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Sunday 21st October 2012

Matt Kamen takes to the therapist’s couch to talk about the insane world of Chaos;Head.

Chaos;HeadMeet Takumi Nishijou – though he’d rather you didn’t. A compulsive shut-in, Takumi shuns as much contact with the outside world as possible, preferring to turn his attentions to the likes of anime, online role-playing games and eroge, erotic dating sim games. A second year student in high school, his approach to education is to turn up for the bare minimum of classes to ensure graduation. He lives in a locked cargo crate that he’s kitted out as his personal otaku den, filled with vinyl figures and manga, and resists efforts from his younger sister Nanami to force him to reintegrate with the world. His obsessions even push him to reject the 3D world, swearing he’ll never fall for a real girl. He could be the lead character in any ‘loser gets girl’ series to come out of Japan in the last decade, but for one tiny difference – Takumi might be losing his mind.

Prone to bizarre visions that range from picturing real people as his favourite anime characters to horrific visions of murder and defiled bodies, Takumi’s grip on reality is tenuous at best. When he begins receiving emails from an unknown sender linking to images of gruesome crimes plaguing Shibuya – a phenomenon dubbed ‘New Generation Madness’ by the media – the conflicted teen starts to question his own perceptions. Already on edge, his final descent into madness begins as he stumbles across a pink-haired girl pinning a corpse to a wall with crucifix-styled daggers – a scene exactly the same as the image he received the day before. Is he just going insane, or is there really some malevolent game at play in the streets of Tokyo’s most fashionable district? And why is the same murderous girl, Rimi Sakihata, in Takumi’s school the next day, acting like his best friend?

Chaos;Head premiered in the form of a visual novel for Japanese PCs in 2008. Developed by Tokyo-based software companies Nitroplus and 5pb. (that full stop is officially part of the name, an abbreviation of ‘Five powered and basics.’), the creators describe it as a ‘Delusional Science novel’, and the precise formatting of the title, ChäoS;HEAd, represents Takumi’s possible schizophrenia – the literal chaos inside his head. While the game had dating sim elements, presenting the player with numerous cute girls to interact with, the focus was much more on managing Takumi’s precarious mental state through his responses to conversations and situations. The game was a huge success, seeing enhanced ports released on practically every format available, and set the foundation for a shared universe of high-concept sci-fi storytelling that most recently continued in companion series Steins;Gate.

Chaos;Head in turn spawned a trio of manga adaptations, each focusing on different characters and scenarios, and a 12-episode anime run from Madhouse, the studio behind Highschool of the Dead and Princess Resurrection. Directed by Takaaki Ishiyama and written by Toshiki Inoue, the series weaves together numerous plot threads, conspiracies and timelines to present an unapologetically complex exploration of Takumi’s shocking experiences.

Chaos;Head is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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