Collar x Malice: it’s an otome game that no one warned me would both break my heart and put it back together while having me laugh and scream in fangirl joy throughout its ride. A plot synopsis reads as follows:
Hoshino Ichika is a rookie cop with an honest heart and mild disposition. Looking to do some good in the world, she values mental preparation for action and proper justice above all else. Little does she know that, just after she joins the force, Japan will find itself in the midst of its greatest domestic terror crisis with her precinct at its heart. Little does she know she’ll somehow be swept into the plot of the almighty, unfathomable “Adnois…”
Left with no option but to peruse truth and redemption with five misfits comprised of former cops and current police personnel, Ichika will have to face her greatest fears and upend her most contentious challenges.
Because in a world where sorrow and malice are inevitable, what does justice mean to you?
The truth is, I’m not ready for it to end.
I jumped into Collar x Malice because so many of my fellow anibloggers were playing and loving it; I knew that I planned to play more than Hakuouki on repeat when I finally made the plunge and purchased a Vita (which is a review post for another day that I forgot about until just now… oops), so it seemed like the natural next step. I managed to play every route over the course of the next two weeks (thanks to a work break, mind you) because I just couldn’t put it down. Collar x Malice was everything I could’ve hoped for in an otome title and more; it also avoids pitfalls that I’m most happily left without in such titles. I cannot praise the game highly enough, and I have much to say on the matter.
Please note that this review will be spoiler-free until a specified point (character route discussion), at which time I will offer the option of skipping to spoiler-free content via jump link.
To begin, I praise the translators. If the average of two textual/grammatical errors per route existed, I’m being generous. I found that the display text got a bit more wonky during Sasazuka’s and Yanagi’s routes, but none of it bordered on debilitating or even moderately distracting. I can’t imagine doing a translator’s job, but I can tell the amount of work that went into it, and I am highly satisfied.
There were, however, aspects of the localization with which I was less taken. For example, consider the Japanese name “Yanagi Aiji” as it is properly written, [last name] [first name]. Improperly, but often in translation, the same is swapped around to read as [first name] [last name], thus “Aiji Yanagi.” Such was the case in Collar x Malice, which clashed horribly with the verbal Japanese dialogue. Additionally but along the same vein, honorifics are used in Japanese society to signify both position and degree of relationship between individuals in communication.* Collar x Malice eliminates most uses of them, and adapts them to “Mr. and Ms.” whenever absolutely necessary for context. Although it didn’t bother me in a few contexts (I didn’t mind the substitution of “sir” for “senpai” within the police force, mind you.), it just became comical in almost every other situation. Advice to localizers in the future would include, “Keep name order and honorifics unchanged, please. Especially for games set in Japan.”
The title’s use of story and mystery proved fantastic. That your goal in the game is more than to simply romance a main character is far more fulfilling than something strictly romance oriented (see my otoge review of Destiny Ninja+ as an example of one such game). Ichika (the named protagonist) is more than just an Amnesia: Memories type of self-insert/blank slate, but rather an actual (abet mild) character on a mission with her own personality and goals; I appreciate that.
My biggest praise of the title might actually be its utter lack of repetition. Even though every playthough follows a similar sequence of events (until your own actions start altering the timeline), each route offers a truly different and 100% unique examination of the story, and none of it feels repetitive after completion of the common route first chapter. Unlike in Hakuouki: Kyoto Winds**, there was never a point after the common route chapter (during which your answers determine which character’s route you fall into) that I ever had the option of “fast reading” (which means pressing a button to skip all repeated scenes) during my playthough. Why? Those repeated scenes didn’t exist. I was never bored, and I couldn’t prematurely skip text because every panel felt truly valuable to plot or humor.
For those wondering, the game itself is obviously choice based, but there are simple investigative portions in each route as well. At the start, only thee routes are available to you, those being Enomoto Mineo, Okazaki Kei, and Sasazuka Takeru. However, after achieving a “good ending” on any one of these one of these routes, you unlock the route of forensic analyst Shiraishi Kageyuki. After beating every route, one unlocks the end all be all of Collar x Malice content, Aiji Yanagi’s hidden route. And oh, my friends…
This is where the detective work actually comes into play. One must use and analyze everything they’ve learned over the course of the last four routes to finally fully close the case. While each route offers its own appropriate resolution, winning Yanagi’s extra-long hidden route is the only route which ties up every loose end fully solves our mystery. And let me tell you, I was shook. Maybe Ichika’s past isn’t as mild as one might think…
(As a side note, I played the routes in this order: Okazaki, Enomoto, Shiraishi, Sasazuka, and Yanagi. While technically Shiraishi’s route reveals more information than those of the other three and was probably intended to be played just before Yanagi’s route, it didn’t matter at all to me. I really enjoyed the order in which I discovered the information. Outside of Yanagi’s route, cross-route spoilers really aren’t a detrimental–or prevalent–thing.)
