Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ Review: Thicker Than Water

Content warning: as per usual with Nitroplus CHIRAL’s works, Togainu no Chi is a game that explores various dark themes, including sexual assault, sexual slavery, nonconsensual body modification, and drug use. While not as dark as parts of DRAMAtical Murder or roughly 70% of the content in Sweet Pool, please use your best judgement before proceeding.

Way back in ~2006 as a last bastion middle-school Xanga user, I stumbled upon someone who made a custom blog layout with the background being a sad-looking anime guy clutching bloody dog tags. Within the same year, I was perusing Photobucket for pictures and ended up stumbling upon CGs from a game I would later learn was called Togainu no Chi. At the time, I was drawn to the character designs (and very ignorant of the saucier content), so the game’s existence has been present in the corners of my mind for a while. Now, thanks to JAST Blue finally putting an official release out, I can finally tackle this oddity.

Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ (“Blood of the Reprimanded Dog”) was originally released back in 2005 as Nitroplus CHIRAL’s debut boy’s love (BL) title. Like many other Nitroplus CHIRAL titles, the game also received various console ports that probably cleaned up some of the game’s more explicit content. Despite the game’s age and reputation as a debut title, TnC seems to be rated pretty highly amongst other BL games and even other Nitroplus CHIRAL games.

Gee Rin, how come your mom lets you have TWO boyfriends?

In a dystopian post-war future Japan, where the country has been divided into two factions, war orphans kill time in the crumbling urban environment by participating in a street fighting game called Bl@ster. One young man, protagonist Akira, gets by in his daily life as a Bl@ster champion, with a particular flavor of cold apathy given the state of the world. On one unfortunate morning, Akira gets a rude awakening by the local cops – he’s been accused of murder, with nothing but a brutal prison life sentence now ahead of him. Fortunately, a mysterious woman named Emma steps in and offers Akira a deal: travel to the bombed-out remains of Tokyo, now called ‘Toshima’, and participate in a death game called ‘Igra’ to earn his freedom. Igra is similar to Bl@aster, albeit with the slight change that participants can kill each other if they wish, and the game revolves around collecting military dog tags from losers. Collecting high ranked dog tags grants a participant to challenge the mysterious Il Re, the champion of Igra. On top of the obvious dangers of a death game, the stakes are higher due to a drug called ‘Rein’. Rein can enhance one’s physical abilities, but comes at the cost of addiction, high risk of overdose, and painful withdrawal symptoms. 

After reaching Toshima on foot, Akira finds that his kind but naive childhood friend, Keisuke, has joined him for the ride. The two also find allies in Rin, a peppy young fighter with an interest in photography, and Motomi, a friendly older man who does not participate in Igra. While trying to navigate Toshima’s treacherous streets, Akira manages to survive a chance run-in with Shiki, an arrogant, powerful man with a katana who seems to be cutting down Igra participants with little regard for the game itself. Additionally, Akira also has frequent sightings of a strange light-haired man in a knit sweater who wanders the general hellscape at random and speaks in cryptic dialogue.

Hate it when I’m trying to survive this dystopian death game and the lead singer of Buck-Tick attacks me.

The best way to describe TnC is “pulpy thriller novel but in a good way”. Many of the plot beats and specific character motivations aren’t terribly original if you’ve consumed any dystopian/sci-fi media, and the overall basic premise of “guy goes to mysterious tournament that actually has more going on behind the scenes” is far from unique, but somehow TnC makes things work. In contrast to some of my storytelling issues with DRAMAtical Murder, which I felt was doing too many clashing things at once, TnC feels more grounded and stays within its own scale of ideas. I was genuinely surprised at how the game manages to make parts of the common route feel exciting and tense, even if I could easily guess the turnout of certain events. There’s even some (admittedly surface-level) critique of the post-war poverty in the game’s society, which creates inescapable and hopeless cycles for families, and pushes desperate individuals to participate in street fighting to make meager pennies or take drugs to cope.

