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.

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