“- We won’t be forgiven.
Once judgement day arrives, we’ll be certain to fall into hell.”
Shingakkou – Noli me tangre –
Michael and Gabriel Levi are twins who are enrolled in the seminary, St. Johan’s. On the eve of their Christmas holidays, the twins return home eager to greet their family after the absence, only to find them dead and their home in flames. As if things couldn’t get any more strange, there’s a bizarre mark on the wall painted in their father’s blood, of an inverted cross with a snake wrapped around it. It’s the mark of a secret society in their own school – a secret society which worships the devil.
Furious that God could let something so callous occur on a holy day, Michael turns his back on the figure he so dearly worshiped beforehand and vows to get his revenge while investigating the secret society which may have had something to do with the destruction of his family.
On looking at who made Shingakkou – Noli me tangere – (from now on to be referred as NMT), I didn’t go in with the most positive of thoughts. The line ups of both PIL/SLASH (P/S) and PIL are filled with nukige with what seems to have a different artist working on each title. Quite the hodge-podge. I hadn’t heard of anything they put out aside from Koibito Yugi and the infamously lengthy France Shoujo. Even then, their names were heard in passing. So when I heard about NMT, I thought it would be an illicit and steamy romp driven by taboos – a religious setting with the possibility of twincest? It practically writes itself! But there are countless other eroge like that, especially on the nukige side of the market which play up the forbidden aspect for all its worth. So what set NMT apart from those, enough to pique my interest? That it had BL? The art looking like it came out of a shoujo manga from the seventies? The static filled PV which started off showing jerky religious imagery?
If I hadn’t seen the PV, I doubt I would have given NMT a second look. I would have written it off as another title befitting of the P/S and PIL line up not worthy of giving a second thought to. But the PV managed change my initial impression. The first half was unsettling, the second jerkily showing us tranquil scenes of the cast. Then once the promo image and title showed up with the serene choral song music fading out, I assumed that would be the end. But then the screen was suddenly dyed, and a CG was shown… Such a contrast caught my attention and made me think that this wouldn’t be just a another nukige driven by the word ‘taboo’, but that it would be a horror title filled with the kind of menacing imagery shown at the start. What can I say? I’m an absolute sucker for things like that. So I kept the sinister looking NMT on my mind. The trial lived up to my expectations, and managed to keep me on tenterhooks throughout. I felt like NMT was going to be something special.
There are many things I could applaud NMT for, but one is for showing the changes in the protagonist, Michael Levi. He was once the idol of his year – a prefect, kind and sociable to everyone. And it goes without saying, that he had the utmost faith in God. After his family was slaughtered in such a brutal way Michael becomes more withdrawn and pulls away from his friends, preferring to focus on finding out how the cult is related to all of this. Instead of quietly investigating and not relying on anyone but himself, Michael prefers to directly ask people things and not pussyfoot around it. To give one example, early on in the game he asks does such a society exist on school grounds in front of two Fathers, and the student director. He doesn’t let any chance slip, that’s for sure.
As you can tell by how similar Gabriel (or Gabby, as Michael likes to affectionately call him) looks to Michael, they’re twins. They’re so close that they’re each other’s half in every sense of the word. At one point he tells Michael that he won’t die until he does, showing how tight their bond really is (if a bit disturbing). But compared to Michael, he couldn’t be any more different. While Michael can be gruff with a quick temper Gabi is more relaxed and airheaded, seemingly being the more childish of the two. Despite that naivety he’s a good-natured fellow, and is the one who is always there for Michael no matter what. His presence alone is soothing.
Before Michael even gets to know the rest of the characters properly, Cecil is the one who clearly cares for him quite a bit. He’s admired Michael ever since he entered the school, for reasons which only he understands and holds dear. A gentle guy, he’s always willing to lend Michael a hand, no matter how dire the consequences are and won’t even probe him about it if he clearly doesn’t want to speak about it. He’s a true bro, with a quiet and unwavering courage. He has a startling burn mark on his wrist, and used to be teased when he was younger for his frail frame.
Neil Lowell is always messing around and is the token joker out of the cast. He’s seen by everyone as a delinquent, and the principal always turns grim whenever his name is mentioned or sees his smirking face passing through the halls. Neil has a total disregard for the school rules preferring to take things at his own pace. Sneaking into the school’s library during the night to smoke cigarettes, reading porn magazines, and sneaking off to bars during the day are all everyday occurrences for the notorious delinquent. Defying my admittedly negative first impressions (I assumed that he would be the sly and cunning type, willing to sell Michael out for his own profit), Neil is actually a decent and honourable guy, doing his utmost to assist Michael in tearing apart the secret society and helping him in general even outside of his own route. He has his own reasons for being in the school, and holds nothing but absolute respect for Father Lazarus.
