Title: Rondo Duo
Company: Tinkle Bell
Release date: 10-31-14
Ever since the death of her mother as a child, Itsuki has been raised as a boy by her father, a devout Christian. She had been told that God hated women, and her mother had been taken away from them because of her gender. She was denied the right to dress in female clothing, to play with other girls, or even to talk to the same sex. As she grew older, her father’s abuse and oppression worsened, resulting in his daughter being psychologically damaged and emotionally repressed.
As a young adult, Itsuki is enrolled at an academy where sinister rumors are being whispered among the students, stories of a demon which haunts the hallways. It is said that once the demon has chosen a victim, it will transform her into a half-male, half-female, crazed with a mindless lust. The victim could be forced to violate even her closest friends, and anyone she has intercourse with will also become cursed.
In spite of the plot synopsis, it would be wrong to categorize Rondo Duo as a nukige. While there are a great many sex scenes, the erotica does not take precedence over the plot. Characters are explored in depth, even the most minor of the cast: Itsuki’s tragic backstory, the history of her parents’ relationship, Kaori’s growing dread and anxiety, Madoka’s earnest compassion towards others, and so on.
Although lacking in blood and gore, it is still a horror title, with elements of supernatural suspense. Death, insanity, rape, blackmail, religious persecution, and other dark themes are prevalent throughout the story. As the students begin to turn on one another, they become overwhelmed by their own desires and desperation. It seems complete chaos is inevitable, but there is also hope, as friendships become stronger, and new relationships begin. Rondo Duo is truly innovative, not just for its stunning presentation, but also for its ability to balance darkness and misery with heartfelt romance.
“I don’t need any friends. They’ll just end up betraying me.”
Bitter, distrustful, and intensely lonely, Itsuki orchestrates the suffering of her classmates, watching as each of them are cursed, one by one. Having been subjected to severe trauma at a young age, she cannot allow anyone to become close to her. The one exception is Katerina, a demon whom Itsuki has made a contract with.
“I belong to you, and you belong to me.”
Katerina is a playful, affectionate demon, who has sworn her eternal devotion to Itsuki. While she appears harmless, Katerina is actually responsible for cursing all of the students, targeting anyone Itsuki chooses.
“Let’s be friends!”
Eager, trusting, and optimistic to a fault, Madoka is always there to brighten up her friends’ days. She gets along well with Kaori, and banters with Haruka. Unfortunately, she lacks basic intuition from time to time, wanting to make friends with even the most unsociable of people.
“At the very least, I want to protect you.”
Kaori is a cheerful, naïve girl, who loves to imagine romantic fantasies and hear about the latest gossip. She shows particular concern towards Madoka, while also listening to Haruka’s guidance. But despite her seemingly happy life, Kaori struggles with her suspicion of her fellow classmates, and her escalating fear once she uncovers more about the curse.
“I can’t choose between Madoka and Kaori.”
Haruka, Kaori, and Madoka are all close friends, but between them, Haruka is the most level-headed. She enjoys their antics, but also has to remind them of reality from time to time, especially when they begin speculating about her love life. Being rather hopeless when it comes to relationships, Haruka is still recovering from her recent break-up.
“Aren’t you being too enthusiastic?”
A stern and temperamental girl, Rina treats everything she does with utmost seriousness. Yet despite her sharp demeanor, Rina does care for her classmates, and has a sincere friendship with Riko, her fellow cheerleader.
“Such a cute little angel, you can talk to me any time!”
Riko is a sweet, loving, yet socially clueless girl. She happily strikes up a friendship with anyone who crosses her way, and is always willing to cheer up someone in need. She is often scolded by Rina for her impulsive nature, although she never takes notice of or listens to these criticisms. She seems to know more about the curse than anyone would have expected.
“Everyone’s doing the same thing! No matter who it is, once you’ve been cursed, you become a demon!”
Misaki is a harsh, blunt girl, who is willing to do whatever it takes to rid herself of the supernatural phenomena preying upon her classmates. Rather than being dismissive of the rumors, Misaki is one of the few students who is honest about the existence of the curse.
“I think you just wanted to have fun with all the cute girls!”
Misaki’s friend. Incessantly energetic and stubborn, Youko is sexually suggestive even in inappropriate situations, not realizing when she makes others uncomfortable. Youko freely discusses the curse, considering it to be harmless fun.
While the recent E-mote system, involving paper dolls with blinking eyes, lip-syncing, and limited movement, has received much praise for its expressive design, Rondo Duo surpasses the latest visual novel technology, offering something even more impressive: the pinnacle of cinematic presentation. The characters don’t just move their upper body while standing in a static area of the screen—it plays like a literal film, with gorgeous 3D models, impressive backgrounds, moving camera perspectives and angles, realistic weather effects like rain and lightning, and more.
It occasionally invokes the look and feel of classic cinema, with a purposely grainy film, alternating from vibrant color to black-and-white, with the ‘film strip’ even occasionally skipping, as if being played by an old projector. At certain times, the luxurious 3D is replaced by a hand-drawn style, straight from a story book. Papers dolls, while sparingly used, are fully animated with life-like motions, and the dialogue box is barely incorporated at all.
While the visual department cannot be bested, the audio department still delivers an impressive, almost operatic classical arrangement: menacing strings, a choir’s heavenly chorus, and a delicate music box. The sound effects provide a grim accent, with discordant piano notes, the ticking of a clock, and ominous heartbeats. The reader is immediately immersed in the suspenseful atmosphere of the haunted academy.
The voice work is just as outstanding, conveying each character’s unique personality in every situation, whether in screams of terror or friendly conversation. Ambient background chatter, voice loops, and even binaural sound create multiple layers of depth to a scene.
Boasting a hundred erotic events, the cinematics showcase every one of them in explicit detail. Dynamic angles and different perspectives add creativity to the visuals, and the impressive use of overlapping voices and sounds effects are most realistic.
The majority of the sex scenes involve victims of the curse, which leads to coercion and blackmail, rape and bondage, ranging from two participants to several. However, there is also a variety of consensual love-making scenes, as well as a system which allows the reader to choose the enthusiasm of the partners, for those who prefer a darker or more vanilla scene.