Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Secretary of Death -- Visual Novel Review

You can download this visual novel for your PC at

When a story about death turns out to be one of the most uplifting experiences you’ve had all week, then you just know that you’ve read a good one.
Today, let’s talk about a visual novel called “Secretary of Death” by ATP projects. Now let’s get one thing straight before we continue: mikey, the author, has always been a good friend of mine, but let me assure you that if that influenced this review at all – it wasn’t conscious on my part at least. Therefore, my conscience is clear.

So anyway, let’s start off with the premise of the story. Basically, Hiroaki, the first-person narrator of this story is literally, a secretary working for death – or one of many deaths. His boss, Aleksandra is a female “death” working within the jurisdiction of his town and it’s Hiroaki’s job to ensure that she stays on schedule everyday – you know, just like a normal secretary, except that his boss is death.

As you find out, Hiroaki and Aleksandra have a pretty chummy working relationship. They start off each day with some friendly jabs at each other and with Hiroaki preparing tea for the both of them. After that, they settle down to the actual work they do. Hiroaki handles the paper work and Aleksandra does the actual job of visiting those who have been fated to die and ensuring their deaths.

The Conflict

The main conflict in the story happens pretty early on when Hiroaki himself is fated to die, but somehow, he cheats death with some interference from Aleksandra. It is at this point when the first of some very sparsely-placed choices appear in the game and you either get a dead end, or you are allowed to continue the story depending on which actions you choose.
After avoiding his own death, several deaths appear to hunt Hiroaki down, but he manages to evade them thanks to his knowledge about how deaths work and with some help from Aleksandra who tells him to run away. The rest of the story is basically about Hiroaki avoiding death and him and Aleksandra coming to terms with what it is they really feel for each other.

A Simple Plot

From its presentation style using sparse, black and white graphics and absolutely zero sound effects nor even music, the Secretary of Death blatantly shouts “simple” from the very start – and the story is also quite simple and predictable – if you view it through the lens of a literary critic/as a fellow author. The story has no unpredictable twists and anyone genre-savvy enough could actually predict the main conflict that Hiroaki would be the next to die from a mile away.  

The final resolution is also as predictable as the entirety of the plot itself – but of course, this is not even a criticism. So many people think that predictable = bad, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. Secretary of Death is a good example of this. The plot is predictable, but it also resolves itself in a way that leaves you satisfied but while leaving a little bit of something left to the imagination. The characters live on beyond the final few screens of this tiny visual novel and leave you wondering: What will happen to them in the future?

Complex Characters

In contrast to the simplistic plot however, the two main characters of Secretary of Death are actually very complex, very human beings (despite one of them being not exactly human) in the way they are portrayed.

The narrator-protagonist, Hiroaki, has some dark sides to his personality while remaining an empathetic individual over-all. He has no qualms about taking the practical instead of the idealistic side of things in order to ensure his own survival, for example. Of course, he also thinks about idealistic choices every now and then, but his eventual “girlfriend” is at least there to be the voice of reason and to keep him grounded.

As for the co-main character, Aleksandra, while displaying some degree of that cute naiveté that one might expect from a female protagonist in a typical visual novel, the reader soon realizes that she actually does act in a way that you would expect a mature, adult individual would act when the situation calls for it. Her simple philosophy with regards to life and death is pragmatic – and almost cold, which is exactly what one would expect from someone whose job is to deal death on a daily basis.

Refreshingly Non-Sexual

Yes, Hiroaki actually does show some degree of attraction and even a desire to “make love” with Aleksandra eventually, but it is handled in an extremely tasteful manner that I can easily claim that the entirety of the story itself is actually refreshingly non-sexual. In fact, there is even very little  mention of how “attractive” Aleksandra might look through Hiroaki’s eyes to the point that he denies even “liking” her until he is basically pressured into revealing his true feelings by certain developments in the story.

It’s a very refreshing change from the high degree of sexual tension that we’ve often come to expect from light novels and visual novels in particular.

Logical Choices

The choices in this VN are extremely well thought out. Every action you take has its logical consequence. In my own playthrough, I actually ran into at least two different “bad ends” because I chose to play the game as myself and make the idealistic choice when I should have been more pragmatic. In this sense, the author’s own pragmatic personality actually shines through his work. As far as I’ve known mikey, he has always been a very level-headed person yet sincere person – and most importantly, it might take a nuclear missile in order to get this guy truly angry. I’ve witnessed him being annoyed at a few things in the past, but never to the point of actually losing his cool – and of course, if you ever come across an ATP projects VN, you should expect these types of no-nonsense choices. Don’t try to be the shounen hero in a mikey VN, you’ll definitely regret it.

