Nitroplus’ Deus Machina Demonbane is an absolutely remarkable visual novel.
Combining elements of Lovecraftian horror and giant robot anime with a generous dash of noir, it is quite unlike any other piece of interactive entertainment I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
And a big part of that is due to one of its major characters: Al Azif, typically referred to just as Al.
To explore Deus Machina Demonbane’s narrative in detail is somewhat beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say for now that Al Azif is the personification of the legendary Book of Bad Things devised by Lovecraft himself, the Necronomicon.
You may expect an anthropomorphised version of such a thing to follow the stereotypical “anime succubus” sort of tropes — perhaps she’d be a mature woman with a curvaceous figure, scantily clad to leave very little to the imagination; in possession of a deep, resonant voice that carries a sense of both power and sensuality; a practically tangible aura of mysteriousness.
But no. Al has none of these traits. She’s a young-looking, noisy, cute girl who is pretty up-front about what she wants to achieve and how she intends to go about accomplishing her goals. She’s knowledgeable about things far beyond what her delicate appearance might suggest, but resolute in her determination. And she doesn’t suffer fools gladly — least of all protagonist Kurou.
Source unknown, via Danbooru
In a way, this makes a certain amount of sense, in that the “real” Necronomicon — i.e. the one devised by Lovecraft and mentioned in many of his stories — is, as an inanimate object, not in itself capable of evil; it’s all about how you use it. In the same way, the Al we meet in Deus Machina Demonbane is an interesting character that it’s immediately clear isn’t herself evil, but she carries within herself plenty of connections to things that humanity was never really meant to know about, let alone understand. With Kurou as her master, she has the power to accomplish great things; were another individual with darker tendencies to come into possession of her capabilities, however… well. The world would not be a nice place.
Leaving aside the connection to the established mythology of her inspiration and considering her role in Deus Machina Demonbane on its own terms, Al acts as an excellent counterpart to Kurou. She’s knowledgeable where he is ignorant; she’s cheerful where he is morose; she’s forthright and assertive where he is hesitant. The two of them ultimately end up making an excellent team, working to cover one another’s weaknesses and complement each other’s strengths — and indeed, a big part of Al’s route through Deus Machina Demonbane explores this relationship between them as they grow to understand one another. Because while Al may be thousands of years old, there’s still plenty she can learn, even from an apparent deadbeat bum like Kurou.
Art by Kanno, via Danbooru
More than anything, Al is just a very appealing character in her own right. Her overall look is appealing and her outfit distinctive, with a hint of “forbidden pleasures” about it; the extreme shortness of her dress carries with it the constant promise of catching a glimpse of things a true lady wouldn’t show off to just anyone, and indeed there are a couple of scenes in the early hours of the game that further this “teasing”.
It’s not until the late stages of her route that anything more happens, however — though the rest of the erotic scenes in Deus Machina Demonbane, the encounters involving Al are simultaneously highly arousing and faintly disturbing for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that she looks like a young, fragile girl rather than a fully grown woman. (She is, of course, actually thousands of years old due to her true nature, but this doesn’t stop one from wondering if it’s really okay to see her in a compromising position.)
But, of course, it’s not just about physical attractiveness and sexy scenes. Al shows herself throughout the entire game — not just her own route — to be an appealing character with a well-developed personality and fascinating hidden depths to discover. She and Kurou build up a genuinely close, emotional bond over the course of the narrative, which makes it all the more gut-wrenching when bad things happen to either of them and threaten to tear them apart. And bad things happen all the time in the world of Deus Machina Demonbane. Very bad things.
Art by Kodamasawa Izumi (Pixiv)
Al has had understated but nonetheless enduring long-term appeal over the years, too; while Deus Machina Demonbane may not have achieved quite the same degree of cultural penetration and consistent relevance as its contemporary from the same clear “period” of visual novels Fate/stay night, Al remains a recognisable and well-loved character. She even plays a prominent role in the well-received but lesser-known 2015 crossover fighting game Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, in which female characters from numerous Nitroplus properties (and a few others besides, such as Senran Kagura) face off against one another in spectacular 2D anime fighting combat.
Ultimately, Al is a great example of a visual novel heroine done right. She’s a strong, interesting character in her own right, but she complements the protagonist well in demeanour, personality and appearance. She’s memorable in that she’s not just a checklist of tropes, but rather a highly imaginative reinterpretation of established mythology, and quite simply someone who is written to be someone you’d actively want to spend more time with — albeit someone you might be slightly afraid to spend more time with!
Plus, well, any girl willing to help you pilot a giant robot to punch slobbering, betentacled disasters from beyond time and space right in the kisser is just fine with me. This strikes me as the sort of person everyone should count among their group of friends.
More about Deus Machina Demonbane
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