A few months ago, I wrote about some of my favourite visual novels, and included ebi-hime’s Asphyxia, a unique take on the lives of some of the great Romantic poets that meant a lot to me when I read it five years ago. While ebi-hime’s writing spans a multitude of genres, she’s returned to historical inspiration with her latest release: The End of an Actress, partially based on the life and death of Marie Antoinette. I bought it at soon as it came out, like I always do for her VNs, and really enjoyed reading it. This short, spoiler-free review will touch on some aspects that weren’t quite to my taste as well, but I would still recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed ebi-hime’s other works, or who’s interested in a bit of romance and violence in a fictionalized version of eighteenth-century France.
One especially interesting thing about The End of an Actress is that it feels a bit like a spiritual successor to another one of ebi-hime’s previous works: Round the Mulberry Bush, which she released for free in 2016. (So if you’re on the fence about buying Actress, you can check out Mulberry Bush first and see what you think of that one!) Both are historical tragedies that depict the changing relationship between a poor man and a rich woman over time. In the case of The End of an Actress, protagonist Marius was originally awestruck by Queen Liliane when he first glimpsed her royal procession in his teens—but when he meets her again over a decade later, it’s because he’s a revolutionary taking her hostage and planning her eventual execution. The scenes that set up this stark contrast between Marius and Liliane’s past and present are a fantastic opening that immediately got me invested in the characters and their world.
However, as much as I really enjoyed The End of an Actress overall, it seemed to me like there was something missing from some parts of it. Maybe my tastes are just a little too “edgy”, but I felt like ebi-hime’s writing was at its absolute best in the most violent parts of the story, and I was a little disappointed when the rest of it wasn’t always so dark and intense. Liliane spends months imprisoned in one room of her palace with barely anything to do but wait for her inevitable death, but I rarely felt the impact of how awful that would be for her. She and Marius spend more time bickering than anything else, and the tone of those scenes sometimes felt a bit too light—like you’d expect to find them in a slice of life comedy about unwitting roommates. I would have been a lot more interested in reading debates about Marius’s support for the revolution than about whether he really needs to keep guarding Liliane so closely when she’s taking a bath. But none of that took away from my deep appreciation of the more serious scenes, I’m sure plenty of other readers might prefer having this kind of break in between them to reading something relentlessly bleak.
One aspect of this story that I have absolutely no complaints about is the art. Not only does it all look gorgeous, but there are a lot of details that make it even more engaging, such as the character sprites blinking and the “camera” sometimes moving around and zooming in to highlight the most important parts of conversations. I also always think it’s a nice touch when the title screen of a VN changes based on the endings you’ve seen—keep an eye on Liliane’s neck every time you launch the game and see what happens! Ebi-hime found some great artists to collaborate with on this one, and I’d love to see them continue to work together in the future. The music by her frequent composer yuzuki adds to the atmosphere perfectly as well.
The End of an Actress might not quite live up to my favourite ebi-hime VNs, but it’s still a solid entry in a consistently enjoyable catalogue. (And my favourites are so fantastic and personally meaningful that they’re inevitably hard acts to follow.) I’m sure any other fans of hers would enjoy this one, as would anyone who thinks the fictionalized French revolution setting sounds like fun. As always, I’m looking forward to whatever she writes next.