Leonid Owen is the name which strikes fear into the heart of almost every student. A strict student director with an icy glare, nobody wants to catch his attention. But even so, he’s not a bad guy at heart. He desperately wants to uncover the secret society and bring their existence to light, and will go after any trail – even if he’s a bit overbearing about it. Despite his firm and unapproachable appearance, he’s a slob and his personal room is forever in disarray. His simpering underclassmen who’re fans of his would be horrified to learn that he can also be a bit of a clutz. Even with appearing to abide by the rules to an obsessive degree, he doesn’t think twice about taking Michael into a pub and forcing him to drink alcohol with him, saying that he’ll change the rules himself if he complains about it. Half Russian, his family situation is complex, to such a degree that even journalists from gaudy newspapers probe him about it. More than anything, he despises traitors.
August is the youngest Father in the school, and is the one most liked by the students – Michael included. They can walk into his Latin class late with the knowledge that he won’t punish them and will let them off with a cheeky remark. An obvious contrast to the other Fathers, he’s a laid-back guy who doesn’t take the rules as seriously as he should. He would never report to the other Fathers that a student has sneaked into the cinema or has gotten drunk, and whenever he thinks one has gotten into trouble will swiftly jump in and help them out. A long time friend of Father Lazarus, he’s always quick to tell August off when he steps out of line. Although the Fathers aren’t supposed to get close to students, August will willingly strike up a conversation with or sit with them without thinking too much of it.
NMT is set a little after the Second World War, possibly in the early fifties since characters speak of Nazi concentration camps, and being exiled as if they were events which didn’t happen too long ago. The effects of the war quietly lie over the school, with there being a monument in the grounds in remembrance of both students and Fathers alike who’ve lost their lives. When Father Lazarus gives out a small piece of chocolate, there’s exclamations all round at seeing such a rare treasure. It’s not really evident from the uniforms and cassocks that the characters wear in school, but outside it’s all duffel coats and blazers, with women wearing dresses and hats which were typical of that era. Even with the time frame that the game is set in, it’s easily forgotten due to how constricting and isolated the seminary that the characters attend is. They’re not allowed to leave school grounds unless they get permission for a haircut or to buy supplies. Even on rare days off where the students are allowed to visit the town, where they can go is restricted. Under no circumstances can they go to the pub or cinema, and Fathers often perform surprise checks of such places.
Those aren’t the only rules that the school has. With it being a seminary, there’s a suffocating sort of presence that I imagine a lot of people couldn’t handle. Punishments are given out over the most minor of things, and such punishments include being whipped several times or sent to an isolated room to reflect on what they’ve done. They can get be punished over yawning during morning service, or speaking out of turn. Things like that are taken just as seriously as brawls or denouncing God’s name in public. Fathers can’t be overly friendly to students.
Needless to say, being in a homosexual relationship is at the top of the list which would get one in trouble, and given the most serious treatment. If a couple is found then they’re thrown out, and that’s that. No second chances. Bags are packed and parents are called without being allowed to make excuses for themselves, never being allowed to contact each other again. Spot checks are even done by Fathers if they hear that there’s such a pair in a room, or to make sure that the hands of students lie above their quilts. NMT isn’t the kind of game or series where someone doesn’t think too much about whether they’re gay or not – that they just love their ‘special’ person, and that’s that like most BL titles (even though two members of the main cast call themselves straight).
NMT spends time focusing on that, which isn’t surprisingly considering it’s a religious themed game and the students have speeches about not engaging in those kind of relationships or giving into various desires drummed into their brain almost every morning. One route has such a couple get thrown out, and one half said that he was tired. Not tired of the relationship, but tired of sneaking around, and having to conceal everything. In another ending Michael starts crying, asking a Father why the world won’t allow him to have a relationship with the one he loves. The game is acutely aware of the time period and what the cost of having such a relationship is, and I admire NMT for that. It doesn’t skirt around the issue.
The game has a high amount of bad ends, some a lot more unpleasant and uncomfortable to read through than others. Mind screws abound, making you question what exactly happened. Despite all those bad endings, for the most part the good endings are lovely and well deserved. Each character’s good ending gets a decent amount of closure, and the final portion is (usually) seen from the other character’s point of view. I earlier on assumed that there would be no good endings to be found, but my expectations were pleasantly defied and the ones here were heartwarming, and unquestionably satisfying (with one being the exception). Mostly because they’re cases of earning their happy ending, and who doesn’t like seeing such a resolution? God knows the characters deserved them.