The individual character routes are where TnC’s writing starts to hit some rough patches. The primary issue is that the route quality tends to noticeably vary by character, and it feels like certain characters were conceptualized with different amounts of effort. Keisuke and Rin feel like their routes are fully realized and they have definitive, individualized conflicts to tackle in their respective stories. Motomi’s route, which I was personally anticipating since I like older men characters in games like this, feels noticeably half-assed in comparison. It’s made clear from the start that Motomi has much more involvement with the game’s plot than he initially seems, but his route espouses this information via him info dumping his personal background to Akira as they sit in an abandoned church. This made me question if Motomi was even intended to have a route in the first place. 

Hi angsty, brooding protagonist, I’m dad!

On a different end of the writing problem spectrum is Shiki. Putting aside the non-con and Stockholm syndrome in Shiki’s route, his overall place in this game strikes me as bizarre. Shiki is a pseudo-poster boy for TnC as a series, and it feels like he was tailored to be an old school Iason Mink from Ai no Kusabi-esque sadistic seme sexyman that doesn’t really exist in the same form in modern BL works. Shiki is a particularly ridiculous archetype who was written with more style over substance that the game also wants me to take seriously, and he feels more than a little out of place in the game’s plot. There are some attempts to do things with Shiki as a character, but it feels very weak overall. His “good” ending is noticeably more bittersweet than the other characters’ good endings, which I feel is pretty ballsy for a company’s debut work. That being said, the events in said ending were pretty dumb and the story explanation was flimsy (which was probably the point?) which made me roll my eyes.

Because this is Nitroplus CHIRAL, I do want to address the weird dark parts of the game. To reiterate, the game is “lighter” than DMMD and Sweet Pool, but primarily because the stuff with sexual slavery is off being menacing in a corner most of the time, and the game doesn’t have as many brutal bad ends. I’ll also mention that this game is less rape-y in comparison to DMMD and Sweet Pool, but it’s not by a large margin, and it shows up in three of the five character routes. I also want to mention that I accidentally played the censored Steam version of the game for a couple of hours. Without JAST’s content patch, the game’s skips over the more explicit scenes (or zooms in on CGs to hide genitalia), but the threat/aftermath of assault is still present, so it’s not necessarily “fixing” this aspect of the game. 

“Sorry, this an indie movie and doesn’t abide by conventional forms.”

One other major part of TnC I do genuinely like is the game’s art direction. The character designs were done by Tatana Kana, which is the pen name of artist Chinatsu Kurahana. Kurahana also did character designs for Lamento, and nowadays she mostly works on non-BL ventures such as Uta no Prince-Sama, Samurai Flamenco, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. While her art style in TnC is quite rough compared to her more refined design work in Three Houses, I still find something appealing with her designs. There’s a certain “mid-2000’s”-flavored edginess to TnC that makes the characters a bit more distinctive than expected, especially for some of the plainer-dressed characters like Akira and Keisuke. Even Shiki, who looks like somebody polled a bunch of wannabe goth teens from DeviantART on how to design a hot anime dude, has a unique and very ridiculous design. There are some occasional hiccups with side characters who seemingly were designed with noticeably less effort, particularly with a character who only shows up in Rin’s route, but it’s not really a huge issue.

Pros: Genuinely entertaining pulpy thriller plot that can be tense and exciting. Actually feels like it’s comfortably within the bounds of the established plot and world without getting overly bonkers with certain ideas. Design work is distinctive and appealing. Catchy soundtrack full of electronic/industrial/metal ditties. The better written character routes feel satisfying with character conflict and endings. On the shorter end of overall playtime and doesn’t feel padded.

Cons: Rape-y stuff is still unavoidable in certain character routes. Romance progression is a different flavor of awkward in every route. The weaker writing for certain character routes is noticeable and frustrating. Some occasional half-assed designs for side characters. 

Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ can either be purchased from JAST’s online store or Steam. Please note that the Steam version is censored by default and requires a decensor patch from JAST’s online store if you want the sexy content. Overall, I felt TnC was a fun BL romp with some rough areas. While the game doesn’t dethrone Sweet Pool as my favorite Nitroplus CHIRAL title, I do have some preference for TnC over DMMD, even if I happen to like DMMD’s characters more. It’s interesting to see how TnC set a precedent for certain themes, ideas, and archetypes that would be uniquely revisited in other Nitroplus CHIRAL games. It’s flawed, for sure, but might be a good starting point for someone interested in the company’s games.

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