Whoops! Missed posting last week. Conventions will do that to. Today I'm going to cover my next installment my Collar x Malice VN Talk series. You can find my VN Talks for the other four routes using the Collar x Malice label on my blog.
Aiji Yanagi's route took a while for me to get into, because it wasn't the warm fuzzies I was originally expecting when I started the game, nor did it ever get as dark as the preview visuals that came with his route unlock, which happens after the player finishes their fourth route. Given that preview and the blood soaking the screen I was totally wondering what kind of violent past Yanagi was hiding!
As with Code: Realize's Lupin, Yanagi's route is pretty much the canon route as everything is revealed here. Everyone has something to do, and their personal stories are more or less addressed so life can go on.
Yanagi's route is also the longest. He has two extra chapters, one that takes place before the prologue, showing how he assembled his X-Day investigation team, and one additional chapter in the main story. The reason for this, is that Yanagi's storyline manages to touch on nearly all the X-Day Incidents while also giving adequate time to the romance between him and Hoshino, the truth behind X-Day, and Hoshino's relationship to Zero.
That's a lot of ground to cover, but the extra chapter gives it the room that I think Shiraishi's lacked, and it's good thing because Yanagi's romance takes a while to warm up. It's not without reason, because Yanagi and Hoshino have a shared history she blocked out due to trauma, but it didn't feel like it had the emotional payoff it should have.
When Hoshino was nine she was kidnapped and badly beaten by her kidnapper. She was rescued by a black monster covered in blood that bludgeoned a screaming man until the screaming stopped. Unsurprisingly, she locked that memory away as she grew up. This memory doesn't come up in the other routes, though in the common prologue she does realize there's something familiar with Yanagi and he comments on not wanting something to happen like the last time.
It turns out that then teenage Yanagi had tried rescuing her, failed initially, resulting in his own beating and capture, and then broke free. Afraid for his life and that of the kid next to him, Yanagi took a metal pipe and beat the kidnapper into a coma from which he never woke. He then freed Hoshino, who was scared and recoiled away from him, much to his dismay. No charges were pressed against Yanagi since the assault was ruled self-defense, but he continued to feel guilty about it as he got older.
From his route we learn that Yanagi is actually not close to anyone, and he doesn't like to be. Even though he is kind and friendly, and honestly wants to help as many people as he can, he also wants to keep any relationship professional, which is the obstacle in getting any romance to happen. He also struggles with the magnitude of what he believes in, because after nearly killing the kidnapper, he found out that he doesn't want to kill in any situation at all, which is what caused him to eventually leave the police force.
Adonis is aware of this struggle and how Yanagi's act of violence against the kidnapper places him in the same circumstance as an executor, but they also notice how he is held back by his sense of morality. I get the feeling that Adonis didn't really research him well, because Yanagi's fear of killing someone is so strong that he nearly botches a rescue attempt out of fear of misusing his gun.
That's not really something I expected to be dealing with on his route, especially since he openly carries his sidearm and until that point, seems comfortable with it. He's not like Sasazuka who refuses to carry and dislikes the fact that anyone could. In fact, one of the things I was most hoping for on his route was some dynamic team-ups with him and Hoshino kicking ass together.
It does happen once, but not at the climax, and Yanagi needs to be reassured before he'll go for it. Failure leads to a bad ending.
Since Yanagi is initially distant and reluctant to get close, the game contrives situations to throw him and Hoshino together, whether it's over her brother, helping a lost child, or just investigating the numerous December X-Day Incidents together. Because most of the executors are swapping crimes with each other, this means that his route also delves into many of the cases, at least on a superficial level, so the story can tie everything together. I am also amused by the fact that the Uno siblings are the only executors not dealt with on his route, which contributes to their status as the odd ducks who did a crime that doesn't fit the MO.
All this takes time. Yanagi doesn't fully open up to her until the second to last chapter, and even then, he needs a little help from Hoshino's coworkers. They take her out drinking and find out about her non-existent Christmas plans, but that she likes someone, so they convince her to give Yanagi a call asking him to show up at the bar.