Earlier on I mentioned what a believable protagonist that Michael is – he’s perfect for his role. Since he’s the way he is, it makes it all the more realistic when he snaps, because from what we’ve seen the breakdown didn’t just come on straight away like some bad ends in other eroge where someone tends to flip the lid completely upon you making the wrong choice. He’s a bit unstable (can you blame him?), and has a tendency to hit or kick walls when he gets riled up. While contemplating killing his lover in one route, his monologue has him thinking about cutting open the chest like Jack the Ripper, making it into mince meat like Sweeney Todd, before saying that there will be 24 blackbirds in the pie and that his lover’s singing voice will come out of it. Gosh.
Despite me singing NMT’s praises, it’s not without flaws. My main gripe is that the routes are far too linear. Bar one, they all follow the same sort of pattern until very late in the routes and I wish PIL/SLASH could’ve had least tweaked them a bit. It would have worked out better, and would have made the game all the more memorable. It’s not at all fun ctrling through previously read text for a minute or two until you come to just two lines of new text in a scene before ctrling for another few minutes. Instead of revealing a number of plot points in every scenario, they should have just focused in on one or two. For example, a character freaked out, and he had a complex of sorts towards one of the main characters. Why couldn’t he have had his little episode in the route where it actually mattered? Sure, it showed the effects of something which happened in the story, but a different character could have been used in every other route instead of him. A little more variety would have been more than welcome. What was once eventful under whelmed me by the time I got to it the second, third time and when other characters were fretting about what happened I couldn’t bring myself to care (Jan 2013 edit – I should note that although it may be tedious your first time reading through the repetition, if you read it again a year or two later and have liked the title enough you’ll find yourself warmly engrossed all over again).
It’s also predictable to some extent. I was able to guess one major plot point from its trial alone (which is something that doesn’t even get properly revealed until the final route although is hinted at way before it), and knew something else pretty early on. It wasn’t just me, either. Looking at other people’s reviews will tell you they knew as well fairly quickly. But I suppose that they’re just two things which were supposed to be noticeable… As in, it wasn’t what the spoilers were, but how they were executed. And they were both executed very well. Twisting the twists, so to speak. So if you feel confident that you’ve something figured out, hold back a bit.
There is a guro option on the main menu, and you can turn it off if you so wish. The option nullifies any unsettling scenes. These include corpses showing up, and faces suddenly bleeding all over – tame, in retrospect. Such scenes aren’t overtly gruesome (compared to what’s in let’s say, in a Black Cyc title), but they’re more psychologically effective. Some would linger in your mind long after you’ve even exited the game. The writing really does help in this aspect, as it manages to make you feel like there are countless creepy crawlies squirming around your feet, or something unnatural lurking outside your bedroom door. Even when you can tell that something awful is going to show up, sometimes you’re still unprepared.
NMT does a superb job at setting that eerie ‘what am I going to see next?’ mood, where when it gets to such a scene you’re bracing yourself the whole way through. As effective as it is the first time, such scenes vary for every route so there’s a chance that you’ll see something even more strange in the next. The option is there regardless for the ones who don’t have such an iron stomach. Instead of showing blood being splattered all over the floor, you will see a clean floor. This option doesn’t affect CGs – just character sprites and backgrounds. For the sake of immersion and effectiveness, I recommend that you leave it on.
At the beginning, three out of the five routes are available, and the fourth doesn’t open up until those three have been cleared. The fifth and final route is revealed afterwards. For the best experience, you should read NMT in the order of Neil (or Leonid, either one would do) -> Leonid (or Neil) -> Cecil -> August -> Gabriel. I went with Neil first and thought it was ideal for an opening route, but it really doesn’t matter whether you read his or Leonid’s first. Gabby’s route is where everything comes together, where the correct things are done in order to obtain a happy ending. It can also be considered the canon route as it ties up some mysteries which weren’t really touched upon in previous routes and does give that big finish.
I’ve seen people report that they were turned off by NMT due to the oh so shoujo seventies art style, and that’s understandable. In fact, I thought something similar at first – ‘every design bar the twins looks dreadful’. The art is by Natsumi Kai (If you go onto her personal site, you’ll quickly spot who her favourite characters are) and you can tell that she enjoyed working on NMT and playing around with the hair and how the light falls on the characters, all wispy tendrils and soft lips. There’s no design that’s especially iconic here, but there doesn’t have to be. The characters are all distinguishable from each other (certainly no case of same face here in all the character portraits – even a random classmate who only has a few lines has his own individual look) and Kai’s art adds a fresh spin to designs that wouldn’t be as nice looking if they had been drawn by someone else.
However, there are a few instances where the characters look a bit awkward. A torso looking slightly longer than it should be. Clothing folds magically being held up on their own. A flat looking side profile here and there. Books on a bookshelf looking out of place. Outside of a few nitpicky problems, the CGs and art in general are stunning and if the art is what keeping you from reading this, then go ahead regardless. You get used to it soon enough – honestly! And it fits with the time period.