Before I delve into the fully spoiler-ific content of character route reviews, I’ll give readers who haven’t played a chance to jump into the warm waters of safer content. To skip the sections containing spoilers, please click here.
And now, my compatriots, onto the show!
~Character Route Discussion~
Okazaki Kei is an inigma; he’s a well of humor housing a great deal of pain, and even at the route’s end, he’s in deep need of psychological help. I fear that he and Ichika may develop a codependent relationship (at least on his end). It feels like Ichika doesn’t have the option to leave without Okazaki completely loosing the will to live, and that frightens me. While I don’t want the two to split (and I don’t foresee them doing so), I still think that Okazaki needs some serious therapy to deal with his past trauma. All of that can’t be swept under the rug just because he’s found love. Suicidal ideation, whatever the reason, is no joke.
Having said that, I found Okazaki’s route very favorable. He was the most stringently protective out of all the leading men, and I loved that. I’m a huge sucker for those types, so it got to me right here. *places a fist over heart* And, as weird as it is to say, out of all the characters’ multiple bad endings, Okazaki’s were the most satisfying. That moment in which Ichika is poisoned in front of him outside of Rika’s apartment, his utter panic even though he doesn’t fully trust her and had just turned a gun on her… Wow. Worth the detour.
Oh, Mineo, you great big bundle of middle schooler wrapped in grown man’s body, how could we not love you? You’re hilarious. You break the tension in everyone else’s routes simply be nature of being yourself, yet in your own route we gain deeper understanding into why you’ve joined up with Yanagi and quit the police force before our story begins.
While I enjoyed the route, I’ll not lie; it wasn’t my favorite. Mineo is actually a great character, but I think I much preferred him as a side character in everyone elses’ routes because he was do dang eccentric and hilarious. He’s not my type, so I don’t really ship him with Ichika, but I love how she brings him out of the trauma that’s been holding him back from working the cases, and I enjoy how they’re equals in that she doesn’t feel the need to kowtow to him because he’s older or more experienced. (^^)<3
I really loved how awkward Mineo was in dealing with Kazuki (who is a great character, by the way) and how sweet it was to imagine him as a protective older brother to some nameless little sister back home. It really fit his character.
Okay, so I have this friend (and if Chronic is reading this, he knows exactly who I’m writing about) who is very~~ reminiscent of Kageyuki. This is more true in the early portion of his own route and even more so when observing him as a side character within other routes. I frankly cannot deny that Kageyuki initially looks—tall, long blonde hair, slim build—and sounds a great deal like my friend. I mean, for an otome character. It is just too weird.
But then I got to know Kageyuki and decided that the following (heartbreaking) moment (which makes me nearly cry just looking at the still image) leaves Kageyuki exposed nothing like my friend…
The scene and everything this stands for (as well as everything that follows) is the farthest thing removed from him. But meandering on from the utter emotional torment that is EVERYTHING ABOUT KAGEYUKI’S LIFE…
Shiraishi Kageyuki… I just want to save him. ❤ On a more serious note, both his good and bad endings were the darkest (and some of the greatest) of the bunch, but I suppose that can only be expected knowing what I now know. Shiraishi was one of my very favorite Collar x Malice characters, and I can’t wait for the fandisk (OTOMATE, PLEASE!!).
I didn’t think that I’d like Sasazuka’s route as much as I did, but I should have realized that—as my own husband is the real world version of a kuudere—I would be a sucker for the kuudere/tsun-tsun type. And I was. I found Takeru’s behavior to be highly accurate, especially during the good end encounter when Ichika says that she wants to be his lover and Takeru basically goes… “I thought you were already. Now I feel like I was in a pathetic one-sided relationship.”