It's funny and awkward, especially since they know who Yanagi is, having dealt with him before while he was still on the police force. And when they leave, Hoshino finally has the chance to confess her feelings to him, which is nice because rather than having her waffle over "What are these feelings I'm having?" like she does on some of the other routes, she comes out and says she loves him first.
As far as the main story goes, Hoshino eventually figures out that Zero is her coworker, Yuzuru Saeki. Given the criteria that Zero would have to fit in order to have accomplished Hoshino's kidnapping, he's the only possible culprit. He knows when she leaves work, he knows her as a person, and he works for the police.
I was a bit disappointed that Saeki wasn't able to play off Yanagi more. The two of them actually don't have much of a face-off, since Saeki's interest is almost entirely on Hoshino. While that's not bad, because she is the protagonist, there's nothing about Yanagi's storyline that really make clear that he had to be the canon route. He just happens to be, because he's the team leader and the poster boy of the game.
The thing is, his mysterious backstory was kind of cool, but dealt with in the first half, and he's not really tempted by Adonis. It's not like Sasazuka's route where you get the feeling he honestly could turn. I'm not sure why Saeki chose his group to be the one to rescue Hoshino unless it was specifically because he wanted to take advantage of Shiraishi's presence to monitor her.
Yanagi's route is still good as a story, and the plot revelations about Adonis and Zero live up to expectation. We have the guys running into Adonis headquarters like big damn heroes and Shiraishi comes clean to help everyone. I just wanted something that made Yanagi a little more critical to the plot of his own route, especially since once the romance does come out, he's terribly sweet and he's the only love interest to propose to Hoshino at the end of his story.
When we get to the finale in the church where everything started, Hoshino and Yanagi meet Saeki there and Yanagi mostly ends up being a dude in distress with Saeki shooting him in order to provoke Hoshino. The strongest relationship in the room at that moment is not Hoshino and Yanagi, but Hoshino and Saeki. She's concerned about her boyfriend, yes, but the relationship that matters, the one that's going to change the outcome of their confrontation, is the one she has with Saeki, and it's actually pretty strong.
In fact, if the player fails at shooting to disable Saeki, she accidentally ends up killing him and the weight of having done so is bad enough that she leaves Yanagi forever. Though Hoshino can't have a romantic relationship with Saeki, he is damn important to her, and the player will know this because Saeki has constantly been showing up throughout the game as a friend in her ordinary work life.
Yanagi's route does have the best ending though, because as the canon route we get to see everyone, and I mean everyone other than the Adonis members, show up at Yanagi's agency for a final hurrah. The get-together allows Collar x Malice to show off the best of its romantic comedy bits, and the ensuing fistfight with Enomoto, the invitation from Yanagi for Hoshino to stay the night, are a pleasant way to end the story.
Unfortunately, I do want to bring up that Yanagi's route suffers from the most text errors in the game. Normally I wouldn't call something like this out, but Collar x Malice is a detective game as much as an otome so inaccurate information is a headache.
This wouldn't be a problem if it was just typos or the occasional missing connector word, but at various points the text has switched around the months of two of the incidents, mentioned the wrong month entirely, scrambled the dialogue breaks so that Hoshino name appears on the bottom of the dialogue box and her actual dialogue appeared in the character name box on the next screen, and the worst one made one of the player choices nonsensical when it was the correct choice.
Just before the climax when Hoshino is drawing conclusions about Saeki's motivations and his current location, she has two options for the reason he collared her. One is because they were friends (which was my original choice) and the other is "He wanted to kill me."
Saeki does kill her through the collar in a couple endings, but that's not why he collared her. While I don't have access to the original Japanese, it's clear from the rest of the game that his goal is to have her kill him. She can't fulfill his plan for her if she's dead. Unfortunately it means that anyone who is not using a guide will probably get this choice wrong on their first playthrough because a translator mixed up who needs to kill who.
Now, there's going to be just one more post in this series. And that's because there's a lot more that I want to unpack about Saeki, who has his own route, of sorts.