The BGMs were done by the music powerhouse hosplug, who’ve worked on P/S’ other titles, and Key’s upcoming Rewrite. Check out their catalog – you’d be surprised! The music is fantastic stuff, not typical unmemorable BL fare in the slightest. The soundtrack has about fifty tracks in all, and several times I’d find myself having stopped reading in order to listen to track currently playing. ‘柔らかい夜’ would be one example, a track for those gentle evenings as the sunset illuminates the halls of St. Johan’s. Another track I’m quite fond of is the ethereal ‘光の雫’. What is certainly a homage to a popular suspense film, ‘胸騒ぎ’ which plays during the more denpa scenes is quite brilliant too. While the soundtrack as a whole is more than decent, I do have a few complaints. Tracks like ‘Comical’ and ‘Daily Life I’ were used more than they should have. The schmaltzy ‘その手に触れたい’ is unbearable, and ‘崩壊’ was overused to such a degree that on obtaining the soundtrack, the second I heard its opening ‘duna duna duna‘, I skipped past it as quickly as I could. The phrase less is more certainly applies.
NMT’s opening ‘Shingakkou – Noli me tangre-‘ is a choral piece befitting of the game and its religious setting, and it’s reworked into a number of tracks. The ending ‘We Are One’ is an upbeat, Engrish sung number which fits the tone that the good ends set… For the most part. Once I reached a certain ‘good’ ending, it felt like a slap in the face – even cheeky of P/S to have it play. I don’t think much of it, and it’s a track that I always tend to skip. Sound effects were very well done, especially in the latter part of the routes where there’s a shift. You can hear worms and other such creatures slowly creeping all over each other. You’ll suddenly hear a large bang and what sounds like mice skittering across the floorboards and almost certainly jump the first few times you hear it. It all adds to the wonderful and unsettling atmosphere that NMT creates.
I’d no faults with the seiyuu – each one fitted their character perfectly, but the real star was Miyakata Kouki who voiced the Levi twins. This is worth noting because Michael and Gabriel have very different personalities from each other and Kouki excels because when reading scenes involving the twins it’s easy to forget that they’re being voiced by the same person. You can tell he puts his all in the role, his body literally being wracked with sobs, trembling in fury. So he gets a thumbs up from me. Coming a close second to Michael and Gabby in the voices department was August, voiced by Narita Ken (Phantom of Inferno’s Scythe Master, Eien no Eselia’s Akitsuki Shun). He’s able to convincing play off his role, carrying out whichever aspect of his personality is needed with ease and conviction. Tatsuhisa Suzuki (Riddle Garden’s Phil Martin, Vitamin X’s Tsubasa Makabe) as Neil was also notable, for adding that extra bit of charm to the rouge who lurks in the library.
NMT takes up a whopping amount of space that is closer to 6 GBs than 5 GBs. It’s fully voiced, and it has the usual extras like a CG/scene gallery, and the option to listen to the soundtrack at any given point. 100% completion will give you a bonus CG at the end. As to what kind of CG it is, my lips are sealed! If you’re anything like me, you’ll backtrack through various routes and pick options you didn’t previously choose just for the sake of getting it. The seiyuu of the six main characters will also welcome you when opening up the game, and say another line or two if you go into the extras. And the messages do change. When I had something like 96% of the CGs, Michael’s seiyuu says that there’s just a little bit further to go. NMT also has the option of you being able to like any voice file in the game, and be able to hear it whenever you want in its section in the extras.
If you’re into this sort of thing, then I couldn’t possibly recommend this to you any more than I am already. The scenario is top notch and it’s clear that it was worth all the years that P/S have spent working on this. Kusaka Matsuri is at the top of her game here, bringing characters with a sense of vitality to the table, their plights credible and worthy of the reader’s empathy. While it is a shame that the route progression is frustratingly repetitive (and not in the lovable Liar-Soft way, either), it being well written nullifies that to a degree. While you may be sure that you have some mysteries (and culprits) figured out from early on and throughout most of the VN, your expectations are subverted masterfully towards the end cementing Shingakkou’s status as an obvious masterpiece of the BL genre. It was worth reading and really does fit my tastes, so I’ll keep it in mind as being an unpolished gem.
With just a little more care, it could have become something worth showing off to everyone. Despite that, I think that it’s still worth a shot for anyone who’s interested in the more disturbing, plot orientated BL games. It’s a pity that this was released around the same time as Omerta, which does certainly look flashier and more up the average fujoshi’s street than this.
Personal enjoyment: 5/5
Overall score: 86%.
“If a god like that exists… Then I have no need for him.”