Untranslated visual novels litter the eroge landscape, which can leave you feeling rather left out if you don’t know Japanese. With the power of technology, however, plebeians like you and I can catch up a little and get a somewhat skewed look into some of the more underground visual novels. I’m using a machine translation to look into 3M -Marionettes Manipulate the Marionette-, and it almost goes without saying to have some skepticism in regards to my views on the plot. What there is to extract from this read (and I do stress read) is some detailed pain and anguish.
3M -Marionettes Manipulate the Marionette-, more comfortably known as 3M, is a 2012 indie guro visual novel by the small developer/publisher Hyperiyon. This little visual novel here tells a psychological murder mystery with some fun character destruction. While I did play the game with a machine translation, I would advise you to go into this with knowledge of Japanese instead, as this game is actually quite text-heavy with its guro and sex. You may enjoy taking the time to interpret the obtuse “Shakespearean” machine dialogue, but if you’re the kind of person who just wants to skim and look at the sexy pictures, you’ll be left hanging for a while with this game.
The story is a gory psychological mystery fronted by narcoleptic high school student Shinfuto, who seems to be having dreams eerily similar to a string of cannibalistic murders turning up around the city. As a visual novel, it really should come as no surprise that 3M is in a school setting, but it thankfully doesn’t seem to dwell on the scenario, regularly taking events to restaurants and suburban streets. The game is split into two routes, with the first following Manatsu, an upper-class girl from the Shinto music and dancing institution who Shinfuto meets on the bus and unexpectedly sizes up to eat. The second girl we follow is Shinfuto’s sister Miriame and her pink-haired accomplice, Akemi. There’re some yuri themes dwelling between the two girls in this route, as well as some netorare. For the most part, the dual paths both follow a conventional romance with a lingering aura of uncomfortable foreshadowing as to what will inevitably come off the girls in question, along with some potential string-pulling behind the scenes. This tension is nice, but if you’re just running on a machine translation like me, you might end up growing tired of trying to decipher every bit of small talk and observant dialogue, opting instead to simply fill in the blanks with what you desire.
3M‘s art design is serviceable; nothing more, nothing less. There’s a distinct mediocrity to the character and background artwork. Beyond the gore sequences, most scenes are nothing you haven’t seen before. The backgrounds in particular are made up of noticeably stock assets: there’s a suburb, a restaurant, a high school classroom, and it’s all quite forgettable. My favorite instance of low budget background is a scene in a diner, where an actual image of some food being cooked is used.
There are some interesting uses of gore though, such as the mystery surrounding the early murders with cut-ins for the actual violence to keep things hazy. The points of severing or evisceration on the victims is censored and, especially early on, the camera is zoomed in with an obfuscating blood splatter. It’s disorientated and obscured, which lets your mind take over above the artistry. This actually works thematically, linking to Shinfuto’s crisis of desire, but leaves you wanting more from the art nonetheless.
Beyond the opening and the guro sections, the music is also quite par for he visual novel course. The opening flight has this spacey vibe to it, and the lack of visuals forces you to focus on the music and voice acting, the likes of which aren’t bad. The rest of the soundtrack is string-centric, clearly having a synth orchestra production. The game has a music menu in the extras section, letting you listen to the soundtrack at your leisure. Extra options like this are always a welcome addition, regardless of the score’s quality itself. What would improve this further is a sound effect menu as they’re quite nice, with eerie effects highlighting the tonal shifts and mindset changes. I particularly like the effects surrounding the inverted coloring and glass smashing that goes along with Shinfuto’s fracturing psyche.
It’s unfortunate that there’s so little drawn guro in this game, as what’s on display is relatively interesting. There’s the stand-out moment of Manatsu being cooked and eaten, served on a platter with all four limbs removed, but for the most part, the display of gore is obscured in some way. There are scenes early on describing violence, such as in the second route’s opening, in which a small boy is abused and then murdered with his jaw broken off, leading into some evisceration and genital mutilation, but only the open bowel is shown through a censor. One of the big draws for the violence is the detailed writing, but it’s a shame that there couldn’t have been more art to support it.
There are vanilla sex scenes in the game, but they’re incredibly bland; the incredibly average art style doesn’t help to spice things up in any way. There is an amusing horror trope in a character being murdered, decapitated during a supposedly vanilla sex scene, which I found amusing. What’s a crying shame, however, is that the gore itself has been censored. This isn’t too bad when it comes to the amputations, but when an entire burning body in a furnace is a blurry mess, you just can’t use the “imagination making up for bad art” excuse anymore.
I want to like 3M, I really do. it has mystery and violence that makes you want to see what’s at the end of this schizophrenic tunnel of Shinfuto’s mind and peek behind the curtain, but the art, audio, and censorship issues results in a trudge through mediocrity that fails to deliver in the end. The premise and build-up is gripping, even without a proper translation, but there’s just not enough visual substance to go in fully illiterate. If you can understand Japanese, then this might be worth looking into, as the gruesome dialogue is focal; however, if you’re just here to see some blood and guts, it’s little reward for a lot of effort.
You can pick up 3M -Marionettes Manipulate the Marionette- from Hyperiyon‘s official site here, along with a demo and other features.