while most certainly a fascinatingly flawed protagonist, is a good person at heart — she has the potential to achieve great, wonderful things that will benefit the world; were she to fall into the hands of someone with darker tendencies, however, things would likely go very badly indeed.
Demonbane is a fascinating example of a visual novel that breaks with what were a whole bunch of established conventions for the medium at the time of its original release. For starters, while it has several discrete narrative “routes” that roughly correspond to the three major heroines you’ll come into contact with over the course of the complete story, this is not a “dating sim”. Instead, the subject of each route is used as a focal point to explore the overarching plot from a number of different perspectives — with Al’s route, as you might expect, acting as the “true” route through the game.
Also noteworthy is the fact that rather than unfolding from the fixed perspective of a first-person participant narrator, Demonbane has large tracts of narrative where it switches to a third-person non-participant omniscient perspective. These sections of the game are where the Lovecraftian influences are most apparent; they’re filled with florid prose, dramatic descriptions, heavy use of repetition for effect and the distinct sense that the narrator — someone you’re supposed to be able to trust when they’re not directly participating in the narrative — may just be teetering in the very brink of madness.
This isn’t to say that the game is unrelentingly dark, mind. The interactions between Kurou and Al have plenty of comic relief, either through Kurou’s rather laissez-faire attitude towards life in general, or Al just going ahead and doing things like using a shoggoth as a water bed because it’s what she’s always done — and because shoggoths are apparently pretty comfy.
When it does get dark, though, it gets really dark — and, it has to be said, this is typically where the game’s sexual content comes in. There are not really any sexual scenes in Deus Machina Demonbane that feel like a “reward” for the player; at best, they tend to be mildly uncomfortable or awkward, and at worst rather disturbing. The “worst” of the scenes involve some tentacle action, though the game refrains from going over the top with the actual CGs; most of the horror comes from the text descriptions of what is going on, much like in Deus Machina Demonbane’s stablemate Saya no Uta.
Even the sexual scenes that directly involve Kurou are a bit… weird. There’s no polite way to say this, so I’ll just come out with it: Kurou is consistently presented as having an absolutely gigantic penis — uncomfortably so, particularly when he’s paired with the distinctly waif-like Al.
While some of this may be due to the artist having a bit of a fetish, it’s not entirely without precedent or explanation. In its most simple terms, a giant dong is a rather obvious symbol of fertility and virility in many places around the world. Given the rather apocalyptic feel Deus Machina Demonbane has in its latter hours, one could argue this aspect of his presentation is highlighting Kurou’s status as a potential saviour of humanity — not only in terms of fighting off evil, but also in terms of helping “repopulate” after a significant disaster.
If we want to get a little more abstract, we can connect the presentation of a giant dick to Tokyo’s infamous annual Kanamara Matsuri festival, which involves, among other things, a parade of giant penises. The event is said to originate at Kanayama Shrine, where the gods Kanayamahiko and Kanayamhime are enshrined; Japanese legend claims that this pair healed the Shinto goddess Izanami after she gave birth to the fire god Kagutsuchi (also known as Ho-musubi or Hi-no-kami). The shrine also plays host to a metal penis that was supposedly used to drive out a demon who had fallen in love with a woman and taken up residence in her vagina.
In other words, there is a strong tradition of big fat cocks in traditional Japanese mythology and religion, and they have a certain association with heroism and the divine. Given the significant changes for the better Kurou undergoes throughout the complete narrative of Deus Machina Demonbane, we can naturally look on his penis as being somewhat symbolic of his metaphorical growth as a person.
Regardless of the reasons for Kurou’s impressive endowment, Deus Machina Demonbane is a fascinating visual novel. It’s well-crafted, thoughtfully and atmospherically written, and filled with memorable characters. The seemingly disparate blend of narrative inspirations works extremely well — and the story never forgets to intersperse the darkness with moments of levity and good humour to keep the pacing interesting.
It’s a genuine classic of early 2000s visual novels — and if you enjoy Nitroplus’ other work such as the aforementioned Saya no Uta and Steins;Gate, you should definitely spend some time in its strange, dark world.
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