At The End Of The Day, It’s A Love Story

I think that the main idea in the final chapter of this story summarizes exactly what this story is all about.

“It is in fact the story of her and me. Regardless of who we are, what we do, none of us really matters. But, to each other, we do.”

Therefore, everything that you’ve read so far just leads you up to these final few lines – when you reach this point, it’s like, “This is it. This is how it should be – and somehow, it feels just right.”

In conclusion, Secretary of Death is a deceptively off-putting, but over-all excellently written VN. It's not a visual novel that will "re-define" the genre, but it definitely shows you what the medium is capable if you are willing to give it a chance as a reader. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

It's My Birthday Today!

And someone wrote me a poem. I just had to post it here for posterity~
Be it a writer or an artist,
There's so much depth in you,
When you post a story or a painting,
I learn something special and new.
Your art is simple yet unique,
You might call it being lazy,
But in truth, you're an efficient artist,
You make the hard look easy.
Your stories always inspire me
With the morals behind them,
You show us the truth but also give us hope
That there could be a solution to every problem.
Leaving the artist and the writer aside,
You're an interesting communicator,
Through the detailed account of your experiences,
You make a good educator.
You have a dark sense of humour,
Which I highly appreciate,
It teaches me to be more cautious,
To not be someone's bait.
I really love our conversations,
I feel like I can learn a lot,
Our discussions, short and long
Give me much food for thought.
Thank you for being my friend,
You're one among the few,
Who are always remarkable,
No matter what they do.
Happy Birthday to you,
You gained another year,
Enjoy it to the fullest

And shed many a happy tear.

Thank you very much to the person who wrote this! I'll treasure it, always.
Finished this piece just today. I call it "The Cute Girl of The Mountain" :D

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Value of Art

Greetings, it’s lordcloudx once again. This week, I’d like to talk about art and perceptions of art – or rather, I’d like to hear/read your opinions on art and perceptions of art.

Now personally, I’ve already talked about my Philosophy of art in a previous video and I’ve written about how I think people perceive art and artists in general in an essay on my blog – which I really should turn into a video sometime soon.

So anyway, I’d like to share a pleasant experience that I had over dinner tonight. My mother and I were eating out at a Kenny Rogers and I was working on this particular watercolor piece with Nagi wearing a yukata while waiting for our food.

My mother pointed out that there was a little girl right on the table next to us who was trying to get a glimpse of what I was doing. Therefore, my mother took my watercolour pad and showed it to her and the little girl spontaneously said that “It’s nice, I like it.” My mother then proceeded to show her all the other pieces I had inside that watercolour pad and was genuinely happy to see my paintings.

Needless to say that it gave me a nice feeling to know that someone appreciated my art. I am not a commission artist and I’ve only ever done a single commission for a friend, so I definitely do not make any money off of my art. Furthermore, I’ve never had my works exhibited in a collection before and I’m antisocial, so I don’t really get much exposure as an artist.

However, these genuine reactions from strangers really make my day and they are the best types of reward for me – to know that someone appreciates my works with all sincerity – especially when it comes from a child who could not possibly have any ulterior motives to give me false praise.

So to the point of this video: I’d like to ask you, the viewer a two-fold question. First of all, how do you think the value of art is determined in objective reality and secondly, how do you believe the value of art should be determined ideally? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

This is lordcloudx out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Hayate Reflections: Happy Valentine's Day 2019! Digital Fanart

Hey, nobody ever said that I had to do Hayate Reflections on a weekly basis, right? Anyway, Happy Valentine's Day to everyone who loves someone out there -- whether it's your significant other, your waifu, your pet -- or yourself.

Here's the digital version of my Valentine's Day fanart which I did a watercolor version of earlier this week.

The choice of colors is actually pretty amusing. First of all, I went with the same colors as the original for their shirts like this.

Then I decided to change Hayate's shirt color and showed it to my friend, Roop -- who said that Hayate takes too much attention if he's wearing black... which was a pretty good point.

Therefore, I went with these colors for the final version. Yeah, that's right. If anyone is going to be taking up the viewer's attention, it sure shouldn't be mr. ex-debt-ridden butler boy. 

Anyway, that's it for now. This has been Hayate Reflections and this is lordcloudx out.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday, February 3, 2019

New Nagi Illustration by Hata and reason for my absence

So first of all, the reason for my absence: Well, there's been a lot of things going on with me IRL recently so yeah, you know how it goes. Other than that, the storm is now over, but I've also had this persistent cold for the last two weeks so it's been really draining my energy to do anything. Anyway, I might get back to the normal groove pretty soon and start blogging and Hayate Reflections again.