I find that kuudere/tsundere types tend to roll that way, at least in my experience. Like, Husband will just expect me to KNOW his romantic feelings/practical relationship whatevers, and when we’re on different pages he pulls a Takeru and is just like, “I mean, do I have to say everything? Shouldn’t you just know?” I kid you not, that is so~~~~ real. ❤
So, that’s really all I can say about his route. I enjoyed it, because I’m a sucker for his type. He was a good character, and it reinforced that I married the right person. The end.
As one might have predicted, Yanagi’s route was my favorite for its utter completion. It was so well constructed and fully realized; the extra chapter of length contributed to its ability to wrap everything up. This was the route in which all your detective work found meaning; the mystery is finally solved. I also loved Yanagi as a character, and I love how his opinion of justice differed so greatly from everyone else at the detective agency.
That said, Yanagi (though I loved him) might not have been my favorite character of the bunch. He’s definitely top three, but… In every route other than his own, Yanagi is the team mom. He makes sure that his… will we call them subordinates? …friends, anyway, are taking care of themselves. He worries for Hoshino. In fact, it feels like we worries MORE about her in some of the other routes, even if it isn’t a focal point. The amount of concern he harbors in other routes leads one to believe that his own will be chalk full of Okazaki-style protective impulse, but he’s good at locking that away when necessary, it seems.
That he didn’t answer her love confession right away bothered me; like, I disliked that (even in his own words), he was basically “giving in” to her love. And I know that I’m probably taking that wrong, and I absolutely LOVED the ending on the rooftop, but it’s still worth noting.
BUT THAT ENDING. ❤ *happily sobs*
Their shared backstory that was only ever SLIGHTLY hinted at in the prologue and ignored for all the other routes was STELLAR. I LOVED figuring that out. And I loved how he used to be a punk, but he’s “reformed” until it comes to keeping other men away from her. He’s so mature and capable, as well.
Gah… maybe Yanagi WAS my favorite! Decisions, decisions…
Anyway, everything about that route was amazing and I just need that fandisk, okay? I need it!
You didn’t think I’d forget the secret ending, did you readers? We’ll get to that in a minute, but first…
Please believe me when I say that I DIDN’T WANT IT TO BE HIM. I didn’t want him to be guilty; it wasn’t like I was inspecting Zero’s jaw line beneath the hood and comparing it to men like Commissioner Minegishi Seiji (or maybe I was, but hey…), and it’s not like I wondered why Saeki wasn’t a romanceable character from route one and just decided he was there to make the others jealous…
But when I did figure it out, oh boy… I DIDN’T WANT TO BE RIGHT.
But I was right. And it makes me hurt.
Saeki was such a fantastic character, and when you do go back and examine your evidence, you realize that everything adds up. I don’t know how I missed it for so long…
In any case, he feels like a broken child who needed psychological help that he never got, someone with a divided soul crying out to be stopped but determined to move forward with his warped (abet well intended), heart-breaking ideals, ideals he intends to die for…
For those of you who haven’t played the secret ending, I’m not going to tell you how to find it. I won’t tell you anything about it at all other than…
She took hold of him for a reason. She wanted to end the source of her sorrow, to end all of this, with her own hands. Wow.
And that, my readers, is a rap.
I leave you with a link to my Twitter moment of liveplay compilation for Collar x Malice and a promise to rave at you again in the future. If you’re interested in more of my otome reviews, you can click through to my Otome Review Index.
As stated before, I’m not ready for this experience to end. It was was quite possibly my favorite otome to date. Yes, you heard that right:
Collar x Malice is available at GameStop (where I bought it locally for a really~~ good price) amongst other retailers. If interested in buying through Amazon, you can find my affiliate links to the game below.
[PS Vita hard copy⤵️]
[PS Vita digital download code⤵️]
Until I ramble again,
*For example, if my full anglicized name is “Shoujo Thoughts” [first name] [last name], then the Japanese version would read “Thoughts Shoujo” [last name] [first name]. Knowing this, a younger coworker would call me “Thoughts-senpai,” while a coworker with whom I had an amicable (but not close) relationship might call me “Thoughts-san.” A friend may call me “Thoughts” or “Shoujo,” especially if we are both girls and around the same age. Perhaps they’d even call me “Shoujo-chan.”
**To be fair, Kyoto Winds itself was basically one long common route until the final chapters, but hey, that’s a review for another day.
[This post was NOT made to sell you something, I promise; I just happen to be an Amazon affiliate, so I’m using my links rather than the standard Amazon links that I would normally include. Cause, you know, hosting fees are a thing, dear readers. <3]