Belucre here, and I’m pleased to present a tester’s corner for Cartagra.
A series of grotesque murders and his own dark secrets from the past collide in inconceivable ways for the private detective, Takashiro Shugo, when he agrees to participate what appears to be a simple investigation for a missing person.
At the request of the illustrious Kozuki family, Shugo takes on the task of locating their daughter, Yura, who has been missing for the past decade. However, as his investigation deepens, more and more layers of unsettling details of the case are brought to light: Yura’s isolation and imprisonment by her own family, the rumors of a sinister family curse, and Shugo’s own past romance with Yura. He is aided by Kazuna, Yura’s younger sister, an aspiring actress who is desperate to find her missing sibling at any cost.
Simultaneously, several women have been murdered in increasingly horrific and bizarre ways, their bodies symbolically mutilated in accordance to a religious prophecy. Shugo’s current residence, the Yukishiro brothel, is meant to be a place of relaxation, but a heavy atmosphere of restless unease has descended upon his home, as a few of the girls begin to disappear. Shugo is also given the task of delving into these arcane crimes, and oddly enough, his two cases appear to intersect…
The general premise I’ve just given, however, is barely the start. Realizing how truly deep and depraved the truth is of the murders is not where the plot ends: there are layers upon layers of more questions revealed with each seemingly sound conclusion, as well as the individual character routes, with their own devastating revelations and contributions to the overarching story.
Without needing to be said, the story is dark exploration of human psychology, spurned love, and religious insanity. But it is not without some hope, showing that there is peace in the wake of grief, justice in spite of prejudice, and the possibility of romance overcoming all odds. It is masterfully written, even haunting at times.
Even the most minor characters have stories to tell, with their own heartwarming or tragic endings. From Nana, Shugo’s younger sister, with a passionate, almost fanatical obsession with her brother, to sweet Hatsune, whose timid demeanor hides alarming feelings.
And although I would hesitate to call it a direct prequel, several characters in Cartagra have their stories continued in Kara no Shoujo. In this title, we see where it all began: Kazuna is introduced when her career as an actress is just starting to flourish, and Hatsune’s humble beginnings at Yukishiro are explored in great depth.
The music is just exquisite, either somber to convey the weight of the victims’ tragedies, or chillingly sinister at the most crucial moments of heightened suspense. Likewise, the artwork may feel slightly dated, but by no means is it anything but beautiful, even at the darkest moments.
It is without hesitation that I give a complete recommendation of Cartagra, an eroge the caliber of which I never could’ve dreamed would be translated for Western audiences.
In this frozen landscape, can love blossom, even in the dead of winter? Is there an end to the bloodshed, and would you risk everything to stop it? Or would you rather pursue a quieter path and escape with your life, even at the cost of human lives?
Just like in Cartagra, there is no simple answer.