For now though, Hata drew a belated picture of Nagi for Twin Tails day in Japan and it's really beautiful. Have a look. Original post on twitter:

Anyway, hope to see you soon. This is lordcloudx out.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Hayate Reflections: A Review of Hisui Hatsushiba

This week, let's take some time to take a look at one of the earliest (in terms of timeline) appearances of the main villain of the final arc. She is none other than Nagi's ultra-violent and super greedy cousin, Hisui Hatsushiba.

Based on appearances and context clues in the manga, it can be surmised that Hisui is probably around the same age or possibly even younger than Nagi. She is the elder sister of "Jenny" who looks nowhere near her age based on Nagi's recollections at the time that she found Tama. Also, there seems to be little family resemblance there. Hisui's face may look menacing, but she's also petite (a little bit shorter than 14 year-old Nagi), has the same body type as Nagi -- and if you really look at her, she's actually pretty cute.

Furthermore, Hisui is an expert hand-to-hand combatant and seems to prefer wielding a scimitar in a fight. She is able to stalemate Hayate when he is actually being serious before she gets her huge power-up in the final arc that basically makes her "the strongest" according to Himegami.

In any case, that's enough about that Hisui -- right now, we're going to look at the Hisui from an earlier time. From a time when she was just Nagi's childhood friend -- albeit, still one with hyper violent tendencies. Still, many people seem to misunderstand her character and count her off as nothing more than a cookie-cutter villain. Therefore, this week, Hayate Reflections seeks to challenge that viewpoint.

For this reason, we're using chapter 529. This is a flashback story and it begins with Nagi reflecting on how much of a weak crybaby she was when she was much younger. Some boys had made fun of her manga and she was walking off alone -- crying. That's when Hisui asks her why she was crying from way up a tree. Nagi is shocked to see that Hisui had climbed so high up, but she replies that the view from there was breathtaking. Nagi tells Hisui about what happened and that's when a group of four boys from the party appear before Nagi and start bullying her about her manga again -- even snatching it out of her hands in order to make more fun of her. When one of the boys shoves Nagi, Hisui decides that she'd seen enough and catches her friend from behind. 

She also quickly snatches the manga away from the bullies and gives it back to Nagi while telling her that if she doesn't like something, then she has to fight. Now the bullies, being bigger and older decide that it's fair game to punch a girl -- and so, the biggest of them smacks Hisui right in the face.

So at this point... this is the point of dissent between myself and most other reviewers of this manga. At the time this chapter came out, all that people were obsessed with was how extreme Hisui's response was. For me however, this was the first time that I saw a more human side of Hisui and this was the chapter that elevated her from being more than just a mere cookie-cutter villain. Also, I believe that the ending -- chapters 567-568 prove my point. Hisui was still Nagi's friend even after she'd resigned herself to being a true villain and she was instrumental in giving Hayate's parents the poetic justice they deserve.

In any case, what happened next is that Hisui basically picked up a giant rock as an equalizer and proceeded to beat the living hell out of those four boys. Hisui reiterates that if you don't like something then you have to fight. Nagi is hesitant because she says that stuff like this will happen (getting punched in the face) if you try to fight back... but what Hisui says next is really iconic. She says that it's fine, then you just have to keep fighting until you win.

So yes, Hisui basically beat everyone up in a very bloody manner off-panel -- however, despite the violence, it should be noted that Nagi's feelings at that time reflect the real message of this chapter. In her own words, watching Hisui beating everyone down by force -- all she felt was admiration.

So allow me to explain -- Hisui represents an indomitable will to fight back against adversity. She was facing four bullies, boys, bigger, older -- and probably stronger than her, but she refused to give in because she knew that her cause wasn't wrong. She did it not only for petty revenge, but in order to show Nagi the value of standing up for one's beliefs no matter the odds.

Certainly, this indomitable will would one day become an omnipresent trait in the spoiled, rich Nagi Sanzenin ojou-sama that we came to know and love in the series.

Of course, Hisui's character development is still shaky at best. Because of how rushed the ending was, various characters and subplots weren't really given the chance to fully develop -- and unfortunately, Hisui was one of the unfortunate victims of Hata's non-stop train ride to the Hayate and Nagi ending. 

Still, it is worth noting that even as she is, she wasn't really a bad character-- just that her potential was never fully explored in the story.

So that's Hisui Hatsushiba for you. A villain through and through -- but also someone who stays true to herself and makes no compromises to get what she wants -- at least that much about her is admirable. Also, she's cute. Even Hata-sensei agrees.

Fanart Corner

Got some new fanart to show off. These are both inspired by Avril Lavigne's new single PV Head Above Water. Heh, I've always liked her music and she's not bad looking either.